Marsha Gall
Hemispheric Institute
3rd Annual Encuentro Lima, Peru
Seminar Course Project

BUENA YUNTA 1
(versión Español)

In July 2002 the Third Annual Seminar of The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics took place in Peru. By incorporating working groups into the program, collaborative work was re-emphasized as an important aspect of the Institute. As an alternative to the series of individual paper deliveries, this time the organizers proposed several group meetings for the joint reflection among academics, students, artists and activists. The work group participants gathered around topics such as Performance and Social Memory, Popular Performance, Sexuality and the Public Sphere, Migration and Cultural Identities, Music and Globalization; Dance, Movement and Theory, and Artists Works in Progress. The working groups were thought as a possible starting point for future collaborations between researchers and/ or artists who are working on similar topics.
In the three interviews that follow I talk with three well known scholars: Agnes Lugo- Ortiz, from Puerto Rico, presently a professor at Dartmouth College; Roselyn Costantino, a North American professor at Penn State University; and Claudia Briones, Argentine anthropologist, who teaches at Universidad de Buenos Aires.
The issues we dealt with in our dialogue referred to the collaborative work between scholars, and between scholars and artists. More specifically, we addressed the conditions and means which allow collaboration to develop, and, also, the inequities that a meeting between intellectuals from different countries of South America and of North America necessarily entails.
For a conference whose main topic is Globalization, Migration and the Public Space, it is indispensable to situate once again the coordinates of this peculiar map that transcends the configurations of the Nation- State without leaving them aside. Facing the erasure of localisms and regional specificities carried out by the globalization wave, perhaps, the kind and joyful invitation to collaborate will open a healthy and necessary alternative.


Agnes Lugo- Ortiz (Puerto Rico).
The challenge of getting away from the desk:
Extending the circuits and the nets

Marsha Gall: I would like to begin by asking what the word "collaboration" means to you, as an academic? To me as a person who recently arrived to the States, "collaboration" is a brand new term, something that it is being worked on a lot in the States; the often heard expression "let' s work collaboratively" sounds as if it were something so unnatural, something that has to be generated from outside. So, I wanted to ask you, what is your experience in relation to this topic and what do you think that the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics can do differently in relation to this experience?.

Agnes. Lugo-Ortiz: When you say the word "collaboration" the first thing that comes to my mind is: "Hey, it is a challenge". If you put two people together, and try to reconcile the individual desires, it is a negotiation, as we know, all the time. Only two people are a challenge, imagine what is a collaboration among this 250 people group. It is a challenge. I think that the question of collaboration comes with certain… I don't know how to put it, the academic work is so lonely, the academic work, the work within the Humanities, the ones who are not theatre artists or performers who have their team. As an academic you go, do your research, go back home, you sit in front of the computer and the work is solitary, the reading work is lonely too, the work of being in an archive is lonely. To me, the idea of collaboration seems magnificent, but I don't know what can be done by the Institute to generate collaboration, because these things can't be prescribed. What I imagine is that there is a certain dissatisfaction with the practice of intellectual work as a lonely work. I imagine that the people from the Institute might be looking at the way in which, through new spaces of socialization like the annual seminars, people can find certain affinities that can generate collaborative projects; I don' t know if these are going to be expressed in writing or through instances like the ones that we experienced this morning in our working group, the conversation, or what the Migrations' group did, in the coming together of theoreticians with performers, a performance where the theory and practice of performance got resolved in a mutual productive way in a ritual act.


A. L. O:
Ok. I see that this issue of collaboration has to do with the north- south relationships, what does it mean to collaborate when the entities that collaborate are located in unequal situations. I think that this is where the question of this malicious and tendentious interview was heading to. Evidently, this is a problem that we have to consider. Evidently, the Institute has established collaboration networks that are real, such as in Brazil where through the support of the Institute UniRio could get a computer system that they didn't have before. That was a conscious gesture of the Institute acknowledging the inequality of resources and to see how the issue of infrastructure can be leveled so that the dialogue can be established. In that level I think that the Institute is conscious of the inequalities that are pre-existent to the pact that is being established. That is the basis and from then on we have to think how we can establish a communicability between the different collaborative members within the Institute.
The second thing has to do with the collaborative nets among scholars from the States and scholars from Latin America, and I think that it is too early to be able to say anything about this. Also a week is not much. One arrives here and there are some real time constraints and also the program is so tight… Now, I think that the courses that the Institute has established, have generated certain forms of collaboration that are real, among students from North American universities and students from Peru, Mexico and Brazil. Now what we have to see is how can we continue fostering and developing those nets. Concerning the seminars I think that it is very early to say anything. Undoubtedly, there have been conversations between scholars from the States and scholars from Latin America, but we can't deny that there are limits to the extent of these. In relation to the question if the Internet is going to help to build the links of collaboration: what we will have to see is that all the places that are part of the collaborative pact have the necessary infrastructure for communication to be established, that is fundamental. I trust that that is possible. So we will see what happens.

I want to go back to the topic of collaboration and to the question of if the Institute and the "encuentros" are truly generating an intercontinental exchange. Evidently, as I said before, the Institute is very young and these things don't happen from one day to the next. It seems to me is that we have to begin to think, and to keep thinking, about ways to extend the circuits and communication networks. For the moment I think, for example, that the courses that are taught by the Institute and that include students from all over the hemisphere in the places where the Institute has its seats, that one of the key things is that in the "encuentros" not be a disproportioned representation of North American scholars vis a vis scholars and artists of Latin America, but it should be strived for a balanced participation of the different sectors. Thus, I think that the students that are part of the Institute courses hopefully could come to the "encuentros" and so they could engage in a personal meeting, face to face and not only through the internet; the internet, evidently, is fantastic but has its limitations, I think that nothing replaces human contact. That would be a very important thing: that in the "encuentros there would be an effective Latin American participation, really alive. There is where collaboration is engendered. Then, of course, there is the other thing, the panels, the sessions, the structure of the discussions and the issue of representation. The Institute has tried and has succeeded in bringing important scholars from different parts of Latin America to participate in the plenaries, to chair panels, etc, but this not only has to be a question of invitation but also that in the planning stage those scholars be seated at the table and that the questions that were represented in the "encuentro" panels belong to prior preparation where the concerns of the different zones of the hemisphere are registered. I see it in that way. What I believe is that there is a lot of work to do and this is the first step, and hopefully we will be able to continue with this.

Roselyn Costantino (USA).
The holy terrors of working collaboratively.

Marsha Gall: I would like to know your opinion concerning the collaborative work between scholars, and the second question would be if you consider your work as a scholar a collaboration with the performers you work with 2 , if you consider that your work with them could fit in the category of collaboration.

Roselyn Costantino: To tell you the truth I personally see it in two ways: one way is that I admire these women so much that if I say "collaboration" I am putting myself in the same level with them and I resist that a bit. I see that they nurture me and I don' t know if I give them so much as they give to me; they don' t need me, they don' t need that I speak about them. At the same time I realize that the relationship that I have established with Jesusa, with Astrid, and with Maris Bustamente before, that I try to give, that I am very honest in my work, and I think that they recognize this and they have allowed me to get into a friendship and, if there is collaboration is between women trying to understand life and to share ways of seeing it. Sometimes I say things and Jesusa tells me: "Yes, it is very interesting that you are saying that". Then, if that is to collaborate… I haven' t worked with them, but in collaboration, not in an artistic- academic level but between two human beings that deal with the issue of work with a honesty and a dignity and humanity that in that we could say it is collaboration.

M: As if sometimes something that you can conceptually articulate it is useful for them to go deeper with that or to rethink what they are doing, can it be?

R: Or just to see it in another way that they haven't thought it. I don't dare to say that I have given something to Jesusa, but Jesusa has allowed me to get into her world and she seems to enjoy the conversation as much as I do. So, in that sense, I don't know if that could be considered collaboration because I am very humble in front of those minds.

M: But do you think that it is possible a collaborative work between a scholar and an artist? Or is it necessary that both persons do the same stuff?

R: Now you made me think that Jesusa once asked me… she was doing a piece about puppets and she wrote a proposal for… I don't know if it was Rockefeller, and I was invited to participate in the project as the academic, as the one who was going to do the research and the writing, the documenting of it. So, that would have been a collaboration. The thing is that I don't live in Mexico, if I lived in Mexico I would be more engaged in that kind of work. I think that is what concerns to Astrid, because Astrid works by herself and she has had to build her work completely alone, she always thanks me for the promotion that I do, although I don' t do it to promote her, that is why she is very happy to share materials with me, because she knows that that is part of her work, promotion, because she doesn't' t have the inner support, she doesn't have the resources with which Jesusa works, she doesn't have her own space. So, in that sense, may be, one could recognize a collaboration.

M: And what about among scholars? I know that you work editing too, an edition could be a collaboration? When you co edit with Diana Taylor, how do you see that?

R: Again, I never put myself at the same level with Diana, but to tell you the truth the title of Holy Terrors 3 came out of a collaboration, that came out of each one of us thinking how could we name those women; one said something, the other said another thing and from there the term appeared. That was very exciting to me because it was a metaphor referring to how we worked. Yes, we did collaborate; each one of us contributed with her specialty, resources. Diana, because of being in NYU, has things that I don't have, but I have things too… it is a collaboration. And this doesn't always happen. I know people who tried to collaborate and they swear that they are not going to do it ever again. But in this case with Diana, we worked totally together in the Introduction of the issue: I wrote, she added things, she sent it to me, I rewrote it. Someone said that you can' t tell which are Diana' s ideas and words and which are mine, and, honestly, I recognize certain things that are mine or hers but there are parts that I don' t remember who articulated them that way. That is very beautiful and we have talked about future collaborations.

M: And within the process there were parts of negotiation? Which peculiarities did you see in this act of going out of your desk, out of the solitude of academic work? I guess that you guys must have worked a lot through email too…

R: Yes, but I have known Diana for a long time. She was in one of my first papers, she knows my work and I know hers. There are ideas that we both articulate. We see the things in a similar way. I remember one article of hers about Jesusa that was one of the firsts to be written about her. In it Diana mentions a conversation that we had where I saw Jesusa's green painted body as a mediation of nudity. That was in '93, I think, and Diana quoted it and from then on we began to maintain a dialogue, and we have been together in many occasions, I go to NY and visit her, we have been in many conferences together, I talk to her by phone, email her, so I don't feel her so separated as if it were… also the truth is that we are not so far away and there is this possibility to work physically together. I think that collaboration has to be natural and there are some people that naturally see things in this way, but there are others who need hierarchies and sometimes there are power games that make impossible to work in this way. There are some paradigms, behavioral models and ways to see the world and it filters not only how do I relate to you but also how do I see your work in relation to my work. Collaboration is communication, that is why I really liked what Anna Deveare Smith said in her show, that we speak a lot about communications, means of communication and very little about communication; and true communication when it happens is magic, and it is about a commitment, an ethics of being opened and being respectful with the other. And to work collaboratively is the starting point, to feel that you respect me and I respect you and from there we can begin the dialogue.

M: Did you have any chance to be in touch with any scholar or theoretician from other countries…? I am referring to Latin American scholars that are not living in the States.

R- Yes, with women from Brazil and Mexico. We like to talk about ideas and to push the discussions. But sincerely I don't know if it has to do with the place where we come from. I personally see that there are other barriers that have to do with in which university one is, there are other privileges; there are clicks that you can notice.

Claudia Briones (Argentina)
To colonize journals, to break the nets.
Empire- Empiria

Marsha Gall: I would like to ask you if you have had the chance to bring or to present works, theoretical lines, frames that are at work in the south cone and not so much in the empire.

Claudia Briones: Well, what we frequently do is a rereading of the empire that, perhaps, end up, in some things, being an original production, mostly because the empirical leads you to an original production, even when the discussions can remain within the frame of certain authors that are classic and one entails a dialogue with them, and I think that the contributions are in the dialogues, there is where you can see the local specificities and how each one of us anchors the things. Concerning the collaboration, this "encuentros" are an opportunity, that is never sufficient, there are too many things happening. Then one makes a good use of them, one meets people and exchanges some ideas, and from then on what is it about is how to maintain the systematicity of the encounters, and sometimes is easy and sometimes is not. So I think that what one has to try to achieve, for a systematic collaboration to occur, is to tie very concrete works.

M: So, for you, the difference would be in the objects of analysis, in what each one brings from the realities of his/ her country, and not so much in a certain theoretical frame, that is a bit "universalized", if you want…?

C: No, there is one thing that… let's say, the academy is not a sphere that has a different functioning than the social sphere. The imperialism and the empire that exist in all the other aspects exist in the academy. At the same time we, in Argentina, for different reasons, have an academy that is each time weaker, that, for example, can' t even, as the Brazilian academy, "colonize", as we put it, the international periodicals, where once one publishes in a systematic way, people have to speak with you, like it or not, and they have to read you. The Brazilians, at least in my field, have systematically published articles en the Annual Review of Anthropology, for not many years but for four or five years at least a Brazilian each year puts some work. They have an entire volume of The Journal of Latin American Anthropology and, to tell the truth, in Argentina we are still, because of many factors, very far from that. So the imperialist relationships are not easy to break because nobody knows our work. The other thing that I was saying is that, even when we read a common theoretical bibliography, its goal is not only to contribute a different object of study, but to contribute with a personal trajectory, a different life experience, that makes you read the theory in a different way. So there are not only the study cases but also all that background that one has as a citizen of a given Nation- State, with all the good things that that carries of good, that is very little… and with all the bad things, that happens to be a lot, in terms of political experiences. And it seems to me that there is where the contributions are given; things that each one of us can see or not see, in relation with our general experiences, directly. And there is, it seems to me, where it is even interesting to comment on the theoretical canon, because there is where an effective contribution can happen. And, afterwards, there is part of the general bibliography that are good contributions and, well, a quota of universalization is not bad. But they are two different levels. There are some authors that are valuable independently of their country of origin and one makes a good use of them, and then there are some authors that one knows that if one doesn't' t mention them one is not validated, so there is the portion of fixated quote to demonstrate that one knows the field. And then there is this other issue that has to do with the policies of quoting and the policies of use that has to do with the languages in which the things are written. Our students know that they have to read English, but sometimes North American students don' t read other languages, and if the article is not in English, it is not, it doesn't' t exist in the world. And this is not because of bad will, but there are many levels in which this is taking the shape that is taking.

Notes

1. Buena Yunta is a popular expression which refers to a productive association. Originally the yuntas were oxes pulling a carriage. I use this expression in this context because it reflects, in the popular appropriation of the term, some of the features concerning the collaborative work that are brought about here.
2. I am referring here to Mexican performers Jesusa Rodriguez and Astrid Hadad.
3. Holly Terrors: Latin American Women Perform is the title of the Issue 22 of Women and Performance A Journal of Feminist Theory

July 2002. © Marsha Gall