Gender has been on our minds a lot lately. A record breaking number of women were voted into Congress in this year’s election (including the first openly gay Congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin and the first openly bisexual member of Congress, Kyrsten Sinema), the Canadian federal bill C-279 is on the table to incorporate gender identity as a part of Canada’s Human Right’s Act, and the 14th International Transgender Day of Remembrance just took place on November 20th. Given this seemingly historical climate, featuring Carlos Motta (Makers Muse Recipient) and his work is not only timely, but essential.
As conversations about gender identity politics, rights and advocacy are stronger and more commonplace than ever, the background is now in place for a more widespread and inclusive dialogue around these topics. We have come to a place where hetero-normative gender constructs have a face and a voice in the media, in politics, and in dominant culture. However, these individuals and communities are still vastly marginalized. There are still many people who may be questioning these subjects, or holding prejudices or false perceptions around them, yet have no access to the dialogue. The role of the arts in facilitating these conversations is becoming of utmost importance.
Enter Carlos Motta. As a multimedia artist, his work lays at the intersections of contemporary art, gender, human rights and critical thought. Carlos creates multimedia and interactive opportunities, using video, installation, interviews and lectures, facilitating the public to engage with and explore these subjects at personal and political levels. By participating in his works, diverse audiences can gain a deeper and broader understanding of the kinds of issues that gender and sexual identity politics are facing in our societies. He is able to bend minds and hearts to realize the full complexity of these issues, through experience.
Carlos’ most recent installation at the New Museum in New York, We Who Feel Differently, allowed him to document and present varying perspectives on how several ranges of minority groups are working to transform and challenge oppressive systems. One of the brightest minds and talents on this subject, his thought-provoking and beautiful series of works challenge the layers of assumptions, discomforts, and misinformation surrounding a whole swath of gender and identity questions. Through careful execution, he assures accessibility and creates a safe space for the interactive participant to hear and see other people’s real stories of gender, and to express their own as well.
In his innovative multimedia and inter-genre explorations of his subjects, Carlos leaves no stone unturned. Browsing the interviews from the We Who Feel Differently project gives us insight into the earnestness of his work. It is both an archival experiment of people’s unique stories and a segue into the work Carlos is creating next.
Below, Carlos shared with us an update of his recent work and an explanation into the new projects on the horizon. We are proud to support Carlos and artists like him, acknowledging their crucial role in leading the way for true change in North America’s concept of gender identity.
An Upate from Carlos Motta
“We Who Feel Differently: A Manifesto” proposes a set of concrete demands. Demands, however, which are almost impossible to accomplish since they specifically advocate for an absolute transformation of the system as we know it, the abolition of discriminatory administrative and bureaucratic traps that determine legislative action and the religious morality that fuels the harmful prejudices that influence cultural imagination. All these systems were created by a heteronormative, masculinist and racist visions of the world and with the idea of what constitutes a “good life.”
During the past 3 years I worked on “We Who Feel Differently,” a project that attempts to document the work that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, Queer and Questioning activists, academics, artists, and lawyers, amongst many others, have been developing in order to transform that oppressive system. The project puts forth the idea of (sexual and gender) difference as a positive category to publicly assert a political agenda based on models of intersectional solidarity with other “minority” groups.
I was interested in developing a multimedia context where the articulation of this agenda could be a platform to document and further develop a history of radical politics regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. As such the web portal, wewhofeeldifferently.info, functions as an archive-in-construction; social events held in a variety of cultural institutions function as discursive spaces to disseminate and produce knowledge; the video installation functions as a physical manifestation of the material; and the book carefully proposes five thematic threads, which include discussion around equality, democracy, citizenship, gender identity, HIV/Aids activism, art and other cultural and social issues (wewhofeeldifferently.info/themes.php).
This past summer I had the wonderful opportunity to stage all these elements at the New Museum in New York (http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/carlos-motta-we-who-feel-differently) where an enthusiastic community formed around the project and came back again and again for the different elements of the program. Having the chance to speak from “the center,” from such a mainstream institution, about “the margins” was a strong political gesture and enabled international and intergenerational visitors to face issues they may or may not be used to.
Inspired by one of “We Who Feel Differently’s” central themes, the politics of gender identity, I started producing a new project titled “Gender Talents,” an experimental documentary and video installation about how groups of transgender, intersex, gender-benders and neutral-gender advocates are constructing alternative gender identities in a transphobic world defined by rigid perceptions of gender as categorically binary: man/woman. “Gender Talents” intends to document different approaches towards building politics of gender self-determination in different geographic and cultural contexts by looking at the specific work of organizations and activists working to advance the rights of gender non conforming (Trans, Intersex, Hijra) communities in Argentina, Australia, Colombia, India, South Africa and the United States.
I am interested in exposing the very specific and nuanced set of circumstances faced by these populations by closely documenting key aspects of their work: How do you build a discourse of self-empowerment? How do you construct a legal framework within the specific cultural and religious place that some Trans identities play in society? How does class reflect itself in these matters? What are the key social and political challenges faced by a social-work organization? How can Trans, Intersex and and Hijra populations continue to work towards building a better life?
“Gender Talents” is very much in progress, with an estimated premiere date of late 2014, but I will be presenting a series of in-production “moments,” projects and programs such as the upcoming “Special Address: A Symposium” and “Euphoric Deviations” at Tate Modern’s The Tanks in London on February 2, 2013. Commissioned by Electra and Tate Modern this is a two- part event, which through concrete, theoretical and abstract routes seeks to radically depart from the binary logic of sexual and gender representation.
The first chapter, Special Address: A Symposium, convenes an international group of thinkers, activists, and artists in a performative symposium using the proposition and manifesto as structuring devices and starting points for discussion. These ‘special addresses’ will explore models and strategies to transform the ways in which society perversely defines and regulates bodies and asks what is at stake when collapsing, inverting or abandoning the gender binary. A fantastic group of participants has accepted my invitation: Arakis Xabier Arakistain, J. Jack Halberstam, Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad, Beatriz Preciado, Dean Spade, Terre Thaemlitz, Wu Tsang and Del LaGrace Volcano.
The second part is Euphoric Deviations, a performance conceived in collaboration with choreographer Matthias Sperling. The work attends to movement as a means of exploring the connections between collective politics and a sense of the individual. Based on a choreographic score of performative tasks that engage thirteen performers in individual decision-making processes, Euphoric Deviations abstractly asks how self-determination is both a deeply personal project and continuously negotiated in relation to others.