I like letters because they allow us to say things at another pace. I feel that they foster greater concentration and nuances than those live and rushed chats where (for me at least) the restricted time and the instantaneity favours common places, those of us who are shy to hide, the most epidermal transit. In this correspondence upon which we are embarking, we are being invited to discuss ‘body and visual representation’, a link that is present not only in our work, but that might also be a corollary for our ‘bodiless’ relationship, normally mediated by screens.
that screen accustoms us to a world of ‘fleshless’
Although it may appear to be the case, when you really think about it, it is not so strange that, knowing each other as we have done from almost two decades, we have only seldom coincided ‘in the flesh’. Recently, in this part of the world, people rarely look each at other directly in the face: there is almost always a screen between us. And that screen accustoms us to a world of images, as Debray might put it, leaving behind that memory of when, with others, we also had to deal with the feel, smell and materiality of the world. In my case, I don’t miss it, due to the progressive decline and vulnerability of my body and my sickly eyes. Increasingly, I like to leave it in peace at home whilst I inhabit the ‘net. The screen is, there, a bionic eye that artificializes and gives contrast to a world that is, to me, gloomy and foggy.
Inhabit? It’s a word you used in one of our first messages (back at the start of the century and the millennium) to refer to how we sensed our relationship might be described from then on. It was 2001 and you said to me something like lately, everyone’s inhabiting a dot com. This ‘inhabiting’ you alluded to was both a description and a prognosis for us, who remain on the ‘net with that sense of estrangement of those who (as artists or as thinkers, if indeed we can distinguish between such descriptions in our case) seek in images that quality which, for Barthes made them subversive, not when they ‘frighten’, ‘upset’ or ‘stigmatise’, but when they make us thoughtful.
As feminists, the postponement of the body and its mediation via screens has been an issue that we have been dealing with since the ‘90s, giving rise to more than a few discourses on the potential, risks and possibilities of emancipation in the connected world. It is important because, traditionally, women have been preceded by a body image about which to opine and take sides pursuant to much more oppressive and often reductive canons and models. The traditional forms of power and their narratives have also kept us subordinated by controlling our bodies or restricting us to the body and to caring for bodies, such that, a priori, accepting its non-face-to-face or experiential basis wouldn’t be a problem for me.
What’s more, we now spend a lot of our time in a projected world of technological representation and mediations, such that to talk of bodies and visual representation is, in a way, to talk of our everyday life. The ‘framework of the imagination’ is no longer limited to artistic practice, nor even to clearly defined places or times. Today, the world and others almost always come to us interfaced by technology.
to what extent do the visual depictions we produce in this time allow us to repeat or imagine old and new identities stemming from and dealing with bodies?
And the questions always come with us. Because, to what extent do the visual depictions we produce in this time allow us to repeat or imagine old and new identities stemming from and dealing with bodies? What is political art capable of in those areas in which artists no longer have the prerogative of the image? In a world with a visual surfeit, there seems to have been an explosion in representations of the body, turning the subject into an exhibited product: nevertheless, where is the negativity and the narrative, the interior world, in a medium that prizes the cumulative and aestheticized, a ‘deinternalising’ of shallow and surface, which appears to obstruct the depth of the well in which social meanings take root and are transformed?
I get the feeling that the marvellous and terrifying artefact that is the Internet gives rise to a wide range of readings when dealing with representation and the body. In the first place, it has fostered the making public and sharing of the private world, even or especially when the private world has hid subjection and fear. It has also favoured the creating and sharing of links between peers, engaging with and knowing each other in different ways… but its edges are not smooth. Some are sharp, rough and liquid, they cut, they make us go unnoticed and they repeat us, whilst others help us build and imagine other ways of showing ourselves and being more emancipatory. For someone who, like me, speaks from a political standpoint, the issue would be to identify where and how these forms can help us to live more freely or, to a different degree, become symbolic oppressors.
images of ourselves both sustain and hurt us , just as our hands hurt and protect us when we put them out to break our fall.
Let me begin with myself. With the break that writing can afford me, I stop to observe my body, peeling myself away for a second or two from the machine and noticing constructed patinas, hair, face, bodily adornments, clothes, perforations, makeup, lower down wounds, a spirit that is material, fingers that press, almost caress, the keys. A body that speaks or writes is always robed in a culture and a time. Cosmetics and clothing also form part of the body and help us to construct what, in theory, we have chosen to be, to the point where, as Barthes suggested in quoting Sartre, what we choose represents ‘what the others have chosen’ in our place. And it is here that an issue key to individual and collective representation comes into play: that images of ourselves both sustain and hurt us, just as our hands hurt and protect us when we put them out to break our fall.
Nevertheless, recently, it seems to me that the issue has been affected by a kind of anthropological discontinuity with regard to our own bodies and their images. I’m referring to how, far from protecting the subject’s privacy, what we nowadays seek in images is to ‘be seen’, ‘be seen to be seen’, how representation has given way to presence and exhibition on the ‘net or even, I would say, hyper-representation. The Internet is helping reinforce an imaginary of the subject repeatedly self-presented, exhibited and commercialised. That utopic deconstruction of stereotypes we called for back in the ‘90s, when the ‘net was just some kind of empty wasteland, and the works on pointed to the liberating power of the interface for creating the widest diversity of representations, less limited to what the body shows, is now but a distant memory. You and I both know that the world decided to take a completely different route.
Every image has a conflict in what it shows or, more frequently, in what it hides
However, I’m also struck by an issue that has interested both of us since we chose art and thought as our fields of work: I’m referring to what links representation with precariousness, not only in the proliferation of unmanageable and outmoded visual manifestations and ‘poor images’as Steyerl would put it, but also in the vital materialisation of forms of shelf life, speed and excess, which at some point turned ‘life into work’ and ‘the world into a screen’, i.e. reality into ‘a framed world’. To inhabit it is nowadays incentivised under the twin logics of quantification and simplification that surround online life. Logics marked by a visually surplus and falsely positive culture, one that encourages us to dispense with conflict and with empty times/spaces capable of restoring depth and narrative to representations.
Every image has a conflict in what it shows or, more frequently, in what it hides: even a stock photo like the one above, featuring a beautiful smiling woman posing. A photo much like many others that are chosen by Google’s search algorithms if you enter the word ‘woman’ hereabouts, or those included by default in those photo frames you can buy in shops. I know people who buy these frames and keep the photos in them, seeing in them, symbolically, some family member with a certain formal resemblance with the woman in the frame, however small (skin tone or hair colour). For a long time, I have been one of them on my mother’s bedside table, as have my cousins, and we have also stood on the drinks cabinet of my great aunt, who, given the absence of any real printed photos, said she saw us in those nameless images, which she used as a versatile mould so as to be able to mentally place her relations.
I’m not at all surprised by this symbolic recourse that accompanies the apparent neutrality of images we regard as stereotypical, and which achieve a mild and gentle reaction, a peaceful reception of an identity compared with the singularity they represent. This posed photo, devoid apparently of either conflict or narrative, can be appropriated by anyone who lacks an image. It serves and replaces, it is a stereotype, it is the response to something that performatively repeats and sets a standard. It is an image of a culturally beautiful face and body that, in theory anyway, ‘does not disturb’. I say ‘in theory’ because, with so much seeking to represent, it does in fact disturb those who, in a culture so extremely aestheticized as our own, feel identified by their rejection of such images, precisely because they do not see themselves as so beautiful, so stable, so happy, so smooth and slim, so perfect. At least not until we have ceased depicting imperfect reality to project idealised images in the images we save and share.
There is no doubt that this is something new, such a richly and profusely visual universe as that of today, in which beings appear to define themselves as ‘seen beings’. Never before had we humans been surrounded by so many images of both ourselves and others. On our technological devices and on social media networks, the bodies and faces habitually depicted seek, in the addictive edited self-portrait, to be beautiful images of beautiful lives: images of bodes that please and relax, that do not disturb, and which collect ‘likes’. I wonder whether, as Byung-Chul Han warns us, In other words, because they are easily made docile, neutralise their poetry and cease depicting reality to project it. ‘We flee towards images to be better, more beautiful’, argues Han.
I don’t know how you see it, but I believe that the image of the body is a form of control and of displaying oneself, a form of self-control and neutralisation. The commercial drift favours it bio-politically and capitalises on the inertia of this context, this trend, this technology. The non-conformity of the bodies and their representations is an unfailing driving force. The (edited) exhibition prevails over its representation.
It’s true that what I’m sharing with you is both a subjective attempt at description and a positioned critique. It’s enough to warn you that these images seeking to represent us or with which we seek to represent ourselves do not only affect us on an individual level. Insofar as they symbolically reiterate forms that turn us into equals, they allow us to define and create an identitary community, to bolster and solidify value systems, nowadays always quantified and objectified to facilitate their ranking and ordering. In my book Ojos y Capital (Eyes and Capital), I reflect on how, in an online world that appears ever more complex and diverse, the forces mobilising representation as exhibition help strengthen more conservative models when supported by excess and speed as precarious categories. Amongst other things, because they commit the subject to his or her self-presentation and, making the pressure to project oneself invisible, normalise it as something falsely chosen.
Although I do believe that these pressures speak of trends, they don’t, I think, rule out either resistance or diversity. Because, nowadays, the online space also makes circular what is not canonical and what is regarded as culturally abject, even though this is in many cases beginning to be censored (like the images featured below). This would be the case of the many selfies of bodies or bits of bodies that have been rejected by the aesthetic and moral filters that nowadays set the standard for visibility on the ‘net.
The statement implicit in the displaying of the censored body is a clearly political one, but that does not mean that it is not also being commercialised
Irrespective of how they are frequently positioned as artistic offerings, they do feature, particularly, political and critical viewpoints that are also tired of a representational hegemony that had ignored any form of reality regarded as unaesthetic, vulnerable, imperfect, uncomfortable or hidden. A territory in which feminists and queers have played a clear leading role, denouncing the control over the depiction and meaning of their bodies, particularly when presented without the habitual veneers of intervention or filter. Examples include nudes with body hair, unposed, with their fluids and scars or with their disturbing symbolic wounds given material form in flesh and image.
The fact that their revealing of their breasts and nipples, their menstrual blood or simply how they breastfeed is being seen as a triumph lays bare the moral control and prejudice providing the foundations for representation in the online spaces we inhabit as if they were public ones. The way they are censored reminds us that
The statement implicit in the displaying of the censored body is a clearly political one, but that does not mean that it is not also being commercialised. Where the image is everything but where standardisation prevails, being different gives added value, and, on the Internet, work being censored can help to ‘get more hits’. On my online wanderings, I found a headline stating: ‘Arvida Byström: the artist who challenges censorship on Instagram and to which all brands want to sign’. The issue seems contradictory but that doesn’t mean that it is not interesting, because it’s complex, and if we talk about freedom, it is just as important to combat the censorship of ‘can’t’ as it is to confront new pressures to instrumentalise the body as entertainment or business (‘you have to display yourself’).
We know that feminism and queer activism have spearheaded all kinds of campaigns in support of freedom and to denounce prohibition, censorship or the belittling of the depiction of bodies when it is the subjects themselves who wish to represent them and when said gesture also involves a complaint or critique concerning the hegemonic forms of subordination and control that harm us. These pressures mean that networks such as Facebook removed some restrictions on women’s breasts (on some breasts), when they breastfed or when they had mastectomy scars, or when these images were works of art that depicted nude figures or just a woman’s vulva.
It spurs and motivates. I’m referring to the need to identify the powers that cast light or shadow on bodies/images and their meanings. I think of this and wish to establish a relationship between this online scenario and the precedent of recent decades, when a sizeable number of feminist artists turned their own bodies into the object and instrument of their representations.
I know you know a great deal about the matter and have thought long and hard about the work of artists such as Mendieta. And I think I see analogies and discontinuities. The clearest is how, now, the circulation of images is no longer restricted to the world of art: instead, they are disseminated across everyday online spaces. It is true that these distribution channels permit the infiltration of otherness into the space we ‘inhabit’ and, perhaps, a greater degree of democratisation of its cause, but I am concerned by the lack of narrative and conflict arising from current forms of political and aesthetic reception, that is, of the policies of looking.
Because what is not so clear to me is to what point there is symbolic efficacy in the predominant form of mobilisation on social media networks, with a preference for making an impression rather than providing insight, for the novelty of the dress over the policy of the flesh, the commercial value that minimises or hides the critical value. In other words, how far the logic of speed, excess and a short shelf life neutralises the digital medium as something, as Han puts it, ‘deinternalising’. The digital industries bring this appropriation into the realm of everyday life, but they do not problematise it, because that would create tension and negativity, the need for a narrative, for a pause, for a trance, when what predominates on the ‘net is additive and ‘accumulative’ in tone. Some do so, though: those activists or those with a critical and non-conformist spirit who do not restrict themselves to capitalising upon models, but who make them reflective, in pursuit of the world’s contagion and transformation, feeling in some way along the lines of what was suggested by Barthes when stating with regard to own images: ‘(i)t is my political right to be a subject that is what I have to defend’.
Looking forward to reading what you have to say and sharing impressions…
 ‘Our eye increasingly ignores the flesh of the world’, in Régis Debray, Vie et mort de l’image. Une histoire du regard en Occident, Paidós, Barcelona, 1995, p. 97.
 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida. Notes on Photography. Hill and Wang, 1981.
 Remedios Zafra, ‘Redes y (ciber)feminismos’, Digitos, Valencia, 2018.
 Byung-Chul Han, In the Swarm: Digital Prospects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017).
 Roland Barthes, The Fashion System, University of California Press (July 25, 1990)
 Remedios Zafra, Ojos y capital, Consonni, Bilbao, 2015. 2018.
 Hito Steyerl, In Defense of the Poor Image. e-flux 10, New York: e-flux, Nov 2009.
 Remedios Zafra, ‘Fotos con marco’, Despacio, Caballo de Troya, Barcelona, 2012.
 Juan Martín Prada, El ver y las imágenes en el tiempo de Internet. Akal, Madrid, 2018, p. 6.
 ‘Today, images are not only copies, but also models. We flee towards images to be better, more beautiful, more alive’, in Byung-Chul Han, op. cit., p. 49. Author’s note: author’s own translation.
 Remedios Zafra, Ojos y capital, Consonni, Bilbao, 2015. 2018.
 Quoted by Juan Martín Prada (2018), op. cit., p. 163. (English original: http://www.petracollins.com/censorship-and-the-female-body/)
 Roland Barthes (2010), op. cit., p. 35.
As you noted in your first letter, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other “in the flesh” (by the way, what a Baroque expression, right? Who really thinks they’ll actually encounter someone’s flesh when we meet them?). Nevertheless, I have the odd feeling of constant closeness. Whether due to our shared love of screens, with the way we “follow” each other digitally, or—as you mentioned—due to being joined by a generational link for the last twenty years, over which we have shared, and continue to share, issues and interests both personal and professional, I have always felt a great sense of closeness towards you.
In any case, the happenstance of us carrying on a public correspondence with each other—what a deliciously extravagant format in this era of Skype!—seems to me to provide a particularly auspicious opportunity. Not only due to the current scarcity value of letters, but also because of the tempo they permit, and because of the warmth of the intimacy they convey. What’s more, the fact that they are made visible and public, on many different screens, rounds off a combination of factors that is a perfect reflection of our lives, lives we are still living in a dot com world, just as we predicted years ago.
This is us on-screen. This is me, touching my own digital image with my finger, merging with the image on the screen. A digital palimpsest, that is what we are planning to compose with this written (on-screen) conversation.
Ever since the 1990s, when we were little more than youthful newbies, we have shared a love of technology and the cyberfeminist promise of acquiring new bodies, far removed from those imposed on us by the capitalist patriarchy, far removed from the “production vs. reproduction” equation that condemned us to the sexual division of labour. Or, worse still, that condemned us to a productive reproduction, which is how things seem to have ended up in the last decade.
Enthused by the teachings of the great Donna Haraway, we would rather have been cyborgs than goddesses, and I think that this remains my preference. In my case, at least, turning into a new techno-materialist and anti-naturalist form of feminism, now under the name of xenofeminism.
So many bodies hidden, forgotten, denied, betrayed…
The 1990s were the years of corruption and of the Barcelona Olympic Games, of GAL and of Señor X, of raised political awareness and of assuming our history, of the arrival of Aznar and his implacable class warfare. For our generation, it was also the awakening of feminism, but also of the calling into question of the legacy of the so-called “second wave” of feminism, of its ideas, its imaginaries and its often pronounced technophobia. They were also the years of the spreading of HIV in Spain and, also within our context, of the end of the false fiesta—although we should really differentiate the “state-sponsored fiesta” from those more savage and conflictive ones such as those of the Basque Country or Vigo—that involved la movida and its pact of forgetting: so much hidden shame, so many cowering miseries, so many guilty parties pardoned by an Amnesty Law that remains in force (and remains concealed). In short: so many bodies hidden, forgotten, denied, betrayed…
Those bodies and the bodies riddled with AIDS, those phantasmagorical bodies from our past and those diagnosed, obscene bodies (which should have remained offstage, ob scenae), those bodies of excess and putrefaction, as well as those bodies of othernesses (which had already begun to emerge at the end of the 1960s at the hands of feminist, homosexual and post-colonial artists and critics of those who wished to remind us that the class struggle still existed) played a leading role in our political and aesthetic education and constituted—and still constitute—our privileged work environment. That is, the privileged environment for our struggle, since, as you yourself put it, our writing—and, in my case, a praxis with images—is a positioned and politicised writing.
Ladies and gentlemen: Welcome to violence! Welcome to the hegemonic visual system, impervious to its exclusions!
Those ob-scene bodies, those unliked by the sacrosanct History of Art that has been produced by the white Eurocentric bourgeoisie or its narrow heteronormative thought, which spoke of menstrual blood and of our excretions, of penetrable holes and bodies with exposed organs, which spoke of capital and its hardships, of what had been condemned to the category of “ugly” because it did not soothe its mind, coached in idealised taste. Ladies and gentlemen: Welcome to violence! Welcome to the hegemonic visual system, impervious to its exclusions! Yes, those are the images—the mother with the censored breasts on Facebook, the flaccid Photoshopped flesh, the matrix of our wounds, which do not know epistemic justice.
You spoke in your missive about Ana Mendieta. And it’s true, with this first book and with the tools that built it, and with open eyes, eyes that I was no longer able to close, I (we) began to analyse images of bodies from a different perspective. We were never the same. And we never will be.
And we discovered Artemisia Gentileschi and her rape, Camille Claudel and her confinement, Claude Cahun and her exile within surrealism, Remedios Varo and the way she was put down… and we discovered the ignored women and forgotten people of other cosmologies and other cultural territories, black artists and writers, Angela Davis and bell hooks, Kate Millet, Griselda Pollock and feminist film theory and its de-aesthetics and negativity, of which you wrote in your first letter. I won’t play nature to your culture. No. I’m not going to be your fetish, the doll of your dreams.
We discovered that we have a genealogy, another genealogy, a different genealogy. And that’s why we can go on and how our work can be powerful and emancipating, because we are what we are thanks to them. I became another person after reading film through the analyses of Teresa de Lauretis, Laura Mulvey, Ann Kaplan, Claire Johnston, Giulia Colaizzi, Mar Villaespesa…
Your body is a battleground, as artist Barbara Kruger reminded us in 1989, the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bodies, power and capital: that equation we’ve never stopped working on. That equation that we inhabit, that inhabits us.
How can we be not be uneasy and on the alert in view of our opaque hyper-visibility?
In your letter, you speak of subordination and control, of designing our bodies through stereotypes, the media, liquid screens and the Internet, Facebook and Google. Vicarious bodies and subjectivities, built by and for surveillance and self-surveillance, bodies that are cogs in the pleasure- and profitproducing machine.
How can we be not be uneasy and on the alert in view of our opaque hyper-visibility? How can we not share the tremendous concern at seeing how our bodies and subjectivities are subject to speculation and commercialisation? How can we not share the sensation that the world is being “pornified”, the feeling that we connected beings are increasingly on our own? How can we not be concerned at our children growing up with ideas of bodies constructed by the entertainment industry, or that we ourselves show off our private world even though we are aware of the dangers this entails and the spurious use of big data?
Obviously, I share this alarm, the sensation of the banal aestheticisation of our bodies, of the “de-internalisation” of our lives and of the privatisation of our public arena (both physical and online), and I am not optimistic about the way things are going. I share the concern about the dangers of virtual relationships and their false identities, but let’s not forget that we also used to love to shed our identities on paper, and that Judith Butler was, and still remains, one of our benchmarks: bodies and genders and identities in dispute and interpretive torsion. Bodies and identities that refused and still refuse to be unambiguous and closed, as the heteropatriarchy demands, as required by a visual system that, being the political system that it is, entraps us within this systematic hegemony.
Remember that we opposed all this with the electric and liquid bodies of cybernetic imaginaries, polyglot androgyny and the pose, the Medusa effect and its spectacular ruse, described by Craig Owens as a form of reversing the paralysis of the stereotype by imitating it and bouncing it back, gaze upon gaze. Posing, imitation, passing, visual deception and fifth-columnism as a strategy for occupying spaces, discovering cracks and rending (or at least expanding) seams. This marvellous and terrible artefact, the digital world, which came into our lives in the 90s, fluctuates—depending upon its use and context—between imposed and numbing occupation and the liberating potential offered by millions of interconnected brains.
Digital images […] appear on our screens, build our subjectivities, connect our thoughts, articulate our outrage
We cannot completely either ignore or condemn them because, as you yourself pointed out, digital images (from spam to the most coveted film gems, and including our own archives and iconic contemporary documents) appear on our screens, build our subjectivities, connect our thoughts, articulate our outrage (sometimes caused by them). We are condemned, condemned to them, with them and by them.
However, we have also been warned for some time now of the relationship between images and power, and of the narcotising effect of the media’s “monoform”, as noted by Peter Watkins. That is why we must not, we cannot be naïve. We’re not allowed to be so, by our eyes, shaped by critical genealogies, our bodies, (con)formed by the liquid screen but nevertheless showing the first signs of the passing of time and of the after-effects of this work not regarded as work, which we carry on amidst an insecurity and conditions we could not have even imagined at the beginning of the 21st century, when we began to write and I also began to film and to film.
But I am going to raise myself above my natural pessimism. Perhaps because we will be facing fresh elections in a few days—ones seemingly more decisive than ever—which may lead to the snuffing out of our fragile democracy.
In the face of the neo-fascist onslaught, I am going to dig in to the new flesh and protect myself with the other genealogy that lights our way, and I will advocate to continue building, remixing and analysing images. Firstly, because, as a visual essayist, I firmly believe that images have the power to make the world think, and because I have faith in this attitude as a way of combatting the logocentrism that continues to shape our views. And, also, because images—and, specifically, images of bodies, of our bodies—are and should be an effective tool for fighting against stereotypes, for forging political links and for rethinking the quality of our human constructs.
I think of beautiful and encouraging uses and reimaginings of technology, such as the wonderful Cybersyn or Synco Project, which Salvador Allende’s Chile conceived as a response to the US’s ARPANET (the embryonic Internet of military origin) and I imagine its contemporary analogy: the very necessary and direct expropriation of leading platform-capitalism companies, and their putting into operation for the common good. There are other ways of using technologies and, like in the worlds of Paul Valery, they are, or can be, in this one. There are other genealogies, and they are also here. Shareable, inhabitable genealogies. For everyone.
Like art historian Georges Didi-Huberman, philosopher Jacques Rancière and my friend, the philosopher Andrea Soto Calderón, I believe in the “performative power” of images: images in spite of everything, as Didi-Huberman put it. And I would add: in spite of everything, images.
Forgive me for being so “vintage” today, but this awakening of the genealogical line has brought to mind an optimistic and visionary analyst of images, often mentioned by my friend Andrea Soto Calderón: Vilém Flusser.
Andrea explains in her article on Flusser, Juego e imaginación en Vilém Flusser (Playfulness and imagination in Vilém Flusser), how Flusser outlines three strategies that can be used in the game: “Play to win, at the risk of defeat. Or, play not to lose, to reduce the risk of defeat and for the possibility of victory. Or, play to change the game. In the first two strategies the player forms part of the game, and this game begins to become the universe in which he or she exists. With the third strategy, the game does not form part of the universe, and the player is ‘above the game’”.
This type of game theory, when applied to reading technical images (which, according to Flusser, should not be read in the same way as images built by the hand of man, as they are already the fruit of critical thought) would appear, to me, to be highly indicative of a potential strategy to be followed with digital representations: we should not “play” with/in digital devices and their representations with the aim of winning or losing, but rather to change the rules of the game.
In his 1985 book, Into the Universe of Technical Images (the Spanish translation of which, by the way, is subtitled A Eulogy of Superficiality), Flusser challenges us to be more than mere witnesses to certain processes of change and not to limit ourselves to an impotent feeling of not having any control whatsoever over them. The Czech/Brazilian writer asks us to think of technical images in terms of devices that do not reflect, but rather construct reality and, given this, our position cannot be one of passive acceptance, but we must instead learn to “change their rules” and adapt them to fit our needs, since it is through them that we “experience the world” (and therefore, I would add, build our history).
Although I completely share Laura Mulvey’s harsh diagnosis of visual pleasure and of the representations of our bodies, I would even say that images (and particularly images of bodies) are artefacts of enormous speculative, poetic and political power. We can (and should) devise interpretations of representations that open up possibilities of resisting the demands imposed by the arts regime and the media, that troll the capital gains and their impositions, that have the ability to be plurally thought and thinking: not even the edited exhibition of perfect bodies can escape the crack, and neither does the iron-willed self-control that we incorporate into biopolitics lack chinks. Nor does the indecent merchandising and reactionary censorship of Google, Facebook or YouTube encompass everything that we manage, albeit for a few seconds, to spread throughout the ‘net.
A sense of humour, poetry, the absurd, fictional distance and the analytical-Brechtian gap can make even a consumable and domesticated selfie an onion with different layers of political/poetic meanings, or a foolishly censored painting, like, as you noted in your first letter, Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World (1866), have different layers of rejoinder.
Whilst the media, in this case the French magazine Paris Match, “play the game”, confronting censorship with the tactic of diffusion, when it allegedly found a painting of the face of the model featured in the painting, trying to dignify her (as if her vagina wasn’t dignified enough), the art establishment plays the game of putting censorship on show, when, on 5 June 2014, performance artist Deborah de Robertis exhibited her body and her sex in front of the original canvas in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
But it was in this tweet (or retweet) on 25 September 2015 on Twitter, the social network, that proved the highest form of criticism of this censorship, using humour and ingenuity to point to a less paternalist, more active form of criticism, to “shift the goalposts”, to change the very game itself. This type of strategy is, I believe, more gutsy and politically effective in its apparent childishness, and provides a small example of how we can (and should) seize control of digital devices and platforms.
There are many points touched on in your letter that remain undeveloped, and one of them is of special interest to both of us: bodies that work and their representation; bodies at work and their imaginaries. So much work not acknowledged as such, our own work that is not regarded (or paid) as a “job” or paid with token gains.
But that’s for another letter, perhaps, if it’s alright with you. Maybe the next epistle. For the time being, let me say farewell with big hug and an even bigger wish to read what you have to say.
 A Cyborg Manifesto, is an essay written by Donna Haraway and published in 1985 in the Socialist Review. Full text of the article “Cyborg Manifesto” (an archived copy, in the Wayback Machine). It is the full text of the article: Haraway, Donna Jeanne (1991). “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge.
 Helen Hester, Xenofeminism, Polity Press, 2018.
 María Ruido, Ana Mendieta, Nerea, Hondarribia, 2002.
 Here, I would like to highlight—and pay tribute to—the women and publishers who translated in Spain the first texts on feminism and feminist film theory. Publishers like La Sal, Horas y horas, Episteme and Cátedra, who (in their feminism collections), since the end of the 60s, but most especially in the 70s, 80s and 90s, carried out invaluable work. And give special thanks to two points of reference in the field of feminist image analysis in Spain: Mar Villaespesa, through whom I first read Teresa de Lauretis (cf. the catalogue 100%, Government of Andalusia/Ministry of Culture, Seville, 1993) and Giulia Colaizzi, theorist and educator, who first translated Laura Mulvey into Spanish (cf. Laura Mulvey, Placer Visual y cine narrativo, Episteme, Valencia, 1988), translation of “Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen, Volume 16, Issue 3, Autumn 1975, Pages 6–18”.
 Cf. in this regard, to give some recent examples of texts warning about these issues within our context, the book by Remedios Zafra herself, Ojos y capital, Consonni, Bilbao, 2015, or the more recent work by Ingrid Guardiola, El ojo y la navaja. Un ensayo del mundo como interficie, Arcadia, Barcelona, 2019.
 Craig Owens, Beyond recognition. Representation, power and culture. University California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1992.
 Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, Sternberg Press, 2012.
 Peter Watkins, La crisis de los medios, Pepitas de Calabaza, Logroño, 2017.
 Cf. Eden Medina, Cybernetic revolutionaries: Technology and politics in Allende’s Chile, MIT Press, 2011.
 Cf. the research project La performatividad de las imágenes (The performativity of images), carried out since the beginning of 2017 by philosopher Andrea Soto Calderón within the context of the Virreina LAB, La Virreina Centre de l’Imatge, Barcelona, http://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/lavirreina/en/activities/
performativity-images-strategies-and-operations/342 (last viewed on 05.05.2019).
 Andrea Soto Calderón, Juego e imaginación en Vilém Flusser, Flusser Studies 13, 2012, page 8 https://docplayer.es/15390734-Andrea-soto-calderon-juego-e-imaginacion-en-vilem-flusser.html
(last viewed on 27.04.2019).
 Vilém Flusser, Into the Universe of Technical Images, tr. Nancy Ann Roth, University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
In this time of waiting in between one letter and the other there have been elections, signs of encouragement, speeches, conflicts and work. Many bodies disagreeing with inequality went out and demonstrated. They take to the streets and are represented by the media with images of mobilised collectiveness. These images of bodies together (“What kind of ‘we’ is this who assembles in the street and asserts itself sometimes by speech or action, by gesture, but more often than not by coming together as a group of bodies in public space, visible, audible, tangible, exposed, persistent, and interdependent?”) seem to me to be very different from the possible image of a community of connected workers, a multitude of bodies almost always alone and made invisible before their screens. Like me, right now, and you too, perhaps, or like those who are reading us in this exchange of letters.
I wonder how collective representation can help us to consider a matter of interest to both of us and to which we have alluded at different points in our letters. I’m referring to the “representation of bodies that work and their imaginaries”. This thread you are suggesting seems important to me because economy, collectiveness and work are cornerstones of the relationship between bodies and visual representation in this increasingly interfaced neoliberal culture of ours.
have you noticed how they rarely feature wrinkled, chubby or sick bodies, disputes, loneliness or care, unless as a “before” for a magical, happy and speedy commercial solution mediated by a product?
I almost freeze up when I think about the incredibly juicy visual genealogy, especially filled with posters and films that, from a position of power and criticism have, particularly throughout the 20th century, projected model images of bodies that work. I think of that fantastic Soviet documentary film Man with a Movie Camera, by Dziga Vertov (1929), and its illustrative vision of a happy workers’ community, without actors or staging, in which bodies and machines are interweaved, as in work and sports, enthusiasm at work and synchronised bodies.
No wonder that, in today’s hyper-productive capitalist life in which self-exploitation is the buzzword and a snapshot of the times, the predominant images of workers are also ones of happy bodies. Advertising and its idealising varnish play a key role in this. Those clean, idyllic contexts populated with young, smiling people working and cooperating with their cutting-edge technological devices… have you noticed how they rarely feature wrinkled, chubby or sick bodies, disputes, loneliness or care, unless as a “before” for a magical, happy and speedy commercial solution mediated by a product? “Be smoother, younger, slimmer, pain-free, don’t wait!”. It comes as no surprise that the work implied in this imaginary revolves around “buy” and “sell”, “click”, “consume”, “change your body”, “take pills”….
But also the fact that it is we ourselves who are supplying our own images to the connected world seems, to me, to be key here in helping ensure that the current imaginary, which at once represents and builds the bodies that work, help us keep up the production rate: we’re tired, but appear to be happy. The imagery of social media and their positivity helps.
This possible representation is also in situ self-representation, depicting a multiplied and fragmented (and also liquid) reality, framed within social media. The sheer range of tasks nowadays blurring together as “work” can take place in any place that our machine and ourselves are online, a sort of emotional geolocation portraying us with gerundives: “I’m here, celebrating, watching, attending, showing myself… happy to be sharing it with you”.
I practise, partially at least, what I preach and work almost all the time, although rarely do I stand out. It’s night-time, I’m at home and, after reading some student essays, taking advantage of the concentration time that the now obsolete and comical classification of this “workday” doesn’t actually permit me, I pick up a book of poems someone sent me. One verse in particular makes a mark: “if everything is well lit, there will be no need for anyone to shine”. I write to you with the words echoing in my head, thinking of the forces casting light and shadow on what does and does not merit being seen, about how the bodies of us workers, hunkered down in our bedrooms, are presented and represented, if the world is well lit, or if we only manage to make out deceit, due to the shadowy productive machinery hidden in our private spaces?
This multitude of connected workers presenting themselves creates a panorama similar to Chris Baker’s work Hello world!, in which hundreds of people are displaying themselves at the same time from their personal spaces. Nevertheless, even if only we were to catch them unawares, their bodies would betray the stress of life being turned into “work that is not always called work”, of those who almost always need to be online to be seen, be seen to continue carrying out an activity.
It seems to me that the visibilised work whose payment tends to be that very visibility itself (or another form of symbolic capitalism), is disguised for many—and I’m thinking of the poor and women here—as opportunity and difference. Feminist artists have been able to represent this better than anyone with regard to women’s jobs, when they “left the home”, but when those who worked outside did not “enter” to share in taking care of those lives and bodies. To do this, they have leveraged strategies involving parody, repetition and symbolic duelling, bringing to the visibilised loop that which is hidden and normalised. Faith Wilding and her Duration Performance are iconic examples of this.
Don’t you think that current forms of self-exploitation work in the same sense in the bolstering of their imaginary?
For a long time, representations of women working have been on the inside of the front door, in the gloom of the home. Representations that the world nevertheless depicted as radiant and happy. When de Beauvoir declared that “it is always easy to describe as happy the situation in which one wishes to place them”, she portrayed the effectiveness of patriarchal imaginaries, which have subordinated women under an arranged idea of happiness that contained their resistance, “Angels in the House” or, in its more contemporary “reimagining”, 100% madres (100% mothers). It is incredibly perverse but effective to make the oppressed agents of enforcing their own oppression. Don’t you think that current forms of self-exploitation work in the same sense in the bolstering of their imaginary? I do.
In my book El entusiasmo, I suggest that, just as a symbolic payment was regarded as payment enough for women, creative work (the most feminised type of work) is seeing a repetition of this logic. So it would appear that bodies carrying out certain types of work, such as painting, writing or dancing, are bodies of lesser value than those that, for example, play sports. There seems no other way to explain how football players are paid for their work yet, recently, dancers were requested to volunteer to perform unpaid at their sporting events, because those requesting it felt that merely being able to dance was payment enough, and that with such a calling it was presumed that they would even perform free of charge. There is a striking difference in the value attached to bodies that work depending upon whether their trades are those instable ones in the world of culture or other, highly visibilised (and monetised) ones like football, if it’s “masculine”.
in this time of a surfeit of images, very little of “the other” now impresses us or stops us in our tracks
It is also true that, however much I seek to emphasise the risks of symbolic oppression in culture and in its imaginaries, there are many, many examples of potential, imagination and resistance arising from art, a critical eye and visual activism. You noted a number in your previous letter. And, forgive the apparent jump, but perhaps that very gesture of possible intervention is what makes this form of writing (to one another) so “extravagant” (I smile as I read your letters), which extends and interrupts the conversation, allowing us to (amongst other things) return to our writings and ponder, as you can also do with images. Breaking with the rhythm of “right now”, seeking a certain permanence, challenging the limited shelf life that characterises the precariousness of digital things, at the mercy of fashion and obsolescence, but also the suffocating corset of the summary, reducing the world to a headline.
I don’t know what you think, but I believe that these characteristics are also the case in contemporary visual representation on social media. And, talking of the representation of bodies that work makes one think not only of the devastating job insecurity suffered by many, but also of that other insecurity involved in the overproduction, haste and disposability involved in creating an image. I feel that both things feed off one another.
In fact, in this time of a surfeit of images, very little of “the other” now impresses us or stops us in our tracks. At most, this haste of ours allows us to like something or not, as if we were living some sort of “immune” life. Accustomed as we are to the obscenity of bodies dying in front of us live, images now only very rarely upset us. It is perhaps for this reason that the practice of art is more necessary than ever, and perhaps why you visual essayists have more to do, now more than ever.
I note and admire your effort to shift the standpoint of criticism towards one of the proposals. I also train myself to look for examples and, inevitably, I think of the affirmative, critical and inspirational representations of “bodies that work”, such as that offered by the Coño insumiso activists. Their work to resignify symbols from the body, and their protesting at the inequality and insecurity of women’s work and lives has achieved an extremely powerful symbolic strength, not without putting at risk “their own bodies”, as Femen also does and Pussy Riot also did, putting their freedom on the line to appropriate and transform disturbing symbolism. As Momaday puts it: “We are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves”. His argument suggests that the worst thing that could happen to us is that we don’t have representations: “The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined”. Amen to that.
That’s why I believe it is important to position forms of concealment and censorship, as we mentioned in our previous letter. It is true that the explicit censorship of the abject may nowadays act as a form of oppositional and even monetised visibility, but I think that it is that other form which, more silently, “runs through” our lives and which best describes the forms in which imaginaries have portrayed the marginalisation of some bodies, their meaning subordinated and blurred, repeated in a corner or in the background. The work of Daniela Ortiz is a great example of this. I think of her “97 empleadas domésticas” (97 house maids) and the power acquired in it by the peripheral, background and fragmented nature of the bodies of these women “eccentrically” featured in the work’s photographs.
And it seems to me that your reference to the game strategies of Flusser through the work of Andrea Soto is more than relevant to the first issues we dealt with, not to mention this one. Amongst other reasons because, to be able to visibilise what is hidden and peripheral, we need to “change the game”, “change the viewpoint”. It is a great metaphor for the critical analysis of images.
It may also be so for criticism of the predominant forms of existing/working on the “culture/‘net”, even though I think there are other ways of playing on this particular field, including that of “winning by losing” (I suggest possible discussions in my text “elogio del fracaso”). There are also gradients between the classic nodes of the game. For example, there are sportspersons who take so many performance-enhancing drugs that they crash and burn: in other words, they both win and lose. With regard to this issue, and returning to the representation of bodies that work, Byung-Chul Han states that, “the digital age is not the era of the muse, but of performance”. In this regard, I do not think, as Flusser does, that the subject is now a “homo ludens” in that the time for play and representation is increasingly experienced as “work time”, even when we are apparently only displaying images. I do agree with his advocating of a new anthropology of “the digital”, in which we see ourselves not as subjects of an objective world, but rather as projects of alternative worlds.
However, my concurrence on this latter point is more intuitive than thought out. I should point out that there is projection in the presentation of bodies online. This has to do with the fact that they are exhibited more than represented. Obviously, the issue is full of cracks and it may be that those tame selfies are, as you clearly point out (and I’m almost crying as I peel away the layers), an onion with a number of political/poetical strata. In positive exhibition on social media, bodies do not necessarily comply with the normative forms of imaginaries. It is also possible to celebrate difference in the image, even to infect the other. You speak of ways that interest me, as they may act as appropriable strategies: a sense of humour, poetry, the absurd, fictional distance. To which I would add parody, critical reversibility, new figures of speech…
All these resources common to the practice of art are “ways of doing” that can also be “ways of seeing”. I have the feeling that they are supported by a kind of vacuum or hiatus that allows us to carry out exercises to situate the difference, but that can also help us to “return the gaze” towards the hidden materiality of bodies that work. We are here, María, you and I, and also those reading us, behind the screen, but with a body attached. Something’s going on in this embrace of flesh and pixels.
 Judith Butler, ‘We the People’: Thoughts on Freedom of Assembly, in Alan Badiou et al., What Is a People, Columbia University Press, 2016, pp. 49-64.
 Simone de Beauvoir, quoted in Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, Duke University Press, 2010, p. 2.
 El entusiasmo (The enthusiasm), Anagrama, Barcelona, 2018.
 “El sector de la danza se moviliza contra la UEFA: ‘Los futbolistas no juegan por amor al arte, es lo que piden a los bailarines’” (“The dance industry takes a stand against UEFA: ‘Football players don’t play for the love of it, which is what is they’re asking of the dancers’”), El Diario, https://www.eldiario.es/economia/sector-moviliza-UEFA-futbolistas-bailarines_0_896261006.html, last viewed on 06.05.2019).
 Support for Seville’s coño insumiso (rebel pussy), https://apoyoconoinsumiso.wordpress.com/. More information at https://www.publico.es/politica/feminismo-cono-insumiso-retorna-calles-sevilla-1-mayo.html.
 Quoted in Mithu M. Sanyal, op. cit., p. 11.
 Daniela Ortiz, 97 empleadas domésticas (“97 house maids”), http://www.daniela-ortiz.com/index.php?/projects/97-house-maids/.
 Andrea Soto Calderón, Juego e imaginación en Vilém Flusser, Flusser Studies 13, 2012, page 8 https://docplayer.es/15390734-Andrea-soto-calderon-juego-e-imaginacion-en-vilem-flusser.html (last viewed on 27.04.2019). Vilém Flusser, Into the Universe of Technical Images, tr. Nancy Ann Roth, University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
 “Elogio del fracaso”, El entusiasmo, op. cit.
 Byung-Chul Han, In the Swarm: Digital Prospects, MIT Press, 2017.
Just like you, over the course of these past few weeks I have worked (at my job and other tasks) and I have anxiously lived through the days of polling, whilst also attempting to deal with the tiredness accumulated in my body at the end of the university’s academic year, which I find increasingly wearing, not only because of the passage of time, but also because of the great toll the insecurity in public education takes on us, even on my students, who are so often unable to complete the year after being expelled from classes because they are unable to pay the fees or combine their job or care responsibilities with their studies.
As I pen this missive, I can see how the forms of work and its conditions (“work” in the broadest sense of the word) are not the focus of most institutional political discourses in election campaigns. Yet they should be.
For us, however, work and jobs (which are not the same, as we have already learned from numerous feminist, decolonial and other critical theory analyses) and their representations, “the representations of bodies that work and their imaginaries” are crucial, both as study material and as life experience.
Some years ago, I myself wrote: “Defining work and its limits in abstract terms at the present time, where the times and locations of production became blurred and extended, is not an easy task. However, experiencing its consequences on our bodies seems to be less complicated, especially if we consider a definition of work that goes beyond the economistic view (whether neoclassical or Marxist) and, especially, if we understand our sustainment of a daily life and our daily incorporation of personalities and social actions as spaces and (re)productive efforts.”
In this and other works, I argue (on the basis of ideas shared and supported by other sisters) that “everything that tires, that occupies, that disciplines and stresses our body, but also everything that constructs it, that takes care of it, that gives it pleasure and maintains it, is work. Thus, we could say that work, besides being a fundamental part of the socio-economic structure in which we set in, is an experience, although we all know that this liquid description has little to do with the traditional division of labour recognized by economics, sociology or anthropology until recently.”
As you yourself point out, classic films depict work as something almost heroic, and obviously turn their gaze solely upon salaried or monetised tasks, those non-domestic and thoroughly masculine ones of the factory worker or the peasant. If we bear in mind that both capitalism and real socialism accentuate the modern split in forms of productions, underlying the division between the (productive) public space and the (reproductive) private space, the division of labour also becomes a gender division as well as an implicit regulation of spaces and times. This division of work stresses and values the productive-accumulative public space over the private-reproductive life-supporting space, and consolidates the image of the man as the provider for the family, compared with the dependent, care-giving woman: the patriarchal order.
But this socio-sexual division of work and space is also a representational division. Up until a few decades ago, our imaginary of work was restricted to that encompassed by a strictly economicist definition, and its protagonist was, obviously, homo economicus, leaving almost unrepresented all those tasks carried out by women in the domestic environment, and other non-regulated ones that, although frequently involving some form of economic exchange, fell within the broad category of informal activities that were not considered as “work” (including sexual work, caring for the sick, old and children, the upkeep of affective networks, etc.).
You mentioned Dziga Vertov. What comes particularly to my mind is the monotony of Fordist labour so well depicted by Chaplin in Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, 1936) or the devastating portrayals of the callousness and alienating effect of industrialisation in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927).
Between the old factory and our mobile phones and computers (the new factories) lies an infinite array of working bodies that have only rarely been regarded as such, and which, in my capacity as researcher/producer of representations, I’m interested in highlighting, as it is here that the redefinition of the concept of work and its recognition comes into play.
Sexual work, care work, tasks sustaining life, the construction of subjectivity, etc., have flitted across the silver screen and now across a range of screens (all too often!) without being recognised as bodies that work, as subjectivities being (re)produced.
From the bodies exhausted from dancing to stay alive in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (Sydney Pollack, 1969) to our exhausted liquid flesh, it has been particularly feminist and non-Western artists who have called attention to the gains of our bodies beyond jobs.
From the radical Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975), a film portraying three days in the life of an inconspicuous widow who prostitutes herself off-screen and carries out household chores in real time, to the allegory of contemporary imaginaries alerting us to the perils of self-exploitation—and including the references made by Ursula Biemann on the relationships between digital capitalism, disposable bodies and undepictable deaths in Performing the border (1999), set on the deadly frontier between Mexico and the United States at the worst point of the region’s femicides—the working bodies of the new global division of work appear to have something in common: “I am my business”.
It is particularly disconcerting (depressing?) to see how, as we witness the rise of the extreme right and its values, in 1969, Jean-Luc Godard made for London Weekend Television a film like British Sounds, in which a naked woman and Godard himself speak critically of women’s struggle for their self-affirmation and self-representation: “The women of the working class remain the exploited of the exploited, oppressed as workers and oppressed as women (…) They tell us what we should be (…) We’re under intensive pressure (…) not to put ourselves outside the safety net of marriage. We’re taught from small girls that failure means not being selected by men. (…) They’ve said that capitalism forces people to eat each other… ‘Wait until we get the revolution, then we’ll deal you actual equality. We’ll give you equal pay, and we’ll give you nursery schools’. Another thing they’ve said is that the way that women are subordinated is through the family… through a particular kind of historical process which developed along with capitalism… ‘When we’ve abolished capitalism, we can then go on to abolish the family’”.
Digitalisation has not brought us better working conditions, nor teleworking greater peace of mind, but rather continuous undivided production/reproduction
Yep, it’s definitely depressing. In 2019, Spanish department store El Corte Inglés called on us not to complain and take on, with love and for love, the work of caring for and the upkeep of the family because we are, above all, “100% mothers”, and British filmmaker Ken Loach angrily denounced at the Cannes Film festival how “from now on, workers have to exploit themselves”. Digitalisation has not brought us better working conditions, nor teleworking greater peace of mind, but rather continuous undivided production/reproduction, which, as Cristina Morini explains, can be called “biocapitalism”, as it has put each and every facet of our lives and our cells to work: we are the inhabitants of total labour.
Emerging from the emulsion of our bodies and from the “neoliberalism of the state” comes this new economic paradigm which, although it still requires the production of goods and foods, celebrates above all else social reproduction, superimposes production and reproduction, and makes obsolete Marx’s theory of values, making the body the core location of the (re)productive process: “With the shift from Fordist capitalism to biocapitalism, the social relationship represented by capital tends to become internal to the human being. But, far from it being capital that is humanised, it is the life of individuals that becomes capitalisable”.
Emotions, imagination and bodies are our new working tools
The fallacious freedom of choice and so-called self-determination are the glue holding together the new religion of “entrepreneurship”, false ingredients of the diminished (post-)democracy we are living in. The new labour model is no longer even the artistic project, but rather care work, in which feminisation, its unpaid nature, complete devotion and structural insecurity are the common features. Emotions, imagination and bodies are our new working tools, and cognitive, embodied and feminised work, uncontrolled and made up of unwavering dedication, is its privileged form. Life becomes merchandise, nothing can now escape commodification, and the onscreen body is its main territory.
And it’s not only women: many men, too, are beginning to carry out (re)productive tasks in which their bodies and emotional abilities form their greatest capital, from the Deliveroo or Glovo riders to the warehousemen at Amazon, not forgetting “community managers”, we are all now carrying out the work of sustaining, distributing or caring that was traditionally carried out by women. All of us, men and women alike, put our bodies and our smiles to work.
As you yourself reminded us (in a rather Brechtian tone of voice), imaginaries do not only (or do not so much) represent as they do build, and bodies that work today are subject to digital engineering and that, despite their apparent deliquescence and lightings, they have, as Armen Avanessian reminds us, a very material basis and very real relationship with power (with the powers that be) that map out a new class struggle, a new digital division of labour: “‘Overlooking’ the material aspects of new technology is especially convenient for those who profit from the underlying material relations of power and exploitation (…) What was true centuries ago—in the ancient slaveholder society of Athens or in the religious Middle Ages—remains true in the age of neo-feudalistic monopoly capitalism under Google, Facebook, Amazon & co.: our ignorance with respect to the material foundations of the ‘cloud’ or to what is misguidedly called immaterial labor, not only burdens every individual, but affects our society as a whole. Digital platforms, too, are only possible qua the exploitation of material resources: of nature (silicon for microchips, cobalt for lithium-ion batteries, etc.), of the physics of the people who dismantle, assemble, and install them, and finally of all those who use and consume them.”
You spoke in your last letter of my propositional (and, I would add, determined) tone, insisting on leveraging a genealogy to push us beyond resistance, to action against this murderous world of work and its ancillary visual system. And, I, the convinced pessimist that I am, tell you that it’s not that we should continue with this struggle, but that I believe our lives are at stake in it. The lives we want, at least.
It may be that the future is a world without jobs, but, for the time being, what we’re doing is working constantly. All of us, men and women, have become (re)producers, although this does not seem to mean that reproductive tasks (at least those associated with homecare and the sustenance of human beings) are more valued or (better) paid. The fact is that those tasks not considered jobs (cultural work, sexual work, affective labour, care work, etc.) will only see a shift in the way they are valued on the street and in parliament, with the political will required to achieve it. Today, at a time of unparalleled deregulation, when the “the uberisation of the world” has become deeply rooted in all of us, men and women, this call to the citizenship of bodies, demanding their rights on the streets seems more apposite than ever. And those bodies that struggle, as you also pointed out, are also bodies that work.
I don’t know how to continue with this correspondence after so many open lines and so many shared interests. Whatever the case, I send you this letter with my very best regards,
 See in this regard, to mention but a few examples published in Spain:
Various authors, Lo que el trabajo esconde. Materiales para un replanteamiento de los análisis sobre el trabajo (“What work hides. Materials for rethinking the analysis of work”), Traficantes de Sueños, 2005;
Mª Jesús Vara (ed.), Estudios sobre género y economía (“Studies on gender and economy”), Akal, 2006;
Laboratorio Feminista, Transformaciones del trabajo desde una perspectiva feminista (“Transformations of work from a feminist perspective”), Tierra de Nadie, 2006;
Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Dinero, perlas y flores en la reproducción feminista (“Money, pearls and flowers in feminist reproduction”), Akal, 2009;
Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero. Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, PM Press/Common Notions, 2012; and
Silvia Federici, El patriarcado del salario. Críticas feministas al marxismo (“The patriarchy of salary. Feminist reviews of Marxism”), Traficantes de Sueños, 2018.
 María Ruido, Just do it! Cuerpos e imágenes de mujeres en la nueva división del trabajo (“Just Do It! Bodies and Images of Women in the New Division of Labour”), in Sánchez Leyva, Mª José and Reigada Olaizola, Alicia (coordinators), Crítica feminista y comunicación social (“Feminist review and social communication”), Comunicación Social, 2007, p.110.
In this regard, Federici provides a brilliant analysis of the sexual division of work, the family (which she calls the proletariat family) and the patriarch, in Silvia Federici, op. cit., 2018.
Godard, J. L. and Roger, J. H., British Sounds, 1969, 50 minutes.
 “Ken Loach en colère à Cannes : ‘Désormais c’est le travailleur qui doit s’exploiter lui-même’” (“Ken Loach angry in Cannes: ‘Unfortunately it is the workers who have to exploit themselves’”), LCI, https://www.lci.fr/festival-de-cannes/festival-de-cannes-2019-sorry-we-missed-you-ken-loach-en-colere-a-cannes-desormais-c-est-le-travailleur-qui-doit-s-exploiter-lui-meme-2121493.html?fbclid=IwAR2yjojo_xXrN4R3x5u9kdhHpP9yYIKQTm2Az0M3HPrTSzHOhbX-hYyhVKY, last visited on 27.05.2019.
 Cristina Morini, Por amor o a la fuerza. Feminización del trabajo y biopolítica del cuerpo (“By love or by force. Feminisation of work and biopolitics of the body”), Traficantes de Sueños, 2014, p. 29.
 A large number of these latter ideas in the letter stem from an article of mine that I’ve been working on in recent months and which is soon to be published under the title El sexo y la fábrica (“Sex and the Factory”) by Barcelona’s La Virreina Centre de L’Imatge towards the end of 2019 in the collective work Working Dead. Escenarios del postrabajo (“The Working Dead: Post-work scenarios”), whose editors are Antonio Gómez Villar, Marta Echaves and myself, María Ruido.
Extract from Armen Avanessian, Future Metaphysics, Polity, 2019, from “Future Metaphysics”, A*Desk, https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:wasJa4BUtZQJ:https://a-desk.org/en/magazine/future-metaphysics/+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=es, last viewed on 27.05.2019.
Cf. in this regard, for example, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, Verso Books, 2016.
When I warn you that when seeking to talk of body and representation, we “focus”, even with passion (I’d say), on the representation of bodies that work, I discover shared ideals that are striking as, it’s true, “something crucial is at stake there”. How can we ignore maternity and the representation of the new self-exploited subject that is the working and feminised subject of cultural capitalism? A subject mediated by screens that seems not to get dirty nor to have a body made of flesh (but instead of pixels), a subject that hides their Prozac, their diary, their caffeine, their early mornings spent online, their comfy slippers in the camera’s blind spots, everything that streams around their face and unfocused body.
Every age frames itself in what it portrays and in what it hides (or blurs).
Living the dream in Second Life
I’m not entirely sure why (although I have an idea), but on rereading our last two letters, I can’t help thinking of my niece, who, when she was just a few years old, always told me a tale that began the same way: “Once upon a time there was a woman who had a girl and the woman died”. But also when she was asked about school, games, her lunch or a stomach ache, for a time her reply always included a mother who had a daughter and died: in other words, it always featured her own story. Something now seems familiar to me in the way that “what interests us” acts as a point of entry into our writing because it also hurts us and it can be seen. I think that every tale, and obviously every letter, gives us, together with what we are saying and the standpoint we take, the keys to a significant order that provides evidence of the points of tension of our way of seeing and, in this case, of its images.
I find tales of representation and bodies interesting in many ways, but these days it’s difficult for me to conceive them in the trance of a subjectivation that is not habitually mediated by work and technology. You speak of the world’s “the uberisation of the world”, and it seems to me that this expression could provide a convincing title for the normalisation of self-exploited bodies that work insecurely to provide services for others, the satisfaction of whose whims is but a mouse click away. Any body that is attached to fingers now has appended apps meaning some zero-hours slave can supply it now, right away, with whatever it wants (food, gifts, ratings, care, transport, selling what it has just purchased…).
Mythic Hybrid, Prema Murthy (2002)
It’s also a fact that the extreme availability of the world and technologies distances the bodies making products, clothing or artefacts from the places they are so abundantly placed on sale. I think of the bodies that make and assemble the computer at which I am typing, which are not illusory like the animated bodies flitting across the screen. These bodies huddle down when they suffer, are raised when they enjoy themselves, and are also blocked when they are not sure if they are enjoying themselves because they are alive, or are suffering, because it is never easy to work out if the constant grind of work, when it takes over your life, is something you can really call “life”.
The artist Prema Murthy dealt with this issue in 2002 her work Mythic Hybrid, seeking to counter the “fake news” about women working in microelectronics factories in India, who were said to suffer from collective hallucination and mass hysteria. Investigating these reports, Murthy reached them without mediations and found a group of sane, rational women with identities constructed by a set of complex social and psychological factors, with impossible working hours and dependent families. Murthy turned their voices and stories into a device acting as the focus and point of entry into the reality of their life and working conditions as cogs in the machine of technological production: “The boss tells me not to bring our women’s problems with us to work if we want to be treated equal. I am only one person — and I bring my whole self to work with me. So what does he mean, don’t bring my ‘women’s problems’ here?”
For some time now, the patriarchy and capitalism have been weaving a fabric of representation that has had and continues to have a wide variety of forms, of which you note a number. Of them, I’m particularly interested in the aiming of imaginaries towards building, on the basis of images, the place that is expected of us in the world, or, more perversely, the turning of oppressed subjects into agents upholding their own subordination (women in the patriarchy, self-exploited workers in capitalism).
There are “non-social value” aspects of women’s work that have solidified these now-converging imaginaries, such as invisibility, flexibility, multi-activity, instruction in agreeableness (reminiscent of that ley del agrado (law of pleasing) discussed by Amelia Valcárcel), dedication and availability. Values strongly represented in 20th century fiction by the archetypes of the “good wife” and the “angel in the house”. Those mentioned by, amongst others, Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir, speculating about their necessary “death”. Almost by way of a switch, I am reminded of the illustrations of the magazine Consigna, published by the “Female Section” of the FET y de las JONS fascists, which did so much harm by reaffirming this model under Franco’s dictatorship.
Leaving aside how grim this still-recent imaginary—whose wounds are still much in evidence today—may seem to many of us, I am struck by the way this model of subjection has been associated with the idea of happiness and destiny. A happiness that, by way of contrast, has busied itself with portraying the bodies of its fiercest critics as “unhappy and ugly”. The recent allusions by far-right politicians to “ugly feminists” and their resentments is a clear example of this. Sara Ahmed refers to the use of happiness and its representation to justify oppression, ranging from “feminist critiques of the figure of ‘the happy housewife,’ black critiques of the myth of ‘the happy slave,’ and queer critiques of the sentimentalization of heterosexuality as ‘domestic bliss’” reiterating the conditions of its power and “its appeal”. As I suggested in my previous letter, I think that describing as “happy” that which is sought to be imposed is an effective strategy by those in power to resign us to a liveable precariousness, that “politics of illusion” of which de Beauvoir spoke.
what’s going on with men and their bodies?
Anyway, now that our letters are going to end up in the public domain, I am haunted by the notion (almost in the form of a suggestion for the Correspondence that others may enter into) of the correlative representation that would accompany the “death of the angel of the house”. After all, what’s going on with men and their bodies? I mean that, just as we traditionally identify an objectification of women stripped of subjectivity and reduced to a body and the caring for bodies and surrounding lives, there are also other losses in the case of men, in that, as part of their cultural trance, they have deprived themselves of the “materiality of their bodies”. Using this argument, Braidotti advocates the need for men to “bring the angel down from heaven”, calling for an end to the abstract assimilation between “man” and “human”.
There would be a real need to synchronise that link as a way of reconciling oneself with the vulnerability of bodies, with their instabilities and changes, with their inherent materiality and that of those that surround them, with it being possible to care for them, for ourselves, I mean. And I don’t know what you think, but I regard this shift in imaginary towards “new masculinities”, ones that that do not speak of anything else than new subjectivities undivorced from their bodies as still very incipient. I think that there could be a significant cultural transformation here and part of the necessary political transformation that falls to bodies, one that includes their representations.
And, although networks are speeding up a process of “aesthetisation” that is also affecting men, it is something even more epidermic than the materiality of the body of which I’m speaking. The image is the first stratum that changes us, but there are others that sustain it, and I think: “why does that director or that scientist appear ‘not to have a body’?” Yourcenar suggested that a man who reads or thinks, a man in command, has belonged to the species and not to the sex, a man who reads or thinks has even been able to aspire to “escape from the human condition”. It has not been the same for women who read and think, whose scrutiny has always been charged with their links, their body and their image.
However, I believe that the place where this dependence most operates as an oppressive bond is in women’s naked bodies, the greatest exponent of androcentric ocularcentrism. The recent story that hit close to home of the suicide of a woman harassed by her “own images” which, being private, were spread across the ‘net, should represent a turning point in a crucial issue linking the visual representation of women’s bodies with freedom.
It is noteworthy how accountability is demanded of the looked-at body but not of seeing as something also corporeal.
Damaging “decency”, educated shame and blame, reputations made vulnerable in advance, a scandalous lack of sex education, porn as an introduction to sex, lack of awareness and belittling of female pleasure, asymmetrical assignation of meaning to bodies that may (or may not) feel enjoyment depending upon their gender, patriarchy and power, but also disengagement from the responsibility of seeing. It is noteworthy how accountability is demanded of the looked-at body but not of seeing as something also corporeal.
The activist Laurie Penny stated if someone has a photo of someone else in the nude or lightly clothed “they have great power over them”. Something very common on the ‘net, where many adolescent girls and women are blackmailed by those reminding them that their reputation depends on their photos, there where the “chat room” creates an illusion of privacy but is a potential display case. How deceitful is this feeling of a short shelf life and “being alone”, when we think that what we share onscreen disappears like the words we speak, when the opposite is the case, that they get caught up in the circulation of that which, though private, demands to be seen and put into motion (knowingly shared) on the assumption that the watching eyes are unseen. With no room for ethics or criticism, everything slips between our fingers, the fingers that type, without appreciating how we are using 21st-century media with morals that come from and go back to the Middle Ages, punishing women’s desires whilst encouraging them to be put on display for the enjoyment of the male gaze.
On many levels, the Internet is changing everything. If, before, images were that which we looked up and down at as portraits hung on walls, now they have become so normalised that they bury the subject, making us look at the world through their mediations, at the body through their photographs. This current world allows us to talk of ourselves and be together whilst our bodies are far apart and generally controlled behind the screens, but at the same time demands that we live alongside ourselves, or our representations, I mean.
Under the illusion of a horizontal look at others, power spies on us with cameras, satellites and permanently connected devices. Bodies are exhibited, yes, but subjects are nevertheless monitored, observed, broken down, given meaning, saved and predicted, whilst our images of ourselves appear to delineate a different regime, one of excessive images. Everything that is an image is saved and generally forgotten, but some remain and some hurt us. And I think that, together with the symbolic reiteration propping up the “power and imaginary” relationship, we should not forget the self-management of our representations. Bodies claim their right to appearance and disappearance, in that they are and are on the political field.
“Everything that tires, that occupies, that disciplines and stresses our body, but also everything that constructs it”: this is also true of disappearing. Now, not only my body but also my soul (I mean “my body is my soul”) tires itself in front of the computer to bid farewell to this public showcase (off), leaving a glimpse of what we still regard as “private”. A pleasure, this conversation, which has been a sort of “reading and writing, thinking with you”, María.
 Amelia Valcárcel, Opinión pública. Medios de comunicación e imagen. La ley del agrado (“Public opinion: Media and image. The law of pleasing”), in Documentos de Trabajo, Fundación Carolina, no. 45, 2010, https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=3733876, viewed on 03.06.2019.
 Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, Duke University Press, 2010, p2.
 Rosi Braidotti, Cyberfeminism with a difference, New Formations 29, 1996, pp. 9-25.
 Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1963.
 La Fiscalía investiga el suicidio de una empleada de Iveco tras la difusión de un vídeo sexual
(“Public prosecutors investigate the suicide of an Iveco employee after the spreading of a sexual video”), El País, https://elpais.com/sociedad/2019/05/29/actualidad/1559112195_230127.html, viewed on 09.06.2019.
 Laurie Penny, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, Bloomsbury, 2014.
Our conversation is drawing to a close and, as you said in your last letter, we have spoken of bodies and representation, but above all, we have done so from a standpoint that interests us, devoting our attention to bodies that work, and particularly to those that care and are cared for, bodies that are exhibited and turned into merchandise or the hostages of gazes. And we have done so because we are bodies, bodies that work and care and are cared for, because we are what they call “women”. Not because that’s what we are biologically, but rather because we have constructed ourselves as such, and as such we are subjects, but above all objects, of patriarchal violence and of the violence intrinsic to the visual system.
This latest missive finds me tired, exhausted at the end of the academic year of a university that is increasingly becoming a private enterprise rather than a place for producing critical thought. And I’m also tired of caring, that infinite and invisible work, that work of being there for someone else that has been drilled into us and that entails so very many contradictions, because caring is so important that it becomes crucial to our lives when we are fragile and when we care for those who sustained and supported us during those times, but which is also impregnated with that mysticism of the “angel of the home” that we try to rid ourselves of and distance ourselves from. When, as I wrote in my previous letter, shall we put life at the heart of things and start to question the biocapitalism that turns all our actions, movements, feelings and needs into merchandise?
“Your loneliness is an essential part of a business model”, explains French journalist Judith Duportail in her book L’Amour sous algorithme, which tells of her experience with Tinder. Our entire life and all its complexities, spied upon and translated by big data, for consumption, our consumption of one another and, what is more worrying, for everything to stay the same: “Tinder can rate us on the basis of our attractiveness, but also (scanning our messages and the way in which we communicate) of our intelligence, education level and economic standing. What’s more, Tinder may assess men and women differently. Men with a high level of studies and income receive a better score, whilst women of the same characteristics are scored lower. The purpose of this is for men to be matched with “inferior” women. The patent describes a system that promotes men being superior to women: older, better-paid and, probably, better-educated. I find it quite concerning how Tinder advertises itself as a modern, progressive application that supports women’s rights, but when you read the documents signed by the founders themselves, they describe a completely different value system”.
The new worker par excellence is one who puts their entire life to work, the one who no longer has a life, the one who is merely a show
Yeah, we already suspected this. Neoliberal semiocapitalism wasn’t going to be any more emancipating than its post-Fordist predecessor. Not only has it brought us the devaluation of our work, with what we generically label the “gig economy”, but it is also proving to strengthen the most antiquated and inflexible gender, class, race and genderising stereotypes, whilst simultaneously and exponentially increasing the forms of control over our bodies and out thoughts. Patriarchy, neo-colonial racism and capitalism, all weaved together in a fabric so dense that it is practically invisible. The new worker par excellence is one who puts their entire life to work, the one who no longer has a life, the one who is merely a show for others: the Instagrammer, the YouTuber, the “influencer”, the “it girl” (and a woman, to complete the show).
the pornification of the world has reached unimaginable extremes
The many tasks of our genderised bodies, tasks of caring, of reproduction but also of production, tasks of the self-building of subjectivity and the assumption of imposed models of beauty are multiplied under the permanent watchfulness of data converted into information, of our bodies permanently at risk of being captured and turned into the targets of consumption and violence. As you yourself note, it is only men who have managed to escape their bodies, transcend them. We women are, first and foremost, (re)productive bodies, producing devotion and happiness (for others, at least), producing economic and symbolic gains, producing, particularly, visual pleasure (for others): the pornification of the world has reached unimaginable extremes.
How can we forget the recent suicide of a woman who saw how a sexual video of her went viral amongst her colleagues?, And how can we fail to connect it (using a wireless, app, of course) with the deadly running over of the Glovo rider? There we are, the lowest links of that apparently horizontal chain that is the Internet and its services. There we are, all of us, men and women, putting our bodies to work for biocapital, united until death do us part.
Violence against women, and especially against those critical of patriarchal norms or who try to question their principles, is ever-growing. And the ‘net has simply propagated this violence and the ability to capture and reify the words and the bodies of those women rebelling against it. This is precisely the subject of Angela Negle’s Kill All Normies and Lucía Lijtmaer’s more recent, and contextually proximate Ofendiditos (“Snowflakes”).
the culture of attack and aggression based on a pact between (almost always male)
The so-called “cultural wars” on the Internet, and more specifically what we could call the “war against women”, are based on a culture of rape surpassing the limits of class, time, and production systems that feeds violence—against women and children in particular—and, by extension, against all the most fragile beings within our world system: the culture of attack and aggression based on a pact between (almost always male) elites that would explain everything from the femicides on the Mexican/US border, covered by Rita Laura Segato, to sexual aggression as a form of real estate mobbing, as told by Jana Leo in her spine-chilling account of her own rape in New York.
Our bodies have value in their production of life, but also in their public ridicule or fetishisation, in knowing themselves hostages of others who have made the instantaneous circulation of information and images possible, despite the belief that they are private and controlled: the new autos-da-fé do not take place in the town square, but on our screens and often with our complicity (conscious or unconscious). How can we forget, for example, the recalcitrant Madrid regional President Cristina Cifuentes and her creams lifted from a neighbourhood supermarket? These images, stored for years, remind us of the blackmail inherent in possessing images of others, and of how difficult privacy is in the times of 4G, and how impossible it will be with the arrival of 5G and when the so-called “Internet of Things” spreads still further.
However, going a step further, our bodies take on their supreme value in death announced by the media, in the connection between sexual violence, women’s struggle and the media’s exploitation of dead, mangled, violated bodies. From the first “media-friendly” serial killer, Jack the Ripper, up to the latest of the 1,000 victims recorded in Spain over the last 16 years, including the Alcàsser murders, Marta del Castillo, the “Wolf Pack” (Manada) case and that of Diana Quer, and as political scientist Nerea Barjola reminds us in a recent interview, “every heteropatriarchal attack is due to progress by the feminist movement and, therefore, by all women. Violence is aggravated by our freedom. It’s not something static. Its role is to subdue us”.
The case of the disappearance of the girls in Alcàsser in November 1992 and the discovery of their bodies two months later, together with that of Ana Orantes (the woman who denounced the abuse she had suffered her entire life on the Canal Sur television station in 1997 and who was murdered days after the broadcast) represented a milestone in the obscene necrophiliac exhibition of the culture of violence and murder in the Spanish media.
Brought back to life by a recent Netflix series, the case of the Alcàsser girls is particularly paradigmatic of a dire journalistic practice and an incomprehensible misuse of (often false) information. Patriarchy and power come together here in a media spectacle to sketch out an appalling picture that should never have been drawn in the first place and which represented the climax of a particularly contemptible period in Spanish television that drew attention away from the creaky management of the PSOE party under Felipe González. Although the Netflix series certainly does suffer from the commercial and sensationalist clichés of this type of product and lacks any feminist discussion summarising the words of Nerea Barjola, Rita Laura Segato or other experts on the many forms of violence against women and children, it is true that, albeit in questionable style, it does analyse the sensationalism and ghoulish relish with which the Spanish television stations of the time dealt with the matter.
Patriarchy, power and visual system. This closes the circle of bodies and representations whose line we have been travelling along these past months. And, as it seems so necessary to me in these dark times, I would like to end by—once again—making mention of an empowering session at a seminar held by Andrea Soto at Barcelona’s La Virreina Centre de l’Imatge on 5 June, which, on the basis of readings of Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze, reminded us that images are not closed, impenetrable and unquestionable entities, but rather dynamic and porous devices that can be activated in ways other than the “screenshot” for which they are designed. They can be activated and their workings changed such that they become devices other than those pre-established ones, even in a way that is contrary to their “standard” built-in functions. We can and must change the device and its formats and functions, so that our images belong to us, at least a little more. Changing the game, once again, to change the rules… as we noted some time back.
With this call to disobedient, activating visual practice, I shall bid farewell. It has been a pleasure to chat with you in public over the last few weeks. Let’s hope that this conversation soon takes place body-to-body: no mobiles, no cameras, no screenshots. Just two friends chatting, just a conversation that will soon be lost in time and space.
My best regards,
P.S. A couple of days before finishing this letter, Spain’s Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling and found the five defendants in the La Manada (Wolf Pack) case guilty of rape, sentencing each of them to 15 years in prison. The indignation aroused by finding them only guilty sexual assault was one of the many issues at the heart of the demonstrations of 8 March 2018 and 2019.
 Beatriz Serrano: “Por qué ligar es tan extremadamente difícil en la era de Tinder” (Interview with journalist Judith Duportail about her book L’Amour sous algorithme), 19-06-2019 on elpais.com, https://smoda.elpais.com/feminismo/ligar-dificil-era-tinder/?fbclid=IwAR0dTQx0MSr0pwKHl6KFsXFhwfC18Zs3711aCAqlsZcY16N2kbTD9vXHNHE (last viewed on 23-06-2019).
 Cf., by way of example, the recent press articles on both cases, occurring just a few days apart: Juan Manuel García: “Los trabajadores de Glovo llaman a la protesta tras el atropello mortal de un repartidor”, 26-05-2019 on lavanguardia.com, https://www.lavanguardia.com/local/barcelona/20190526/462475177861/trabajadores-glovo-protesta-muerte-repartidor-barcelona.html, (last viewed on 23-06-2019) and Luis F. Durán, Sara Fernández and Luis Núñez: “Una empleada de Iveco se suicida tras viralizarse en la empresa un vídeo sexual”, 29-05-2019 on elmundo.es, https://www.elmundo.es/madrid/2019/05/28/5ced493efdddffb0758b48fb.html (last viewed on 23-06-2019).
 Cf. Angela Negle, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, Zero Books, Alresford, 2017 and Lucía Lijtmaer, Ofendiditos. Sobre la criminalización de la protesta (“Snowflakes: on the Criminalisation of Protest”), Anagrama, Barcelona, 2019.
 Rita Laura Segato, La guerra contra las mujeres (“The War Against Women”), Traficantes de Sueños, Madrid, 2016.
 Jana Leo, Rape New York, The Feminist Press, New York, 2011.
 Cf. in this regard Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight. Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992.
 Andrea Momoitio, “De Alcàsser a Boiro, nuestras desaparecidas” (Interview with Nerea Barjola on her book Microfísica sexista del poder. El caso de Alcàsser y la construcción del terror sexual), 6-02-2018 on pikaramagazine.com, https://www.pikaramagazine.com/2018/02/de-alcasser-a-boiro-nuestras-desaparecidas/ (last viewed on 23-06-2019). For more information, see the highly recommended book by Nerea Barjola Microfísica sexista del poder. El caso de Alcàsser y la construcción del terror sexual (“The Sexist Microphysics of Power: The Alcàsser Murders and the Construction of Sexual Terror”), Virus, Barcelona, 2018.
 Cf. The Alcàsser Murders (2019), directed by Elías León Seminiani and produced by Bambú Producciones for Netflix.
 An excellent critique of the series’ “Manichean” approach, of its own media-related implications and of its lack of a feminist perspective is to be found in Jonathan Martínez’s article, “Regreso a Alcàsser” (“Return to Alcàsser”), 22-06-2019, on ctxt.es, https://ctxt.es/es/20190619/Firmas/26896/Jonathan-Mart%C3%ADnez-caso-alcasser-circo-mediatico-violencia-de-genero-television.htm (last viewed on 23-06-2019).
 Cf. Andrea Soto Calderón, Image Device, La Virreina Lab seminar, 5-06-2019 at La Virreina Centre de l’Imatge, Barcelona, http://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/lavirreina/en/activities/image-device/381 (last viewed on 28-06-2019).
Ana Requena Aguilar, “Fue violación: el Supremo condena a quince años de cárcel a los cinco miembros de ‘la manada’ por agresión sexual”, 21-06-2019 in eldiario.es, https://www.eldiario.es/sociedad/violacion-Supremo-XX-miembros-agresion_0_912359267.html (last viewed on 23-06-2019).
Continuing with our conversation of this past summer, I’m writing you this letter because I’m really interested in your perspective on an issue that has followed me like a shadow throughout my life and that, despite my perhaps overplayed indifference, continues to call for periodic efforts on my part, quite unrelated to my core interests, such as looking back and asking myself whether the past was always better and all those things you think about when you get old.
Given that we’re talking of a time at which you were busy being born, I suppose it took a while before you became aware of the impact of the great sociocultural transformations that took place in the first decades of the second half of the 20th century, spearheaded by a radically non-conformist youth that opposed and imposed new ways of looking at life—most particularly through artistic activism—upon a fearful and prudish Western society that, after the absurd horror of the Holocaust and the war, was embarking upon the worrying yet incipiently comfortable period of the Pax Americana and the Cold War.
Fundación Foto Colectania’s invitation to take part in this exchange has made me revisit that time of change—which, due to our country’s “special circumstances”, took place towards the end of the ’70s—with an exhibition* of the early works of four friends, four artists with whom I have worked on numerous projects, particularly at the time these photos were taken. Photos that, at the time, I found brilliant and authentic, and which I remember as newly minted and individual. Images that I myself, in many cases, was responsible for publishing in and on magazines, cards, posters and catalogues. Always free, always available, polysemic. Works that I helped to mount, frame and exhibit, that I promoted and, on occasion, sold. Photos that belong—obviously—to what is now referred to as La Movida.
It’s always vitally important to be blessed with the hope and innocence required for the idea of living in freedom to appear sufficient and exhilarating.
For decades, my job has been exactly the same: the same magazine, under different names and formats; the same gallery, the same relationship with artists. Nevertheless, these are the only images that come back to me, propelled by a mysterious world force that periodically transmits them to the current time as a symbol of a period—the first stage of Spain’s democratic “transition”—much discussed, touched upon and unscrupulously exploited, one that undoubtedly represents a turning point in our collective history: a decisive and transformative link between what we unfortunately were and what we have unfortunately become.
It’s a stroke of luck to have one’s biological youth coincide with an inaugural period of the world surrounding you. There’s always a part of the social structure that fades and rots away whilst another pushes to break out. And, in those days, in our world, the entire system had (luckily) collapsed.
The goal then was to get away, as fast as possible, from that rotten, decrepit part; to leave behind one’s provincial town or city, bid farewell to family, childhood friends, studies, job… in short, to all those circumstances standing in the way of that other liberated person which, we were completely convinced, lay dormant within us.
To become someone different, to create a new personality somewhere else, together with others unaware of our past, which, much like theirs, was of no interest whatsoever.
It’s always vitally important to be blessed with the hope and innocence required for the idea of living in freedom to appear sufficient and exhilarating.
Some great trends and movements regarded here as contemporary had actually arisen in the recent past, whilst others were already more the 20 years old: Simone de Beauvoir had penned The Second Sex in 1949; the Mods and Rockers had appeared in England in the ’50s; William Burroughs Junky had been written in 1953; Frida Kahlo had died in 1954; Dylan had released Blonde on Blonde in 1966; Swinging London, that at once daunting and unattainable precedent, had spanned the entirety of the ’60s; Andy Warhol had shot Chelsea Girls in 1966, Dennis Hopper Easy Rider in ’69. In 1971, Yoko Ono had grafted conceptual art onto the very heart of pop culture and Michael Jackson had begun his career as a solo artist; David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust had appeared in 1972. And, by the end of the ’70s—just when things were kicking off for us—Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, the pioneering bands of Heavy Metal, had broken up and Sid Vicious, the shooting star of Punk, had died of an overdose.
It could be argued that everything really important had already happened and that, here in Spain, only a few were aware of the fact: what’s more (and logically enough), those few were from well-off families who had benefitted from Franco’s regime and had been able to leverage the opportunity to travel and even to acquire and bring home those strange and marvellous ideas that, to all those who accessed them, understanding nothing, appeared almost magical.
Then, all of a sudden, the unthinkable happened: Franco died, and the scant opposition had agreed with the obsolete structure of his regime a new era of democratic freedoms. The fact that this agreement did not include a break with our dictatorial past nor any demands for political and criminal accountability was the cause of great demotivation in radicalised anti-Franco militants, an effect that got its name from the film made by Jaime Chávarri in 1975 about the decadence of the family of poet Leopoldo Panero: El desencanto (The Disenchantment).
Up until that point, anything of political or cultural interest had occurred clandestinely, as part of the “underground”.
The attractiveness of dissimulated and concealed activities—which created strong bonds of understanding and protectiveness between all those involved in them—embraced everything from membership of illegal political organisations to interests in prohibited cultural activities and even personal forms of organising one’s life and sexual relations. However, at a stroke, all this epic aspect of resistance vanished with the arrival of formal liberties. In an instant, and when many felt it was no longer possible, the overwhelming hypocrisy created by forty years of fear disappeared with a ridiculous puff of wind that swept away the entire past and forced everyone to define themselves without hiding behind a mask. And the local counterculture, emerging forcefully from the fascination for its ignorance, became quite the happening. This mental liberation party lasted three or four years. Not bad for a party.
It was simply a case of urgently updating yourself and, following Marx’s argument to the effect that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, congratulating oneself that one was experiencing the latter.
What’s more, due to both Franco’s policies on the family and simple boredom, Spain’s post-Civil War generation got down to producing kids left, right and centre, with the result that all of this took place in an overwhelmingly young society.
A youth that embraced the opportunity for liberation with great enthusiasm and that locked away everything old—be it useful or unserviceable—in the most ominous of oblivions.
The exhibition’s photos give a brilliant account of all of this. Even the very toughest images transmit a message of experimenting with life and innocence. The intensity of the game will be contemplated with nostalgia or envy these days, maybe because they express such a strong lust for life.
I’m with Saint Augustine** when he says that the past does not exist without the present of the past: the mark left on our times by its memory.
Today, many schools of thought, and of politics, accuse that young generation of having accepted this forgetting of the recent past as a form of survival and a way to overcome the traumas suffered during the dictatorship and the Civil War. And, beyond that, of having embraced individualistic hedonism and the liberal laws of the market.
It is true that every generation shares a part of the blame for the problems of the present of the present. However, this would require a deeper and more serious analysis: it may well be that the opportunity was missed to promote a more aware and serious society; one that was deeper and more thoughtful; fairer and more supportive; one that was, in short, more civilised. However, the triumph of tolerance and respect for what is different that took place at that time continues, today, to show its moribund face.
The subsequent generation did make those political demands, or is making them now, and had its flash of enthusiasm during the 15M demonstrations, when the old order appeared to be on the verge of crumbling and new possibilities for reinvention made a convincing appearance on the horizon.
It is true that, after that, something has significantly changed, and the opportunity is probably still there for the grasping. Everything changes inexorably, due, amongst other reasons, to generational energies, including both ambitions and failures.
So, Andrea, from the liberating certainty that I am in no way the same person that I once was, and begging your pardon for the crudeness of my arguments, I shall sign off here, eagerly anticipating your input.
** “What now is clear and plain is, that neither things to come nor past are. Nor is it properly said, “there be three times, past, present, and to come”: yet perchance it might be properly said, “there be three times; a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future.” For these three do exist in some sort, in the soul, but otherwhere do I not see them; present of things past, memory; present of things present, sight; present of things future, expectation. If thus we be permitted to speak, I see three times, and I confess there are three. Let it be said too, “there be three times, past, present, and to come”: in our incorrect way”
Saint Augustine, Confessions
Book XI, Chapter XX
I’m delighted to have read your letter and to be invited to participate in this dialogue on Image and Counterculture, despite the fact that I didn’t live through one of its most talked-about moments. Put it this way: what I know about La Movida is what I’ve heard through its music and what is conveyed through its images, which are important in that they stress the fact of having been there. I say, “having been there” if there is any merit in that. It may well be that it was more difficult to make it through those years in one piece and do so with panache, without falling into the trap of either cynicism or excessive nostalgia. That, I think, is your position. Or, at least, that’s how it appears from your letter. I was struck by the fact that your most direct allusion to the act of taking (or making) a photograph came from Saint Augustine when you say that, according to him, “the past does not exist without the present of the past: the mark left on our times by its memory”, a phrase that I interpret as the materialisation of an image. Having said that, I think I’ve got no choice but, with all the cheek in the world, to speak to you from the outside, as a “spectator”, as that is what I was and what I continue to be: someone who saw La Movida on a screen and who associates it with three words reminiscent of bodge jobs and potions.
“Pistons, rotors and spark plugs …” And that’s because, for me, many of its characters were members of a much larger cast, a cathodic delirium in which the best… were puppets, even if they were barely distinguishable from the rest. That’s what happens when you grow up in a time of gifts, amongst battery-powered ashtrays, papier mâché Tintins and Miralda piggybanks, so that, in the end, Avería the Witch is more real to you than Ana Blanco, that news reader who never had a hair out of place despite her “informing” us of Spain’s entry into the European Union, Dolly the cloned sheep and 9/11. What’s more, even though I studied Political Science, it took quite a while for it to dawn on me that Spain’s democratic “Transition” was not exemplary. In fact, I only realised when most people did, in the midst of an economic crisis and waving their hands in the air, in the middle of a square full of placards with phrases such as, “No nos representan” (NOT IN OUR NAME) or “De aquellos polvos, estos lodos” (YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW).
Like many others, I question the impact of the 15M movement you also mention in your letter, but at least it opened up some of the debates that remained outstanding, including a critical assessment of our attaining democracy. This being such a recent phenomenon, I find it difficult to read the images of La Movida independently of and ignoring this change. I often view them as documenting a tale that does not always show them in the best light and I would imagine that that’s where the challenge of this invitation lies, although this is (fortunately enough) a shared challenge. This is confirmed by some words I found in a catalogue on La Movida, which mentions you as founder of La Luna de Madrid, a magazine which is described therein as follows: “It seems difficult to understand, now, why its famous manifestos were, from the very beginning, so querulous, who knows whether due to modesty, realism or because there was a certain lack of spirit. (…) Were we not on the crest of a wave, was Madrid not the coolest joint in the whole wide world?”
This quote leads me to think that, even then, you were being very careful, celebrating the effervescence of the scene with a degree of caution. You say you’ve changed, but the truth is that this reminds me of the Borja who presented the website El Estado Mental to me by saying, “Another world is impossible”, when nobody wanted to hear it. However, I’m with you in that there’s no longer any room to live on the fringes, there’s no other way than changing what we have, and, in this desire, we find ourselves in tune with others, even those claiming they are sceptics, something that should also not surprise us. It was G. K. Chesterton who said that it’s not scepticism that destroys beliefs. It may be that it creates them by forcing others to defend their position and even cling to it. Sometimes, to ridiculous extremes, and it is then when the opposing interpretations and disagreements—so common in the Left—occur. La Movida was no exception. Today, more than ever, it polarises opinion: for some, it was a unique movement that represented an explosion of freedom and the desire to explore new forms of expression and lifestyles in a highly oppressive present, whilst others qualify its transgressive nature due to its shameless hedonism and complicity with the political powers that be (the PSOE socialist party). If the point was to live on the edge and break with convention, we have to admit that its legacy pales in comparison with that of the quinqui criminal element of the time. Even so, I have much vaguer memories of Perros callejeros than I do of Pepi, Luci, Boom y otras chicas del montón and, in the photos of Alberto García-Alix, I see a lifestyle as marginal as that of those youngsters that became petty criminals. Once again, everything depends on where we come from when reading things and what criteria we employ when doing so.
Why not put some pressure on the seams of the period and see what happens?
Those of Teresa Vilarós’ book chronicling Spain’s “Transition”, El mono del desencanto (Disenchantment Cold Turkey) are, perhaps, those I find most convincing, breaking as it does with the timescale that is usually attributed to it, which, in the official version, is neatly arranged in three clearly defined stages, when everything points to the fact that, in each stage, parts of the preceding ones lived on, as is the case now. In this regard, the “mono” (“cold turkey”, withdrawal) referred to in the title describes the way in which a social body metabolises the end of one system that was already decomposing and its embarking upon another. This change she explains metaphorically as a huge withdrawal. Or, more clearly stated: with the death of Franco, the Anti-Franco movement also died, creating a vacuum that had certain consequences. Upheavals, tremors and quakes. The word “movida” itself (whose meaning encompasses everything from “movement” and “action” to “restlessness” and even “trouble”) describes this state of ceaseless agitation. That’s why I prefer to interpret is as an anomaly and assume that its very nature involves arguing about it, even its dates. This being the case, why not put some pressure on the seams of the period and see what happens? One idea would be to look at El desencanto, as you mention, with reference to Bigas Luna’s Caniche. After all, both deal with an inheritance and its woes… and it is there that they mesh with La Movida. Another would be to assume that this phenomenon did not begin as they say it did. Its predecessor could well be that party that marked the end of the documentary Númax presenta… in which one of the main characters announces that he’ll never lift a finger ever again, which for me is very symptomatic. I discovered this documentary in the context of an exhibition on which I worked very closely with Carles Guerra, called 1979: un monumento a instantes radicales (1979: A Monument to Radical Moments), giving me a very comprehensive understanding of the year in which I was born. Comprehensive, but neither uniform nor condensed. Instead, I remember it as having different layers, as in The Aesthetics of Resistance, the book upon which it was based. Or Blauw Glas (Blue Glass), the work by Philippe Van Snick that I interpret as the jagged lens through which we view our past. And it is here that I return to photography.
I’m struck by how, although La Movida is synonymous with spontaneity and improvisation, we come across so few photos that have not been manipulated in some way, be this technically, as with the photomontages of Ouka Leele, or in terms of subject matter. In the portraits of Miguel Trillo, Pérez-Mínguez and García-Alix, the subjects look at the camera. They pose, with their outfits and makeup, on a pre-prepared set. One could say that the photographer staged the scene, and to a certain extent this brings me back to your letter, when you say that the priority was to run away, to reinvent oneself. To be someone else. A construction. Miguel Trillo even quipped about the cliché of capturing the moment: “In my case, I was never there at the ‘right’ time. I preferred being there before or after a concert, which is when the best people are there. At the beginning, those who arrived early, eager to stand in the front row. At the end, those who didn’t want to leave. That’s where I was.”
His interest in the audience makes me think of Dan Graham and the video Rock My Religion, in which he daringly examines the relationship between youth and music. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I find it interesting because he made it at the very same time as many of these photos were taken (1983-84). It’s a combination of texts, interviews, filmed footage and archive images that connects ’50s rock with old American traditions and, more specifically, with the cult of the Shakers, who met and danced jerkily whilst reciting passages from the Bible, rather like teenagers would later do to Chuck Berry and Elvis.
So it is that Graham leverages a “real”, albeit hidden, past to examine the present and future of one of his passions, music. In his video, the story of Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers, unfolds parallel to that of Patti Smith, who would (many years later) end up questioning the mysticism of rock in favour of a new, much more egalitarian language, closing a remarkable circle in which images from different periods take on resonance and are repeated. And that’s what interests me most: how this artist forges hitherto unseen links and connections, ones that free themselves of the shackles of historical narrative and its intended linearity. I mention this because I believe that there are phenomena that can only be explained with this type of action, going cold turkey or moving spasmodically, all the more so if we see that the La Movida was a kind of break, a temporal deviation. Once again, an anomaly.
Within a Spanish context, perhaps the closest to Graham’s heterodoxy are the videos of Patricia Esquivias, who was (like me) born in ’79 and who has travelled enough to have gleaned some idea of what foreigners think of Spain, and I think that this, too, is important, if we believe that La Movida was a projection of how we wanted to be perceived from the outside, as well as an attempt to get us into sync with the rest of Europe.
In this case, more than offering an alternative view of the facts, unearthing less obvious connections, what Esquivias does is to show how every official version has a corollary in the rumours, sayings and clichés that add to and take away from it, that deform it. And the point to which this distortion becomes embedded in our imagination and shapes us, almost more than anything else. She does this by commenting on a series of images, which are completely decontextualized and which she reinserts into her own narrative: thus, to speak of Jesús Gil, she uses an equestrian statue of Franco, as they were both horse lovers. And she illustrates the so-called ruta del bakalao (the disco “crawl” in the Valencia of the late ’80s and early ’90s) with Lladró figurines, which she regards as a formal folly. Amongst her ammunition in Folklore#1 is a photo of a young Almodóvar putting tights on in the changing rooms of Rock-Ola concert hall. It’s by Enrique Cano, who goes uncredited here, and is used as proof of a cliché that dates back to much earlier than La Movida and that lives on after it, to the effect that, “the Spaniards sure do love a good party”. Where could such an idea come from? Could it be true? Whether it is or not, by means of a cunning twist, what was a counterculture movement seeking a break with the past appears here in its most carnivalesque guise, in other words, reduced to an ancient trend or inclination, one that runs through a number of different periods.
So, with all these somewhat rough and ready ideas, I’ll conclude this letter and await your news.
 La Movida (catalogue); Molina, María; Santos, Nacho. Published by Regional Ministry for Culture and Tourism. Madrid, 2007.
Hello again Andrea,
I’ve received your letter and your observations are very interesting, and they’ve brought out in me (and I say this after having read myself) an impassioned tone from who knows where. But it’s not such a big deal.
You’re right: in carrying out this correspondence, I wanted to hear the opinion of someone who hadn’t been around at a time when what was really important was actually “being there”, in the right place at the right time: at an unmissable, truly prestigious happening. Or in pretending to have been there: I can even remember myself babbling and claiming that I had been at the legendary Rolling Stones concert at the Vicente Calderón football stadium.
The very word movida indicates action. Some say that this action was to go off to score drugs or to take part in a specific happening, a “movida”. Nobody knows who coined the term for describing this phenomenon, nor when it was first used.
The photos of the time concentrate and freeze this faraway look.
Whatever the case, it meant going somewhere. Normally to a dark gathering of bodies isolated and tormented by an infernal racket that prevented any kind of verbal interaction, making all and any personal contact sight-based.
The photos of the time concentrate and freeze this faraway look. The photographer searches amongst these dark bodies and pale faces to find those fitting his or her aesthetic ideals or that form part of his or her daily life, helping further the celebrated maxim of Andy Warhol (who was very much in vogue at the time) to the effect that, in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.
It may be that this distant contact and this visual relationship, together with the idea of being immortalised by the camera, makes people dress up, do their hair, accessorise themselves and don makeup: to become recognisable from a distance, whilst at the same time suggesting aesthetic, musical or sexual choices that highlight their personality and identify them with a group—the celebrated and much-vaunted “urban tribes”.
And it is also that far-off look and its selective image that makes the photography of the time the art form that most faithfully reflects the realities of the day. And its leading style is the portrait.
What would later be labelled La Movida was, I believe, a popular post-political movement that chose personal liberation and artistic creation as its attitude and distinguishing mark.
By “post-political”, I mean the point at which the exacerbation of conflict stopped being profitable in terms of votes, power or profit for the political and media-based powers that were, meaning that they let off the pressure for a while, allowing the limelight to be taken by other social, cultural, educational, etc. interests. This happened at that time, particularly after the “23-F” coup attempt of 1981, ceding the protagonism to the people and the streets, which used this freedom in a festive, creative and impassioned way.
So it came to pass that the general public became the best form of entertainment.
In response to the “Todo vale” (Anything Goes) challenge issued by Pablo Pérez-Mínguez in the early days of photography magazine Nueva Lente in the mid-1970s, which relaxed to the point of complete openness the requirements for being an artist at a time of academic snobbery, expertise and qualifications, people (on this occasion at least), most of whom lacked the financial wherewithal to access the required tool—stills or movie cameras, musical instruments, painting or other kit—decided to try to make at least their appearance and their everyday activities jive with their tastes and strategic goals. People became more individualised and committed: mostly to themselves, which has in itself no small merit. So it came to pass that the general public became the best form of entertainment.
The public, the true protagonist, immediately became an active participant. Suddenly, anyone could be an artist. If you take a look at this exhibition’s images and, generally speaking, all those of the time, you’ll see that the portraits’ subjects, whatever their circumstances, stare proudly, even defiantly, at the camera. They do so because they know they are strong, unique, special… protagonists. And I believe that this was the only time that any of the participants had this chance.
Although each of them does so from his or her own standpoint, the photographers of the time all document this unique phenomenon.
Going into more detail, in your letter you make an observation that is strikingly on point: the vast majority of the photos of the time are constructions painstakingly prepared by their creator. You say that, despite the appearance of spontaneity and improvisation, it’s odd how we come across so few that have not been manipulated, either technically speaking, as in the painted photographs of Ouka Leele, or with regard to subject matter, with the portraits of Miguel Trillo, Alberto García-Alix and Pérez-Mínguez, as well as in those of other contemporaries, such as Mariví Ibarrola, Gorka Duo, Eduardo Momeñe, Luis Baylón, or, to a lesser degree, Pablo’s brother Luis Pérez-Mínguez, whose subjects look at the camera and pose with their carefully put-together outfits in a setting that has been chosen and arranged in advance.
The photographer’s style and personality marks the framing, the staging, the aesthetics and the technique, whilst those portrayed contribute their powerful individuality.
Perhaps, due to the vicissitudes of life, and as is only logical, the images that are most repeated and that have become so tediously iconic of La Movida are those of its key players: the victors, those who greatly exceeded the expectations of the time. However, I am especially interested in confirming how those projects in which I and everyone I knew back then took part saw the involvement of hundreds of creators and authors of all schools, ideas and disciplines. Today, many remind me of those whose involvement with artistic creation was but fleeting, and who are now ensconced in other professions and other lives.
These days, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it was like to have such a crippling shortage of stills or film cameras (video still didn’t exist) in the hands of young people. Some parents had an ancient device to take holiday snaps, examined with reverence and a degree of trepidation when removed from its protective leather casing. The camera itself was still uncharted territory. To get a good portrait, you had to go to the studio of a professional photographer (who always seemed to me to be some doddering old man), duly dressed up to the nines for the occasion.
It’s incredible to think of the sheer number of outstanding moments, unique happenings, historic meetings, unforgettable performances… of which not a single image has survived and that are now but a faint glimmer in the memories of their survivors.
So, it was not until the end of the ’70s that the first young photographers with a degree of artistic ambition appeared. There were very few of them and, obviously, they were not particularly open to doing anything that did not gel with their particular ideas or plans. Their contribution and their presence contributed to the appearance of magazines on culture and creation that tried to reflect what was happening on the street. This appearance of our “own” media and the launching of ideas, activities and personalities gave an official stamp to this cultural movement and also accelerated its development, whilst causing the first estrangements and criticisms due to its excessive popularity.
Photography was regarded as a lesser art. Art, with a capital A, was painting. Ut pictura poesis: there was no poetry outside of painting. Photography, drawing and, by extension, comics and illustration, were scorned by the cultural elite. There were huge arguments as to whether those employing such techniques ought to be regarded as “artists” and whether the galleries and the media promoting them could be seen as forming part of anything other than the underground or fanzine categories. It’s odd to see how it is precisely these expressions that have turned out to be the most representative of those years, precisely because of their strong links with the popular culture of the time. The appearance of this popular culture caused a great clash with the comfortably complacent official cultural structures of the beginning of the “Transition”.
now we don’t need so many people for anything and we are ending up without any activities to kill time
We’re speaking of the days before computers, when things in art were hand-built: in the darkroom, on the page makeup desk, on the squared paper to which the galley proofs were stuck and spaces for the images drawn, in the graphic arts workshops, in the recording studios with their huge mixing desks full of improbable sliders, knobs and jacks, in the artists’ studios, in the clothes workshops… Hands needing other hands, those of specialists and craftspeople, reviewers and proofreaders, services by land and by air, post and telecommunications, the list goes on… all coming together to form a complex collective work, a large number of whose participants didn’t even know what it was they were helping to build.
It was another world, and that’s how we should see it. Probably one that was neither better nor worse, except that now we don’t need so many people for anything and we are ending up without any activities to kill time.
Lastly, you refer to the partying. You ask whether its true that we Spaniards love to party. Well, I guess we do, just like everyone else.
But I do believe that, here, we have a tradition that actually does stem from those “moving” times: the party as the conquest of freedom.
Some grizzled veterans may still remember attending the party organised by La Luna magazine at Madrid’s Hotel Palace towards the end of 1983. I recall groups like Vainica Doble and Golpes Bajos playing in a corner of one its vast ballrooms. But, most of all, I remember the partygoers: thousands of weirdly made-up young men and women, wandering the rooms, smoking and drinking, perched on the elegant leather sofas or reclining on the floor, on the amazing carpets, or dancing under the famous dome lit by the delicate chandeliers… Let me, if I may, put it this way: I have seen the people of my generation, in the style of their times, storm their own Winter Palace.
On a number of occasions and in many ways.
And no images remain to bear witness to it.
I read your response within a few days of the exhumation of Franco, which, as was to be expected, resulted in moments both tragic and, in some cases, comical. The latter included his grandson hanging a dictatorship-era Spanish flag upside down, a gaff that brought back to life our beloved Berlanga, as he did the same when shooting Welcome Mr. Marshall! and making Spain a filmset.
Although I do have a darker memory, of the photo published in 1984, which this reburial has brought to mind. It depicted the dictator hooked up to a bunch of tubes, as if we had changed some of Frankenstein’s letters. “He ended up converted into computer terminal, part of a complex mechanism”, I read in a completely pitiless article*: the fact is that even his death throes were a matter of state. As we know, the idea was to leave all his affairs well in order, even if this meant keeping the beast connected to a machine to delay his passing a few weeks—and here we are, today, still dealing with his death. Yesterday was that 20 November all over again.
That being said, I’ve never been to the Valle de los Caídos, either to the real one or the one in the paintings of Juan and Enrique Costus, with angels in boxer shorts and Tino Casal himself instead of el Caudillo, so as to be in a position to say that this series was created without any political overtones. In any case, their virgins and saints seem more human to me, even if their poses were taken from the actual sculptures themselves, hewn by Juan de Ávalos (Saint John, the pietà, etc.) with regard to which David Bestué said something that I found amusing, to the effect that the man’s track record reflected that of the country. From sculpting the features of Manolete and Ortega y Gasset, de Ávalos—who was a socialist—moved on to making a statue of Franco. He also made a bust of banker Juan March and a monument to Carrero Blanco. He depicted both Juan Carlos I and Pope John Paul II in bronze, and immortalised both naturalist Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and Ramón Areces, founder of the El Corte Inglés department stores. In Chipiona, there’s a fountain by him featuring a figure of singer Rocío Jurado… As the song by Astrud goes, “Hay un hombre en España que lo hace todo” (In Spain there’s a man who does it all). At least in terms of “official” culture, that of stone and bronze, whose portrayals have so little to do with all those anonymous people you mention in your letter and to whom Luis Antonio de Villena also refers, to refute those who claim that only a very few took part in La Movida. Whatever the case, it revealed to us a load of faces, and it’s true that many of them are unknown. Others disappeared before their time, like the girl with her hands around a glass on the table, portrayed by Miguel Trillo who, he says, died a few days after the photo was taken.
It’s as if, in his work and that of other artists, one can glimpse a presence of “the forgotten”, be they those who fell by the wayside or those who have taken their time to come to the surface, to make themselves known, like the gays, the bikers and the punks, who were figures diametrically opposed to the impositions of Franco’s regime, even if we sometimes forget the fact. Hence my astonishment at reading the following provision of Spain’s 1979 Criminal Code.
“The following shall be subject to penalties consisting in a fine of between 250 and 2,500 pesetas and a private reprimand: 1). Those responsible for the safekeeping or custody of person of unsound mind that leave him to wander the streets or public areas without due oversight. 2). The owners of wild or harmful animals that leave them to roam free or in a position to cause harm”.
Who can say if the youth of the time, with their improvised dyed Mohicans, their tattoos and their excesses, fell within the same category that lumped together those of unsound mind with wild animals, stealing a march on the hyper-regulation of spaces we’re so familiar with today, that which establishes smoking areas and the width of restaurant terraces or that punishes those drinking on the street.
everything that is updated has, in its origins, some contradiction, and it seems that those times experienced quite a few of these
The permissiveness of each particular time makes me wonder how some mothers experienced La Movida, as your invitation is linked with the message I sent you one day asking after Elena Soriano, who lost her son, your friend Juanjo, during the “Transition”, an event to which she bore incredible witness. What’s more, her thoughts on the youth of the time come from somewhere very different from what we are accustomed to. After all, it wasn’t her party: she experienced it from the outside and this would, to a great extent, explain her great sense of impotence. That of seeing what had become of her son, who, whilst still a young child, asked her, “is it true that what’s sturdy is bottomless?” when catching sight of a bricklayer at work. For me, this question—which takes me back to the Valle de los Caídos, always so leaden and dismal—gave us an early glimpse into his great sensitivity, to which Soriano bears witness, sometimes to agonising extremes. Of course, this was a period (1977 – 1984) in which a student could equally flirt with terrorism or end up in a Buddhist cult ,and one from which she noted a load of words—like jai, vacile, enchufe, estrecha, tarro, pasma, cuelgue, trena—without ever getting fully used to their meaning. Leaving all the sacrifices to one side, what is perhaps most striking is how much the two of them depended upon one another, despite his obsession with freedom, the cause of many arguments between them. On one of the few occasions she could get a word in, she said something to him that I feel is meaningful, given how they were at the point of achieving democracy: “The word ‘freedom’, on its own, as an isolated noun, means nothing and calls for a specific adjunct. It must be freedom to do something: to think, to carry out politics or make art, to work or to be idle. Pure freedom exists only in thought and, like everything else ‘pure’, is not of this world”, to which her son replied: “Yes, freedom is not of this world… Perhaps it is of another” **
In Usos amorosos de la posguerra española, writer Carmen Martín Gaite penned a dedication*** very similar to that of Elena Soriano, since she also lost her daughter in the turmoil of those years, although I know that their relationship was considerably less troubled. What’s more, whilst searching for an image of the two, I came across these pages from a notebook, in which freedom is also not an abstract concept, but rather seen from close up.It could well be that, when she wrote her Post-it, Martín Gaite had just separated from Sánchez-Ferlosio. On the facing page, entitled RETAHÍLAS (strings), she tells her daughter that separated families are a lot of work. As are those that remain together. And she adds, “It’s just like order and disorder, my girl. Order is defined from MEN’S point of view”.
Perhaps one anomaly was Pedro Almodóvar, as his world bears not a trace of any father figure. It is absent, like that of Franco. The mother, on the other hand, not only appears in his films but is also the subject of tributes. From her, he learned to spice up the news in the letters his fellow villagers (most of whom were illiterate) made him read aloud, seasoning their everyday lives with a little impromptu fiction. That why I can’t help but smile when, in Pain and Glory, his latest film, Julieta Serrano says to the protagonist “Don’t you be putting on that narrator expression, you hear?”. I like this kind of little detail. It belongs less to intellectual clarity that to survival, which is an ethic I associate closely with our culture, that of naughtiness, ingenuity and a lack of resources. You yourself allude to this when you write that, unable to gain access to stills or movie cameras, musical instruments or painting materials, many “decided to try to make at least their appearance and their everyday activities reflect their tastes and goals” and you mention Andy Warhol, although perhaps more apposite is Oscar Wilde, whom Susan Sontag quotes in her essay Notes on Camp: “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art”.
We often use the words pastiche, kitsch and baroque to describe many of the works of La Movida, bursting with sequins, neon and pop polychrome, but on re-reading this latter essay I now see that, in many of its photos and even Almodóvar’s earliest films, the “tackiest” ones, fit with what she saw as “camp”, an aesthetic vision based on exaggeration and artifice, which converted what was serious into something frivolous and happily coexisted with so-called bad taste. There is a lot of cross-fertilisation between high and low culture and the androgynous. “Camp” is a good description of Nazario’s Anarcoma, Jorge Rueda’s Mullereta and even Almodóvar’s Vera Cruz in The Skin I Live In, but these presences are also sublimated and take over the camera Iván Zulueta’s Arrebato, for me the most interesting film of the period due to how the images take on the fluidity and density of blood and become the vanishing point of that which obliterated fascism, at a time when there was barely a film industry here. This is, itself, another anomaly.
This makes me think that your merriest letter comes up against its negative side. This could well be because everything that is updated has, in its origins, some contradiction, and it seems that those times experienced quite a few of these.
That’s it for now. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
* Quoted in El precio de la agonía de Franco, Jaime Peñafiel, in the newspaper El Mundo, 15/11/2015.
** Testamento materno, Elena Soriano. page 274. Editorial Planeta, 1997.
*** This dedication runs as follows: “For all those Spanish women aged between 50 and 70, who do not understand their children. And for their children, who do not understand them”.
With your latest, thought-provoking letter, you’ve drawn me to and led me to walk along the tempestuous face of those days.
I don’t like to talk about it. I’m reluctant to look back, because forgetting cures the bitterness and pain of bad experiences (or at least helps them fade). That’s why this current collective obsession for reliving the past seems such folly to me. We’re living backwards: reviewing our corrupt democracy, the Transition, Franco, the Civil War, the Republic, the ‘Tragic Week’, the Carlist Wars, the Empire, the Reconquest, the Catholic Monarchs… As if, by rummaging through the mistakes of the past, we could re-emerge cleansed and joyfully prepared to tackle our current and future goals.
“Alguien tendrá la culpa” (“Someone must be to blame”) went the song by Christina Rosenvinge. We settled the matter by giving a 1993 issue of the magazine El Europeo the title “La culpa es tuya” (“You’re to blame”). We shouldn’t have returned to the matter.
What began as a festive and unconscious moment of collective liberation […] doubtless nursed within it the seed that would bring about its doom
But the idea behind this whole project is to do just that: to look back at the past, so I’m going to make the effort, since the photos we’re using as our inspiration are the spectral remains of La Movida: they are full of ghosts. Few of the countless people appearing in them remain with us today. There’s nothing odd about the fact, indeed, it’s the inevitable fate of all photographic portraits. However, in this particular case, the chain of events was especially fulminant. What began as a festive and unconscious moment of collective liberation—of sensory and life-enhancing experimentation—that embraced, without completely believing it deep down, the slogan “NO FUTURE”, doubtless nursed within it the seed that would bring about its doom. That of sickness and death. Real death, physical death.
It’s really quite difficult to live your youth surrounded by death.
It’s really quite difficult to live your youth surrounded by death. This is the feeling that makes Carmen Martín Gaite write in the diary you mention in your latest missive: “…Freedom is always a bit scary up close. Didn’t you know?”. Maybe she was asking herself, or, more likely, her daughter, who was still alive at the time, although not for long.
How can freedom be scary? What kind of deadly mess had free will gotten us into? Should we have known it from the very start?
The thing began kind of slowly: someone died from an overdose, someone else was committed after a bad trip, another faded away due to a strange, nameless affliction. But, in no time, the terrible news spread. It was a great surging wave: the search for adventure and new sensations, total freedom, the adolescent game of testing the boundaries: it could have infected the blood of any one of us, irremediably.
Suddenly, the terror was upon us. We all had to take stock of our lives: What had I done with my body? Who had I been with? What kind of relationships had I had? Was that someone special hiding something?
All the while, people around us were falling sick and, after a rapid and visible decline, died due to organ failure from a lack of defences. Friends, colleagues, close or distant acquaintances, men and women, nameless and famous, moderate or extreme, brave or chickenshit; they were dropping like flies amid our collective stupor and fear. They were mostly young and, even worse, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. The pain was immense.
It was AIDS: the universal punishment. An epidemic that would lay waste to everything, most particularly the art world and the nightlife scene that had provided the backdrop for so many adventures.
Nowadays, in this ridiculously hypochondriac Western society of ours, it’s difficult to imagine such desolation. I myself have buried the memory. Our pains and injuries are now strictly individual and, although we can accept a certain degree of personal responsibility in not staying healthy, we are light years away from the bleak stigma accompanying victims and family members alike during the dark years of AIDS: fear of contact, marginalisation, intolerance, contempt, shame and the difficulty in raising the flag of pride to which all victims have a right to cling.
But we managed it. We raised flags and support for the victims and the fight against AIDS became the main reason for the creation and the art of the time. Act Up activists launched the slogan SILENCE=DEATH. We had to speak out, normalise and understand, care and accompany. And, above all, destroy the stigma surrounding the terrible disease.
I remember that, some time later, the magazine Planeta Humano asked Alberto García-Alix and me for an article on Keith Haring—who had died because of the virus—using his fight against AIDS as its background and, taking advantage of the trip, to investigate the devastating impact of the epidemic on New York city.
Alberto himself was sick and was taking the antiviral drugs that would end up saving his life. We spent all the money we would be receiving on staying at the Chelsea Hotel: a tribute to ourselves. As we had to ask for a fridge to keep his medicines cool, we were immediately treated to the very best service and, protected in every regard, we became—for a few days—a kind of waning, sad gay couple that spent long periods of time in our room and only got moving when we had managed to gather enough strength to do so. The work wasn’t easy: we had to track down the shadows left by Haring wherever we thought they may remain.
Alberto made a great effort and we managed to do it. What’s more, due to one of those strange twists of fate, we happened to be present at a truly climactic moment of collective affection: on one of those nights, they were going to celebrate the city’s Memorial for the victims of AIDS. At a given time, Manhattan’s enormous skyscrapers and windows would simultaneously turn their lights off in remembrance of and as a tribute to all those affected. The city was really shaken.
We crossed the river—in the company, I think, of Mireia Sentís and Daniela Tilkin—and found a place, alongside a hoard of fellow onlookers, on the Brooklyn Heights bank, opposite the brilliantly-lit frieze of the city and, indeed, when the time came, one after another, the silhouettes of the huge buildings faded away and the tiny lights of the apartment windows disappeared. Everyone was crying. Even me: as always, on the few times I have done so, I was crying for myself.
It was a time of solidarity and mourning, metaphorically represented in Spain by the activism of artist Pepe Espaliú who, in his performance “Carrying”, was transported—by now very sick—in the arms of dozens of volunteers along the cities’ pavements before the astonished gaze of passers-by.
I remember with particular emotion, amongst all the funeral games, the editorial in Alberto’s magazine El Canto de la Tripulación (The Crew’s Chant), penned by Fernando Pais, who would also die shortly afterwards. The issue, entitled No te mueras nunca (Don’t ever die), evoked—together with a list of those close to the group who had passed away—the acceptance and fortitude, not without their joy, of one who had lived an intense and passion-filled life.
He said: “Those of us who have put our lives on the line, who have risked our bodies to sate the desires of the soul…”
Today, it is unfortunately impossible to find a copy of the poetic works of El Ángel, Los planos de la demolición (The demolition plans), which I regard as the masterwork of the time. In it, El Ángel, musician and poet, recounts with astonishing lyricism and clarity the crazy episodes that led him, knowingly, to his fate.
I read at random:
The fascinating bird of death fell some time ago over my form
fucking up all the petty plans protecting people
I’ve forgotten your lies whilst I get into your cars, off my face
salaciously stretching the night out, on a never-ending high
The members of El Canto de la Tripulación bade farewell to the decade of our restless youth with a party at the Hotel Continental, overlooking the port of Tangier, on the New Year’s Eve that ushered in the Nineties. We were well aware that neither the world nor we ourselves would ever be the same again. What happened at the party merits its own separate text.
So it was that the times a-changed radically, as did the images depicting them. At the beginning of the ’90s, the economic cataclysm became so clear that it seemed impossible to have ever lived so carefree.
Before and after the enthusiasm was the title of the essay with which José Luis Brea proposed, in 1989, to build a theoretical bridge that would reconnect with the experimentalist rigor of the ’70s, skirting round that intervening—now blameworthy—explosion. A kind of return to the discipline and order of the monkishly conceptual vanguards.
And that is what came to pass.
We were incapable of capturing its fullness but are now obsessively recording emptiness
Anyway, Andrea. I don’t how I got myself into this maze. The idea was to analyse the underground movement on the basis of the photos of Ouka Leele, Miguel Trillo, Pablo Pérez-Mínguez and Alberto García-Alix, taken in the early ’80s, during the time of La Movida. Photos that provide a fantastic definition of the spirit of the time. The first phase, the age of innocence. I’ve always thought that said decade lacks graphical witness to the extent that this one has a surfeit of the same. We were incapable of capturing its fullness but are now obsessively recording emptiness. However, as demonstrated by the memory of all histories, cycles change, turn and come back again, in a different form, incorporating, unawares but precisely, the collective subconscious.
The fact is that I didn’t suggest this project to you because you read the book by Elena Soriano, my teacher, but because of the title of your book, Distraídos venceremos (Absentmindedly, we shall overcome). I think there’s a pressing need to spend a lot of time daydreaming. It’d do us a lot of good.
Best regards—let’s keep on talking.
For all of us who grew up together and played in the ‘hood’s streets
for those we knew at school and with whom we were always punished
for those leaden mornings with our books under our arms
for those who respected me when I knew nothing
for all those who never hit me
for those for whom I played my first notes on the piano
For those who were with me when I smoked my first spliff
for those with whom we made the first mark on our arms
for that dark girl who fell in love with me
for my dad and mum, who separated the other day
for those I cheated and were able to forgive me
for all the children of the sun hidden in the underground
For the music that was playing those summer nights
for Jimi, for Jim and for Brian and for my lamented Agus
To Iggy, to Bob and for Lou, for Mena, Porras and Marcos
To Pablo, singing “Gloria” into the cassette machine in my room. Requiem!
Requiem ad infinitum!
Come and kneel, brothers!
Come with your spoons
come with your rivers of blood in your arms
come and we’ll drink together
and we’ll sing the old psalms
For the stones we threw at those grey policemen
for our mates who ended up with blue skin, hidden in a tiger
for the songs we sang and the guitars we played
for those years we thought we were kings
for all those kids in black waiting on a corner
for all those empty bottles of codeine syrup
For the blades they put to my throat and the pistols they pressed
against my stomach
for the vacant expression in your empty, fugitive eyes
for all those darkies crying around the Gran Vía
for all of us who sold smack to make a living
for the rooms in the dingy guesthouses where I laid my bones
for all those nights I dreamt of your body and your passionate kisses
For those hospitals they locked my up in back in the day
for all my crazy mates who are still there
for César and his Strat
for Cristina and her beers
for Juanjo and el Cucharilla
for Miguelito’s figure
for Jenny’s miniskirt
for el Canijo’s shank
for Dogo, the payo prince
for all the playground kids
for Pablo singing “Gloria” into the cassette machine in my room
Requiem ad infinitum!
Come and kneel, brothers!
Come with your spoons
come with your rivers of blood in your arms
come and we’ll drink together
and we’ll sing the old psalms
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