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
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