A Curatorial Practice That Reveals Itself in Dancing Through The Everyday

Ericka Florez, Museo de Antioquia 2016
Ericka Florez performing with Hernán Barón the danceable lecture “Sobredosis de amor” (love overdose). At “89 nights” curated by Stephanie Noach and Carolina Chacón. Courtesy Museo de Antioquia, 2016.

Most of my earliest art memories come from my local museum, Museo La Tertulia. I remember going there for ceramics classes when I was 5 years old. My favorite part was hanging outside the museum, I remember it was an amazing public space and people used to get together there just to chat and feel the special Cali breeze. So the outskirts of the museum are my earliest art memory, the idea of a museum as an outdoor place for informal gathering. That place was still important for casual encounters when I was a teenager, and I would say that what happened outside of this museum was more interesting, organic, and powerful than what happened inside, and I think that evidence of the museum as a public space for casual gatherings has left some deep influence on me. Seeing and enjoying visual art was something more rational and intellectual and it happened later in my life. But my first experience with the joy of an aesthetic experience was listening to music and dancing with my cousins and grandma; doing choreographies together.

At first I wanted to be an artist, and as little as I understood it at that time, curators did the boring part. But because of my educational background (I started with a psychology degree that was more of a philosophical approach to cultural criticism), I was very discursive and very analytical. So I tended to be more on the side of “writing about” than “doing” art pieces myself. I started doing performances and publications as my artwork, and at the same time I was writing for other artists. Juan Sebastian Ramirez, a curator raised in Cali, but who made his career abroad, saw the work I was doing at the time, around 2010, and he invited me to work with him. Through him I learned a lot, and through the work we did together I got to know a little bit of the Colombian scene. After that, I applied to the program “Máquina de escrever” led by Capacete, Amilcar Packer, and Manuela Moscoso, it was for young curators who work with texts and publications. This program was very important for me because, among other things, it helped me to understand curating as a way of operating more than as a “job”, and it helped me release some of my anguish about the division between being a curator and being an artist.

I see curatorial operations everywhere, every time: I feel like I am constantly creating connections in my mind between materials that comes from different disciplines, mediums and contexts, I think often in new formats to gather with others. From this point of view I started curating when I was eight years old when I was creating little exhibitions spaces in the corners of my house, or arranging little curated events for my family and school friends.

danceable lecture sobredosis de amor bogota 2015
Danceable lecture “Sobredosis de amor” (love overdose) written and performed with Hernán Barón, at “El diablo probablemente”, curated by Alejandro Martín. Fundación MISOL, Bogotá, 2015. Photo Alejandro Martín.

My artistic projects can be seen as curatorial projects, and my curatorial projects try to challenge the format of the exhibition from an artistic approach. When I speak of an artistic approach to curating or to mediation, I mean not taking for granted any format. This inbetweeness has become an important bet for me: trying to think mediation (curating, writing, editing, teaching) as an artistic practice, and not as a “para-artistic” service. That curatorial program I mentioned, helped me see that one’s mind operates “curatorially” by default, and that it doesn’t matter how I call my profession.

Lately I have been working with kids, under the Reggio Emilia approach to education, this approach states that it is the space that teaches the kid. Teachers have to think curatorially, they can’t take space for granted, they have to think and teach through it, thinking seriously about the material conditions in their classrooms and schools. For me, this is an example of how the curatorial is a way of thinking, connecting, operating, making connections between different materials, and thinking through space and materiality; it means that thinking curatorially implies being aware of how we all learn complex ideas through our senses and bodies, through our sensual, material, fleshy selves.

The idea for danceable lectures sparked while I was with three curators friends in a bar in São Paulo. On the dance floor, two Europeans and two Cariocas were dancing. I could clearly see the differences between both types of movement: that of the Cariocas was complex, it mixed a lot of beats and rhythms at the same time. And the dancing of the Europeans was more binary: left-right-left-right. This subtle and seemingly shallow realization became very important for me. I started thinking about my experience as a younger dance student, and some of the philosophical and ethical lessons that can be learned through physical exercises. I started thinking about all the lessons and wanted to convert them into danceable lectures. The danceable lectures started as a performative way for me to distribute my texts, and it also became my statement, at a time when it was so important for me to think about the formats we use around knowledge.

Danceable Lectures in the streets of Cali. In Cali, there is this important practice that we call “audiciones” (it comes from the verb “to listen”). Since Cali is like a salsa museum, there are a lot of people who collect vinyls. They get together in public spaces to show their collections to the public. I thought this was the best format ever for the museum of my dreams: a nearly immaterial collection to be unfolded in the public space, and that has to be discovered through listening. So when the lecturer is sharing his collection of vinyls, he takes advantage of the moment by sharing some information and context surrounding the song that is playing, and while he lectures, the public is dancing. I started to call these “danceable lectures”, and after sometime doing it, I remembered Adrian Piper’s work with funk, then a friend of mine told me about Xavier Le Roy, and another friend told me about Aimar Perez Galí. So there are a lot of people that have done and are still doing things with this format, I happened to name it this way while trying to describe a popular practice in my city.

Growing through collaborations. After some time of writing and performing by myself (in the case of the Hegelian Dancers, you can see one of its version here), I started interviewing percussionists, musicians, and some dancers, to see how they could relate to my ideas, and also to explore how a dancer thinks, and how a musician thinks. It became a curatorial project that linked some thoughts coming from afro-contemporary techniques thanks to my friend Andrea Bonilla, and from Capoeira thanks to practitioner Jose Cardona. My friend Ian Middleton (ethnomusicologist) and Holman Álvarez (Musician) explained to me some rhythmical roots. Also my dancer friends Juliana Rodriguez and Andrés Lagos gave me important insights on managing time and space on the scene. When I shared the philosophical ideas I was interested in to Andrea and Jose, they revealed to me connections with African rhythms, salsa, samba, and Capoeira; and it made a lot of sense. I had always explained salsa, and what you learn through dancing salsa, by recalling the ideas of Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade’s “Anthropophagic Manifesto”, and with some of the ideas linked to artists from Brazil such as Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica. So the last version of Hegelian Dancer, the one done with the inputs of my friends is much richer, interesting and complex than the one I did by myself several times during the last seven years.

I am not an expert, but I am inspired by tropical music, cumbia and salsa make me crazy. Even though I have a lot of musician friends who have trained me in sophisticated genres such as jazz or bossa nova, and my dad is an expert in rock (the music I grew up listening to), the music that in Colombia we call “guapachosa” moves me at a deeper level. I grew up with my grandma, a woman married to an elegant architect who listened to jazz and bossa nova. Every time my grandpa was away, my grandma played her music, related to a rural Colombia connected to the Caribbean coast. I remember seeing her get crazy listening and dancing to it. Probably all the emotions I feel when I hear this music happen because I feel the complexity of the sound, I hear the sound of a profound secret that has the key to make us escape from a bourgeois life, and I mean by that, a life that is happy with the modern western white male values. I tried to talk about this inspiring complexity and the links between the emotions implied in this music and the pieces of some visual artists in the book Hegelian Dancers, published last year in Colombia.

Casa del lago Mexico 2016
Danceable lecture “sobredosis de amor” at Casa del lago, for “Ensayos equidistantes entre zonas tropicales” curated by Amanda de la Garza, México City, 2016.

Technology as know-how of the body. Currently, one my favorite technology is yoga: the way it links the body and the mind in a non binary way, is extremely sophisticated, complex yet simple and beautiful. For me, all the non-western practices of the body that I have had a slight contact with are very interesting: ayuverda, chinese medicine, yoga, and afro-contemporary dance technique (which I don’t practice but I have talked about it with my dancer friend Andrea Bonilla who teaches it). All these practices have showed me another sense of the word technology. Usually the word technology leads us to think about digital devices, but what if we think that technology is a know-how, the way it was before the digital era, before even the Gutenberg era, technology then had to do with the knowledge of the body. There is this classical example of people being able to navigate by sensing the vibrations of the water with their bodies, and that before they even had instruments to orient themselves in the ocean.

I never travel without a pen and a notebook.

There are three books I haven’t been able to overcome. One is “Hegel and Haití” by American philosopher Susan Buck-Morss, which tries to demonstrate how the Hegelian theoretical apparatus was based on the slaves revolution in Haiti. In that sense, most of all the western philosophy owes everything to this magnificent event. It is an impressive essay. I also love the writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, and his book “The Beast in the Nursery”. It is about curiosity, and how for a child to be part of language and civilization becomes a battle against curiosity, appetite and vitality. For me it is a beautiful continuation of Freud’s “Civilization and its discontent”. I love this author because his psychoanalytical knowledge is profound, clear and anti-dogmatic, and at the same time he understands pretty well the artistic mind and the process of writing. The third book I come back to often is Clarice Lispector’s “The passion according to G.H”, she has what I look for when writing: to connect with a voice better described by poet Anne Carson as “inadvertent lucidity”. Clarice Lispector writes philosophical essays in a poetic way as a child looking to the world for the first time.

Writing is an experience in listening. For me writing is describing what is happening with your senses in the moment you are writing. It is a performative practice in itself: you discover the world, you discover what you think while putting your attention to your senses, to your body, and try to translate that embodied experience into words. For me, writing is trying to inhabit the abyss between words and the ineffable (which is the experience of the body). When I write I try to think what rhythmical experiences I can offer to the reader, and I try to listen to the rhythm of my thoughts, so, dancing and writing are both experiences in listening.

I never curate without listening to what a space has to tell me, not as a story or something narrative, but perhaps by noticing that each corner of the space has a need. I try to hear the space’s needs as a psychoanalyst would: with this kind of floating awareness. I am also attentive to the art pieces globally, and to the artists’ discourses, and I find unexpected connections, not so rational or based on themes. I always try to think how the idea or concept that I want to share with the public can be experienced by the audience in a bodily way, be it an exhibition, a lecture, a text, or a publication.

Ericka Florez
Ericka Florez

The best advice I ever received in curating was: “don’t think the space as an inert container” (by space it could refer to a page, a time frame, or a physical architectonic space).

And the worst, was to create thematic categories to divide the materials you are working with.

In my curatorial practice, I have always been interested in thinking the materiality of the immaterial (words or gestures as matter, for example), and art as an immaterial manifestation. For a few years now, I have been thinking about waves as an example of material immateriality, as a medium that can allow us to think, within the visual arts, all the elements that are not visible but still rule our world. Rhythm and sound are part of this interest in waves as a formless powerful invisible matter.

For me the perfect meal is casual and has guacamole. I used to enjoy “curating” dinners-lectures. Once with curator Serubiri Moses, who came to Cali from Kampala, and some other friends from Cali, we organized an informal radio program on the Congolese reinterpretation of salsa and Cuban sounds. We planned it in one day, we did it in the house of a Alejandro Martín, the curator of Museo La Tertulia, we invited four-five friends related to the topic, and we did the live radio show while eating. Other moments at the house of Alejandro come to mind, everyone cooking and eating, someone playing music, and always, without fail, dancing at the end of the dinner. Alejandro is one of the most generous people I know, his dad comes from Spain, so Alejandro has the perfect tortilla recipe. He used to have an apartment with an amazing view above Cali, in that house a lot of us (artistic and cultural agents of Cali) used to gather. Even Boris Groys has been in that apartment looking to Cali from above and feeling the breeze.

Also the perfect meal is in the house of lugar a dudas. It is an independent art space run by artist Oscar Muñoz and Sally Mizrachi, where Sally usually displays amazing simple dishes with a Colombian-Lebanese touch (her ancestors come from there).

But the perfect meal with friends can also be just going to any street corner and have a cheap empanada (a fried corn thing filled with potato and meat) with beer, seat on the street, and chat. I have the feeling that these types of amazing laid-back moments, in which there is a lot of laughter, have not been happening for a long time.

Knowing your levels of involvement when working together. Something that is important for me is to understand that the project we are working on does not have to have the same place in my co-worker’s life than in mine. So I try to understand if I am over stimulated, that it is ok if the other is not, and that allows me to accept what the other has to offer, and not to ask for what is impossible to get.

To keep sane I keep two diaries, in one I record everything I do everyday, because I have the feeling that my whole life evaporates within nonsense administrative work and invisible labour, so I need to see in writing what is it that I do during the 12-15 hours a day I spend in front of the computer (highly neurotic, I must confess). In the other diary I record the colors I see when I meditate everyday. I try to do yoga every time I can. And I am about to start singing lessons. During the pre-Covid era, going salsa dancing during the weekends was a key part of my “keeping sane” program.

Learning from confinement. Besides what happened with George Floyd in the US, in Colombia there has been a lot of murders and massacres of young people and social leaders. I can’t yet say what I have learned from these events, I am still trying to understand what happens. This aside, I have questions around time and productivity: how to do less, how to concentrate on what’s important, how to have more time for love, solidarity and leisure. How to conquer free time, how to do nothing now during the entrepreneur era? How to experiment more? How to play more?

If I wasn’t curating or writing I would be part of a professional salsa dance group traveling around the world just dancing. Or a yoga teacher, an acupuncturist, or working in a school as a pedagogue or as a curriculum supervisor.

Ericka Florez

Independent curator and artist

Cali, Colombia

Biography:

Ericka Florez (Cali, 1983). Her projects can take the form of performative exhibitions, danceable lectures and publications. Currently she is interested in the relationship between rhythms and the cosmogonies that produce them. She had presented her danceable conferences in Manifiesta 11 (Zurich), in Rupert (Vilnius), in Museo experimental el Eco (México city), Festival de performance de Cali (Cali), 43 y 45 Salón nacional de artistas de Colombia (Bogotá and Medellin). She had curated exhibitions in Colombia as the 13 Salón Regional de Artistas, zona pacífico, with Juan Sebastián Ramírez and the Sección de Referentes ARTBO 2016 with Pablo León de la Barra.
She has written essays, poetry and short fiction for different editorial and curatorial projects in Colombia, Spain, France, Mexico and the United States; among them she has written for the USB Map Blog of the Guggenheim foundation.
Together with Mónica Restrepo, Hernán Barón, and Herlyng Ferla, she co-funded La Nocturna, a platform that creates forms of meetings around the construction of knowledge that include the body, dance, and other performative formats.
Together with artist Herlyng Ferla she created a vespertine art school for kids in Cali (La casa en el aire / the floating house) in which they explore how to support children knowledge through material thinking and awakening learning processes that puts the body in the foreground. Through this school they are putting into test the idea -taken from the Reggio Emilia approach to education- of how the distribution of the sensible (spatial and material decisions) can transform and question the classic power role of teachers in education, and how to build spaces for transdisciplinary thinking.

Art critic and writer.

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