INSITE Journal
About this edition
Speech Acts

            In the midst of a health crisis and an extremely fragile social climate, Speech Acts was developed as a play in three acts, using the archive and language as political tools, but also through the enactment of words as human actions adapted from performance, dance, and theatre. The script is constructed of quotations, phrases, and texts (oral and written) from the INSITE Archive, through an exercise of intertextuality. That is, fragments of text and audio from different sources are extracted, juxtaposed, and interwoven together to generate a new text. The result is a simulated dialogue between artists, curators, and theorists from different eras that puts forward tense political and social scenarios on the pandemic, the border between Mexico and the United States, racism, xenophobia, and the role of art in the face of systematic crises. In the first act, the script focuses on isolation and the loss of a social sphere as a cohesive force. The second act questions institutional power, privilege, the vulnerability of civil and territorial rights, as well as the weakening of the social fabric at different scales. In the third act, the voices of artists open a possibility to articulate new languages from the potential of art.

                The script (interpreted by the project Amplio Espectro with choreography by Arturo Lugo) is performed through bodily routines of alienation, symbolic acts of protest and uneasy confrontations, and through writings and physical displacements in reverse, which proposes the embodiment of words as new speech acts capable of reversing language. The stage (designed by the architecture studio PRODUCTORA) is inspired by the idea of a playground and Abandonado II, a project conceived by artists Ulf Rollof and Michael Schnorr during IN/SITE92, who designed a park in the border city of Tijuana for children waiting for their migrant parents to return from the US. The main intention of this play is the possibility of imagining a public sphere, simultaneously playful and unstable, through which speech acts confront us with critical realities and simultaneously open a space to imagine micropolitics from speech, text, listening, performativity, and writing.

            The first conversation with curator Kit Hammonds, included in this Journal, introduces the context in which Speech Acts was developed and presented,1 and the concepts that are mirrored in speech and in the public sphere, mainly risk, play, freedom, and the archive.

            Through Art and Enactment (2022), a recent interview included in this issue, the artist Andrea Fraser explains how the concepts “speech acts” and the “performative” shifted away from their original meanings—essentially anchored in the theory of language—and were understood only as bodily acts without impact. Therefore, the artist is more interested in using the term “enactment” as a process that occurs and evolves from the psychoanalytic notions of the unconscious and the compulsory. What occurs in social encounters are therefore dynamics that also involve internalized forms of desire, repression, and affection that are not visible, yet are constantly projected, exercised, and enunciated in the social sphere. For Fraser, speech acts are important, but it is more relevant “thinking about what is being enacted in speech, through speech, alongside speech.”

            In the essay Another Part of Discourse (2022) architect and theorist Keller Easterling outlines forms of sovereignty as solidarities that are not reduced to specific places but are rather atomized and mobile. She argues that from incomplete dispositions, other assemblies of local power are constituted that are not manifested from a single voice, but precisely from difference. In these forms that are duplicated in disparate geographies, language and mechanisms of coexistence are “strengthened from within” and carried out beyond being pronounced. From this situated and at the same time dispersed scale, other spaces of action and language are generated, first, operating autonomously and then, having effect in larger spheres.

            In her text, Unlearning Our Settler Colonial Tongues. On Language and Belonging (2021)—translated into Spanish for the first time in this Journal2—author, curator, and filmmaker Ariella Aïsha Azoulay traces in retrospect the complexity of her genealogy and identity that she described as “impacted by two colonial projects: a descendant of the colonized in Algeria, and a daughter of colonizers in Palestine.” In her account, she narrates the process through which she was able to unlearn, over time, the true meaning behind words, specifically the language that was imposed by the idea of a nation-state on people who were categorized by their origin. However, Azoulay also rediscovers words in her own ancestral past to restore this language, such as her middle name, Aïsha, which served as a way to reclaim her identity through a personal act of resistance.

            For her part, author Cristina Rivera Garza writes the text What Do We Talk about When We Talk about Femicide? (2022), which departs from the infamous case of the murder of her sister in the 1990s. She talks about how narratives, which only recently were defined as femicides, have focused on the perspective of the perpetrators, including the grammar used to prosecute them, and on literature, where the stories fictionalize—if not justify—the motives behind a crime. The systematic disappearance of the victim's narrative, in literature and in real life, is thus based on forms of language that we replicate and reaffirm without question. However, to begin this conversation, Rivera Garza affirms that it is necessary “to formulate another starting point, another way of speaking, that is, of becoming intelligible to each other.”