Dear Oscar

by Tamara Kuselman

Dear Oscar,

Today is May 15th 2017 and I decided to write you a letter.

A few weeks ago, while looking for something else, I came across a stone. It is the Piedra Movediza de Tandil, the rocking stone of Tandil. I don’t know if you have ever been to Tandil. I haven’t. The story goes that there was a granite stone of about 300 tones, 7 meters long and 6 meters tall, rocking, held only by a small surface at a slope: a challenge to gravity. The rock had been the city’s icon since its foundation in 1822. In 1912, the rock fell down the slope of the mountain called La Movediza (the rocking). The stone is now at the foot of the hill, broken into three pieces. In 2007, a replica made in resin was placed at the same spot where the original stone held itself. The word Tandil could mean, among other things, “the beating stone” or “stone about to fall”, in Mapuche or Araucanian words.

When the rocks falls, there is a suspension of expectation, all the tension fades. The replica, a hollow shape designed by an engineer and held firmly to the mountain, will probably never fall.

Although it feels kind of absurd to write to a person who cannot answer back, it is an exercise in which your presence is summoned throughout the whole text, even if this presence is actually more my projection on your figure, than anything else.

I have been reading some of your texts, looking at pictures of your performances, and attending a rerun of Para inducir el espíritu de la imagen (to induce the spirit of image) in Buenos Aires, which was produced by Dora García for this project. Dora contacted me to invite me to write a text. In her email she commented on the interest in make the legacy of your work visible, by inviting artists, aware or not of your influence, who are interested in the expectations of the audience and their codes, language, psychoanalysis, etc. So, I embark on this curious process of reconstruction of a stranger to whom, pointed out by a third person, I seek to be heiress.

Before Dora contacted me, I was not acquainted to your work, and I am a bit ashamed to admit it, since as an Argentine I feel I should know you. Thanks to the interest and effort of Dora, Ana Longoni, and many other people who collaborated to induce the spirit of your work into the present, those who had not had the chance to know it, were allowed another opportunity.

I then begin to look for resemblances between you and me. I know that you lived your last years exiled in Barcelona in the 70’s. I lived in Barcelona for twelve years. I went there before the Corralito, in 2001. From an Internet café on La Rambla I watched the parade of presidents who could not tackle the disaster we now seem to be approaching once again. With difficulty I processed the paperwork to legally stay in Spain, and a few years later I managed to get my Spanish citizenship papers, which enabled me to get my Master’s degree in Holland at a much lower cost than as Argentine. Likewise, it allowed me to easily move around different countries. It’s funny how the acquisition of this document radically changed my life experience with regards to the effort I need to show the State on my productivity. Before that, with my Spain residency permit, I had to produce a work contract and have a minimum time of contribution in order to renew it. Being an artist, this was a very difficult goal to achieve.

Through the people that wrote about you, I read that you have translated Lacan to Spanish. I try to search in my argentinity in order to find those ties to psychoanalysis and It doesn’t take me long to find them. My parents are therapists; my mother is a body therapist and my father is a Psychologist and music therapist. I remember since I was a little girl watching and being among groups of people dancing and singing to feel better, sometimes I was one of the musicians, sometimes just another patient. Yesterday, my uncle told me that when he concluded his studies in psychiatry and began studying psychoanalysis, he attended one of the study groups on Lacan you hosted at your house. He doesn’t recall many details, but he remembers you as charismatic and intelligent person. He also remembers a glass of scotch in your hand while discussing Lacan’s readings. 

My experience with psychotherapy was extensive and varied. At sixteen I started my first therapy with a psychotherapist who worked with Bach Flowers (floral essences used with curative purposes). Later on, I went into many treatments with several professionals, Lacanians, Freudians, Bioenergetics, etc. My experiences with the psychologists were blind. Until recent years, I had never noticed what kind of technic each was implementing. My feeling was that I went there, and talked, and talked, and talked, and then the session was over. 

When I was already living in Barcelona, , I wen to see a Gestalt psychotherapist that my dad recommended. With her I started working with dramatizations, something that felt very odd to me at first; to talk to a pillow or punching it letting senseless sounds out of my mouth. The process started with an analysis of the state of the body and if there was any pain or ache attention was focused there. The exercises generated images unchained by a dialogue with that affected part of the body. This practice helped me stop giving intellectual thinking so much relevance and granting value to other therapies or even practices, related to the incorporation of the body into the thinking process.

During the last years, I hear a lot about a therapy practice that I found very interesting, since it incorporates dramatization into the therapeutic process, but the funny thing is that it carried out by strangers and through improvisation. It is Family Constellations, I don’t know if in your time this was already in place. A group of people assigned by the ‘seeker’ -the patient- plays a scene. The patient chooses a participant to play the role of him/her, and other people to play the parents, because apparently that is the structure usually represented, and also other relevant characters, such as grandparents, siblings, etc. Each participant improvises according to the role assigned and certain narrative develops. This scene is presented as the past of the ‘seeker’, who remains as a spectator, portrayed by other people who didn’t know his/her personal history.

I find intriguing the role that strangers can play in the resolution of a traumatic event. I catches my attention how in this practice the trust or faith we place in the fact that we all share some information go beyond verbal communication and physical presence, without resorting directly to spiritual aspects but seeking biological answers that justify that connection. I believe that Family Constellations grant the possibility to be audience of your own scene (since the therapists assert it is a representation of your own history). The idea of watching yourself and your family through the body of others strikes me as very interesting, not only as a therapeutic practice but also as a performance exercise of unfolding. 

In the text that I read about you and your figure in the Porteño context, I see that you were zigzagging, interested by diverse theoretical paradigms, on the outlook for social and political changes, able to generate intersections between different cultural environments. In the thesis I wrote for my MFA final, I wrote something about change that goes: “Popularly, a changing behavior is associated with an unstable personality – it can even be stigmatised as a pathology in pronounced cases. However, it seems clear that change is inherent to our nature: from the cells of our bodies to the presidents in our governments. Changes make us reconsider our position, thoughts and feelings. Maybe it’s due to wanting to compensate for this constant changing that we build this idea of stability in order to avoid rethinking ourselves.” I think about your being questioned for wanting to include more than one line of thought, and how you must have felt. I imagine that the 70’s were complicated years also with regards to the pressure to be accused, judged, and persecuted by others, intolerant to difference.

My mum was taken from her house by the military on night of 1977. During several months last year, I recorded the interviews I held with her. In each interview, she narrated everything that happened that night. She also drew the details she recalled and each new element in her narration added up to the variations of her story. I started wondering about the mutability of memory; what it means to go back to an event through the verbal repetition of it. The present lead us to modify our discourse, avoid saying things that we no longer want to become public, forgetting bits here and there, searching for words to reassure certain actions that felt dubious in past occasions. 

A few months ago I showed a work at Torcuato Di Tella University, based upon my mother’s narration. It was presented meters away from the place where Dora emptied the fire extinguisher at the rerun of your happening, and at the very same building where the archive of Di Tella Institute is kept, of which you were an important part in the 60’s. Again I feel that parallelism in time, as if the fact that two people are occupying the same space in two different moments could connect them somehow. Perhaps it is just my wishful thinking, but when I see these coincidences I believe that it is in fact possible that this connection exists beyond physical communication and presence.

Anyway, I won’t go off topic with these coincidences and signs anymore. My work was a video played inside a car parked in the parking lot. The car windows were darkened and the video was only visible from the back seat of the vehicle. For this video I worked with a performer and artist, Denise Groesman. With her, we conducted a series of improvisation exercises based upon a list of action taken from my mother’s narration; we sought to represent these actions; see how they felt across the body, how to transfer the experience of an event the body went through to another body, of another age, which experienced another political reality, etc.

If I had known you, I’d have loved to discuss with you expectations, how they are construed, and especially what happens when they are not met. In emergency situations, for instance, there is an event that breaks our expectations for normalcy, it frustrates them completely, and destroys our ability for predictable action. It is then when something almost instinctive activates, of which we are usually unaware; to run at a speed never imagined; resolve a complex situation in a way that never crossed our minds; etc. It is as if our abilities were limited by our expectations, and only when these come into deep conflict, other possibilities emerge.

In your performances, the role of the audience seems essential, if not the cornerstone of your works. You even argued that at the happening, matter and spectator were neutralized, considering the audience as one more of your work materials. In my practice, the audience is also an element to think about. I am interested in moving the action away from the center (stage, exhibition space, etc.) and place it on the margins (corridors, backstage, etc.). For these works, I incorporate low intensity strategies in which boundaries are no clear between a setup situation and one that could just happen. In one of my first performances, a woman held conversations with people from the audience, incorporating phrases from a self-help book proclaiming to live thinking about the present. Many of the people approached by the performer never knew they were taking part of a performance; some were looking for clues; and others left frustrated that they hadn’t found any. In many of my works there is an interest for asking about the moment and place in which they are taking place, who are the people in this place and what connections can there be between them.

In rereading the letter, I think once more about the hanging resin stone and the longing for something that is no longer physically present to be recalled. That façade, though hollow, allows us to imagine the weight of what is no longer there, its fragile balance and the way it reached that place.