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BEAUTIFYING PAIN   by Nerea Ubieto


Bodies. Moulded bodies, defined, classified, standardised, cut to the same pattern: medical, political, social, religious. Disciplined bodies, restricted, subjugated, corseted in fixed forms in which they do not recognise themselves. Inappropriate bodies, pathologised, exposed, deviant, judged, oppressed, abused. Surrendered bodies, frustrated and sick.


But also: different bodies, malleable, chaotic, inhabiting the outskirts. Free bodies, protesting, dissident; collectivities that struggle to find their place outside hegemony. Bodies that overflow, shout, resist, manifest, heal their wounds, and rise from their ashes. Bodies that grow sideways, forge alliances, and turn their vulnerability into strength.


The materiality of the body allows for contact with the world and the other. It is through the senses that we can perceive and share our surroundings. We experiment, compare, contrast, and gain knowledge together. We generate bonds and relationships through common feeling. But, to inhabit this world means to be squeezed into rules and structures that affect and penetrate us, whether we like it or not. These are very precise frames that condition our lives: they can make us feel comfortable with what we are or feel like outsiders, excluded from what is socially acceptable, residual matter exposed to stigma and exclusion.


There are countless labels that form a kind of map populated with fictitious diversity. The mirage falters when we see that there are only two real positions: inside or outside the standards of normality for acceptance. A reductionist and dual division that reifies chronic binarism. As Paul Preciado points out in his latest book, An Apartment on Uranus, «Everything is heads or tails in this system of knowledge. We are human or animal. Man or woman. Living or dead. Colonizer or colonized. Living organism or machine. We have been divided by the norm. Cut in half and forced to remain on one side or the other of the rift. What we call ‘subjectivity’ is only the scar that, over multiplicity of all what we could have been, covers the wound of this fracture. It is over this scar that property, family and inheritance were founded. Over this scar, names are written and sexual identities asserted”.[1]


The scar indicates rupture with an earlier state, but it also demonstrates the existence of a previous stage, one that, therefore, belongs to us. The mark of struggle and the trace of resistance. Only by uncovering the wound can it be healed.

In these internal fissures, we may have lost part of our identity, genealogy, privileges, freedom… their presence brings segmentation: not always conscious; dangerous to ignore. The possible consequences are involuntary explosions or implosions, concealments that lead to emotional injury or sensitive secrecy. Faced with cosmetic imitations and containment, the proposal is to accept, teach, reconfigure by experiencing a life that questions stipulated parameters and closed identities.


Gaze through other eyes, beautify the pain.


This is the scenario that Romina Rivero proposes in her installation En Fuga (Vanishing), a set of bodies, represented by white manikins, from which threads emerge, projecting outward, producing a web of golden bonds that interconnect entities whilst at the same time transcending them. The standardised figurines, used as a starting point, show the normalising foundation that commodifies each of us in equal measure, forcing us to accept the models imposed on us since birth. So does gender assignment medicine: male or female are the options that will condition our thinking, ways of doing, and personality if we let ourselves be dragged along by the overwhelming current. The philosopher Guilles Deleuze understood the logic of identity as an arborescent model that limits us to vertical, predetermined, immovable growth. In contrast, he proposed another type of development similar to that of plants that grow horizontally, rhizomes, which would allow for free and collateral expansion, as far as the power of each individual might reach.


"Make rhizomes, not roots, never plant! Don't sow, grow offshoots! Don't be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into a line! Be quick, even when standing still! Line of chance, line of hips, line of flight".[2]


To embark on converging lines towards a vanishing point is to go beyond our own territory, but it also means knowing how to redirect that which does not interest us; to uproot and forge new connections. The rhizome can be interrupted, but it continues to grow through any of its parts. Rivero’s bodies are En Fuga (in flight): looking for other favourable portions of land, expanding their territory, and communicating with other bodies as natural movement, inherent to humankind. Interdependence is the key to a network of corporalities that nourish each other and can also be found in their pain. In this sense, multiple links are established with the reflections of Judith Butler, a philosopher concerned with the suffering of bodies, which she understands as "instances entangled in a network of social relations, enabling everything that, in her words, makes life worthwhile: friendship, passion, desire"[3]. However, this material network has its flipside, since they can also be assaulted, abused, manipulated.


Each of the manikins presented by Rivero has undergone some kind of intervention or procedure; we see sutures, scars, metamorphosis. These intromissions are associated with different motivations: operations for disease, cosmetic surgery, gender reassignment… but what the artist is really interested in is underscoring the emotional origin of all of them. She suggests a holistic vision based on traditional Eastern medicines, so the locations of the scars are by no means random, instead corresponding to emotional imbalances linked to different organs. We recall that, in Chinese theory of the five elements, anger is concentrated in the liver and gallbladder; excitation in the heart and small intestine; fear in the kidney and bladder; sadness in the lung and large intestine; and concern in the stomach and spleen. We are a reflection of what we feel, and nothing goes unnoticed in our personal physical receptacle, capable of turning mental disorders into organic functional symptoms. If we are to achieve optimal health, the three bodies – mental, emotional and spiritual – must be harmonised.


The neoliberal capitalist society in which we live strives to limit the morphology of the body, setting standards that constrain and deprive it of its freedom to be unique. Everything that spills outside of the agreed patterns is considered at best odd or inappropriate, but in many other cases, monstrous, abject, lacking in – what has been defined as – value. The consequence are individuals who do not feel comfortable with their own body and try to adapt it to their prefabricated desires. Noses, breasts, buttocks, cheekbones, hair… any part of the body is open to redesign. The artist speaks of partial anatomies when referring to the state of fragmentation in which we are immersed, the result of papering over the cracks, rather than dealing with inner depths.


On the other hand, frustrations, complexes and subsequent traumas can become cystic and lead to serious physical conditions that require surgery. To avoid such a build-up, we would each have to flourish within our own conceptions, without repressions, by deactivating – as far as possible – the stifling social pressure. It is a difficult task that requires courage, of the kind shown by people whose perceived identity is far from the one assigned to them at birth. The logical thing would have been to be born free and to develop “female” and “male” qualities indifferently, in the bodies of biowomen, biomen or intersex individuals. But as this is not possible today, many subjects feel an identity dislocation and need to head for an operating room to adapt to the “other” available gender and live in harmony with what their sensitive reason is crying out for.


These are tough situations that bodies endure constantly through their subjection to a biopolitical regime in which the government and institutions organise and manage lives through different mechanisms of control. The response to such tensions solemnly circles ahead over Romina Rivero’s installation: RESISTANCE, the figurines seem to murmur, anchored in an imperturbable arrangement. Leaving the place without solving the problems would be of little use, because the real world doesn´t take flight, in the words of the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska. Although networks can be projected and generated to form a solid foundation for the future. It is a form of resistance that looks beyond tolerance and alludes to the honour existing in torsion or deformability. In this same direction, the second central work in the exhibition, Flor de Espinas (Flower of Thorns), highlights the radiant glow of bodies in spite of difficulties. Four golden ribs allude to the powerful armour that protects our most precious organs. Formally, they are an allegory of the flower in the title of this installation – a flower of thorns – a shamanic variety that is used to work out feelings of guilt, repressed anger or degradation. From these bones, a multiplicity of subversive black threads emerges, ready to weave new stories, drawing the gaze towards a graphic sound representation of the word DIGNITY. A hopeful message that advocates empowerment and ethical freedom.


But this battle, though personal, is not waged in solitude, but by nurturing bonds, being aware of our vulnerability. Returning to Butler, for this author, the body cannot be understood as an autonomous or self-sufficient entity, but within a framework of relationships that enable life itself. From this perspective, the limits of the body are relative: "the skin contains the body itself, but the body exceeds the limits of the skin when it is given over to another life."[4] Our body does not belong to us completely, but rather continues in the other through bonds. Golden threads that enable a flow of consciousness, the hope of a common struggle protected in unity.


With remarkable aesthetic sensitivity, Romina Rivero draws us into her particular symbolic universe in which, in an exquisite but forceful way, she is able to transport us from the overwhelming socio-political reality to spiritual respite and calm. In her process, she never conceals, but rather elevates and dignifies. She undertakes the task of beautifying pain by allowing bodies to express their true essence.

[1] PRECIADO, Paul. B (2020). An apartment on Uranus: Chronicles of the Crossing (Charlotte Mandell, Trans., p. 27). London: Fitzcarraldo Editions. (Original work: Un apartamento en Urano, Crónicas del cruce, published in 2019 by Anagrama)

[2] DELEUZE, Guilles and GUATTARI, Felix (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizofrenia (Brian Massumi, Trans., p. 27), University of Minnesota Press. (Original work: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie : Mille Plateaux, published in 1980 by Les Editions de Minuit)

[3] LÓPEZ, SILVIA (2019). Los cuerpos que importan en Judith Butler, p. 38. (Paragraph translated by Anna Moorby), Dos Bigotes, A.C.

[4] LÓPEZ, SILVIA (2019). Los cuerpos que importan en Judith Butler, p. 45. (Paragraph translated by Anna Moorby), Dos Bigotes, A.C.

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