“There is no way to eat the other unless you take a shit before”

A conversation on collaboration and cannibalism with Tamara Cubas. 
by Martín Zícari

For her performance/installation Sea of Silence, Tamara Cubas creates a sea of salt to focus our attention on what Edouard Glissant called “the cry of the world”, the noise of progress and suffering that progress entails.

To do so, she sets out to learn from the power of migrant woman traversing oceans and deserts, but with a huge risk: victimization and falling back into discourses of empathy. She fights against these common tropes of contemporary art through the development of radical methodologies to deal with difference and diversity within the collective.

In this conversation I tried to pin down certain aspects of her disperse and psycho-magic practice.

One of the objectives of this conversation is to bring more nuance to the concept of collaboration. On Tuesday, in the talk you gave, you emphasized this as a main axis around which you conceive your work methodologies and the work itself. So my question goes exactly in this direction, how do you understand collaboration, and above all how do you collaborate amid difference? In Sea Of Silence you meet migrant women from Arab countries and Central America . What is this encounter like?

It is simply that it is only the other that can move us. Imagine how boring it could be to see the same face every day. In opposition to that idea of  modernity, which emphasizes the encounter with oneself, which emphasizes introspection, I believe that to encounter someone you have to take a risk. A risk that implies being affected in many ways.

I always say it is impossible to relate to someone else and not be affected in some way, if there really is a relationship and an opening. Either because it hurts, because it makes you fall in love, because things happen to you, things move you, the relationship with the other always affects, when it is genuine, when there is an available body that allows itself to be affected by someone else.

I developed a piece called ‘Multitud’, where we work with the idea of how a large and heterogeneous group of people can reach a common goal, while preserving their heterogeneity. We asked ourselves this question, how is it possible to be together if I still don’t like being with you?

I have other projects that are based on a cannibal methodology, in the sense of saying: we are here and we are who we are. How can we develop systems if, for example, we are on an island and we have to survive? What devices do we create? Because it is very easy to say, but facing the other hurts. It is difficult. The other involves a lot of things.

And this cannibalistic thing brought me to a conclusion: there is no way to eat the other unless you take a shit before, if you did not empty yourself out. The first thing to do is to get rid of everything.

Please tell me a little more about this cannibalistic methodology for the encounter with the other.

Well, at the time there were three Brazilian performances that fascinated me. They drove me crazy. I said to myself: I want to be there. I want to be like that basically. I found them genuine. And I it was like I was five years old saying to myself, what do I do with this? Do I copy it? Steal it? What do I do with the affect these pieces are projecting? They were the works of Lía Rodriguez ‘Pororoca’, that of Marcelo Evelin ‘Matadouro’, and ‘Vestiges’ of Marta Soarez. Three works that I connected with my own creative process since they are part of the theatre that arises after the post-dictatorship, but where everything that I had been working on before appeared; the enforced disappeared, the collective, the drive, the question of how to sustain action and life.

Then one day I saw Suely Rolnik at a conference talking about anthropophagy, and the current value of recovering that idea, that concept of the Brazilian anthropophagic artists from the beginning of the last century, and I understood what to do with these inspiring performances and with my work in general.

I said, of course, I have to eat them!

So what I did was to develop a methodology. For me, my methodologies are the ‘I think’, followed by what happens on stage or in workshops, in terms of what we can do together with those methodologies, which is always another thing, always changing. But in the design of the methodology there is the structure and the structure is where all the thought is concentrated.

How do we get together? This also comes from my work in the government in Uruguay, thinking about the public and what it means that something is public. How do we make decisions about that? Who makes them? 

There is an obsession in contemporary art with ‘being together’ that I feel is articulated from a place of, “Let’s be equal”. The concept of the commons is always trying to repair the difference between us in order to share a space through similarities and empathy.

That does not exist. That is the maximum fallacy, the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. You know why collaboration is interesting for me? Because in the end it’s a monster. Collaboration fails when you think about this fallacy of horizontal procedures in which everyone is placed in the same position, which is never true.

For example, let’s think of collaboration as a table. We want to make it stable. But in reality since all the legs of the table are different, a little monster will emerge, but we are afraid of that monster that begins to appear. Without a doubt it is the result of the fact that we are all different. We cannot hold a horizontal table if we are all different. For that, you have to have the legs of the table cut to the same size. But in collaboration, the monster appears, which is what we cannot imagine.

And in this monstruous collaboration, what is the role of conflict, or of agreement?

Agreement, never! I am more interested in the issue of resolving than in reaching consensus. Resolving in the sense of dealing with the present, of not being in control of everything. It is this sense, what is institutionalized, what is controlled, does not ultimately sustain life because there is no gap, no opening.

From the southern power that creating from Uruguay entails, this precariousness, I developed the concept of the ‘politics of chamullo’, which explains this need for survival that brings you to a state of alertness around the body. That is what I am looking for in performance. A certain openness, a dispersion, rather than a consolidation. I like the word dispersion as opposed to concentration. Then the body develops an ability to deal with the present, where the past, present, and future are in a single point, as in Borges’ story ‘The Aleph’.

More than thinking about things from different points of view, I am interested in thinking about a point where everything intersects, since there is always something of the positionality where I get lost and that drains my energy.

Is your search an impossible one?

I don’t know. It gets me into a lot of problems, and into many love affairs. So I think that the truth is that it’s life itself, and the excitement of life.