Since their performance Un violador en tu camino went viral in 2019, the Chilean feminist collective LASTESIS is committed to spreading their ideas, theses, and practices of resistance through performances, both in public space and in art institutions around the world. In 2021, the collective published the manifesto Quemar el Miedo (Burn your Fear) where they outline a queerfeminist and decolonial critic of patriarchal violence based on Latin American experiences of women and gender dissident persons and declare bodies and performance as the central means of transnational resistance. At the festival Theater Spektakel in Zurich, LASTESIS gave a 4-day workshop and staged their performance RESISTENCIA o la reivindación de un derecho colectivo (RESISTANCE or the vindication of a collective right) with more than 30 local participants.
The work you have been doing with us for three days primarily aims to set up the structure of RESISTENCIA that you have already performed in several places. In an energetic and operative atmosphere, some parts of the text and songs were translated in Swiss German, groups were quickly built; the organization seems extremely well thought-out and coordinated. How did the global dimension of the video Un violador en tu camino (A Rapist in Your Path) change your artistic and activist work and the meaning you ascribe to it? How do you deal with this transition from local activism to global feminist symbol, for instance the fact that you are now invited to perform here, at Theater Spektakel Festival in Zurich?
The main goal of our work is to spread feminist ideas and theory, but also feminist demands. We still mainly work in Valparaíso with a territorial approach based on local actions and our situation as artists in Chile is very complicated and precarious. In the beginning, we all had different kind of activities, got together in our free time to work, so the creation of a performance could take one year since we did not have much time for it. Of course, when our performance Un violador en tu camino went viral, we could spend more time in creating and practicing our feminist activism through art and our work dynamics changed. We now have specific working hours dedicated to LASTESIS during the week, but since we all practice other activities in areas like teaching and arts, we still try to combine them with our work as a collective. It is very important for us to be able to dedicate more time to LASTESIS because our goal remains the same: to spread feminist ideas and denunciations. With the visibility of our work, we have the possibility to have different platforms to show it and to work out different formats. We sometimes perform on stage in different venues and contexts, but we also give workshops to groups, as we are doing here at Theater Spektakel, where we elaborate collaborative performances based on structures that we developed before. These take the shape of shows, but we also use books, talks, and workshops without shows as platforms. The spread of our feminist activism now goes through different ways and languages, through a wider variety of contexts such as theater festivals, but also art biennials or universities. Staying adaptable is at the heart of our work since it mainly aims to connect with more and more people and to keep feeling this global feminist network: we get in touch with local feminist groups from different places, be it in Europe, in United States, in Latin America, and of course in Chile, where we are most of the time.
On the first day of the collective work on Resistencia in Theater Spektakel, you asked the participants to name one of their expectations of the workshop. Some were concerned with feminist issues in Latin America, involved in queer-feminist activism in Zurich, interested in the political potential of performance and bodies in public space, or searching for forms of collective power. If we focus on the concept of “resistance”, what would you expect from this week’s workshop? Beside the general feeling of togetherness and collective empowerment by singing, dancing, and creating something together, do you also hope to disseminate tools and ideas that local activists in Zurich could take up?
Maybe one of the goals of this workshop is that it turns into a place of gathering for people from different backgrounds, places, and ages, where they can create something together that relates to all of them, but also to us and what we bring from our context. The resistance lies in the collaborative work, the connections of people living in the same city who never got to know each other, but who now get to do something together, something that is based on both a discourse and subjective experiences. This connection is something that really happens here and would probably not happen without this excuse. Last October, after the workshop we organized at the Ibero-American Theater Festival of Cádiz, the participants created a whatsapp chat that still exists, where they can get in touch with each other and continue their activism together. Thanks to this, older feminists have met the younger ones and still meet and go to demonstrations together.
Would you say that next to your artistic activity, that is developing performances based on texts, songs, and choreographies, a large part of your work as a collective is now dedicated to the creation of networks in different places, of swarms capable to organize the spread and practice of feminist claims?
This is a part of our work, yes, but our core idea is the resistance through our experiences, through our bodies becoming part of a collective body. Although we talk about terrible things (political and sexual violence, feminicides, street harassment), it is important for us to enjoy it, to have fun together, and to preserve this atmosphere of joy and party because we are resisting together, and we do it with our bodies. Our bodies are territories of oppressions and institutional forms of violence, which of course affect us in different ways. But they are also the primary foundations of a collective body that resists.
During the workshop, collective action in fact seems to prevail over discussion and analysis. After a brief introduction and a warm-up, the participants immediately started to learn the rhythm and text of the songs that you distributed to us. Together, we developed a choreography in 20 minutes. Each member of your collective works with a different group and the performance takes shape from piece to piece, without us knowing the final form. At the end of the week, not all participants know each other’s names, but a group has taken shape through music, beat, and movements. It is probably a similar collective energy that made Un violador en tu camino so popular and relatable: the choreography has a massive impact because it affects other bodies and set them in motion, its effect on them is almost immediate. At the same time, the choreography also produces symbols and images of resistance. Has choreography always been central to your performances? Where does this work on simple gestures, coordination, and rhythm come from?
We all have an artistic background: Sibila and Daffne come from theater, Cometa from design and visual arts. We generally like to dance and to mess around a little bit. Our first performance Patriarcado y Capital es alianza criminal (Patriarchy and Capital are a Criminal Alliance) also contained a moment of movements inspired by Jane Fonda’s aerobics videos. But as we created Un violador en tu camino and decided to perform it in the street, we found it boring to just have people standing in front of you and saying something; we needed to have something that connects us as bodies, as a collective, in order to create the image of a block, of one collective body that is also diverse, that is not homogeneous, but still united through words and movements, through experiences. That is why we developed a very simple choreography that a lot of people could perform. The first movement (marking the beat with our feet by turning from right to left) is just about keeping the beat, the squat is a reference to sexual and political violence: in the context of protests in Chile, many women and people identifying as queer were subject to police violence. When they were arrested, they were asked by the police to undress and to squat. We wanted to quote this form of political, sexual violence in the choreography. When we sing “y la culpa no era mía, ni donde estaba, ni como vestía” (“And it was not my fault, nor where I was, nor how I dressed”) and bend our forearms in front of us on the beat, fists clenched, we were more inspired by dance and pop culture – aerobics videos of Jane Fonda remain a key reference. The last movement, when we point the finger in front of us, is about sending the guilt and violence back outside of us: the rapist, the person who bears the guilt, is another person, it is outside of you, it is not personal, but social. We make this movement twice in the choreography, because as we performed it in the Aníbal Pinto square in Valparaíso, the police and the judges were there; the performance was really anchored in the geography of the city. The choreography needed to be very simple, made of quotes and symbols, so that we could learn it quickly.
This simplicity certainly contributed to its power and success: the choreography does not require specific skills; it is striking, easy to imitate and to reperform, to reproduce. Like the slogans of the Ni Una Menos movement or the feminist anthem Canción Sin Miedo (Song without Fear), which also frequently circulate in the feminist demonstrations of Zurich, it has become one of the symbols that help articulate and consolidate transnational feminist solidarity. But the choreography as a mode of action also conveys a powerful image of real, vulnerable bodies coordinating and organizing themselves on a global level.
But this is a very unexpected effect of it. When we performed it, we never thought that people would do it in other places. For us, it was really dedicated to the group that was with us for them to learn it and to perform it soon. We never imagined the global spread of videos, it just happened.
Did it encourage you to develop performative formats that can be worked out easily and are well suited for reproduction? In one part of the workshop, for instance, participants were given five minutes to write a short sentence that either denounces a form of gender-based violence they have experienced or makes an empowering statement about it. During the performance, each one speaks her sentence into the microphone while the others walk across the stage to a loud and energetic beat: the voices sharing personal experiences are supported by an ongoing collective dynamic. For the choreography, which is a substantial part of the final performance, every person was asked to carry out a short and sharp movement or gesture that the others would repeat. You then put all the movements together in a simple choreography that can be repeated in a loop.
Yes, this work with bodies is part of our methodology: translating an idea in a simple movement to which everyone can relate, to synthetize in it the most you can, and to develop small choreographies based on these movements. This part of the performance Resistencia changes every time, according to the people involved in the workshop and the movements they suggest. But the overall structure remains the same. Usually, we have little time available during the workshops: we think about the main ideas, personal testimonies, movements, we separate into groups, but we mostly work from the first impulses of participants: do not think so much about it, just do the action because we quickly get trapped in our heads, which often happens in theater. Let’s just do it in the urgency of the now. This urgency is related to the subjects we deal with, but it also wishes to encourage people to do, to act quickly and together. Recently, together with the artistic collective Delight Lab, we created a game performance, La ciudad del futuro (The City of the Future). The game addressed urban and political organization of the future from a feminist and decolonial perspective and took place in a box installed on a public square in Santiago. One of the activities the participants were asked to do was to create a self-defense feminist choreography in one minute. During the countdown, the criteria that the choreography had to meet accumulated, for instance, the choreography needed to be based on a traditional local dance, but also to be queer, non-binary, feminist, decolonial… The participants were pushed to coordinate themselves quickly without knowing each other and had lots of fun.
In your manifesto Quemar El Miedo (Burn the Fear), you speak of art that stems from the body and exists for the body, of collectivized art that can become one’s own through shared experience. You also define performance as an action performed at a specific place and time that is not only done by those who carry it out, but also by those who see it. Has this relationship with spectators, with the audience always been a prerequisite in your thinking about arts and activism?
Yes, our performances are not unidirectional. Even if people in the audience are not participating, there should be a kind of communication happening between them and us. This is part of our theoretical framework because performance is also a topic we study from a theoretical perspective. In Chile, theater studies, or the study of the theater phenomenon, is taught differently than in Europe. Practice and theory are not separated into acting school and academic theory. For us, both have always been closely related: the way we think about performance is or should be, and the way we try to translate it into practice. Such a wide definition of performance allows to encompass arts, activism, bodily practices in general.
This interview was conducted by Louise Décaillet with the three members of the collective present in Zurich, Daffne Valdés, Paula Cometa and Sibila Sotomayor, on Thursday, August 25, 2022.