LASA 2018 – “Creemos en la contaminación”: Multimedia and/as the Future of Poetry in the 21st Century

Below is the abstract of the paper I will be giving at this year’s LASA conference as part of the ‘Literatures of the Future Panel’.

This paper analyses the ways in which poetry is being reinvigorated through the use of multimedia and how this use of multimedia is changing our understanding of poetry in the 21st century. Focusing on the work of contemporary Mexican women poets, the paper is inspired by the declaration made by the Motin poeta collective (2000-2010): ‘Creemos en la contaminación entre lenguajes artísticos como estrategia para la creación contemporánea’. This rejection of traditional boundaries is at the heart of much poetry currently being produced in Mexico. As Julián Herbert (Letras Libres, Feb 2009) noted, however, there is a tension between the apparent popularity of this new wave of poetry and the way it is rejected by most Mexican poets and critics. As a result, he argued, there is a pressing need for ‘una crítica dura, seria, que tome en cuenta lo mismo la dimensión técnica y material (el empleo de herramientas retóricas alternativas) que la conceptual y emotiva. Pero que acepte también, como principio, que existen estructuras paratextuales a las que el nombre que mejor les conviene es el de poemas’. This paper, therefore, both showcases and aims to develop the new critical tools required to study this emerging body of work focusing on the multimedia fusions at the heart of the following texts: Hechos Diversos by Mónica Nepote, Dodo by Karen Villeda, Imperio by Rocío Cerón and Minerva Reynosa’s poetry app Mammut.


Panel Abstract:

This panel brings to light some of the exciting literary experiments taking place in contemporary Latin American Literature. The papers focus on authors who are pushing the boundaries between literary and non-literary forms and who are experimenting with new‚ digital formats as well as via traditional media. Equally‚ however‚ we recognise that the multimedia‚ transmedia‚ and intermedia fusions we see today are not necessarily unique to our times. Thus‚ we include papers which study experimentation in times past looking back at earlier examples of what was once considered to be innovative and asking just how much has changed?

The Multimedia Works of Regina José Galindo by Sarah Bowskill and Jane Lavery

The first article I co-authored with Dr Jane Lavery (Southampton) was about Guatemalan performance artist and poet Regina José Galindo. This article marked the beginning of our project on Spanish American multimedia women authors and artists.
Recently, we were fortunate enough to meet Regina in person when we were invited to discuss her work at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.
 In addition to speaking at the ‘Conversation’ event we also had the opportunity to see two site-specific performances.
‘Hide and Seek’ by Regina José Galindo, Kettle’s Yard 6 March 2018
 ‘Monument to the Invisibles’, Front Court, King’s College, Cambridge 7 March 2018

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For the performance ‘Monument to the Invisibles’, new ‘statues’ appeared in the grounds of King’s College, Cambridge. In contrast to the existing statues, the new statues bore no distinguishing markers and no plaques identified them. The audience may have wished to know which of the statues was Regina, but there was no way of knowing. These new monuments served as a powerful reminder of the way in which some people are deemed worthy of being memorialised and others are not. They occupied an exclusive space where it is usually forbidden to walk on the grass accentuating the seriousness of their transgression. Covered in white sheets, they were a ghostly presence which called attention to the way some groups are erased from the public landscape represented by monuments and statues.
The following is the abstract of the article Jane and I wrote about some of Galindo’s other works including some of her poetry and the performances El dolor en in pañuelo (1999), Recorte por la línea (Venezuela, 2005), Himenoplastia (Guatemala, 2004), Yesoterapia (2006), Camisa de fuerza (Belgium, 2006) and Perra (Italy, 2006).

The female body is central to the performance art, poetry and blog site interventions of Guatemalan Regina José Galindo. While Galindo is best known for her performance work, this article compares the distinctive and often shocking representations of the female body across her multimedia outputs, an area hitherto unexplored in scholarly studies examining the artist’s work. Our analysis reveals that, in all three media, Galindo presents a grotesque and abject female body which, as a conflicting site of repression and contestation, ambiguously oscillates between Bakhtinian celebration and a Kristevan sense of horror and fascination. By combining these contrasting but complementary perspectives, Galindo not only challenges hegemonic visions of gender and (national) identity but also attempts to negotiate a space for women within patriarchy.


‘The Representation of the Female Body in the Multimedia Works of Regina José Galindo’, Bulletin of Latin American Research [co-authored with Jane Lavery, University of Southampton]. 31.1 (2012), pp.51-64

SLAS 2018 – The Multimedia Works of Contemporary Spanish American Women Writers and Artists

The Multimedia Works of Contemporary Spanish Women Writers and Artist

For this round table Jane Lavery (Southampton) and I presented our work on the multimedia works of contemporary Spanish American women writers and artists. We were joined by Thea Pitman (Leeds University) and Pilar Acevedo and Lucia Grossberger Morales also took part, even though they could not be there in person.

Pilar Acevedo created a video about her creative practice. You can watch the full video on her website:




Lucia Grossberger Morales shared with us her latest performance entitled ‘Love notes to the planet’.

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A bright idea? Women & Literary Prizes

Today three things have coincided and led to what I think is a bright idea.

  1. It was announced that there will be no Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018 and two awards will be made in 2019.
  2. I was working on my book about politics, prizes and cultural funding in Spanish America. Specifically, I was analysing the way Carmen Boullosa critiques the way  literary prizes contribute to the exclusion of women authors.
  3. I saw several posts on Twitter from (mostly) men who had been given teaching awards from their students.

So, the potentially million krona question is what can be done?

The answer? make all judging panels make two awards one to a man and another to a woman. This practice gets around the way women only prizes separate ‘women’s writing’ from ‘literature’ and could be applied to everything from teaching awards to the Nobel Prizes.

2019 will have two Nobel awards for Literature so let’s start there!

Article Published! Pilar Acevedo’s Fragmentos Exhibition

Delighted to report that my article on Pilar Acevedo’s ‘Fragmentos’ exhibition held at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago is now available online with the Bulletin of Spanish Visual Studies.

Bearing Witness to Child Abuse and Trauma in Pilar Acevedo’s Multimedia Fragmentos Exhibition


This is the first academic study of the artist Pilar Acevedo (born in Mexico and raised in Chicago), and more specifically of her Fragmentos exhibition at the National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago (2013–2014). It proposes that Acevedo’s art tackles the challenge of bearing witness to the physical and psychological effects of child abuse in ways that help us to move beyond existing concerns within trauma theory and examines why art which uses shocking images is not effective either as art or as a call to action. This article identifies the strategies Acevedo employs to encourage the viewer to participate actively in the construction of meaning whilst avoiding turning trauma into a spectacle that makes us turn away or feeds our voyeuristic fascination with pain. The techniques foregrounded include: firstly, the use of fragmented dolls as signifiers that draw on, but also depart from, the work of Hans Bellmer and Cindy Sherman and the traditions of surrealism and abject art; secondly, a multimedia and intermedia approach that opens up new ways of seeing and experiencing art whereby the viewer is invited to piece together the fragmented narratives in a way that reflects the disruption of memory by trauma, and the work of psychoanalysis.

You can see more of Pilar’s work on her website including an amazing video she made for an exhibit at the Society for Latin American Studies conference 2018 that was part of the multimedia project I am working on with Dr Jane Lavery.

Some thoughts arising from my reading of Mary Beard’s Women and Power. A Manifesto (London: Profile, 2017)

In Women and Power Beard addresses two fundamental questions: how can women speak AND be heard in the public realm when centuries of cultural tradition have silenced and taught them to be quiet and how can women be powerful?

One issue which really resonated with me was the fact that women have been allowed to speak publicly about some “women’s” issues and on behalf of other women. This concession to women’s speech has been on my mind for some time. As a woman literary critic who promotes the recognition of literature by women authors am I simply occupying a permitted position? Has something which I imagine as part of a political and feminist stance already been neutralised, sanctioned, cordoned off so that serious (male-dominated) literary criticism does not have to listen? What does it mean for me as a critic to write about canonical male authors? Is this complicity, confirming male authority (as if it needed a woman’s voice to do this)? Or, is that the place where I can really make a stance insisting on the right to speak in public? One solution I have put into practice is to place men and women, canonical and non-canonical authors side by side. I continue to think that is an effective strategy – to refuse the categorisation, segregation, even ghettoization of “women’s writing” but is it the best? Are the politics of this strategy sufficiently visible? What alternative approaches might I adopt?

Women and Power is subtitled “A Manifesto” but while it asks “how” at the end of each of the two sections the answers are left tantalisingly underdeveloped. By her own admission, Beard would like to think more about the issues she raises. In relation to women and power in particular Beard raises some interesting questions including “how exactly we might go about re-configuring these notions of ‘power’ that exclude all but a very few women” (p94)? What does it mean to think about “power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession” (p87)? The invitation to think collectively rather than as individuals is also interesting. The book is rich with examples and the one given for how we might rethink power collectively is that of the three women founders of Black Lives Matter who have powered change but whose public profile is not as high as we might expect. My hesitation in embracing this proposal is the same one I have about embracing women only literary prizes. Is there not a real risk that women will create new alternative (power) structures leaving traditional power in male hands? Beard’s own example of the Rwandan parliament seems to suggest that power is slippery, elusive and not within the institutions where it appears to be but in the hands of a small number of individuals. At the moment that the Rwandan women assumed political power in parliament, power moved elsewhere with the same men who had always had it.

Beard takes as a given that the language(s) we use and cultural production inform the way we think and act. I think she is right to do so but it is perhaps also a position that is worth stating over and over again in a context where we are constantly asked to defend the public value of the Humanities and especially Modern Languages.

Beard has become a public intellectual and it is wonderful to see her using the forum she has created to speak out, even while there are those (about whom she also writes) who would wish to silence her. The way she writes is a model for other academics wishing to write for public debate. She shows us a way of speaking that is engaging, informed by her expertise and passion for her subject but also an invitation not to accept the status quo.


Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator Chapter 3 ‘Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community’

In this chapter Rancière reflects on the ways in which contemporary art tries to intervene in everyday life. He is writing against a number of established schools of thought including those which suggest that literature provides messages which raise awareness/ consciousness in the reader (72) and arguments such as those produced about ‘critical art’ which suggested that seeing an image can make the viewer see things differently and so change their behaviour (74).

For Rancière, the way art can intervene is by changing the ‘distribution of the sensible’. The distribution of the sensible defines how human beings live together and so, by changing the distribution of the sensible, art has the potential to create new forms of expression of the community. In other words, art has the potential to intervene in politics by producing new forms of expression which reflect new ways of “being together”. He continues to remind us, however, that we cannot assume that what we see ‘could be read without ambiguity’ or that what we see will make is behave in a certain way (p.60). So, while art has this potential there is no guarantee what (if any) effect it might have.

Aesthetic experience can be political in so far as it opens up new ways of experiencing and understanding the world and the positions in it. It changes ‘the cartography of the perceptible, the thinkable and the feasible. As such it allows for new modes of political construction of common objects and new possibilities of collective enunciation’ (72). BUT Rancière cautions, this political effect does not override the initial argument in the chapter that there is no cause and effect relationship between what we see on stage and what we do.

A ‘community of sense’ (a term which calls to mind a very broadly defined version of Stanley Fish’s interpretive community) constitutes the work and a community of sense is supposed to result from it. (Presumably the emphasis here is on supposed because there are no longer any guarantees as to how audiences will respond).

‘Dissensus’, a key term in Rancière’s thinking, occurs when there is as “a conflict between two regimes of sense, two sensory worlds” (location 782). When the critic Wincklemann writes about the Belvedere Torso as an example of perfection in art thus changing the way it is perceived, Rancière identifies this ‘superimposition that transforms a given form or body into a new one’ as a ‘dissensual operation’ (66). Criticism, we can conclude, can be dissensual insomuch as it can superimpose new meanings onto the object of criticism thus creating a new distribution of the sensible that is at odds with the existing distribution.

The chapter opens and closes with two very interesting case studies. The first is about a project by French artists called Campement Urbain which, following consultation with residents of a Paris suburb, created the work I and Us. I and Us entailed the creation of a space for being alone as a way of reinforcing social bonds and preventing violence in the area. This project is connected to Mallarmé and Deleuze through its interest in being alone together as Rancière constructs a ‘surface’ to show that ‘What the artist does is to weave together a new sensory fabric by wresting percepts and affects from the perceptions and affects that make up the fabric of ordinary experience’ (Loc 744).

The chapter closes with discussion of Pedro Costa’s film In Vanda’s Room which, Rancière seems to suggest, pays attention to ‘the confrontation between a life [that of a group of ‘underdogs’] and its possibilities’ (80) and so, it ‘disrupts the way in which bodies fit their functions and destinations’ (72). However, we are soon reminded that the film cannot present the world from which it arises nor can it guarantee any outcomes. All it can do is ‘rework the frame of our perceptions and the dynamisn of our affects’ (82).

Rancière thus outlines in this chapter the extent and limits of the capacities of art (broadly defined) to intervene in society and politics.