Reading lists, conversations, and other texts
The Haptic in Motion: ideas from the third Cecilia Vicuña reading group by Selam Bekele
On November 23, 2020, Ricki Dwyer led a Cecilia Vicuña reading group, joined by Kate Ruddle, nan collymore, lava, Melinda Gandara, Jordan Stein, Elisabeth Sherman, Katie Lawson, Elena Yu, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, Vita Wells, Steve Van Eck, Selam Bekele, Theodore Lau, Anthony Huberman, and Jeanne Gerrity

The reading group featured discussions of the following readings:
“In Conversation with Cecilia Vicuña” by Tatiana Flores
“‘touch in transit’: Manifestation / Manifestación in Cecilia “Vicuña’s cloud-net” by Julie Phillips Brown
An excerpt from Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa

I begin these reflections by recalling the moment we parted ways. Though all in different rooms, in different homes, different cities, and even different countries—I recall a grounding connection as the evening concluded. Each left with our own impression of the gathering we shared.

We began the evening in small breakout rooms carrying with us a central question:

What is the Life Force (and have you touched it)?

This question fostered discussions around holding place, acknowledgment of space, and reciprocity. We talked about the act of touching, of being touched, and the interconnection between the two.

Dwyer referred to how Vicuna’s work “fuses sensory experiences” through use of sound and touch to draw participants into the present moment.

When have you felt most present?

A memory was shared by a participant who thought of how experiences of novelty heighten one’s sense of awareness. He recalled the exhilarating sensation he felt as a teenager driving his first car. This inaugural sense of agency heightened his awareness, and his body felt alive in ways that left an impression on him today.

Another participant thought about the life-force in relation to the museum collection. She noted that the institutional act of collecting objects is “directly oppositional” to this sense of awareness. We discussed the various barriers that may limit the body from having a relational and sensory experience with the art object.

How is “properness” associated with “ownership”?

We discussed museum collections, and the absence of touch in relation to an art object. We critiqued the assumption of ownership inherent to these collections, and how these assumptions are interlinked with colonial notions of “respectability.”

We reflected on how Vicuna’s work often subverts these notions of properness through interactive and tactical performances.

A quote on otherness introduced the idea of a perceptual shift into “knowing that something is” rather than “knowing what something is.” This led to discussions on opacity, and a right to opacity by the most unknown elements of our surroundings. Perhaps the life-force is not meant to be understood, known, or named. Perhaps the life-force simply is, and can only be experienced through awareness.

As mentioned in the beginning, we closed the reading group talking about warmth. Though the pandemic has shifted the way people can come together, there was a sense of connection in this virtual conversation. Each within our own worlds, a sense of interconnection was woven together through a series of reflections.