The Slime Metaphor
Rethinking on methods for living and performing
An interview with Pêdra Costa on the theme of Body Territory - April 30. 2023
Pêdra Costa, a groundbreaking, formative Brazilian visual and urban Anthropologist, Performer and Tarot Reader based in Berlin, opens our senses to perceive a “nature calling”, emphasizing the importance of new spaces in arts with a focus on dance.
“Violently Happy“ from Björk is the song I recommend you to hear before, during, or after this first interview on the theme of Body Territory.
What first thoughts come to your mind when you hear Body and territory?
I have many images because our bodies are not free of judgment and have been targeted through centuries because of the political and economic system that we are living in. And because of this, the bodies are not equal. So we cannot talk about one body as the main body or the one body that represents all the bodies. You can talk about the representation of the most important body in society. But this body, for example, doesn't represents you and me. I'm not interested in talking about this body because of the kind of things this body brings together with it – it's a lot of violence; a lot of exclusion; a lot of rejection, and a lot of power.
If I talk about my body as a territory, I am in the margins. I celebrate this kind of space. I'm not in the centre. As a queer person, I don't believe in the centre. So it makes sense for me to be in the borders, the margins, and not the centre. If you talk about territory, is the same question to the Body in which political and economic situation we live in and what kind of political project. And this political project, they create the territories because territories are about imagination, it is imaginary. They imagined territories, and they built frontiers, borders. So, for example, they named countries. Each country's a creation. They create this kind of territory. Now they draw a line, as you see on the maps, and this country has the name, a main language, and a culture.
But for many people from many communities. The territory is not about the lines. It is not about the borders. It is about people. It's about the environment. It is about calling—a calling to be in that space.
Your last answer makes me think about the non-areolar (indigenous) notion of territory. These communities do not use cartographical representations for defining areas or lines. What is this calling you just mentioned?
A calling is our ancestor technology, right? The communities, the groups. They established themselves in this part of the world because this part of the world gives them what they need. And they created and developed a relationship with the territory. So the territory is not only the Earth but the different species around the human being. The human being is one of the species, not the most important. And then, you all want to talk about Body and Territory.
There is a lot of perspective. It is like the body in to or in the territory. And then we were talking about the ancestors. The people that are gone, their bodies under the Earth. The bodies that are the territory. That made part of the territory? That becomes the territory. And these are kinds of calling in a way that I will live in a territory where the bodies of my ancestors are the territory. So I think I have these three perspectives: the body, the territory and the body in the territory.
Could you reflect on experiences that triggered your body? You mention, for example, violence. How do these triggers play a role in your work today? How do they affect your work?
In my creations and artwork, violence is not my main topic. I don't want to give back, let's say, the violence I suffered to distribute to the audience or others. I know that what I am going through is to create, or I want to try to make, spaces of comfort. I am working on two words nowadays for my creations: my creative mindset –it's comforting and not confronting. I try to comfort, to give space for reflection.
Now this process of transformation is shaped into potency because, as a queer person, there are many kinds of violence in the world for queer people like me. And I'm not. I don't want this for my individual path. I don't want to say I don't print my way of being to the others. But in my case, I don't want to be stuck in the trauma.
Trauma can be a kind of prison inside that can stop your life. You become a person based on the trauma bathed in the violence. The violence that we suffered decides what kind of person we will become.
I don't want any violence in deciding for myself what I want to do, what I want to be, and what I want to create. I have become a tarot reader, and my proposal to the art market is to comfort and not confront. And because of that, I stopped a bit to make performances, and I am more engaged in creating spaces. So, in this case, my focus is not so much my body, but it is more related to the territory, to this space.
Do you say that comfort for you has to do with a geographical space created for encounters?
Yes. It is a kind of space for self-reflection, of self-knowledge. Let ́s say cleansing is a kind of space that people, the audience, and the visitors can feel. I want to say comfortable, it is not comfortable, but to feel present in themselves. And not, waiting, expecting, a kind of [...] not, as they say, a violent surprise. That is another thing; it is not this kind of violence.
I thought about Björk „Violently Happy“. In this case, I know that my presence is violently happy. And it can be violent for some types of audiences. Being happy is violent for a lot of people. And because of this, nowadays, I'm trying to give a step back and offer a space where they can engage in the space, but they will be alone with themselves and with the artwork. And they have to react only with themselves and not overreact to my presence in this space.
You talked about transformation in your work and how you transform the violence you suffered from into comfort for an audience. For this to happen, a body must be open for a transmission circuit between you and the audience. Do you think of the body as a permeable entity?
It is different in each material if you talk about the rain and the earth. The rain permeates the soil. But if it is a rock, a stone, the rain will not permeate the rock but flow; it flows on the skin of the rock and the stone. But it never has a fight, or they integrate themselves, and they become a different thing, or they will flow on the skin of each order.
But they will not fight [the elements of rain and stone], and I think of this kind of permeation. I was saying this to relate directly to performers and the audience. Sometimes the audience is like a rock, like a stone. They don't let any rain go through them. And some people in the audience are like soil, like the earth. The experience of the performer on stage permeates go through them. And they become something else. They become another thing. It is a good topic to talk about permeation, per se. I think you can talk about two things: permeation and permission. There is no permeation if there is no permission. As performers and dancers, we cannot guide an audience from point A to point B if they don't permit it or give authorization. So you have no agency in this case. We cannot control the audience. And then there is no permeation.
Why do you often use elements of nature as a metaphor for the relationship between the performer and the audience?
Yes, we are nature. My point of view is like my beliefs. I like that we are not different from nature. If I would talk about nature, I'm talking about art. Some people don't understand. What they talk about nowadays is the topic of environment, sustainability, climate change and so on. They don't know they are; they are just reproducing this mindset. It's not because they are fighting for, in a political way, as an activist, but because they are changing things if they don't change themselves.
I think it made it make sense to work on it. I think maybe you will not profoundly change yourself. Oh, so in the next two years. But if you go through the topic rationally or intellectually only, I hope that one day the person will change because the person will build another path for them. But we see academically, for example, people talk about post- colonialism, de-colonial thoughts or anti-colonial practices. But at the end of the day, they are just reproducing colonialism. And it's not because you are talking about something that you become something.
An anti-colonial position in the world is a natural connection with the planet. And understand the earth as an organism, as another body. And is to go through many different ways that we live in and believe nowadays. An anti-colonial position in the world is a natural-spiritual position. There is no anti-colonial position in the world without a natural spiritual position. It is impossible.
You worked with fluids in the piece Gootopia by the Viennese choreographer Doris Uhrich. Can you share your experiences and discoveries when working with these specific fluids?
In the whole process, for example, when I work in Gootopia with the slime, I have in my daily life different kind of sensations; I have kind of memories; my body has memories that come out; I receive memories from when I was in the belly of my mom, for example. So I have been, I become more sensitive.
At the same time, [in the work process] you cannot stand up because everything is slippery, so if you cannot, like, walk. For example, it is that kind of process to have to learn another method. Because then, we are not alone. Because, as a performer and as a dancer, I am secondary. I'm not important. The star of the piece, of the choreography, is the slime.
You don't work for. You work with. We work with slime. You have to become the slime to work together. You cannot control the slime. It is the same topic that you once mentioned before. It is like rain and the soil. The slime will not be the slime anymore because it will not be alone. After all, the slime transforms itself when it touches our skin because of the chemical in our skin, bodies, and slime.
We become another creature, another thing because we are in contact with the slime. So, for example, dancers that are educated to have control of everything get crazy. Because they lose control, if they try to gain control, if they try to have control of the slime, they will hurt themselves. This is our experience [referring to Gootopia performers]. So your flow together with slime; you cannot control the slime. So, this is the most important learning on the process of working with slime and the process of Gootopia for me. It's like you have no control. It's like, let it go. Go with. Flow with.
If you go into the slime, you will see. We need slime for everything. We need the water; we need slime in our bodies. We know about it. Like we are slime. We are slime. You do not have to think about it. We will have to lose ourselves. You lose control. You have to do this. If not, how will we touch the intelligence of slime? It's not possible. Slime is inside you; there are no slime spaces. I think it's simple, no?
I understand that [the slime] are the protagonist, and you [the dancer] are the voice. So have to go with you and learn with you, and learn together what we can do. But of course, it costs a lot of energy. Because of our cultural body, we try to walk; we try to move as we move in our daily lives. But it is just impossible. We have to go like when we are a baby and walk differently. Oh, you'll have to walk as an animal. All you have to slide together like a snake, for example. You'll have to discover together over the slime what kind of movements you can do to move into today's new planet. You know, and these are profound thoughts for us. This is really, really beautiful.
The Slime Metaphor stresses on the terminology of Territory, formulating a relation to political power. The interview navigates towards a non-anthropocentric concept where human beings are not the most important specie.
In my view, the interview proposes a concept of negotiation between bodies, sometimes referring to nature and humans, sometimes from artists and audience, and at the end, from the body to body when referring to the piece „Gootopia“ by Doris Uhrich. In this piece, there are two bodies present: performers and slime. The slime is the protagonist on stage, over the performers. Because of the presence of the slime, dancers cannot fully control how their bodies should move, and they have to negotiate their movements and be cautious not to fall on the floor. They work in equilibrating the power with the fluid substances on stage. Could this metaphor become a way to support us in rethinking new ways of living together?
Longhurst, Toby. Bodies Exploring Fluid Boundaries. Routlege, 2001.
Echeverri, J. A. Territory as body and territory as nature: Intercultural dialogue? In A. Surrallés & P. García-Hierro (Eds.), The Land Within: Indigenous territory and the perception of environment, Copenhagen: IWGIA, (2005).
Sara Smith, Nathan W Swanson and Banu Gökarıksel. Territory, bodies and borders. Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3220, USA, 2015.