Blessed Be #10 with Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta
Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta is an artist. They live in San Francisco.
BBF: I am so excited about your forthcoming book The Easy Body from Timeless Infinite Light. Congratulations. As I read the book many thoughts and questions emerged for me particularly around identity as embodied and marked by location/relation. I wonder how and if identity is significant to this work and it what ways it shows up and why?
TLA: Thank you! Also, thank you for reaching out to me for this interview.
Have you ever seen a Mexican casta painting? I saw an exhibition of them as a child. They are essentially domestic scenes featuring a different parent of a different casta (racial class — there were a dozen possible mixtures) with their resulting child, producing some other casta. There is no rhyme or reason to them, and none of the painters agree on the names of racial mixtures. There was a mixture actually called no te entiendo: I don’t understand you. Those paintings terrorized me growing up. Although I identify as a mixed race Latinx because I have Black and indigenous and European Jewish ancestry, was born in Latin America, and speak Spanish, I’m pretty suspicious of how Latin America pretends to hide its white supremacist tendencies by claiming that everyone is mixed through the cult of mestizaje. It permits white Latin Americans to avoid accountability and erases Black Latin Americans and indigenous Latin Americans. While writing parts of The Easy Body, I imagined myself methodically destroying those paintings. I was also thinking about the Nazis’ Mischling (“mixed-blood”) Test, which was used to classify who was a Jew and who was a Mischling, by way of how many of your grandparents were Jewish. The test also had some sort of convoluted man-made logic, based off when your parents married, who and when you married, when you were born, if you converted or started attending services and when. The effect of those policies and their ridiculous but deadly logic are very, very present in the book.
BBF: I am interested in “the easy body,” which of course is the title of the work but also shows up in the content of the poems. You write, “bodies that are borders, hiding, Never have I ever possessed the pleasures of having the easy body.” Can you unpack the role of “the easy body” in this work?
TLA: Certain figures that were present during my childhood include La Cegua, a woman spirit with the head of a horse or bull who was known to entrap men, seduce them, then kill them; and the chupacabra, some kind of vampiric zoological hybrid that attacks livestock (& I think naughty children?). There’s also La Llorona, the weeping woman, who, depending on where you are, was either an indigenous or mestiza woman who fell in love with a white man; and when he abandoned her, she drowned her mixed race children in the river; she’s known to haunt waterways and llorar, or weep. Ghosts and monsters straddle borders themselves, and are themselves easy bodies, too.
Something that I have difficulty identifying with is my body. I wince a lot at rhetoric that uses terms such as “the brown body” or “the queer body”, so it’s odd that I called my book The Easy Body. In Spanish, the word I used was labíl, which translates into fragile or weak, or unstable (in the chemical sense). Think of a glitch, or a shapeshifter. Something I grew up having to do was code-switch, and I still do it. My accent shifts, and I can feel the carriage of my body shift. When you navigate institutions, when you live with a mental illness, you do a lot of shapeshifting. In my early twenties, I did a photo series of images projected onto my body as a response to my experiencing a dissolution of the borders that kept me separate and contained from the rest of the world. I later learned that was an early symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This is a rough draft of a poem I’ve been working on around that:
stupid with beauty,
resistant to a singu
lar history. a
container that is a pro
duct of a conspiracy.
a bright laughing clit.
a general strike. a knife
to upper lip and
nose out of spite.
What does a shapeshifter actually look like? Is there pleasure in being so unstable? The easy body is the narrator of The Easy Body. During her recent talks at CIIS, Silvia Federici mentioned that under capitalism, there is no one history of “the body”: this book is a history of a body.
BBF: I am curious about the role of “the poet” in this book. For instance, “Got tired of being a rotting altar, so I became a poet.” I wonder if you can speak to your own origin story as a poet, what role being a poet plays in your life and how “the poet” is operating in your book, The Easy Body?
TLA: In my grandmother’s house, there weren’t really any books, save a bible in Spanish, a copy of The Lives of the Saints that someone gave me as a first holy communion present, an outdated issue of Vanidades, and this book that Kaiser gives to its patients that has a short description of every possible disease and disorder that you can think of. Which isn’t to say my grandmother was literature averse, she could recite cuentos with precision and had a lot of Ruben Dario’s poems memorized, not to mention prayers, which are poems of their own. In my high school’s library, I read Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book, and started keeping my own diary of impressions and lists. However, it never occurred to me to be a writer, except for two weeks in tenth grade when I fantasized about becoming a playwright, like Federico Garcia Lorca. It wasn’t until I was twenty and taking a creative writing class at Los Angeles City College that I started writing poems: really ugly prose poems. They started out as spells, as forms of sympathetic magic. The poems became ways to channel reactions to things: a microaggression; a film; a crush. Then I began researching the Sandinista revolution and my family’s history, and felt closer to it as a vocation.
What the fuck is a poet? I am figuring this out. My family is from Nicaragua, which is nicknamed the land of poets and volcanos. During the Sandinista Revolution, people formed literacy brigades to teach their paisanos how to read and write, specifically poetry. The town my family is from, Diriamba, is known for being the home of El Gueguense, this performance that combines dance and theatre, is deeply satirical, and is performed wearing these traditional wood carved masks that are brightly painted. The Sandinistas later appropriated these masks for guerilla operations. One of the first records that I remember listening to was a Carlos Mejia Godoy one, which was originally played over Radio Sandino during the revolution. The songs were gorgeously coded instructions to the people on how to assemble and use assault weapons seized from the Guardia Civil, as well as hagiographic accounts of young people -artists, poets, and musicians most typically- who’d been murdered by the Somoza regime. I wanted to write a manual in poetic code! But I think that I’ve failed.
In the book, the poet acts as a witness. The poet is the easy body at work: they have become a poet under duress, out of necessity, out of survival; even though, as it’s noted in the book, poets are very often the first up against the wall.
BBF: I am struck by how this book is dealing in relation, the subject in relation to various sites; (hell, the front porch, grandmother’s room) identities, family, spirituality, the elements (fire in particular), gender, sexuality, the colonizer, to name a few. I am curious about the intersections of these, I wonder if you can share some of the relationships at work here and what they illuminate for you/the reader?
TLA: The book takes place in a landscape that is basically a Los Angeles/San Francisco /coastal California hybrid (with datamoshed glimmers of Nicaragua and Argentina, where my grandfather is from) entrenched in war. A phenomenon that I find utterly fascinating is movement — and a lot of the story is about being on the move. Movement can be translated to dance, to taking the streets, to throwing a molotov cocktail, to crossing a border, to fleeing, to building, to fucking, whatever. I am right now thinking about Lisa Robertson’s comment about interpretation adding to a poem’s movement.
We’re witnessing and standing by to one of the largest human rights crises since World War II. The Syrian Civil War has been going on for six fucking years, and we’re living in a country that has effectively shut off its borders to those fleeing its horrors. Both sides of my family immigrated as refugees: from the pogroms; the Inquisition; the British; fascism; mined harbors; death squads; villages being bombed; being dropped into the ocean from a fucking helicopter. I am pretty sure that I carry a lot of the fear and confusion of my ancestors, and I have tried to embroider that trauma into a text.
BBF: Can you talk a bit about the role of women in this text?
TLA: A project that The Easy Body sort of devoured but I continue to work on is a history of women during civil war in Latin America, and the ongoing crisis of feminicide. My family is entirely women, and I was raised by a coalition of women, all single mothers: my mother, my sister, my aunts, my grandmother, and great-grandmothers and great-aunts. The narrative is largely addressed to and about women. Throughout the poem are short vignettes about women in my life: a dear friend’s violent arrest; my namesake meeting my mother; the name of an aunt who spent most of the insurrection in prison appears tagged on a wall; my sister grieving; my grandmother’s death. My mother especially is very present in the text, and it sometimes operates as a letter to her about the things that have happened to me since I’ve left her body.
BBF: How might you think about a queer poetics and how and if you see this manifested in your own work?
TLA: My favorite poet for a very long time was Federico García Lorca. Lorca was hella gay. I was hella gay, and I grew up in a (albeit progressive) Catholic family that already engaged in code-switching, and I recognized the need to code my visibility. Lorca’s use of metaphor, specifically around nature, was a form of code-switching around desire that I adapted to fit the needs of my expression. I think it’s easy to think of a queer poetics formed around desire, or visibility, but I’m more interested in one formed around correspondence.
BBF: What is your relationship to the word magic? Is it significant to you, to your art practice?
TLA: I deleted what I originally wrote here, because I’ve been tightly considering my relationship to visibility. It used to make me upset when it seemed like people were looking right through me, especially white people. Actually, let me rephrase that: it used to make me upset when it seemed like white people were looking right through me. Now, I don’t care. If people don’t see you, the less likely they are to cannibalize you. There is a difference between living in hiding and protecting yourself.
That being said, magic is significant to my work. There’s a lot of brujeria in The Easy Body that is similar to the kind I grew up with in Los Angeles. I work as a doula, a vocation that grew out of the home birth movement along with the reemergence of the midwife, and I consider it to be something a part of a long tradition of witchiness. I can’t imagine anything more magical than birth, except, well, death. Magic is really allowing the forces present in the earth — not the world — to take their course, and accepting their energy. A lot of my work can be understood as spells, although maybe not in the western, European tradition.
BBF: I also spent some time with your short films, Cualquiera Exercise #2 and Ramona. In “Cualquiera Exercise #2,” I was struck by the idea of intention and language. The way the water distorted the language, the way the hands of the body rid the water of the letters and in “Ramona” I was struck by the perspective. The videographer was a present subject of the film, giving us the view, but with legs navigating spaces and landscapes, who has a voice and relationships. In working with video as medium, I wonder the ways in which it is similar to poetry and different? Can you talk a bit about the process of imagining and making these video pieces and what they mean to you?
TLA: The video you refer to as Cualquiera Exercise #2 is actually a trailer for a performance I did in Los Angeles called Cualquiera Exercise #2, where I wore a garment of disintegrating material while sleeping inside of a plastic bag filled with ice.
Ramona is a diary film about a trip home to Los Angeles and through the San Bernardino Mountains with my mother to visit my sister and her family. I hadn’t watched it in about three and a half years, and actually, I’m really embarrassed by it. It’s pretty intimate, which is something that I was experimenting with at the time, the cuts are awkward, and the quality is really bad. I’d like to make another version of Ramona, now that my sister and her family and my mother live in the same small town in Ventura County.
The films I make seem to fall into two categories: performative pieces, like Cualquiera Exercise #2; and experimental documentaries, like Ramona. The performative pieces tend to be very planned, quick, static, and are usually processed video. The experimental documentaries are spontaneous, and usually put together through editing. Those are closer to my writing practice, which is sort of like me sitting down and channeling, then piecing fragments of language together.
I think that the next thing I would like to work on long term is a film. I’ve been working on a documentary about my friend Elaine Kahn for nearly two years, so maybe I ought to finish that first. A group of my friends that I used to run a dance company with and grew up making films and art with just collectively bought a 16mm camera, and I’m excited about the possibilities that opens up. Unlike writing, film and video requires some equipment, which makes it cost prohibitive, unless you have access to equipment thru school or a friend.
BBF: What is your relationship to the personal and political? Are they intertwined, significant to you, your politics and your creative work?
TLA: The phrase “the personal is political” strikes me as totally neo-liberal. It sounds cute and easy, but it isn’t. It makes your politics seem conditional. My work is both deeply personal and political, but it isn’t inherently political because it’s personal or vice versa. I’m thinking about how the private sphere has isolated us, to the point where it has become a site for interpersonal violence. Community accountability is difficult behind closed doors.
There’s also the question of what is “personal.” Is an indigenous Mexican farmworker dying because of language injustice in healthcare personal? Is a Black pregnant person and their fetus/infant dying from lack of prenatal care personal? Is the lead poisoning of approximately two million Angelenos, mostly of color, personal? Is the extrajudicial murder of Black people in the streets by the cops personal? A single incident or condition is usually symptomatic of a larger, structural problem.
BBF: Is there anything you wish I had asked about but didn’t? Any final thoughts?
TLA: Brittany, thank you so much for your questions. Also, happy belated birthday!