Interview: Marcela Torres
photo by Jesse Meredith
A self-professed “social strategist,” Chicago-based artist Marcela Torres has been honing her practice for years and is one of several national artists participating in Experimental Action 2019. Prior to Torres’ appearance at the festival, I was able to speak with the artist about her practice, how social structures influence their work, and why Experimental Action proved so appealing.
ExA: Tell me a bit about your artistic practice.
MT: I think I was just really interested in if whether a practice is based on identity, specifically on race theory and race politics. It seems to be important that the body was also entrenched in that labor, like as an object that’s in transition or as an object of power. My practice is largely focused on the mentality of the body being the technical central figure in which to create from. A couple of years ago I was really into weightlifting and I wanted to bring that into my practice. The more I thought about it the more I realized that maybe the best way to talk about violence and to think about socio political things that were happening in the United State was actually to train to fight, that being a fighter would be a really good metaphor and it would also feel like something that it truly is. I’ve been doing that for about three -- almost four -- years now. I started off with Muay Thai, but I’ve been transitioning a little bit to allow for the work to also encompass sound, so I’m moving a lot of my practice into being sound-based in relation to capturing the sound that occurs during martial arts sparring or training.
ExA: How do you see violence incorporated into your work?
MT: Right now I’m interested in the psychology of violence. The work that I’m going to show in Houston is really interested in looking at historical writings about the psychology of people during wartimes, specifically about this psychological moment called agentic mode, where someone flips into a sort of survival mode, acting as an agent of the state. When you’re in survival mode, you’re not worried about the same things -- you’re very selfish in a way -- and if you’re working through it as someone who’s working for a military or nation, your ideologies change in order to assist that common goal. I was thinking a lot about how really terrible things happen during wartime, where people will collect trophies of human body parts or would scavenge for food; the roles completely change. If we think about the way that conflict exists in the U.S., it’s really similar, where people have to operate under a new code in order to just survive and the value of a body is not the same, it’s now just the “bad guy,” like it stops being a peer or a child, it just becomes the “other.” That’s the way I’m approaching this now. Research-wise, the work takes from writings about this psychology, and it also has original writings from myself and is also derived from martial arts movements. I’m using martial arts movements to talk about the violence that occurs during wartime and there’s a soundtrack that’s created through my strokes. Through hitting customized boxing bags, it creates a soundtrack as all of this occurs.
ExA: How did you get connected with Experimental Action?
MT: I actually just saw it on Instagram. A friend that’s in Houston posted the specifics of it, about how it’s a really great community and you get to stay with people. They really highlighted what it was, which really helped me make a decision. It isn’t always a really lucrative thing to do, but to me, it’s really important in the way that I’m interacting with the communities and the way in which I’m treated because often people think of performance as some kind of entertainment; they don’t think of it as “real art,” that it’s like theater to them. It can be, but there’s certain particulars that make it different, so it’s really nice to be part of performance festivals where that’s understood and you know that your work is going to be respected and treated differently and that there’s going to be a really good crowd of people who are going to be there. I recently went to the Time-Based Art Festival in Portland and it was amazing because every year, people just know what it is; they know what performance is and they want to see it. For me, Experimental Action seemed like an exciting opportunity and a way to do that and to be in that community.