My dear friend Aldair,
Today was the first day of snow since we arrived. For a long time, I had been wanting to write this letter, and because life has been so large since we last talked, I know it’ll take me weeks, maybe months, to be able to abandon it – to say to finish it is impossible because there’ll always be things coming up that I want to tell you about. I chose this random, external element that has nothing to do with us both: snow. I had no courage to start it, I admit it, and knew that it’d start to rain in a few days. So I decided that I would write to you when I looked out of the window and all the things were hidden behind a deep fog.
I’m in a house in the middle of nowhere, by a road, a one-and-a-half-hour car ride from Zurich. The old repaired hotel shelters the library that belonged to the Swiss artist Züst and has more than 10 thousand books. Nowadays the collection is kept by his daughter, Mara Züst, also an artist and curator who organizes, twice a year, an open call to people interested in creating projects related to the library and its content. I got word of the open call and invited Miro Spinelli, my friend and colleague during my time at the Masters, to accompany me in this work. It’s important that I talk to Miro, not only because he’s here with me, living in these alps, but because the idea of writing you was inspired by him. He sends letters to his fellow performers as part of his Master's dissertation, as the production of ways of living.
I also talk about Miro because it was on the day he and I were sitting in that café near the metro, writing the project that would bring us to the library, that I received, on my cell phone, the message saying that you had already left. I don’t recall the exact words, but I raised my eyes at that moment – the world should be melting, hinting that it also felt the pang of your absence, but it remained the same as a second before – and it was Miro’s eyes that greeted me there. While an invisible hand pressed a ton over my thorax, making it a bit harder to breathe – but, on the other hand, holding inside the tears -, we had a beer in your homage and I told him things about you.
I don’t know if you ever came to Switzerland (but I suspect you did), because I have a very strong memory that on that day you told me there were so many cities and that all of them seemed so alike - with their cartoon-like little houses and grumpy people - that there came the moment when you couldn’t tell whether you were in Austria or Germany, exchanging rehearsal rooms and stages two or three times a week. Huge theaters, crowded rooms filled with middle-aged Europeans fascinated by the power of the Brazilian black bodies jumping in an explosion of virtuosity and little clothing through the Old Continent since the French choreographer had the luck to come across the group’s work and, fascinated, decided to open the company only for you. And I asked you if you didn’t think there was a bad interpretation of the pieces, possibly some exoticization – I heard the middle-aged women and men used to go backstage with some hopes – and you shook your head and laughed, telling the story of how the French cursed out loud when you would fly by in your roller-skaters down the streets of Lyon – what I never again have wanted to do, without you. “They don’t know how to do anything. It’s amazing. They don’t know anything’.
And it was exactly because “they don’t know anything” – about us, at least – that we came to Switzerland to research this library. We wandered by the corridors, getting to understand the collection, all divided in boxes that can be transported and assembled in any reasonable horizontal space. The library, alive and mobile, has traveled through museums, institutions, and other events in homage to its founder, and now the wooden nests where the books rest are taking their time in this mountain house where, almost four thousand feet high, we can watch the pink sunset in the Austrian alps and the huge trains crossing the Swiss night.
We separate a collection of texts and works by artists who move us. From theory, poetry, literature, music, visual arts, theater, and performance, they’re our Chupim eggs – “a Latin-American bird that hides its eggs in the nests of other species so that they can be hatched. Like the birds, we search for strategically positioned nests to lay eggs considered too strange to be there, be it for their origin, gender, or aspect”. We research in what manner the books in the library, be them about art, photography, science, or the adventures of colonial explorers in Africa, Asia, and Latin-America, could dialogue with our material. We choose the nests in which to lay our eggs, thinking in what manner would it be possible to create some dialogue, some friction. We copy the texts by hand so that they can be included in the books of Züst. The medieval monks also copied by hand before the invention of the press. Entire books scribbled with quills. Handwriting is a meditative exercise, a way to practice presence, to be connected to the meaning of the texts. Words run through the body until they reach the paper, where its content is incorporated. Even if the writings were already known, to copy them is an opportunity to learn from them again. In a constant work to decolonize oneself, to trace lines with one’s hands is a way to keep those important ideas alive, pulsing inside of us.
When we lay the eggs of their proper nests, Chupim Papers assumes the form of an ephemeral and invisible installation. Once the work reaches the world, we no longer have any control over it. It’s provisory, unstable (for anyone can undo it by taking away the papers or changing their places). Or they could be hatched for years because there’s always a chance that no one will find them. Without any indication of its existence – other than the site we created to register the interventions and point to some bibliography and the correspondence between the eggs and their respective nests – the public of Chupim Papers will the person who, by accident, bumps into a text written with ball pen on a simple white sheet of paper. I’ve always agreed with people who talk about how magical it is to find little fragments of the past inside some publication. I read an article about a man called Messias who has an old books store. Mr. Messias, having run the bookstore that bears his name for more than 45 years, collects the relics found inside books. The most diverse things come up: wedding invitations, tickets for the theater from the early 20th century, notes, and letters. Thus, Messias gathers a great and unusual collection. The poem from the Portuguese poet Matilde Campilho talks exactly about this sensation and it’s so beautiful that you’ve got to read it:
“Poema alegre para o capitão
Estava lendo Whitman
e lembrei de você
Isso para começo dos trabalhos
já é mais ou menos bom sinal
Foi imediatamente depois do espanto
da página 108
Quando descobri o tal poema curto
que lá para o meio do corpo diz
<<the pay is certain one way or another>>,
Não foi exatamente por isso
que lembrei de você
Até porque esse é um poema
que fala daqueles amores assim
longos, assustados, algumas vezes
raivosos e geralmente
de correspondência difícil
(repare que difícil é bastante
o contrário de impossível)
Um amor daqueles semieternos
que faz escrever um livro
ou um punhado de versos
Sendo essa a correspondência
Portanto não foi aí que lembrei
de você Não
O que aconteceu foi que
por causa do espanto
precisei coçar o queixo
levar as duas mãos à cara
e respirar entre os 20 dedos
O que aconteceu foi que
por causa do gesto indecifrável
ou da estocada da memória
o livro caiu no chão do trem
E então a queda ferroviária
fez voar o marcador das páginas
Veja só: era o cartãozinho
do bar dos pescadores
(ele que pelo visto tem servido
para a canção de Whitman
desde o último verão)
caindo a meus pés
Foi por causa do nome da rua
que vinha escrito no cartão
O endereço do boteco
do sol & das fainas
Que lembrei de você
De sua primeira aparição
De sua primeira gargalhada
E daquele mês
de ouro na cidade-norte
Quando tudo ia bem
hiper mega bem
com as 4 vidas
This poem by Campilho assumed a great relevance for me in these last times. It talks directly about the sensation of encountering the chance treasures that hide in books. A wave of warmth that comes from the small things and that I always feel. I hope the people who find Chupim eggs can also experience this. But besides that, I found it interesting that she referenced the American poet Walt Whitman.
Remember when I was Nicole? I don’t know if I commented on it, but one of my greatest inspirations for that performance was the possibilities of creation opened by Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, especially Álvaro de Campos, who loved Walt Whitman. To Campos, Whitman was his master, his idol, that great person we look upon when we’re making an effort of self-growth. Honoring Whitman, Álvaro de Campos explored the energy of the modern world. I went through my teenage years reading endlessly the complete works of Campos. Despite not being an enthusiast of the modern-day machinery present in the poems, there was some vital power in there that got me hooked for entire afternoons when I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old. I spent days memorizing pages that maybe I didn’t even understand that well, and even without knowing Walt Whitman, the part of me that had been molded by Campos’s verses loved him as well.
A German performance and theater theoretician, Erika Fischer-Lichte, says that in the theater the body of the actors and actresses is, at the same time, theirs and their characters’. She explains that they go through, at the same time, a process of incorporation – of the role they play – and show themselves to the observers in their phenomenological presence and that this tension is essential to generate corporeity in the processes of the arts of the body. The public alternates the attention between these two registers, just as we also oscillate between a duality of states in the comprehension of our own matter: to be a body and to have a body. Fichter-Lichte quotes, in the construction of this thought, the philosopher Helmut Plessner, who understands this characteristic of the acting exercise as a symbol of the human condition itself (FISCHER-LICHTE, 2008). But for a long time in our society, the notion that we are a body was not the predominant one, and our matter was seen only as a tool to apply the wills of the mind. The science from the time when Walt Whitman lived believed that all of our feelings were produced in the brain and the rest of the body was only a big chunk of flesh following orders (LEHER, 2007). The poet was a pioneer when he brought as the kernel of this poetic practice the doubt about the validity of this premise, defending that there’s no determinant separation between body and spirit – and focusing on the simultaneousness of having and being a body). In his masterpiece Leaves of Grass: “Behold, the body includes and is the meaning, the main / concern, and includes and is the soul” (WHITMAN. 2007, p. 174)
It took me quite some time to be able to inhabit consciously this duality. I’ve always been a little distant, and unskilled in physical activities. You know that well because you loved to joke about how unbelievable it was that I had danced even once in my life. For a long time, I believed that intellectual exercise would give me everything I needed if I applied enough effort to it. I’d need your presence, giving me little examples, to begin to understand that the teachings of books only work when used to make our contact with the world more tridimensional and that it won’t be only in them that one will learn how to deal with the absurdity of life.
I learned daily lessons from the way you made people automatically love you at the first second of interaction, the prowess with which you got rid of any negative consequence of the messes you got involved in, and especially the genius you transpired when you started to dance. With the luck of having your company to show me how wrong I was, I could start to understand what was the power of the action of a body in the world. The psychophysical experiences that I had through performances also helped me to think about the consequences of having my body directly involved in the production of works and understanding more about this knowledge of the flesh – which is, itself, our soul, as Whitman tried to show me in his poems.
To live the power of the wisdom of the body was the dynamo of this Master's project, that has opened so many doors to me, and that taught me so much, and that I now dedicate to your memory. Last year, during the development of the research for Fictions and Falsities, one of my indispensable tasks was to ask for Exu’s permission. I needed the orisha to allow me to think about my performance work and its registrations and actions using his mythology. In Mexico City during the In: Cuerpo performance I had the opportunity to talk for more than two hours with Exu through the Santeria oracle. This religion exists not only in Mexico but also in other Latin-American countries, and it has its differences and likenesses to our Candomblé. However, I can’t give any details about the house itself where this talk took place, and this is by specific determination of Exu. What I can say is that there was a tense moment when the priest told me he needed to evoke the names of the deceased relatives I miss the most. There is an African proverb that says that “when you don’t know where you’re going, look back and know at least where are you coming from” (GONÇALVES, 2006, p. 363). The oracle agreed with that and told me about the importance of the connection with one’s ancestrality to strengthen our roots, to understand who we are. Unfortunately, I have almost no narrative about my ancestors and had no answer to give him. I told him I had never lost anyone, and so he gave a lecture (rightly so) about how Brazilians are lazy and let our roots fall into oblivion. He told me then to pray so that even without faces or names my ancestors would listen and be closer to me.
We famously are a people without memory – and so that saying this is already a cliché – but we’re learning a little, and it’s nice to see indigenous, black, colored Brazilians being proud of their roots and bringing back the names of their cultures that were erased by the millions of Catholic baptisms. Or even having DNA tests to know from which distant points of the planet came their grandparents. There’s a whole movement around retelling the past that was violently erased by genocidal colonization. To rewrite history is one of the most beautiful ways of changing the present.
But I also like Donna Haraway’s idea of ancestrality a lot (2015). She is an American thinker that proposes that we abandon the notion that kinship is inseparable from the blood. In her proposition make kin, not babies, the contact between people must be strengthened in a fraternal way, beyond traditional family relationships. This way of thinking of Haraway appears in a dozen other places, with the transformations in the concept of family and the progress we slowly make regarding certain patriarchal paradigms. Miro, for example, thinks of the possibility of dissident ancestrality – the connection with those who died opening space for existences outside of the cisgender and heterosexual pattern -, that speaks more to his way of being in the world than the direct look to blood and genealogy. It’s about being together, creating links, and making the world. How me, you, and that group of people whom we loved so much did – without them, we couldn’t recognize ourselves, for the history of one is reflected in the eyes of all the others. And so, then the “cab ran with me by the shore of the Lagoa towards Botafogo” I repeated the prayer the priest taught me and thought of us.
Here in Switzerland, I started reading the story of Kehinde/Luiza, the main character in the book “A defect of color”, by the ex-advertiser Ana Maria Gonçalves. In the metafiction, the biography of Luiza Mahin is reconstructed so that it be the starting point for telling the history of Bahia in the 19th century and the suffering of the black people who fought slavery. The two sons of Kehinde are abikus, “spirits that have been friends for more time than one of us can count and that, before being born, arrange between themselves that they’ll soon die again to meet in the spirit world” (GONÇALVES, 2006, p.8). In the yorubá culture, abikus are those who die before their parents – in childhood or puberty – because they’ve already chosen their path before coming to Earth. They come briefly to the world of the living and quickly return to the company of the other abiku children to play. Since then, I can’t stop thinking that you, even though you fooled your destiny for almost 30 years, but never stopped being a boy, have abiku spirit. Everybody dies, maybe I’m just in a bit more of a hurry, you told me once.
We know cancer would’ve won anyway, hidden so deep inside your head… that was the place where it decided to dwell. But your choice to live together with your mortality in peace – dancing until the last moment – takes away from your departure the bitter taste of defeat. Victorious is the one who says goodbye from a life surrounded by love. Now, in my dreams, you’re practicing a triple somersault by some sea, fooling around with your abiku friends. I hope they have a videogame to lend to you, some soda to refresh you and some silly jokes to make you laugh. Thank you for teaching me a bit about being a child. I love you.
FISCHER-LICHTE, Erika. The Transformative Power of Performance. New York: Routledge, 2008.
GONÇALVES, Ana Maria. Um defeito de cor. Rio de Janeiro. Record. 2006.
LEHER, Jonah. Proust was a neuroscientist. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston/New York, 2007.
WHITMAN, WALT. Leaves of Grass. Pennsylvania State University. 2007.
HARAWAY, Donna. Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin. Environmental Humanities, vol. 6. University of California. Santa Cruz, 2015. pp. 159-165
 http://www.andreaszuest.net/ (Accessed on 03/01/2018)
 http://bibliothekandreaszuest.net/ (Accessed on 03/01/2018)
 http://marazuest.net/ (Accessed on 03/01/2018)
 (Accessed on 03/01/2018)
 “Joyful poem for the captain: I was reading Whitman / and thought of you / This, for starters, / is already kind of a good sign / It was immediately after the startle / at page 108 / When I found this short poem / that in its middle goes / <<the pay is certain one way or another>>, / That wasn’t exactly why / I thought of you / Actually this is one of those poems / about that kind of love / long, scared, sometimes / angry and in general / of hard correspondence / (you see, hard is very / opposite to impossible) / A love of the semi-eternal kind / That makes one write a book / or a handful of verses / Being this / its most honest correspondence / So it was not then that I thought of you No / What happened was that / because of the startle / I had to scratch my chin / take my two hands to my face / and breathe through my 20 fingers / What happened was that / because of the indecipherable gesture / or the stab of the memory / the book fell on the floor of the train / And so the railway fall / made the bookmark fly / You see: it was the little card / from the fishermen bar / (I guess it had being used / as metronome / for the Whitman song / since last summer) / falling at my feet /It was because of the name of the street / written on the card / The bar address / the sun & the works / That I thought of you / Of your first appearance / Of your first laugh / And of that month / of gold in the north-city / When everything was well / Hyper mega well / with the 4 lives / transatlantic.” The poem is available at: <http://cordequindim.tumblr.com/post/101641476256/paz-palavra-%C3%BAtil-matilde-campilho>. (Accessed on 10/25/2017)
 The poem by Ferreira Gullar “Na Vertigem do Dia”, about the death of the writer Clarice Lispector, can be heard in the voice of the author at https://falandoemliteratura.com/2011/01/14/a-morte-de-clarice-lispector-por-ferreira-gullar/ (Accessed on 25/11/2017).