Before inviting you to the 11th Berlin Biennale, the other curators and I had seen your previous work and your practices as creators of a space in Barcelona. How does your management and curating experience permeate your artistic work?
Looking back, we see our first phase as a learning process shared with our context. As well as rewarding, it was absolutely necessary, so that we could introduce queer work into the artistic panorama in a more solid way. It was undoubtedly a key moment in which various work, research and questions were brought together. Suddenly, our initiative became an intergenerational and international meeting place. Later on, as we had no kind of financial support, keeping the space open wasn’t viable, so we had to close it. We learned a lot from that experience. As soon as we have the budget, we want to prioritise collaborating with trans and non-binary colleagues, because generally, we only get invited to take part in projects where we have to explain the basics of queer theory over and over again. From the first phase of our project, we have learned that, for our revolutions to leave a mark on a larger scale, we have to go further, deepen our questioning, conceptually, aesthetically and affectively, while remaining accessible for a wider audience.
Is there a need today for a space like the one El Palomar had?
Absolutely, and we would be delighted to give the format we had another try with some adjustments. But, surprisingly, nobody has offered us the opportunity to do so yet.
On another note, another project of yours that was fundamental for us when deciding to invite you to the Biennale was the one on Alberto Cardín, titled No es homosexual simplemente el homófilo sino el cegado por el falo perdido (It is not simply the homophile who is homosexual; the one blinded by the lost phallus, too). In what way was this project a step towards arriving at Schreber is a Woman, the installation you are presenting at bb11? What traces of your previous work are found in it and what new challenges did you hope to overcome?
There is definitely continuity between these two projects. As well as their format, they share the same areas of research. Cardín was obsessed by the Schreber case, as it coincided with several of his lines of research, like sexual dissidence, religion and psychoanalysis. Even though Cardín only devoted one text to him, published in the El viejo topo magazine, Schreber became a regular reference in much of his writing. As it happens, he was one of the characters in the draft script he wrote in ’76, on which we based No es homosexual simplemente el homófilo sino el cegado por el falo perdido. We’ve been mapping out Schreber for years; we always saw genuine potential for experimenting in his case. The challenge was to open up a line of inquiry that would culminate in a video trilogy, and we think that this second experience will give us the chance to determine how to close this long research process.
The installation includes a showcase of artistic documentation from the research project behind it. What does this showcase mean to you?
It contains a series of unique documents and materials of different kinds relating to the Schreber case. The selection of material is not arbitrary. It corresponds to a comparison between plastic criteria and bibliographic references, which suggests that it is more of a piece of art than a documentation station. The showcase has the power to tell a story without the visitor needing to see the video installation. This showcase concept is repeated through several of our projects. We believe it’s a basic exercise for defining the aesthetic experience as a whole empirically and determining the objectivity of the piece itself.
Both narratively and musically, the video installation is a kind of ‘techno operetta’, as well as an argument for symbolically killing the father and the gods of both religion and the capitalist patriarchy. How are you bringing the figure of Schreber to the present day?
The Schreber case has a lot of layers, and we agree with Cardín that it needs to be revisited from the perspective of queer theory. Freud pointed to Schreber’s traumatic relationship with his father as the root of his schizophrenic episode, and justified his argument with what he termed the ‘Oedipus complex’. We want to reject this psychoanalytical discourse that states that sexual or gender dissidence is due to a traumatic experience or context.
You have to kill two fathers, symbolically speaking…
Yes. First, Schreber’s father, because his theories on education were used as a basis for the totalitarian ideological currents that thrived in the European dictatorships of the twentieth century. Second, Freud, for identifying homosexuality and transsexuality as a problem deriving from a trauma. Cardín noted that homosexuality is only a problem in non-integrative societies.
There’s still a third father to get rid of: the capitalist patriarchy we were talking about before.
It’s interesting how Schreber, who was an atheist, invented his own gods during his schizophrenic delusion, as he had no ancestral god to which he could attribute his break with his assigned gender and sexuality. In our film, we wanted to take away the feelings of guilt and moral judgement Schreber transferred to his delusions in his time, thus opening a space for enjoyment – at least in fiction. In Schreber is a Woman, Schreber is played by a non-binary person, and the goddesses are played by two trans women.
It hasn’t been easy organising the Biennale in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have gone to great lengths and taken a lot of care to put the Biennale on from September to November without anyone getting infected. Your production and filming were also subject to a series of protocols, which can be seen in another documentary piece, Una cama para Schreber (A Bed for Schreber), which is available to watch on the bb11 website. What does this piece mean?
Our filming schedule coincided exactly with the state of alarm being called, so we had to postpone it twice. Having monitored the situation closely and made predictions, on the third attempt, we managed to film on the first weekend we were allowed to travel with authorisation. The idea of recording the making-of was related to the parallels we drew between the health crisis and the Schreber we wanted to portray, as well as the filming itself. Una cama para Schreber (https://youtu.be/ZprE1MjJwys) focuses on the setting where most of the action takes place in Schreber is a Woman: the bed; the archetypal space both for illness and for pleasure. The bed as a soft platform, a place for dreams, the internal landscape, or in this case, delusion. We are talking about how to live with illness, to tame desire, in an anticapitalist sense, to validate the states relating to mental health and integrate them into life.
They are issues you already looked at with the artist Ismael Smith.
The confinement we portrayed in the end is more reminiscent of imprisonment in one’s own psyche, because evoking the queer memory of the history of Europe is more reminiscent of the mental connections made by someone with schizophrenia than of an archaeological investigation