speaking silence

The last week of term has been overwhelming, so it’s taken me longer to talk more bodies…but, as the last class of the year draws to a close (accompanied by chocolate fondue , courtesy of one of my students!) and the teaching term fades away, there’s a bit more time to pause, reflect and take stock.

Talking Bodies was all about how bodies speak; that is, how bodies can speak for us, whether we want them to or not. Bodies have stories to tell and it’s up to us to figure out what they are saying. But it was also about the ways that we consciously deploy our bodies to tell our stories.

Talk – the idea of making public our thoughts through words – has been central to feminist politics. Indeed, talk is central to most political movements. Talk is a site of agency; it is the claiming of a public voice, the breaking of silence. ‘Giving voice’ is seen as a way of disrupting dominant narratives, shifting direction, changing focus, questioning, challenging.

But this focus on talk – on speech, on making language public – has also been foundational to my interest in bodies: more specifically, in the absence of conventional language, voice, speech, how do bodies talk? And how do we interpret their stories?

Giulia Casalini spoke about the performance art of the Guatemalan artist, Regina José Galindo. I her work, all of which is political, Galindo ‘speaks’ only through her bodily actions. Dipping her feet into blood, she marks the pavement of city streets; in other instances, she wraps herself in plastic bags, her naked body folded into a foetal position and dumped in a public location. Her body – as mode of communication – amplifies silence. Through her body, silence speaks. It yells. It screams. Violence. Genocide. Memories. Bloodshed. Witnessing. Testimony. These are the stories that she tells with her body.

What is the potential of silence? Of the body that speaks? What new stories might emerge if we listen differently? In this artistic process, silence becomes a mode of investigation; a way of bearing witness to trauma. For Galindo, the body is a site of collective sorrow. Silence, in this formulation, is not about collective reflection or reflection; rather, silence is a site of resistance. There was much to consider in this presentation, and even more to think through in relation to Galindo’s performances.

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