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24. Francis Alÿs' The Politics of Rehearsal (a.k.a. Ensayo 2)
What is it with European artists and Latin America? So many of them seem to be at least deeply fascinated by the region, if not enamored with it, if not total fetishists of it. From the work I've seen, Francis AlØs doesn't seem to be too much worse about this than the average Latin America-loving Euro-artist; I doubt he showers behind a curtain emblazoned with the face of Che. But it must be said that a full 100 percent of his videos on Ubuweb -- that's two, count 'em, two pieces -- revolve around the place.
This installment of The Politics of Rehearsal, the second of three "ensayos" -- that's "essays," for you non-Hispanophones -- grapples with the vexed relationship between Latin America and modernization. It does this in metaphor -- AlØs seems fond of metaphors -- by representing the elusive lure of full, first-world development with a dancer rehearsing a striptease.
It's not as if this is made oblique. The Ubuweb page description quoted above isn't just the Ubuweb page description; it actually appears onscreen, verbatim, during the piece. For just about its entire runtime after a clip of Harry Truman's inauguration speech, a narrator, though one who sounds like the dominant half of a conversation whose other participant is unheard, makes a series of pronouncements about Latin American modernization and how it's like a striptease. No danger of missing the point here, unless this is all a smokescreen for the "real" thrust.
As the voice heard off lectures, we watch the dancer, a pianist, a woman who's probably a director of some kind and, at one point, possibly AlØs himself. They practice, fine-tune and discuss their allegorical show in a dramatically-lit black-and-white space. The attention naturally goes straight to the dancer, who's the focus of most every shot. She's also the reason I couldn't write this post at the coffee shop, as I'd originally intended. This isn't the evocation of a striptease; it's a genuine striptease, start to finish. (I watched it publicly as long as I could, but we're into nipple territory by 21:58.)
By presenting a stripper who, at least at this streaming resolution, looks genuinely attractive, the ensayo stretches credibility. Credited as "Bella Yao", she's got an intriguing Asiatic look -- Merriam-Webster tells me that term "Asiatic" is "sometimes offensive," but I don't buy it -- that I didn't expect. But hey, maybe modernization, prosperity, joining up with the first world and all that is a more alluring prospect than the typical hopeless crackhead lolling around a pole. Then again, Ms. Yao clomps around in standard-issue clunky lucite heels (though she removes them off for a couple minutes in the middle) and appears to have a tramp stamp. It's a small one, though.
It's genuinely, entertainingly bizarre to hear some dude intone about "the definition of the temporal," "the structure of temporality" and "the paradox of praxis" while this Asian girl takes it off, puts it back on, and takes it off again. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be as humorous as I found it. Whether or not where the viewer's attention goes speaks volumes about them, I can't say that I've ever seen the intriguing and the deadening framed together so starkly.
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