Coup created by our thoughts (PoemTalk #166)

Cecilia Vicuña, 'Colliding and not colliding at the same time'

from left: Huda Fakhreddine, Edwin Torres, Jena Osman


Edwin Torres, Huda Fakhreddine, and Jena Osman joined Al Filreis in the Arts Café at the Kelly Writers House to talk about a performance piece by Cecilia Vicuña. The piece was a segment in a ninety-minute presentation titled “An Illustrated Conversation” that took place in the same room at the Writers House in February of 2017. One of the parts of the performance goes under the title “Colliding and not colliding at the same time.” The segment begins as the audience, having been encouraged to ask questions about an art video that had just been screened, went momentarily silent. No questions were being asked, so Vicuña began improvisationally to fill the room with words and sounds, exploring a convergence or collision of topics: the then-recent election of Donald Trump, the “millionaires’ coup” in Brazil, the “mystery of what is happening at this moment in the earth,” the collective thought of the people in the room, and the room itself.

Vicuña has an unusual talent for reading you in the room. “I feel read” and “She is accurately reading me” are typical responses of members of her audiences. From what does she derive the various seemingly incidental topics of her improvisation? The Trump election, the Brazilian economy, our relationship to our devices, and global climate crises are said in this piece to be “echoes.” Everything is sound. The space of the associative performance is sounded. Does our silence (the unsaid prompt that got the piece started) have anything to do with our “not reading” generally? (She refers to the propensity of people to look at — rather than to read — news and information on their handheld phones.) “What is it we’re reading by not reading?” asks Vicuña. “We all get information,” observes Jena Osman in our discussion, “but the price of that is that we don’t know what we really are, or what we really feel.” Can it be that we are “not present” just when we are receiving the information we urgently need in order to understand the echoes between and among colliding global crises?

Can such an improvisatory mode itself point the way toward a collective response to the current situation? Yes, and it is the key to the performance art of this poet. As she enters the space of the reading, touching, or otherwise contacting us as she enters, and then doesn’t so much “read” (that is, doesn’t “give” a poetry “reading”) as create a collision of sounds, she causes audiences to ask themselves, What are we supposed to do? What exactly is our role during this performance? Subjects (people perceiving) and objects (topics and ambient facts of the space) collide, and soon it is clear that all the aspects of the room can cocreate meaning. The collective thought of people who momentarily lose a sense of their proper role: that, for Vicuña, is how we become capable of “doing” things.

This episode of PoemTalk was recorded and engineered by Zach Carduner and Leah Baxter, and was edited by Zach Carduner.

Click on the screenshot above to watch a video recording of the entire performance.