Butler, Judith (2006). Vida precaria: el poder del duelo y la violencia (trans. Fermín Rodríguez). Buenos Aires: Paidos.


González, Celia, Laura Trejo, Rodrigo Toro, and Donovan Hernández (2021). “Breathe!


Celia-Yunior (2021). “Wet season/Dry season.


Derrida, Jacques (2009). El monolingüismo del otro (trans. Horacio Pons). Buenos Aires: Manantial.


Dussel, Enrique (1977). Filosofía de la liberación. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.


Echeverría, Bolívar (1998). La modernidad de lo barroco. Mexico City: Era.


Eshun, Kodwo (2018). Más brillante que el sol. Incursiones en la ficción sónica (trans. Tadeo Lima). Buenos Aires: Caja Negra.


Fanon, Frantz (2009). Piel negra, máscaras blancas (trans. Ana Useros Martin). Madrid: Akal.


Federici, Silvia (2010). Calibán y la bruja. Mujeres, cuerpo y acumulación originaria (trans. Verónica Hendel y Leopoldo Sebastián Touza). Madrid: Traficantes de sueños.


Foucault, Michel (2008). The Birth of Biopolitics. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan.


Foucault, Michel (2012). Du gouvernement des vivants. Paris: Gallimard.



Groys, Boris (2014). Volverse público. Las transformaciones del arte en el ágora contemporánea (trans. Paola Cortes Rocca). Buenos Aires: Caja Negra.


Haraway, Donna (2019). Seguir con el problema. Generar parentesco en el Chthuluceno (trans. Helen Torres). Madrid: Consonni.


Hernández Castellanos, Donovan (2017). “Actos de la nación. Conmemoración, identidad y representación: análisis del Bicentenario mexicano.” Pacarina del Sur Dossier 20


Hernández Castellanos, Donovan and Rodrigo Toro (2020). “Decolonial Listening: Sonorous Bodies and the Urban Unconscious in Mexico City.” In Alejandra Cardenas (ed.) Radical Sounds Latin America (pp. 155-169). Berlin: Radical Sounds Latin America.


Hernández Castellanos, Donovan (2020). “Infecto corona: tramas virales, historias y políticas” In Alberto Constante y Ramón Chaverry Soto (eds.), Filosofía de lo imprevisible, reflexiones para la pandemia. Mexico City: UNAM/ Editorial Viceversa.


Hernández Castellanos, Donovan (2023). Juegos de verdad. Poder, disciplina y gobierno en Michel Foucault. Mexico City: El Diván Negro (forthcoming).


Lenkersdorf, Carlos (2008). Aprender a escuchar. Experiencias mayas-tojolabales. Mexico City: Plaza y Valdés.


Mbembe, Achille (2011). Necropolítica (trans. Elisabeth Falomir Archambault). Madrid: Melusina.


Mbembe, Achille (2020). “El derecho universal a respirar.” Terremoto.


Mignolo, Walter (2007). La idea de América Latina. La herida colonial y la opción decolonial (trans. Silvia Jawerbaum and Julieta Barba). Barcelona: Gedisa.


Nancy, Jean Luc (2007). 58 indicios del cuerpo: extensión del alma (58 índices sur le corps Extensión de l'ame) (trans. Daniel Alvaro). Buenos Aires: La Cebra.


Ochoa Gautier, Ana María (2014). Aurality: Listening and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Colombia. Durham: Duke University Press.

This essay is based on the urgency of questioning what the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano has theorized as the “coloniality of being and power” (Quijano 2014),[1] present in the hegemonic aural regime.[2] It is based on two pieces: Wet Season/Dry Season (2021), a sound installation by the collective of Cuban visual artists Celia-Yunior that was presented at the Jakarta Biennial, Indonesia, and Breathe (2020), an interdisciplinary piece combining dance, literature, sound, and video. Both were created between August 2020 and June 2021, when the COVID-19 lockdown was still in force in Mexico. This story of everyday life is not only made up of human sounds (voices, actions, etc.), but also sounds from animals and machines. These other sounds form part of the sonic unconscious and are perceived as noise or dissonance. Incidental sounds open a discursive gap, similar to how, according to psychoanalysis, a lapsus linguae (the slip of the tongue) opens a door to the unconscious. In this sense, noise is made up of layers and sediments that reflect the complexity of an unconscious life, hidden by the effects of repression.[3]


The collective of visual artists Celia-Yunior and musician Rodrigo Toro worked together for Wet Season/Dry Season. The interdisciplinary team of Breathe comprised choreographer Laura Trejo Cortés, philosopher Donovan Hernández Castellanos, visual artist Celia González, and Rodrigo Toro.


Based on both collaborations, we have attempted to theorize what we call the aural regime, consisting of rules that condition social listening. Against this, we counterpose the practice of decolonial listening, which works critically on the contemporary aesthetic register. This explores Latin American sound bodies and the urban unconscious, shaped by the very materiality of cities in the Americas. We delve poetically into the historical sediment marked by colonial domination, which may appear below the surface but nonetheless still operates through subjectivation. In this sense, decolonial listening is a poetic-political exercise that seeks to produce a critical review of the colonial past that is inscribed in the present of artistic and urban exploration.


The text is divided into three parts: first, we propose an exploratory definition of the aural regime and the coloniality of listening of being and power in Latin America. Second, we address the artistic collaboration with the Celia-Yunior collective around the installation Wet Season/Dry Season, which was presented at the XVI Jakarta Biennale, Indonesia, in 2021. Third and lastly, we trace the story of the artistic collaboration that resulted in Breathe during the pandemic in Mexico. From this review of the practice and theory of decolonial listening, we draw some conclusions based on our experimental procedures. We have chosen a style of reflection that, while drawing on theoretical concepts, explores the narrative dimensions of the experience of collective work, since it seems to us that this approach better reflects the multiple dimensions involved in the act of producing and reflecting on sound, on the sensible and policies of regulation (Rancière 2007). In this way, this essay constitutes a hybrid example of decolonial listening.

These works, together with our collaborative experiences, generate theoretical reflections that contribute to decolonial listening and the dismantling of hegemonic sound politics. We develop these below through a set of (italicized) terms  still in a provisional state – concerning the relations between sound, aurality, and power while simultaneously acknowledging the difficulties we have experienced in translating these reflections from Spanish into English. Since both are imperial languages and colonial legacies in our thinking, it seems to us [to become ]a practical exercise of decolonializing listening, on this occasion, through the register of writing. English has allowed us to bring our work closer to a global audience and to establish networks of collective reflection, while always marked by a constitutive alienation of language and its coloniality (Derrida 2009). We will attempt to develop critical tools from this experience of alienation and linguistic ex-appropriation.

Rodrigo Toro and Donovan Hernández Castellanos

I. The aural regime: coloniality of being and power

The aurality of power


By aural regime we understand the set of rules, devices, technologies of capital, and practices of listening and sound production that establish the prevailing norms within global sound policies. These unequally distribute sound recordings and the listening experience from three bastions of domination: patriarchy, capitalism, and racism. From these practices of exclusion, discrimination, or invisibilizing, the norm of the aural is established: a whole political-aesthetic register of audibility in a given society, in a specific period. Sound policies then establish criteria and rules to register voices, sounds, or musical productions, which receive more attention or are socially marked as more valuable. In this way, what is audible does not depend only on the hearing faculty of individuals — on the capacity or health of the ear itself — but also on the political set of rules, processes, and institutions that determines what is meaningfully audible. This is also crossed by the intersectionality of practices and systems of domination. There is, therefore, a whiteness of sound, which codifies the conditions of global listening, but there is also a relationship of exploitation of alienated labor and feminized bodies within the prevailing media geopolitics (Federici 2010; Segato 2013; Echeverría 1998).


Our notion of the conditions of the audible as part of a regime of power (always circumscribed to a social and historical ontology) draws from a Foucauldian conception of discourse. Michel Foucault elaborated how power structures what is conventionally understood as meaningful discourse and its applied rules (cf. Hernández 2023 [forthcoming]). He showed that truth does not only belong to the epistemological order of demonstration but also employs dramaturgical techniques of showing. Discourses have public effects when certain “truths” are displayed to the governed. Truth-telling thus has its ceremonies, realized through the deployment of aesthetic and technological resources that the French thinker calls aleturgy (Foucault 2012). In other words, the series of scenes in which a discourse is presented as true – showing the governed the “need” for a power relationship – is part of the biopolitical economy of modernity. For example, military parades, commemorations of national history, and museum exhibitions of cultural objects defined as “heritage” are some of the techniques through which governments show performatively – and simultaneously conceal through naturalization – the force of a collective, national, or citizen identity over time (Hernández 2017; Vargas 2018). We can consider, for example, representations of the people during the commemoration of the Bicentennial of the Independence and the Centennial of the Revolution in Mexico, many of which were presented to the public in the form of a parade of puppets and floats interpreting Mexican history, albeit in selective ways and under highly conservative editing, as well as the festivals that enhance Colombian-ness through the commemoration of historical battles and emblematic figures of Colombian Independence.


Now, just as there is a veridiction regime (Foucault 2008) that guarantees that certain discourses are legitimized as true or with claims to truth – thereby subjecting individuals and populations more effectively in their relationship to government – we maintain that there is also an aural regime, that makes some elements of the ecology of sounds recognizable as “sounds” while others are relegated to the sphere of noise or, more often, simply not heardat all, denied access to channels of circulation (records, recordings, sound recordings, etc.). Power, therefore, also operates in the aural register, in the determination of the sensible as something significant, valuable, and worthy of attention.

The coloniality of the aural


With this socio-political background, Wet Season/Dry Season works on the diverse historical temporalities existing between Cuba and Indonesia and the plots of (post)socialism based on the conceptual element of water and the planting of rice. The audio track is 17’32’’ long, consisting of three episodes that evoke different sensations: an initial sub-episode with a strong rhythmic character, leading to a central section in which arid sensations prevail, and closing with a violent and brief explosion that saturates auditory space but falls short of the brutality of the historical moment it represents. The first episode was built from water recordings, using panning as a rhythmic resource to create an atmospheric character. The second was generated from improvisations with electric guitar, prepared and executed with a cello bow, creating a stringed instrument choir that evokes aquatic sensations, followed by the harmonics and resonances of the Indonesian Gamelan. Finally, the third episode is built from explorations and improvisations with rice, a wicker basket, and aluminum foil. The public moves through the installation, producing a sound/textural effect when walking on the rice husks on the periphery of the containers. It invites contemplation and action rather than passive listening; in contrast with a modern listening that is usually positioned from self-identity of the individual subject, it encourages a listening positioned between bodies coming into contact with each other. On the one hand, this listening gives audibility to the body as “other,” that “uncomfortable other” that bursts in and whose sounds are marked on the side of the colonial difference as noise; on the other hand, it sounds as another subject, invoking the communality of listening. Of course, the colonial regime made the audible body emerge as a possible site of resistance in such a way that it is not completely occupied by power relations, but this does not mean that it is a privileged site of resistance, since there are always other places from which to implement a process of decolonization.


Decolonizing listening implies, among other things, a listening from the position of others (nature, body, and all the sensible possibilities on the sidelines of the aural regime). This first episode is built from different positions of listening to water, as stories of the same phenomenon are narrated from different listening positions, recognizable in the layers or aquatic sediments that coexist in the first episode. One of these focuses on low frequencies, which evokes listening underwater, and, at the end, peripheral listening to rain. The water and the stories that emerge from it are narrated from the colonial wound. To narrate from the colonial wound perhaps means to tell [the story ]of nature, the natives, and the technologies of power within diverse plots that are always marked by the presence of the Master and his domination as well as by the struggles for decolonization. In a similar fashion, the second episode sought to generate sensations and aquatic impressions through superimposing guitar sounds. Created by subtle percussions on the instrument’s body that stimulated resonance in its strings, these sounds evoked the Indonesian Gamelan without trying to accurately imitate it.


The multiperspectival listening (from the underwater or from the body) suggested by this work enables the possibility of decentering hegemonic narratives. Within the fabric of a single sound, the work brings a diversity of positions – bodies, listeners, identities – into dialogue around a singular phenomenon. This includes – from a decolonial perspective – stories and visions of the world from the “peripheries” that “surround” the centers of power. In addition, the piece draws from contemporary discussions on the Anthropocene and posthumanism, as the key element of sound production is nonhuman: water and the social and political imaginaries that it evokes. Water also appeals to the historical and comparative record of destinies and critical drifts of socialism in Cuba and Indonesia, whose economies or ways of life are developed in the vicinity of the sea as a historical element of their social experience; the water evokes the colonial wound in the past and present. This is because water, rice planting, and labor discipline have been key to the subsistence economy of both post-colonial and current (post)socialist nations. Let us not forget that both countries suffered from the importation and exploitation of enslaved peoples and their labor and embodied, albeit in unequal ways, anti-imperialist narratives that continue to constitute the identity narratives through which political violence is interpreted. The colonial wound persists in the peoples of Abya-Yala, since the defense of water has been fundamental in the mobilizations against oil pipelines and the idea of indigenous communities as “water. protectors”[6] In this sense, Celia-Yunior's piece can open up our approaches to decolonial listening to the sonic, historical, and political record of nature itself in increasingly complex narrative approaches, traversed by the “intrusion of Gaia” (Stengers 2009).


Breathe is the name of a collaborative piece and an interdisciplinary group comprising the visual artist Celia González, choreographer Laura Trejo, guitarist Rodrigo Toro, and philosopher Donovan Hernández. The work draws on the speculative qualities of feminist science fiction to process the traumatic experience of COVID-19, reflecting on the body and the experience of the disease. The lockdown in Mexico began with the first 100 cases of coronavirus.[7]As a result of these measures taken by the federal government, everyday life began to have a certain spectral aspect in Mexico City: the streets of the city, usually crowded, were almost completely empty. While hundreds of activities – from education to business – had to migrate online, many other economic activities (primarily informal commerce and heavy industry, which require a face-to-face component to function properly) were forced to continue ­–even with the health risks of those involved.


Many on-site events were cancelled, including the International Congress of Critical Theory in Rome and the first edition of the Radical Sounds Latin America sound art festival, planned to be held in Berlin in 2020, had to switch to online mode. In this context is where our first artistic and conceptual collaborations took place.

Based on these considerations, the language, form, and aesthetics of both pieces were built almost simultaneously. Sounds were configured from the listening of everyday life, that is, through field recordings and communication networks (somewhat random) generated at a distance, without imposing meaning on them. Breathe was made by a need to “touch” the other through sound, as a means of facing the prevailing prohibition of bodily/oral contact. Wet Season/Dry Season, on the other hand, was made by a need to connect two stories of (post)socialism and ecologies of posthuman agents. From this position, sound is conceived as a temporal-spatial rubric of Being, which is staged and is, above all, a way of being and sounding collectively, as opposed to the coloniality of Being that silencesthe Global South.


From this sound complexity, formed by networks of acoustic bodies, listening is built from an us situated between contemplation, action, and multiple locations in geographic and political terms. This listening is not located solely in the ear, nor does it focus on a musical or sonic hermeneutics (for example through the tools and frameworks of Western music theory); it is a listening from the body that implies touch, as a sense located both externally and internally in the body (Nancy 2007), that is, as a membrane that makes a difference and palpates the outside from the inside. We seek to include a historical dimension in the practice of listening, which could be linked to the postcolonial condition of cultural meanings in Abya-Yala.It is also a listening to the sonic unconscious, which implies paying attention to the acoustic and historical sedimentations that form stories and subordinate narratives embedded in everyday life.


When we say that it is not a matter of hearing  that is only located in the ear and we speak of a listening of which touch is part, we refer to a way of peripherally perceiving – with the feet, the hips, and the stomach – the low, telluric frequencies, like those of the water in Wet Season/Dry Season and those of the breathing sounds present in Breathe. Hearing and touch constitute a continuum, the effects of which can be observed through dance-musical genres such as the son jarocho, the Chilean cuecas, in which the instrumental performer (someone who sings and plays the jarana, for example) usually takes turns with the other musician, a percussionist who taps or vice versa. We experience this audio/tactile perception when we sound collectively or when the vibrant earth of Mexico City shakes under our feet during an earthquake, when we make a mess, when we whistle to send a message, when we play (Hernandez and Toro 2020: 161). The example of earthquakes gives us a particular way of hearing the telluric vibration from touch, as a wave, whose amplitude and regularity are measured in Richter degrees. In some regions of the Mexican Pacific coast it is said that the “earth roars” when an earthquake of considerable magnitude occurs, that is, the oscillation of the tectonic layers produces a sound that both goes through and is captured with the whole body. In the public transport in Mexico City or in popular dances, such as cumbia or banda, perhaps due to a technical deficiency in the audio systems or a stylistic issue in which the low frequencies are intensified, they are captured as vibrations that shake the space and mark the rhythm of the dancing bodies, which in turn participate in the generation of sound through their movement. It sounds with what sounds to us, and thus we sound collectively.


Expanding listening beyond the ear, extending it to touch and colonial history, implies de-centering its passive functions and practices, inherited from the tradition of Western musical conservatories, to place the subject as a sonating body that vibrates collectively with other bodies. It implies placing the perception on the other side of difference, from the other “edge of the border,” crossed out and marginalized due to the effect of the coloniality of knowledge and its aural technologies. Four of our senses (sight, smell, taste, and hearing) are conceived as head-based, but here we convey how touch and hearing are intertwined, forming a continuum of inside and outside, forming an acoustic body, not only thinking but dreaming.


As mentioned, the sound materials used for Breathe emerged from the recording of daily listening during confinement in a context in which community and sociability had ostensibly been diminished by the distancing of bodies. However, except for the breaths and the initial planning that contemplated a choir built from them, the selection and integration of this sound repertoire in the piece does not come from an intellectualization, planning, or intention to operate as an intermediary or interpreter of these senses and sound intentions. In the case of Wet Season/Dry Season, the sound materials were co-formed with the (post)socialist stories of two nations that, in similar ways, based their feeding on rice and water, two natural elements that have their own historical meaning for both epistemic horizons. Both pieces were the product of an unconscious listening that was clarified and systematized during the process, both through rapport between those involved and in the realization of the two pieces. When analyzing the sound materials and the composition of both pieces, we noticed that this sound arsenal had been captured from everyday life and the set of bodies and ecologies that existed in a sonic communication with each other; that is, both pieces contained what was heard in the immediate environment (machines, animals, automatic systems, the sea) of those creating it, including (the author's) deep breathing, the frequencies of the nervous system, the pulse, and the water.


In this context, it was through the sounds and their continuity that narratives of the movement of bodies in space, their affectivities, and their joint performance as a concomitant acoustic body were generated. Our gaze made a transition from the immediate spaces of everyday life and the multi-situated geopolitics of (post)socialism. In the middle of the confinement, in the middle of a soliloquy in front of the bathroom mirror, an uncomfortable, disruptive sound appeared, a noise that questioned – coming from the floor above, from the one below, from a distant parking lot, or from a bird trilling its song – that transported us to the sonorous present of another, that touched us and inhabited us. The interpellation of the other, of the unconscious or of the body, are perceived by coloniality as noise or dissonance, from a horizon of thought that marginalizes and disciplines bodies and sounds. In contrast, the decolonial listening approach implies reception, that is, making space for the other within oneself. That is why it is also a position based on love, since this reception implies a transformation, a disruption of one's own space and identity, which leads us to community and diversity through sound.

Decolonial Listening and the Politics of Sound: Water, Breathing and Urban Unconscious

The aural regime is marked by the colonial wound. The coloniality of being and power, which had been thought by the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano (2014) as a long-lasting pattern of domination, acquires new qualities and nuances when they are related to contemporary politics of sound. The coloniality of power was theorized by  Quijano above all in relation to the processes of Latin American independence of the nineteenth century, in which the Creole republics consolidated the internalization of colonialism to the new nation-states. However, the coloniality of being directs us to the problem raised by the Martinican psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks,[4] where the colonial wound opens a gap in the ontological order of subjectivation. That is, Being is conceived from the side of the European, of the dominant identity of the colonial occupant and the figure of the Master, while non-Being is a huge strip that covers all the subject positions that do not identify prima facie with this position (Fanon 2009; Dussel 1977). Self-recognition is in this way divided by the mark of colonial rule, which persists even at the end of historical colonialism. It is precisely the formation of such long-term colonial domination patterns that we call coloniality.


When we examine the aural regime and the political conditions of listening, we have to consider the ways in which subjects are shaped by these colonial wounds and how their aesthetic experiences are formed. We also need to consider how their bodies are inscribed in certain politics and cultural programs of the Global North (such as festivals, biennials, record labels, streaming platforms, and concert halls), even when they are ostensibly designed to rescue or recover sound landscapes or musical projects of the Global South. A process of decolonizing sound politics is needed. Naturally, this decolonial listening cannot be achieved without the required praxis, which entails the construction of new community, social and aesthetic fabrics with the capacity to subvert such structures of domination. In many ways, this resistance in praxis is undertaken by the indigenous communities of Latin America, the community defenders of the Earth and nature, and the various contemporary emancipatory struggles such as urban, community, Abya-Yala[5] feminisms, etc. (Hernández and Toro 2020).


II. Jakarta Biennale: water, the post-socialist condition and coloniality

Conclusion: Considerations of other listeners and the sound in Breathe and Wet Season/Dry Season

After the twelfth day of the COVID-19 quarantine, as inhabitants of solitary confinement, the days became a continuous happening of space and time in which memories of the past, nostalgia, mourning for what was lost, and uncertainty about the future were constant. Time seemed lethargic, like a dense matter through which it was not possible to perceive or imagine a possible outcome of the situation. As the days went by, thoughts tending towards obsession and intense existential soliloquies arose, in the Calderonian style, intoned silently in front of the bathroom mirror, as did an eventual accentuation of bodily/oral numbness. The lockdown induced by the pandemic altered perceptions and individual and collective identities. In some way, we bleached ourselves under the sun of the calm days of the “end of the world.”


Distancing meant losing the bodily/oral trace of others and conforming, as well as configuring, with their presence through icons, pixels, and postcards of the digitized body on social networks. However, the presence of others persisted in narratives of sound and silence, in frequencies that slipped through the walls, glass, and metal of the buildings. People did not see each other, but their acoustic bodies were perceived through space, and through this they entered the narratives of everyday life. The acoustic body – or the acoustic form of the body – functions as a resonant intermediary with the others, linking and connecting confined bodies and building sound narratives of everyday life in the face of global narratives of chaos and death. In their sonic dimensions, tenderness, crying, frustration, anger, love, and rage expose bodies through their sound rubric, forming a local communications network. The sound of material bodies says present, closing a cycle where "you spoke, we listened" (Lenkersdorf 2008). The acoustic body implies a mode of collective being articulated through sound and the narratives deposited in our city’s unconscious.


This was the context within which the interdisciplinary works Breathe and Wet season/Dry season were inscribed. The creative processes of both pieces can be read through the framework of decolonial listening: they are non-hegemonic everyday narratives through sound, a kind of Sonic Fiction (Eshun 2018); they show the acoustic bodies and the networks of communication and resonance that they weave with other bodies; they pose questions of social identity through sound; they expose, in short, extended listening to touch, not centered solely on the ear. As we have stated elsewhere (Hernández and Toro 2020), our reflection on decolonial listening is not so much based on aesthetics – which presupposes a theory of the spectator and contemplation – as on poetics ­– which sets in motion a sensible production of experiences, as the Russian/German art critic and philosopher Boris Groys suggests (2014). We can define this poetics as follows:


We propose decolonial listening as an act of interrogation and sonic experimentation within Latin American cities, an exploration of their radical sounds and reverberant spaces: a work of topophony that deals with the sound of places and spaces. Decolonial listening is also a process of questioning and thought – a feeling-thinking that takes buildings, squares, streets and avenues, museums and monuments of the city as images of thought. This same process creates sonic montages to identify the dialectic installations that allow the exhumation of the urban unconscious, brushing history against the grain in an archeological exercise (Hernández and Toro 2020: 159)

In this respect, Wet season/Dry season is a collaborative work through which a series of parallels are established between the socialist governments of Indonesia and Cuba. While the Celia-Yunior collective has worked hard in mounting international exhibitions, moving from action art (performance) to conceptual data collection, archival work, and the questioning of heritage in the countries of so-called real socialism, Toro is a performer of contemporary Latin American music and has ventured into the field of sound art. The piece takes as its leitmotif the water reservoirs built by both countries to capture the vital liquid during the dry season, with a focus on rice as the basic food of both peoples. The installation consisted of two concrete containers, placed at a distance from each other, into which an amount of water – proportional to the amount of rain collected during 1959, the year of the Cuban Revolution, and 1965, the year of the fall of socialism in Indonesia – was poured. Both dates were inscribed on the bottom of the containers, which were surrounded by rice husks. Audio monitors were distributed on the lateral ends of the installation.

Indonesia is a multiethnic republic that, since 1512, has suffered colonial occupation by the Netherlands, becoming a Dutch colony from 1800 onwards. After the Japanese invasion and occupation at the end of World War II, the independence movement resurfaced and, following the surrender of Japan in 1945, the nationalist leader Sukarno declared independence and became president. His government was marked by anti-imperialist rhetoric as well as constant tensions between the Indonesian Communist Party and the army. We must not forget that in April 1955 Sukarno, together with the independence leaders Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru, convened the Bandung Conference in Indonesia. A meeting of African and Asian states, this was a political event that inscribed the incipient independent country within a broader history of solidarity of the Global South. These events make up the subtext of the piece. This would give rise to the Non-Aligned Movement in Asia and Africa, later including Cuba. After an attempted coup d'état on 30 September 1965, the army launched an intense anti-communist campaign, during which some 500,000 people were killed, highlighting the strong necropolitical (Mbembe 2011) component led mainly by death squads encouraged by the armed forces. These massacres, as Joshua Oppenheimer's brilliant documentary The Act of Killing (2012) has shown, were perpetrated by death squads drawn from the rural underworld. Then in 1968 the government of the “new order” of General Suharto opened up Indonesia economically to neocolonial forces of global capital under the aegis of the United States, sedimenting colonial violence in the process. As we know, this economic opening did not mean the government became less repressive. Thus, across five centuries, we see the dialectic of coloniality synthesized in Indonesia's political history.

 III. Breathe: Multi-species stories of everyday life

The title suggests a reflection on breathing within the context of the pandemic. Breathing is here simultaneously an automatic mechanism of the body essential for its subsistence as well as the means by which the virus spreads. We were particularly interested in reflecting on the implications and prohibitions the pandemic brought on the body: as a region and habitat, as a territory of new global regulations and far-reaching alienations, as a bearer of the marks of colonial/imperial difference, and as a biological weapon. Before the hegemonic government narratives of disaster and catastrophe, where world institutions highlighted global differences in relation to the management of the pandemic, there were already the narratives of everyday life and bodies. Now we experienced the limits of terror and parsimony, of dying alone and the inability to mourn together, to witness death and say goodbye to the body. The body became the scene of a biological and social battle. In this panorama, like a cruel irony of the season the sun shone, the birds sang, and the nights passed in insomniac silence.


From the radical nature of this ominous experience, where aspects of everyday life revealed extreme and hostile aspects, Celia and Donovan saw the need to collaborate on a piece that would work on the singular experience of the infecto corona pandemic in Mexico City (Hernández 2020).

Unsurprisingly, many aspects of popular science fiction are present in the script. The name of the alien species is borrowed from the Daleks (from the British television series Doctor Who); there are echoes of Tarkovsky's films Mirror and Sacrifice; and the speculative tones of science fiction come from the anarchist literature of Ursula K. Le Guin and Stanislaw Lem's melancholic Solaris, although without explicitly referencing them. Obviously, Donna Haraway's (2019) reflections on Terran stories were present and continually set the tone for this postmodern micro-story.


It seemed important to us to highlight the Latin American and especially the Mexican context of the story, centering on the [perspective and ]situation of two Mexican women in the time of the global pandemic. Sci-fi provided the best genre for this, since the group agreed that Latin America needs more science fiction to counter the domination of realist stories in recent years, with notable exceptions being created by writers such as the Mexican Andrea Chapela, the Uruguayan Fernanda Trías, the Colombian Luis Carlos Barragán Castro, and the Argentine Samanta Schweblin.


Problems of translating the script into visuals and sound were evident from the outset. The story was appropriate for a 40-minute film, but not for a five-minute video performance. We had to work on an edition of the script in which we retained only the structural features that would support the main plot. Added to this difficulty was the fact that Celia González, our director of visual arts, was illegally arrested for participating in the 11-N protests in Cuba, when the artistic community demonstrated against official censorship and police harassment of the black and impoverished residents [of the neighborhood ] San Isidro and particularly against the political targeting of the artist Luis Manuel Otero. Although Celia was released the same day, the authorities had erased all the information on her cell phone, including the documentary and photographic materials she was going to use. Celia wanted to establish a bridge between Havana and Mexico City in the context of the pandemic, so the collective had to choose other formats and a completely different visual language.


Rodrigo collaborated with Paul Alarcón for the work’s cinematography. The video returns to the ominous tone of our first reflections, and the sound of breathing becomes heavier and more material, more present and palpable, while different shots of houses and landscapes of Mexico City are shown in high contrast (as in the film The Tree House by Minh Quy Truong), denoting the space of death. In this new version Laura Trejo’s performance gave significant presence to the female body, where the erotic coincides with the soundtrack’s ominous mood. She appears naked, covered in mud – alluding to the Terran nature of the original sci-fi story – and breathing slowly, tiredly; the textures of her skin and her body merge with fire, probably from extraterrestrial engines that approach the Earth without ever arriving. In the end, the shot closes with a close-up of Laura's gaze, which stands out for its sharp, confrontational visual register, against sexualized conventions of women's bodies as ornamental spectacles. The video concludes with the phrases of Cristina Rivera Garza, quoted above. This piece was shown for the first time in March 2022 at the Faculty of Music of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.[8]


The most important aspect of Breathe, to us, consists of the effort to decolonize listening in relation to hegemonic sound policies. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been global, coverage and attention of its diverse impacts have – like vaccine distributions – been extremely uneven, especially as concerns its intersection with persisting aspects of coloniality, such as attitudes to sex and gender. (Hernández 2022; Quijano 2014). The American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler (2006) has insisted that mourning contributes to the a priorirealization of certain lives, narrated in the future past of a "shall be lived.” That is to say, mourning conditions narratives that render some lives, but not others, recognizable as worthy of being lived. She gives the example of obituaries and the way in which post-9/11 press coverage positively valued the lives of US soldiers killed in acts of war, while the lives of Afghan people, for example, went virtually unnoticed, rendered invisible. In such narratives, the lives of Afghans will not have been “lived” in the first place, as they did not correspond to the criteria and standards that would have valued and protected them. In this sense, mourning contributes to the differential management of the power of protection over some lives and overexposure to death of other populations in the world (Butler 2006: 60-62). We insist, likewise, that mourning is also permeated by coloniality in the double register of power and being. The high mortality rates of the pandemic in Mexico exposed the effects of the gradual dismantling of public health provision through neoliberal “reforms.” Breathe reveals, then, the need to institute another listening that acknowledges the value of all breath, of all the people, and so decolonizes the pandemic’s politics of sound.


In other works (Hernández and Toro 2020) we have tried to connect our approach to the politics of sound through the exploration of the soundscape of Mexico City, from which we have developed an experimental conception of the urban unconscious. Starting with this conception, in which we interweave psychoanalysis with the aesthetic and political intuitions of Walter Benjamin, we emphasize the aural and sonic traces of the colonial unconscious that continues to inform identity in addition to and beyond its visual legacies that structure the urban surface of Mexico City, as with virtually any Latin American metropolis. We conceive of the city not only as a relatively unified device of architectural styles and urban designs but also as the layer of historical sediments that coexist in a complex temporality, similar to the way in which pre-Hispanic ruins coexist and are integrated within colonial structures and buildings. This constitutes an important laboratory for aesthetic exploration and politics that allows us to understand the city from its unconscious registers, in which the repressed can be heard to return.9 We think that the visual and the aural are constitutive registers of the sensitive experience, and we were interested in linking them in this piece that emerged tentatively and experimentally.


Thus, the synchronicity of the pre-Hispanic ruins, the colonial buildings, and the post-revolutionary modernity in Mexico was the backdrop for the speculative narrative of the piece Breathe, which, in turn, changes the register of listening and looking, to challenge the politics of listening and, more importantly, the aural regime shaped by the coloniality of being and power.

We were already collaborating on the essay “Decolonial Listening: sonorous bodies and urban unconscious in Mexico City” and a performative conference contribution for the Radical Sounds Latin America festival. It seemed quite promising to link Rodrigo's sound art with a video piece that reflected on the implications of the pandemic, the practices of mourning that were beginning to take place, and the radical alteration of the register of everyday experience. The result was Breathe.


Celia and Donovan launched a call for recordings of breathing. From these breath sounds we sought to develop a speculative narrative linking the body, the disease, and the global pandemic condition, commenting on the attendant grief and loss. The general argument of the call was inspired bythe reflection of the Cameroonian political scientist Achille Mbembe (2020), who in a famous interview declared that, at that moment, we were facing a new right that was emerging from the global health context: the right to breathe. We wished to link this new right, that emerged in a context where big pharmaceutical companies were fighting for private property of the global cure in the race for vaccine patents, with the imaginaries of the end of the world. The global pandemic condition had to be questioned obliquely. Notably, during the initial planning of the call, we agreed not to speak directly about COVID-19: we wanted to keep it as the backdrop for our reflections, since we wanted to avoid reproducing the infodemic that replicated the viral logic of the pandemic itself. We sought to depart from the accelerated production of messages and uncorroborated news, connected with the apocalyptic and tabloid tone that was implicit in most media coverage. Instead, we felt the character of the piece should be calmer, our imaginary should speak from another place than the other (until that moment, none of us had had a direct experience with the disease or suffered a personal loss). Speculative fiction seemed to us the best narrative model to face the experience of COVID-19, an experience that we could accurately describeas that of the loss of a world.


Rodrigo conceived of the work as a choral piece of a plurality of breaths, some of which were recorded through the use of a small device made of elastic plastic tubes . He wanted to make a composition with baroque techniques, which create concentric figures around a theme, like Bach chorales. Working with the sound of breathing means working with one of the most intimate aspects of the human body, since breathing is not a mechanical process. Like fingerprints, breath has an absolutely singular, irreducible mark that cannot be transferred or made equivalent. Thus, the difference is not established only between healthy and diseased lungs but in the degrees of differentiation that we can notice in each of our breaths. Finally, the technical difficulty – because most of the sounds participants sent us were practically unusable due to poor quality – had to be solved by Rodrigo by the design of a small device, made of elastic plastic tubes, through which he recorded his own breathing along with that of some other collaborators.


Laura was in charge of developing a choreography around the concept. Her experience as a dancer and choreographer gave vital input to the piece, since one of her thematic axes was precisely the body: the exposed, vulnerable body, open to the viral encounter. The writing of the script was the most complicated aspect of the piece. In different sessions, the group shared their ideas, and we agreed that each member would bring a proposal, a general outline, of the ideas that we could develop. Donovan presented a text that synthesized the various aspects of the project, both visual and conceptual. It was a kind of science fiction story developed around two narrative axes: The Sun was the first part, where we were introduced to the xhaled, alien beings who recover a space capsule launched from Earth containing “expectorant sounds” (the residue of diseased lungs), recordings of breathing that testify to human fragility, that had been dispatched to outer space millennia ago. Against this background, a reflection began – situated in the present – that was based on two young Mexican women who wanted to participate in an artistic project that consisted precisely of making a recording of their breaths to send in a time capsule into space. All the narratives about the end of the world were deconstructed in a reflection on how the end times did not coincide with their representation in Hollywood: in all the movies about cataclysms and the collapse of humanity, the time of cataclysm is brutally fast (even if characters are given moments for reflection, for melancholy). Instead, the catastrophe that we experienced with the pandemic was so profoundly mundane that what surprised us the most was that the days were so sunny, so beautiful, compared to the contrast of death turned into statistics and quantifiable data.


The second part, Mirror, complicated the dichotomous times of the first section: it was no longer a question of a future time and a present time, separately, but of the intersection and meeting of both due to a fortuitous accident of technology. When the xhaled try to restore the capsule, what they find is “primitive,” antiquated technology, which their archaeologists and engineers try to revive. While they persist, in their eagerness, a short circuit and failure in the controls causes a portal to open momentarily in which, through the mirror of a young woman's bedroom, human and xhaled meet in a spasmodic and finite vis à vis. Just for a second the two species and the two times look at each other face to face without recognition. In front of that smoking mirror, in which times are complicated, both species repeat in unison the words of the Mexican writer Cristina Rivera Garza:


And yet the land was never ours. But the earth's surface was never safe with us. It's never our thing. Never be safe with us. […] It will never be possessed. It will never be caught. And the green of the Earth is the possession of the Earth of us. And the green of the Earth's surface is the possession of the Earth's surface of us. (Rivera Garza 2019: 186)

photo credit: Rodrigo Toro and Donovan Hernandez

photo credit: Paul Alarcón and Rodrigo Toro

photo credit: Paul Alarcón

photo credit: Opang Darmawan

photo credit: Fikar