October 5, 2020

Archeo-loca-logy: Visions from the Microcosm [1]

Roberto Guerrero, Microcosm/Macrocosm from the series Archeo-loca-logy (detail), 2016. Photo collage and adhesive digital prints on panels. Pop-up installation, collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MADC). 450 cm x 500 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

By stretching language, we’ll distort it sufficiently to wrap ourselves in it and hide. [2]

Taken from his renowned play The Blacks, this quote above from Jean Genet gives me occasion to make a brief reflection on the relationship between identity, power, and worlding-making practices. The author creates a fiction within a fiction in order to reveal the dominant mechanisms at play. The characters in The Blacks make use of language as a tool for mocking power. In a similar way, my artistic practice is an instrument that, through the folds and wrinkles of language, allows me to politicize a way of being in today’s contradictory and violent world.

Art allows me to stretch language and turn it into a protective barricade. Art is a way of affirming myself in both my Afro-Latin difference and sexual dissidence against society's heteronormative ideals. Imagining, building, and showing my own world implies a political position situated on the border between the public and the private. It also entails a recognition of the irrational as a strategy for questioning the Cartesian logic.

What I call the archeology of the loca (queer archaeology) reveals the construction of a world with its own laws for time and space. Rules anchored in affect and nourished by irrationality. Out of my self-affirmation as a “loca,” I dig through the past to reinterpret the ways in which my gay subjectivity came about. In this process, memory and imagination, like language, becomes elastic. References to mass media, visual culture, and art history are entangled in a pastiche that evinces a personal celebration through seemingly irrational connections.

The archeology of the loca is a procedure for immersing myself in language, recognizing myself and reinscribing myself through the reinvention of the present and the future as sites for liberation.

Reimagining one’s own subjectivity implies the affirmation of difference from the norm. It means conceiving a world (in the sense of the Greek cosmos) where another possibility of being could exist. Democritus’ idea of the human as a microcosm, for example, enabled me to see the influence of television on my ideas of masculinity and femininity because memory—a universe made to scale—has connections to a macrocosm in which sexuality and gender are formed amidst uncertainty and ambiguity.

Matthäus Merian. Image of the macrocosm and the microcosm. 1618. Etching published in the alchemy treatise Opus-Medico-Chymicum by J. D. Milius in 1618. © Creative Commons.

From these ideas, the first version of the work “Microcosm/Macrocosm” emerged within the Archeo-loca-logy series, exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design of Costa Rica, for the X Central American Biennial (2016). The installation is a photo-collage based on the etching also titled “Microcosm/Macrocosm” by the Swiss artist Matthaus Merian. The original 1618 work represents the order of cosmic and spiritual powers, as well as their connections to the human through the alchemical universe: divinity/humanity, heaven/earth, above/below, day/night, feminine/masculine.

Roberto Guerrero. Microcosm/Macrocosm from the series Archeo-loca-logy, 2016. Detail of the feminine side of the Microcosm. This photo-montage includes the artist as a feminine character queerly keeping watch over the sun and the day; and also as a butterfly/child held by his mother. He is accompanied by some of the heroines he saw on television in his childhood. Image courtesy of the the artist.

The appropriation of Merian’s etching sets up several symbolic oppositions: gender theory versus spiritual beliefs, the sacred versus the profane, the mediated versus the most intimate family photo album. With this work, I wanted to sketch out a universe that is perfect and beautiful, functional in its circularity but that simultaneously reveals today's world problems.

In the lower half of the work, I represent my microcosm as a battle between the feminine and the masculine. There are portraits of me with my mother and father next to heroes that helped shape gender archetypes during my childhood. In the upper half of the work and at the macrocosm level, is a sacred space that is home to thought and activism. In order to establish relationships with gender theory and the construction of dissident subjectivities, the pink triangle and the rainbow flag take the place of God. Here, I highlight cherubs of biopolitical thought such as: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Paul B. Preciado, and Teresa de Lauretis.

Roberto Guerrero, Microcosm/Macrocosm from the series Archeo-loca-logy (details), 2016. On the axis of this universe, the artist's figure brings together the feminine and the masculine, day and night. In this fiction, television’s mythical and damaged hero is attended to by the heroine, while in a fragment taken from the family photo album, we can see the figure of the macho father holding up the artist as a child. This heavenly cosmos, for its part, is home to key scholars of gender and queer theory. Images courtesy of the artist.

“Microcosm/Macrocosm” allowed me to critically recognize the contradictions in my affective relationship with representations of the classic body and racial normativity. I discovered the sway that the coloniality of power held over me through the conflict between media referents and my own Afro-Latin identity.

My future is a space for thinking about the complex imbrication of the vectors of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality with the mechanisms of power. Art is a device for generating symbolic inversions through intimacy, fantasy, and perverse theatricality. These strategies aim to disrupt reality and collective memory in order to generate tension by laying bare all inequalities.

Roberto Guerrero. Microcosm/Macrocosm from the series Archeo-loca-logy, 2016. Detail of the masculine side of the Microcosm. This photo-montage includes the artist as a hyper-masculine character who commands the moon and the night, in the middle of a violent hellscape, joined by characters representing the ideal stereotypes of hegemonic masculinity with which he could never quite fit in. Image courtesy of the artist.

Through these contradictions, I ask myself: “Where will I go? Will I go forward, upward, or will I go inevitably downward, to the grave? How do I see the concepts of progress or development or freedom in the social space we share?” I don’t know entirely. I only know that to interrupt the realness of the present with fiction, I have to move from and with art, from the queer, and Afro-Latin theatricality of my own life. I am aware that the time we are living in is forcing us to participate in the scenes of a bloody social reality, while dragging us toward the tectonic space of interiority,

Once again, I think of Genet, and am inspired by his words: “I am going to make more works. One about the Blacks, and you’ll see how people will talk—they will be astonished.” [3]

Roberto Guerrero (San José, Costa Rica, 1978). Artist and independent researcher. He earned a degree in Fine Arts with an emphasis on Graphic Design from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) in 2004. He has undertaken studies in Art History and is presently a candidate for the Master of Arts with an emphasis on Cinematography at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).

Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.

[1] Translator’s note: As Marysol Asencio has explained, “The word loca is used to refer to a homosexual, in particular a feminine homosexual man, among Puerto Ricans and other Caribbeans and Latin Americans. The literal translation of the Spanish word loca is ‘crazy woman.’” See Marysol Asencio, “‘Locas,’ Respect and Masculinity: Gender Conformity in Migrant Puerto Rican Gay Masculinities,” Gender and Society 25.3 (June 2011), 335.

[2] In The Blacks, Genet asks the audience to watch the simultaneous staging of another play in which Black actors are attending the funeral of a white woman who has been killed. Some characters are wearing white masks, representing the powers of the colonial State: the monarchy, the church and the legal system. Others, representing the dominated subjects, are presumed guilty and therefore interrogated by the authorities. In the end, the play is a distraction, hiding the fact that outside of this space, an armed revolution is taking place.

[3] Jean Genet cited in Vernet, A. (2010-2011). Revista Transversales. Winter 21, 2010-2011. Accessed 12 April 2020: