Unintelligible Lifeforms

October 23, 2020

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Oscar Gardea, Fariseo (Cucurpe/Sonora), 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.

While we find ourselves with a conception of the future as irreversibly damaged, we know, even from these predatory corners of the world, that the crepuscular notion referred to as  the end of future is, in fact, reversible.

The way to capture “time” varies, as the promises that come with it concatenate different relationships to violence. We come from a place where warfare and low-intensity conflict, arising from both narco-power and the precarization/criminalization of the working class, have become the excuse to implement legal and military actions aimed at social extinction. That is why, in a state of exception like that of Ciudad Juarez, [1] survival and social thriving require alternative forms of refuge and escape.

Working from northern Latin America and engaging with elusiveness, my work intersects life with forms of opacity. This allows me and others akin to navigate the predatory subterranean region of the high desert and dry territories of Chihuahua—a border and a borderless state.

A deviated use of a background in intelligence, defense studies, counterinsurgency, and interrogation techniques allows me to navigate the irregular complex border ontologies of this necropolitical laboratory. I invoke and practice glitch or interrupting practices known as crypsis, which are mitigation techniques used for deception by border dwellers including narco. Crypsis is not a sophisticated shift in our behavioral patterns but instead emerges as a discrete manifestation of opacity woven into our daily proceedings; it resurges, for example, in the use of caló languages, which is an encrypted jargon. [2] Despite the subtleness of crypsis, this technique contains an emancipatory potential for existing through fugitivity and delinquency on the one hand, and, on the other, in prosaic and quotidian exercises of porous forms of personhood meant to be uncapturable within a predacious landscape.

Narco, in this ecosystem, entails forms of disruption of the criminal category, which opens onto an opaque worldview of escapism and deception. Mexico started the war on Narco in 2006, and since then 80,000 lives have been obliterated, especially in Ciudad Juarez where more than 25,000 lives were, and increasingly continue to be, torn and liquefied. The exploitation of rural areas and forests throughout Northern Mexico is the irreversible collateral damage of these excesses where forced disappearances, clandestine pits, and the dissolution of bodies with nitric acid liquidate the phantasmagoric social strata threefold. We see the circumferences of the peripheries closing in on the centers furiously. All of a sudden, and all too late, spectral concatenations are repeated as if the act of killing were a new shared lived experience in the centers. What remains is Narcoaesthesis—sedation of the living in our incapacity to prevent killings and landscape annihilation. Therefore, by inhabiting unrepresentable landscapes, this state of perpetual becoming through unintelligibility, has become the way in which reinvention and adaptability ease the way for an alternative outlook of the future. We practice crypsis as a strategy against numbing, against extinction.

The image of Fariseo, portrays a ritual going through a hybridization of Narco with spiritual/folklore traditions inflected by slasher culture. Fariseos are subjects who adopt the role of a christian scapegoat/diabolical presence, thus becoming a source of disturbance during the syncretized Easter season. At the end of the process, the fariseos burn their masks  and with them the sins of the town, purifying the shared lived experience. The now ubiquitous diabolical-spiritual presence of the fariseo, which we also see in capo detentions or executions, expiates the town from systemic violence.

From the border, geographical and epistemological frontiers are experienced to differing degrees. The continued cancelation of life on the margins is not only due to the harsh intersection between landscape and geopolitical territory but is also the result of the deep-seated histories of colonization; or rather, the entrapments of life. The colonial imperative to name and categorize the world bound all life to a series of strict functions built around a hierarchy of species, which has ultimately diminished possibilities outside these demarcations. The centers’ need to reduce boundless landscapes to a material categorization has, moreover, imposed upon us Terrans of the margins a finite set of relations. These demarcations have established an illusory sense of finitude by castigating seepage, escape, and other fissures of resilience. The limits bypassed from life-nourishing rivers into synthetic monuments which serve the hegemony to prove an inferior subject, turning barrier ecosystems uninhabitable to enterprises of human dislocation. The narrative of limits imposed by social, organic, and political boundaries multiplies such that liquid borders drown/drain subjects who attempt to transgress the edges. Today, in an inverted expansion—a regurgitation of the post colony—the future, attempting an escape from the binding grip of modernity, belongs to those willing to cross the borders, not to those who defend them. 

Against the apparent impossibility of erasing the limits, borders, and edges that organize us socially, these codifications arranged by the colonial enterprise take place across time, serving as modernity’s instrumental weapon. However, relearning how to override the multiple timescapes that bind all animal, plant, human, mineral, and artificial lifeforms and render them disposable is possible by subverting time-space dimensions maintained in the present moment. Liberating all sequestered forms of life in the here and now necessitates thriving opaquely. Crypsis as a force is thus capable of overriding transgression, by subverting the neoliberal conception of “criminal bodies.”

As we face the transgressive force of the COVID-19 virus, an intriguing characteristic is its unintelligibility, which proves that its globally disruptive effectiveness lies precisely in the cryptic realm in which it operates: that is, in our inability to see or perceive nonvisual threats, whether these are liquid, gasified, transparent, or microscopic. In fact, the virus’s infectious capacity is a testament to a nonexistent normalcy. Crypsis, in its inherent unintelligibility, becomes the perfect incarnation of a nonviolent temporality—that is, aesthetic practices of clandestinity that allow passage to profound diversity, even within their naming processes. In that sense, and following the logic of this unintelligible virus, we embrace opacity and subversion through Crypsis, for this,  in turn, is also a powerful defense mechanism to aesthetically mitigate transgression inside the bowels of a seemingly permanent state of exception.

As an artist, I can relate this to the practice we have been developing in Ciudad Juarez for some time now, using these spaces of becoming, spaces in between visibility and invisibility. Crypsis and invisibility help us disrupt an asymmetrical establishment of culture, where mediators and interlocutors will encounter a mined archive of knowledge. This is the first of many steps toward recuperating the dignity of our spaces through healing and care. The mission in this detonation is not to destroy the archive of the margins but rather to guarantee the possibility of subterranean life through understanding rather than knowing, in the here and now, in the ancestral past and onwards. In other words, against the speculative impetus, to remain visually antiviral yet invisibly expansive.


Oscar Gardea (Ciudad Juárez), A.K.A. The Infected Tâm Liêu Âm, particular universalist. Elusive figure working from  northern Latin America at the intersection of life futures, defense and strategic analysis, intelligence in low-intensity conflict, and border ontologies, considering the use of opacity in the predatory subterranean.  Doctoral degree under the mentorship of Achille Mbembe on the phenomenon of Narcofuturism, examining the expansion of a parallel illegal law sovereignty over animal/human, plant/forest, and mineral lifeforms.


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] Following Walter Benjamin’s concept of the “state of emergency,” which Agamben interprets as a “state of exception,” Achille Mbembe suggests it is the set of conditions established through hegemony in contingent events in which sovereignty operates through the social body in a pretext of safety and care but in fact instills militarized practices that stifle human rights and with time acquire normalcy. For more, see Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics (Duke University Press, 2019).   

[2] Calo are variations of inherited colonial languages, which, as a whole, are regarded as the language that delinquents or undesirable lower-class dwellers of the colonies use to converse among themselves. In this context, Calo, specifically in Barrio Bellavista, shifted into early smuggling practices and preceded today’s Narco paramilitary radio-wave communications.