Macha1, Where’s our Archive?
And Other Questions About Preserving and Onlining Meras efímeras and Burlesquimeras Materials
by Carina Guzmán (Islandia)
What collection/event/organization are you working on?
I am working on the material that Meras efímeras and Burlesquimeras produced between 2005 and 2012 (approximately) in Mexico City. Meras efímeras was a small macha collective that organized dance parties and cultural soirees as an alternative to what the Zona Rosa (gay nightlife neighbourhood) had to offer. In 2006 we became friends with New York burlesque performer Old Ma Femme, who frequented Mexico City regularly. The next year Meras efímeras and Old Ma Femme co-organized a burlesque workshop which she facilitated. After the workshop public recital, several Meras efímeras members and other workshop participants, such as established cabaret performer Minerva Valenzuela (AKA ladelcabaret), decided to create a queer and feminist oriented burlesque collective called Burlesquimeras: Institutrices de belleza universal.
What kinds of materials/belongings, etc. are part of this collection/organization/event?
Organizing events in which you are inviting the public (albeit a specific macha-oriented and/or camp-oriented queer public) meant we produced a lot of outreach materials. When we began our organizing work, towards late 2005, social media and digital platforms were almost a part of everyday life as much they are today, but were not used as the vital organizing tools they have since become. In the beginning, our two main resources were printed quarter-page flyers and a Yahoo! email group. The flyers were first drawn-up in Powerpoint, so, some of those files survive. A few, very few, of the printed flyers are still around, and the Yahoo! Groups account can still be accessed. Other materials include digital photographs that can be culled from social media and old hard drives, as well as a few rare videos (the age of smartphones had not yet begun). Furthermore, Meras efímeras members Chichis Glam and Artemisa Téllez produced two music and poetry shows: Efímeros goces and Inés… yo con tu amor; there are digital audio files of studio recordings of both. There are a couple of mixtape CD compilations that circulated as Meras efímeras/Burlesquimeras materials, too. We printed promotional t-shirts, several editions of bolsas de mandado (vinyl tote-like bags) and vinyl aprons which we glued pasties to, some of which still exist physically, or can be found documented in photos. Sadly, the 2006, 2007 and 2008 promotional poster-calendars we printed did not survive in digital or printed format. Moreover, we had a weekly live broadcast internet radio program called La revista chismopolíticamusical on Radio Rockola for several months between 2006 and 2007 for which there are no physical or digital traces.
Artemisa Téllez also became involved in the Mexico City gay press, specifically, she would coordinate the lesbian section of the free bi-weekly Homópolis (predictably called Lesbópolis), and also fostered a relationship with the publishers of competing publication Zona Gay. Her editorial labour and writing would usually be “paid” for with the chance to advertise Meras efímeras/Burlesquimeras events, or the publication of interviews or reviews related to them. I’ve kept space in my closet for this small archive of printed materials since they were published over ten years ago, and have spent many hours scanning them, eventually losing the digital files on messy or corrupted hard drives, and re-scanning them.
I feel, though, that one of the most important materials is missing, that is, the recording of personal accounts, and the reflection that would come from doing this a decade later. Going about this is part of the research I am doing as a doctoral student at the Faculty of Information (University of Toronto).
What is your relationship with this material, these belongings, event, etc.?
My relationship to these materials is very deep and personal. A small group of machas I was directly involved with (under)produced2 all of them. This labour was the bulk of our lesbifiesta organizing enterprise. After lengthy discussions (which could often take an entire weekend, or drain our pre-paid cell phone credit), we composed the emails and copy on all other materials, we printed, photocopied and cut the flyers, we bought wholesale t-shirts, designed the graphics and printed them ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, we handed out all the flyers ourselves. This task involved standing outside so-called ladies nights which were held on weeknights at the gay bars and clubs of the Zona Rosa and handing the leaflets to passers-by. Once we ran out of flyers, we would often join the ladies night event we were working very hard to create an alternative to (because machas). This meant a flyering shift actually ended after closing the club; elevating the costs associated to public outreach to include drinks, a post-club taco dinner, and the taxi home.
In other words, the production, distribution and conservation of these materials was a huge part of my life for a few years. My social life almost entirely revolved around it, and it influenced my academic thought process; that is, how I came to understand the sexual and economic politics of territorialization.
What kinds of permissions protocols are you and your collaborators thinking about?
I would ideally like the Meras efímeras and Burlesquimeras archive to be completely digitized and available online; but I don’t think it could have an available-for-all open access format. Permissions and protocols for photographs of our parties is a particularly tricky subject. We evidently do not have consent from party attendants to online their images, but then, if we can’t show images of the party crowds, what photographs do we show? Pictures of ourselves at the parties? Pictures of ourselves on stage? This, in turn brings up the broader question of the intention of creating a sharable archive… What for? For whom? What do we want to share and show about this work? Blurring or otherwise obscuring the faces of everyone we do not have consent to show a photo of could potentially solve this issue… but, who has the time (not to mention software) to do all that work?
We have discussed this issue, but have not reached a final decision. The flyers are also tricky when we think about onlining them; most of them have artwork we downloaded with no regard to copyright. We are proud of the awesome flyering mission we carried out for Meras efímeras and Burlesquimeras. Nonetheless, it was embarrassing when, for instance, I found a flyer mock-up on an old hard drive for which I had used a drawing I have since learned it is a promotional image for a riot girl band… Ooops! I remember that when we made some these flyers we were going through images online looking for something cool that would speak to us and somehow call on the crowd whose attention we wanted to get. There was no concern for the authors of the images, their histories and contexts. Personally, I just thought of the internet as a huge catalog from which I could pick and choose images. In any case, I am not comfortable with the idea of onlining these materials in our archive either; at least for a general public.
Do you think it is possible to create this kind of online space? Have you seen anything online that resembles this or inspires this?
The way the Cabaret Commons is set up works quite well for an archive like the Meras efímeras and Burlesquimeras collection. That is, I think once the archive is fully digitized, it could be housed on the platform with restricted and layered access. At the same time, an exhibit could be curated; it would include material that we feel is ethically acceptable, and aesthetically desirable, to be shown to the general public of the internet.
- “Macha” is an uncommon (compared to “marimacha”) and mainly derogatory way to refer to butch women or lesbians in Mexico. In Meras efímeras and Burlesquimeras we appropriated the term and made it intentionally malleable: macha(s) can refer to women in general, femme people, butch women or gay men, feminine gay men, lesbians in general, trans people, feminists, allies of any gender, ourselves, our party guests, friends, lovers, etc. The touchstone for considering someone a macha is their queer complicity. A macha simply “gets” they are a macha; they participate in our code and relajo.
- Following Shane Greene, who studies punk(s) in Lima, Peru during the 1980’s, I use the term “underproduce” to insert Meras efímeras and Burlesquimeras’ work in the same “genealogy of subversive aesthetics and critical political desires” in which the author situates punk. I think our mode of working in Meras efímeras and Burlesquimeras had a similar intention Greene explains punk, in general, and those punks in particular, did: to underproduce; to discursively undercut public values by intervening “crudely but creatively into overproduction” and mass culture/consumption through, for instance, recording and distributing music albums, organizing shows and creating ephemera such as flyers. Shane Greene, Punk and Revolution: 7 More Interpretations of Peruvian Reality. Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2016.