Spic Ecdysis (2014 – 2015)

(Ongoing) Photographic Series by Xandra Ibarra

The term ecdysis comes from Ancient Greek: ἐκδύω (ekduo), “to take off, strip off.”  It can also denote to put off—to delay finality itself.  In such a reading, as Xandra Ibarra’s fetid photo essay shows, the process of metamorphosis may be one wherein the horror comes not from change, but instead sameness.  Through a series of staged moltings, she exposes a body precisely unmarked by change—forced into a field of intelligibility where one’s exposure and meaning is predetermined.  Such is the situation of visibility for latinidad, and yet, it is here that Xandra dwells, molts, and strips down.  What she exposes is less the core of latinidad itself, and more a dwelling within the limits given—showing the false promise of sheer transformation.  We sit here, with Xandra’s body and her shedding of skin, of costume, of carcass, in a different time if only to endure the uncomfortable vicinity of the gap, the interval space where relation between old and new becomes opaque. But the irony lies—that is, the measured distance between antiquated meaning and what can be—in between the artist’s body and her cockroach skin.

Kafka, in his 1915 novella The Metamorphosis, understood the absurd trauma of realizing how transforming into a monster was no change at all but only the expression of the monsters we always already are. However, Kafka’s sheer nihilism comes into direct tension with the understudied Chicano novel The Revolt of the Cockroach People by the equally absurd writer Oscar Zeta Acosta. Here we find “the cockroach” as an umbrella metaphor for undesirable people living in the United States at the pinnacle of social unrest. The cockroach people might be unwanted but exert a constant presence nonetheless, a nuisance to normativity and its white protocols. But both Kafka and Zeta’s cockroach fail to capture the cucarachica Ibarra’s work distills for us. Blanket nihilism and the rallying cries of revolution (that believes in the promise of demographic numbers translating to activist change) engender a particular masculinity that seems to come into crisis at the interval between the individual and the collective. It is at this crossroads that we find Xandra floating, as she might say “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” lying down in between moltings, vulnerable and stalwart.  She reminds us, supine, of the most stereotypical of Spanish folk corridos—that became popular during the Mexican Revolution. La cucaracha/La cucaracha/ Ya no puede caminar—so if, through repetition, we revisit the roach as a figure, par excellence, of the double bind of the debasement and potential futural change (whether by revolution or infestation) of brown folks, Xandra’s work asks us to sit down if we can’t walk any further with this figure, to ask what molting and skins mean in a world that so quickly promises change and delivers the same, that invokes fear and future with numbers, and that makes aesthetics mute in lies of wholeness.  Her work, for us, gestures at the potential for the aesthetic to slow down the political, to dwell with questions and impasses, and to do so with pleasure.

Christina Leon and Joshua Guzman, “Lingering Latinidad.” Presentation at The Center for Latino Policy and Research, Berkeley, California. May 2, 2016.