From March 31, 2020, A Somatic Play (2019), a film by Liv Schulman, available online during the program Windows (18 rue du Château).

Please scroll down for the film.

Liv Schulman’s A Somatic Play was co-produced by the art center for our recent exhibition, Le couteau sans lame et dépourvu de manche, which brought together artists in direct or indirect conversation with Monique Wittig’s seminal text Les Guérillères (1969). Through an experimental narrative, the novel lays out the power of language to uphold or transform existing structures of patriarchal domination.

A Somatic Play was shot and produced in Mexico City while the artist was in residency at Lagos, a studio space, residency and exhibitions program. The film can be placed in the continuation of Schulman’s ongoing video series entitled The Gobernment (2019), which lies at the intersection of fiction and documentation. Here, six different customs officers are all played by a single actress: an officer regulating foreigners’ anxiety, one cleaning dust, one who philosophizes over colonization, one who trades desire, one who is emotionally exhausted, and one naively harping about democracy. Stateless, these officers represent no particular nation, that is to say, they reproduce behaviors and interrogations echoed in borders and airports the world over.

A Somatic Play, however, is also situated in a semi-fictionalized Mexico, which bears no small effect on the work: it is worth reminding that Mexico’s Northern border is one of the world’s most politically charged and militarized areas, where U.S. arms and ammunition flow freely into Mexico while Mexican exports are subject to extreme screening. Somatic movement is restricted with tools that are as physical (fences, walls) as psychological, anxiety imprinting itself on the border crosser’s body by an unspoken infrastructure of anticipation at the checkpoint: “The lines to cross are very long. In particular, the car lines grow monstrous and force people to wait for hours to cross, idling on the bridge. This wait results from the fact that, more often than not, only two or three of the eight or nine lanes on the bridge are open, producing a bottleneck that seems never-ending.”[1] As scholar K-Sue Park writes, the border feeds on people’s time and energy, “often making them tired, frustrated, and sad.”[2] It is precisely this perverse game of affects which Schulman attempts to draw out in A Somatic Play.

It is not superfluous to note that at the time of writing, a majority of countries have closed their borders entirely in the fictional hope to stop a stateless virus in its track. While Schulman’s customs officers humorously evoke the taxation of invisible anxiety or the commercialization of desire, it’s difficult not to draw parallels with our own gobernments' (sic) ineptitudes.

Thomas Patier

[1] K-Sue Park, “The Lightning Field, the Border, and Real Estate,” X-TRA, Vol. 21 No.  3 (2019).

[2] idem.


A Somatic Play (2019)—Liv Schulman—VSTEN