Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage


Gesture and pose

The term “gesture” refers, according to the Oxford Dictionary, to any movement that you make with your body to show a particular meaning. According to the same source, pose refers to a specific type of gesture or attitude intended to impress other people, a way of behaving that is not sincere and is only intended to produce a specific impression, a particular position in which someone stands, sits, etc., especially in order to be represented.

As a form of representation, posing is related with the embodied performance of codified gestures with a specific purpose. In ballroom culture, posing is related to the conscious appriopiation of upper-class gestures  by oppressed minorities and subalternities that traditionally didn’t have the authority  (epistemic privilege) to perform such gestures.

On the rhe documentary film “Paris is Burning”  Dorian Corey mentions how “In real life you can't get a job as an executive unless you have the educational background and the opportunity. Now, the fact that you are not an executive is merely because of the social standing of life...In a ballroom you can be anything you want." For Corey, striking a pose of Realness  is ”as close as we will ever come to the real."

Moe Mayer, author of “An Archaeology Of Posing. Essays On Camp, Drag, And Sexuality”,  situates pose in between performance and imitation, not coinciding with neither of them. For him, pose it is the way that people, minorities, excluded from the domain of the real, appropriate the real and its effects.

On an interview related to their exhibition 2lements of vogue” at the Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo Sabel Gavaldon and Manuel Segade stated that “To pose is to be aware of how a body makes history”. For them “The pose is the flesh of history against the grain. To pose is to launch a threat.Gestures are learned, legitimized, codified: they belong to a gender, a class, a race, and are also naturalized within historically defined social fields. On the contrary, posing dismantles the language of opportune gestures: posing is not not not making a gesture, but taking existing codifications as a repertoire at the disposal of bodies, which embody them each time as events, dismantling and recomposing the relations constructed by history. “

The following excerpts comes from the exhibition catalogue “Elements of voguing” and was also written by Sabel Gavaldon and Manuel Segade:

“Bodies are agents and products of history. Bodies are history made flesh, but they are also primary tools for understanding the past, present and fu- ture. History is a choreographed sequence of ges- tures that makes bodies intelligible to each oth- er. Every gesture is a link in a chain binding us to gender, race and social class. Gestures solidify into identities. They enact identities that become nat-ural through the systematic repetition of identical gestures. And yet, a pose does more than that. Posing means becoming aware of how a body makes histo- ry. “To strike a pose is to pose a threat”, wrote Dick Hebdige referring to the meaning of style in youth subcultures. That’s why it’s important to trace the history of dissident gestures, to trace the genealogy of poses that are bold enough to confront the norm. This modality of performance may be described as radical because it opens up a space for imagining other possible bodies and futures. A radical performance invokes subjectivities for which no name yet exists and social choreographies that are still to come.

This notion of radical performance is what de- fines voguing, a popular culture that unfolds around transgender pageants and spectacular dance bat- tles between queens of Black and Latino descent. Vogue is a defiantly queer dance style, the roots of which go deep down into the history of the African diaspora. It draws inspiration from the poses in top women’s fashion magazines, re-appropriating the elitist imaginary of haute couture and combining it with the vocabulary of Egyptian hieroglyphs, Asian martial arts and Afrofuturism. Such a transgender, multicultural hallucination is what made vogue em- blematic of a fiercely underground scene: namely, the ballroom scene.

(…) History is not linear; linear is its naturalized narrative. History is, like experience, circular, spiral, elliptical. The body is the agent of history, the historiographic instrument par excellence. History is therefore somatic, a choreographic repertoire of gestures read in a given order. The museum is the place where history and its story are socially negotiated from the remains of its material cultures: it shelters objects and discourses and in it their conditions of production are revealed, the gestural repertoire that involves using them, relating to them, being history.

Gestures are learned, legitimized, codified: they belong to a gender, a class, a race, also naturalized within historically defined social fields. Posing, on the other hand, dismantles the language of opportune gestures: posing is not not not making a gesture but taking existing codifications as a repertoire available to bodies, which embody them each time as an event, dismantling and reconstructing the relations constructed by history. To pose is to be aware of how a body makes history. The pose is the flesh of history against the grain. Poses allow us to read the choreographic phrases of dissidence, the microhistories that allow us to read the twists, turns and repetitions: the dances of history. If the anarchist Emma Goldman could not participate in a revolution in which she could not dance, contemporary art museums make history dance: as in a voguing ball room, as the appropriation of gestures by bodies to which they do not correspond, in their hands, history is a choreographic repertoire of poses that threaten their hegemonic readings”.

︎︎︎Gavaldon, Sabel, and Manuel Segade. Elements of Vogue: Un Caso De Estudio De Performance Radical = A Case Study in Radical Performance. Móstoles, Madrid: CA2M, 2019.

︎︎︎“Her Drag Was Not A P arody Of Gender, But A Parody Of Politicians Accomplished By Using Drag As A Defamiliarization Device. [...] Blakk Saw Drag As A Mode Of Distanciation With The Ability To Undermine The Reification Of Not Just Social Gender Roles But Those Of Race, Class.”

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International
(More information here)