Sign in or register
for additional privileges

What is Performance Studies?

Diana Taylor, Author

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Javier Serna

Interview with Javier Serna (2011)

Javier Serna has a PhD in Performance Studies from New York University and is a professor and researcher at the Division of Postgraduate Studies and lecturer at Colegio de Letras Mexicanas of the Department of Philosophy and Literature at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL). Professor Serna is also co-founder of the School of Theatre Studies and Cultural Practices in the Theatre Department, where he has developed theoretical approaches regarding the history and memory of the pre-Hispanic past in relation to indigenous cultures of the northeast of Mexico. His contribution to the field of performance and cultural practices of the Aridoamerican world includes scholarship on Hikuri (La Ruta Sagrada del Peyote), Fidencismo (Curanderos de la Fe), and Luminarias (El Mitote Guadalupano). His contribution to Mexican theater as a director has produced works such as: Herejía by Sabina Berman, La Real Cacería del Sol by Peter Shaffer, Los Hijos del Desierto, co-authored with Dulce González, El Reyno, an adaptation by Fernando de Hita of Don Raúl Rangel Frías’ novel, among many other productions. Some of his publications include "Asesinato Social-Actos Silentes" and "El Teatro al Fin de la Modernidad,” and he is a contributor to the Mexican theater magazine Paso de Gato. Serna is a recipient of UANL’s Arts Award and a member of the advisory council of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, based at New York University. He graduated from the Drama Centre in London, holds a master’s degree in philosophical anthropology from the Division of Postgraduate Studies of the Department of Philosophy and Literature UANL, and is currently a member of Nuevo León Council for the Arts, CONARTE.X

Marcial Godoy-Anativia: Can you please introduce yourself?

Javier Serna: Of course. Good afternoon, my name is Javier Serna. I come from the city of Monterrey. I work in the city of Monterrey, at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León. I am also a Consulting Member of the Council for Culture and Arts of Nuevo León. Basically, my work in this area—in the Mexican northeast—has been an evolution from theater studies to performance studies.

: Yes, thank you very much. And can you tell us how performance studies has influenced both your own work and your institutional-intellectual position?

Javier: Well, they have influenced them in a very, very strong way. When I finally understood that in the Mexican Northeast... I come from a place where the popular saying is “the barbarians of the north.” When I could fully understand what “the barbarians of the north” meant, I did it precisely through performance studies. It was the influence of these studies that made me clearly understand that this had been a political mythology invented by the Conquistadors to take possession of, not only the lands or the mines, but also of the souls of the Chichimecas—of their way of being.

: And can you talk a bit more about what theorists, what ideas specifically within performance studies helped you reach that reflection?

Javier: Yes, definitely, when I got to New York University to do my doctorate in performance studies, my great inspirations were Diana Taylor, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Richard Schechner, and Peggy Phelan herself. They all influenced me in a very clear way towards that evolution I was talking about, because my field was theater studies and it was from there that I came to performance studies. It is no secret that Monterrey, in the North of the Republic of Mexico, is currently being struck with extreme violence and very strong brutality. Performance studies has not only influenced me, but also my students, in such a way that they are currently carrying out—a concept that  I like very much—“performarchas” [performed demonstrations], which is when people go out onto the streets to protest. It is when people who go to the streets to reclaim the city and reclaim the urban area, it means people are in some way very conscious of who and where they are. Through this, performance studies and its influence on me have now come to proliferate in a big group of people.

: Excellent. And how do performance studies exist institutionally? Are there academic departments as such, or are the classes given through different forms, in different locations? How would you talk about the institutional aspect?

Javier: Basically, the problem that I confronted when I came back to the city is that performance is known, or was known at that moment in Mexico, as something primarily related to visual arts, to installations, to that type of artistic expression. A Department of Performance Studies does not exist in the city, but the way we are dealing with it is through the concept of “cultural practices,” through the notion of “cultural practices” and the recovery of the Mexican northeast’s memory. I think that through individual courses, through seminars that we teach, we have come to create a conscience in people and, most of all, changed this concept of performance that was basically associated with visual arts, and generalized it and broadened it as a vital point of view for [understanding] the transference of values, concepts, and, most of all, memory that gives us a sense of identity in the Mexican northeast.

“[Performance studies] clarified many concepts concerning the documentary archives that existedthat existed, but had been ignored, on the level of traditions inscribed in the bodies of people, and which could be seen in cultural expression through performance. And that therefore people could not, say, conceptualize it as such.”

Marcial: Sure. Can you be more specific in terms of what aspects of the methodologies that are used in performance studies have been particularly useful to you? What concepts, ideas, methodological inputs have been useful in this context that you have pointed out?

Javier: Because my evolution has been from theater, this idea of “between theater and anthropology” coined by Richard Schechner
Schechner, Richard. 1985. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.X
I definitely think is the starting point from which, in a very general way, performance studies is understood. But definitely this moment or this book that Diana Taylor wrote about archives and repertoires
Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press.X
was truly enlightening. I think that her books are another of the major influences that clarified many concepts concerning the documentary archives that existed, but had been ignored, on the level of traditions inscribed in the bodies of people, and which could be seen in cultural expression through performance. And that therefore people could not, say, conceptualize it as such. Those two major influences… and then [the concept of] “ethnographic objects” throughout Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s methodology
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. 1998. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press.X
has also been very important.

Marcial: Excellent. And what inputs, both of Mexican or Latin American intellectuals working on related themes, have performance studies had in your context? What Mexican or Latin American thinkers have contributed, say, to constructing that theoretical body?

Javier: Well, definitely Antonio Prieto, who worked at the Universidad Veracruzana, has made a very important contribution. Jesusa Rodríguez is definitely a cultural icon in Mexico and certainly has everything to do with performance studies. But also, clearly, Zeca Ligiéro and Luis Peirano are there, and Leda [Martins] herself; this whole group that makes up the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics has in some way influenced—in one specific case through me—a group of students and young people who are very inspired by this. I was just now saying to Diana [Taylor] that there are three or four young men who want to register for her class in Chiapas, and she said it was full, that they had to reject eighty applications, right? So it is starting to gain great force.

Marcial: Well, thank your very much, Javier.

: On the contrary, thank you.

Comment on this page

Discussion of "Javier Serna"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path English, page 27 of 30 Next page on path