How do you map your world #2- Intra-planetary orbits, by Felipe Cervera

How Do You Map Your World #2


Intra-planetary orbits?


Felipe Cervera, National University of Singapore

India, Australia and Philippines Correspondent


PDF copy available here


I want to think out loud here. Nothing really serious yet, just some cosmic gibberish inspired partly by Gayatri Spivak’s idea of the planetary[1] and partly by the idea of the first human colony on Mars. Perhaps one of the key questions throughout the year ahead is what else can Fluid States shed light on regarding the ways in which performance practices and theories deal with and relate to the set of diverse phenomena we loosely call globalization.  The organizing team has already had an important light here, calling the participants to think through the umbrella task of ‘mapping’ as a way to identify patterns of behavior and of thought across the fifteen over places that will be eventually active at one or several moments throughout the year. In that sense, the initial provocation to ‘instead of charting the world through the received cartographic flatlands of continents, countries, and nations, Fluid States seeks to chart alternate formations, and alternative routes, through the shifting, fluid, and sometimes turbulent seas that separate and connect us’[2] is not only intellectually attractive but also historically necessary. Indeed, as galleons circumnavigated the planet, tracing routes that are until today important for studying cultural interactions, they also traced a dramaturgy of how globalization has happened and continue to do so. If Verne’s travel around the world in eighty days is arguably one possible dramaturgy of the planet as perceived from an epicentre located in London in the last third of the XIX century, today, almost two decades into the XXI century, tracing new routes and dramaturgies for how we study our interactions with and within this planet is certainly needed. We have plenty to look forward to as Fluid States goes around the world in 365 days - that is perhaps the sole most important starting point for our conversations.



Figure 1 Indian female scientists celebrate the success of the Mangalyaan mission. (Photo twitted by Bhodisattva Sen Roy, editor of CNN-IBN. Original tweet here)


In that sense, I would like to propose a tangential route of sorts. The image above captures a group of Indian scientists celebrating the moment when their probe Mangalyaan (Mars Craft in Sanskrit) successfully entered Mars orbit. Already the image of female Indian scientists invites us to consider how the imagery of interplanetary exploration has changed since the Cold War and its white male mission controllers. The image is indicative of a shift in the way the world is mapped in terms of technology and therefore of finance and politics. The Mangalyaan mission comes few months after Chinese rover Jade Rabbit explored the Moon, some weeks before The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe landed on a moving comet and as the private project MarsOne continues to progress in its quest to launch the first interplanetary reality TV show. The early XXI century wave of extra-planetary explorations and interplanetary ambitions answers to a re-configuration of some nationalistic aspirations that substantially challenge current assumptions of geo-power and its futures. In this context, Fluid States could be read as an experimental model of academic conferencing that responds to an increasingly multi-polar world. 


For the purposes of this short reflection I wish to entertain the current wave of extra-planetary exploration and its promises of an interplanetary colonial era and culture. How will the presence of human beings in other planets affect the study of performance certainly deserves much a larger and quite comprehensive and speculative argumentation. Yet, for now I would like to specifically contemplate briefly on the idea of humans orbiting at different times and through different spaces as it is the figure of the orbit that I want to suggest as a productive way to ‘map’ Fluid States. Indeed, one key factor of any interplanetary condition is the way bodies physically interact with one another. Determined by the pull of gravitational forces, celestial bodies relate to one another through orbital interactions, which may produce a scale of mutual influences that could range from the non-existent to the overwhelming. We know this, at least, from the study of visual data collected in the span of centuries and from more recent, decades old, physical data collected since the second half of the last century.


In that frame, let’s contemplate on this: By measuring Pluto’s orbit in around 247 Earthly years we are able to set a framework that allows us to relate to the behaviour of whatever phenomena we might find to happen there. However, by the same token we open the possibility of asking what would the ‘plutonian’ framework be to relate to the physical phenomena that happens on Earth. As the orbits of both planets make them come closer and further to one another, the physical influence that each enforces on the other varies. The fact that both orbit around the Sun remains a constant, but the way both interact with each other changes with time and space. In other words, and forgive my somewhat extreme reduction, at a very basic conceptual level, orbits entangle overlapping influences that are by nature in flux. The many temporal and spatial conditions that arise from this relationship could potentially make of an eventual interplanetary culture an exciting case for Performance Studies and we certainly have a lot to look forward in that possibility. However, while that happens, we can be inspired by the idea of orbital influences and take Fluid States as a good chance to begin thinking of intra-planetary interactions in a frame that answers to a constant call in performance scholars to distance our work from the evil eye of the global Sauron.


Surely, to think of the clusters at Fluid States as planets in and of themselves and of performance as a radiating star is a very long metaphorical stretch - a disciplinary Sci Fi punch line we might even say. Yet, to think how these clusters will create pulling forces where ideas and people will enter into orbits with one another could be a way in which we can map trajectories that are less bound to linear routes and by the same token able to host the many sets of overlapping interests, queries, and personalities that will take part of the conversations and will therefore influence each other fluidly as the year moves forward. Moreover, Fluid States, as a yearlong cycle, is itself measured by an orbit. We can already imagine that throughout 2015, as people and ideas begin travelling from one port to the next, many ‘orbits’ could begin to be identifiable.  


Seen this way, Fluid States signifies a possibility to study non-linear intra-planetary interactions in the field of Performance Studies in a way that accords more to the multi-polar world that has risen in the last couple of decades. However, crucial to this understanding is the assumption that the poles may not only be located physically in the clusters themselves. As people, ideas, conversations and performances move the field around the planet there is chance that irregular orbits are formed, orbits that may not necessarily be elliptical but potentially irregular. Nevertheless, perhaps irregularity is intrinsic of fluidity. As we consolidate our own orbits we might also find out that we cross paths with other orbits, influencing them as much as taking up their influence.


Of course all this remains to be seen. How exactly does an intra-planetary orbit is defined is something I, for one, remain uncertain about. It could be used to describe from how a set of conversations around a specific topic behave, how established and emerging scholars will become central to those conversations and even the degree of influence that a certain idea/event/person retains upon our work throughout the year. Be it as it may, it is important to keep in mind that we will not be orbiting around an omnipotent performance-sun, as it were, and rather realize that however diverse, irregular, crossed and influential our orbits may become, we will all be orbiting mainly around each other and our different ways to study and research performance.


Thus, although my orbit in Fluid States has already begun as I write this from a café in the Arab neighbourhood of Singapore, the first pull that I can already feel comes from that image of the three Indian scientists. As I revisit the image time and time again, I like to think how remarkably important it is to realize, as a Mexican educated under the influence of North American imageries, that the vision I have had of the future and of the space it happens in has ceased to be the only possibility. I wonder how will Fluid States influence that reflection. And in that spirit, I would like to imagine that maybe, at the end of our conferences and their orbits, besides making the ‘i’ in PSi more international we can tangentially identify some preliminary ideas on how will we study our intra-planetary condition in a future when the first Indian girl to be born in Mars begins to wonder how people behave on Earth.  


[1] Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2003. Death of Discipline (New York: Columbia University Press).

[2] ‘How do you map your world #1 – Call for stories, links and thoughts (


Tags: Mobility Travel Transport and Performance   Performance Paradigms and Knowledges  Performance Studies  Philosophy and Performance  Space Place and Performance   

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