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Massy Interviews / Josema Zamorano

On Tuesday, November 1 at 6pm, join Massy Arts Society, Massy Books and interdisciplinary artist and educator Josema Zamorano for the launch of Nahui Ollin or The Physics of Desire: a Philosophiæ Naturalis

This interactive-experimental book invites the reader to make sense of visual and textual poetry while bringing together principles of science with play, love, eroticism, ancestral-Mexican relational worldviews, and the poetic possibilities of co-existence. In conversation with art historian and writer, Laura Cisneros, as well as artist and curator, Tonel (Antonio Eligio Fernández).

Registration is free, open to all and mandatory for entrance.

In anticipation of the launch of Nahui Ollin or The Physics of Desire: a Philosophiæ Naturalis, Rafael Zen interviews Josema Zamorano for Massy Arts. In this intimate conversation the discuss the process of building an interactive-experimental book and the “unacknowledged erotic force” that seems to be always in the middle of physical interactions.


Reading about your book, I was quite curious. Why do you describe “Nahui Ollin or The Physics of Desire: a Philosophiæ Naturalis” as an interactive-experimental book? How do you think it invites the reader to make sense of visual and textual poetry while bringing together principles of science, Mesoamerican worldviews, love and eroticism, etc. ? How was the process of creating such an experimental take on poetry? Were you received well by publishers?  

​​This book is not the typical book to be “read.” It is more of a book to play on several avenues. Within the context of the title’s suggestions, you may flip only through the top part and have a visual-only engagement with poetry, or you may play flipping through the bottom part and read a single verse or several, as you wish. Or you may play to make your own visual-textual poem by making sense of one bottom piece together with one top piece across the whole page. Among other things, the 52 visual and textual pieces are poetically-distilled references to principles of physics. But 52 also references the cycle of decay and rebirth of the world for Mesoamerican cultures. At the core of this cycle is the continuous becoming of being into another, this is Nahui Ollin or Four-Movement in Nahuatl language of central Mexico. One meaning is the opposites coming together to produce transformation. Another meaning is that the four previous and opposing eras are this present. This is Quetzalcoatl as well, the Goddess of life, and it is the cycle of Venus at the same time, and it is the corn cob, and it is also…. do you know what I mean? The relational transformation never ends. Thus, besides physics, the visuals and the verses also reference this ancestral-Mesoamerican ying-yang awareness of life as balance, as dialogue of the opposites, as continuous becoming, as the coexistence of one into another. This is like the desire of life to be always diverse, to be another.   

The creation of this book has been, as pretty much of what I do, pretty accidental. I mean, I rarely have much of a plan to start a project. More often than not I suddenly find myself in the middle of a project with no definite outcomes. By the way, accidentally I am just at the end of my 52 and this work is like a book being constructed through this many years. I am coming back to my beginnings as an enthusiastic engineer. I did lots of physics, from quantum mechanics and special relativity, to electromagnetic theory and celestial mechanics. From childhood I have been always suspicious of a sort of unacknowledged erotic force that seems to be always in the middle of physical interactions: powerful influences at distance, inevitable attractions, loving correspondences of co-existence, etc. Accident or fate? Later on, poetry spoiled my promising profession as a telecommunications engineer, and my second life was about discovering the magic-bonding glue of poetry and art.  

The book came to life more as an art-project which is using the book as a medium, rather than the prospect of writing a book. Normally publishers would fund much clearer ideas than what I had at the beginning. Perhaps now is a better time to look for a publisher and print a more copious edition. In this case, I first made a self-supported preliminary version in Spanish, which triggered the idea of requesting funding for an English version, and this one is now officially coming out first. I am very grateful that the making of this 120-numbered-copies edition was supported by BC Arts Council. My gratitude also to the translator from Spanish, the poet and scholar Helena Dunsmoor, who is today with us, in spirit, from Calgary. And my gratitude also to Ruby Lewis for her expert manual binding of each book, and to Lois Klassen from Light Factory Publications, who brought Ruby in, and they both worked out how to tackle the challenges of binding this book.   


The book synopsis says that this book questions the primacy of detached Western ways of knowing and being in the world, and also what a poetry book is. What is this “way of knowing and being” that Western mind has developed? And most important, why do you – as an author – chose this particular theme?  

Covid times within the context of the rising environmental emergency has brought a lot of existential questions for everyone, right? With Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Linda Tuhiway Smith, Enrique Leff, and many others, I believe the crisis of modern times we live in today is rooted on an imposed-by-colonization superiority of Western epistemology with the concurrent genocide of Indigenous ways of knowing. Since Descartes, the Western mind has defined itself as a hyper-rationalized, detached, way of knowing, without mentioning the split of the body and the mind and the total elimination of the spirit. The Western subject of knowledge must reassure a distance from the object of knowledge, stand back, and draw “objective” conclusions. This is what rules the self-entitled supremacy of the global north in defining what is true, what exist and what does not, what is real and what is not, etc. Because of the environmental emergency we are now coming to terms with what Indigenous wisdom has been always aware of: the supremacy of this detached way of knowing equates directly to environmental disaster and the destruction of the diversity of life. It is an existential issue. It is about who are we in the world. I believe that ancestral-relational epistemologies are often expressed as poetry and art because these are some of the best screwdrivers to deal with that question: who we are in the world? 


What is a poetry book for? Also, facing the world as it is today, what can a poetry book do to confront Western visions of detachment? What is this connection between reader and writer that you wish to achieve? 

 Good question! What is a poetry book for? My own lived experience tells me that a poetry book may be life changing. I was “happily” working and making good money as a telecommunications engineer in Mexico City until I was (by accident?) given on my hand a poetry book while exiting a subway station. I sat at the street’s sidewalk to see what I had on my hands. It was an experimental-book edition of Sunstone poem by Octavio Paz I had never knew about. The poem had been printed by the city as a playful circular-accordion book to be given away in the transport system, can you believe it? Conceptually, the poem is a circular journey of 584 verses referencing the cycle of Venus-Quetzalcoatl, which is also represented by the well know Sunstone monolith (sometimes called Aztec Calendar) containing the Nahui Ollin symbol at its center. The poem’s themes are diverse but all connected and always coming back to love and co-existence. I could not stop reading for one hour until I realized I was already beyond the beginning of the second turn of the cycle of paper on my hands. After this I was totally ecstatic, still seating at the sidewalk, feeling naked but energized, totally convinced I needed to explore this magic way of perceiving reality and do something else with my life. A few days later I quitted my engineer career and enrolled at the National University to re-start as undergrad student from ground zero, this time in Latin American poetry and philosophy. I was never very happy with my poetry writing but poetry transformed me and opened my way to art-making and art-thinking. 

From one side poetry and art are like magic-bonding glue that allows for reconnecting with the relational epistemologies that are lost or diminished in the fragmented reality of modern times. From another angle, poetry and art explore new ways of seeing, perceiving, and knowing, by questioning the medium and unsettling the status-quo. These are powerful weapons for change. 

With Nahui Ollin or The Physics of Desire: a Philosophiæ Naturalis I am now, at the end of my 52-year cycle, coming back to this powerful experience that happened more than 20 years ago, and which left a long standing list of concerns for me: the opening of poetry, being as dialogue and co-existence, Indigenous relational worldviews, a passion for physics, and a critique of the supremacy of Western epistemologies. These inform much of what I do either in art-making or teaching Interdisciplinary Studies.  

I hope the book “walks the talk”. To make sense of it the reader has to take a step in and play, not just intellectually but as body-vision-mind-spirit interaction and co-determination. While at the same time the book is as well about very objective principles of physics. 



Your artistic work deals with a critique of the languages used by modernity to construct reality. How do you think this critique operates in this book?  

Well, yes, my artistic practice often deals with questions on the photographic image. This is “the medium” of modern times to construct particular views of reality, right? Just think of TV, the internet and social media, and this including the other face of the photographic process as moving image. Susan Sontag nailed it when she suggested that the invention of photography was the beginning of modernity. It is the beginning of a machine-made (i.e. “objective”) data-making approach to know, but really, to construct what we know via a particular way of knowing. Computers came later, also taking “samples” of reality to construct what we know. “Artificial Intelligence” works by analyzing “sampled” data as well. For me, the antidote to this detached view which is conveyed by the photographic medium itself, is poetry, a poetry of images. I have been experimenting with questioning the photographic medium in several ways. The book connects here because it conveys a suggestion that the “objective” and machine-made diagrams of physics can perfectly work as visual love poems. The book also plays this same game with the written principles of physics. And this bring us to another fundamental face of modernity: the imposed supremacy of text over aural, visual and experiential mediums, to “concretize” what is real. The laws of physics are written logical statements intended to avoid any ambiguity. The book tells another version by bringing poetry as screwdriver. 


Why should readers come to this event – and what should they expect? What is the kind of reader that you are most interested in? 

I think it could be fun for anyone because of the experimental character in bringing together quite different avenues into the play of the book. Perhaps interested people may be lovers of art, poetry, physics, experimental books, etc. But also art-based researchers, and people interested in art-based approaches to a decolonization of epistemologies. Beyond the book itself, the launch event will have an amazing duo seating with me for a conversation. They are both very well positioned to talk about art-thinking, art-making, and Latin American art and poetry. Laura Cisneros also studies Mesoamerican and other local and Latin American ancestral epistemologies and worldviews. Tonel is internationally well known as a visual artist, art critic, and curator. I am connected to both of them and their work for several reasons.  

I think we will break with the tradition of “the reading” of poetry by the author. This would not work very well for this book. People could expect some sort of alternative to this, perhaps something more participatory.