"Acrylic Painting by Petra Kuppers"

A review of Eco Soma: Pain and Joy in Speculative Performance Encounters

I try to feel my way into moments of discomfort, to the monsters of exclusionary and racist pasts and presents all raising their heads and chewing on potential connections. I track what happens when time and space shift, when spin and encounters happen, when pleasure becomes a gateway to new openings, and when immediacy and distance merge.

Petra Kuppers

Photograph of Eco Soma against lush green setting

Amala Poli //

Community performance artist and disability culture activist Petra Kuppers’ latest work Eco Soma: Pain and Joy in Speculative Performance Encounter is a reimagination of the embodied self in the world through a recognition of multiple life worlds and forms in contested spaces. The text models a form of inquiry, inviting the reader to take a journey through the author’s collection of embodied performance witnessing and become aware of how one encounters the world through the discovery of involved witnessing. Kuppers defines eco soma as “a mash-up, an encounter zone all by itself…a two step, a longer phrase, a stumble, the hesitation marks left in” (1). It is in this space of hesitation that the reader is invited to stumble meaningfully, to receive and reflect on a collection of ideas and experiences in world-building that not only bring an embodied awareness to the self, but also reorient the other sites and objects of encounter through dialogue.

Kuppers’ rhetorical strategy challenges any linear time and space orientation by moving from the self, pedagogical or collaborative moment to the contextual. For instance, recalling Yoruba practices and the Orisha Oshun, Kuppers situates the performing, witnessing self in the body, the sensational and affective immediacy of the somatic. From there she asks the reader to inhabit another context of water, that of the Flint crisis in 2019. This rhetorical move allows for an engagement that is involved and ethically charged. The text moves beyond White and established academic canons, playfully inventing a form that embodies the kinds of encounter which inform creative, performative and multifaceted experiences that Kuppers brings to the fore. Situating an example from Kuppers’ positionality in disability culture, she writes, “Drumming can create alternative rhythms that override our nervous sensoria and realign us anew: beaten, stretching density out into a field of sound” (78). This reflection stems from a recollection of Native Women Language Keepers: Madweziibing-Music Rivering, a collaboration. Kuppers writes of the context in which the symposium and video are created and invites the reader to watch the video and spend time tracking what is noticed, received, and focused upon. The text invites the reader to wonder: how does one find synergy in difference? In the narration of such performative encounters, Kuppers creates spaces for active listening and embodied being. The reader of Eco Soma is gently invited to participate, receive and enter the dialogue in the text to reimagine self and its relations with the land and other life-forms.

In using the term “bodymindspirit,” Kuppers adds a third awareness to bodymind, a set of affective resonances that honor multiple lineages. In laying out the organizing principles of her work, Kuppers states: “My task in this book is to unsettle myself, embrace my unstable way of being… I offer my pain and joy to others who experience their cultural location with ambivalence and stumbling” (3). Kuppers animates the concepts of disability culture with unexplored ways of witnessing performances through uncertain being and identifying. The fundamental questions Kuppers gently invites the readers to explore about their own encounters and identifications with the human, nonhuman and fantastic worlds are especially important for a world grappling with the continued realities of a global pandemic, of reassessing one’s place and purpose, privileges and uncertainties.

Kuppers encourages a process of self-discovery and entanglement through her examples. I encountered the book while in a state of continuous burnout and little respite, and the journeys undertaken by the author and her collaborative performance artists felt like a hopeful invitation. Kuppers sets the stage through example for people from different lineages to ethically and consciously approach non-totalizing being and speculative realities.

Works Cited

Kuppers, Petra. Eco Soma: Pain and Joy in Speculative Performance Encounters. University of Minnesota Press, 2022.

Featured Image – Extracted from Eco Soma with permissions from the author Petra Kuppers

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