The Willful Subjectivity of Francesc Torres

In this paper, I explore how Catalan multimedia artist Francesc Torres uses various media, including photography, film, and performance art, to engage with discourses that lead to social, political, economic, and gender violence.

I focus on his 1975 performance piece “Almost Like Sleeping,” performed in New York, while in voluntary exile from Spain. In the piece, Torres slept in a bed in the middle of the gallery, flanked by images of Franco and Torres’s Republican grandfather (imprisoned by Franco after the Spanish Civil War), two figures who had greatly conditioned his life.   Above the sleeping artist, a film loop presented phrases that had, at different times, marked him (for example, one stating that all artists are “maricas”). Another loop showed Torres biting his nails, a symptom manifesting his reaction to a repressive upbringing. 

Through the frame of affect studies, I argue that Torres shows how affect and emotion are not simply sensations felt by an individual, but cultural practices through which pernicious ideological constructions are reproduced. Torres documents his transformation from someone subjected to the conditioning of Francoism into what Sara Ahmed calls a “willful subject,” whose “willfulness involves persistence in the face of having been brought down” (Willful Subjects 2). The performance juxtaposes the documentation of a repressive conditioning with Torres’s effort to resist it, even as he sleeps. Torres’s performance works on an affective level not only because, as Gregory Seigworth and Melissa Gregg claim in The Affect Theory Reader, “affect arises in the midst of in-between-ness: in the capacities to act and be acted upon” (1), but also in the reaction the performance ultimately engenders in its spectators.

Track: 

  • Spanish Peninsular Studies