Fotograf Magazine

Edith Jeřábková interviews Eva Koťátková

They were hidden in a vase,  covering their heads with various objects

I’m reading your Manual for Unlearning the Body1, and I think that readers might want to know what the process of unlearning means to you.

I sometimes imagine a body that wakes up one morning and doesn’t remember any learnt movements – doesn’t know what its movements and actions mean. It doesn’t know if it’s a woman or man and what burden the affiliation to a particular gender is. It doesn’t know its life; it doesn’t feel pushed to do the things the people around are expecting from it. It doesn’t feel so obliged and subordinate. It doesn’t have a sense of loss or confusion. On the contrary. It feels free, light, and self-confident. The question is, of course, how the behaviour of such a body would influence the other bodies that have not unlearnt anything overnight. They would probably catch the body, make a diagnosis, and put it on sedatives. But unlearning isn’t only about forgetting – it’s not that simple. It doesn’t work like a button that erases everything. We don’t have to stop doing what they have taught us, but while we’re doing it, the process of unlearning makes us do the things differently. If learning is not only about acquiring knowledge and skills, but also about repeating and confirming the existing power relations, then unlearning can be a way of disrupting these power relationships and patterns. I think the process of unlearning isn’t just a process of self-reflection, but a process of learning to unlearn, a way to reject the dominant, privileged, and violent. Spiwak describes it as weaving invisible strings into an existing texture; Butler calls it undoing (undoing the gender). The book you’ve mentioned got its name after a joint exhibition with the late Italian artist Ketty La Rocca. The exhibition curator thought the title, Unlearning the Body, is an accurate description of what we deal with in our work, though for different reasons and at different times.

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