Nina Höchtl

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Nina Höchtl's MPhil/PhD Art research project

If Only For The Length Of A Lucha: Queer/ing, Mask/ing, Gender/ing And Gesture In Lucha Libre

This PhD uses a queer reading strategy to explore the performative sites of lucha libre (wrestling in Mexico). My research inhabits the space behind the scene, the space between the ring and the audience, and the space of being part of the audience itself. My reading of the luchas takes place through the camera, the interview, printed works, theoretical investigation, and through the work of artists who draw on lucha libre – including myself. As lucha libre itself cannot be narrowed down to one specific medium, my subject matter allows me to utilize an interdisciplinary perspective to examine its various encounters, spaces, subjectivities and gestures.

As well as attending live events in the arenas, watching lucha libre on television, exploring its circulation in artistic and filmic productions and its appropriation in advertisements and political discourse, I have carried out an intervention in a regular lucha libre programme by inventing a character, promoting, constructing and staging a match in an arena in the north of Mexico City. My methodology therefore makes use of a whole range of strategies including those borrowed from the discipline of anthropology and from practices of documentary making. Through my writing and my practice, I attempt to query and complicate these disciplinary conventions and my own use of them.

I place particular emphasis in this PhD upon the possibility and use of a queer reading strategy in relation to lucha libre. Drawing on the works of Gloria Anzaldúa, Judith Butler, Judith ʻJackʼ Halberstam, José Javier Maristany, and José Esteban Muñoz, the thesis argues that a queer reading strategy has the potential to complicate ways of seeing gender and sexuality as well as race, ethnicity, class, time and space in this context.

I identify the rich queer legacies within lucha libre, film and popular culture, and focus on the multiple and often conflicting readings made possible by adopting queer theory and reading practices. In doing so, the thesis interrogates the different ways in which popular cultures can go beyond accepted notions of what it means to be Mexican, a woman, macho, gay and so on. Throughout this work, I pay close attention to forms of audience participation, their verbal and gestural acts and how key these are in to the event of the lucha. These verbal and gestural acts, I argue, produce a unique complicity in the arena manifesting a transient trace of queer histories, and suggesting potential utopias.