Grâce à un ange surgi Boulevard Barbès à vélo le dimanche 31 mars, alors que je rentrais d’une soirée compliquée à la Grande Halle de la Villette où je n’avais pas pu rentrer pour assister à la performance de H., j’ai rencontré Bastien. Ce soir là Eva a pilé net quand elle m’a croisé Boulevard Barbès, elle m’a hélé et dit avec un grand sourire qu’elle me connaissait, qu’elle aimait bien ce que je faisais, qu’elle me suivait et qu’elle avait un ami à Sciences Politiques qui voulait me rencontrer et écrire sur moi. Quand elle est reparti j’ai vu qu’elle avait sur le dos un immense SMILE. J’ai pensé que je venais de croiser un ange qui illuminait ma soirée.
Et puis j’ai rencontré Bastien lundi 22 avril à Vin en Vrac à Max Dormoy. On a longtemps discuté, c’était passionnant. Il participe à un séminaire sur la dimension politique de la performativité à Sciences Politiques et comme cette notion est au fondement de mon identité et de mes pratiques, nous avons eu beaucoup de choses à nous dire.
Voici le texte de son intervention en anglais.
« How to write institutionally about a person that rebukes institutions?
Is my role as a representant of a neoliberal academic institution an impossible one for a person that roots themselves in anarchism, solidarity and radical resistance?
In my eyes, academia is an institution that too often avoids scrutiny and intervention.
That is why I invited Cuco Cuca to ‘hack’ this article, subverse and modify it, cause dis-orientation, turn the voice of the researcher into a dialogue, research into performance.
Sciences Po Paris
Performance Studies: The Political Dimension of Performance
“I choose and [don’t] ch[o]ose:
the beginning of my life was a blend of mystic and politic.
First a dream of bird (my name is cuckoo: a pirat bird), then a desire to be a genderfucker and hacker of art world. A taste for ‘non art’ in submissive ways of being.”
̶ Cuco Cuca (private email conversation, 15.04.2019)
The Pirate Bird
– Viewing Cuco Cuca through Sarah Ahmed’s Conceptulization of Orientation
Cuco Cuca is a hacker, a genderfucker, a transbird, a pirate, a performer, a trans and queer activist. Cuco was visited by the dream of a cuckoo in October 2011 during the Fiesta de los Muertos in Mexico and took on this name and identity. Cuco is a queer attempt. Cuco’s face is a latex mask; it is not hidden behind one but constituted by. Cuco defies institutions, possesses neither identifying documents nor a job. Cuco was born in 2011. Cuco is a mutant. Cuco is Cuca and vice versa. Cuco is both fragile and transcendent, ailing and a superhero.
Is all of this absurd? Absurdity as a concept is at the very heart of Cuco’s existence. Merriam Webster defines ‘absurdity’ as “having no rational or orderly relationship to human life”, “lacking order or value” or “lacking sense”. As Sarah Ahmed has shown, the concept of sense both in the meaning of ‘direction’ as well as ‘signification’ can be semantically linked to the idea of ‘orientation’: absurd is what doesn’t offer a steady sense as means to orientate oneself. In the following essay I want to view Cuco’s Existence through a perspective of Sarah Ahmed’s theories of orientation, dis-orientation and re-orientation. I begin by shedding light on how Cuco’s Existence can be seen as disorienting rather than disoriented. I will view their Existence vis à vis the public, (art) institutions and the state, and the respective reactions to this loss of order and sense. In a second step I will show the possibilities for political and affective re-orientations by different actors. Working with qualitative material, I will use a short email interview, conducted on 15.04.2019, a personal open-ended interview on 22.04.2019, Cuco’s personal blog, Cuco’s Instagram content and private documents sent by Cuco.
In her work, Sarah Ahmed dissects the notion of orientation as a concept that allows us to behave towards certain objects. Orientation defines how we inhabit spatiality, but also “how we apprehend this world of shared inhabitance, as well as ‘who’ or ‘what’ we direct our energy and attention towards.” (Ahmed 2007: 3). Orientation serves as a way to navigate the physical and social world, which agency we have and how we position ourselves and others in space. We might only realize orientation in times when we are devoid of it, in times of disorder, confusion, ‘dis-orientation’:
“They are bodily experiences that throw the world up, or throw the body from its ground. Dis-orientation as a bodily feeling can be unsettling, and it can shatter one’s sense of confidence in the ground or one’s belief that the ground on which we reside can support the actions that make a life feel livable. Such a feeling of shattering, ECLATEMENT / BOULEVERSANT or of being shattered, might persist and become a crisis. “ (Ahmed 2007: 157)
Ahmed acknowledges the potentially devastating effects of dis-orientation. She conceptualizes dis-orientation as “the failure of an organization to hold things in place “ (Ahmed 2007: 158), a failure that must be eradicated through a re-grounding, the re-gaining of orientation through the re-institution of the structuring organization to avoid crisis. Figuratively speaking, the reaching hand must “find[s] something to steady an action” (Ahmed 2007: 157). If this cannot be accomplished the subjective consequences for the body might be drastic: “the hand might reach out and find nothing, and might grasp instead the indeterminacy of air. The body in losing its support might then be lost, undone, thrown.” (Ahmed 2007: 157)
We want to explore this notion along Cuco’s Existence, and I want to view three sites of dis-orientation: the body, institutions and the state. According to Cuco, the two most commonly asked questions by people they encounter is whether they are sweating in their clothes, and whether they are a man or a woman. While the first question seems rather inconspicuous, the second one points to an aspect of dis-orientation, an absurdity, a common un-intelligibility of their existence. Cuco “hates binary gender”: “Cuco is Cuco, they is neither male nor female” but a “variation of third gender, “a latex shemale” (Cuco Cuca 2011). Cuco thus subverts the hegemonic binary organizing structure of gender in the tradition of ‘genderfuck’. Judith Butler explains that gender “is an identity tenuously constituted in time-an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts.” (Butler 1988: 519). In Butler’s conception, gender can never act as a steadfast, substantial identity but is always a performative illusion created through the continuous bodily actions. Viewing gender as the repetition of these acts, rather than a monolithic seamless entity, allows us to the cracks, imperfections and discontinuities between these performative actions. There, subversive potential can be located “in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style.” (Butler 1988: 520). Genderfuck hijacks these performative repetitions by bending, morphing or destroying these performative acts aiming at the “destabilizing of identity– instead of identity’s elaboration” (Glick 2000: 32). The structuring system of the binary gender system falls apart, rendering the cultural referential frame in which these performances are given (gendered) sense, causing mayhem, confusion and dis-orientation. Sarah Ahmed describes the response of bodies to these processes as potentially “defensive, as they reach out for support or as they search for a place to reground and reorientate their relation to the world.” (Ahmed 2007: 158). This defense, or try to re-orient one’s body, includes the explained inquiry over a person’s gender, or might take violent forms in case re-orientation could not be established by referring to non-binary identities. Inquiries over presumed essential ‘substance’ of gender – biological sex – serve as the ultimate grounds for re-orientation premising gender as an expressive and not performative act:
” C’est difficile à expliquer, (le fait d’être transbird) alors le plus souvent je me contente de dire transgenre, ce qui est déjà difficile à admettre pour beaucoup qui, lorsque je leur dis que je ne suis ni un garçon ni une fille, finissent parfois par me demander si j’ai une bite ou une chatte.”  (Cuco Cuca 2018b)
Through these acts, the “very notions of an essential sex, a true or abiding masculinity or femininity, are also constituted as part of the strategy by which the performative aspect of gender is concealed.” (Butler 1988: 528) Simultaneously, the nature of this ‘substance’ as inherently performative itself and born as the discontinuous enactments of gender
While the semantic link between sex and gender still offers a possibility to reground dis-orientation, Cuco explains that their identity as a transspecies bird engenders even more extreme reactions of dis-orientation: « Si je leur dis qu’en fait je suis un oiseau, ce serait pire. C’est pourquoi je ne ne le dis qu’aux âmes soeurs que je rencontre ici ou là, all around the world. » (Cuco Cuca 2018b). In the end we are reminded that dis-orientation can be a “violent feeling, and a feeling that is affected by violence, or shaped by violence directed toward the body.” (Ahmed 2007. 160) While violence is only one single possible way to re-orient themselves, it is nevertheless a possible one, and a present ine.
Cuco’s Existence transcends the individual level and invites us to think about dis-orientation on the level of institutions and the state. The concept of ‘hacking’ is at the core of opening up that perspective and Cuco’s positioning vis à vis these actors. Hacking is constituted by a “certain relationship to a certain type of knowledge”: hackers autodidactically and practically learn from epistemic systems and .”teach themselves and one another because they are at the bleeding edge of knowledge about that system.” (Suiter 2013: 7) Hackers take over, subvert spaces and institutions and structures: “A hack is a practical joke, a playful subversion or gaming of a system” in order to “produce an unprecedented result.” (Suiter 2013: 8) Cuco hacks all kind of systems and structures – arguably their Existence could be read as a hacking in itself – with a focus on art institutions and the public space. In creating ‘unprecedented’ results, they subvert the dominant system of reference, disorienting its actors. Hacking the exhibition of Ryoji Ikeda in the Grande Halle de la Villette in December 2017, Cuco danced on a big graphic installation of the artists. Two visitors read Cuco as part of the exhibition, a digital hologram, taking pictures and only realizing their mistake when they came so close they could see Cuco breathing (Cuco Cuca 2018a). It is this sudden realization, change of perspective, switch of referential frameworks that is unsettling. Sarah Ahmed writes:
“Such moments when you ‘switch’ dimensions can be deeply disorientating. One moment does not follow another, as a sequence of spatial givens that unfolds as moments of time. They are moments in which you lose one perspective, but the ‘loss’ itself is not empty or waiting; it is an object, thick with presence.” (Ahmed 2007: 158)
The loss of perspective of central to the idea of hacking. It invites spectators to re-orientate, to reflect on what their reading of the environment is. By hacking art spaces, Cuco creates an uninvited presence in these institutions that forces visitors to question and re-think the institutionalized, exclusionary and neoliberalized spaces they are part of. However, where does the hacking end? It might just not:
“Avec l’Etat d’urgence, les lois sécuritaires et l’existence de cette loi de 2010 qui interdit de cacher ou de masquer le visage dans l’espace public, je ne peux exister : Toutes mes actions, mon existence toute entière, sont devenues un perpétuel hacking.”  (Cuco Cuca 2018a)
The French state has put forward a unique set of legislative tools to forbid its dis-orientation and give supreme to its ability to interpellate and identify its citizens in the public space – or be able to reach out to them, be oriented towards them. The mentioned Law of 2010 forbids the partial or total concealment of peoples’ faces in the public space a including headgear, helmets, balaclavas, niqābs and burqas for reasons of security. The law has been described as having a specifically Islamophobic underpinning and was challenged at several international courts to no avail (Berghahn 2013: 163). The situation was further exacerbated by the ‘Loi anti-casseur’of 2019 introducing fines of up to 15.000€ or imprisonment for people who totally or partially veil their faces within or in immediate vicinity of protests. Cuco being read by the state and its agents as a person concealing their face – ignorant of the fact that this mask constitutes Cuco’s face – explicates the contemporary dis-orientation and confusion of the modern nation state. The continuous questioning and ‘shattering’ of the tools nation state such as political constructs like citizenship, the nation or national borders, have indeed become a ‘crisis of dis-orientation’ (Ahmed 2007). The state is engulfed in constant “failed orientations” (Ahmed 2007: 160); public space is being turned into a space in crisis that has to be reoriented, and thus cleared of bodies that are unintelligible, unreferential, “’point’ somewhere else” or “make what is ‘here’ become strange.” (Ahmed 2007: 160). In the discourse of security, the un-readability, the disorienting moment of citizens becomes a source of danger. Cuco’s Existence is thus rendered not only rendered ‘impossible’ but actively dangerous and becomes a prime and highly visible bodily target, a scapegoat, for a discursive re-orientation of a political entity in confusion: “we learn that dis-orientation is unevenly distributed: some bodies more than others have their involvement in the world called into crisis.” (Ahmed 2007: 159). These discursive practices are eventually taken over by society as a whole:
”En allant chercher une bouteille d’eau Place de La République, un homme m’a dit d’un ton docte et paternaliste : « Vous savez que c’est interdit en France ? » « Vous n’avez pas le droit d’être comme ça dans la rue ». L’esprit sécuritaire et l’idéologie hygiéniste a gangréné peu à peu l’ensemble de la société.” (Cuco Cuca 2019)
However, it would be reductive to think about dis-orientation as a destructive force or a mere loss. I want to take these ideas of dis- and re-orientation to see where they can lead us, which new configurations they can give rise to. Sarah Ahmed states:
“But ‘getting lost’ still takes us somewhere; and being lost is a way of inhabiting space by registering what is not familiar: being lost can in its turn become a familiar feeling. Familiarity is shaped by the ‘feel’ of space or by how spaces ‘impress’ upon bodies.” (Ahmed 2007: 7)
Losing one’s orientation is thus not only a process of tearing down but equally of re-construction, or the building of a new familiar space. Actors and entities react differently to dis-orientation and the reaction and indeed, “the forms of politics that proceed from dis-orientation can be conservative” (Ahmed 2007: 158). But Cuco shows us how a variety of spaces have shown to be able to participate in this process and develop a productive response from their uprooting. Cuco’s blog is full of tales of support, inspiration, thankfulness and reconnaissance in queer spaces (ex. Cuco Cuca 2016). Queer spaces seem to offer a context of the familiarization of dis-orientation. And indeed, as Sarah Ahmed argues extensively, is queerness able to divert the ‘straightness’ of normalized sexual orientation, and is thus at the very heart of the experience of dis-orientation, both embracing this state of affairs (Ahmed 2007). Emancipatory political spaces can equally serve as an example for a positive re-evaluation of dis-orientation. In March 2019, Cuco hacked a march for Palestinian liberation, covering their face with a Palestinian scarf (kuffieh). In this space, Cuco’s Existence became all of a sudden ‘familiar’ and was turned into the celebration by a space eager which turned out eager re-orient itself:
« Lors de cette marche, il n’y a pas eu d’incident. J’ai porté l’immense drapeau avec des femmes et des hommes hyper investis. Aucun ne m’a maltraité ni mal parlé. Au contraire, iels m’ont accueilli joyeusement, et parfois avec de très vifs remerciements. […] Je ne m’attendais pas à un tel accueil de la part des personnes dans la rue. » (Cuco Cuca 2019)
Being dressed in a kuffieh, signifying Palestinian solidarity, the political space of the demonstration accepted Cuco in its midst. I might argue that the dis-orientation of the Palestinian diaspora, marked by racism, islamophobia, exclusion and marginalization, converged with the dis-orientation attributed to Cuco. Solidarity might have been found in this common experience of being in-between, being the target of oppressive re-orientation, both the source and inhabitant of the “’becoming oblique’ of the world, a becoming that is at once interior and exterior” (Ahmed 2007: 162). Cuco’s status as being read as disorienting might be the very reason, they can be integrated in such a political space: dis-orientation isn’t read as a threat, a wrong that has to be corrected, but a shared experience that transcends individual identities.
Drawing this article to an end, I want to mention that emotions have a central role in creating these moments of support and embracing, a process Ahmed coined “affective forms of reorientation” (Ahmed 2014: 8). In a remarkable story Cuco shared with me, they described how they are usually not able to enter the Centre Georges Pompidou due to the aforementioned legal provisions. One time, as they sneaked in to attend a film screening, they were halted by a guard on the last meters insisting they had to leave. Cuco broke out in tears, and then, the guard let them enter. The story is remarkable in the sense that the emotionality of the situation made the guard change her strategy to deal with her dis-orientation. As an agent of the state her purpose was to halt Cuco and reinstate the discursive public order. However, the agent was able to find another way out of dis-orientation: one that made her forget her purpose as an agent of the state and thus, construct an alternative future:
“We can also lose our direction in the sense that we lose our aim or purpose: dis-orientation is a way of describing the feelings that gather when we lose our sense of who it is that we are. Such losses can be converted into the joy of a future that has been opened up.“ (Ahmed 2007: 20)
Ahmed, Sara (2007): Queer phenomenology. Orientations, objects, others. 2. printing. Durham: Duke University Press.
Ahmed, Sara (2014): The cultural politics of emotion. Second edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Berghahn, Sabine (2013): In the name of laïcité and neutrality. Prohibitive regulations of the veil in France, Germany and Turkey. In Sieglinde Rosenberger, Birgit Sauer (Eds.): Politics, religion and gender. Framing and regulating the veil. First issued in paperback. London: Routledge (Routledge studies in religion and politics), pp. 150–168.
Butler, Judith (1988): Performative Acts and Gender Constitution. An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. In Theatre Journal 40 (4), pp. 519–531. DOI: 10.2307/3207893.
Cuco Cuca (2016): Queer night live / i lov u / à la Folie à la Coucou Passionnément. Available online at https://cucoandcuca.com/2016/11/23/queer-night-live-i-lov-u-a-la-folie-a-la-coucou-passionnement/, updated on 11/23/2016, checked on 4/24/2019.
Cuco Cuca (2017): Who is Cuc@? A Manifesto.
Cuco Cuca (2018a): Devenir un hologramme. Available online at https://cucoandcuca.com/2018/01/13/devenir-un-hologramme/, updated on 1/13/2018, checked on 4/24/2019.
Cuco Cuca (2018b): La langue des oiseaux. Available online at https://cucoandcuca.com/2018/03/26/la-plainte-des-oiseaux/, updated on 3/26/2018, checked on 4/23/2018.
Cuco Cuca (2019): Rebirth ! Plus fort que moi, je sors ce soir. Available online at https://cucoandcuca.com/2019/04/04/a-propos-de-la-violence-legitime-ou-de-la-tres-legale-violence-detat-et-des-violences-illegales/, updated on 4/4/2019, checked on 4/24/2019.
Glick, Elisa (2000): Sex Positive. Feminism, Queer Theory, and the Politics of Transgression. In Feminist Review (64), pp. 19–45.
Suiter, Tad (2013): Why “Hacking”? In Daniel J. Cohen, Tom Scheinfeldt (Eds.): Hacking the Academy: University of Michigan Press, pp. 6–10.
 Existence is spelled with a capital ‘E’ to signify the totality of the performative acts of Cuco, which do not represent performance ‘art’ and form a multitude of interrelated levels of meaning. Cuco states: « It helps me first cause It’s behind art, it’s just a way of being of thinking of loving of inventing news kinds ways of being and thinking and feeling. It’s a vital process of transmutation and creative desidentification.” (private email conversation, 15.04.2019)
 Translation, (about the fact of being a transbird) »: “It is difficult to explain, so most of the times I suffice to say transgender, which is already hard to admit for many who, when I tell them that I am neither boy nor girl, eventually ask me if I have a dick or a pussy.”
 Translation : « If I actually tell them that I am a bird, it would be even worse. That’s why I only tell that to the soulmates I meet here and there and around the world.”
 Translation: «With the State of Emergency, the security legislation and the existence of the Law of 2010 that forbids the hiding or masking of the face in public, I can not exist. All of my actions, my entire existence, have become a perpetual hacking”
 LOI no 2010-1192: Loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public. Available online at : https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000022911670&categorieLien=id
 Loi no 2019-290 : Garantir le maintien de l’ordre public lors des manifestations. Available online at: https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000038358582&dateTexte=&categorieLien=id
 Translation: “Getting a bottle of water at Place de la République, a man told me in a knowing and paternalistic tone: “You know that this is forbidden in France?” “You have no right to be like this in the street”. The mindset of security and hygienical ideology has corroded society”.”