In January 2017, one of the biggest arenas for bullfighting in Colombia – the Santamaría’s Bullring in Bogotá, was finally reopened after four years of infrastructural repairing. As soon as the famous Plaza de toros was announced to be ready, a number of lawsuits, public debates, and protests became widely visible in the media. Although the controversy that surrounds bullfighting is well known for the wide emotive reactions that it triggers, a focus on infrastructures of affect can help us understand both the role of the “impersonal” (Seighworth and Gregg, 2010, p. 4) in these affective experiences, and the way emotions are deployed to create a political impact (Larkin, 2013).
Santamaría’s Bullring was built in 1931. This big concrete-made space contrasted with the wooden bullrings that were built in the past, as it was embodying the Colombian local elite’s ideas of cultural progress (Ortiz, 2011). However, in 1984 the bullring was considered National Monument and it started to represent cultural tradition and national pride in a wider sense, together with a heterogeneous group of objects (such as statues) and places (such as plazas) considered ‘heritage’. Then, in 2012, the status of Santamaría’s Bullring was debated: various legal demands were set up in order to ban or allow this place for bullfighting. One side considered bullfights as animal torture, so the banning law intended to use the bullring for ‘cultural’ activities in general. The other side represented bullfighting as an enchanting art that could only be understood by the minority group that supported it, so the bullring should remain for bullfighting.
The affective reactions that were triggered either by ‘feeling the suffering’ of the bull, or by sensing the indescribable heroism of the bullfighter, took its highest point after the Santamaría’s Bullring was reopened in 2017. A massive protest took place in front of the bullring. Some videos (circulated on social media) showed naked protesters with plenty of red paint embodying the agony of the bulls, whereas other videos showed physical confrontations and explosions of rage and fear between opposition and sympathisers of bullfighting.
Thus, as we could see with Santamaría’s Bullring’s case, the contemporary political experience of animal torture or culture-art practice of bullfighting is traversed by technical and political networks in which bulls, bricks, concrete, and public institutions affect and are affected by the actors. A focus on infrastructure allows us to see the way in which an affective experience actually goes beyond the body and situates in-between the personal, the collective, and the environment (Seigworth and Gregg, 2010, p. 9-10).
However, the political debate of the uses of the bullring also shows us that infrastructures operate in different levels. They also generate an “aesthetic order” and specific political effects, as the affective attachments that infrastructures generate can be used for making particular representations appear as social facts (Larkin, 2013, p. 335-336). Both as part of the affective political experience that cannot be easily described, and of the way affects are mobilised for political purposes, infrastructures widen our focus for understanding contemporary political debates.
(Featured Image retrieved from Elintransigente.com, 15 February 2017. http://www.elintransigente.com/mundo/internacionales/2017/1/23/heridos-detenidos-protestas-contra-corridas-toros-bogota-420161.html)
Larkin, B. (2013). The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure. Annual Review of Anthropology 42: 327-343.
Ortiz, M. (2011, February 5). La plaza de toros la Santamaría cumple 80 años de su inauguración. Periódico El Tiempo. Retrieved from http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-8827086.
Seigworth, G., and Gregg, M. (2010). An Inventory of Shimmers. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke University Press.