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Gestures of Domestic Memories

A Performative Way-of-Knowing

poster for <Gestures of Domestic Memories> a film by Aída Herrera Pena, image of a woman wearing a white raincoat walking through a tunnel

Fig. 1. Herrera, A. (Producer & Director). (2021). Gestures of Domestic Memories. Berlin, Germany

The project Gestures of Domestic Memories (GDM) emerged back in April 2021, in Berlin, during the city’s COVID-19 lockdown. Although some social restrictions had been eased from the previous six months, at that time I found myself in a sort of perpetual liminality, between an unknown world I was physically inhabiting and another to which my past cultural body had belonged: my hometown Bogotá, Colombia. In this way, I found myself witnessing the impacts of a virus that was/is (re)shaping both worlds simultaneously.

While concentrating my efforts on a job search in Berlin, I was granted the opportunity to participate in Forecast – an international mentorship programme for artists and creative thinkers – where I was mentored by choreographer Mathilde Monnier. This was the programme framework where I developed the project GDM, and it was also at this time that I activated a profile for cleaning services in a digital marketplace called Helpling. In light of both events overlapping, I began to reflect on how I could bring them together and develop a project within the Forecast framework according to the role I was about to embody: a migrant woman, whose embodied knowledge and everyday performance in the domestic sphere would be extrapolated into multiple shapes according to marketplace conditions.

still image from the short firlm, 2 women pictured in a kitchen

Fig. 2. Herrera, A. (Producer & Director). (2021). Gestures of Domestic Memories. Berlin, Germany

woman walking along a path lined with trees behind a fence, she wears a white raincoat and facemask

Fig. 3. Herrera, A. (Producer & Director). (2021). Gestures of Domestic Memories. Berlin, Germany

Before explaining how I linked the two events, I will briefly introduce my design research practice, which is the basis for the origin of GDM. In 2019, I initiated the research On Performativity and Design, in which I explored how performative strategies enhance and contribute to design research practices. I examined this within the scenario of a Western way-of-living significantly influenced by habits of mass production and consumption: a social reality whose capitalist structure reflects the many social inequalities that had emerged in the name of progress, economic growth, and industrial and technological development. In order to analyse such a scenario, I foregrounded the perspective and methodological framework of performativity as a way of sensing the dynamic and fluid reality of the world, together with concepts such as embody-knowledge and tacit knowledge.

picture of a hand in plastic gloves, text reads: 'Lower Back Pain +500%', 'Body Fatigue +290%', 'Body Anxiety +80%'

Fig. 4. Herrera, A. (Producer & Director). (2021). Gestures of Domestic Memories. Berlin, Germany

Therefore, in line with my research concerns and methodological framework, the project GDM began to take shape around a current social reality that in unexpected ways I was about to step into – as a body experiencing the in-betweenness of a pandemic and migration process. Over four months, I carried out intensive research into the reality of domestic labour in Berlin. The process went through many upheavals due to the complexity of the topic and its endless analytical possibilities, from a gender, spatial, material, and bodily examination of the performance of domestic tasks, to a broader research scope about the socio-economic configurations within the gig economy phenomenon and its labour structure. I encountered the reality behind the phrases ‘flexible work, flexible life’ and ‘be your own boss’, which mask the heavy physical effort of the work and the body’s vulnerability between private and public spaces, among other factors. I experienced a new Berlin via the commute, the daily working life during a pandemic, and the local cultural approach to domestic labour, as well as the social sphere of migrant groups. Many of these migrants were from Latin American countries, holding university degrees, a particular demographic that is synonymised with domestic work through the digital marketplace Helpling.

woman waiting to get on a metro train

Fig. 5. Herrera, A. (Producer & Director). (2021). Gestures of Domestic Memories. Berlin, Germany

bird's eye view of a woman cleaning a living room, she is crouching on the floor with a mop, other cleaning equipment is visible on a table, text reads: 'energy level 18%, 06:14'

Fig. 6. Herrera, A. (Producer & Director). (2021). Gestures of Domestic Memories. Berlin, Germany

The state of liminality I experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, not least through my mentoring process at Forecast, brought me into awareness of the oppression and commodification experienced by people self-employed as domestic labour, Latin American migrants in particular. It also bore in on me that this was nothing new: it was a pre-existing scenario in Berlin. The overall project thus reflects on how domestic labour continues to be largely delegated to migrant women, within a marketplace where they are made to exchange their bodies in the form of services, ready to be consumed under the pressure of capitalist values of productivity and efficiency.

The project Gestures of Domestic Memories resulted in a short film. By means of body language – mainly body movement and gestures – it narrates the path outlined in this brief text. A day in the life of the domestic body I embodied.

woman crouching on the floor next to cleaning equipment, taking off plastic gloves, text reads: 'energy level 33%, 20:12'

Fig. 7. Herrera, A. (Producer & Director). (2021). Gestures of Domestic Memories. Berlin, Germany

Short film-performance ‘Gestures of Domestic Memories’

“In a capitalist society where digital marketplaces exchange human bodies in the form of services, a migrant domestic worker shows us the daily life of household chores. From her self-consciousness, she takes us on a journey of gestures and sensations expressed in time, space, and movement. This short film-performance based on real events brings us a unique perspective about the everyday reality of domestic work and migration in Berlin, as well as a call to reflect on our daily performances.”

Director and Producer: Aída Herrera Peña. Writer: Aída Herrera Peña. Editor and Camera: Esteban Amon. Music composer: Andrés Ibagón Hurtado. Key Cast ‘Client’: Ruslana Massarova. Key Cast ‘Domestic Cleaner’: Aída Herrera Peña.



Gestures of Domestic Memories was developed within the framework of Forecast Platform Skills e.V. 2021/2022, and it was mentored by Mathilde Monnier.


Short Film (on demand):

More info about GDM: