In July I had the privilege of attending the International Gothic Association’s biennial conference at Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), in Cholula, Mexico, a place complete with its own be-tunneled Aztec pyramid and live volcano Popocatépetl which liked to greet us in the mornings with puffs of steam. I have been a member of this Association for ten years and this was my fifth conference. It’s always a pleasure to see old friends and familiar faces as well as getting to know the many fascinating new people I inevitably meet at events like this.
Mexico was a particularly exciting place to hold the IGA conference and many people at home asked me why I was going to such a sunny country for a Gothic gathering. Fortunately, it’s not an essential requirement to wear black, and personally I wasn’t aware of anyone actually crumbling to dust in the sunshine.
Bringing the IGA conference to Mexico was a long-standing ambition of organiser Dr Enrique Ajuria Ibarra, and continued the Association’s recent efforts (2015 was in Vancouver) to tug the conference out of its European nest and help to make it truly international. The conference theme was ‘Traditions and Departures’, signalling the ways that European Gothic traditions do travel, but do not always colonise: they often meet other cultural traditions coming the other way, or may themselves become profoundly transformed. As IGA president Dr Catherine Spooner reminded us at the opening ceremony, the Gothic likes to challenge boundaries and we are a scholarly community more interested in building bridges than walls.
To give a flavour of how distinctive the Gothic in Mexico can be, conference day two ended with a screening of new short film, Los misterios de las monjas vampiras (The mysteries of the vampire nuns) directed by Antonio Álvarez Morán, who attended dressed as a vampire. Shot locally, the film begins with Aztec sacrifice, ends in wrestling, and in between is a panoply of Mexican Gothic excess, and is killingly funny (see the trailer on YouTube). In the Q&A afterwards, the lead actress was asked if she’d found anything challenging about playing her role, and won all our hearts when she replied that she had not, because ‘inside every woman is a little bit of nun and a little bit of vampire.’
It wasn’t all like that, though, and the conference programme proves that we did also get down to some serious analytical work on everything from werewolves to whales, linen to Lolita, and Scotland to steampunk.
It is exceedingly difficult to make a conference presentation look exciting. While looking at this photograph of Professor Isabella van Elferen’s keynote on Gothic music, you will need to imagine that she is, in fact, playing this track VERY LOUDLY throughout the auditorium and asking us to pinpoint what, exactly, makes it Gothic. Can you?
For more, including pictures, see #IGAMexico2017 on Twitter.