Technologies To The People on Mon, 7 Jun 1999 10:48:45 +0200

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Syndicate: Scattered Affinities

Afinidades Dispersas/Scattered Affinities
Catherine Beaugrand
Juan Fernando Herrán
Mira Bernabeu
Euàlia Valldosera
Jan-Petert E.R. Sonntag
Daniel G. Andújar
Heath Bunting

Fundación Telefónica
Del 10 junio al 25 julio 1999
Curated by Nuria Enguita Mayo 

Science fiction, fantasy and other displacements
In the shaping of his theory of Postmodernism, Jameson propounds a new 'superficiality' and the resulting weakening of 'historicity' as two constituent elements of Postmodernism.1 In the field of literature, Italo Calvino mentions 'visibility' as one of his propositions for the next millennium, stating that "... 'realities' and 'fantasies' can only come to life through script, where outwardness and inwardness, the world and the self, experience and fantasy, are revealed as being composed of the same verbal matter (...) pages of aligned signs, pressed together like grains of sand, represent the variegated spectacle of the world in an ever-changing and ever the same surface." In the eyes of Catherine Beaugrand, power is a simulation and contemporary science fiction is the place where the image holds authority, a place from where one is able to cross over into another reality. Some time previously, in his book La societé du spectacle, published in 1967 and now regarded a classic on the subject, Guy Debord had described this as being "... the tendency to point out, through different specialised mediations, the world that is no longer directly comprehensible..." I am totally convinced that contemporary life does not unfold in the sphere of experience but in that of visibility - especially in the sense implied by Debord as opposed to Calvino - and that the image, to continue with Debord, "has become the final form of reification of the commodity" in the age of multinational capitalism. To denounce the conditions in which this visibility is established could be considered at least an exercise in resistance.
In Luna Park (1997) Catherine Beaugrand offers us a fiction that evolves through a continuous flow of images of fairgrounds, both old-fashioned and modern, theme parks, fairs, etc. "Artificial paradises", according to the slogan, that have arranged and systematised fantasy, places where the simulacrum performs a double balancing act, where not only any object, even the moon, is susceptible of being consumed but where we ourselves become the leading players of the show, thanks to the technology of the image. It is not difficult to reach the conclusion that these new theme parks, where all our actions are at once subjected to codified time and to strict visual surveillance and inspection, are mechanisms that re-establish certain forms of representation, indebted to historical colonialism, in contemporary consumer society. Theme parks and mass tourism walk hand-in-hand in an attempt to represent history in a linear way, following strategies in the service of consumerism controlled by giant multinationals of leisure. I recall a cartoon by a lucid commentator in a Spanish national newspaper in which a little girl in rags heads for an area full of steaming ruins, where a placard announces "Poverty Theme Park". By all appearances, it is not too perverse to think that very soon we shall witness the construction and organisation of theme parks devoted to wars or to refugees, given the urge to see "what is no longer comprehensible".
Not so long ago on the subject of the war in the Balkans, the French sociologist Edgar Morin wrote "... in any event the harmful effects are irremediable. The disaster that has emerged from the heart of Europe has struck Europe in the heart. This disaster is now generalised. The barbarity of Total Nationalism has not been the only cause of the disaster. In the western area the ravages of a blind rationality, abstract, quantitative and mechanical, have divided and pigeon-holed the various complex realities, incapable of placing their facts and problems in an appropriate context, incapable of understanding the shortcomings of its own logic and incapable of conceiving its own blindness. Madness!* Madness! Madness! Not only the madness of Serbian Total Nationalism and of its ravages, but the lunacy of a war waged by computers, calculations, figures and of killing machines, silenced by a limiting techno-military intention."3 The work of Daniel G. Andújar frequently unfolds between the intersecting spheres implied by the use of technology and its practice as a sophisticated instrument of control and dominance. A computer poses an illusion (due to its genuine incapacity): the possibility of hacking a telephone company, in the reach of anyone with a minimum knowledge of computer language. Sociologist and artist alike propose a reflection on contemporary war, in which the classical notion of hand-to-hand fighting disappears, giving way to a series of variable factors related to diverse realities, almost always far removed from the social and political reality of the true areas of conflict. The Gulf War was possibly a media war, but the present Balkan war is even more cruel for it only seems to take place inside the computers switched on in the various NATO headquarters. The consequences in terms of death, destruction and displacement of human masses originated by this designer war seem to be reduced, according to its architects, to undesirable yet necessary collateral damage. One final question before moving on -- how important is it to destroy actual 'territories', now that the networks of power and money are totally decentralised and their tentacles oblivious to frontiers?
River without water
How cold are the people
Crossing the bridge
Haiku by Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)
The displacement of political refugees or of people fleeing from their countries of origin for other reasons is one of the most pressing problems of our fin de siècle, a problem that - according to political analysts - will become a chronic reality if the search for solutions is exclusively constrained to the sphere of the forces of law and order. Yet for the time being the closing of frontiers continues and recurs, with no other alternative in sight, while the number of displaced people never stops growing. Heath Bunting continues to sabotage the structures of the system, by means of simple yet potentially subversive incisions. The proposal made in Identity Swap Database (1999), to which one can gain direct access through the Internet, consists of creating a place of loan and exchange of identities to expedite border crossing for all those whose identity is borrowed. Bunting operates in the crevices between global communication networks, destroying the illusion of blind faith in the mechanisms of technological control and evincing their contradictions.
Other forms of fantasy
We learn of other contradictions and of other forms of violence from the series En círculo [In a Circle] by Mira Bernabeu (1996). Glossed in our previous essay, I would merely like to add that it constitutes a perfect artifice of concealment, showing what it hides. The stereotyped image of the artist's family dressed in Sunday wear is confronted with another image in which the same people, adopting the same poses, are undressed, bereft of their new clothes now replaced by what is commonly described as underwear. Contradicting the solemnity of the bodies, such clothing appears bloodstained, concealing infinite forms of possible violence. In later series such as Perdidos en el espacio [Lost in Space] (1997) or Los milagros del cuerpo [The Miracles of the Body] (1999), Mira proceeds with his exploration of a personal identity that is first outlined in the bosom of the family but which subsequently continues to appear in the multiple web of relationships in which experience is materialised, and in one of its forms especially - that of sexuality. The initial violence appears to be transmuted and, as in his work En círculo, reality and fantasy conceal a complicated plot in which beauty and pain exist side by side.
Several installations by Eulàlia Valldosera also refer to the sphere of the family, or rather to that of domestic life, especially those in the series Apariencias [Appearances] (1992-96), that includes El Comedor: la figura de la madre [The Dining-Room: The Figure of the Mother] (1994-95), Envases: el culto a la madre [Containers: The Cult of the Mother] (1996), El amor es más dulce que el vino [Love is Sweeter than Wine] (1993), Estantería para un lavabo de hospital [Shelf for a Hospital Bathroom] (1992), etc. In these installations visibility is blurred, because what we are offered is a world of shadows in which - and I repeat the words of Agamben - "things are not exactly in any one place", and can hardly be named: "In these works - that Eulàlia curiously intended to call works 'of love' - the baroque processes of ellipsis, anamorphosis and continuum are presented by means of a total verisimilitude: nothing is certain in the way in which the pieces are formed, yet everything is very real, extremely real."4
The raum-Arbeiten [Space works] created by Jan-Peter E. R. Sonntag between 1991 and 1999 are "sculptural definitions of/in space by means of optical illusions and acoustic arrangements produced in the context of the exhibition hall and its architecture, that functions as a skin of a sculptural nature". If the work modern minimal disco 4 suggested, through the processing of sound waves, a space of continual acceleration, in The Yellow Cell (1999) light and temperature determine both the perception of space and one's way of occupying it. "In this case the artist is not so much the agent transmitting his experiences through artistic transformation, but one who creates the spatial conditions and situations, the conditions of experience itself. The viewer comprehends in a sensuous manner the very incomprehensibility of space."5
Another texture of space is inferred in the works Este-Oeste [East-West] (1995) and Untitled (1991-92) by Juan Fernando Herrán. In the first of these, the image of a hand shaping a ball of clay, changing its form continually due to the human pressure, travels through different locations in the city of London. The second work is made up of over a hundred bottle-tops, collected in the streets of Bogotá and subsequently manipulated by the artist. The conditions in which the urban environment is established constitute an inexhaustible source for his work, resulting in archaeological studies of the formation of its structures - as in Transformaciones Geográficas [Geographical Transformations] made in London (1996), where memory and history actively unite in order to rescue contents that have been either forgotten or silenced by diverse mechanisms of power - and of the materials inhabiting such structures. Herrán updates the idle saunter of Baudelaire's flâneur, yet he is not so interested in the image of the city as in what the city hides or, as in this instance, in part of its refuse. History appears in the residues that materialise our accelerated  and consumer 'ruin'. The soft clay in his video Este-Oeste leads us back to Pre-Columbian civilisations, yet it also announces a concept of  shapelessness as opposed to construction in contemporary cities, perhaps because 'drifting' is not a rational activity but rather an emotional identification with what the city has to offer, an encounter with the experience of countless individuals. To envisage the city in constant change, like a living organism, constitutes a specific existential metaphor that enables the artist to inhabit the world.
To conclude this new trajectory, this conversation with the various works, I would merely like to add that I intend to continue to regard artistic practice a valid experience of resistance in the search for our position in the complicated map of a profoundly fragmented global reality. Let each one of us do as much as possible.

* In English in the original.

1. Fredrich Jameson, "La  lógica cultural del capitalismo tardío", Teoría de la postmodernidad, Editorial Trotta, Madrid, 1996, p. 28.
2. Italo Calvino, "Visibilidad", Seis propuestas para el próximo milenio, Siruela, Madrid, 1994, p. 113.
3. Edgar Morin, "El desastre", El País, 29th April 1999, p. 17.
4. José Luis Marzo, "Ventriloquías", Anys Noranta. Distància O, Centre d'Art Santa Mónica, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, 1994.
5. Sonntag, Jan Peter.Hamburg 1998.