NOT UNFAITHFUL TO THE SPIRIT OF THE THING shows a gap between the world and our sensing of it. A fracture between reality and its accesibility to us, a lapse within appearance, in the way objects get involved in our perception.
The artwork unfolds a system of representation in which the real finds itself locked up in an unbearable stress with the descriptive powers of language, while visible objects display a torsion incompatible with their own qualities.
- The disciple asks: “Who is Buddha?”
- And the master answers: “Shitty stick.”
In the Zen tradition the answer was always both surprising and disappointing at once. An unintencional paradigm that transcends the words literal meaning.
Taking as a starting point the discovery in 2010 of a meteoric crater in southern Egypt, spotted by scientists on Google Earth (Kamil crater), we play with the limited relation that photography establishes with objects and places:
What does it mean to observe at a distance? What becomes clear when you see from afar, and what becomes occluded? What becomes aggrandised, and what comes undone?
Distance isn´t just a physical matter. As distant observers we have come upon an interesting place and vantage point. One that should be held in abeyance in favour of more realistic assessments based on careful observation.
216 torture entries, is mass made out of torture entries from British newspapers. The documenting articles are here abstracted and deprived of their time/space and narrative qualities.
Thus, the once perishable object (yersterday´s newspaper) has now acquired its own entity, conferring an illogical, incoherent, non-syntactic and therefore disappointing answer.
The ingredients forming these masses concentrate the essence of the events, rather than being a mere testimony of them.
The following newspaper pages have been exposed to the physical process of sunlight passing through the lens, recording reality, but with the intention of removing all content from the newspaper pages. The condensed ray of light produced by the lens picks out the black ink and destroys it.
Paradoxically, it is not the light which portrays the news but rather the social structure in which it is drawn.
Gulala (Kurdish word for Opium Poppy) is a photographic project composed by 15 black and white images printed on newsprint - paper which was previuosly printed on in newspapers. They depict semi-abstract images, which are close ups of walls, ceilings and floors. The fragility of the large pieces of newsprint contrast with the roughness of the images content (traces and fingerprints of women and children confined and tortured in prison).
Anyone visiting Kurdistan in springtime would find themselves surrounded by large and colourful Opium Poppy fields. The Opium Poppy is historically the flower that represents war, and is a fairly common female name in Kurdistan.
Shipwreck with spectator
San Augustine first, and later Voltaire denounced the morbid curiosity of the viewer, and the way we aestheticize other´s misfortune turning the wreck into an icon; Goethe, in the still smoking Battle of Jena remained totally silent, a silence that some called "prudence" ; Hegel thought it was possible to raise the murderous injustice of human nature to the rational level, in order to find in the wreckage of the battle, the famous reason in history; Schopenhauer thought, however, that the vision of such unhappiness could lead to the expression of the sublime; closer to our days, Burckhardt saw in this situation the more radical token of the possibility of history as knowledge: "We want to know which is the wave responsible for the wreck, but we are actually that wave." It was Lucretius who invented the philosophical image of the "shipwreck with spectator"at the beginning of his second book De Rerum Natura. At the scene of shipwreck and the sublime, the viewer has no real experience of evil and so feels pleasure and joy. He just gets ust exactly one simulacrum, the image of someone who is agitated and in whose figure it would be indifferent to recognize oneself.
Shipwreck with Spectator is a piece made through three different space and time stages: the original drama play from the 60´s, the performance made in Iraq, and the instalation an the gallery space:
First Taken the drama play “Offending the Audience", written by the Austrian author Petre Handke in 1966 as an historical reference of metalinguistic work on theatricality and representation. Often considered an anti-play due to its theatricality denial, Offending the Audience is a play with no plot. No story is being told at all. Instead, the audience is made aware that what they see is not a representation of anything else, but a literal fact. The actors continuously repeat the point that this is not a play, and that nothing theatrical will happen on scene.
Second Beign aware, as observers, of how their agency as subjects is taken away by western mass media imaginery, a volunteer group of students from Halabja Art Institute (Iraqi Kurdistan) performed for the camera a free reading and interpreting exercise of the play (Offending the Audience) in their native Kurdish. This actions were documented with video and photography.
Third The final presentation of the work, answers, as every choice made during the process, to a reflection on the paradigms that constitute the regulatory and representational contemporary frameworks: the concealment / deprivation and the replacement / substitution of a reference / subject .
Following the history of representation
“Following the history of representation” is a photographic project that consists in a series of 15 large format portraits. The project is part of the body of work made by the artist in Halabja, the city of Iraqui Kurdistan bombed by Sadam Hussein in 1988, and where the artist has been visiting and teaching from 2008 to 2010. “Following the history of representation” challenges the artist as well as her camera presence within the depicted context. Setting a postcolonial point of view, the work questions our glance and the classical canons of feminity shown by colonial pictures.
La nuit américaine
The group of images that conform the project La Nuit Americaine, come as a result of the several trips the artist did to the Iraqui city of Halabja, during 2008 and 2009. Located in the Iraqui Kurdistan, border with Iran, Halabja suffered a chemical attack commanded by Saddam Hussein in 1988. During the attack, over 5.000 people were killed in about 4 hours. In 1973 François Truffaut shot a film entitled The American Night. The movie takes as a reference the cinematographic technique of simulated night, also called Day for Night or Night Effect. The film analyzes up to which point a pretence might become more real than the reality itself for those who are playing it. Based on the metaphor of the long night as the tragical situation Iraq is suffering, this project avoids the cliched images of war during the day. On the contrary it is focused on silent night situations that depict Iraq social reality, in a respectfull and non spectacular manner. The romantic and precise lighting speaks indirectly about a very different situation to which we are used to receive. The fact that the exposures are so long and at night involve the unprotected presence of the photographer, a hiden fact that reinforces the critic against massmedia manipulation.
Poétique de la disaparition
Tortured, repressed, violated and manipulated all over this conflictive planet, the body irrefutably becomes transformed from a mere object to an everlasting bearer of speech. The very “speech of speech” urges us to speak instead of speaking about it, speak right up and out loud, speak against it, speak for it, let it speak. This is how French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy describes the sensorial and expressive omnipotence of the body in its interference with the external world, and this is how the body emerges in the work of Ixone Sábada, a young visual artist, performer and photographer based in Bilbao, Spain.
Sábada first gained notoriety in 2003 with “Ciceron”, a series of site-specific twin apparitions of herself. Further notable projects were to come in the following years. “Leviathan” (2007) suggested life’s conspicuousness in its absence from the devastated hurricane landscapes of the American West, and “Expulsion from Paradise” (2006) established duality as one of the artist’s recurrent motifs. Contrariwise, “Poètique de la Desaparition” shifts away from the clear filmic narrative construction of her previous series, in favour of a markedly abstract and introspective approach that pushes the whole work to its limits, both formally and conceptually. To use Sábada’s own words, “my new series does so much more than just bringing up a more complex, mature and tough vision of the body. It pushes the very same photographic image and all the meanings it carries towards full deconstruction”.
In the series, Sádaba, the ever performer, recurs once more to her own body to negotiate the idea of a naked body that is and is not. Somewhere before the final departure, the self and its alter ego, present or implicit in many of her previous oeuvres, are fused into one. A fading “me” emerges before our eyes, under the most tense and dramatic physical conditions. Multiple exposures and a body which cries, laughs, begs, enjoys -one and all at once- on the verge of hysteria and collapse…
Alarming and discomforting, Sádaba’s posture arguably serves as a metaphor for the condition of total expropriation, destruction and nihilism the body is subjected to today, as much as it brings into the foreground the existential right of not to be, in terms of placing oneself -in this case, Sádaba and her female being- within an alternative non-space that lies beyond codified language, politics and culture.
Sádaba’s discourse displays great affinities with the Lacanian view of femininity as a state of negativity existing outside the hermetically constructed male world. Such an interpretation allows a feminist reading of her work that the artist herself fully welcomes. “I am not a feminist in the strict sense of the term”, she explains, “but I happen to be a woman who works in a very close relationship with her body. In various occasions, I have had to reflect on how this is to be represented and where I place myself at the time of representation”.
“We perceive our bodies as the most common thing in the world, but has it ever occurred to us how socially limited the margins outside exhibitionism for a sustained engagement with the body are?” wonders Sádaba. For her, exposing one’s own body and self, speaking volumes through it, implies a fundamental political attitude as the most unmediated way to express identity. In her own words, “I try to explain that my body is face and hands, but it is also butt and vagina. I do not tend to show it off if I do not consider it essential, but if I reflect exactly on this -the body, its representation and signs- I am sorry but I just have to do it”.
“Poètique de la Desaparition” was originally performed before the camera as an unpremeditated response of personal exorcism. Yet, it could not have resulted less political. Just the presence of a suffering naked female body between the sheets of a double bed makes up for the absence of the politically and socially charged landscapes of Sádaba’s previous oeuvres. The political statement running through all this self-exposure is too explicit…
Somewhere between the material and spiritual realms, being becomes no-being, and so does representation. In Sádaba’s visceral response, movement, feeling and time are employed as tools for a wide-ranging critical analysis and formal deconstruction of the granted space that defines the photographic frame, rendering obsolete devices such as the unique still image, the representation space and the frozen time. Why all this? Is something wrong with photography, as we knew it? “To my point of view”, she explains, “the slavish dependency of photography on documentary has kept it aloof from art for such a long time that it has wasted too many of its possibilities on a conceptual level”. There is still too much purism left, there is still too much of this vain discourse of representation going on and it is a pity and it is unfair. Is there actually anything that is not representation?”
Ixone Sádaba brings an extraordinary fresh approach to the notion of time and the transcendence of the photographic medium. One of the most interesting elements in her work is the way she incessantly integrates movement, real time and performance into the still frame, as if she wished to show the movement and perturbation constantly present below the skin. Repetition, rhythm and eclipse… So many bodies, so many expressive possibilities; as if time were dilated into many parallel moments; as if time were comprised not from a unique moment but from millions of afters and befores within an eternal present in an infinite emotional and conceptual expansion.
“I have to say I don’t like Cartier Bresson. I don’t believe in the instant”, Sádaba once declared. “But I do believe in an event’s capacity to generate a different tempo, in which our perception contracts and expands”. What does narrative matter then, when everything is here, in the veins that enclose our blood, in the flesh that echoes the palpitations of our heart? Within one single frame, the manipulation of time creates a bridge between material and spiritual means, a spiral emanation of life in all its million possibilities.
An uncanny, magical process helps the body finally come to terms with itself. Body moving, body protesting, body breathing in La Poètique de la Desaparition…
View of the exhibition at the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum
1. Marine beast of the Old Testament, usually associated with Satan.
2. Best known book of the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, written in 1651.
In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of societies and legitimate governements. In the natural condition of mankind, the state of nature, while some men maybe stronger or more intelligent than others, none is so strong and smart as to be beyond a fear of violent death. As in the state of nature, each of us has a right, or license, to everything in the world. Formed this way the state and the law, the social contract would respond to an urgent need to live without a fear. As the social contract was made to institute a state that would provide for the “peace and defense” of the people, the contract would become void if the government no longer protects its citizens.
Leviathan is the result of a one month trip around the U.S Midwest, during the severe weather season. It is a reflection about occident, about postmodern politics and the fear to violent death. From the desert in New Mexico, and the vast areas of Texas, Kansas and Nebraska, to the Indian grasslands of both Dakotas. Five weeks of motels and gas stations, of infinite roads and fast food looking for the Tornado to shoot.
Sometimes one cries in America because there is no reason in miles around not to cry.