Mario Asef‘s public interventions, photographs, videos, soundscapes and installations focus on the legibility of urban space and architecture within a specific sociocultural and historic context.
Seeking to explore intimate socio-critical and political aspects of forms, the artist constructs a narrative system, a thought experiment that aims to produce an unpredictable effect - a moment of logical absurdity - creating a fiction of the real. He is a precise and yet poetic recorder of the fleeting and the mundane. His work emphasizes, in an unpretentious way, moments of displacement and the disappearance of space and time. In a subversive and humorous way, Mario Asef manages to breach the rules of the every day life. Like a researcher he explores, by way of different mediums, the interdisciplinary construct of public spaces and public life.
The video installation, “Three Anachronisms,” is a trilogy produced between 2010 and 2014 by Mario Asef, in which the artist reflects on three aspects of the constitution of reality. 1. The appropriation and structure of space. 2. The construction of time. 3. The relationship among information, nature and culture. This trilogy, however, is not a philosophical treatise showing the functioning of these categories. Rather, the reality that Asef observes is constituted by deficiencies in three different orders: paradox, coincidence and failure.The urge to wonder about reality occurs in advance, in the formal aspects of the work. Similar to a documentary, Asef dispenses with the staging. The facts are distant so that the artist can modify them directly. The fixed camera and the presence of common places (the terrace, the museum, the plaza), confirm that here the camera is negotiating with what is put in charge without preamble. The presence of a theoretical body, which is the basis for his work, the constant readings of sociological, philosophical and archaeological theories, construct the objectivist building from which Asef casts on reality.
The exhibit’s title reveals that the work is composed of three parts and in turn indicates how the parts relate to each other. Although the three videos were produced over a continuous period of time, the relationship among them is neither temporal nor spatial. Like a medieval altar with its wings unfurled, where each part of the triptych represents different events occurring in different spaces and times, building a narrative that links different events, so do Asef’s videos present singular facts. On the whole, however, the trilogy builds a representation of the events of Asef’s research (social reality as a construct). The variety of approaches, contexts and reflections come to change and destabilize reality itself, exposing its shortcomings.
However, Asef demonstrates, this building is full of cracks and at risk of collapse: reality and objectivity come to be refuted from the realm of words. With the use of language, Asef separates the image from his documentary content and purpose. In each of the videos, the text does not run as a subtitle, but as the title, positioned in the center of the image itself, breaking the hegemony, enthroned in the middle of our field of vision.
While the use of textual-visuals make the ground of the building tremble, irony – an important feature in Asef’s work – completely destroys this building. Heir to the Argentine literary tradition, where the derision on reality allows hyper-real worlds to open that never stop reproducing themselves (Cortazar and Borges), Asef destabilizes images, concepts and categories with which we build the platforms to travel reality. To provoke laughter, Asef allows us to enter a new order of the visual and begin to think the unthinkable.
I often think that there is no explanation needed to understand the very essence of the real. Its inconsistency. Its sharpness. In this way working with language presents a struggle. Language is uncomfortable terrain for expresing ideas beyond that terrain. However the deft use of language can be a strong instrument for mastering reality. Language is a tool, which allows us to navigate the real world.
”Objekte sind operationale Relationen im Prozess des Sprachhandelns” (Objects are operational relations within the process of verbal activity) is the title of my exhibition at the Maniere Noire Berlin. We enter the exhibition space and see to our left a sentence painted on the wall with a brush that reads: “Der Boden der tatsachen ist ein Spinnennetz” (The ground of facts is a spider web). We can compare the relational structure of the consistency of our truths to nets made of thin threads connecting the facts that support our reality. We walk on safe ground, when we move from fact to fact, we might think. But it is fragile ground constructed of words and symbols; a text; the narrative that built our reality. The gaps between those symbols however are what becomes relevant here. We are confronted with a kind of perforated reality which we move though ignoring the openings.
There is a fan plugged in on the same wall. It is on and the wind it’s producing is strong.
On the opposite wall we read: “Eine These ist ein japanischer Garten” (A thesis is a Japanese garden). So the land we are walking on is drawing us through a pathway especially designed to show us a specific articulation of the space that is equal to the linguistic articulation of our thoughts. Meaning: A thesis is a spatial/linguistic articulation of some truths. And of course our truth is the consistency we build between the physical and the mental world. The path is our truth: the narrative through which we see the world.
On this wall another identical fan is blowing wind in the opposite direction. Our hair swirls…
Is this a visual symmetry built out of asymmetrical assertions? A garden, a thesis, a spider web, the ground of facts; these terms are scattered throughout the space.
A framed drawing is hanging on a third grey wall. The drawing shows four interconnected equations as follows: “an image is a diagram – a diagram is a narrative – a narrative is a machine – a machine is an image” There lines connect inter-equational terms. We speculate on the legitimacy of those equations until we realize they function as a way of defining their own function within the drawing. Meaning; the drawing is defining itself. The drawing itself is an image that is a diagram and a narrative and a machine at once. The work becomes self-referential.
Lines, pathways and spider webs form the narrative of our physical and mental reality. On this aspect of the exhibition Ernesto Estrella asked: “what does a line think?” He has previously discussed the issue of “…where the line appears…” and that it “… seems to have the function of bringing back language a little closer to its materiality, even to remind those inked decisions that there is a void around them, that “…Those lines need to be handled with care, and cannot always be trusted. So the best thing we can do is to approach the ear, the eye, and ask them what they are thinking in there. For there will be no better clues for understanding and enjoying the unbalanced garden they are part of.”
In Jorge Luis Borges tale “The Disk” an old man asks a woodcutter for asylum. He said he was the king of the Secgens, of the Odin people, and had lost his kingdom. He said he would prove it. Then he opened his hand to show something to the woodcutter who, seeing nothing, touched it and felt something cold and saw it glitter. ”It is the disk of Odin,” the old man said in a patient voice, as though he were speaking to a child. “It has but one side. There is not another thing on earth that has but one side. So long as I hold it in my hand I shall be king.“ I may add: …not even a drawing.
It becomes evident that the show is centered on the interface and the interconnection between words-images-objects. Each work defines itself while defining this relationship. So, for example, the invitation card for the exhibition with the title tells us what is actually happening in the space: Objects are operational relations within the process of verbal activity.
As Humberto Maturana notes: “there are no objects outside the field of language”. So Henri Lefebvre’s idea that our cities are texts within which we are moving around is not a metaphor but a fact. And yet they are more than just texts. Urban landscapes respond to a narrative, which we are supposed to interact with. And so we do.
The Mystery and the Wonder almost follows the lead of visualising a long lost space. By presenting the Zenon paradox of the ancient hero Achilles and the turtle, Asef re-narrates the disappearance of the city of Byzantium. The paradox describes a race between the two, which end in the infinity of algebraic analysis. This textual work is confronted with the legend of the history of the palace Dolmabahçe in Istanbul –a building formed from the immaterial, whose factoring was based on the Sultans order to print more money, because the financial capacity of the city has already been exhausted.
The Mystery of Achilles
The city of Byzantium, founded by Greek colonists in the 7th century BC was to form the nucleus of one of the greatest centre of civilization in the history of mankind.
The ancient authors refer to a number of important buildings but their form and location remain unspecified. According to them the city house the famous Baths of Achilles, located immediately adjacent to the Strategion.
In the Zenon paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, we imagine the Greek hero Achilles in a footrace with the plodding reptile. Because he is such a fast runner, Achilles graciously allows the tortoise a head start of a 100 feet. The tortoise runs in 1sec time 1/10 of the distance Achilles do. So, the footrace stars and Achilles runs the 100 feet. In this time the tortoise runs 10 feet. Achilles runs that 10 feet and the tortoise runs 1 feet. Achilles runs that feet and the tortoise 0.1 feet and so on never-ending. Achilles can never overtake the tortoise.
We have to remark that, to make this footrace possible, the participants have to reduce their own size becoming smaller and smaller until de-materializing themselves.
It is told that up to this days Achilles is still running his footrace against the tortoise in an endlessly small Byzantium.
The Wonder of Dolmabahçe
The famous painter Melling visited Istanbul during the reign of Sultan Mahmut II and the wooden palace is represented in many of his prints. After Mahmut II, Sultan Abdülmecit came to stay at the palace. He ordered to be rebuilt in a western fashion between 1843 and 1856. For this purpose Abdülmecit took a credit of 3.500 Kurus, enough to buy paper and ink to print 3.500.000 Kurus to pay the built of the palace.
Dolmabahçe actually means ‘the filled garden’. The Palace is built on land reclaimed from the Bosphorus, hence its name and its materialization appears from the abstract world of infinit numbers became money and transferred into stones and handcraft to finally built a building in our presence.
EMPIRIEN is a series of interventions in public space (1998-2006) that work with the transposition of signs as an idea of reorganizing elements of our urban surroundings. These interventions are reduced to almost imperceptible events that through a redefinition, or reconstruction, of everyday space try to make visible different social mechanisms.
Without previous notice objects will be shifted and replaced in public and semi-public spaces. The users of those places take the initiative and reestablish the ‘normal’ everyday order of things and thereby go about dismantling the interventions.
X Ferry Bus Station, Hong Kong Central / Materials: twenty-five meters of thread /
In the Lorentz transformation, if the X´-axis opposite the X-axis is rotated around the zero point “0,” all points of the X´-axis (except 0‘) vanish from the observer’s experiential realm in reference system S into the fourth dimension. This seems to contradict all normative experience.
One must imagine, however, that one X‘ -axis passes through each point of the X-axis. This means: we must imagine a plane in Minkowski space that is densely filled with X‘ -axes. Each of these comes from another time and is present simultaneously—even when an observer in S discerns just one point of each axis, namely the one point located on his own X-axis.
Brownie Ranch Balzac Coffee, Berlin / Materials: 10800 cm3 of brownies /
After arriving in Berlin in 2000, I began working at a bakery where I specialized in making brownies. At that time, I developed a system of cutting brownie sections in the baking pan that represented the proportions of a primitive hut in 1:50 scale.
I assembled the prototype only once in the bakery, later offering the pieces for sale.
Europe Towers Bausch & Lomb storage, Walldorf / Materials: six pallets of ninety-one boxes each; Lot N* 800523/547 /
Over the course of two workdays, I restacked 546 boxes of optical medical products from DIN pallets onto Euro pallets. The boxes were stacked according to a system similar to the distribution of housing units in high-rise apartment buildings, which allowed the same quantity of boxes to be stacked on the smaller Euro pallets, while making them more stable at the same time.
Two days later the Europe Towers were dispatched to Holland together with the rest of the stock.
Jobcenter Arbeitsamt Südwest, Berlin / Materials: one piece of furniture /
In a job-center in Berlin, a temporary ramp had been installed to transport files between the first floor and the basement. While waiting for a work permit, I moved part of the ramp to a corridor in the basement.
Sleeping Policeman and a Hole US-military base, Heidelberg-Pfaffengrund / Materials: approx. 0.98 m3 earth /
Much has been written on the history of metaphors. Little is known about their materialization. There are objects in this world for which one prefers to use metaphors, since their true meaning extends beyond the functions or physical outline that they describe.
I dug a hole on the property of the US military airport in Heidelberg (Germany). The earth was placed on a bike path on German territory and served as a bump for reducing bicycle speed.
Fragile – handle with care / appropriation / Covent Garden, London / Materials: nine cardboard boxes /
On the evening of February 21, 2004, nine cardboard boxes intended as improvised accommodations were set up in front of the Covent Garden Theater Museum in London. The morning after, the camera recorded how the homeless had appropriated the intervention.
A street artist performed a comedy in front of it.
Mudança* Eixo Monumental Via N1 Oeste, Brasilia, Brazil / Materials: forty-eight meters of rope + one sign
* to move, relocation; change (Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in his first official speech as president of Brazil on January 1, 2003.)
Farmers belonging to the Movimento sem Terra (Movement of Landless People) of Brazil took over state land on April 22 in the satellite city of São Sebastião, near the capital city of Brasilia. By the time I arrived, people were already demarcating property lines and clearing the lots.
Take your Time Long Tsai Tsuen, Hung Shing Yeng, Lamma Island, Hong Kong / Materials: six dustbins
Lü Dong Bin, one of eight immortal Taoists, is believed to have lived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). One time while traveling, as he waited for his porridge in an inn, he fell asleep and saw his future life before him. When Lü Dong Bin awoke, eighteen years had past and he decided to live as a hermit.
Fox fur / donation / Museum of Natural History, Berlin / Materials: one fox fur
On March 11, 2000, I bought a fox fur. I kept it and took care of it in my apartment. On July 1, 2001, I donated the fur to the Museum of Natural History, Berlin. The museum administration was not interested in keeping the specimen.
Hröns Tieckstrasse 5, Berlin / Materials: three plastic chests + three wooden chests /
According to Jorge Luis Borges (in his story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius), certain objects exist in the utopian land of Tlön that are merely projections of human will. For example, if somebody has lost a jewel box and several people go searching for it, it is possible that each person will find the box, but in different places. This implies a multiplication of the object. Such multiplied objects are called hrönirs and are characterized by a peculiar, barely noticeable deformation that distinguishes them from the original. If a hrönir is lost, and its duplicate then found, one will notice an even stronger transformation due to the function of human memory. Such objects are called hröns.
One could hypothesize that the entire variety of objects that make up our cosmos come from ONE original object that has been modified and multiplied by the projection of human will throughout the centuries.
Neolithic Hagar Qim Temple, Malta / Materials: one rope + two racks /
On the island of Malta, a rope and two racks were placed in front of the archeological site of Hagar Qim. These framed two stones coincidentally situated in front of the temple entrance.
Mekka St. Clement Danes, Central Church of the Royal Air Force, London / Materials: one carpet /
In Whitechapel, London, I bought an oriental carpet in an Arabian bazaar. Lost in the labyrinth of the city, I embarked on a pilgrimage for hours in the opposite direction of Mecca, finally placing the carpet at the St. Clement Danes, Central Church of the Royal Air Force.
Bastón / donation / Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin / Materials: one walking stick /
On January 21, 1999, I bought a walking stick and carried it around with me for some time. Years later, I donated the walking stick to the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum of Contemporary Art, Berlin. The museum administration was not interested in keeping the exhibit.
Popular Volkshochschule Mitte, Berlin / Materials: ten tables /
Since Pyrrho claimed there is no truth to the reality of sensorial things, the legend circulated that he would not avoid things standing in his way or horses or wagons approaching him, or he would even walk into walls in the conviction there is nothing consistent about sensorial perceptions. Only his friends, it is said, prevented and saved him from all sorts of foolhardy collisions.
„Wir werden zur Beobachtern, indem wir rekursiv Repräsentationen unserer Interaktionen erzeugen. Dadurch, daß wir mit mehreren Repräsentationen gleichzeitig interargieren, erzeugen wir Relationen, mit deren Repräsentationen wir sodann integrieren können. Diesen Prozess können wir rekursiv wiederholen, verbleiben damit aber immer in einem Interaktionsbereich, der größer ist als der Bereich der Repräsentationen.“2
Para el biólogo chileno Humberto R. Maturana la función esencial que poseen la descripciones es nada menos que la de crear un ‚medio’ por el cual interactuamos con nuestro entorno – ya sea natural o social.
Los seres humanos somos seres racionales que utilizamos el lenguaje para interactuar con el mundo. Es decir que antes de poder establecer una relación con el mundo o con ‚el otro’ necesitamos describirlo, representarlo. De esta forma objetivisamos lo ajeno y lo hacemos a la vez propio para poder manipularlo, para establecer un dialogo, para incorporarnos al mundo. Pero según Maturana no estamos solos en este proceso, todo ser vivo requiere de descripciones para interactuar con su entorno. „Lebende Systeme sind kognitive Systeme, und Leben als Prozess ist ein Prozess der Kognition“3 y mas adelante „ Die Sprache ist die kognitive Bereich des Menschen“4
Vivimos en un medioambiente rodeados de seres vivos que apreciamos y describimos cognitivamente y a su vez somos una descripción de estos seres vivos a través de la cual ellos se comunican con nosotros. Esta interacción es esencial para nuestra supervivencia y es el soporte en el cual nos movemos para realizar nuestro encuentro con el mundo. Esta es la condición ineludible del estar-en-el-mundo.
Pero qué es exactamente esa descripción? Yo la entiendo como una suma de lenguajes que no solo se reduce al lenguaje verbal sino que también es parte esencial del lenguaje gestual, estético, legal / jurídico, político, económico, socia y cultural. Todos estos son niveles descriptivos y son por lo tanto niveles de representación con los cuales interactuamos pero también ‚a través’ de los cuales interactuamos con el entorno. Esta compleja construcción de interrelaciones entre descripciones de las distintas áreas de nuestro entorno y las interrelaciones entre éstas y el entorno físico en las que se implantan es lo que llamamos mundo. Nuestro mundo por consiguiente es una descripción del mundo. Es la ‘idea‘ que nos hemos hecho del mundo. Aunque no debemos entender a esta ‘idea‘ como algo ajeno a nosotros, sino que es el producto de la interrelación entre nuestro entorno y nosotros mismos y está afectada tanto por los estímulos sensoriales como conceptos socio-culturales preconcebidos y las experiencias individuales de cada uno de nosotros. La ‘idea‘ no es algo rígido o perpetuo sino que evoluciona. A medida que a través de nuestras interacciones se transforma también nuestro entorno, nuestra descripción del entorno se transforma con él. De esta manera cada área de descripción posee una historia que es la misma historia que estudiamos en nuestras instituciones académicas para ‚entender’ el estado actual de nuestro entender.
Una descripción es un substituto, un guante con el que tocamos las cosas, un instrumento. „Wir bringen die Welt hervor, die wir leben.“5 Lo paradójico es que solo seamos capaces de interactuar con el mundo interactuando con la descripción del mundo. Hemos descubierto a través de los siglos que una descripción, una idea, un concepto, una representación, no está meramente atada a su ‚objeto’ referencial sino que puede independizarse y evolucionar en niveles que llamamos ‚abstractos’ y que están aparentemente desliados de lo que llamamos ‚realidad’. Es de este modo que nos vemos forzados a crear descripciones para interactuar con nuestras descripciones generando una nueva dinámica evolutiva que afecta a la vez la producción y evolución de descripciones en otras áreas de nuestra existencia. Así es como una descripción puede alterar el modo de interactuar con ciertas áreas o niveles de nuestro entorno, alterando a veces de manera drástica las jerarquías de interacción perdiendo de esta forma la noción objetiva de si mismo y provocando una situación donde el ser humano es siempre sujeto y su entorno es siempre objeto. Es decir, donde la manipulación se da siempre en un sentido. Entonces; „Durch Vermengung der Bezugssysteme und dadurch, daß in einem Bereich mit Relationen argumentiert wird, die für ein anderen (Bereich) gelten, läßt sich alles rechtfertigen.“6
Terminamos desenvolviéndonos en una construcción de descripciones de diferentes grados evolucionando ya casi paralelamente al mundo natural que hemos re-construido a imagen y semejanza de nuestras descripciones.
No hay tarea mas ambiciosa y necesaria que la de definir /describir al otro y al mundo. Pero todo acto de descripción implica de por sí un acto de poder. Un intento de supeditar al otro bajo las leyes propias que definen ‘nuestro’ mundo y que nos sitúan en su epicentro. Las descripciones que privilegian nuestros intereses por sobre los intereses del otro – sea un grupo social o un grupo de seres vivientes – y que pueden ser negociadas o bien impuestas. El que define al mundo, el que describe la realidad, decide las normas, clasifica lo bueno y lo malo, juzga los actos y situaciones y ordena las cosas y seres que pueblan la ‘realidad‘. Allí radica la esencia del poder artístico, filosófico y político.
En Alemán: * Descripciones
Humberto R. Maturana, „Biologie der Realität“, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 1502, Frankfurt am Main 1998, Alemania. Página 33: „ Devenimos en observadores en el mismo instante en el cual generamos recursivamente representaciones de nuestras interacciones. Y por tanto que interactuamos al mismo tiempo con varias representaciones, establecemos relaciones entre ellas con las cuales podemos interactuar a través de otras representaciones. Podemos repetir este proceso recursivamente pero nos quedamos siempre en el mismo nivel de interacción que es a su vez mayor que el nivel de sus representaciones.“
Idem; página 32: „Los sistemas vivientes son sistemas cognitivos y la vida como proceso es un proceso cognitivo.“
Idem; página 201: „ El lenguaje es el área cognitiva del ser humano.“
Idem; página 20: „ Nosotros creamos el mundo en que vivimos.“
Idem; página 92: „ Por medio de la multiplicación de los sistemas de referencia y debido a que en un area se argumenta con relaciones que son válidas en otras areas es posible justificar todo.“
Language is not a welcoming land, as much as we tend to forget about it in daily communication. Reality is also not a welcoming machinery, though it seems that we have grown used to its rusty hinges. Mario Asef’s work detains both language and reality (the cultural engine that produces it) with a minimal intervention that modifies their landscape. He respects the structural elements of language or cultural situations, he studies them. And then he introduces a slight modification that provokes a twist, a bristle that detains some elements of our cultural structure in an unexpected angle. Finally, he puts them back to roll into the structure, now affected and changed, and, most of all, exposed to our perception. The ground of facts is a spiderweb (Der Boden der Tatsachen ist ein Spinnennetz), we read in one of his statements, which could easily be understood under the logic of the aphorism. Common sense is a fragile territory, and our security cannot be anymore established in the ground of facts. Language also abandons part of its power here, and there is rarely a statement in Mario Asef’s work that is not slightly touched, brought back from its bombastic character into a natural move. This is also a general trait of his work. Again, something is modified, and our perception and thought are affected, but this is done elegantly. A scarce or apparently casual line drawn there where you would not need it or expect it, can be enough sometimes. In Asef’s pieces danger is not in tragic and dramatic exposures. It lies right before us, in a very small margin that has been taken out or changed.
A thesis is a Japanese Garden (Eine These ist ein japanischer Garden) says the writing on the opposite wall. It would actually be a relief to think that we can bring our walk through the garden to a memorable ending, the hill that offers us the harmonious view of our thoughts and actions. And we might need indeed a breath into this fragile (or solid sometimes) phantasy before going down back to the garden. This closeness and return to the material is a recurrent question in Asef’s work. Be it a brick, a cake, debris, a lottery poster or the ink of words on the page, the materiality of thought is always perceived. Thus, there is never a two-dimensional experience, space, even in a small caress of volume is present. And this is especially striking in his statements, where language thinks (as it happens with the aphorism) within a very small margin of space and through very few elements. But the weight of the word on the white page (which could turn this kind of writing into visual poetry or slogans) is too much, it unbalances sensitivity. And there is where the line appears. It is never a decoration, and its relation to the words is not clearly stated. But it seems to have the function of bringing back language a little closer to its materiality, even to remind this inked decisions that there is a void around them. Casual, programatic, or even ironic or playful sometimes, the lines that appear in Asef’s work create a relational tension that incorporates language but also goes beyond it. Those lines need to be handled with care, and cannot always be trusted. So the best thing we can do is to approach the ear, the eye, and ask them what are they thinking in there. For there will be no better clue to understand and enjoy the unbalanced garden they are part of.
Ernesto Estrella Cózar is an educator, poet, and musician born in Granada who has lived in New York between 2000-2012. He completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University, and between 2007 and 2011 he was assistant professor of Contemporary Poetry at Yale University’s Spanish and Portuguese department. Since the spring of 2012 he has turned to Berlin as a second base for his artistic and academic work. As a musician, he concentrates on the voice’s potential to explore the poetic process through sound. In this vein, he has created a wide array of performances that have been presented at international festivals in Argentina, Uruguay, Austria, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Russia, Finland, Latvia and the U.S. Since his arrival to Berlin, he has been teaching seminars at Potsdam University. Moreover, in 2014 he launched The Voice Observatory, along with sound and conceptual artists Mario Asef and Brandon LaBelle. Funded by Berlin’s Senate, this laboratory of investigation offers regular seminars, workshops and performances related to the voice in its acoustic, communicative, performative, and socio-political dimensions. Most recently, his work in cultural management and civic education has led to the creation of the Nomadic School of the Senses.
The gravity of every science lies in the rigorous implementation of its logic. Its principles of verification are inevitably self-referential. This can attest to at least one thing: our existence is the verification of the existence of the cosmos. The scientist’s work could then be equated to that of the translator as he attempts, through his own codes, to unveil the message of the foreign language. For the scientist, however, the foreign language is unknown.
We have learned that deception, dreams and illusions are as fundamental as algebra, machines or the Euclidean space. Since there is no mathematic description of death, someone proposed its nonexistence. Only the fear of death exists, which is even more terrible. The dread of the abyss is the same as that of the unknown.
We have fragmented time into equal numeric portions, dividing the Earth’s movements. We have numbered the beat that determines the rhythm of our bustle. But the most accurate representation of time occurs in death and in the process of organic decomposition –in the constant reproduction and decay of our cells. Time is matter’s internal motor.
There is no fiercer fight than the one against time, even though our defeat is inevitable. Only the sturdiest things persist the passage of time. All the objects filling our museums have been forged through violence, by means of strikes. Like the statue cast in massive granite of King Amenemhet III, they sculpted into his face the features of his successor,thus erasing him from the future. There in lies his real death –we look at the features of one, trying to discern the presence of the other.
True brilliance lies in the unknown, invisible to our eyes but perceptible through our body. If King Amenemhet III could see through his stone eyes, his perception of us, the viewer, would be unrecognizable, even unto ourselves.
Translated into English by Paz Ponce Perez-Bustamante and Heba Amin
– versión original en español –
La gravedad de toda ciencia radica en la implementación rigurosa de su lógica. Su principio de comprobación de la verdad es inevitablemente autorreferencial. Toda autorreferencialidad puede atestiguar al menos una cosa: nuestra existencia es la comprobación de la existencia del cosmos. La labor del científico se podría entonces equiparar a la de un traductor que intenta expresar en los códigos del lenguaje propio el mensaje del lenguaje ajeno; solo que para el científico el lenguaje ajeno es desconocido…
Hemos aprendido que el engaño, el sueño y la ilusión son tan cotidianos como el álgebra, la máquina y el espacio euclidiano. Y ya que no existe una descripción matemática de la muerte alguien propuso que la muerte no existe, solo existe el temor a la muerte que es mucho mas terrible. El terror al abismo es el mismo que al de las cosas ocultas.
Hemos fragmentado al tiempo en porciones numéricas iguales que dividen los movimientos de la tierra. Hemos numerado el compás que marca el ritmo de nuestro trajinar. Pero la representación mas fiel del tiempo se da en la muerte y en los proceso de descomposición orgánica – en la constante reproducción y muerte de nuestras células. El tiempo es el motor interno de la materia. No hay lucha mas feroz que la que establecemos para pretender vencer al tiempo. Aunque solo nos quede la derrota. Solo las cosas robustas subsisten el paso del tiempo. Todos estos objetos que llenan nuestros museos han sido forjados con violencia; a fuerza de golpes. Como la estatua de granito macizo del rey Amenemhet III. Le esculpieron sobre su rostro los rasgos de su sucesor y lo borraron así del futuro. Allí radicó su muerte verdadera. Ahora buscamos en los rasgos de uno la presencia del otro.
El brillo verdadero está en lo desconocido. Lo invisible a nuestros ojos pero audible através de nuestros huesos. En el pensar por ejemplo, que el espíritu del rey Amenemhet III nos mira a través de sus ojos de piedra y lo que él ve es irreconocible aún para nosotros mismos.
The arrival of Europeans in the Americas was an event that would irrevocably change the course of history of mankind. By the time the first explorers had landed, an invasion of the continent had already become inevitable. For sixteenth century Europeans, South America became a screen onto which they could project their fantasies of discovering a new Eden. Many of them lost their lives in pursuit of this illusion, while many Native Americans lost theirs in a struggle to defend their way of life. One man’s dream is another man’s nightmare.
In the early twentieth century, the accidental arrival of a species of ant in Europe drastically modified the coastal environment of the European Mediterranean. Shiploads of Argentinean grain, sugar and wood exported to Europe brought with them the species Linepithema Humile, also known as the Argentine ant. This ant is notorious not only for its exceptional reproductive capacity, but also as an invader that kills and enslaves other native species. From Genoa to the Atlantic coast of Portugal, a stretch of nearly 5,600 kilometres along the Mediterranean coast, there exists a so-called “super-colony” of the Argentine ant.
Since the middle ages Europeans apparently developed a certain “shock and awe” war strategy: an astonishing brutal attack in order to break down the fight spirit of the opponent. The “Hun Speech” of Wilhelm II for example, addressed to the German troops led to the violent suppression of the Boxer rebellion in China in 1900 with the purpose of clearing the way for the German culture once and for all: “No quarter will be given! No prisoners will be taken!“
The Argentine ants are very aggressive and due to their quantity take other ant species without difficulty, even ants that are much larger. Argentine ants are unremorseful and brutally attack their adversaries until the enemy colony is destroyed. Even a nest of killer bees would probably not be able to counter against an invasion of Argentine ants. They also attack bird nests, driving off the mother bird and killing the young.
In the early phase of the invasion of South America the Europeans were friendly and cooperative to each other. But as soon as the continent was under control, the different European nationalities started to fight each other. Since the nineteenth century national associations of immigrants in Argentina strained to soften the process of adjustment. Different European communities such as the Basques, Catalans, Italians and French united in mutual aid societies and groups. The new ideas that came with the migrants from Europe led to the rise of the labour movement and allowed for the emergence of anarchism, socialism and syndicalism.
While Argentine ants from rival nests normally fight each other to death in their original habitat, Argentine ants from the super colony in Europe have the ability to recognize each other and to cooperate even if they come from nests at opposite ends of the colony’s range.
The Linepithema Humile is a polygynous and polydomous species which means that one colony can have more than one queen and several habitats. And so, when workers from different colonies meet they do not treat each other as rivals which provides the Argentine ants an evolutionary advantage over other ant species.
This drink is made from infused dried leaves of yerba mate (holly Ilex paraguariensis). The term “mate” originally referred to the drinking bowl (from the Quechuan term mati, bottle gourd), but is today used for the drink itself. Drinking mate is traditionally a social event around La Plata River. It is served with a metal straw (bombilla). When mate is drunk in a group, the same bombilla is travelling from mouth to mouth. Mate is offered to every visitor, traveller or friend as a welcoming gesture. Drinking mate is a communicative practice which offers an exchange of information among the participants.
An Argentine ant has more than one stomach. One stomach is for itself, while the other is the crop that is used to feed others. With their mouths pressed together the ants feed each other. The food comes out of one ant‘s crop and into the other ant‘s mouth. Pheromones come with the food and are exchanged as well. They keep information on needs, excitement or danger. Pheromones can also create a bond or friendship between colony members, helping them to work together.
The death of millions of indigenous people during the years of the colonization of South America and further periods of European invasion was not caused alone by physical violence. The massive death rate, which decreased the indigenous population by 90 percent, was also due to diseases like influenza and chicken pox, which came with the invaders. In addition to this, slavery was another important aspect of the high native death rate, where indigenous people died because of bad nutrition and hard labour.
The Argentine ants have made a severe impact on Europe’s ecosystems. They have conquered and monopolized the land of South European ant species because of their social rules: The Argentine ants drive out or kill the native ants of a newly invaded territory and steal seeds from their beds. As noted by Laurent Keller of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland: “Cooperation allows the colonies to develop a much higher density than that which would normally occur, eliminating some 90 percent of other types of ants that live near them”.
Human migration is often caused by extreme conditions. Migration is used as a strategy to survive or to obtain a better quality of life. This is the reason why people from areas with lower resources and higher competition emigrate to areas with higher level of resources. The majority of immigrants in Argentina came from Europe, mostly from Spain and Italy but with a substantial influx of British and Germans. Also notable are Jewish immigrants escaping persecution. The total population of Argentina rose from 4 million in 1895 to 7.9 million in 1914, and to 15.8 million in 1947.
The extreme domination of certain species within an ecosystem shows clear evidence of a system out of balance. The Argentine ant marked the ecosystem of the European Mediterranean coast to such a degree that the notion of that Area without Argentine ants influence will be inconceivable in the future. It is men who probably created the ant mega-colony by transporting the insects around the world and by continually introducing ants from three continents to each other, ensuring that the mega-colony continues to grow.
Mario Asef’s first studio visit with Node’s resident curators was, for me, one of the most motivating moments of these ultimate months. It was the last studio visit of a long rainy Berlin day. The eight of us were exhausted and immediately ‘occupied’ the green carpet of Mario’s studio. What could have been an awkward meeting (because of our tiredness), instantly turned into an extraordinarily appealing talk. Every piece of work he showed us led to a conversation about several topics, sometimes related to art, sometimes to philosophy, politics or social relations. When the visit finished most of us felt the need to somehow try to work with him. We wanted “more Asef”.
For Faraway, So Close! we selected three pieces from Mario Asef’s video series History is now: Börsianer/The Operators, Man’s on Moon, and Revolution after Revolution.
In his videos, Asef brings us back to the concept of intra-history, introduced in 1895 by the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in his book En torno al casticismo or to the most recent vision of micro-history by the Italian Carlo Ginzburg. For Asef, history should be interested in the routes whose principle leading roles are played by its peripheral actors; that is to say, the paths followed by those men who make history in an unconscious manner, by those who do not aspire to the title of heroes. The historical event is not the monumental fresco that encourages the mythification of politicians, military men and priests, the traditional heroes of history… Mario Asef decodes these concepts, recovering “micro-historical moments” (as he points out) in order to reveal the present as historically significant. Börsianer/The Operators juxtaposes the apparently sterile composure of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange with the life of homeless people from the suburbs of the city. What at first sight could be regarded as two antagonistic worlds become the two sides of the same instinct of survival. Abstract values versus reality? Civilized world versus wilderness? Every downturn of the financial market becomes crucial to our lives, as nature is experienced as an all-embracing fact and dictator of reality… like the bucolic backdrop shown through the glass of an aquarium.
Man’s on Moon looks back to 1969, when Commander Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. This scene, broadcasted to every television of the Western world, incarnated the faith of our civilization in technology and science during the Cold War era. In the same year, one of the most feared serial killers of America, Charles Manson, was arrested. His arrest marked the milestone of the end of the hippie-era, the end of Martin Luther King’s dream… In Man’s on Moon, Asef cuts together sequences from the Apollo 17 Mission and audio extracts from Charles Manson interviews, reflecting on the social dynamics that lead to an ontological discussion of truth and reality.
In the words of Asef, “when a staged revolution is part of a country’s historical reality it shapes the direction of everyday life”. Filmed in three Romanian towns (Sibiu, Pitesti and Bucharest), Revolution after Revolution examines how advertising strategies of the post-Communist era are digested as part of Romanians’ everyday lives. The modern architecture of the sixties and its dead ideology forms the background where citizens become actors (or heroes?) and revolution turns into allegory.
The illusion of security
“We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instance of death we cannot permit any deviation… we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.” George Orwell, 1984
Priorities seem clear: first learn, then understand, and finally accept. The whole purpose here is not repetitive or blind obedience but disciplined and controlled minds… George Orwell could not anticipate the economic globalization and the sophistication of information technology in the Western world, but he formed the basis for understanding some of the most serious problems we face today.
Living in a contemporary world means to be surrounded by a multiplicity of electronic devices that gradually shape new borders of our personality. We expand and consider our private space to be inside our iPhones, computers and mailboxes. This unreal and imaginary possession of information can lead to manipulations, performed not only at an individual level. In particular, the lack of corporate and governmental transparency has been a topic of much controversy in recent years, yet the only tool for encouraging greater openness is the slow, tedious process of policy reform.
The Transparency Grenade by Julian Oliver for Studio Weise 7 was the central pivot on which the exhibition in the Fichte-Bunker turned around. It represented two actions: firstly, the invention and construction of an electronic device, and secondly, a situation. The Grenade itself was a replica of Soviet F1 Hand Grenade with a different mechanism of destruction, equipped with a tiny computer, microphone and powerful wireless antenna. It was also a situation, because it made the viewer directly responsible for pulling the ripcord to detonate the Grenade in order to unmask the decision-making processes of any corporate or Governmental Institution. Email fragments, HTML pages, images will be revealed, reminding the occasional user of his weaknesses and strengths. As stated by Michel Foucault, the individual is a part of the power structure’s cogs and secures it with his own attitudes and behaviors. However, and it may seem contradictory, this power (as read in George Orwell’s1984) is omnipresent and omniscient, a power that is constantly being apprehended, but which never answers. State institutions are mechanisms that seem to obey their own laws and rules, they are bureaucratic labyrinths completely unknown by us. Thus, we find depersonalized individuals facing an apparatus against which there is no way to oppose. Numerous references were forwarded about this in Faraway, So Close! by Argentinean artist Mario Asef, especially in the video piece Börsianer / The Operators, which juxtaposed the apparently sterile composure of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange with the life of homeless people from the suburbs of the city. What at first sight could be regarded as two antithetical worlds became the two sides of the same reality. Every downturn of the financial markets becomes crucial in our own lives…
The viewer inside the Fichte-Bunker was confronted with a dystopic reality, a world not desirable, but conceivable. John Stuart Mill coined in the last years of the nineteenth century the term “dystopia” to refer to an unwanted society, opposed to utopia. Mill described an oppressive and closed-on-itself society, usually under an authoritarian government, but presented to its citizens as a utopia. George Orwell’s 1984 was one of the most refined examples of dystopia. It insisted, in a very persuasive way, on the power of technology as a basic tool for social control and the end of privacy. Orwell portrayed a society that to survive, created a perverse, permanent monitoring system from which originated an increasingly imperceptible but ever-present control, a subtle and not clearly coercive method that left citizens with the permanent doubt of whether they were being watched. It is through the uncertainty of not knowing how to maintain the subordination of being under surveillance, through a large and always-on screen, receiving and transmitting information, that individuals were handcuffed by their actions. All this, centralized by the everpresent Ministry of Truth, which was a pyramidal structure of white concrete over three hundred meters high. The Ministry of Truth acted as a vast Jeremy Bentham style panopticon that distinguished, watched and controlled all of what happened in that society.
According to Zygmunt Bauman, uncertainty about the future, the fragility of our social position and the anxiety of our own existence are persistent elements of our society. Therefore, one of the basic actions of human beings has been to preserve the order and to ensure its durability from incursions coming from the outside: an “outside” characterized by disorder and insecurity; an exterior that, in each historical moment has had different characteristics and traits, but always an enemy, an enemy that has always been the “other”. Against this “other”, that represents the fragility and the precariousness of daily life, all societies have been provided with multiple defensive tricks and tools that allow us to preserve, keep the acquired and make it our own. In this way, any risk must be eliminated in order to procure a comfortable place in a world that shows itself as threatening and hazardous. Uncertainty and confusion have increased with the rapid changes in recent decades of new information technologies and globalization. Cities, urban areas and transport are no longer safe places and have become a major cause of worry and insecurity. Now spatial structures conceived to isolate, exclude, reject, resist, camouflage, and absorb have been encouraged.
The need and desire to feel safe in today’s world has become a handy justification for the implementation of measures that threaten the foundations of democracy and social life. It is odd that cities had never before counted on so many security measures, but never before the feeling of insecurity has been so present. Agreements have been made, according to city planner Peter Marcuse , in order to promote the physical 1 “bunkerization” of space (controlled indoors, such as shopping malls or office buildings, containing within them all the facilities necessary to work, eat or relax) up to the social “bunkerization” of all democratic activity (the limitation of movement, freedom and action, the decline in social and political participation, the growth of exclusion…). This creates new sociopolitical realities where security is exchanged for a restriction of freedoms. Power needs a fearful, insecure and vulnerable society. To keep it, people have to be submissive and in this way consolidate the power’s efficiency. However, we cannot forget that the expression of power is becoming less and less visible, and therefore its influence is difficult to recognize, to anticipate and bear up. The exercise of power is gradually more elusive and insidious, it is everywhere and nowhere, it is ubiquitous, absent, invisible… To this wicked and endless game, that creates fear and creates, at the same time, many and various systems to control it, also referred Faraway, So Close!.
1) Peter Marcuse, After the World Trade Center. Cuadernos de arquitectura y urbanismo, Barcelona. 2002
Carolina Jiménez, (Madrid, 1983). Journalist and cultural manager. Lives and works in Berlin. As a political journalist, she has worked in Spanish media like Cadena SER, Agencia EFE and Temas magazines. In the cultural sector she collaborated with contemporary art centers such as Matadero Madrid or La Casa Encendida in Spain. In 2012 he moved to Berlin after being selected to participate in the residency for curators of Node Center for Curatorial Studies. In Berlin she has curated the exhibitions Faraway, So Close! at Fichte-Bunker, We Can Draw It in GlogauAir and Coversation With Alice in Altes Finanzamt. He has been coordinator and manager of SAVVY Contemporary, award for best independent space Projekträume 2013 by the Senate of Berlin (Berliner Senat). She is currently in charge of the communication at Node Center for Curatorial Studies-Berlin.
En el relato bíblico de la Torre de Babel se cuenta la historia de la caída del imperio Babilónico en donde los hijos de Jehová son los mismos Babilonios y a la vez representan simbólicamente a la humanidad entera. Estos son castigados por dios al pretender construir una torre que alcance los cielos e iguale al poder celestial. El método que dios utiliza para detenerlos en su industria es la palabra y crea así distintas lenguas que dividen a los mortales incomunicándolos entre sí haciendo imposible la culminación de sus propósitos.
El momento histórico del relato sucede aproximadamente en el siglo 6. A.C. cuando el imperio Babilónico se hallaba en su apogeo, su gloria militar y su mayor expansión territorial como así también, aunque no paradójicamente, en su ocaso.
Los constructores de la torre fueron muy distintos a sus ingenieros, pues eran esclavos, prisioneros de guerras y no gozaban de los derechos civiles de cualquier habitante regular de Babilonia. De ahí la variedad de idiomas que ayudaron a dios a confundir los planes de aquella construcción.
La historia se remite a la ruptura del imperio como forma de castigo divino que obligó a los Babilonios a huir y mezclarse entre otros pueblos para sobrevivir.
Según arqueólogos la torre del relato bíblico se encuentra en Ur y fue un Zigurat (templo Babilónico de forma piramidal) dedicado al dios Baal; el principal dios Babilónico encargado de otorgarle vida a la naturaleza. De ahí se deduce el nombre de Babel, que según la lengua en que se lo interprete puede significar “Puerta de Baal” o “Puerta Celestial” (del Babilonio: bab-ilu) como así también “Confusión” (del Hebreo: balal). Esta última parece ser una interpretación mas bien sarcástica que los redactores del relato bíblico hicieron del nombre original Bab-ilu.
El interés que despertó la torre como objeto arquitectónico mítico de condiciones sobrenaturales tanto como su moraleja carecen hoy, a mi parecer, de importancia. Sin embargo vista la historia como una metáfora para describir un proceso imperialista de expansión territorial que alcanza su cúspide y al mismo tiempo su decadencia – pues una vez alcanzada la cúspide no existe camino que no descienda; una vez alcanzado el polo norte todos los caminos conducen al sur – se nos presenta una interpretación del relato que va más allá de todo discurso moral y ético exponiendo un proceso de expansión poblacional que lo equipara con los mismos procesos de expansión en las ciencias naturales.
Entonces también nos habla de una unidad social mantenida por la fuerza. De hombres sometidos al trabajo arduo y a la asimilación cultural forzosa por mera subsistencia.
Visto de este modo, la intervención de dios más que un castigo vendría a representar una liberación. Dios, que es la entidad que rige las leyes naturales, hace que se desmorone la torre antes de haber alcanzado su cúspide y libera así a los esclavos devolviéndoles sus lenguas natales y condena a los imperiales al anonimato perpetuo, a su dispersión que vendría a implicar también su desaparición (en francés: dispersion < > disparition).
Pero el otro tema que nos preocupa aquí es la sordera. En este caso la confusión de lenguas expresa la imposibilidad de gobierno. La sordera vendría a ser así la afluencia excesiva de información acústica no descifrada o descifrable. Si despreciamos la lengua extranjera es porque no la comprendemos. Nos burlamos de ella para refugiarnos en nuestra visión del mundo. Pues cada idioma está expresando una determinada noción del mundo y lleva implícito en sí una estructura específica de pensamiento. Es decir que el querer dominar una lengua implica de por sí el querer ser partícipe de una visión del mundo.
En medio de esa maza acústica indescifrable de Babel, comenzamos a escuchar cuando nos confrontamos con nuestro propio idioma al que diferenciamos inmediatamente del resto del caos idiomático. Y que hasta lo escuchamos con más nitidez o con una claridad sonora que en idiomas ignorados nos es ajena.
Si se releen los párrafos anteriores se puede percibir en cada uno de ellos una especie de etnocentrismo que afecta mi relato pseudo-objetivo de los conceptos que componen este texto. Pero también hay una carga cultural que está desvirtuando de antemano la información original de la que me he servido para componerlo. A mi parecer este etnocentrismo cumple la función específica de confirmación de nuestra identidad cultural la cual exponemos en primer plano para justificar nuestra jactada existencia. Para poner a nuestros actos en el epicentro histórico de la humanidad. Para elevar la importancia de nuestra cultura por sobre la existencia de las demás culturas.
Seguimos construyendo torres de Babél. Seguimos alimentando un pensamiento monocentrista /monocausal.