Paratext n#31 by Aldo Urbano

Paratext n#31
November 14th 2018
By Aldo Urbano

Iterations (European Project Residence)
Anas (Baden Württemberg and Hangar exchange grant)
Kenneth Dow (Baden Württemberg and Hangar exchange grant)
Sebastián Restrepo (Taller 7 and Hangar exchange grant)

I attend this encounter for the first time with a particular mission: I must, with the strange parade of masks that will pass in front of me, find some meaning to it, discover its secret order. I remember when I was a child before going to sleep I would do a mental review so that nothing I had seen during the day would be misunderstood; if I had to do this as an adult I would probably never fall asleep. But today I went there as a “detective or sorcerer” (as Sebastián Restrepo would later say), and I suddenly felt an obligation to understand again, that nothing should remain in the dark, and that same attitude separated me and made me a stranger among the public; the only one who would be obliged, before going to bed that night, to unravel the knot of what he had seen, or even the only one who at that moment believed that there might be one.

The matter begins. Anas Kahal is a Syrian artist who currently lives in Germany and is on an exchange in Hangar. He projects highly elemental and therefore cryptic images, undoubtedly mystical: a door that opens and closes in a loop, then two identical seas are twisted into a single projection, their waves uniting in a perverse way, as if an event that should be one (the sea) would split into an uncomfortable duality. I also remember an apple very much embedded in the plane, as if that apple were the symbol of the unity of all that is, something that occupies so much that it cannot be bitten. It saddens me to be projecting my obsessions on what I see, analyzing everything from a kind of numerology in which I believe I read in each number of elements the count of an unembraceable conspiracy. I know they are my obsessions, maybe not yours, and that’s why I wait for him to speak.

Anas starts talking. He doesn’t seem to know what to say, but then I think maybe he doesn’t really mean it, he refuses to talk, perhaps in the superstitious belief that there are things that are perverted if you explain them. So I think of the public as a psychologist who wants you to talk, who doesn’t trust you to keep the veil intact; one who is particularly perceptive, who does not only notice what is said but also notes the omissions, those dark areas of which nothing is said. And him as one of those serious traumatized ones who cling to the mundane, to routines, to the surface of reality because while in developing thought he might find healing, he will also find terror first. Anas is from Syria and the audience, like a psychologist trying to pull a visible fringe, asks him the question. He doesn’t want to turn his country’s conflict into something literal in his work, he says he doesn’t want to use it, which I think is very powerful, because then that omission will be the subject. This makes me think of Charlotte Beradt’s book (The Third Reich of Dreams, 1966) in which she dedicated herself to ask the Germans who lived under the Nazi regime about their dreams, subterfugally. These citizens, who, while trying to lead a normal life (clinging to the mundane like the castaway to the table) and in many cases claiming no interest in politics, were surprised in dreams by dreamlike warning messages. Probably the more one focuses on the surface of things the more unbearable the past becomes or the more terrifying the future. Mourners are advised to focus on practical issues to stay afloat while acceptance paves the way. In that sense I believe that Anas proposes that salvation (his, ours) could be in taking refuge on the surface of things, resisting the elaboration of thought; in passing through the narrow door that he projects and that at every moment opens and closes.

Kenneth Dow is a German-born exchange artist in Hangar, and just starting he says “having questions is good”. He says that in China a scooter was made in 33 days, and that whimsical fact obviously activates my numerological alert system: 33 is the age Christ had when he died, and for Muslims it is the age everyone has in heaven. I also start to think that before the apple was one, and that the sea, that should be one, was two, united by a space where a third sea appeared. About number 33 he says nothing else, and perhaps it did not matter, so they are lost lines of thought, like beams of light that unfold in the direction of nothingness. But there is something in his youth mythology work, and then I accidentally remember that Dennis Hopper was also 33 when he filmed Easy Rider. When my numerological drift has reached its first serious apex (and will not be the last) I reconnect with reality. Keneth Dow seeks to film those images within the limits of the filmable, the land of the poetic where the magical becomes natural as it happens in mythological fables; a land that belongs to literature and that I am enthusiastic about trying to approach from the filmic image. Simultaneously, he is somewhat fiercely interested in the extreme control structure in which we are inserted by social networks, and he talks about what he was able to see in China while riding his motorcycle made in 33 days. I finish writing this and I think that this last sentence has already the appearance of a fable and that, given the autobiographical character of his work, yes, he is probably already narrating his experiences as if it were a fable, and all his work resonates with myths that are repeated cyclically in our culture. The next artist will talk a lot about this mythological terrain in which we move, blind.

Sebastián Restrepo is Colombian and has been staying in Hangar for some months. He is a being of an unbridled mythological imagination, which I sense by the natural way he introduces in his narrative words like “lycanthrope”; and in addition, unlike many of his species, he is omnivorous, in the sense that he finds traces of ancestral primitive myths in all kinds of urban wastes, as can be seen in the archive of hundreds of photographs he has taken during his stay. While listening to him I think that when you travel you find what you have been looking for: in his case, if he was interested in the myth of the white bull of Europe, here is where he has found it summarized in the underpants of a souvenir shop. He also seems to suspect that there is a knot that can be discovered, and he sees traces of his presence both in the vulgar and in the elevated: he speaks of latent connections, of “being the one who opens doors”, of becoming a “detective or sorcerer”, searching all the time for the signs of this unfathomable conspiracy, of which we all participate at every moment. It reminds me of someone who would try to open his eyes into the sea, to see what centuries of shipwrecks have deposited there. On the other hand, in Sebastian my numerological obsessions find their definitive channel: for example, in his biography the 15th of December is magically repeated in serious events. As for the importance or not of certain days and numbers, I think that recently it was the “stiuet de Sant Martí” (the 11th of November), and that I looked at the incredulous sky that despite the growing climatic chaos that autumn day is invariably sunny.

I remember one of the photographs being especially revealing in Sebastian’s archive in which a graffiti said “KONTRA EL FASCISMO, SATANISMO” (“against fascism, satanism”). It makes me think of James Hillman in Pan and the nightmare, where he proposes that the devil is nothing more than the figure of the god Pan, the satyr of the Greek myth, demonized by Christianity and finally expelled from our conscience. Pan is one of the gods associated with nightmares, epileptic seizures and instinctive panic that explodes without warning, and yet is also attributed with healing powers, as it is associated with certain types of creativity. In the Greek world this part of our nature was not censored and demonized, but included in the mythological code and thus assimilated. Hillman proposes that a solution to some of the illnesses we suffer as a society could be to resurrect this unpredictable and excessive god, and it is in this sense that I see in this graffiti a possible answer.

Linked to this by the desire to recover ways of doing things that have been annulled by our Catholic heritage, the session is closed by the collective Iterations, also residing in Hangar, which begins with a collective ritual in which a bingo is made with key words related to their research (singularities, joy, magic, porosity, etc.) and then, with liquors labeled with those words, they prepare cocktails, like old witches that prepared potions to transform who ever took them, being the patient who decides which element is the one that’s missing. His project starts from collectivity, and gets fed by feminine traditions around magic, witches or healers, ignored by science or demonized by Christianity.

It seems that in a certain way there has been a progression in everything that has been happening, and at this point the myth is braided with reality in such an inextricable way that I can’t see it again: for my potion I ask for the words magic and transformation; incredulous look of who prepares it for me, and then I receive a cocktail that must add up to 80 degrees. I understand that balancing concepts was necessary, that perhaps asking for everything together was not needed; I understand that drinking this brew will effectively transform me, and perhaps for the last time. I abandon with cowardice the powerful cup in a dark corner, renouncing to the far away promises, transformation of transformations, and I leave happily having understood that certainly, reality had a knot that could one day be unraveled, and sadly that this will continue being invisible to me.

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