ENGLISH BELLOW (TEXTS BY JOAQUÍN IVARS AND NATALIA BRAVO)
Esta obra, como instalación total, constituye una investigación de carácter interdisciplinar (escultura, iluminación integrada, instalación, ambiente y audio) sobre diversos aspectos de las aspiraciones de logro de los individuos y las sociedades contemporáneas y sus inquietantes probabilidades de frustración. Técnicamente se trata de una exposición que ocupa un espacio de 200 m² por 7 m de alto. Se reúnen y recontextualizan dos piezas escultóricas expuestas en ámbitos internacionales —Ladder of Mirror (Japón, 1997) e Europe’s Swing (Austria, 2006-2017)— junto a una tercera producida ex-profeso —Show-Pendulum (2017)—; es decir, estas 3 piezas de gran formato (600 x 400 x 400 cm c.u.) en el que se usa casi tonelada y media de espejos, se reconfiguran para formar una nueva obra, la instalación total e inédita Impasse. Espectáculos de la frustración (2017), que adquiere la forma de un “circo” de tres pistas circulares, dotado de una ambientación musical (redoble de tambor continuo y fragmentos intermitentes de una melodía popular de circo) y lumínica (destellos parpadeantes de pequeñas luces estroboscópicas y reflejos en múltiples direcciones de las superficies de los espejos), cuyos materiales hegemónicos de factura industrial son el espejo, el hierro y el acero. Entre los conceptos clave que sostienen este nuevo trabajo de investigación artística se pueden destacar: reflexión y especulación; tiempo suspendido infinitamente; espectáculo de la frustración y frustración del espectáculo; tensión irresuelta; azar y necesidad; políticas del yo-nosotros-mundo, sociedades de la tradición, de la modernidad y de la postmodernidad.
Introduciendo en la investigación el concepto de “razón compleja”, se indaga en las posibilidades de reconfiguración/readaptación de elementos para dar lugar a nuevas “situaciones” en las que las obras lejos de estar “terminadas”pueden actuar en otros contextos ampliando así la semántica previa de la propia obra y del nuevo contexto al que se incorpora y activando nuevas posibilidades antes apenas entrevistas, especialmente además cuando las obras han tenido que reformularse físicamente como es el caso de Ladder of mirror o reconstruirse completamente y sofisticarse técnicamente, como es el caso de Europe’s Swing, o cuando han se ha creado ex novo como Show pendulum para cerrar una lectura absolutamente nueva y con una significación ampliada en una instalación total como la que aquí se presentó además acompañada de efectos sonoros y lumínicos
Cada una de las tres obras —exentas y alineadas centralmente—, presenta un lecho circular de espejos fragmentados y sobre ellos pende una estructura que se corresponde en el primer caso, con una escala de espejo suspendida del techo por cables de acero; en el segundo caso existe una circunferencia de espejos colgantes de una estructura circular suspendidos del techo de la sala a través de cadenas de acero; y en el tercer caso, sobre el centro del lecho de espejos rotos cuelga un péndulo con la bola de espejo de las usadas en las discotecas y sobre ella está pintado el globo terráqueo (alrededor 12 especie de caballetes dan cuenta de las multiplicidades ideológicas, que sustentan las distintas identidades en que se fragmenta n nuestras sociedades actuales). En definitiva, al tratarse de espejos y de su capacidad reflectiva pero también de su fragilidad hablamos del espectáculo desde las implicaciones más individuales, a las más colectivas y de ahí a las más globales en una secuencia de tres pasos. Una música de redoble de tambores que anuncia el número de circo (una musiquilla de circo suena de vez en cuando recordando la figura clásica del riesgo y el espectáculo) advierte sobre lo que supondría intentar hacer actuar tres mecanismos como los expuestos; si tal cosa ocurriera todo acabaría en un caos y las piezas quedarían rotas y el espectáculo frustrado.
Yes, We Can’t
(On the Installation IMPASSE. Spectacles of Frustration)
joaquín ivars, 2016
You are invited to enter a space where, in the manner of a three ring circus, you will attend three SPECTACLES OF FRUSTRATION:
Ladder of Mirror (Japan, 1998)
Europe’s Swing (Austria, 2006)
Show-Pendulum (Spain, 2017)
Thank you for your visit [i]
This text is not a paper and the notion of keywords[ii], the words that commonly accompany abstracts or summaries to introduce and contextualize an academic research article, makes no sense here. It may be of interest, however, to atmospherically resort to some concepts expressed as sentences in order to approach the exhibition named IMPASSE, hence: time infinitely suspended; spectacle of frustration; unresolved tension; three-ring wandering circus; fate and urge; I-we-world policies; modern, postmodern and traditional societies and, probably, a vague etcetera that is hard to calibrate just now.
The installation entitled IMPASSE presents two pieces, originally produced and first exhibited independently in Japan, 1998 (Ladder of Mirror) and Austria, 2006 (Europe’s Swing) respectively[iii], to be complemented on this occasion (UNIA[iv] Exhibition Hall, former Italcable, Málaga, 2017) with an additional work designed in 2011 (Show-Pendulum) and specifically set up for this exhibition. In my opinion, the works are not finite entities meant to be closed/enclosed within a specific text or ones that will reach their cusp once and for all within a given context. When so-called connoisseurs contextualize and re-contextualize artists´ works (often in a rather peculiar fashion), all according to different interpretations and, therefore, following different types of methodological, political, technical and geographical interests, to name some, it would be ludicrous to expect that the artists generating the pieces ourselves should not enjoy the opportunity and liberty to do the same.
In this case, we are not reviving two pieces to add a new one in the discontinuous passage of a couple of decades, but reactivating interpretations legitimately inscribed in them beforehand, by staging a series of new conditions of possibility. The traces of Ladder of Mirror and Europe’s Swing, both works initially on view under circumstances and within contexts that were very different from the current, may be tracked across different public broadcasting formats.[v] Once they have been tracked, or even without having to do so, we may focus on the physical description of what is displayed here and now: IMPASSE: three industrially manufactured pieces where the hegemonic material is the mirror (a reflective surface acting as a “primitive screen”), in round format and similar sizes (about 4 m in diameter by 4 m high), with intermittent illumination, presented along an axis taking up a rectangular space, flanked by black walls and atmospherically surrounded by the never-ending drone of a drum roll and the sincopated and randomly interrupted sound of annoying circus music. Each one of the three pieces on view in the exhibition -all of them free standing and centrally aligned- that is, Ladder of Mirror, Europe’s Swing and Show-Pendulum, presents a bed of fragmented mirror with a structure suspended over it. A ladder of mirrors in one case, a circumference made of swings in another and a pendulum in the third. Each one of those basic configurations (ladder, swings, pendulum) forms an artifact sustained by an “ideal” and intact structure that would generate a bed of broken mirrors should its mechanism be activated. That is to say, would generate its self-destruction.
It does not seem extravagant to deduct that IMPASSE showcases a composition that is a binary reinforcement of the polarity between what we humans intend and what often results when either the objectives or our own hopes are, so to say, disproportionate: the frustration of our hopes presented in the shape of an individual or group failure. Let us name those hopes that have become “naturalized” by centuries of domestication, responsibility and self-consciousness: transcendence (that which we place beyond our perceptual and cognitive capabilities, under different names), collectiveness (an eagerness to stay together despite our differences) and global spectacle (as the tautology of a somewhat planetary identity).
As opposed to what some might believe, the first meaning of the word “impasse[vi]” is “dead end alley” or “deadlock”: the impossibility of a solution; a detention: in the midst of what no longer exists and what never will exist -there is no turning back and there is no way to carry on. The binary tends to pose this kind of problem and for centuries we have tried to overcome binarity in very different ways and by very different means. For example: Some intended to overrun the impossibility of choosing between one pole and the other (and the manifestation of a permanent tension between them) through dialectics: thesis, antithesis followed by synthesis to overcome the conflict which, fatally, opens out a new front of belligerence… On a higher stratum perhaps? Then perhaps one could ask oneself whether binarity is optional, that is to say, whether it is something that we may choose as opposed to other more, so to say, “unitary” options (namely tree logic) or more “multifactorial” options (namely rhizomatic logic). It is not our intention to follow the trodden itinerary of binarity being everywhere around us and which we can “binarily” classify according to: 1.- its belonging to the reality of the real world or 2.- its belonging to the world of our minds. This discussion, which is also undeniably binary, has been openly considered by countless investigators[vii] of all kinds with a bias towards one explanation or another in each case, or trying to solve or dissolve it by means of different reasoning and methodology. And I cannot but recall now that anecdote of the master Suzuki when asked a question regarding that point: A member of the audience once asked Dr. Suzuki during a lecture, “ When you use the word ‘reality’ , are you referring to the relative reality of the physical world , or to the absolute reality of the transcendental world ?” . Suzuki closed his eyes and went into that characteristic attitude which some of his students call “ doing a Suzuki”, for no one could tell whether he was in deep meditation or fast asleep. After about a minute’s silence , though it seemed longer , he opened his eyes and said ,“ Yes ”[viii]. Certainly, even ultramundane Zen mysticism has proven to be incapable of facing the issue and offered its own (solvent?) version of the problem and of the tension caused by any kind of bipolarity and which is established as the axis of a large majority of our life events. Events which, by the way, are sometimes read as tragedy and others as comedy; or interpreted through the bipolar tension that we generally define as the tragicomic side of our existence and which is metaphorically and spectacularly conveyed in the circus.
Therefore, after a few argumentation pirouettes, we may state that in this exhibition we are entering some kind of three-ring circus where “even harder” makes the lights that call for our attention blink (several flashes alternatively light up or punish both the pieces and the audience) and makes the random drone of a repetitive circus music play over a continuous and never-ending drum roll which seems to foreshadow the final blow of an accomplished fate). But the atmospheric audio of the beating, which engulfs and suspends any final apotheosis, tells us that there is no conclusive blow, or apotheosis or apocalypse; it is quite the opposite. Everything remains as usual despite our bizarre and spectacular efforts to build the most clever of artifacts and try to make them work:
- Ladder of Mirror: A ladder with mirror rungs, suspended high up lest somebody as light as air should try and climb along and reach the sky full of promises. Down below, on the floor, a bed of broken mirror reminds us that not everything is possible, that the inmanence of our own limitation is more rocky, more consistent than our gassy and transcendent fantasies.
- Europe’s Swing: A circle of swings with the names of the European Union member countries inscribed backwards on the bottom of the seat (the member countries in 2006, well before the start of the “divide”) marks the tension of the moment when all of them will start to sway and the only way to avoid collisions will be by achieving a chimerical group harmony. On the bed of broken mirrors, like frustrated expectations, lie the legible and fragmented names of each and every one of the countries.
- Show-Pendulum: A ball/pendulum -of the kind that is used in discotheques and recreation spaces to reflect mood lights and baffle our minds – showing the surface of a world globe/world map hanging still, axial, tense, ready to face the different images of itself on mirrors placed on tripods surrounding its perimeter -in an orbit, so to say- with the names of different trades connected to the circus written on the surface, mixed with a multitude of different ‘human specialities’. A close encounter with each of those alternatives will involve heading away from the rest. The movement of the pendulum will unfold the threat of a spectacularity that can blow up to pieces the different contingencies of global stardom. The more the narcissistic spectacle approaches its own image, which is ours too, the more we will realize that getting up close is perhaps going too far, that it is obscene: it means finally losing the image of our identities together with the integral image of a “stellar” planet shattered into a thousand pieces.
IMPASSE is therefore the multiplied reflection of a grandiloquent vital trajectory on the uneven bed of failed possibilities of a self that aspires to become transcendent (Ladder of Mirror); the bombastic example (which it could apply to any other model of collectivity) of a public “us” in a “postwar friends club” format (Europe’s Swing); and a globalizing spectacle trying to find its premise in the plurality of specializations that seem to gradually grow more ridiculous and self-destructive (Show-Pendulum). We could substantiate more examples, but I will merely choose three archetypal issues that deal with our hopes and frustrations turned into spectacle. A spectacle illuminated by flashlights that episodically, who knows whether epileptically, turn the act of gazing into an additional and exasperating difficulty. A mirror does not represent anything other than the transference into text from the context; there is nothing in it save its surroundings, it lacks an identity of its own, it is always readily available to be loaded with other images of humanity. And the light aimed at the mirror is reflected, sending back the absence of identity as a vengeance of sorts against that same context itself.
The three works are also reflected in one another, interfere and get in each other´s way in their autonomous selves in exactly the same way that the infinite speculation on the transcendence and immanence which they have been metaphorically awarded does, which we consider to be paradigmatic. “Mirror” and “spectacle” are found in the same etymology, and “reflection” creates powerful links between two substantial meanings, a physical and a mental one (reflection and reflecting). And where mirror, spectacle and reflection meet, a kaleidoscopic hallucination originates (kalós, beautiful, éidos, image and scopéo, to observe, therefore: observe-image-beautiful): The fantasized spectacle of an individual trying to climb rungs that reflect the individual´s segmented image in the ascent; The spectacle of a multitude of swings that reflect the impossible accord of a choreography formed by ballet stars or primas ballerinas assolutas when moved synchronic or asynchronically; The spectacle of a pendulum planet, frustrated by the helplessness of self-recognition and its drift towards self-destruction. Each one of the three pieces, both separately and as a set; in this score (insieme di parti: a set formed by the parts), our resolve will always turn into frustration and we can only aspire, at the most, to spectacularize it, to transform it into a spettacolo d’ arte varia[ix]. We barely dare to reflect within the context of its four black walls (of its multiplied and theatrical ‘fourth wall’ = the countenances of spectators), the sparkling multitudes that seduce and decorate the Platonic Cave as though they were exotic and lustful fireflies that alleviate the terror of destruction, death and total disappearance in the [irredeemable] Dark Night of the Soul.
Thousands of pages have been written on the spectacle (on its society: La société du spectacle (Debord); on its overriding and imperial need of continuity: The show must go on; on its opiated and demobilizing effect: Panem et circenses; on the entertainment world and its surrounding atmosphere: Show Business; and its corresponding role model: Show yourself; and so forth). Nonetheless, the intention here is not to define it or criticize it, we can barely manage to stammer that for some of us, should there still be some kind of viable spectacle allowed to exist in our fascinating and theatricalised global bedlam, it would be that of frustration.
Every human spectacle appears somewhat ridiculous when seen up close: too much make up on the cracked skin of our pathetic aspirations. Even the most overwhelming, the most discreet, the most fine-tuned, the most perfect one amongst them, offers something which causes at least some degree of blush both in the knowing audience and in the producers/authors that have not totally succumbed to the professional excess of self-esteem and self-deception. The blush, the shame that makes blood rush to our faces, originates in the spectacle itself, in its maximum power, in its shot of adrenalin, in its need to capture our attention (“look at me”, “pay attention”, “listen to me”, anything but disregard), of the unconscious need to pay heed to it, to turn in to it. The need to state “I am here” and to answer “I recognize you” and, in a way: “I can see myself in you, I am just like you, I am you too, you are the mirror in which I see myself and you see yourself in me”. The happiness of public survival in the mutual acknowledgement staged as a farce or a circus performance without compare. What are social networks other than the spectacle multiplied to infinity, the orgiastic climax atomized in trillions of kaleidosocopic particles that shine in the digital fugacity of a slight twist of the wrist and vanish in the same kind of manoeuvre? The abundance of stars generated by the spectacular star system is hard to notice. By the way, the Spanish verb ‘estrellar’ has two peculiar meanings, amongst others: 1.- to fill with stars and 2.- to fail (the violent crash of something against something else); and the adjective ‘estelar’ means relating to stars or outstanding, of great quality. A whole semantic field deserving some thought which, to continue with the joke, could end up turning human stars from supernovas -spectacularly generated by nebulae of interstellar material- into white dwarves or black holes, when they were not prematurely aborted (excuse the redundancy) as brown dwarves that never even reached the status of a negligible sun. Perhaps the spectacle of human stars competing in splendour and number with those in the sky will some day only be visible in infinite sequences of super processors that will personally assist us, transhumanely, I mean, and will ‘express’: “I recognize you”, “I recognize myself in you, I am like you, I am you too, you are the mirror where I see myself and you see yourself in me”; let us thus keep up the joy of stellar recognition, now generously automatized and without the company of a spoilsport slave who will remind us, while holding the laurel over our heads: Respice post te, hominem te esse memento («Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man.»)
But the spectacle, in addition, cries our its orders: ‘Look here’; it is always pointing in the right direction, it focalizes, it is a conducting act. The spectacle never says ‘Go’. It does not suggest a, so to say, panoramic‘vision’; the spectacle imposes the ‘gaze’. One should probably cease to look, to be able to see, suspend obedience to the mandate of the gaze, to its direction. But who can, wants or knows how to remove oneself from that insistence? Who, in this world of self-images, can afford to, or even think of, not appearing in the picture? In a world of selfies, the World is simply atrezzo, the background that decorates our lives.
Even if the angelic ambition of IMPASSE were to place itself in the disinterested space of the pre or post political, we are all aware that it is impossible by now to stand in the Adamic domain of an essential innocence and dignity which, on the other hand, never existed and never will exist. This state of affairs creates an irresolvable self-critical tension that could defeat the best intentions of any author that would individual or collectively want to stand at the sidelines of the also binary phenomenon of domination: to dominate/to be dominated. The only seeming option would therefore be to point out an urgent need to physically get out of there (the light and sound format of the exhibition is uncomfortable and encourages one to leave the place); it is not within our reach to solve an IMPASSE which is impossible to avoid. We can only turn away from the uncomfortable lights, the annoying flashes, the circus drum roll and go outside -as though we had chosen our own liberation from the Spectacle of Frustration by looking the other way (let us call it Pseudo Welfare State as a transit towards the Entertainment State or whatever we may wish to call it), just as we distractedly do each and every day. An exit to the outside that is deceiving like an illusion; a chance to escape that is offered as though it were possible to avoid the Great Darkness that surrounds us, for once we are outside… Oh, the Paradox! we find that the Outside does not exist There is no outside expressed in its primeval biological form as a possibility of resistance to death, and there is no outside of the damn identity, nor is there an outside as a social form of resistance in the face of the states of domination that we ourselves have built over that fateful adage: Homo homini lupus[x]. Therefore, to paraphrase an enthusiastic slogan, we may state or acknowledge our frustration in a laconic, tense, paradoxical and overused American joke: Yes, we can’t.[xi]
I am about to finish; IMPASSE represents the aloof and parodic spectacle of ‘de luxe’ and ridiculous discouragement, of nonsense numbed by the thousands of flashes that distract us from integrated malaise: the physical suffering and/or psychological depression distributed according to different doses and posology throughout various areas of the planet. Tension becomes explicit in this artistic proposal through a tad of histrionism while the impossibility of sense that pervades many of our vital options (metaphysical, humanistic, global…) The languages and means used do not intend to unveil a “Truth” that would appear fictitious and reductive. I believe that the “sincerity of the author” can never contribute to making anything clearer[xii], that would make him the bearer of hermeneutic privileges inaccessible to the common of mortals. IMPASSE does not elicit an answer or in any way intend to become an oracle, it is simply a framework of speculation, and its formulation could be put forward in any number of different ways. When I use the most wicked, and the most stupid, of mechanisms of cynicism and of the spectacular, the reason is that one cannot tell of their consequences without expliciting their strategies and when I test the conditions of possibility of the exhibit and of its outside, that is because we can reconsider it from there, far from the specializations of the human : 1. the specialty of solipsistic contemplation of the work of art, and 2. the speciality of a well-meaning interactivity devoid of any sort of construction and any sort of sense which can only lead us to a relational “being together” a way of having company (the mediocrity of… two in distress… ) that can hardly distract us from the tense despair hindering us from being able to be or, even from being-being, beyond our performance in the spectacle as:
acrobats, boom operators and aerialists; contortionists and escapists; balancing artists, trapeze artists and tightrope walkers; ringmasters and tamers; strongmen and knife throwers; stilt-walkers and unicyclists; human cannonballs; magicians, illusionists and conjurers; jugglers and jongleurs; comedians, clowns and mimes; circus performers, sword-swallowers and fire eaters; ventriloquists and other artists:
physicalists, maximalists, causalists, utopians, activists, socialists, fascists, pragmatists, potentialists, utilitarians, positivists, machinists, alarmists, perspectivists, anarchists, capitalists, idealists, nominalists, nationalists, militarists, pacifists, environmentalists, animalists, hedonists, constructivists, minimalists, animists, primitivists, tradicionalists, modernists, postmodernists, hypermodernists, atheists, believers, situationists, arms races, do-gooders, adanists, lobbyists, feminists, ethnocentrics, corporativists, revisionists, conformists, scientificists, warmongers, collaborationists, individualists, trade unionists, globalists, specialists, microspecialists, futurists, fundamentalists, creationists, abolitionists, racists, antirracists, triumphalists, monists, pluralists, alarmists, hobbyists, liberalism supporters, legalists, encyclopaedists, fictionalists, realists, absolutists, sovereignists, populists, localists, universalists, theists, solipsists, defeatists, tribalists, protectionists, precious writers, statists, determinists, relativists, patrimonialists, productivists, expansionists, secularists, suffragists, ironists, mannerists, conservationists, fatalists, disciplinarians, regulationists, phallocentrists, centrists, centralists, testimonialists, male chauvinists, materialists, spiritualists, isolationists, separatists, unionists, formalists, conceptualists, rightists, leftists, prohibitionists, intimists, nihilists, classists, elitists, exclusivists, moralists, experimentalists, humanists, transhumanists, posthumanists, evolutionists, victimists, reductionists, holistics, simplistics, totalitarianists, conspiracists, generalists, verbalists, logocentrists, sophists, paternalists, academicists, educationists, reformists, evolutionists, mercantilists, apologists, decadentists, industrialists, partisans, exhibitionists, structuralists, origenists, censurists censorialists, conservatives, propagandists, stylists, collectivists, provincialists, colonialists, anticolonialists, sensualists, segregationists, fetishists, deconstructivists, poststructuralists, rationalists, voluntarists, continuists, vitalists, associationists, psychologists, interventionists, organicists, mechanicists, existentialists…
And… other tall tales or small specialities of humanity. However, beyond the big mistakes and alibis offered by tall and small tales (looting, utilitarianism, exploitation of lives, exclusion, proselytism of spirits, frustration of the hopes of achievement etc.) we may perhaps be able to think of totalities in a way other than configuring them around the already single universal language of the omnipotent spectacularity of Global Capital. The attempt of frustrating at large what was sold to us as large is perhaps, still, in all its humility and urgency, trying to think big as a way of conceiving the vast totality and not leaving the thinking in the hands of those who play with the “all” from their bunkers of cosmopolitan power and who agreeably recommend that we look after “our petty daily worlds”.
Has thinking not always meant taking on the challenge that the excessive would appear concretely before us? And is this excessiveness that challenges us to act conceptually not inherently irreconcilable with the tranquilizing nature of the mediocre? The wretchedness of the conventional forms of grand narrative by no means lies in the fact that they were too great, but that they were not great enough. The meaning of `great´, of course, remains arguable. For us, `great enough´means `closer to the pole of excess´. `And what would thinking be if it did not constantly confront chaos?´ [xiii]
That other and central bipolarity. Let us never cease to be disproportionate, regardless of the frustration.
It is as if the struggle against chaos does not take place without an affinity with the enemy, because another struggle develops and takes on more importance -the struggle against opinion, which claims to protect us from chaos itself. […] [xiv]
Vinyl paragraphs displayed on the wall, at the entrance of the exhibition.
Keywords are a list of four to eight key terms connected to the contents of a scientific paper; they often follow the abstract. These words are used by the bibliographic services to classify a paper in an index or under a specific subject.
Ladder of Mirror and Europe’s Swing were named in English for their opening exhibition abroad, which is the reason why the third piece, Show-Pendulum, was given a title in the same language.
International University of Andalucía.
Such as my own website: joaquinivars.com, the respective catalogues of the pieces or another text in this same catalogue.
In any case, it doesn´t seem that the Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española) can shed any light on the real meaning of this locution of French origin. 1. m. dead-end street. 2. m. compás de espera (halting an issue).
From ancient times and reopened in the past few decades by Rorty, Eco, Goodman, Putnam… to name only a few in a very long list.
In the prologue of SUZUKI, DT., Budismo zen, Kairós, Barcelona, 1993, p.13, Christmas Humphreys gave this brief description of the Japanese master.
Lupus est homo homini, non homo, quom qualis sit non novit, (“Man is no man, but a wolf, to a stranger.”). It is not a coincidence that this is a sentence by Latin playwright Plautus (254-184 BC) picked up again by Spanish baroque author Saavedra Fajardo in 1640 (“Ningún enemigo mayor del hombre que el hombre. No acomete el águila al águila, ni un áspid a otro áspid, y el hombre siempre maquina contra su misma especie”) and some time later as Homo homini lupus by the materialist Thomas Hobbes, wanting to illustrate aspects of his Leviathan (1651), amongst other things.Sovereign authority after a social pact by which citizens avoid “natural” chaos (Bellum omnium contra omnes, “The war of all against all”) and bestow total power on the sovereign, to legislate their lives and fortune. Needless to say, whether in the shape of absolutism for the sovereign or multinational corporations, the transference of rights and liberties is still paradoxically based on the fact that we are forever exposed to chaos and self-destruction should there be no legislation against each and every human being´s natural inclination to take advantage of others.
Which is also an old-fashioned motto; prevailing now are: Make America Great Again or America First, a truly modern protectionist relief.
Groys refers the unveiling of the truth in the sphere of submedia as one of the main tasks of contemporary artists, a view which I do not share. GROYS, B., Bajo sospecha. Una fenomenología de los medios, Pre-Textos, Valencia, 2008.
[xiii] SLOTERDIJK, P., En el mundo interior del capital. Para una filosofía de la globalización. Siruela, Madrid, 2010, p. 21./ SLOTERDIJK, P., In the World Interior of Capital. Towards a Philosophical Theory of Globalization. (Wieland Hoban, Trans.) Polity Press, Cambridge, 2013.
DELEUZE, G. and GUATTARI, F. ¿Qué es la filosofía?, Anagrama, Barcelona, 1993, p. 204. /DELEUZE, G. and GUATTARI, F. What is philosophy?, (Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, Trans.) Columbia University Press, New York, 1994.
NOTES ON THE SPECTACLES OF FRUSTRATION IN THE WORK OF JOAQUÍN IVARS
On the earthenware tiles of the floor, at the doors of my house, I found a spider larger than usual. It is not one of the animals that sicken me most. […] The eight legs and hairy bulb only brought about in me the decision to finish it off. […] I played with its itineraries before I crushed it with my foot. I remember this, first, with slow cinematographic eyes: its articulated extremities started to yield to the weight of my body until its abdomen touched the ground; then, the chitinous crunch started and its cracked shells started to separate and expel some liquid. From then on, the camera in my memory speeds up events. My eyes try to take in the radial explosion, to no avail: hundreds of tiny spiders, thousands, it seems to me, dizzily break away from the previous instant: that of death. It felt easy to be amused by that definitive moment; it feels impossible to follow the itineraries of surprise.
JOAQUÍN IVARS, Animals (2001)
Animals is a short story where three random events take on the consistency of a succession of experiences linked by a common effect: the indelible presence of a sort of “helpless and enlarged sense of disgust”. Let us take a closer look at the first case, with the spider. The main character has barely satisfied his impulse to kill the disgusting bug, when the unexpected birth of a hundred new spiders takes place; that is to say, contrary to his expectations, the situation is overturned by the arrival of a greater and uncontrollable adversity. The instant feeling of annoyance or helplessness is followed by a faint delight at the sight of such a display of mobility. Thus we find here the hilarious annihilation of will power in favour of fate and of the multiplicity of life. This literary example is brought up because it strikes us as a spectacular image of frustration.
In 1989, virtually at the start of his career, Ivars created a series of black paintings. One of them shows three plates in Braille text, the tactile reading and writing system for the blind. However, after the entire picture was painted black, the artist covered the plates with three sheets of clear acetate so that the raised dots cannot be activated with the fingers for reading. The completely smooth surface of the plates offers a contrast with the jagged and rough surface of the surrounding black marble powder. Due to this, and to the arrangement of the text in three columns, the painting acquires the solemn look of the stone steles of ancient civilizations. Nevertheless, this disappointing “Rosetta Stone” does not seek to become the key to understanding hieroglyphics. Evidently a blind person cannot read these manipulated notations in Braille, but they also emerge as a true enigma for the spectator, who can definitely see the signs that would not normally, in their regular context, be meant for him/her. The paradox is clear: these characters, as part of an instrumental writing system, contain a message to be read, and yet they are indecipherable. The expectation of reading the signs is completely frustrated. Hence the nihilistic literalness of the title: Ilegible (Illegible); for the painting is offered to our gaze, it is displayed, as illegible writing and perhaps as an anticipated frustration at any representation proposal.
In the autumn of 1998, Ivars presented a double exhibition on view in Japan, featuring a number of different installations under the titles Spaces for banishing, in Kyoto, and Spaces for vanishing, in Tokyo. For the Kyoto exhibition, the artist placed, as a preamble, the videoinstallation I can not understand my fortune at the entrance of a large venue, formerly a kabuki theatre and kimono factory in the textile district of Nishijin. He attached segments of mirrors on one of the walls, simulating the lines of his left hand in a large scale; he then projected a series of performances filmed in Osaka on that same surface. The images show, one after the other, three sessions with Asian fortune-tellers, two men and a woman, in their respective shops, reading the lines of his hand. Although they comply with the requested service, their attitude is somewhat tense: they have to address a Western visitor in Japanese, without any gesture or communicative expression on his part. Next to the projection, a sentence written on the floor stated: I can not understand my fortune. In the placard for the piece, the author also explained: “I cannot understand a word and they lack the necessary feedback to articulate my impressions in their discourse”. On the wall, opposite to the projection, the reflections of light from the mirror segments created a random and disorderly “drawing”.
As may be inferred from the context, these “accounts of the future” are recounted and heard in vain, for the person to whom they are specifically directed cannot understand anything. The staging of this language disagreement reads as an irresolvable tension as well as an absurd situation of a certain comical violence. The statement “I can not understand my fortune”, taken literally, raises an impossibility, the demand for non-power, offering a contrast against the attitude of yes-power to reveal fortune that the palm readers have. In a more metaphorical sense, there seems to be no possible understanding between those who predict the lives of others, by establishing a predetermined path through the procedure of divination -signs that may reveal a particular order or existential meaning- and the man who speaks the language of skepticism, deactivating all safety valves in view of the inapprehensible nature of his own destiny. This bipolar tension between the sense and the nonsense of human existence -or else: determinism and contingency, destiny and transformation, necessity and randomness, order and chaos- is tautological, as it is repeated through the conceptual morphology of both drawings, specular and reflective, on the respective walls facing each other.
A year before this trip to Japan, Ivars devised La madriguera del espíritu (The Burrow of the Spirit), an installation that acquired its potential shape within the exhibition hall itself; that is, a given spatial situatuation met the response of a specific intervention mode. For the first version, at Cruce art gallery in Madrid, La madriguera was adapted to a central space which acted as an exhibition area, crossing and intercommunication point with the other halls.
La madriguera has the airy and temporary appearance of a blueprint, something akin to a temporary trial, an “effective simulation” where we find a design (“imaginary” lines traced on the representation space) but, at the same time, a construction in three-dimensional “lines”, disrupting or disturbing the real space, without physically attacking or altering it. The aim is to map the territory itself by carrying out a simulation with minimal shapes and maximum expansion in the body of reality.
More specifically, the extensive “performance” involves the demarcation of the referred transit area by means of a sequence of straight segments of iron. Black dashed lines attached to the architectural surfaces highlight the white walls or continue along the gray floor delineating and reconfiguring the exhibition space, like a “drawing” made of segments projected onto reality rather than traced on paper. There are certain areas of the segmentation on the plane of the walls, or the floor, where the iron line becomes continuous and takes off from the surface, literally rising up in the air, ceasing to be a “drawing” to become a constructed threshold instead. This situation causes some astonishment and visual perplexity since, although the sequence of segments (discontinuous line) unfolds as a projection (“drawing”) on a real plane (wall or floor), the line is physically constructed as a threshold (using two or three iron bars) and placed on an invisible plane. La madriguera del espíritu turns the space into a perceptual phenomenon that is at once fragile and complex. A shelter, dwelling or home may be imagined there, without having to build any walls, just by parasitizing those that are available in the exhibition space through a minimal tracing of openings and space boundaries. We should maybe refer to it as a kind of para-architecture.
La madriguera then asserts itself in the motif of the threshold, as an immemorial image and rite of passage, while the protection space created by a burrow creates is barely noticeable. Three thresholds in different shapes stand out, given their more accesible location. One of them, formed by a long vertical strip and another short horizontal one, leaning against the wall (measuring 210 x 20 cm) is too narrow; only an extremely thin person or, rather, an “intangible being” would be able to cross it. The second (measuring 50 x 70 cm) is so high up that it would be impossible to even imagine how our body could reach it; one would need to be a “superman” or a “superwoman”. The third (measuring 50 x 50 cm) is very low; one could only get through by creeping along the ground like a reptile or a worm. Of course, anybody could easily access the inside of the burrow by crossing one of the discontinuous lines on the floor. But then, paradoxically, one would be running into the discontinuous, imprecise and vulnerable kind of boundary that the project establishes; one would be crossing an “imaginary drawing”.
The phenomenological perception of these three simple threshold-shapes brings to mind a true biopsychosocial geometry. With regard to the lower threshold, it would be hard to ignore Nietzsche´s words in the mouth of a Zarathustra feeling troubled by the “small virtues” of the “small people”: “There hath everything become smaller! Everywhere do I see lower doorways: he who is of my type can still go therethrough, but -he must stoop!”. Within this speech on “virtue that makes small”, the threshold that forces us to stoop would be connected to a comfortable and meek human behaviour driven by cowardice and mediocrity. Since it does work as a space that one can cross, one could describe this threshold as an image of the opening, but of an opening that is biologically, psychologically, morally and socially conditioned. (A memorable image of the rite of passage of the crawling human species). As a contrast, the other two thresholds, which are unfeasible for human anatomy, act as the hidden side of any threshold: they are images of an inaccesible access. The irresolvable tension between the offer of an access (will) and the impossiblility to cross it (frustration) takes shape here. In these cases, the threshold ceases to mean connectivity between two spaces and instead becomes a barrier, a neutral space that is evocative of the separation: in front (of the threshold) and outside (of the burrow); but also -of course- a metaphor of the disquiet of being, oscillating between its psychic or mental activity (thoughts, emotions, yearnings) and its corporal or physical reality. La madriguera del espíritu as the geometry of frustration.
In 1994 -three years before La madriguera– Ivars produced an installation named Terreno de juego. The author recreated a full scale tennis court in a former warehouse in Madrid, reconverted into an exhibition centre -El Ojo Atómico- that aimed at “creating an autonomous context” in management. In order to do this, he intentionally recycled 300 m2 of gray industrial carpeting which had been used for ARCO 94 -an international contemporary art fair held annually in the same city, usually inaugurated with some pomp by the King and Queen of Spain. He composed a rectangular surface of about 10 x 23 m with the carpet, then painted it green -using a hand roller, traced all the lines for the court in white and placed a standard tennis net. Unlike a conventional court where the demarcation lines of the different areas of the game are continuous, the lines here are discontinuous, that is to say, they are traced using a discontinuous line formed by a series of white segments 40 x 10 cm each, approximately. Four foldable chairs (as the chairs of the linesmen) and, placed on their respective seats, four slide projectors with autofocus system complete the installation. The beams of light emitted by each of these projectors that take the place of the judges illuminate four different areas of the court: the centre serviceline, the singles´ sideline, the doubles´ sideline and the net. There is no slide to focus on inside the projector, so the operation of the automatic device is completely distorted: the lense in each projector keeps rocking back and forth, absurd and wildly -in Duchampian lingo, the projectors would be activated as solipsistic masturbatory machines.
An established legacy of contemporary art as the extension of post-Duchampian objectuality and conceptuality, the post-conceptual and post-minimalism experiences of the process, a sensitivity towards specific sites, situations and contexts -including critical behaviours towards the art institutions and the cultural strategies of the spectacle-, will help us fully understand the veritable complexity of this art installation of the nineties decade. Let us briefly discuss Terreno de juego. This piece of industrial carpeting holds powerful connotations, as opposed to the literality found in the new material from the factory, with its specific features. Although the new coat of paint left no trace of its previous condition, the power to evoke the impregnation of residues, stains or footsteps from its first use as a floor covering for the kind of mass spectacle that a contemporary art fair represents is still floating in its, so to say, psychosocial visual imaginary. Terreno de juego provides a metaphorical wrinkle linking the world of sports entertainment to the art scene with the full weight of the parody of “détournées” situations -since this replica or simulation of a tennis court can be read, in the manner of Debord, as a “deviant tennis court”– or with the irony of all the overlapping layers of palimpsest -in the words of Borges, which is clearly how the reused industrial carpeting works here. The projectors on their chairs, taking part in the paraphernalia of the entertainment industry -just like the carpeting- work as “main actors” exhibiting their “skills” within this spectacle of the spectacle, playing the part of “expert controllers in artistic-sports events”. Para-cartography -that is, the substitution of the lines in the court for discontinuous traces- reinstates the ambivalent, provisional and deterritorialising nature of the space where the game takes place -a game where competition doesn´t matter but the difficulty involved in the construction of the game itself does, transforming the site into a project with all the implications assumed in this form of foreshadowing that is superimposed on the plane of reality: “appreciations of dynamism, probability and variability”, free flow of the contingent, etc. Such para-cartography disturbs the lines-rules that previously operated either as insurmountable barriers or clear and safe limits. Above this, the beams of light from the projectors pointlessly perform their swinging movement -dilating and contracting just a few centimetres, over and over again-, so that the voyeuristic and controlling function of the game, which is characteristic of mechanisms of power, becomes a paradoxical and frustrating practice: these “masturbatory lenses” emit a powerful but completely useless light because they can´t focus on what they are illuminating. Their machinic compulsion remains in state of impasse. It is needless to say that we are attending a spectacle of frustration…
[Ivars submitted another project named Autofocus-Autofocus, which never materialized, since it was rejected by the management of El Ojo Atómico. This piece meant to draw attention on the modes of art territorialization by confronting, in the manner of a palimpsest, the series of temporary exhibitions that had been on view in the venue -with its purportedly “autonomous” selection system of authors and works. Each artistic gesture, embodied in a unique moment in the past, took up a space and its traces, despite all the setting up-dismantling and painting-repainting of the hall, could still be followed to some extent. The author put forward a “detective work” performance: once the spaces taken up by previous exhibitions had been identified -by tracking small physical marks (holes left by nails, worn surfaces, glued and unglued areas, etc.) and documentary images- the spaces taken up by previous exhibitions would be marked again with segments of discontinuous lines, in the manner of the forensic techniques that mark the exact position and posture of the corpse in a crime scene. Some six or seven projectors activated in autofocus mode would be scattered around different points in the gallery. And, while their beams of light illuminated the segmented areas of the walls, floor and ceiling, their lenses, in their clumsy swinging movement, would never manage to focus those common places, those nexus of union, intersection or juxtaposition, densely occupied by art. The rest of the hall would not be illuminated by the projectors, would be a negative designation of the territories still not occupied or controlled by absurd and faulty power mechanisms (institutional, private, alternative or “autonomous”). Despite their veiled presence, we realize that these large artless gaps find their power in their potential as art that is yet to be seen or imagined, as opposed to the blinding light of the areas that are more hackneyed by the spectacle of art.]
After this limited and partial sketch of the author´s work, meant to establish a basic but necessary context, it is time to introduce some notes on Impasse. To this end, I stand at the beginning of the exhibition itinerary, bearing in mind the fact that, as is the case with most of Ivars´ works, the art installation -formed, in this case, by three pieces chosen by the artist- completely engulfs the exhibition space, which means that the author is in charge, takes responsibility for his own public presentation.
On the black wall at the entrance, a vinyl text in silver colour, with a mirror effect, warns the visitor of the “show”; the words are legible but appear and disappear according to the reflections caused by the spectator´s movement. The author announces, as a preamble, the preparation of the operations stage with three Spectacles of Frustration: Ladder of Mirror (Japan, 1998), Europe’s Swing (Austria, 2006) and Show-Pendulum (Spain, 2017). “In the manner of a three-ring circus” -Ivars explains in the vinyl- these three sculptural installations, made of mirror segments and fragments, are aligned one after the other, spread across the ceiling and the floor of the hall to form a tripartite construction and a total environment.
Upon entering the exhibition and perceiving the musical ambience, the spectator will attest to the use of a circus metaphor. A constant drum roll can be heard and, from time to time, intermittent and sudden bursts of a popular circus melody: cheerful, crazy, bustling. We must add to this the light stridence emanating from the diaphanous black space: twinkling flashes of small strobe lights and the reflections from the surface of the mirrors, in all directions.
In the arts of the rings, a drum roll precedes the “even harder” performance, an astounding technical feat that will take place, in silence, before the eyes of an expectant audience. However, the drum roll in this case does not culminate as is to be expected: it starts over and over again, infinitely signalling that the show is about to begin but never develops or makes progress. The tiresome sound of the drum marks the suspension of time, the freezing of that instant in a present with no outcome; therefore prefiguring the arrest of all acrobatic movements: the game of impasse.
The first work that the visitor will come across is Ladder of Mirror. This sculptural installation was first on view in a Kyoto exhibition hall where Ivars configured Espacios para el destierro (Spaces for banishing) nineteen years ago, with different pieces and itinerary from the work we are currently discussing. A straight ladder made of mirror segments hangs from the ceiling of the hall, at a distance of about four metres from the floor. Its ten rungs, held by two very thin steel cables, have both sides covered in quicksilver. The ladder is reflected in fragments, on a circular surface of broken mirrors on the floor. Four spotlights on the ceiling and two mini flashes facing towards the piece -one on each wall- make the mirror reflections reverberate in all directions. The strobe lights flank the work at about 150 cm from the ground, so that their incessant blinking, simulating the effect of photography in crowded events, bothers the passing spectator.
It is commonly believed that mirrors are not there for us to look at them, but for us to look into them. However, if we build a sculpture or an art installation out of mirrors, it is obvious that our behaviour as spectators may be ambivalent, either looking at it or looking into it. The design of Impasse takes into account the fact that the visitor will likely lean in to look carefully at this first piece -or at the other two installations- and see everything that is circumstantially within the reach of his/her gaze: the reflection of a fragmented self, that of other people around, that of the material architectural elements in the site -for example, sections of the wooden ceiling- and, since the structure is formed by segments of mirrors suspended over a circle made of hundreds of broken mirrors, the reflections of some mirror surfaces on others in a self-referential paroxysmal or delirious game. All in all, this specular sculptural theatre was, above all, created to be seen. We can admire the beauty and perfection of the pendant ladder in Ladder of Mirror; admire the lightness, the fragility or the geometric iciness of this specular morphology; even be sensitive to the intangible baroque spectacle of its dazzling light reflections. Likewise, the spectator is forced to look downwards, in the direction of the catastrophe of broken mirrors, to discover the falling movement instead of the upward vertical march.
Back to the sound. The drum roll marking the beginning of the show pairs with the ladder and its ten unblemished, shiny rungs, still new. It announces that the scenography is ready for the impossible exercise that should make us marvel, in principle. We feel attracted to the magic of the circus, the logic of this kind of show: the technical prowess that will allow for the bodily sublime, that will display human perfection. Some equivalences are intuited only from this perspective: openness, vertical access, expectation, will power, human ambition, ascent, lofty perspectives, etc. But, as we know, the drum roll will start again, heading back towards its own past, and its repetition predicts immobility. For its part, the time of the ladder is that of a frozen instant, of a perpetual present. However, the round bed full of fragments accounts for the past while sending us back to the future -predicting what will happen over and over again. If the constant threat of a broken neck constantly haunts the acrobat in the popular theatre that the circus represents, the bad omen of a broken mirror is fulfilled in the specular ladder. The sculpural tragicomedy, in the end, is perceived with a swinging motion, as a fatal attraction. Up there, a dream of perfection: the airy acrobatic lightness that would allow a graceful transport on a ladder made of mirrors; down here, the clairvoyance of reality: the threatening fragility of the mirror that is shattered by the force of gravity and the weight of the bodies. The spectator perceives how the performance will begin and end at a single gance, even when the tragic spectacle of human action has been omitted. (There is no “decisive event” with a walk on actor who will stain the service sheet of these sine macula mirrors in red.) The wonder of the circus show vanishes at the resounding realization that the impossible is actually completely unfeasible.
But, should we imagine the heaviness of bodies or the heaviness of souls when we look at Ladder of Mirror? We all know that a free-standing ladder is an immemorial and mythical image of man´s vertical connection to the celestial sphere. Christian mystical thought offers multiple versions of this archetypal figure, all of them derived from the ladder dreamt by Jacob in the biblical account: the ladder of the humility of Benedict of Nursia, the spiritual ladder of John Climacus, the secret ladder of contemplation of Saint John of the Cross, etc. The number of the ladder´s rungs -whether ten, twelve or even thirty- adjusts the difficulty of the ascent, from the first step to the last, symbolizing the rite of passage to the afterlife. However, in its form and function, the ladder is a binomial of opposites, a vertical tension to climb or descend. Some mystics noticed this disjunctive nature of the ladder explaining it in their own way; such is the case of Saint John who said in Dark Night: “We may also call it a ladder because, even as the ladder has those same steps in order that men may mount, it has them also that they may descend; even so is it likewise with this secret contemplation, for those same communications which it causes in the soul raise it up to God, yet humble it with respect to itself. For communications which are indeed of God have this property, that they humble the soul and at the same time exhalt it.”
The metaphysical upward movement needs to leave behind the imperfections of the flesh in its fuga mundi: the lowly corporal nature ensconced in the world needs to be annulled for the spiritual rising above this world to be able to triumph; that is what the glorious apotheosis of the saints is about. Which explains why mediaeval Christian writers condemned acrobats, dancers and contortionists, accusing them of being demonic beasts, for their body excercises. However the Heavens, God and all Saints were finished after Nietzsche, and it was only then that the artistic figure of the acrobat took on a heroic dimension. But the “superhuman” was also born as the new condition of something higher. Despite this historical perspective, the time when men and women seeked to rise above their physical and/or psychic capacities has not yet gone by. And we do not need to imagine a top sportsperson pursuing a dangerous activity: we all aspire to achieve some kind of rising or to encounter a stroke of luck in life that will distance us from our final and certain fatal outcome. The apotheosis continues to take place, though the ways have radically changed.
Saints and acrobats did not get along in the Middle Ages, but the acoustic metaphor of Impasse intersects with the sculptural scenography, matching physical and spiritual exercises on the same level. Through effort and suffering, both samples of human fate illustrate perseverance in extreme excercises. Didn´t both saints and acrobats specialize in impossible feats? But let us not fool ourselves, Impasse, the tragicomedy, does not build an image of success in the vertical climb to the heavens, and does not nourish the near superhuman power of history´s heroes. The bed of broken mirrors represents the utter failure of the human being. Ladder of Mirror, just like the threshold in La madriguera del espíritu, is also a representation of an inaccesible access. The irresolvable tension between the possibility of an access (a ladder for the ascent) and the impossibility of crossing it (the catastrophe of the fall); in this case, it is the comic drama of verticality.
Beyond the pessimism that helplessness, failure and fatal outcomes reveal, Ladder of Mirror is, above all, an image of the inexhaustible human struggle for the impossible. Despite the uselessness of all action, since the number is repeated over and over again by inertia, we witness the triumph of obstinacy and the perseverance of the human being in an absurd excercise. In his extraordinary essay You must change your life, Peter Sloterdijk tells us about “the active life” of all times and cultures; a life based on practise, on habitus; of the life built through practising. He refers to the circulus virtuosus involved in any “autoplastic action”, that is to say, to the idea that excercise based on repetition, resuming the activity to improve it with a positive feedback system would explain “how accomplishment leads to higher accomplishment and success to expanded success”. Ladder of Mirror reveals that habitus, the repetition of the excercise over and over again, a predisposition to effort through the unreachable or the eternal return of the rising after a fall, is inherent in the human condition. It is no wonder that Ivars wrote at the end of his story Two Fishermen, narrating the tragic death of a fisherman: “In spite of all, we must continue to fish; in the strait, where the currents fight for hegemony, or in the absolutism of the ocean where the waves are worth very little”. And because the training system for self-improvement remains intact in this metaphysical and/or circus ladder, the repetition of success now transmuted into repetition of failure, we could now speak here, paradoxically and in a different way, of incremented incapacitation, that is to say, of Ladder of Mirror as circulus infructuosus.
I stand now in front of the second “ring”: Europe’s Swing. On the floor, a new circular bed of broken mirrors is similar in size and shape to the previous one; but the section that is suspended above this other construction is no longer a structure for transit, but some kind of “ludic” artifact. Both installations use straight segments made of mirror as the basic unit for repetition, and in addition to that use identical illumination -four spotlights on the ceiling and two stroboscopic lights on each wall. From a different point of view, they share the fact that the spectator can mentally project some kind of physical movement on them. Although the structure is fixed, we recreate the human impulse of going up and down the ladder. The apparatus in the second circus ring is, however, more complex: it is a broader, heavier and more visible frame -the ladder is lighter and less perceptible- formed by multiple pieces that would swing back and forth if they were to be pushed. On the other hand, the circus performance represented in Ladder of Mirror would have to be practised individually; unlike the scenography of Europe’s Swing which would require a group, a gathering of several potential performers…
At the centre of the total atmosphere created by Impasse, rises the reconstruction of Europe’s Swing; an installation first on view in Austria within the context of the Internationalen Workshop 2006 mit Künstlerlnnen der 25 EU: Diversität und Rivalität. Diagonale Schnitte zwischen Multikult und Fanatismus, when the country held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. From a circular iron structure attached to the ceiling, suspended by long iron chains about six metres long, hang the twenty-five swings that make up Europe’s Swing. The seats made of mirror -each measuring 40 x 15 x 0,5 cm- rise approximately eighty centimetres above the ground and the author wrote on the opaque back of the mirror -in white acrylic paint- the names of each of the European Union member countries in the year 2006, in their respective language characters and spelled backwards. Though hidden from the gaze of the spectators, should anyone be curious enough to get closer to the piece, the names would be revealed as fractured mirror images -the reflection of the bottom of the seats on the bed of broken mirrors will let us read the names of countries correctly, but in fragments.
Europe’s Swing traces a circumference made of twenty five uniform segments of mirror in the air, which have their seal of identity on the reverse, displaying Europe´s multilingualism in the specific graphs of each country. When viewed from above, the said circumference conforms a perceptible discontinuous line demarcating spatial boundaries. The area within, the “European circle” -also in the sense of a club or society whose members meet in a specific place, is offered as a homogeneous and empty space. (An interior that allows free movement, perhaps?) The discontinuous, specular and stabilized geometry of the circumference, with its segments at equal distance to the centre, refers to an ideal of perfection that is very different to that of the ladder; we now find, horizontally and low down, the economic political dream of the unification and integration of Europe. The chain of connotative signs flares up: project, union circle, unity of the multiple, order, balance, harmony, equality, opening, enlarging…; it is hard to avoid the motto of the EU: “United in diversity”. But, of course, we cannot stray from the objectuality represented by that same geometry: the segments that delimit the space are also boards to sit on, hung from chains, inviting the spectator to imagine their likely use. (We greatly appreciate the fact that the author refers to the European geopolitical problem without having to resort to the simple and overexposed resource of the “rectified flag” which “communicator-artists” enjoy so much- with a whole showcase of supposedly critical redesigns of the circle of twelve golden stars on a blue background.)
With all those seats set in a circle and the great length of its chains, Europe’s Swing is reminiscent of a chair swing ride. It is obviously not a rotating platform, the seats would not move evenly if we started to move them, their trajectory would not be a circumference and they would not be subject to a centrifugal force. In any case, the “fairground attraction” Europe’s Swing is ready to start on its possible itineraries. The constant drum roll and the annoying circus music, elusive and merry, play on the background. We recreate the multiple swinging movement system (to the rhythm of a swing?). We can imagine each one swinging according to its own wishes or possibilities within the single geographically unified space: the catastrophic collisions between the fragile seats of the countries are inevitable. It all leads to thinking that the playground attraction is a parody of a more serious game, where the internal rivalry and lack of sincronicity between the different speeds in Europe unfolds. This failure becomes blatant at ground level, upon the sight of the frustrating circle of broken mirrors and the images reflected on those destructive and sharp surfaces. A pure spectacle of luminous resonance and chaos takes place whenever we approach this precipice of simultaneity, that is at once cubist and abysmal: lengths of chains, sections of the ceiling, the spectators´torn heads and, more perpherically, fragments of segments with their national graphs mutilated. But… that is not all! -as the ring master would say. The twenty five swings in a circle form an impressive cylindrical structure with fifty chains hanging from the ceiling, each one of them measuring five metres long. This makes the swing ride look like an “iron cage”, and its chains act as an impassable border, a metaphor of the stringent border control in the EU. Europe´s Swing then emerges in all its roughness with social images of sharp contrast; namely: while the members swing legitimately within the Schengen space, illegal migration is taking place all over Europe´s despicable and humilliating recesses; it takes effort to slide in, huddling -as in the threshold of La madriguera del espíritu- getting wounded amongst the ruins, with the broken glass; the ruins of frustration both for those inside and those outside.
As a spectator trying to take in this art installation as a whole, I reach the third of the rings and discover that Show-Pendulum closes the threefold cycle of this sort of theatrum mundi where parody also tempts tragedy. This forces me to reconsider what is at stake in Impasse, beyond all one-sided views; that is to say, what these three stagings of bitter circus humour suggest in their interrelations. The first of these three tragic parodies would deal with an I inserted in the tradition of a circulus virtuosus; the second, with a we framed in the paradoxical modernity of the trans-national; and the third and last would transform the two previous variables into a more complex copy of the interconnections between the I-we-world in the narcissistic space of global capitalism.
Near the black walls at the end of the hall, the industrially manufactured artifact that surrounds the third circle of broken mirrors is formed by twelve double full length mirrors -measuring 100 x 50 cm each- fixed on iron tripods. Despite the specular glare of the complex, the piece named Show-Pendulum -with the same illumination as the rest- offers a more compact, heavy and somber metallic appearance. At the centre of the circular frame, six metres high, hangs its brightest touch of colour: a ball of mirror, thirty centimetres in diameter, of the kind that is commonly used, for its spectacular effect, in lighting shows for party, music and/or dance events (concerts discotheques, party halls, etc.) or as a decorative element in shop windows and commercial scenography. Without losing its silver tones, the surface has been painted in blue and yellow laquer, with some reddish and green touches, to give it the somewhat faded and informal appearanace of a globe. The world-globe suspended by a thick steel cable acts as a pendulum, and although it is presented immobile, as a sculpural object, we can imagine its oscillating movement from end to end, successively striking each one of the full length mirrors on their inner surface. The device articulates a rare space to look on, and to look at oneself, both activities carried out from within -by the “world”- or from without -by the spectators that may place themselves around the enclosure. The mirrors display a list of handwritten words in red permanent marker on each side (in the loving, or perhaps psycopathic style of writing in lipstick?). Twelve metal paperclips crown the mirrors connoting them as notepads or rather as drawing boards, with their tripod-easels. They are heterogeneous lists of trades related to the world of the circus mixed with schools of thought, ideologies, practices, visions of the world, etc., that can partially define the identity of a group of people. In reading all of them we can account for the saturation of specialties that govern our absurd existence. (Even the exchange of words beside the ending of the word in each mirror -“and other artists”- could spark laughter or a somehow skeptical attitude.) The lists are presented in twenty four different combinations: the twelve external ones are read independently and face to face with the spectator who, in turn, is reflected in the mirror with the background of the black wall or the fragments of Europe’s Swing -depending on what mirror one is gazing at; however, the twelve internal sides can only be perceived in the mutual reflections of the confronting mirrors that form an obfuscated and multiplied spatial virtuality with the globe, repeated everywhere. In this face to face with the mirrors, we re-do the lists, we search for our own identitary menu, “choose” our predilections and weaknesses; reflective and reflected (object-subjects) we build “our own brand image”.
The spatial organization of Show-Pendulum could be interpreted as a sort of inverted panopticon; for that same reason, it is reminiscent of the attraction of a Sex Peep Show, devoid in this case of doors and cabins, with the consequent loss of anonymity in the congregation of voyeurs that can now in turn be observed too. The centre of this spectacle of sidereal contours is the world globe that the assembled I-we contemplate in the manner of a voyeur peeping through the gaps that separate the mirrors from their tripods: original and unique, or multiplied in specular images of instant propagation. All those points of view are equidistant and “offshore”. We may look at the world sphere from any of them: another consumer object offered as the centre of attention in the proximity of the spectacle. (The globe ball “growing hotter” through the ardor of our desires, displaying itself everywhere, at all times… will it finally melt away?). We gaze at the star of the show from “outer space”, small and trite. So fragile. So over-exploited. I imagine (we imagine?) that the surface of this body, saturated with expansionist activities, has suffered an “implosion”. That we have reached the cosmic phenomenon consisting in the abrupt and irreversible decline of the only planet in our solar system that we can inhabit. However paradoxically, the consumer overabundance in this final phase of globalization continues on its crazy course; as insatiable users, we do not hesitate to devour the images repeated over and over again in the ultra-speed that technological ease allows: any point of the globe is deserving of our anxious gaze. Our individual and/or collective selfishness knows no limits (consumers without borders).
The tragedy still sounds like a parody with the comings and goings of the circus tune. The stellar nature of the world globe through the inverted panoptic system of mirror multiscreen in Show-Pendulum is also a physical-analogical parody of the global narcissistic hyperspectacle (unlike the “artistic guerrilla” that performs the “activist role” over-identifying with the immateriality of digital codes). Always about to start with the drum roll, stuck in the same repetitive instant, we can still recreate the ellipsis between the scenography of the stationary pendulum-balloon and the trace of the final catastrophe (the bed of fractured mirrors with the broken words). Let us see, then, how the globalized machinery works -after that, the spectator can think it is the “even harder” act that Impasse represents…
The movement of the pendulum-sphere is Foucaldian: it would always oscillate in a straight line and, since the earth rotates on itself, the deviation of the ball would gradually make it crash against the twelve mirrors: it would hit any mirror first and then the one located on the opposite end, and so on. (Isn´t this “playful experience” hyperstimulating?) The world wants to be metaphorically seen in the foreground: let us imagine that, in its driving force, the globe approaches the mirror that says “tamers, arms races, microspecialists, ringmasters, lobbyists, absolutists, unionists, tightrope walkers, modernists, idealists, strongmen, nihilists, formalists and other artists”. (Again, each list intersperses the expert physics of circus bodies with other specialised trends that can give voice to different human groups.) Immediately, the clash of glass prevents the globe from being reflected on that menu of identities. But the self-destruction of the ball, and the breaking of the mirror that could have reflected its image, also affect the mirror -obviously- on its internal side where each voyeur could be looking at himself or reading the list of heterogeneous nouns/words/names. (I-world interconnections.) And the world globe in its narcissistic deviation dance will continue the disaster by crashing against all of its specular stand-ins until it reaches its total destruction and that of this fragile glass structure. From the abysmal exterior of the blackest night, in the impasse of the global crisis, we discover, frustrated, the complete cycle of the violent (and very ancient) history of terrestrial globalization, as (eye) witnesses, this time without the reversible interactive procedures that will allow us to stop our great cosmic shipwreck in time.
[Oh, foolish world, you haven´t stopped moving! You should have gone to sleep in a padded cage so as “not to shatter into pieces” like those who, centuries ago, fearful of shattering into a thousand shards of glass, suffered the narcissistic trauma of fearing they were made of it. And no, Alice is definitely no excuse.]
These were the words of the author after a loathsome event with a hateful and vicious dog, in the same story. Cf. IVARS, Joaquín, No siempre (vidas y cuentos), Granada, In-ediciones, 2001, s/n. “Animales” is also included in Itinerarios 2000-2001. VIII Becas de Artes Plásticas, Santander, Marcelino Botín Foundation, 2001, p. 95.
See IVARS, Joaquín, Documentos de una desaparición. Tokio/Kioto, exhibition catalogue, Málaga, University Exhibition Hall, 15th of September to 15th of October 1999.
Cf. The author´s documental archive.
Any flat surface superimposed on another usually produces a parallax error; this is the case here, since each of the segments of mirror placed on the wall has a slight inclination and therefore, upon the reflection of the light on the opposite wall, everything ordered according to coherent lines in the real mirror segments is now projected as a chaos of segments (all of them suffer alterations in size, geometry and direction).
The use of the word simulation here must not be connected to the idea of “hyperreality” in the way that Jean Baudrillard expressed it in his well-known article “The Precession of Simulacra”. The map does not precede the territory here, simulation does not take the place of reality because the tracing is not carried out on the plane of representation but directly on the surface of the territory (to continue with the French sociologist´s metaphor).
The segment line has been a basic tool used by Ivars in the intervention of spaces since the early nineties. It works as a simulation line, as a fragile guide to demarcate spaces and create possible paths in the existing reality. Passages from Ivars´ essay “Proyecto discontinuo” (1997) which I referred to when writing about La madriguera del espíritu, and which I consider to be relevant when it comes to understanding his work in that period, follow: When I use an extensive model, the segment, units devoid of a specific meaning articulated in discontinuous lines, I am actually tracing paths, making maps, imprecisely delimiting spaces and traversing the most varied surfaces with a sign. / The discontinuous line has appeared since ancient times as a representation of the contingent, the secondary, that is to say: of the draft. Having the connotation of something not definitive, it allows for appreciations of dynamism, probability and variability. Its nature is therefore that of a trial, superimposed to any kind of event, to which it is basted. / The discontinuous nature of the line ambiguously signifies it as contingency, project, probability, transparency, blurred definition, articulation, traversable limit, connection, etc. / The discontinuous line as a porous, permeable border, that allows for the opening of the system: passable border:/ To baste with segments, barely stitching a connection. To devalue the object but not the connections. It is not a matter of soldering realities, but of bringing them together so that each one can continue to be itself. […] fine and tense lines (discontinuous, as a prompt of their precariousness) tracing constellations, maps of understanding. IVARS, Joaquín, Esto no es un catálogo (Hilvanando mundos), exhibition catalogue, Madrid, Cruce, September 1997, pp. 5-25.
NIETZSCHE, Friedrich, Así habló Zaratustra. Un libro para todos y para nadie, Introducción, traducción y notas de André Sánchez Pascual, Madrid, Alianza editorial, 2014, p. 279 / NIETZSCHE, Friedrich, Thus Spake Sarathustra. A Book for All and None. (Thomas Common, Trans.).
RUIZ-RIVAS, Tomás (ed.), El Ojo Atómico, Madrid, 1996, p. 6.
See DEBORD, Guy-Ernest et WOLMAN, Gil J., “Mode d’emploi du détournement”, Les Lèvres Nues, 8, (mai 1956). http://sami.is.free.fr/Oeuvres/debord_wolman_mode_emploi_detournement.html
The term palimpsest, from the Greek “palin” (again) and “psao” (scrape), refers to the manuscript engraved on a parchment that retains traces of an earlier work which, in turn, was erased by scraping or washing with the intention of reusing the material later. In “Pierre Menard, author of Quixote” by Jorge Luis Borges, the figure of the palimpsest takes on a new dimension: both writings, the original (scriptio inferior) and the new (scriptio superior) coincide in their external appearance, word for word. On this topic see GENETTE, Gérard. Palimpsestes. La littérature au second degré, Paris, Seuil, 1962. Spanish edition: Palimpsestos. La literatura en segundo grado, Madrid, Taurus, 1989. (Translated by Celia Fernández Prieto).
With regard to this issue, the author said: “Es la complejidad del juego lo que interesa al sujeto, y no la simplificación victoria/derrota” (“It is the complexity of the game that is relevant for the subject, and not the victory/defeat simplification”.) Cf. “Jugando, jugando. (“Cinco cartas entre Joaquín Ivars y Fernando Castro acerca de la instalación Terreno de juego” in El Ojo Atómico, Opus Cit., p. 105. From a more elaborate philosophical point of view, one may read Joaquín Ivars´ reflections on the game aunando a Gadamer, Rorty and Deleuze-Guatari in the essay, based on his doctoral thesis of 2009, El jugador, el ironista y el artesano cósmico. Máscaras bajo el rostro imperceptible del inútil transversal, 2014, pp. 19-37. http://www.uma.academia.edu/joaquinIVARS. And also the following articles: IVARS, Joaquín, “Artesanía cósmica”, Suplemento 4 (Estética y hermenéutica), Contrastes. Revista interdisciplinar de filosofía, Universidad de Málaga, 1999, pp. 99-112; IVARS, Joaquín, “De rerum natura, oraindik. Y+Y+Y artea eta konplexutasunaren zientziak / De rerum natura, aún. Y+Y+Y arte y ciencias de la complejidad”, Zehar, 67, Arteleku. Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa, 2010, pp. 3-25.
See footnote 6 above, with Ivars´ assesments excerpted from his essay “Proyecto discontinuo” (1997).
In his article “Politics of Installation”, Groys reflects more profusely on the subject, though we do not necessarily share all the views developed in his arguments. See GROYS, Boris, “Politics of Installation”, e-flux, journal # 2, january 2009, s/n. (http://www.e-flux.com/journal/02/68504/politics-of-installation/)
The exhibition space, housed in a regionalist-style industrial building built between 1921 and 1925 which served as the administrative headquarters of Italcable – an Italian trans-oceanic telegraph company – is a rectangular industrial unit of about 200 m2 surface with a wooden gable roof more than 7 m high (on its rotational axis). The walls are painted black.
For example, the visitor had to cross the lobby where the mentioned videoinstallation I can not understand my fortune was located, before he could find Ladder of Mirror. In that exhibition, one piece interrelated with the other: one made reference to a kind of pseudo-scientific popular belief or superstition, whereas the other -let us say by compensation- made reference to the belief in a superior or transcendent order beyond what is strictly human. Some -Japanese- visitors identified the ladder as Buddha´s thread. However, the piece was not isolated nor lent itself to silent contemplation; while the visitor admired the almost sublime presence of the specular scale and its light projections throughout the atmosphere, the worldly remarks of the three fortune-tellers were clearly audible. Both pieces countered the prospect of an order or belief with its disorder or failure.
LLEDÓ ÍÑIGO, Emilio, Las palabras en su espejo, Madrid, Real Academia Española, 1994, p. 47.
Barbey d’Aurevilly stated that the circus is not only popular theatre, the most popular of shows. It is also the most aristocratic and heroic, the only theatre where perfection is the rule. Other theatres allow omission and God knows that much is omitted. But in the circus, where art has all the dignity of danger, should the actor or actress -whose person is the whole role and even the whole play- be unsure, make a bad move, be distracted, have an instant of forgetfulness, a lassitude… ¡they could break! The body, just like the spirit, has its own involuntary mistakes and pays for them in a terrible way… In the circus, mediocrity could break its neck… what a delightful prospect! See BAILLY, Brigitte, “El circo: mezcla de géneros”, Folios, Segunda época, nº 29, Primer Semestre de 2009, p. 64.
DE LA CRUZ, San Juan, La Noche Oscura, Libro segundo, capítulo 18, 2. /St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, Book 2, chapter 18, 2
To delve further into this matter see PIETRINI, Sandra, “Los juglares, cornamusas del diablo: las repercusiones iconográficas de la condena de los entretenedores”, Medievalia, 15, 2012, 295-316.
SLOTERDIJK, Peter, Has de cambiar tu vida. Sobre antropotécnica, Traducción de Pedro Madrigal, Valencia, Pre-textos, 2012, p. 409 / SLOTERDIJK, Peter, You Must Change Your Life. On Anthropotechnics. (Wieland Hoban, Trans.)
Cf. IVARS, Joaquín, No siempre (vidas y cuentos), Opus Cit., s/n.
See this work in the catalogue Ziel 1=Kunst=Ziel 1-Workshops 2004/2005/2006, Eisenstadt, Sozialdemokratische Fraktion im Europäischen Parlament, Ziel 1 Kunst: eu-art-network, 2006.
Cf. FONTAINE, Pascal, Doce lecciones sobre Europa. Comprender las políticas de la Unión Europea, Luxemburgo, Oficina de Publicaciones de la Unión Europea, 2014, p. 30.
In his text for this same catalogue to which I admit I´m indebted, Ivars, Ivars talks about “key concepts” in this same sense, such as “políticas del yo-nosotros-mundo” and “sociedades de la tradición, de la modernidad y de la postmodernidad” and, when referring to Show-Pendulum, uses expressions such as “narcissistic spectacle” and “globalizing spectacle”.