Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Poverty of Language in 3D: Lucretius, Atomism and Jean-Luc Godard's Adieu au langage

Here in Madrid, although it is possible to watch the Jean-Luc Godard's new film Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language) at a cinema (the same cannot be said for many countries!), sadly it is not being shown in 3D, as the director intended (see this article Godard en 3D sin 3D). So, in the end, I chose to bypass the 2D cinema completely and embrace reduction of the effect completely by watching the French release of the film on DVD via the tiny screen of my laptop. To aid with my limited abilities with the French language, I chose the option SOUS-TITRES SOURDS & MALENTENDANTS, which, to my surprise, utilized a complex colour-coded system of subtitles as follows:

White: A character on the screen 
Yellow: A person out of shot 
Green: A foreign languaged (translated) 
Green Italics: A foreign language (untranslated) 
Red: Noises (e.g. sirens, gunshots) 
Magenta: Music in general (with titles of the pieces)
Magenta Italics: Music with singing
Cyan: A person reciting, commentary
Cyan Italics: Inner thoughts

According to reports, my experience with the multicoloured, multidimensional subtitles on the DVD, differs considerably from the experience of watching the film - subtitled - in 3D, where 'the title’s bold red letters and white English subtitles jump out at you'. 

With my experience, however, I was reminded of Lucretius' famous description of the 'poverty' of language (egestatem linguae, 1. 139; patrii sermonis egestas, 1. 832, 3. 260), not least because such poverty was directly referenced in the film.

Still from trailer for Jean-Luc Godard Adieu au langage, 2014
Although Godard is actually reworking a passage from Maurice Blanchot's  L'attente l'oubli (Awaiting Oblivion) - see Ted Fendt’s list of texts and films quoted or alluded to in Goodbye to Language - the Lucretian echo still resonated for me, especially as mediated by a scene in the 1994 film: JLG/JLG - autoportrait de décembre (JLG/JLG – Self-Portrait in December). 

Still from Jean-Luc Godard JLG/JLG - autoportrait de décembre,1994
In this wonderful film-essay, Godard is reading the following passage from The World of Null-A, by Science Fiction writer A. E. van Vogt (a shot of a French translation of his book La Fin du A (Null A Three) appears towards the end of Goodbye to Language)  while the camera moves to focus on a chair in his office. 

What you say a thing is, it is not...It is much more. It is a compound in the largest sense. A chair is not just a chair. It is a structure of inconceivable complexity, chemically, atomically, electronically, etc. 

At this moment I missed the colour-coded subtitles of the recent film as the audio changes from Godard speaking to an inner voice (so from Cyan to Cyan Italics), as he continues the quotation. I found the complexity of the chair in JLG/JLG – Self-Portrait in December and the poverty of language in Goodby to Language coming together in Lucretius' use of a range of terms for atoms in DRN. The same 'things' are denoted as rerum primordia, as materies, as corpa prima, as corpuscula as as elementa. (See James Warrren in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, p, 22)

Understood with this Lucretian reference, I guess Godard's 'farewell' to language, when experienced with the multiplicity of the DVD's subtitles could be seen as engaging language in an equally compelling way to the materialized theatrics of 3D subtitles. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mediterranean: everything was sleeping as if the universe were a mistake

You are the Weather, 1994-1996.
speaks of the process of consciousness, of the physical dimension and its transcendence, which goes beyond concrete things.

Else 11, 2010
feature a succession of twists and turns, stops, changes and contacts that do not follow a pre-established pattern.

Her, Her, Her and Her, 2002.
 she finds an ideal space in which to develop her work

You are the Weather, Part 2 (partial view), 2010-2011.
close inspection reveals tiny numbers, which refer to footnotes containing musings
White Dickinson
grave poetry acquires corporeal consistency, a disturbing presence, closed in upon itself. At the same time, the position of the sculptures, leaning against the wall, transmits a sense of precarious balance.

That XV, 1993-1994
a work in which the spectator completes a triangle by standing before two images that are identical, yet, at the same time, subtly different

But 1, 2013
transform into sculpture some lines written by

Enough 10, 2005
subtle creations invite spectators to sharpen their senses, to become immersed in silence, and to begin to grasp the tiny differences that

Dead Owl, 1997
lead us to question preconceived ideas

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lost in Translation: Alberto Manguel 'Ulysses questions the Sibyl'

Ulysses turned his back on the harbour and followed a rough track leading through the woods and up to the hills towards the place where Athena had told him. A group of men were idling around an oil barrel in which a fire was burning. He muttered a greeting and stood for a moment with them, trying to warm his hands. Then he entered the town through a crumbling stone gate.
          Athena had wanted to be paid in full before leading him onto the ship, and then the captain had asked for further payment before allowing him and the other four men to crawl into the wooden crate and cover themselves with the raw hides meant for export. The customs people, Athena had told him, hardly ever bothered inspecting a cargo of hides. Afterwards, he'd tried to wash himself off in salt water, but the smell of dead animals still clung to him like a wet cloth.
          All the years he'd been away, he'd remembered the way home in snapshots: the house of the Englishwoman, the oak tree inside a ring of stones, the sloping wall which he and his friends used to climb, pretending it was a mountain. Now he let his legs carry him, like mules that knew the way. Straight on, then left, then right, then left again. He looked about in wonder.
          Was this the place? Were these the houses he knew, built this way and that? Were the shutters painted that colour? From the many places he had seen he carried images that were not his own, and now they overlapped and stuck to the half-remembered sites in a confusion of impressions. As a child, it was all clear-cut: a word for everything around him, a tag for every event, for every person. Not now. Already the harbour looked different: loads of fruit from the Caribbean, tractors from the United States, blond men from Norway and Iceland. Places he knew faraway. Not here.
          A scent of benzine filled his nostrils, and a purple-coloured dust blew in the air as it never had blown in his childhood. A pale, young, helmeted man stood in a doorway, gently caressing a gun. A 4-x-4 roared past him and then turned towards the old cemetery. A black man with salt-white hair, blind in one eye, opened and closed a high window. A woman with snakes in her hair sat on a stone bench, shouting curses to the passers-by. A group of children dressed in smocks were throwing stones at a pack of dogs. Even the dogs looked strange. Who were they, these people who'd never belonged here, whose stories were told elsewhere, in languages he never learned to speak, in places where he'd been a foreigner? He stopped by the fountain where his mother and aunts used to fetch the water before the aid workers built the neighbourhood pump.
          The Sibyl of Cumae, two thousand years old, was coming up the street with her shopping basket. He recognized her immediately. Huffing and drooling, gobs of spittle forming at the corners of her mouth like foam on an ancient sea, her face, shrivelled and bristly, framed by her kerchief, as he remembered it from Cumae, where he had gone to ask her a question, her body bent over like one of the small old trees that grew in the harbour. She struggled up the street clutching the folds of her black dress.
          "Sibyl! Sibyl!" called the children, and laughed. One of the boys threw a stone at her, not meaning to hit her, as if he just wanted her to say something, to answer back.
          He then ran to his friends, laughing but also frightened. Ulysses remembered that his mother had told him that the Sibyl lived far across the water and that, once a year, she caught a little child and drained its blood. This kept her young. Ulysses didn't believe his mother, but when he'd approached her in Cumae he'd still been afraid.
          "Sibyl! Sibyl!" Ulysses heard a girl call, taller and older than the other children. She had a mane of curly black hair and firm breasts that showed under her shirt. "Sibyl, tell me, can you teach me how to do it?" And she laughed louder than the others.
          "Shameless!" a woman shouted out at the girl. "How can you say such things?" And she turned to Ulysses as if to seek his support. The children laughed again, proud of their leader. But the girl had nothing more to say and ran off, and the children followed.
          Instead of turning down the street that almost certainly led to his house, Ulysses followed the Sibyl until she reached the marketplace. This too was not as he remembered it. Now, next to the food stalls, there were sellers of polyester dresses and jeans, radios and electric clocks, Russian shoes, German cutlery and Rumanian china. There was a stall that sold tapes and played music: Aldo Freni, Ben Trent, Valentino. The Sibyl stopped to buy grapes which she would swallow whole because her teethless gums couldn't burst the skin, and bread whose crust she'd first cut off with a knife she'd brought to be sharpened. In Cumae, Ulysses had seen her throw the crusts to the ravens outside her door before she'd turned back in and not come out again. He'd left without asking his question.
          The Sibyl filled her basket and began the long walk back to her house, a small house on the edge of town. The door was very low, barely high enough for a child; the three small windows were shuttered. Outside there was a wooden bench, weathered and warped, set against the wall. There the Sibyl sat, her basket by her side. A canary sang through the shutters. "Poor innocent little bird!" said a young couple, passing by. "Locked up in that darkness of hell!"
          In Cumae too, the Sibyl had a house very much like this one. Every evening, except in the depth of winter, the Sibyl would sit on the wooden bench and wait. On the Sibyl's street, no boys played soccer in the evenings, no girls played hopscotch. When she's walking, Ulysses thought, she looks alive, funny with age, an ugly doll. But now that she's sitting, she's as if made of wood, like the bench, or of stone, like the grey house.
          Ulysses waited. From the Sibyl's house he could see the whole town stretching out from wall to crumbled wall and beyond, to the harbour from which he'd come, far in the distance, to his house hidden behind a new grey building crowned with a billboard advertising a supermarket. Athena had led him back, but was this the town he'd left? Again he felt lost. The many years of wandering dragged behind him like the wake of a ship, and were now wearily familiar in the suffering they'd brought; he'd grown accustomed to them as one might grow accustomed to the pain of an old wound. Every new port, every new encounter had made him feel alien in a different way and his senses were now attuned to certain expected sights and sounds and smells: the crash of a door slamming in his face, the raised eyebrow of the bureaucrat fingering his passport, the brackish odour of a meal offered by a kind soul through the bars of an detention camp. A man he'd met on one of his attempts had said to him: "Once an exile, always an exile."
          He had tried to redo his life in many places. In one, he had been kept imprisoned in a cave-like room, like sheep to be fattened and devoured. In another, he had worked and slept in an underground factory, among clattering machinery, surrounded by men and women who had forgotten even their names. In a third, he had been allowed to stay only if he swore to leave again after a certain time and not claim any of the benefits of an ordinary labourer. In a fourth, he had been forced to hide night and day from the immigration police, and if anyone asked he said his name was Nobody. Twice he had become a whore. In the most dreadful place of all, ghost-like souls past all hope whirled about him in howling droves and told him of the terrible things that had happened to them. Officials with bored faces went around taking down their stories and collecting them in cardboard files.
          After Cumae, he'd seen the Sibyl in several of those places, staring blankly among those who had lost all memory, huddled among the sans-papiers, wandering among the ghostly asylum-seekers. She had appeared in the midst of them all, or had sat to one side, brooding, or had shuffled with the crowd waiting endlessly in queues to fill in forms, furnish documentation, explain, cajole, plead. He'd seen her once, with two other old women, dragged handcuffed onto a plane between armed gendarmes: she had said nothing, but the women were sobbing and screaming, and the other passengers had been very upset. Another time, she had stood among the neighbours watching a small African boy being taken from his school to a waiting car, his teacher shouting curses at the abductors. Then too, the Sibyl had remained silent.
          The Sibyl now sat on her bench, her basket by her side, as if she had been sitting there since the beginning of the world. Ulysses looked at her and, for the first time, she looked back at him. He imagined what the old woman saw: an old man, in dirty rags, possessing nothing, belonging nowhere. A question had been shaping itself since he'd left home, in the early years of the war, and after his first death, and then after the second, and later towards the end of the fighting and the city's fall, and all throughout the cursed voyage back, after every new marvel and every new terror. His tongue now mouthed it, mumbling. Then he spoke it again, more clearly.
          On her bench, the Sibyl lifted her ancient head. Her breast heaved with an asthmatic wheeze, strands of grey hair which had escaped from under her kerchief blew now against her face and stuck to her wet jaw. She lifted a hand to her mouth but didn't touch her lips. She uttered a low moaning sound, between a grunt and a cackle, let out a whistling sigh, and then a shriek so shrill that the people, coming now up her street in an every-increasing crowd, failed to hear it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Those were no eagles: Icarus falls in Spain

Dead. Dead. Every child. Shriek out
from the stormed park, the smouldered school-yard
because this quiet shocks the sky as much
as the first roar of bombers.

                                   Noise became
expected: ears survived. Even the touch
of shadows changing, that had stayed the same
for hundreds of holy years, became expected.

But the planes went, and all unresurrected
lies the city. Not one sudden wonder
has risen to mock the bombs.

                                 Are you afraid?
Those were no eagles; all their titan thunder
was made by human hands.
Grant Icarus shade
or he will fall again! Mothers, grow wild
shriek out! Dead. Dead. Every child.

 - Aaron Kramer Guernica (1945) 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Enter Plato's Cave

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.  
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
That is certain.
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it' the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
Far truer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What these Ithacas mean: at home with Darboven's Odyssey and in Fischli & Weiss' World

I am writing this from Madrid, in our tiny flat in Calle Olivar, our new home for the next year. As you would expect, I have spent the first week here exploring the wonders of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. In my three visits so far, two were centered on Picasso's Guernica.

Pablo Picasso Guernica, 1937
Each time I joined the crowd and stood before the epic work, my eyes slowly wandered to parts of the painting I had not yet seen in the many reproductions I'd previously encountered. For example, I saw the terrifying light-bulb, competing with the candle at the centre (below), as well as the black bird (a dove?) lost between the horse and the bull (this one you must see for yourselves, as I couldn't find any detail online that shows this ghostly creature).

Pablo Picasso Guernica, 1937 (detail)
While transfixed, my partner Rebeka played a game, during our first visit with my son, Eneko, and on the second visit, with both Eneko and his cousin, Uxue, of finding all the sculptures and paintings (including Guernica) in the replica model of the Spanish Pavilion of 1937 in the rest of the museum,
Luis Lacasa and Josep Lluís Sert Spanish Pavilion Model for the Paris International Exhibition of 1937
On the one occasion so far that I have visited the museum by myself, I had two hours to try to take in as much  as I could. I dashed through the massice visiting Richard Hamilton exhibition as well as two floors of the permanent collection, but, as with the Guernica during those earlier visits, I did managed to slow down, specifically at two distinct points. The first was in two rooms of the visiting exhibition The order of time and things. The home studio of Hanne Darboven devoted to her work: Homer. Odyssey (1971). As with the other rooms in the exhibition, these rooms juxtaposed the working spaces and bric-à-brac of her home in Am Burgberg with her signature serial, numerical works she had been creating since the late 1960s after her life and work changing visit to New York. In the first room, I was greeted by this desk, covered in pictures (mainly of goats) and a monkey statue and a jacket left on the chair seemingly awaiting the immanent return of its wearer.
Exhibition view. Time and Things. The Home Studio of Hanne Darboven, 2014
But on the walls surrounding this cluttered working-living space was part of the Odyssey series. (I forgot my camera, so I am grateful to the blog Tocho T8 for the photos of the installation). 

Hanne Darboven Homer. Odyssey, 1971 (detail)
When I looked closer, these pages seems to have transformed what appeared to be the first five books of the poem into a series of scribbled lines annotated with a kind of numerical sequence.

Hanne Darboven Homer. Odyssey, 1971
On entering the next room, there was again a muddle of strange objects - this time with some general focus on travel.
Exhibition view. Time and Things. The Home Studio of Hanne Darboven, 2014
And, to my surprise, the Odyssey series continued.

Hanne Darboven Homer. Odyssey, 1971
 But instead of the scribbled lines, I found Homer's poem (again the first five books) in a German translation, carefully copied-out by Darboven.

Hanne Darboven Homer. Odyssey, 1971
(It is only at this moment, writing this up, that I suspect I had possibly walked the wrong way through the exhibition and that I was meant to encounter the carefully transcribed poem before its abstraction into a numerical code and scribbled lines).

With Darboven's cluttered studio and Homeric calculations still occupying my thoughts, I stumbled through the sprawling and provocative Playgrounds: reinventing the square exhibition. On entering one darkened room, I experienced a delicious sense of recognition as I came across a work I had read about, but had never seen for myself: Peter Fischli and David Weiss' Visible World

Peter Fischli and David Weiss Visible World, 1997-2014.
I carefully took in the beautiful sequence of world-wide snapshots, catching the Coliseum amid jungles, the Parthenon following deserts. 

Peter Fischli and David Weiss Visible World, 1997-2014 (detail)
Here I recalled the travel-pictures of Darboven's studio and the way in which travelers bring their adventures and wanderings home with them.
Peter Fischli and David Weiss Visible World, 1997-2014 (detail)
Satisfied and buzzing from these two rooms amid the expanse of the Reina Sofia, I returned home to our tiny flat in Calle Olivar and, later that evening, continued to read Eneko his current favourite bed-time story.

Eneko y su libro favorito
 To have your own adventure in the Reina Sofia, you can virtually start here.