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Editora y Directora / Director & Editor:

Alicia Murría Coordinación en Latinoamérica Latin America Coordinators: Argentina: Eva Grinstein México: Bárbara Perea Equipo de Redacción / Editorial Staff:

Alicia Murría, Natalia Maya Santacruz, Santiago B. Olmo, Eva Navarro info@artecontexto.com Asistente editorial / Editorial Assistant:

Natalia Maya Santacruz Responsable de Relaciones Externas y Publicidad Public Relations and Advertising Manager:

Eva Navarro publicidad@artecontexto.com Administración / Accounting Department:

Carmen Villalba administracion@artecontexto.com Suscripciones / Subscriptions:

Pablo D. Olmos suscripciones@artecontexto.com Distribución / Distribution: distribucion@artecontexto.com Oficinas / Office: Tel. + 34 913 656 596 C/ Santa Ana 14, 2º C. 28005 Madrid. (España) www.artecontexto.com Diseño / Design:

Jacinto Martín

Colaboran en este número / Contributors in this Issue:

Luis Camnitzer, Teixeira Coelho, Juan Antonio Álvarez Reyes, Beatriz Herráez, Chema González, Alicia Murría, Jesús Martín-Barbero, María de Corral, Beatriz Preciado, Ticio Escobar, Manuel Borja-Villel, José Manuel Sánchez Duarte, Santiago B. Olmo, Elena Duque, Abraham Rivera, José Manuel Costa, Eva Grinstein, Catalina Lozano, Agnaldo Farias, Micol Hebrón, Alanna Lockward, Sema D’Acosta, Kiki Mazzucchelli, Uta M. Reindl, Filipa Oliveira, Pedro Medina, Eva Navarro, Natalia Maya Santacruz, Alejadro Ratia, Javier Marroquí, Marta Mantecón, Haizea Barcenilla, Mireia A. Puigventós, Pablo G. Polite, Mariano Navarro, Mónica Núñez Luis. Especial agradecimiento / Special thanks: A José Manuel Costa por el impulso a las nuevas secciones de cine y música To José Manuel Costa for his support with the new music and movies sections.

ARTECONTEX TO ARTECONTEXTO arte cultura nuevos medios es una publicación trimestral de ARTEHOY Publicaciones y Gestión, S.L. Impreso en España por Técnicas Gráficas Forma Producción gráfica: El viajero / Eva Bonilla. Procograf S.L. ISSN: 1697-2341. Depósito legal: M-1968–2004 Todos los derechos reservados. Ninguna parte de esta publicación puede ser reproducida o transmitida por ningún medio sin el permiso escrito del editor. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means without written permission from the publisher. © de la edición, ARTEHOY Publicaciones y Gestión, S.L. © de las imágenes, sus autores © de los textos, sus autores © de las traducciones, sus autores © de las reproducciones autorizadas, VEGAP. Madrid 2009 Esta publicación es miembro de la Asociación de Revistas Culturales de España (ARCE) y de la Federación Iberoamericana de Revistas Culturales (FIRC)

Esta revista ha recibido una subvención de la Dirección General del Libro, Archivos y Bibliotecas para su difusión en bibliotecas, centros culturales y universidades de España, para la totalidad de los números editados en el año 2009.

Esta revista ha recibido una subvención de la Comunidad de Madrid para el año 2008.

El viajero: www.elviajero.org Traducciones / Translations:

Joanna Porter y José Manuel Sánchez Duarte

ARTECONTEXTO reúne diversos puntos de vista para activar el debate y no se identifica forzosamente con todas las opiniones de sus autores. / ARTECONTEXTO does not necessarily share the opinions expressed by the authors. La editorial ARTEHOY Publicaciones y Gestión S.L., a los efectos previstos en el art. 32,1, párrafo segundo, del TRLPI se opone expresamente a que cualquiera de las páginas de ARTECONTEXTO sea utilizada para la realización de resúmenes de prensa. Cualquier forma de reproducción, distribución, comunicación pública o transformación de esta obra sólo puede ser realizada con la autorización de sus titulares, salvo excepción prevista por la ley. Diríjase a CEDRO (Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos: www.cedro.org) si necesita fotocopiar o escanear algún fragmento de esta obra.

Portada / Cover: ˇ DEIMANTAS NARKEVI CIUS La Cabeza, 2007.

Película de archivo de 35 mm transferida a vídeo Betacam SP. 12’. Cortesía: MNCARS.


SUMARIO / INDEX / 21 SUMARIO / INDEX / 21

Primera página / Page One

4

Cuando la realidad supera a la ficción / When Reality Overcomes Fiction ALICIA MURRÍA

S AEÑAORS Y

5

Dossier: Arte y violencia / Art and Violence

6

Arte y deshonra / Art and Shame LUIS CAMNITZER

16

Vida después de la muerte. Los espectros de Marx y los documentales subjetivos de Deimantas NarkeviČius Life after Death: Spectres of Marx and Deimantas NarkeviČius’s Subjective Documentaries JUAN ANTONIO ÁLVAREZ REYES

24

El cadáver exquisito de la cultura Culture’s Exquisite Corpse TEIXEIRA COELHO Páginas Centrales / Centre Pages

32

Entre el canon y la representación. Entrevista con Jeff Wall Between the Canon and Representation. An Interview with Jeff Wall CHEMA GONZÁLEZ

44

De la posibilidad contenida en el fracaso. A partir de una conversación fragmentada con Pep Agut On the Possibility Contained in Failure. From a Fragmentary Conversation with Pep Agut BEATRIZ HERRÁEZ 5º aniversario / 5th Anniversary ARTECONTEXTO

50

JESÚS MARTÍN-BARBERO / MARÍA DE CORRAL / BEATRIZ PRECIADO TICIO ESCOBAR / MANUEL BORJA-VILLEL

66

CiberContexto JOSÉ MANUEL SÁNCHEZ DUARTE

70

Cine / Cinema Reseñas / Reviews. ELENA DUQUE Gomorra o la derrota del periodismo frente al cine Gomorra, or Cinema’s Defeat of Journalism SANTIAGO B. OLMO

76

Música / Music Reseñas / Reviews. JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA Energy Flash. ABRAHAM RIVERA

80

Info

90

Criticas de exposiciones / Reviews of Exhibitions


When Reality Overcomes Fiction Puzzlement would be the best word to describe our reaction to recent events. We are still coming to terms with the transformations taking place, on a planetary scale, in the forms of communication, and we are now witnessing the collapse of the economic structures which, until recently, boasted excellent ultra-liberal health; at the same time, an African American democrat has taken the reins of the country that has caused the catastrophe. This is strange, as strange as the fact that those who defended the self-regulation of the market, in a meteoric change of principles, are now demanding rescue by the State, a demand that is being satisfied just as swiftly, and are even managing to come out unscathed: they are not having to take responsibility for their mistakes and excesses, and it seems as though the help they are now receiving comes free of any conditions. A child watching the tricks of a prestidigitator would be no more astounded than we are. The question is whether what is taking place is merely an “accident” within the system, whose essence entails repelling any bid for control, or whether it reflects our arrival to the end of an unsustainable paradigm, which must now be rebuilt from its foundations. This dossier examines the subject of culture and violence. Luis Camnitzer writes about macroand micro-violence, of its incursion in the language of art from ethical planes, and not merely as a mournful or reassuring representation. Juan Antonio Álvarez Reyes analyses the series of videographic works of the Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius in which the artist conducts a criticism of both totalitarianism and of the types of Eastern European societies which have emerged following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lastly, Teixeira Coelho calls for a “cultural environmentalism”, advancing the thesis that it is fear that organises all forms of violence. Two artists occupy our central pages: in an interview by Chema González, the Canadian artist Jeff Wall speaks at length about the construction of images; and Pep Agut, who, through the text written by Beatriz Herráez, explains his idea of the work of art as an “artifact for resistance”. It is now exactly five years since ARTECONTEXTO first appeared, which seemed to us a good reason to invite five prominent figures from the world of culture, Jesús Martín-Barbero, María de Corral, Beatriz Preciado, Ticio Escobar and Manuel Borja-Villel, to consider, from their various perspectives and spheres of action, the changes they have observed over the past few years, as well as the upcoming challenges and the issues they consider to be most important. In addition, starting with this issue, we are expanding our contents with new sections devoted to film and music, which will feature the contributions of several valuable collaborators, as well as the usual sections: CiberContexto, Info and Reviews. We thank everyone who has made it possible for ARTECONTEXTO to continue growing.

ALICIA MURRÍA


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JORGE MACCHI Doppelg채nger, 2005. From an exhibition at La Casa Encendida, Madrid. Courtesy of the artist and the Distrito Cu4tro Gallery.


LUIS CAMNITZER * I saw the work of a young artist not long ago. We both agreed that it was not a particularly striking piece. We discussed it for a while, and suddenly she confessed: “What really interests me is the fact that my grandmother died and I went to have a coke”. This was the most interesting idea in the conversation, and it summarised the underlying violence in those small acts of shame, the traumas ignored by the thresholds of our sensitivity. In this case, she felt she had been disloyal to a person she knew and loved by engaging in a trivial act which rendered her grandmother an object, and displayed her own lack of sensitivity. Her confession revealed an act which was so banal that she had neglected it until that moment. This act defines the frontier between the ethical and the non ethical, between ignorable cruelty and sociopathological damage. We only perceive the things which take place above a certain level, and we ignore the rest. We quantify experiences in order to accept or discard them, as if there were no connection between them. In addition, we presuppose that, at any given time, the limit will not stand on a fixed and absolute position, but will also serve as an assessment tool. The conversation with the artist made me realise that the term dishonour is probably much more accurate than violence, or than carrying out acts of violence. I use the word dishonour because I cannot think of a better or more up-to-date term. And I use it in its deepest sense, applied to human activities which seek to expel human beings from the human community to which they have a natural right

to belong, to the activities which attempt to shun or destroy them on other levels. To dishonour the living is the opposite of “honouring the dead”, that futile attempt at eternal resurrection. Ultimately, violence is just one of the forms which can be adopted by dishonour, and therefore, violence can be considered a subcategory of dishonour. Dishonour is a term used to describe a relationship, whilst violence seems to be confined to discrete acts. Carrying out an act of violence is an act of dishonour, in different degrees, toward both the victim and the perpetrator: the victim because of the wishes of the perpetrator; the perpetrator because he diminishes or reduces his right to take part in a constructive collectivity. This underlying relationship seems to be much more revealing. The narrow lens with which violence is examined separates the perpetrator from the victim, or –to use more perverse terms– the producer from the consumer. This separation, therefore, reflects a consumer ideology, instead of helping us reveal a situation which can be analysed in ethical terms. The field of art is influenced by the mobile scale which goes from large actions to small acts of dishonour toward human life, because it is an awareness of this mobility that allows the sphere of action of the artist to be defined. From this perspective, as an artist, large actions, such as genocide, are outside my sphere. I can protest and state my opposition to genocide, but, no matter how good an artist I may be, I cannot do anything to stop it. On the other hand, small acts are more accessible. They can be isolated within individuals, and, therefore, it is possible to establish a sense of empathy. DOSSIER · ARTECONTEXTO · 11


Most of the acts which are directed against others are based on avoiding or erasing any chance for empathy. This process could be termed “obliteration of biography”. It could also be described as reification, or the transformation of people into things. Interpretation is unimportant; it is a question of dehumanising the victim, of ignoring or erasing the history which defines him or her as an individual, and, in that sense, to dishonour him or her. It is during this act that the perpetrator also losses his individual nature, and his biography is annulled in order to feed his function as perpetrator. Hence the sense of surprise when it is discovered that the military man, who, in an act of dishonour toward himself, stole his victim’s child, is eventually recognised as the kindly father of this same child. Large acts are possible because reification tends to move toward statistics, a place ruled by anonymity. On the other hand, in smaller acts, direct biographical knowledge is suspended. Violence carried out in small acts is much more direct, and there is far less space for the use of statistics: it is as if we were using a magnifying glass. The damage caused by small acts may be smaller, but, from an ethical perspective, they are equally reprehensible. The growing use of technology in war attempts to achieve a greater statistical presence, with which to avoid any sort of biographical visualisation. By using computers to manipulate weapons, death is executed from a distance which allows invisibility. Not only does it avoid body-to-body contact, but it also reduces visual contact. Eyes, after all, are essential doors providing access to biographic information. Thirty-five deserters from the North American army, which joined the Mexican forces during the1846 invasion, were sent to the gallows. In an act of emptying and punishment, at the time of their death, they were forced to look toward the castle of Chapultepec as it was taken by North American forces. The executioner waited until the American flag was raised, so that this would be the last thing seen by the victims before being killed. History did not document whether this last and logic act of rebellion took place: whether or not at the last moment they turned their face to that of their companions. During the Nuremberg trials, the ideologist of the Nazi party, Alfred Rosenberg, declared he had never been to a concentration camp, for reasons of good taste. It would not be appropriate for him to go and “watch people whose freedom had been taken from them”. The statements of Admiral Frederick Ashworth contain a notable exception to this wilful blindness. “Kokura was the target, but the bomber could not find it under the clouds. So the pilot took us to Nagasaki.” Ashworth’s obituary also mentions that he “was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1946 in recognition of his work with the A-bomb project.”1 In 1838, in what was known as the “Pastry War” (France occupied Veracruz in retaliation for the burning of a French bakery), General Santa Anna was hit by cannon fire and lost a leg. The leg was buried with full military honours, and, five years later, Santa Anna ordered for a monument to be erected in its honour. In one of the rebellions against Santa Anna’s dictatorship, the people tore down the monument, dug out the leg and dragged it through the city until it 12 · ARTECONTEXTO · DOSSIER

turned to dust. The visible biographical elements were eliminated; the people, dishonoured by dictatorship, dishonoured their tyrant.2 The use of language contributes to the creation of distance and to erasing the presence of any sort of personal biography of the victims, as is revealed in the names given to the military actions in Iraq, as well as in the long preceding tradition. The nuclear bombs which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki were given such harmless names as “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”. Henry Kissinger named the bombardment mission on the tiny villages in Cambodia as “Breakfast”, “Lunch”, “Snack” and “Dinner”. The incident of the dead grandmother and the coke is particularly interesting because of its complexity. It contained an unexpected crossing. The biographical quality of the grandmother (even the word contains biography) was preserved during the reification process. The artist was really attempting to dominate her feeling of loss and mourning. But the simultaneity of biography and reification caused her to mistake her feelings for unethical behaviour. It was the presence of biography which led her to perceive the danger of dishonour. And it is biography which here functions as a hinge. For a long time, the Bush administration did not allow the publication of any photographs of the coffins of the American soldiers killed during the Iraq invasion. The photographs were the crack through which objectified statistics became individualised biography. I do not believe that it is possible to stop violence though art.3 But I do believe art can help identify dishonour. The effectiveness of art here can only be measured in terms of the level of conversion it can achieve among people who disagree with the artist. The few examples which prove its slight effectiveness are based on a documentary more than expressive quality. Political works of art, in general, cannot achieve the conversion of a disbelieving audience. Despite the prevailing opinion regarding the importance of Picasso’s Guernica, I never could avoid the sensation that it is a good decorative painting which fails in its attempt to activate anti-violence feelings.4 Today, after decades of symbolic investment on the part of art’s guardians, Guernica has become a useful object which reminds us of a horrific crime, and functions as a receptacle for memory. Thanks to a manufactured consensus –clearly an extra-artistic investment– it functions, much more than as a symbol of violence, as a symbol of the dishonour of the perpetrator. As such, it fulfils a very important role, to the extent that, on the 5th of February, 2003, the Guernica reproduction which hangs in the United Nations was covered to avoid causing any embarrassment to Colin Powell during his well-known statement including false data before the United Nations.5 The image hangs near the entrance to the Security Council hall, and has done so since 1985, and, on this occasion, it was covered with the flags of the member countries. Paradoxically, the picture’s initial purpose had not been to act as a reminder of dishonour, but to avoid future criminal actions. I would say that art has a greater chance of preventing violence and dishonour if it helps viewers visualise biography. Art can act against modest reification, and, during this process, it can convey a


SIMEÓN SÁIZ Forense yugoslavo examinando, el viernes 22 de enero de 1999, la radiografía de una víctima de la matanza de Racak, 2005. From an image by the Associated Press. Pastel on paper. Collection: Fúcares Gallery.

DOSSIER · ARTECONTEXTO · 13


* Luis Camnitzer is an artist, who also works as a teacher, curator, critic and historian.

1. Richard Goldstein, “Frederick L. Ashworth, 93, Atomic Bomb Handler, Dies”. In The New York Times, 8/12/2005, p. B11 2. Santa Anna used artificial legs for the rest of his life. One of these is still held as war trophy by the United States, at the Military Museum of the Illinois Military and Naval Department in Springfield. 3. In contrast to this statement, the North American general William Caldwell, in an attempt to justify the death of 49 people in October, 2006, compared the war chaos in Iraq with a work of art: “Every masterpiece goes through confusing periods while it is being developed. A piece of clay can become a sculpture. Paint stains become inspiring paintings”. Julian Borger, “Iraq, a ‘work of art in progress’ says US general after 49 die,” In The Guardian, 2.11.06. The following month, November, more than 3,000 people died. 4. Picasso’s painting was made with the aim of protesting against the Nazi bombardment of the Basque village of Guernica. In an operation which lasted three hours, almost a third of the village’s 5,000 inhabitants were killed. The purpose of the bombardment was solely to test the effectiveness of German weapons. 5. Obviously, at that point it was not clear to everyone that the information was false, but it was known that the purpose of the presentation was to justify the Iraq invasion.

14 · ARTECONTEXTO · DOSSIER

JORGE MACCHI Charco de sangre, 2004. Installation in Réplica exhibition at MUCA, México. Courtesy of the artist and the Distrito Cu4tro Gallery.

sense of revulsion, and contribute to perceptual clarity and to providing the viewer with a revelation. If art does not manage to generate this clarity, it perishes as deranged information. This means that the only usable information is that which leads to this kind of revelation. Both the artist’s taste and his own rage regarding this subject belong to his personal biography. But the personal biography of the artist must not interfere with the biography which he is trying to rescue, that of the victim. The artist’s biography can serve to enrich the discourse, but it lacks significance as information in and of itself. The specific task of the artist is to salvage the victim’s biography, and synchronise it to that of the viewer. In her diary, Virginia Woolf wrote: “The reason why it is easy to kill another person is that one’s imagination is too indolent to conceive the meaning that life has for the other person.” Violence, for the viewer, will always be reduced to a series of facts; it is only dishonour that is transferable. Unfortunately, wounds cannot be shared, only imagined. It is because of this, more than any other issue, that what helps us to define our role as artists is the way in which to lend greater power to imagination, and how best to find an ethically correct direction. It is in this combination, rather than in matters of content, that art can become a political tool with some chance of success.


CIBERCONTEXTO Art and Violence on the Net The rethinking of violence brings traditional images to current contexts. Quartered bodies, catastrophic situations, humiliated citizens...These events are extraordinarily intense, and are destined to overcome resistance by means of strength and fear. All of these representations (in the field of art, the media, etc.) belong to the realm of physical violence. However, if we did not go beyond this, other types of violence, which are more present and affect a large number of collectives and communities. Violence is oblique, and, beyond the bloodied bodies, it is exercised through subtle forms which are assumed to be “natural”. In the face of aggression on the physical and material plane, there exist other confrontations in the territory of meanings. Symbolic violence (to use the definition by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu) takes on “legitimised” domination forms. Therefore, those who are being dominated obey the powers that be as a result of their lack of understanding of their mechanisms, allowing those who manage power to exert it in a “legitimate” way. Violence in art also overcomes the physical plane to represent

Annika Larsson

By José Manuel Sánchez Duarte these symbolic domination forms. The irruption and development of new technologies allow not only for a diversification of the ways in which the interventions are carried out, but also for the alteration of their meanings: questioning the imposed power hierarchies and the prevailing values, and lending visibility to silenced problems. The discrimination suffered by certain collectives, the attacks on the environment and the exclusion of all that which is considered abnormal can be seen as violence: institutionalized violence, social violence, and ultimately, domesticated violence. Therefore, fear, terror and violence in art can give rise to two issues which are linked to its function. The first, in the words of the Brazilian professor Miguel Wady Chaia, is to anticipate utopias, to symbolically carry the projects of others. In this way, artistic representation would give rise to a collective attempt to raise the alert on certain social problems, to offer a first drive to question assumed violences. The second approach to violence in art would take on the function of legitimizing prevailing power, particularly by providing some balance in the face of imposition. By means of its “traditional” representation circles, therefore, art would not reflect reality but instead build it by institutionalizing it.

In the Air http://intheair.es/

http://annikalarsson.com

Blood slides down his nostrils. A man with a lost gaze ignores his own existence (or maybe he is too aware of it). Time is slow, cadenced and oppressive. A gunshot. A body lies on the beach. These sequences form part of three of the works by the Swedish artist Annika Larsson (Blood, D.I.E. and Pink Ball). In a society which is torpedoed by speed, the absence of connected events hinders reality. Larsson freezes violence into micro-seconds. We feel the agony of physical and symbolic impositions. Something violent is about the take place. We close our eyes to stop ourselves from seeing it, but we are incapable of doing it completely…

68 · ARTECONTEXTO

The project led by Nerea Calvillo in Visualizar’08: Database City (MedialabPrado) aims to lend visibility to the air in Madrid. This piece combines such diverse disciplines as anthropology, physics and architecture. It fluidly approaches artistic language. An art which is concerned with social violence, that which subtly attacks all of us and is seen as the “absence of violence”. To manufacture an “index of the components of air by means of a cloud of colours which meld architecture with the atmosphere”, she lends visibility to that part of the city’s life which is justified by a utilitarian logic. The “diffuse façade”, full of sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, can be used to de-naturalise one of the many symbolic violences which surround us.


Clemente Bernard http://www.clementebernad.com

Banksy

http://www.banksy.co.uk/ Regardless of the debate on the co-opting of graffiti and street art, and on its “bureaucratisation”, caused by its entry in museums and galleries, the anonymous artist Banksy has emerged as a contemporary landmark. His actions are interpreted as a fight against the monopoly of the violence carried out by nations, though their institutions. Not only because many of his works question the violent nature of the system, but also because they take over public spaces, breaking the rules we take for granted. Some of his graffiti have become sardonic icons of current society: two policemen kissing, a bird smashing security cameras and a tiger escaping from symbolic consumerist jails made out of barcodes.

Faith Wilding

http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/fwild/faithwilding/ Without attempting to define the foundations and characteristics of cyber-feminism, the work of Faith Wilding conveys a criticism of the symbolic violence suffered by women. By avoiding the overworked representation of physical aggression, this activist adopts a feminist approach on the Internet, focusing on re-establishing the foundations of patriarchal society. It is worth noting her performance Waiting, where she presents a woman-servant in a permanent state of expectance, of existing for others and not for herself, of being dependent and absent.

An infinite number of socially “correct” discourses emerge around political violence. Artistic actions which exclude themselves (or are excluded) from these rules are seen as legitimising murderers. The political situation of the Basque Country has been often reduced to the totalising duality of the victims and the executioners, of the “goodies” and the enemies. The photographer Clemente Bernard became established in the media following his Basque Chronicles exhibition in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Some associations of victims of terrorism and certain political parties virulently criticised his work, claiming it was in collusion (or, at the very least, it displayed a sense of permissiveness) with terrorists. His website provides an overview not only of the human and geographical landscape of Navarra and the Basque Country, but also of many violent events, as well as the work of other important photographers.

Khuruts Begoña http://www.khube.com/

What happens when violence is not condemned firmly enough? What happens when art meticulously describes the methods used by murderers? The video-creations of the Basque artist Khuruts Begoña, 5 minutos de objetividad ante una escultura verde de Bilbao [Five Minutes of Objectivity in the Face of a Green Sculpture of Bilbao], places a Civil Guard vehicle in a large bull’s eye. Over the following five minutes, the car acquires a disturbing clarity, and becomes excessively visible. This piece was recently removed from the exhibition Ertibil 2008-Arte Gaztea, organised by the Council of Bizkaia (Basque Country). Again, the question to be asked is, are these events being censored, and are the victims of terrorism being respected?

ARTECONTEXTO · 69


www.artecontexto.com


TUBE ADVENTURES, THE FIRST VIDEOGAME VIA YOUTUBE

ELENA DUQUE

E.D.

Elephant 6 is more than a record label. Even when it stopped producing albums, the collective remained as a group of artists and free spirits living in Orange Twin, an eco-commune based in Athens, Georgia, the town where the B-52s and R.E.M. began their careers, and where it all began in the early 1990s. In the only way possible, the tentacles of this creative community extended beyond grabbing a camera and filming The Major Organ and the Adding Machine, a piece which expands on, and strengthens what came to be known as New Psychedelia. Its 27 minutes are a festival of colour and surrealism, in the style of Magical Mystery Tour. It continues with the phantasmagoria and madness of the conceptual album published in 2001, recorded by a dream team of stars from the bands signed to the label. The album was christened with the same title as the film, which was directed by Joey Foreman and Eric Harris, of Olivia Tremor Control. It would seem that the idea of joining music and cinema to the absolute limit is being lost, and there are fewer and fewer instances which are set apart from the usual musical or documentary film. Bubbling in unison to the sinuosity and joy of the music, this film seems to translate, as if it were a synesthesia machine, the frantic world suggested by these rickety melodies of the subconscious –sometimes pop, sometimes shocking and fantasy-like. At present it can be watched at festivals, but a special CD and DVD edition, combining both pieces, is scheduled for the autumn of 2009.

In the film Les Créatures [The Creatures] (Agnès Varda, 1966), players could control the actions of the inhabitants of a small village from a chess board. Years later, on YouTube, another chess board makes it possible to control, as if in a videogame, the destinies of the characters which populate Tube Adventures. Tube Adventures, an example of the efficient use of resources, uses one or two of the applications offered by the internet to create something new. The idea is to revitalise the “choose your own adventure” format found in pre-teen books, whose narrative were developed depending to the choices made by the reader, but, in this case, using YouTube and its interactive tags as conduits. The notion for this “first graphic adventure via YouTube” originated in Cordero TV, an independent production company belonging to Víctor Losa. It has been produced with household resources, and, despite its apparent simplicity, reveals an arduous and craftmanlike work, of the kind no longer seen nowadays, although the game itself is very much a product of its time. It lacks pretensions and makes use, without any qualms, of the most absurd, even surreal, humour, (the title of the first adventure says it all, the quest En Busca de la Panadería [In Search of the Bakery]) and manages to achieve, almost as if by accident, or as a joke, a truly original and democratic proposal. It succeeds, in a coarse way, in achieving the ideal pursued by the increasingly sophisticated graphics produced by the videogame industry: to play with real people.

π

cinema

THE MAJOR ORGAN AND THE ADDING MACHINE

∑ ARTECONTEXTO · 73


GOMORRA,

OR CINEMA’S DEFEAT OF JOURNALISM

SANTIAGO B. OLMO*

The subject of the Mafia and the Camorra in Italy have been approached from many journalistic angles, as well as from literature, but the social impact caused by Gomorra, both as a book and as a film, is unprecedented. Gomorra, Roberto Saviano’s book on the Camorra, has become a mass phenomenon and a bestseller in Italy, and the premiere of the film Gomorra, directed by Matteo Garrone, in 2008, guaranteed the same level of success with audiences, critics and at festivals. Both the film and the book carry out a profound stylistic renewal in their treatment of the subject, and are able to complement one another. Saviano’s book is not exactly an essay, although it does conduct detailed research. Neither is it exactly a novel, although it makes use of a narrative style which is somewhere between autobiography, testimonial and anti-epic writing. It could be seen as a non-fiction novel, in which the author captures an energetic narrative tension which includes an analysis set somewhere between economics, sociology, anthropology and politics. All of this makes it possible to conduct a reflection on the adaptation of the “Camorra system” to the free market economic system. The Camorra is a business structure, based on greed and on absolute de-regulation, which takes lawful advantage of “under the table” labour exploitation, endemic unemployment, contract systems, cost reductions, land re-zoning and real estate decisions, as well as the lack of control over investments and financial activities. This business mechanics is also applied to criminal management and drug trafficking, bringing down prices and establishing drugdealing franchises, allegiances and protections. During a recent interview on Rai Tre, when asked about how to solve the “Camorra” problem, Saviano replied that economic rules should change, to establish a more rigorous control on the adjudication of contracts, as well as supervising cost reduction. 74 · ARTECONTEXTO

Garrone’s film, on the other hand, is set in a very similar stylistic position, by using the docu-fiction approach, but also establishing a narrative climax which revisits and renews Mafia films in order to produce a social thriller: the characters of the five interwoven stories move through the real locations of the “Camorra territory” and belong to the troops, to the social base of the pyramid, where there is no boss, no criminal epic, and only the suspense of a death foretold and the idea of being disposable. In Italian history, there have been other films on this subject but they have always taken a radically different approach: Camorra (1972), by Pasquale Squitieri, and Il camorrista (1986), by Giuseppe Tornatore, which had a lawsuit filed against it, and was taken off the screens only two months after it was released; a 5-hour TV version also ceased to be broadcast. Garrone’s film places visuality and the torturous psychology of the characters above the narrative. We face the miserable life on which the Camorra is founded, its real locations, in an imperceptible and intensely oppressive way: we witness an almost normal dayto-day life, in which violence is measured out and is conducted in a surgical way; it blows up and fades away so that life can go on. Garrone lays his gaze on a landscape which Saviano mentions and defines in the book, but he does not describe it. The film and the book complement one another, and the film is in no way an illustration; it takes on a life of its own and enters realms to which Saviano only alludes in passing. Of the five interwoven stories in the film, one corresponds to the chapter devoted to haute couture auctions which reveal the legal origins of (real) imitation fashion items, and another examines, very briefly, the chapter of waste recycling. But the story of two young men who want to become criminal entrepreneurs is resolved in the book with a single sentence; the life of a child, the bait for a murder, emerges from an


anonymous comment, and the figure of the payer who distributes assignations to families whose men are in prison, who in Saviano’s books is a generic model of a professional working for the system, in the film becomes a human drama, masterfully played by Toni Servillo. In a way, both the book and the film emphasise the close connection between impunity/permissiveness, legality/illegality, business/crime, and day-to-day normality, and it is here that its greatest strength lies. The aim of Saviano was to erase the fine line separating the legal world and the mechanisms of organised crime, whilst Garrone’s seems to be to understand the source of the human drama experienced by those who live their lives trapped in the system and long to live with dignity.

This is also the direction taken by Paulo Lins in his book Ciudad de Dios [City of God] which was adapted to cinema by Fernando Meirelles in 2002, and by José Padilla in his film Tropa de Elite [Elite Troop] (2007), based on a book by André Batista on police corruption in Rio. As in the case of Gomorra, these Brazilian books and films have given rise to a deep debate which takes on all that journalistic reporting should have examined and did not. The responsibility lies with everyone, and, in this context, journalism, by siding with sensationalism and the impact of headlines, has definitely lost the battle against a film which has accepted the responsibility of telling stories from a critical perspective. * Santiago B. Olmo is a curator and art critic

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ARTECONTEXTO Nº21. Dossier: ART AND VIOLENCE