El Ultimo Grito Horizons Deferred
Halle VerriĂ¨re Meisenthal
El Ultimo Grito Horizons Deferred
Horizons Deferred was produced and shown at Halle VerriĂ¨re in Meisenthal July to September 2016, with the support of Association CADHAME, French Ministry for Culture and Communication, VfXP, Goldsmiths University of London and HEAD GenĂ¨ve.
Halle VerriĂ¨re Meisenthal
El Ultimo Grito Horizons Deferred
Human Glitch Thomas Kocek
Trying to escape the Vichy regime under Nazi rule during World War II, Walter Benjamin crossed the Franco-Spanish border in Portbou on September 25, 1940. In a group of migrants, Benjamin followed a ferryman through the Pyrenees in order to reach the United States via Spain and Portugal. The Spanish authorities refused him entry and threatened to send him back to France. New directives were sent from Madrid to the border police. It was then forbidden to allow refugees who did not have an exit visa issued by France to enter Spain. This measure, which was likely to discourage stateless persons, had been rapidly abrogated. A few weeks later the passage is again possible. But Benjamin is cardiac and is too exhausted to turn around and begin such an expedition once again. Desperate and seeing no way out to escape a tragic fate if the Nazis intercept him, Walter Benjamin takes a dose of morphine and dies in his hotel room the next day. The following month Hannah Arendt comes to Portbou trying in turn to escape the Nazi regime. She saw Benjamin in early September in Marseille where he told her of his intention of suicide. In Portbou she seeks the sepulture of the German philosopher but she does not find it. Indeed, his body is buried in the Catholic part of the cemetery under the name Benjamin Walter, because of a confusion between his name and his first name. In 1945, after the expiry of the five-year lease of the burial, Walter Benjaminâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s body was removed and deposited in a common grave. This grave, like many others in Catalonia, gathers the bodies of the anonymous
victims of the Franco regime, who died during the Spanish Civil War. The notoriety of the philosopher is not yet made at the time. Hannah Arendt is one of the few contemporary thinkers to worship the strength and insight of his philosophical work. Unfortunately a human error prevented her from paying him the last homage. A human error has deprived Walter Benjamin of receiving the last tribute of the only contemporary sincere admirer of his mind. Some days after the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, I drove from Metz to Meisenthal to meet Rosario and Roberto. I was eagerly looking forward to it. We met once before, very recently, and I was very grateful to them for accepting my invitation so quickly to carry out an original project at the Halle Verrière. At the exit of Metz, under a heavy interchange of motorway in reinforced concrete, I see a group of three young hitchhikers. There are often several foreign students at this location waiting for a motorist sufficiently friendly to bring them, despite increasingly frequent police checks. Two of them seek to leave in the direction of Luxembourg and confess that their destination is Belgium and the north of France. The third heads towards Strasbourg and I agree to take him to the next motorway entrance. When we are leaving the concreted motorway interchange with the two hitchhikers underneath, the scene reminds me of J.G. Ballard’s “Concrete Island” and Jason Guriel’s sentence describing the place where Robert Maitland landed after his car crash: “Maitland’s wasteland is not the outcome of nuclear war; It’s the blank patch at the edge of our blueprints, the social void in our peripheral vision”(1). My new passenger’s first name is Malusi Dosi. He (1) Jason Guriel is South African and comes from Port Elizabeth. We The Pigheaded Soul: Essays and Reviews on Poetry and are immediately engaged in a conversation about the Culture (Never Mind ‘High- townships of Mandela Bay. I evoke my recollection of Rise’…), 2013 Red Location. Red Location is one of the oldest settled
black townships of Port Elizabeth. It derives its name from a series of corrugated iron barrack buildings, which are rusted in a deep red color. When South Africa prepares to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, a major national program for the redevelopment of urban areas allows the construction of a large cultural center and a museum in front of the township. The project envisages relocation of all inhabitants of the area around. The museum is a beautiful building of an elegant shape made of metal, glass and wood. The designers of the project decide to offer this cosy architectural ensemble an external signal: one “shack” is placed high, turned at a wierd angle, in front of the museum, like an abstract sculpture on a pedestal. The township itself had to be demolished before the start of the FIFA World Cup in 2010. However, when I visit the site in 2013, the museum and the cultural center remain virtually empty, with no visitors and the precarious housing of the township is still intact and inhabited. The “shack” on pedestal was intended to become a relic and a curious ethnological object after the demolition but in 2013, it still faces up a wide muddy field filled with corroded shabby structures. It dominates them from its base like a control tower as if it were erected with the intention of monitoring the township’s inhabitants who were promised better living conditions and their relocation to some suburban “walled estates” a few miles away. It is a curious picture that seems to embody the failure of any public policy of improving the living environment and of social housing, illustrating a freezed moment in time between past and future, a peculiar point between utopia and dystopia. I’m coming at the Halle Verrière with echoes of my exchanges with Malusi Dosi on my mind and at the moment when only some elements of El Ultimo Grito’s Horizons Deferred show are set up. The welcome is warm as usual but very quickly we are engaged in a lively and serious discussion about Great Britain’s
situation after the recent Brexit referendum and about thousands of refugees arriving by boat on the European shore. Rosario and Roberto are busy and I do not want to bother them in their work. I set off on my own on a tour of the works already in place. I stop first in front of “The Architectures” whose “deflated anachronism” (its structure is still on the ground, flat) always reminds me of the paradox of Red Location. I wander slowly between some “users” already in upright stand. I look closely at their tattooed bodies and I end up arriving in front of the only one figure lying on the floor. Looking closely at the drawings on his skin, I identify him as Walter Benjamin. Other inflatable sculptures are fitted with motion and sound sensors. Benjamin’s figure is the only one devoid of the mechanism that animates all the other “users”. It is the only one not to breathe, to inhale and to exhale, in the rhythm of the movements triggered by the motion sensors. Observing silently this inanimated body I feel like believing, but I decide not to talk about it with Rosario and Roberto, that it is as if even Benjamin’s symbolic representation were still victim of his legendary lifelong misfortune, his curse. It is as if he were here in Meisenthal, so long time after his tragic disapearence, victim of a glitch…
El Ultimo Grito’s Horizons Deferred is the summation of ideas and work developed around the subject of glitch as social displacement. The show represents their multi-faceted practice, with large scale interactive sculpture and installation works showcasing their distinctive social and political engagement and wit. Horizons Deferred plays with Delueze & Guattari’s notion of “plateau”, encouraging participants to construct a physical artistic representation of their own point of view: the plateau from which we simultaneously view our future and our past. The horizon is that line between your current reality and your constructed perspective fuelled by your expectations and dreams. By interacting with sensors in the sculptures, the users can start to take control of the system they are in, which is a micro-representation of larger systems. Horizons Deferred consists of four large-scale works: “The Architectures”, "The Users", "Dialogues" and "Soundscape". These form a city of inflatable sculptures fitted with motion and sound sensors reacting to each other and the visiting public. A ‘controlled demolition implosion’ is triggered, the city falls and is recreated a new - subject to individual interactions. “The Architectures” are extra-large-scale inflatable sculptures fitted with motion and sound sensors reacting to each other and to the visitor. The works develop El Ultimo Grito’s exploration of the idea of ‘glitch’ - the
technological malfunctions in a system that reveal the workings underpinning how that system behaves. By being given a glimpse of these secret mechanisms, we as users can learn to manipulate them and in the microcosm harness some control over our lives. “The Dialogues” invoke paradoxes to disturb our rational processes and question our decision-making, inviting us to ask if where we are going is really where we want to go. “Capitalism is boring" says one machine - "I am loving it" answers the other. “The Users” are hand-painted people at large scale, whose tattoos tell real stories (as tattoos used to do). These represent the tension between what you have been and what you are, the plateau before the horizon, the final moment of doubt before the revelation of where the consequences of our actions will lead us: whether toward Utopia or Dystopia. Delueze & Guattari’s notion of “plateau” is brought into sharp contemporary relevance with El Ultimo Grito’s exploration of the idea of the migrant. The idea of the horizon is revealed in the imagery generated from media representations of contemporary realities. For the people stranded on a makeshift boat the Greek coast is that line that represents the continuation of life. As it is, they are prevented from reaching their destination, they are stranded in that plateau - call it the sea, "The Jungle", a refugee camp or Ellis Island. Each plateau exists in a ‘stand-by’ state, just before it can materialise and become that new reality in which the migrant can finally immerse.Meanwhile, that very horizon is changing. The architectural redevelopment of metropolises like London configure them as non-places to be bought up rather than lived in: quickly built and sold out even faster to phantom owners. Social housing is being demolished driven by the pretend horizons of capital. From our existing plateau, consumerism and
speculation drive the appearance of Dark Cities of glass, the empty shells of neoliberalism. Thus in Horizons Deferred the representations of these architectures are structures inflated by air and deflated by a vacuum. Industrial and housing estates are disappearing under controlled demolitions and remodeled as luxury apartments with barista cafes, a city of conspicuous consumption where there seems to be no space for any other model of city life. As in the movie Dark City, urban reconfigurations require a reassignment of every citizenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s role, no longer as individual members of a community but as individual transactors in an economy. As in Ballardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s High Rise, this gives rise to atomisation and the narrowing of the experience of life. Horizons Deferred engages with these themes in a continuing attempt to suggest ways of recovering our agency as individuals in totalising systems. El Ultimo Grito are based in London and cherished around the world for their colorful public sculptures created with non-standard materials that engagingly address urban financial and social displacement. As part of their practice, the duo analyse and manipulate the signs that describe and construct our reality. In their collisions of film, text, sound, graphics and constructions they offer up new forms and directions. In our encounters with their work we are provoked and empowered to explore how we can take control of our social and physical realities.
Q & A and afterthoughts El Ultimo Grito
“Why Horizons Deferred? We liked it, it sounded very poetic and kind of melancholic…” The title was triggered by the refugee and migrant crisis affecting us in Europe and our reactions towards it. Seeing those images of people being turned back at the borders, imprisoned in refugee camps, floating adrift in overcrowded boats or sinking with the coastline on the horizon. You wonder... and try to understand how disheartening it must be... even more so, when you learn about their truly epic journeys, fleeing from poverty, war or political prosecution. When ‘arrival’ seems so near, but new obstacles make the ‘horizon’ drift further away again. On arrival, the only recompense they seek is ‘the permission’ to get back on with life. For some of them, the arrival is still delayed, and for others it will never come. We wanted to concentrate on this part of the human story. Seeing how these stories, separated in time, resonate with each other, and how they connect with what is happening now. These stories feel very close to us, and remind us of the journeys our own families have taken; how they found work and political freedom elsewhere (as we both come from migrant families).
An interview reconstructed from dialogues at Halle Verrière
“There are three distinct works in the exhibition. Are they part of the same story? How do they work together?” In reality there are four (you must also consider the soundtrack!) and together they tell a story. They interconnect, to generate a kind of physical film. This investigation into pre-cinematic (and consequently also postcinematic) narrative systems is pivotal in our work. It is an ongoing research project, with different outputs along the way. As we were saying, there are four parts, or ‘shots’ (using cinematic language), in this story. The first one is “The Users” which tells stories of migration. Each sculpture encapsulates a personal journey, which is told through the tattoos painted onto the figures. All the stories are real. We spent a couple of months collecting these accounts. It was very moving to learn that historical accounts had so much in common with those stories being recorded today. It helped us to understand better the human side behind the news reports, and also to put into perspective our own family experiences of political and economic migration. ‘The Users” are connected and respond to a sensor that, when activated, triggers their deflation. They collapse as empty skins. The intention is to convey the idea of struggle, bringing the characters to life through moments of hope and dismay. “The Users” are looking into the horizon where the “Dark Estate” sits. The “Dark Estate” is a kind of futuristic (or ‘mythical’) Noah’s Ark that provides
housing and wellbeing for all. It represents the dream. The piece is rendered using images from social housing projects, all mashed up as one ‘dystopian’ unit (the utopian unavoidably looks dystopian, doesn’t it?). “Dark Estate” is also a comment on the current social housing crisis around Europe. Speculation is bringing to an end our sense of social responsibility, and the idea that social planning can contribute towards the wellbeing of its citizens. In place of this, we have luxury developments aimed only at the rich. For “The Users” it represents the myth that drives their personal odysseys. Maybe it is a myth that is vanishing, or never really existed. In any case, the “Dark Estate” needed to be demolished. Demolition is triggered by a hidden movement sensor, which triggers a loud BANG! – a controlled explosion sound – switching off the electrics and making the buildings collapse. The third piece is “Pointless Dialogue”. It offers a contextual conversation and articulates a ‘double think’ (two opposing ideas which one believes to be equally and simultaneously true). It sits in the show as a cheeky reference to the subliminal manipulation in John Carpenter’s “They Live”. It tries to encapsulate our political moment (or maybe it just reflects our own political dilemmas). We know that our current system is broken and obsolete, but at the same time we love the apparent freedoms it offers. Perhaps our problem is that we can’t find a way to articulate a new ideal, or alternative possibility, without relying on the social and political language of 19th and 20th Century discourses. Finally, the soundtrack for ‘the film’ is an interactive installation. We hacked a Korg
Monotron Delay Synthesizer, transforming its manual controls into movement sensors. The Korg generates its own sound as people move through the work, affecting its feedback, time, rate and other parameters, creating their own moment in the exhibition. “It is not very clear where the sensors are placed to activate the sculptures. Why is this?” For us, all the interactive elements had to be quite subtle. We wanted these to feel like random events or malfunctions, with no obvious system or logic. The logic could be unearthed as you spent time in the show… It is conceived as a device, aimed at making the audience complicit in the construction of the moment. “Do you describe your work as sculpture... or is it more what the Italians call ‘il progetto’?” Definitely, if we had to compare with something, it would be the idea of ‘progetto’ (the project). We try to investigate an idea from many perspectives. We find it impossible to simplify. The ideas are too complex, with many different references, to simplify them into one comprehensive work. This is why we embrace a more narrative approach: a cinematic exploration that reconstructs and plays with space and time. We believe that complex problems require complex solutions. As Alpha 60 would say, “Sometimes reality is too complex for oral communication, but legend embodies it in a form which enables it to spread all over the world.” (Jean Luc Goddard’s Alphaville, 1965) In addition, we
believe that complex communication avoids the generation of ‘myths’ around the work and the ideas it tries to convey. “There’s a mix of processes within your inflatable pieces. Obviously this is intentional, but what is the particular reason for it?” As we explained before, the work corresponds to the need for constructing different ‘shots’, each responsible for a different part of the story. The materials and processes we use are sometimes dictated by these demands. In “Horizons Deferred”, we have the protagonists (our actors “the users”), our mise-en-scène (the architecture and political context of the building), our dialogues, and finally, the soundtrack or interactive element (which bring a sense of the “now”, a unique moment that the visitors bring with them). Having said that, these are all processes and mediums that we normally use. These are all part of our language. “Are all the character stories real stories, and why did you choose tattoos to tell them?” Traditionally tattoos commemorate specific moments in people’s lives. So it seemed appropriate to use this medium to tell individual stories, using images rather than just in written form. In this way, the viewer has to invest more time reading and examining each sculpture, and this in turn develops a different understanding of the object. We though it was necessary to research and collect these personal accounts from the
different refugee and migrant archives. We documented them with as many pictures as we could find, which we then used to draw the tattoos. It brings reality and personal detail into what would otherwise be very simple shapes. They are outline drawings with intense and detailed painting inside. This was also important because it enhanced their fleshiness and humanity. Why are they called “Users”? “The User” is a personal mythical figure. Again, in Alpha 60’s words, the “legend embodies it (reality in this case the idea behind ‘The User’) in a form which enables it to spread all over the world”. “The User” represents the transformation of ‘consumers’ into ‘citizens’, which itself will transform our own economic system. Our demands and expectations are different if we look at them through the lens of the consumer, or the lens of the citizen. The provision of services and products would be different if produced for (and by) citizens, rather than for (and by) consumers. It implies a different logic of demand, exchange and production. So the “Users” in our narratives are these groups or individuals that we see as precursors of a possible new approach. In general they are the good guys. We are not sure yet if we qualify to be one of them, or if we actually are, unknowingly, on the dark side... ‘The User Chronicles” summates all of these projects. “Horizons Deferred” is a prequel to “Glitch”, which was presented during fig-2 at the ICA in London.
About this Publication Edited by AJ Dehany & El Ultimo Grito ISBN 978-0-9956986-0-4 Published by VfXP, London 2016 in association with Halle Verrière Printed by Printdomain, UK All works and writings are © of their authors. Images courtesy of the artists.
Contact VfXP_Gold. 12 Laurie Grove New Cross SE14 6NW UK firstname.lastname@example.org Halle Verrière_CADHAME
F-57960 Meisenthal email@example.com El Ultimo Grito www.eugstudio.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Project Credits Roberto Feo Rosario Hurtado
El Ultimo Grito
Electronics Nick Williamson Metal Fabrication Andrew Hunt
Association CADHAME Halle Verrière de Meisenthal
Artistic Consultants Stephan Balkenhol Thomas Kocek Direction Pascal Klein Team Audrey Staub Sébastien Diller Céline Scherr Marie-Sophie Génolini Yamina Felten Yann Riedinger Maria Luchankina Sarah Lang Anne Mistler Directrice Regionale Charles Desservy Chef du Pole “Creation” Thomas Kocek Conseiller pour les Arts Plastiques
Ministére Française de la Culture et de la Communication Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles Grand Est.
Acknowledgements Special thanks to Alexandra Midal who was instrumental in bringing El Ultimo Grito & Halle Verriere together for this exhibiton. Thanks to Goldsmiths University of London and HEAD Geneve for their continuous support.
Halle VerriĂ¨re de Meisenthal