From the horizon (and his dissolution) | Pedro Hernández

The present text is, first of all, a simple and small reflection on the exhibition ‘Statements of a negotiation’ that gathers the pictorial work of the artist Francis Alÿs and developed – until Sunday, the 16th of August – in the Museum Tamayo of city of Mexico.

Some warnings go ahead. Though I admire enormously the work of the (Belgian) Mexican artist, my knowledge on his work is summarized to the classic cliches: “he studied architecture”, “it came to Mexico in 86 after the earthquake”, “it was working crossing the downtown”, “it does treks in the public space”, etc, etc. A vision – explained here of consciously limited form – that it wants to stop to guessing that this is not but a fenced and partial reading of the personal experience that produced the visit to the exhibition and that does not want to enter inside a major debate – either theoretical or artistic – of his work.

I notice here because, after the visit, I have received and found diverse comments that try to insert this sample inside the body of Alÿs’s work, aiming at things in that I am interested so little as in that “this” Alÿs has lost his “freshness” and now he is more “an artist of workshop”, aiming that the exhibition though “very good” there are for “people who does not know of art”. Since I insert myself in this grup (úscul) or of people I think that, in the personnel, little matters for me to establish what practice is better – if that of a few years ago or more current this one. I trust in every whom to extract his own conclusions.

My interest here is more limited: to centre on the vision of a concept that seemed to appear of constant form along the sample: the horizon. What technology is used and cuan effective – or theatrical – it can manage to be to approach it, little it matters for me.

Vista satelite del Estrecho de Gibraltar | Fuente IMEDEA
Sight satellite of the Strait of Gibraltar | Source: IMEDEA

Looking at another (side).

“The maps demonstrate the theatre of the operations to control it”.

Alejandro Hernández Gálvez

On having entered the room that opens the exhibition in the Museum Tamayo, the first thing that one meets in a table an enormous map of the Strait of Gibraltar – formed actually by four stuck planes – realized by a cartographic institute (I do not remember well if there was that of the Spanish State), that is to say, a map of an official nature. In him, the lines, well limited, illustrate with maximum precision the limits between land, sea, conditions and continents; and they draw with clarity the borders and the areas of maritime influence.

A map like that appears is a classic exercise of clarity, of certainty and of precision. What is marked on him is a meaningfully objective and scientific representation in an exercise of abstraction that constructs a vision – vertically and orthogonal – impossibly to perceive actually for the human eye, but that we have learned to read almost of natural form.

Exposición ‘Relatos de una-negociación’ | Autor Pedro Hernández
Exhibition ‘Statements of a negotiation’ | Author: Pedro Hernández

If we can think that nature of this type of maps is not only infomacional, but also strategic and military, in the measure that allows us to reduce the complexity the world, to establish differences and to throw forms of operation on the territory, then we can imagine Alÿs -in his workshop, why not- marking his strategy -or was it a stratagem?- of action. On the plane, the artist places, I joust on the strait, two holders who interbreed and are kept raised in a precarious balance creating a point of contact between both territories. Or what is the same thing, a bridge between both territories. The holders -a little, on the other hand, common enough in our houses- it seems that they are only an element that helps to illustrate the operation.

Exposición ‘Relatos de una-negociación’ | Autor Pedro Hernández
Exhibition ‘Statements of a negotiation’ | Author Pedro Hernández

Close to the map the artist has placed two screens. Each one contains a video with similar structures. One taken from Europe looking to Africa and other one taken from Africa looking to Europe. Formally similar, it would be difficult to many to know from where every video is taken if it was not for the persons who appear in him. His gowns betray theirs differences and we can then establish what territory is in the northern part and which in the southern part.

With a simple gesture, Alÿs believes a mirror where I reflect -at least less that I am Spanish and Mediterranean-. The videoes allow to realize of the scanty distance that separates both worlds. And I say worlds because the strait is, undoubtedly, one of these places where the differences make every effort. There there separate two continents, two religions, two economies and two cosmovisiones. For Europe – why not decirlo – the one that lives to another side is strange someone, that or it wants to “invade” and to eliminate that one that is. From Africa, some they see certain end of the trip, certain hope that it allows them to stop strolling around. The strait, with his vibrant sea, is the last border and the last hope to mix or be remained separated. The horizon of the difference.

What is (not) managed to see

An anecdote. A good friend has the whole artistic work developed on the concept itself of horizon. He, Galician, speaks constant on how his territory – principally mountainous – lacks horizon except in the sea. The ocean is the only point from where being able to plan with the look a straight line.

Pero Galicia (and Portugal), that for the Romans was the end of the known world – Finisterrae – faces always the uncertainty on what it will have beyond. The mythology, conscious of the immensity of the sea in those territories, imagined a place filled with monstrous creatures that only were leading to a gigantic waterfall that would make us fall down in an absolute emptiness. These histories forged the character of that place and gave to the language words as wonderful as saudade or murrain.

For against, that we were born in the Mediterranean we have a relation with the rather different water. First we think a calm, soft sea and up to moderately that it forged a constant exchange between Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Unlike the northwest, the Mediterranean ones we know that, though we do not see it, always there is a territory – already explored – behind the horizon to which to come.

La frontera entre Europa y África. El exceso de luz es una consecuencia natural, permite ver con extremo detalle y nitidez quién se atreve a cruzarla.
The border between Europe and Africa. The excess of light is a natural consequence, allows to see with extreme detail and brightness who dares to cross it | Source:

Nevertheless, that opened and mixed territory ended for carrying to extremes his differences: it arrives below, north – south, we they, colonized settlers, that it took, already in the contemporaneousness to creating fences as those of Ceuta and Melilla or the different systems of safety, with infrared chambers and other systems of monitoring that they accompany. A system of vigilance that wants to avoid the crossing of not wished.

Air sight (or of never coming)

The images of both screens and the map – frontal sight and orthogonal sight respectively – accompany of one set of pictures that follow the same subject matter. In them the chosen point of view is, nevertheless, different. Alÿs uses in almost all the air sight, where the water occupies almost the totality of the picture, relegating the human figures to occupying only a small part of the pictorial space, reinforcing the unneed of the sea opposite to the sight of the target horizon. The images remember the air photos that they appear commonly in the press. With the absence of land, the sea becomes more immeasurable and we are remembered, again, by the danger that it it supposes crossing and the effort that supposes the distance bathed of blue that separates (us). To the time, some pictures cross with enormous mythological figures that load in his arms or on his heads the loaded rafts of migrantes. Will it be a protector’s species?

Losing the horizon / Dieing Drowned

In the text He Imagines that you fall down, Milestone Steyerl does a small revision of the horizon. For it he speaks to us first about the development of the linear perspective. The idea is simple, this way of looking alludes to an individual who looks and to something that is observed: a landscape, a city or an architecture that can be reduced to geometric conditions. The linear perspective is a look ocularcentrista, forms a of domain.

Today, nevertheless, Steyerl notices, the linear perspective already is not our form of vision. In the world sobreinformado have lost the horizon eliminated after the haze of an excess that covers our eyes. Lost the horizon we lose orientation and points of reference and are forced to stroll around opposite to the uncertainty.

Alÿs immerses us then in this debate. In a video to two screens – again new the condition of the mirror – the artist places a children’s row that there carry in his hands a few sandals turned into ships of toy. Between laughs and pushes the row advances towards the sea that happens from the calm shore to something more rough outpost a few meters. In this moment, the chamber, which was planning a clear line between sky and sea, starts being affected by the surge, suffocates, loses contact with the laughs of the children, and the sound becomes worrying. Occasionally we see a figure that might be a child. The row that before was clear, now seems divide and undone by the action of the sea, which swallows quite to his step, up to the horizon.

Diluting the figures

In Tornado – series of videoes realized by Alÿs during a decade – the poetry of the matter overflows of the screen. In a dark room, opposite to an enormous screen, we are witnesses – from the own look of the artist – of the birth and formation of a tornado. First raising something of powder and then turned into a brown spot – in Mexico they would say coffee – that advances and absorbs without diligence everything what one finds. The strange thing here and that Alÿs has had the success of standing out it is as when the cloud of powder devours what crosses in his way, as a tree, for example, it finishes for diluting his figure up to turning it into a spot without form. Since in the pictures of William Turner’s marine subject matter, where the figures lose and mix in the waves of an in a mess and furious sea, here, the trees, on having be mixed by the sand suspended in the air, they lose his contour and finish turned into a blurry image of dark brown color.

Again Alÿs exhibits to the look to a game of dissolution. We are unable to determine a line that clarifies the figures. Everything is emborronamiento and uncertainty.

Immolated bodies

It looks like a native at the time that the following step is to cut away the distance that separates us from these landscapes. It is at the time when Alÿs decides to ill-treat his body being thrown and being immolated against this force of the nature. From out we can see the artist as a figure that happens to be a big spot, an emborronamiento of what at some time could be a person. From inside – let’s remember that the videoes are taken from the point of view of the own Alÿs – we shut in ourselves in a noisy world, which strikes the chamber-eye and notice, in the moans of the artist, that it damages. But, why? Which is the usefulness of be throwing against it? Why did someone want to be exposed to it?

The gesture is purely poetical and it has to claim it as such. In yes same, it encloses the same questions that her from those that are thrown to the sea seeking to come to another side – since it does the children in the video of the strait – to find a better world: it is worth it it was mixing with a way that is going to damage to you only because of it? Only there is a response: yes. If not, nobody would do it.

Certain it is that there is a difference between the waters that separate Africa and Europe of Milpa Alta’s fields. Certain it is, also, that some turn out to be forced by a world (that of the capital) that treats them – in spite of to the hardness of the word – as an insignificant resource. If they are not they, others were coming, others were occupying his place. Because of it in Europe we weep for the tragedy of the Costa Concord or of the Titanic, demand a better control of the trips and want blind justice to enclose the persons in charge, and because of it, on having listened to the death of 1,000 migrantes, only we outline “what sorrow of world” and continue taking our coffee.

It is a question neither of forgetting this difference, nor to placing the action Alÿs’s – placed in the artistic context of the museum – of the difficult and strange reality that marks the world of the flows of (the) (human) capital. But probably, on having shared the same space of exhibition, one believes a dialog that they us put in an inconvinient situation though only it is for a moment.

There will have the one who thinks “and what does change?” The spectators – consumers for excellence – will continue with his lives, will forget what they have seen and will return to his problems. Nobody will outline one it pisses fault or he will become an activist for seeing the exhibition.

It is probable enough.

The art was neutralized already a lot of time ago by the market. It is possible that it does not serve of nothing doing it. But it is necessary to do it. But I think here about Harun Farocki and his fire inextingible. If the burn of cigar autoinflingida that was realized the German creator us was causing pain – welcome empathy – what will us cause the image of burned by the war of Vietnam? Such a violent image will be too much for the spectator that overwhelmed, it was aiming At Farocki, will separate the look before the effects of the Napalm.

Farocki’s gesture will be able to make him, nevertheless, conscious of these problems across the comparative one. A poetical gesture, if we want to call it this way, that extracts us of our own absorption.

Always there will be dangers, but it is necessary to continue being thrown against the tornado – metaphor of this cardinal world – that devours everything and to expose ourselves to all his cruelty and visual uncertainty.

Pedro Hernández · architect
Cciudad de México. september 2015

Soy arquitecto por la Universidad de Alicante, pero mi interés sobre esta disciplina se encuentra alejado de su papel tradicional de diseño de espacios. Más bien, me interesa entender cómo las representaciones de la arquitectura, el paisaje, el diseño o el territorio construyen y materializan determinados discursos ideológicos, imponiendo posturas, subjetividades y formas de acción sobre los cuerpos que la habitan.

En mi trabajo edito estos discursos –sus imágenes, sus historias o sus restos materiales– y reelaboro comentarios críticos que ponen en evidencia sus controversias y contradicciones, formalizándolos en diversos formatos como textos, fotografías, vídeos, objetos o instalaciones, muchas veces entrecruzados entre sí.

He publicado artículos y ensayos en diversos medios de Estados Unidos, Italia, Croacia, España, Chile y México. Desde enero de 2013-2018 residí en la Ciudad de México donde trabajaba como coordinador de contenidos en Arquine. Actualmente resido en Madrid.

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