Mariana Castillo Deball – Figures don’t lie but liars can figure
Pinksummer: Let’s start from the proverb, attributed, among the others, to Mark Twain, that you have chosen as the title for the show at pinksummer: “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure”. Montaigne affirmed that we call barbarian and savage what is not referable to our uses and customs, and that we like best what we alter with manipulations and changes suitable to the pleasure of our corrupt tastes. Do you believe that the world has an “objective” existence, autonomous from our perception/interpretation?
*Mariana Castillo Deball:*
I found he title for the exhibition, Figures don’t lie but liars can figure, in Roy Wagner’s book, Coyote Anthropology; a series of conversations between Wagner and Coyote, spiraling around the question of how meaning is created, a game of hide and seek between perception, representation and reality. According to Coyote, “perception is a very tricky thing”.
[Roy:“So why is perception a fake?”
Coyote:“See, Roy, we do not see the world we see, hear the sounds we hear, touch the things we touch, or in any way perceive what we perceive, but that something else comes in-between.”
Coyote:“Sure. As they say: ‘Figures don’t lie, but liars can Figure.’”
Roy:“The sounds and shapes that you have been trained to react to and project (so that by now it has become quite unconscious) form the pattern or content of first-attention reality. The spaces between and around those words, or between the words and the things they stand for, which you notice only in passing, form the backdrop of second-attention reality.”]
P:The philosophical problem in Greece was created to explain the whole, the totality of the things, structurally changing the development of the “western” civilization in comparison with the others. Philosophy, since its origins, has had the purpose to demythologize. The ancient myths were poetry, fantasy, imagination, then philosophy has prepared the background for the new myths: rationality and science, that fragment reality. Measuring itself with the totality of the world, philosophy had to deal with its unstoppable metamorphosis, the becoming, finding itself, for love of wisdom, to classify it, to catalogue it and represent it crystallized into causes and principles of absolute.
Some time ago, introducing the project for pinksummer to us, recalling Ovid and his Metamorphoses, you affirmed that knowing the world means dissolving its solidity. The world of Ovid, you wrote, is beyond the qualities of the attributes and the forms that define the variety of the things. Do you believe that a “de-hellenization of knowledge is possible?
MCD: [RM: Do you know what Mimolette means?
MCD: Mimolette is a process of the fermentation of ideas. The process consists in holding one’s breath, especially in those moments when you have so many thoughts and ideas that your head is about to explode. It is that moment of “almost explosion” when the Mimolette effect has its best results.
The Yanomamis are not allowed to pronounce their own names. If someone gets ill, for example, and goes to the doctor, he needs to be accompanied by a relative, so when the doctor asks, “What’s your name?” the other person can answer the question for him.
Secret names are stronger than spoken names; some people believe there is a limited amount of names in the universe, and if something or someone stays nameless, it is a tragedy.
Ideas, in this process of fermentation, start to have strange shapes and patterns, marble, crystals, blue, red, purple, yellow, white. Are there no colors starting with M?]
From: Maybe So Maybe No: A conversation between Mariana Castillo Deball and Raimundas Malasauskas that started in the middle of the alphabet, continued on radio waves, and reached conclusions around midnight.
P: Speaking of the uncomfortable objects on which your exhibition at pinksummer focuses, there is now on show in Genoa an exhibition titled “Africa of the Wonder” curated by Giovanna Parodi da Passano and displayed by Italian artist Stefano Arienti. Beyond the single works, knowing nothing of African art, what has intrigued us is the attempt to subtract the “exotic” objects from the “museal violence” of the showcase. Some time ago, in an article, Parodi da Passano pointed out how museums, particularly the ethnographic one devoted to extra European civilization, with its competent and de-contextualised representations, is “the principal place of creation of an objectification of the cultural otherness that assimilates and absorbs the manufactured objects for better voting to oblivion the cultures that have produced them”.
You have often measured yourself with “competent representations” to create entirely fictional stories, in this show from the title that we like to repeat – the figures don’t lie, but liars can figure – you have written that you want to build a genealogy of things to observe them as entities that have been transformed, changed, placed in different and contradictory contexts, crossing time and space in History. What you define not-human, the uncomfortable things, have a possibility to tell us about their selves, discarding the world that we have built around them.
Lately, I have been collecting dialogues and fables among non-humans, such as Aesop’s fables, Ovid’s metamorphoses, Lewis Carroll’s dialogues, and fables by Augusto Monterroso, Horacio Quiroga, Antonin Artaud, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Mario de Andrade, Franz Kafka, and Montaigne.
At the beginning I found these dialogues only in fiction literature, but afterwards I started to find experiments of that sort among historians of science, philosophers, and anthropologists. I believe that this attempt comes from a necessity to build up a genealogy of things, to observe them as entities which have been transformed, discarded, mutated, placed in diverse and contradictory contexts throughout history.
What non-humans have to say about the world we constructed around them, about our definitions, manipulations and usages? What is left of the objects after so much historical maneuvering and what would be the testimony of these objects if they could tell us their story from their perspective? Our contemporary society is crowded with uncomfortable objects, products of desire, research or imagination; they trigger our conception of the world and compel us to take a position, to change completely our basic understanding of the universe.
Uncomfortable objects are constantly being erased, replaced, neutralized and destroyed in order to give space to new things, but this erasure is never complete, we are surrounded more and more by things, quasi-things, fragments, distortions and hybrids. At the same time there is a contrast between infinite possibilities and limited resources. The human desire and power of transformation is strong and blind, resulting in the extinction of species and the erosion of essential natural resources.
P: Do comfortable objects exist?
MCD: I think we are constantly trying to produce comforting, neutral objects, but sooner or later they come back to us, as debris, ghosts or demanding devices. A comforting object is always related to a comforting actor.
P: You ascribe two different cognitive attitudes to the myth of Echo and Narcissus, assimilating Echo to a feminine and matriarchal modality, open to the surroundings and able to be transformed by it. Narcissus, while looking for his reflection, transforms the world into a mirror to affirm his individuality. You link Echo to the experience needed to recognize shapes in a mineral concretion of a cave, where an imaginative power is needed to draw out a shape. Narcissus represents the neutrality of common exhibition spaces, museums or galleries, where shapes are immediately identifiable. Now, for your solo show, will pinksummer be a gallery or a cave?
MCD: Last summer I made a visit to the Chapada Diamantina, a region in Brazil covered with mountains, caves and other mineral formations. While visiting some of the caves it happened very often that the guide would point out a particular formation and ask to the visitants, what is it? Visitors needed to stare to the abstract walls and guess. The figures ranged from a dolphin, a face, a mermaid, an electric guitar, and a piece of bacon.
I found interesting a space where figures are apparently hidden; almost blend with the environment, a space where there is no difference between figure and background. I started to think how different museums and galleries are from the cave experience, where the spaces are neat and white, where the works are immediately recognizable.
In terms of mythology, I thought of Narcissus as an exhibition space, and Echo as a cave. The practice of finding images in stains on the walls and rock formations is closer to the imaginative nature of Echo, who tries to repeat what Narcissus says, but her voice gets inevitably distorted, becoming something else all the time.
On the opposite way, Narcissus is a repetition device, trying constantly to confirm his image, through his reflection on the water. The consequences of this gesture imply a complete denial of the outside world, in order to confirm the uniqueness of the self.
P: Regarding Narcissus and his egocentrism, do you think that the idea of progress that has led to erode the limited resources of our planet still is his reflection?
MCD: French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss defined himself as a traveler, an archeologist in space, vainly trying to restore exoticism with the use of particles and fragments. Lévi-Strauss never went to the Moon, but throughout his exploration of human nature in remote parts of the world, we could see with his magnifying glass the human tendency to reach zero. Human knowledge attempts to divide and fragment reality in order to understand it, words, concepts, mentalities, and disciplines constantly collide with each other creating smaller and smaller particles, like moon dust.
For Lévi-Strauss, mankind has been constantly opposing himself to universal decay. He appears as a machine, maybe more perfected than others, working on disaggregating an original order to precipitate organized matter into inertia. Since he started to breath and feed himself until the invention of the fist thermonuclear and atomic instruments, men has done nothing but happily dissociate millions of structures to reduce them to a state in which they are not susceptible of integration.
Without doubt he has build cities and cultivated fields; but when thinking about it, these achievements are machines destined to produce inertia with a rhythm and proportion infinitely more elevated than the organization they imply. So, civilization, taken as a whole, can be described as a very complex mechanism busy in fabricating what scientists call entropy, which means, inertia.
For Lévi-Strauss, instead of ‘anthropology’ we should write ‘entropology’, a name for a discipline dedicated to study this process of disintegration in its more complex manifestations.
P: What will you present at pinksummer for your first solo show in Italy?
MCD: The exhibition includes friends and relatives of Echo, characters who are in a constant dialogue with their surroundings, establishing conversations that transform their shape constantly.
The exhibition consists of a series of sculptures in papiér-mache, a technique that I have been interested for a long time, because of its flexibility and simplicity and also the link it has with Mexican crafts, where it is used for several purposes. The sculptures resemble mathematical models gone crazy, and they include also images. We are doing a mural with an Italian faux marble technique, that I wanted to do since a very long time, which connects my interests in abstract-organic patterns, caves and beautiful minerals.
The exhibition is the starting point of a new project. This journey will evolve on a series of fables of uncomfortable objects, a portrait of contemporary society through the eyes of non-humans. A compilation of succinct stories featured by animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, machines and forces of nature.
The anthropologist James Clifford gives a good example of how an exhibition of uncomfortable beings would look like: “We need exhibitions that question the boundaries of art and of the art world, an influx of truly indigestible “outside” artifacts. The relations of power whereby one portion of humanity can select, value, and collect the pure products of others need to be criticized and transformed.
This is no small task. In the meantime one can at least imagine shows that feature the impure, “inauthentic” productions of past and present life; exhibitions radically heterogeneous in their global mix of styles; exhibitions that locate themselves in specific multicultural junctures; exhibitions where nature remains “unnatural”; exhibitions whose principles of incorporation are openly questionable.” 1
Uncomfortable objects can just be looked with estrangement. Estrangement thus becomes a tool that is part of the creative process, implying an oscillation between understanding and not understanding. Making us conscious of the way we create narratives, discourses and histories, it alerts us to the opposition between the fragmentary nature of knowledge and its inherent tendency toward completion.
1.* James Clifford, The predicament of Culture, p. 213