Mariana Castillo Deball – The Tortoise and other footraces between unequal contestants

Mariana Castillo Deball wrote us: “One of the starting points for this project is a fossil from a turtle that I found at the natural history museum in Berlin. Last year in Brazil, for a piece at the Sao Paulo biennale I worked a lot with fossils; since then, continuing with this research I am now visiting often the natural history museum in Berlin looking for fossils.
The second reference point is a book on Amazonian Turtle myths, in which they analyze the different folk tales in which a turtle is in a competition with another animal, which is usually faster. So the other animal always thinks that it’s going to win and gives advantage to the turtle, but the turtle finds a way to defeat. Slow moving, at least on land, but well armoured and long lived, turtles appear in a variety of storytelling situations.
In the Aesop fable “The hare and the Turtle”, the hare challenges the turtle to a footrace.
Finding itself with a comfortable lead, the hare pauses midway to take a nap. The turtle continues, overtakes the sleeping hare, and wins the race.
In these tales between unequal contestants, the slow animal may be a turtle or a snail, a crab, a mole, an ant or a hedgehog. The turtle is also sharing a story with Achiles, in one of the Zeno’s paradoxes.
Achilles, is engaged in a race with a lowly tortoise, Achilles is confident and gives advantage to the tortoise, but then he has a problem. Before he can overtake the tortoise, he must first catch up with it. While Achilles is covering the gap between himself and the tortoise that existed at the start of the race, however, the tortoise creates a new gap.
The new gap is smaller than the first, but it is still a finite distance that Achilles must cover to catch up with the animal. Achilles then races across the new gap. To Achilles’ frustration, while he was reaching the second gap, the tortoise was establishing a third, and so on. No matter how quickly Achilles closes each gap, the slow-but-steady tortoise will always open new, smaller ones and remain ahead in this race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.”
Mariana Castillo Deball’s exhibition at pinksummer goes to Rome, titled “The Tortoise and other Footraces between unequal Contestants” let us think at slowness as an opposition practice and, in so far, the praise of slowness, symbolically embodied by the tortoise, appears conceptually analogous to the invitation to “Obfuscation”, addressed by Tobias Putrih to the public of his recent solo show at pinksummer in Genoa last October, which, through small actions, accomplished by many people on a daily basis, can become a revolutionary practice against an unequal adversary, such as the “data empires”.
On the other hand, according to quantum physics and therefore to subatomic particles, in respect of the indetermination principle, it is not important to think that motion exists; what matters is the possibility of measuring and predicting the result. Therefore Zeno of Elea, considered by Aristoteles the founder of dialectics, could have easily reduced to absurdity the contradictory thesis in order to defend Parmenide, his master, and deny motion, by asserting that, as every lenght admits infinite divisions, it is impossible to cover any distance in a finite time, being every length composed by infinite segments.
The moral of Aesop’s fable “The Hare and the Tortoise” seems instead to teach that we should never underestimate our opponents, and that it is useless to run, as it is much better to divide time. Suggestions as such are always valuable, but maybe more than ever in our historical moment.
Tortoises are mythical creatures that have a symbolic role in all cultures, they exist on Earth since 225 million years ago, they are living fossils, sturdy and self-sufficient, they survived any major change on Earth. Tortoises can survive over a long time under the ice sheets, as well as under the sand, in the desert. During dark times, they represent the possibility of hope, growth and creativity by collecting and concentrating the forces in themselves against dispersion. The tortoise is symbol of patience, responsibility, creativity and long life. Somehow, tortoise represents the cultivation of rational thinking.
In his book “In Praise of Slowness” neuroscientist Lamberto Maffei asserts that the brain loves tortoise, because the brain is a slow machine unlike the machines invented by itself. The short 20th century that has fed the utopian and falsely empowering dream of speed since the time of Futurists, produced wars and exterminations. According to Maffei, the machine that better represents contemporary time is the tapis roulant. We run, we work hard, we sweat, but we end up standing always on the same spot.
The central thesis of “Thinking Faster and Slow”, written by Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel prize for economy in spite of being a psychologist, in collaboration with Amos Tversky, is the dichotomy between thinking models according to heurisic theory, of which the first, “System 1”, is fast, instinctive, emotional, while “System 2” is deliberative and logical and arrives to the conclusion that “the truth is we were never supposed to believe everything we think! One of fundamental skills for consciousness living and personal development is choosing to believe and what not to”. Slow thinking is therefore a way to open unexpected paths.
It seems that the most effective ads today do not contain logical messages any more, but are based on their pure emotional appeal. Logical explanations telling why a product is better than a competitor’s one are no longer relevant. Any rational message is banned as what does make a commercial successful is its emotional component. If the consumer of products or news can develop antibodies under rational guidance, he will never be immune to his feelings.
According to the theory of psychologist Paul Ekman, universal human emotions are seven. Among them, only happiness has a positive connotation, surprise can have a positive or negative one, while anger, fear, disgust, sadness and depreciation have all a negative connotation. An eighth one is added, neutrality, the most dangerous one from the point of view of marketing, while other emotions have all a commercial value.
Internet did not change consumers, it only amplified what we are, acting a little like capitalism implanted in China.
Bourgeois civilization has cultivated public virtue and private vice, i.e. the dissociation between what the individual experiments inside himself and what he let appear outside. In so far the falsification or unconscious dissociation between visceral emotionality and cognitive representation of emotions is a bad attitude diffused in our society and leads to mystification and manipulation, and it is the more alarming the less we are aware of it.
Mariana Castillo Deball’s tortoise is composed by seven parts, like the scale of universal human emotions of advertising that let the ROI increase, like the strings of the first lyra made by the God Hermes, donated to Apollo and given by him to his son Orpheus. They say Hermes used a tortoise carapace and stretched inside it seven strings made from sheep guts in order to make up a musical instrument and make the heart happy. Lyra is associated to Apollonian virtues of moderation and balance in contrast to flute, related to Dionysus who represents ecstasy and celebration. Mariana Castillo Deball’s tortoise seems to share with the Lyra donated by Hermes to Apollon a hidden force: the ability to find shelter in itself in order to resist and to find sooner or later a unexpected way out.
The title of an Amazonian tale featuring the tortoise is “How a Tortoise Killed a Jaguar and made a Whistle of one of his bones”.