You are encountering the first of three installments published in BLOG ART SPY where I am going to try to think about what happened in the curatorial research process that I carried out within the framework of the Encura V grant. Entitled They roam darkly amidst the shadow, this collaborative project aims to align and bring together artists-researchers, writers, philosophers and other agents of the cultural context to investigate practices and methodological processes that update the bases of Gothic Materialism.
In this first installment I am going to shed some light (and shadows) on our experience during the three exchange and conviviality events that were held in February and March 2021 in Madrid and Barcelona.
In Fliteline Constructs (exmilitary collective, 2018), Mark Fisher tries to observe what assemblages between organic and non-organic matter, living and undead, are capable of creating an agency that no longer belongs to one’s own body. Although it is true that my entry point into Gothic Materialism was through the ideas of the English academic, when devising this project I was very clear that I was not interested in conducting research based on preconceived or external ideas, but that I would use them as an inspirational punctum. So my intention was to take advantage of the material conditions that the Encura V scholarship makes possible to generate an original context of collective speculation. But … how to do it?
Despite the lack of definition and the doubts I had in the initial phase of the project, there were certain issues that I was very clear about from the beginning. Due to the precarious and isolated context in which we find ourselves during the pandemic, I considered of the utmost importance the fact of redistributing and collectivizing the research residence through a device for confluence and networking based on the logic of mental and material sustainability. These premises (to work using our own ideas and the psychic and material sustainability of the project) are very important to understand how the collective process of our research came about. It was a playful investigation -not a very rigorous one, the academy might say- as well as one which tried to be inspirational. It was, in summary, a creative and diffractive investigation, in which we knew the starting point but not what its arc of transformation would be.
From this initial statement, I launched an investigative approach based on three events of night conviviality with artist-researchers and philosophers to think about current practices and processes connected to Gothic materialism. My invitation to the artists was the following: take advantage of the collective research framework to develop some line of exploration linked to your own work. The artists decided what to do. The only condition I imposed was to share their process with the group and post it on an online Wiki. This Wiki would function as an attempt or essay in digital curation from a perspective close to theory-fiction.
At the methodological level, the proposal aims to observe and activate the neo-gothic imaginaries of current artistic practices through situated and embodied research, included role-playing and magic. In that sense, the project is aligned with the feminist critique of scientific epistemology through the recognition of different genealogies and the irruption of bodies and diversity in the specific spaces of production and knowledge exchange. A common starting point was the belief that theory-fiction and material speculative practices, as research methods, have the capacity to destabilize certain social mandates and configure ethical and political alternatives beyond the myths that currently give order to the symbolic reality. In this sense, the curatorial mediation during the meetings allowed the group to also open other temporalities and collaborative work flows affected by the night.
Before continuing, I invite you to read the complete descriptor of the project and the research questions that the invited artists proposed. Take your time…
Here are some extracts from my notebook about what happened during the dark moons of February and March.
Full Moon on February 27 and 28 at Sala Ricson, Hangar (Barcelona)
It’s like there is no escape, everything shows.
We meet up in Hangar (Barcelona) as the sun goes down. Raisa Maudit comes from Madrid, Andrea González and Elif Özbay from Holland. The three artists will stay 10 days in Hangar residents’ dorm. Dani and José from Colectivo Juan de Madre (CJM), who live in Barcelona, arrive. Marta Echaves also accompanies us. We take a walk through the ruins of the creation factory compound until it gets dark. We enter Hangar’s Sala Ricson, a completely black room in which I have arranged a circle of chairs, a table with wine, juice and snacks, and, at the other end, a projector.
Hangar has given us the keys to spend the night in the room and we do not know how the meeting will proceed. The artists do not know each other. We sit in a circle. I do some readings of the book Los que vienen de la noche (Those who come from the night, 2018) by Fernanda García Lao and Guillermo Saccomanno, and I explain to the group what my intentions are and the reason for my invitation to each one of them. I express my desire to pool our lines of research together to imagine political alternatives to the present in which we have been trapped…. Can speculative fiction help us in this task?
Colectivo Juan de Madre tells us about their previous works, such as their philosophical adventure novel El barbero y el superhombre (The Barber and the superman, 2016), and they explain their line of exploration: they want to emulate the structure of a nineteenth-century grimoire to build the foundations of a new cabalistic materialism of socialist spirit. Andrea González and Elif Özbay share with the group their latest work done in collaboration during the confinement entitled Vampire’s can’t have anything: a podcast series where they analyze the multiple meanings of the figure of the vampire in the cinematographic imaginary of recent years, and they state their desire to use their research as the basis for an attempt to create at a fictional radio soap opera. Raisa Maudit, who has also been working on vampire mythologies for years, tells us about her childhood and the personal experiences included in the work she is about to inaugurate entitled The Vampire Manifesto. Raisa wants to carry out a sound exploration in the key of a cantata with a voice. The proposal narrates a new vampiric mythology through a decolonial review of the history of the Auritas, a tribe that inhabits the Island of La Palma, where the artist comes from.
But of course, all this does not happen in a skeptical environment or within the codes of an institutional one, but rather in a kind of displaced intimate space in which the group must negotiate the order of events as the night unfolds. And the night, well… you know how it goes. If I initially thought of placing this collaborative research in a nocturnal environment, it was precisely to open up other temporalities and workflows affected by the materiality of the night. But what I did not take into account was that the night implies its own forms of violence. Perhaps the most significant one is tiredness and exhaustion. And despite the fact that the doors were always open for us to come and go whenever we wanted, the development of the first event led us to Gothic materiality at around 3am. It was then that the last of the presentations by the artists began. This presentation lasted about two long hours… And, unlike the others, it left aside the intellectual content to appeal to the extremely intimate and experiential, like a story of frayed and incomprehensible fear…
The darkness of the moment challenged me: should I cut this bizarre experience? Should I redirect the situation with some gesture of productivist mediation? Was it better to let it go on until its own end? Perhaps this strange moment was the answer to our invocation: the appearance of the monster. After that horror story, everyone decided to go to sleep. Perhaps the strangeness of the atmosphere did not leave room for anything else… Well, not everyone went to sleep; two continued talking between monsters and chimeras.
Gibbous moon waning on March 6, 7 and 8 in a Masía de Plandogau (Lleida)
She is generous and shares what brought her fruits, like the empress.
We leave Barcelona at 6pm on Friday and get to Plandogau (Lleida) around 8pm. Along the way we stopped to buy calçots, a vegetable that is eaten in February in Catalonia in gastronomic rituals and holidays. When we arrive, we light the fire and start talking. We talk about the devil and evil, about otherness and selfhood, about the creepypasta phenomena on the internet … Unlike the first day, now we know each other. I realize that communication codes that belong to the group are being generated. The word disappears and the collective gesture emerges.
Andrea, who is a machine for generating memes, does not stop recreating the gesture of Salvator Mundi [savior of the world] that she saw repeated in the Romanesque paintings during her visit to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). It is, according to Christian iconography, the «hand of the preacher», the Christ who blesses. Andrea resignifies it as a gesture of blessing towards the situations generated during this communal experience. We all get hooked. I realize the importance of giving time to the investigation because now that we know each other more, empathy, affection and the act of listening begin to prevail in the face of insecurities and the need for self-assertion or leadership on the part of some people in the group.
Dani from CJM invites us to his home in Plandogau to activate a role-playing game that he himself has written around his literary exploration. The first night before going to sleep, he gives us all a piece of paper to put under our pillow and asks us to record what we dream about. The next day, at sunset, we start the role play. The game consists of the magical cooperation of the group to create a being of clay that acts through a collective decision-making process. I had never participated in role-playing games before and the experience was eye-opening in many ways. As an embodied research methodology, the game challenged us to abandon our individual identities and personify a single creature; a creature capable of doing anything as long as it was the result of a consensual decision. I never would have imagined that role playing could be a language of political mediation… that night we flew across the plains of Lleida and knead a clay sculpture with just one finger.
New moon sinking in the pitch of March 13 in Planta Alta (Madrid)
Confusion, exhaustion, silent critters and more visible creatures. Very animal everything.
I have just arrived at Planta Alta, where I am going to spend three weeks of my residency. I’ve been planning the third and last of the conviviality events for weeks. This time all the artists are currently living in Madrid. Some know each other and some not. I settle in and go to rest because the next night will be long…
At 6:30 pm, the artists Marian Garrido, Raisa Maudit, Raquel G. Ibáñez and Marta Echaves arrive at Planta Alta. Ana Duarte, my roommate, is also with us. A few hours earlier, Blanca G. Terán and Ángela Millano (aka dj_Sônia) had arranged the performative device of their GROGUILAB on the floor. Their proposal consists of a research laboratory on insomnia palliative substances that aims to mediate the passing of the night.
We start with a few beers in the kitchen. At around 8 pm we go to the living room. I read to the artists some of the ideas that we discussed in the previous events: “we live in a Dark Age of Evil, why are we now living with otherness? It the (d)evil bad? … ” Then, dj_Sônia tells us what GROGUILAB consists of, that we have at our disposal a series of infusions and tablets against insomnia and that we can take them whenever we want. Their invitation implies a negotiation on the part of the group on how to take care of each other in the collective intake. We state our wishes and debate. Later, we began to share speculative lines and practices. Raquel begins. Sleepiness and hallucination appear, the materiality of the voice as a door to the unknown, shadow boxing … ghosts take shape in the room. Raisa shares her previous experience in the project and the ongoing results of her line of research. It’s getting late. We eat dinner.
Upon returning, Marian explains to us her interest in the figure of Gilles de Rais and his wickedness. Marian shares details of her practice around material morbidity and the materiality of death. She tells us about Gilles de Rais’s footprints in the shadows of the internet and the algorithms for capturing minors. It is very late and some of us are high on Zolpidem. Raquel has been sleeping for hours. While Marian plays us a session of hypnagogic music, we all fall into a deep sleep… The next morning we have bread with avocado and churros with coffee and milk for breakfast. At 11 am the apartment is empty and I decide to go to my room to rest.
A few days later sadness floods me. I feel that this last day has generated complicities but it also makes me think about the relationship between ignorance and listening. Some have said a lot and listened little. I think of the importance of conferring time to relationships because only then is it possible for the group to regulate itself. It is necessary to confer a long time of coexistence to balance the weight of presences and their contributions. I let the days go by and think about the dark side of feminist methodologies. I think of ecosystems, of predators and preys, of how the figure of the vampire curator is always more effective. But I also think about the importance of going through our own shadows, fears and insecurities, because only in this way is it possible to try other forms of research in art, even if they are monstrous.
* This text has as its starting point the experiences shared with the artists Andrea González, Elif Özbay, Raisa Maudit, Colectivo Juan de Madre, Ángela Millano & Blanca G. Terán (aka dj_Sônia), Raquel G. Ibáñez, Marian Garrido, Ana Llurba and Paco Chanivet