(Author: Lia Colombino)
Of letting oneself being captured
Imagine this landscape: in your background a river and on the river bank the ruins of a factory building together with locomotives, old irons, and railroad tracks. La Victoria painted on a water tank, but under that sign an older one emerges, and it says: Casado S.A. There are several roads. In them, a profusion of plants, donkeys, electoral propaganda posters, mud, and dry land.
Imagine the sound that accompanies the image: frogs, motorcycles, chimes. Imagine mountains of abandoned documents, imagine their smell. Small houses with their gardens, with their fruit trees. Pets. The owners of these houses. Their stories, their domestic images, and the image they generate together.
Time opens in the midst of that landscape. And in that time, several times, entangled amongst them.
Now imagine a woman. She walks with a hat that protects her from the sun. Imagine this woman walking down earth streets. Imagine her foreign language getting modified by phonemes stranger to her. Imagine that woman in that landscape, creating another image that is annexed to the image of the customary inhabitants of the place.
Imagine her quiet astonishment. This woman is being seduced by an image. She looks into this image only to find new ones. And from them she extracts tales, struggles, names, large and minimal stories. She gets complicated by them. She is captured by this entanglement of intertwined times.
This exhibition is the outcome of several encounters, the materialization of an exercise that we began to realize after the open call that Valentina Bonifacio organized as part of her research project:
Puerto Casado, genealogies (1886—201?) - Memory, Threads, Images.
The call was launched for artists and other people who could contribute to the project from their own location, and the participants lived in Casado getting in contact with people and spaces. By allowing the artists to get into her discipline, anthropology, she made it stagger in the displacement. The image they captured after becoming familiar with her investigation, captured by another eye - one which has been crossed by the tectonic movement that art can sometimes be - starts saying different things; the image appears before a new witness and it returns an instance that had not previously been summoned.
In that turmoil, in that setting that Valentina staged, history also staggered. Following Benjamin, we can say that this disturbance could be a way of unraveling an origin (needless to say, Benjamin disbelieved of the origin understood as a principle, and he understood it rather as a whirlwind). In that whirlwind the genealogy is traced.
Time: an entanglement
It is said of time that it’s a line. We talk about time lines, chronological time. One event comes first and then another follows. What comes first gives way to something else, as if they followed the rules of cause and effect. We talk about anteriority, simultaneity and posterity, and this way of framing history has opened the path to innumerable simplifications.
But time itself has challenged the idea of linearity, it planted itself as a slap and has occupied the present, even when it was depicted as past. It revealed itself as latencies, impurities, anachronisms and survivals. Warburg spoke of time as a jumble of snakes that interweave and unravel. But that mess is not static. It moves, catches preys, reconfigures itself, gets seen and hides.
How, then, make time visible? How to leave an enduring inscription of the forces that inhabit time?
The image, the images, would be a graphic way of making time and its work visible. The concept of dynamogram is a concept drawn from physics and mechanics. It involves the ideas of force and time and, therefore, of movement. Warburg used this word to conceptualize his idea of the image-symptom, its movements and its temporalities.
In this work, we will use it to account for an ensemble of reworked images which together form the inscription of forces, of interwoven times or, as Didi-Huberman notes: "a form of the forms of time" (Didi-Huberman 2013: 159). But in this case, revisited by the eyes of those who formed this project.
This exhibition cannot, nor it does pretend to, summarize or compile all the stories that Puerto Casado keeps in its memory. We know of the impossibility of the image to represent with absolute fidelity. Neither do we pursue that goal. We believe, however, that these images could perhaps open the time of history, open the past and the present, and settle in the future.
The image is loaded with time, said Aby Warburg. Using Benjamin’s language, it is almost the same as saying that there is a dialectic of the image. About this relationship between image and time Georges Didi-Huberman says:
“In front of an image - as old as it is - the present never ceases to reconfigure itself. Before an image - as recent, as contemporary as it can be - the past never ceases to reconfigure itself, since this image only becomes thinkable in a construction of memory, if not obsession. Finally, before an image, we humbly have to recognize the following: that it will probably survive us, that in front of it we are the fragile element, the element of passage, and that the image is for us the element of the future, the element of duration. The image often has more of memory and more of future than the being who looks at it. “(Didi-Huberman 2006: 32; personal translation).
This long quotation serves as a reminder and a warning and that’s why it was used as part of the dynamogram that this exhibition tries to be; it was used, if you like, as a word-image. It is the key that will serve as a reading device to be able to look at the images that the exhibition works, almost as a curiosity cabinet in which each of the images is linked to another one through multiple associations, through more or less invisible threads. This image, that is full of time and that also survives us, is the one that will weave some memories, that will evoke or not a time inside another time, that will tie them in that entanglement that is chasing us. And this resonates with how Didi-Huberman works with the notion of survival in Warburg.This survival of the images is for Warbug a kind of gesture or form that appears and disappears in different human representations. That is why it is related to the notion of ghost: that which likes to always be on in the shadow, that neither appear nor disappear.
In his search for a way to understand these appearances and disappearances, Warburg also thought of the survival of time itself in the image, overturning the idea that history can really be simplified through ordering and periodizing. Survival would be "(...) a notion transcending all chronological division. It describes another time. It disorients history, opens it, complicates it. To say it plainly, it anachronizes. "(Didi-Huberman 2013: 75-76).
We work in these complexities in which the image has placed us. In this disoriented history that gets opened and lets the time enter as a knot. We let the images work so that somehow the time can work too.
The material image has conformed in Puerto Casado an archive with multiple addresses. It has generated abundant images and document during the long years of its rhizomatic history. The great mobility imposed by the factory dynamics, in addition to the abandonment of the facilities and the offices of the factory by the people in charge of the company, have produced a dissemination of testimonies, be they domestic or official. The significance, moreover, that the company Casado had and has for the history of Paraguay makes us find small fragments of stories in other files that are not specific of that area. This is the case of the Archive of Terror.
People use the idea of the phantasmagoric when a place looks ruinous or abandoned, or when there are forms related to a certain past (always from the perspective of who is speaking, from its own place of enunciation). But this is not what we are referring to.
Warbug worked the idea of survival (especially of the forms, of the gestures) crossing it with the notion of ghost. He discredited, in his studies on art history, the models through which that history had been traditionally periodized. In fact, he rather believed that "times ... were expressed by strata, hybrid blocks, rhizomes, specific complexities, often unexpected returns, and always unsuccessful goals" (Didi-Huberman 2013: 24-25; personal translation). He also spoke of a "ghostly model". The notion of ghost could be worked from the poetics of the presence-absence. Something that shouldn’t have been there, appears, and not only it appears but never finishes to disappear. Ghost like thresholds because in the doorway there will always be in an interregnum in which there is no outside nor inside, no sooner or later.
Puerto Casado could be a ghost town, not because everything there has already happened, but precisely because nothing ceases to happen. The past has not passed, as Faulkner said, it keeps passing in the skin, in life, in the daily becoming.
Image-Señuelo / Image-Sagua’a
It is called a señuelo (lure), in the traditional cattle-farming jargon of the region, the cow that serves as a guide to another that has not been tamed. In Paraguay, this cow that has not been tamed is called sagua'a, a word that also ends up designating people who do not comply with certain social norms in their behavior or attire. The sagua'a is the cattle that escapes from the corrals or that for lack of attention has grown up in the woods, becoming wild. Local cowboys often "hunt" these wild cows and take them back to the corral, by tying them from the horn to another cow (the señuelo).
There are wild images that have for a long time been linked to others that domesticate them to make them reachable. They make them docile and reassuring, as if hiding a multiplicity of interpretations. Many times we think about the señuelo in terms of nostalgia or romanticism. But that wild image, the image-sagua’a, at some point overlaps and flashes, it lets itself be seen, it settles to make history reverberate.
During our stay in Casado we heard several expressions that were peculiar to us, either because we had never heard them since a long time or because of their uniqueness. One of these phrases was: "Useless as a mud ball factory". The bodoque [mud ball] is a dry clay ball used with a sling whose purpose is to shoot down a target, usually aerial and with feathers. In this use of phrases that already seem extinct lies one of the forms of the tenacity of the survival.
When we met with René Ramirez, ex-general cacique in the struggle for land of the Maskoy people, he told us about the moment before just the sale of the Casado company. He told us how, in the vicinity of the house of the owners and inside the factory, animals that did not correspond to the urban environment of Casado - wild animals such as tapirs, snakes, tatus, carayas, etc. - began to appear.
In his story, Rene suggested that these appearances were emanations of the practices of some Maskoy shamans and he associated them to the closure of the factory and the sale of the company. Every time he pointed with his finger at the exact point where they had appeared he spoke to us in the present: “Here is the snake, here is the monkey”. The present of a premonition. In this present, perhaps unintended, all futures were held together at once.
In Puerto Casado, welfare is measured in kilos of beef, as in almost all of Paraguay, but there are other issues to take into account.
The narratives of the people who had worked for the Casado company never leave this aspect aside: that there was a quantity of meat assigned to them every certain period of time. I try to imagine the moment when people withdrew the assigned amount of meat at the local store, and all I see is faces of happiness. It is the same as when a barbecue is organized today. It is the climax of the celebration.
The owner of the meat was the Casado company. No one there could have his own cattle. The supplied meat was almost seen as a gift. People get nostalgic today when they recall this. It is enough to see today the main street of Puerto Casado: the density of butchers with pieces of red meat hanging from hooks outside their shops, in the street. There is a close and quotidian relationship with the flesh, without plastics or refrigerated glasses to separate it from us. But after the sale of the company lands to the Unification Church, people began thinking that they could have their own animals, with all it entails. Cows need territory, people need cows, and cow-land-property becomes an equation that was not previously considered.
When we speak of a body of image we are alluding to a conglomerate of images that could trace, together, a greater representation. That body becomes flesh when we try to see its interior, when we dissect its parts. The people who worked for this show accumulated countless images that formed a body. That body was dissected and studied. The result is this sample that, somehow, returns the look to that body, from its dissected parts. These images, new-old, fragmentary, await the reconfiguration of their time.
That Image-Flesh is the “persistent element", in it bursts the entangled times that history tries to order and appease.
Didi-Huberman, G., 2006. Ante el tiempo. Primera ed. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo.
Didi-Huberman, G., 2013. La imagen superviviente. Historia del arte y tiempo de los fantasmas según Aby Warburg. Segunda ed. Madrid: Abada editoress.
Faulkner, W., 2011. Requiem for a nun. New York: Vintage Books.
Guasch, A. M., 2005. Los lugares de la memoria. El arte de archivar y recordar. Materia, Issue 5, pp. 157-183.