Can we rely on what objects have to tell us? Which (hi)stories are objects telling us? Which is the potency and the agency of objects?
This photographic series ponders upon the idea of material history. It is a collection of objects found at the street known as “couloir de la mort” (death row) located in the campus of the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal.
My body itself is a mosaic of heritages; my mouth, my hair, my skin color; not to say the language with which I express myself and my believes. We are thrown into the world with an inheritance and this inheritance is even more complex for the colonized. Franz Fanon insists that the colonized man is a political creature in the most global sense of the term and he couldn’t be more right. The history of many peoples was suddenly fragmented with a foreign language, political scheme, and Julia Kristeva emphasizes our innate foreigness. “Handle with care” is a warning to address our self reflections, our fragile identities, understanding that we are all already foreigners.
This installation was set on an abandoned and rusty shipping container at the Nigerian Railway compound in the city of Lagos. It was inspired by one visit to a local market where I saw this mirrors, they had a tape around them which read: Fragile. Handle with care. I thought it to be a great way of framing a mirror. Our fragmented reflections, our fragmented histories and life stories have been marked by the complex dialogue of identity, globalization, colonization and locality.
In some of the mirror I wrote quotes from Julia Kristeva’s book Strangers to Ourselves.
Numerous students living at the student houses from the Cheikh Anta Diop university in Dakar, Senegal; go out every night to study under the street lights of the campus boulevard. Every night they go to memorize and rehearse words; words meaningful to their future practices. Jacques Derrida understands the university profession – professors – to be intrinsically related to the religious act of professing. To profess is an act of faith. Studying is, as well, an act of faith. The murmurs and the slow movements of these students resemble praying acts. Movements allow for knowledge to be embodied. The public space becomes their private-communal space. Lux mea lex (“Light is my law”) is Cheikh Anta Diop’s motto; strangely enough most of these young people are law students profiting from public lighting. There is a hope for future, a hope projected towards knowledge as a means to materialize dreams. Most acts of faith are acts of courage; these students are definitely courageous.
A dance intervention in situ (Cheikh Anta Diop University) with the participation of Pi Krump, Inas Dasylva, Bienvenu Gomis, Khadim Ndiayea and Clarisse Sagna took place in the main boulevard of this university.
“I do not understand love stories”, was the starting point of an investigation about romantic love; followed by an act of public writing. During three months I worked as a scrivener at the Santo Domingo public square in Mexico City. My scrivener duty was to write love letters, for free.
Scriveners are the professionals that write letters or documents for legal purposes, or for people who cannot read or write. Mexico City still maintains this dying tradition and a community, of approximately 40 scriveners, goes to work everyday at the arcades of the Santo Domingo public square. This square was founded in the 16th Century as part of the catechist and urban activities of the Spanish colonial period in the -at the time- recently conquered Tenochtitlán. Being a temporary scrivener was for me a nostalgic act and, as well, a means to have a direct interaction with passers-by. The scrivener writes in the public space and his or her writing is affected by the other, the client.
As the philosopher Alain Badiou states, love must be reinvented, but more importantly, it must be protected, because it is threatened by many fronts. Mexico, and many parts of the world, is currently experiencing alarming social situations where violence and gore showmanship are the currency of exchange for public discourse. What then can be elaborated from a public and written call to reflect on our ideas about love? Is love something more than the “romantic”? Can we think of love as a daily action? As a social setting? As a conscious act?
You need to forgive yourself. It is not always necessary to be the bravest woman alive. It is important to recognize that there are bigger matters than yourself. It is ok to say “I cannot take this challenge at the moment”. Not having done something doesn’t mean that you are a perpetual coward or that you are uncapable of realizing projects or challenge yourself. You need to forgive yourself for being afraid. Of course that you shouldn’t let fear dictate your life, but being afraid from time to time is also not the worse thing in the world. You need to let go and stop thinking of all the mistakes you’ve made out of fear in the course of your life. We all make mistakes and its from mistakes that we learn. I understand that it is hard to forgive after having made a decision because you will never know what would have happened if you had done otherwise. Be certain that thinking obsesivelly on the “what if?” can turn anyone crazy. There are paths in life, there are decisions and those decisions carve the life we live afterwards, but it is not only decisions that shape our lives but ourselves, our way of living, of breathing those decisions. One of the most valuable lessons is to let go. To understand that nothing is forever and that nothing belongs to you. The world is a fugitive on its own. It is ours for a moment and then it flees away. Nothing is forever, you need to repeat that to yourself. Above all, nothing is ever ours. Life is a fugitive gift. I know that you frequently say that you came to this world to learn, that sounds really beautiful, but you sometimes forget that learning is not always easy and that lessons are many times unexpected. It doesn’t help to fight against a lesson, to evade it, not to see it. A lesson that needs to be learned will come back in a different form, with a different face. Now I was expecting to learn about positioning myself, to express ideas, but I have come to realice that once more the lesson is that of self discovery, of self acceptance. I share this with you because I intuit that you are going through a similar experience. It seems that the time has come to stand infront of the mirror, to see ourselves as we truly are, to accept our mistakes, to like our talents, to understand our fears. Time has come to stop being a fugitive to ourselves, to life, to experiences, to forgiveness. Time has come for us to accept that life is a gift, I repeat, a fugitive gift.
A: It happened all of a sudden, I was living in this house for one year already with a group of people and unexpectedly my flatmate told me that she was moving out also the rest of the inhabitants. I realized that I was alone in the house and I had to either move out or that I had to find new flatmates. So, this idea came to my mind: what if I don’t look for a regular flatmate but instead I look for artists who want to create something here? Initially it was going to last just for one month but then I received so many applications and so many interesting people that I couldn’t stop. It was like when you go from a hill with a bike or with something else that has wheels, and you go on a flat surface and when the sloping part begins you cannot stop, you start going down till the end or further.
Q: What does Porto mean to you?
A: Firstly, it is a refuge place in a way, because it is at the very end of Europe and it is like a place where you cannot go any further. I first came here to study, I could choose any place in Europe that my university had an alliance with and Porto was the furthest place possible, so I came here. Then I got addicted. In a way I feel safe here because it is so far away from everything. I love Europe but I prefer to be on the edges of Europe, before I was in Georgia and it was also just on the border with Asia. From this perspective it’s easier to observe things happening without getting too involved, it allows you to be free.
Q: And that is what is addictive for you in Porto?
A: Not only that, of course. But it is a good feeling to be on the edge, I like that there are so many possibilities because relatively there is still a lot to do, and it is also not a capital city so it is an alternative place. The relationships between people here are closer; and because the city is so dense there are many things squeezed together. For example, this phenomena that someone can just ring your door and come wouldn’t happen in other cities because things are too far away from each other. Also this house is located in the middle of everything, it starts to be a place where people just pass nearby and they enter because they are here. I love these kind of possibilities that Porto gives.
Q: Do you think this residency can distinguish itself from others? If yes, in which way?
A: The funny thing is that I have never done an official residency, so I don’t know very well how other residencies are. I have stayed in places that had residencies so I have observed a bit. I think “De Liceiras 18” is different because it is very experimental, because it is not institutional. Obviously the most characteristic thing is that people live and create in the same space. There is no division between bedrooms and ateliers and exhibition spaces; this gives a lot of limitations, it provides a big challenge. It is more difficult and it can be more stressful also, but at the same time I see this challenge as a chance because creating in difficult conditions can create new solutions, and solutions for these problems can be something really innovative that could not happen in “white box” perfect places. The idea is to challenge this concept. It is not a statement, I don’t say that it is possible to live and create in the same space, I put a question: Is it possible to do so? At least once per week I think it is impossible but then I see things happening and it is truly incredible.
Q: Before you were saying that you are not giving a statement but rather opening a question mark, do you have a statement or do you want to make a statement with this house?
A: No, it is a question. It is a very big question mark. Because it is a personal project and I personally don’t feel myself ready to make any statement yet, I rather want to make this project as an open experiment. Instead of giving a sentence and put the dot, I start the sentence and see what people will write further and maybe at some point this becomes a statement or a little statement everyday or a group of statements. Sometimes they are contradictory, one statement to another, but I think all of them are true and this is the most interesting.
Q: Is there a story behind the name “De Liceiras 18”? Why did you choose that name?
A: Yes, I didn’t wanted to add any additional meaning, so this house is located in Travessa de Liceiras and the house number is 18 (dezoito in Portuguese). To put Travessa in the logo was too long, just graphically it would not work, so I left “De Liceiras 18”. It is closely connected to this place, it is not an organization that could be anywhere. Maybe the only thing it means or emphasizes is the relationship with the house itself as a place and with the location.
Q: And especially the neighborhood no? I see that it could be interesting for you to connect to the neighborhood surrounding.
A: We do actually. It is very tricky because we have to gain the trust of the people and they are not used to art so much, because in this area there are not so many cultural initiatives. For now we started just by inviting people from the bar downstairs because it is a place where all the men from the neighborhood gather to eat, to drink, to discuss, sometimes to play cards; they spend there their free time. I want to bring these people here and invite them to come. In our last exhibition already four men came, the owner of the bar and three guests that he had. They came and they seemed to like it, they have a lot to contribute as well because they know a lot of the history of this place that me as a foreigner and as a person that has lived here only for one year have no access to. They create a bridge between the residents of this house, who are relatively new to this place, and the past, what happened here before. To all the surroundings, to the changes that it went through. And I hope that gradually we will connect to more and more people.
Q: Do you think there is a social value to art?
A: Depends on which art, I think that not all art has to be socially involved, it is just one of the reasons for art. But some art can of course change people’s lives or at least make them reflect upon some problem or emphasize some change that is happening or some issue that needs to be resolved.
Q: Why did you decide to be an artist?
A: It was never a decision. Since I can remember I knew that I was an artist somehow. First I thought that I would be selling paintings on the street because that was the only art I observed, in my family everyone is an engineer, there were no artists, so I didn’t have this experience at home. I just saw people selling paintings on the street, so I decided when I was very very little that this would be my future job. And then, gradually I started discovering on my own other disciplines of art, other techniques and I have changed them many times. I have interests in different media and I still haven’t decided. I don’t know if there is a need to decide, maybe for some, but I think I won’t be able, capable of choosing just one path.
Q: What is art for you?
A: It is transformation. Everything that we perceive we take it, it can be either an object, a word, a melody or a concept, and we change it or we just put it in the right place. For me personally, it is more about putting things in the right place. When I see that something is missing somewhere I put it there. Sometimes it is difficult to see the border between what is art and what is not. For example, when I was walking to Santiago de Compostela I had by accident the seeds of Tropaeolum with me, it is a plant that you can actually eat entirely and it has medical properties, it is a anti inflammatory. It is the plant that people who walk long distances really need. Many of the people that were on the road that time were taking medicines, like aspirin, which would just avoid the inflammation or the infection, but I think that we have so many medical opportunities coming from nature that we don’t need to bring medicine to the forest, we should take medicine from the forest. This plant grows very well in the climate conditions in Portugal, but for some reason this plant was not growing at the time. So I just put the seeds on the road in different places and I hope they have grown, if there was enough rain they should be quite big by now. For me in a way it is art because it is bringing something that was missing there. But I still question what art is. Art for me is also freedom. Anything that in society is considered outside of the rules you can say that you are working on your art and people will accept it. Art is a means to justify my madness in front of me.