Essay Antonio Ewbank, 2011
18 – When we do not know the truth of a thing, it is of advantage that there should exist a common error which determines the mind of man, as, for example, the moon, to which is attributed the change of seasons, the progress of diseases, etc., For the chief malady of man is restless curiosity about things which he cannot understand; and it is not so bad for him to be in error as to be curious to no purpose.[Blaise Pascal]
In 1969, Neil Armstrong staged an unprecedented feat as he became the first man to step on the surface of the Moon. (“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” The rehearsed sentence,i a sample of the empire under the humanistic guise of meaning.) The astronaut was one of a few to visit such crater-ridden locale; in all, there were twelve of his fellow countrymen. All others were spectators who learned about the conquestii via radio or television broadcasts. From afar, one lurks into the provisional solutions of the men of science. Were we well familiar with the nature of the Moon? Did the experience at hand adequately match the predictions made? The United States military was an avant-garde agent who inaugurated the colonization of the seas of the Moon.iii
This is a remote subject. As we all know, man has always sought to know the distant universe or the ancestral world of essences. From astrology to astronomy. From the daily and nightly coexistence with the orbital movement of the tiny star on the horizon, to the cult of miniature stars and planets, much has been speculated under the heavens on the influence of constellations in the realm of earthly jurisdiction. (Much has been speculated under the staggered sky of planetariums.) There surely is a vast reservoir of meaning. News from a time long past.
The transoceanic plowing brings about rumors of a New World. The stellar arrangement guided the European overseas expansion. Under the stare of the astrolabe, technique imposed the direction of a rich nautical venture. Myriad premonitory images comprised the horizon of uncharted waters. The movement across the distance of space authorized a similar movement across the distance of time, sailing a geographical interstice of metaphorical significance.iv If it were not for the clairvoyant powers of superstitious narratives, the mythological resources of travelers would amount to nothing! They could not adequately correspond to the perspective conception of traditional fables. The accounts of adventure seekers had a printed purpose. The print of nautical charts, adornments and engravings of colossal creatures of the sea, confirmed millenary expectations. But there was often more than this figurative meaning. An interval separated waiting from experience. The authoritarian magnetism of vagabonds, on returning to their home country, would multiply the power of attraction of the Atlantic breeze.v
Hevi who was willing to defy the unknown and travel the length of the myth was pleased to keep the unimagined imaginable, positioning the clumsy, myopic viewer in the center of a circular architecture, inside a renewed (imperial) panorama of the times. Such pedagogical projection would enable a mundane experience of the shapes of space and time, leftovers from an animated document, pedagogical like a film projector.vii No culture refrains from creating reserved spaces, of exclusion or reclusion, holy redoubts in which the solution of the enigma is entrusted only to the deserter (autochthonous).
The desert is not made of the reunion of grains. Without truce, wind, and whistle. The wind announces an impoverishment of experience. The mirage of a colonized future is akin to that described by the oracle: a topography of progress. Like the biology of the ground lion, the camouflage is skin deep. The great desert of a society contained, as it is tomorrow-oriented.
i [2001, 25 min.] Choreographed Dialogue. The pacing of the text chases the images. On the written track, at times a man, at other times a woman. The accent belies the foreigner. (Outsider: The motor is larger than I am. They would never hear me. Forget it.). The woman, the way she behaves herself, bears the local color, the sunny weather, and the prevalence of faded automobiles. One notices a detective-like, calculated lag, so that the audio echoes, dispenses with the company of subtitling; at other times, the subtext takes the scene in silence. The reasons which command the alternating moods of the off-screen narrators are tautological. I hereby repeat, viewers find themselves in an artificial field. It is as though the characters are acting somewhat blindly, as storytellers in a studio room. Out of the use and choice of words, one cannot conjure rigid facial features, a fusion similar to that of a famous actor and the sound of his voice. Just like in countries where dubbing is standard practice.
ii [2004, 10 min.] Gunwale. Little is known of the origin of the images or the cinematography. A flexible device or prop gun recounts the street protests. In a nutshell, it is useful having a Y-shaped piece of wood handy, one grossly equipped with a pair of rubber bands attached to a leather strip, with which to cast stones. From the shards, the grey dust filters the fight scene.
iii In alphabetical order: Mare Cognitum, Mare Crisium, Mare Foecunditatis, Mare Frigoris, Mare Humorum, Mare Imbrium, Mare Insularum, Mare Nectaris, Mare Nubium, Mare Serenitatis, Mare Tranquillitatis, Mare Vaporum, Oceanus Procellarum.
iv [2001, 11 min.] Instead of making us remember the past, the new national monuments seem to lead us to forget the future. A shadow of a colonial past, the capsule now harbors an architecturally designed embarrassment. In the routine, the parachute bends to the will of the winds, a subordinate to an extinct company. A Batavian bridge appears in a scale model, reduced in the synthesized history of dioramas.
v [2007, 11 min.] The brackish water keeps the attention submerged overseas. Many images reappear in this catalog of circular tours and amusements. The crank’s leisure is to move the camera: the solar eclipse, the tides, the (Mexican) hat, the acrobats, the motorized death number. It all ends as it starts. With oracle-like speed. From the overlook, the twin characters walk to and fro.
vi [2004, 39 min.] Landscape: rocky. The mill which no longer mills. Six tempestuous episodes. The comedian is one of a few to wander through such crater-filled place. One asks: Is there such a thing as a meaningless action? The energy of the mill disperses constantly. I shall never forget the stones scattered throughout the entire middle of the road.
vii [2002, 25 min.] The Athlete with Long Thin Legs. Through the tunnel, he does not flee taking long steps. (Should we thus wish, one of Arlt’s madmen?) He knows few secret entryways. At the same pace as the running steps, the recurring figure of the crank turns over without catching. An eschatological dynamo, it governs the oxidation of the whole acting. It lays the guidelines for the circular compass of a continuous projection of nondescriptive images. The motor of the curious sadness of “being through a crime.” The (fighter) cock is a marionette tailored for the rings. Its singing foreshadows a new round in the soliloquy of every day. The fool plays the fugue as he race-walks.
Interview Marcio Harum, 2011
You were in Jakarta in 2001 when you made the 15,000,000 Parachutes video. Exactly ten years later you returned to Indonesia on a field trip. Could you explain to me, from the perspective of one decade’s time, the most significant changes that occurred in the technical and conceptual aspects of your artmaking?
I believe that as time passes, we wind up polishing and rearranging ideas, toying with different formats, learning from the trade through the practice of editing, and through our relationships. Nonetheless, the foundations of my work definitely remain the same, and I will often return to forms or structures I have worked with some time ago. While the packaging will often change, I am interested in keeping the content the same. I find it crucial to be consistent in this respect.
Travelling to Indonesia ten years after that first experience was a special revival for me. 15,000,000 Parachutes is a medium-length film which was shot over roughly one month. I wanted to see whether the same magic would arise over a fifteen-day period. And it did: a script laid itself out, part of it was shot, and, for lack of time, the puzzle was not completed. I guess this trip showed me that my momentum and most importantly my stamina remain the same ten years later. There are times in which the elements flow in one single direction; at other times a link will get lost, and the construct will grow in a different direction. Something was definitely built, however.
What did you present at the 25th Bienal de São Paulo, in 2002?
I worked with the South African photographer JoRatcliffe in a video called One Year Later. We decided to work in a precarious and basic way for reasons pertaining to time, needs, and mutual interests at that particular moment. We had a large-format Diana camera and Jo took the inner framing of the film’s edges out of that camera. Thus we achieved an image in which one photograph is superimposed onto another as if it were a collage, making it possible to synchronize time and space. We filmed for six days in Johannesburg, in the city itself, in the mines that surround the city, in the roads to the suburbs. After that we selected the material, cutting and splicing as if we were working on a Moviola film editor; but those were photographs, not moving images. Once the reel was edited, we stuck two tomato cans to it and ran the film in front of a light box. A camera would record the images passing, and the sound of the two cans becoming tangled and disentangled from the material. We wanted to create a story from within the city. However, in order to be the narrator, you normally must somehow be on the outside; either the story already exists, or else you are outside it, as the person who determines and controls the narrative. In this video, we are both those telling the story and the characters, a position not unlike the way in which we inhabit and experience the city. Furthermore, the city is not a place that can be apprehended in a concrete manner; it is a place that slips away and moves back from your understanding every time you think you figured it out.
Tell me something about Just Like A That Productions.
Just Like A That is the name of the production company with which I made several films in the early 2000s. They were mostly medium-length films. I would work on them for relatively short periods of time using relatively basic equipment. Back then, whenever I would ask my friend, the visual artist Fahrettin Orenli, how he had achieved a given effect in his paintings, he would reply, ‘just like ’a that.’ That reply seemed very appropriate. That which seemed complex would resolve itself naturally.
The films I made at that time opposed the formalisms of cinema and video art. The narratives were always open to improvisation and the circumstances. If I wanted and felt a need to do things, I believed that not possessing the conventional means for making a movie should not be an impediment. My motto was very similar to Cinema Novo’s: a camera in your hand and an idea in your head. I still believe it until this day, but my recent pieces fit that concept to a lesser extent. Theirs is a different procedure, they are perhaps less impulsive, they are less just like that.
What was/is the most demanding aspect of Oracle, which requires you to use two screens for identical projections?
For some time I had been toying with the idea of doing something using footage I recorded over several years. The material is a sort of memoir, both personal and of my surroundings, from the 1990s until now. I have always wanted to make a movie with those. Using images stranded from one another in time and space, condensing them in one single point. Working with the notion that all those times and spaces synchronize themselves in one single moment and place. I wanted to discuss both present and future, and Oracle made it easy. The video makes a synthesis of the images I believe are the simplest and most symbolic out of the many images I shot, using various cameras, in different countries in South America, Central America, Europe, Asia, and South Africa. These images portray a moment, a convulsive, indispensable present.
The work functions as an installation, with two screens at an angle. In front of them there is a bench. The images repeat themselves on the screens; at times they acquire shapes, at times they outline a landscape or a motion. The simplicity of the images is boosted not only by their symbolic content, but also by duality.
The work is flexible. It also functions as a single-channel piece. I am often interested in working with ideas in a flexible way so that even when completed, they will keep their elasticity. Thus, my feature film El camino entre dos puntos can also be converted into an eponymous two-screen installation. Furthermore, Oracle also gives rise to a series of drawings in light boxes (Light Boxes from Oracle) and an object based on that same idea (Oracle [prototypes]).
In addition to any other possible investigative narrative, the natural or urban landscape as a character in its own right is a strong concept in some of your pieces. The images produced in some of your works notably originate from shoots in America and Asia. Are you interested in cultural, social, and geographical contexts other than those of Europe, where you have lived for a long time now? Am I mistaken in saying that?
You are right, and that happens naturally. I believe that my work, in general, reflects the needs of the place in which it was produced. I find gaps over which I can create bridges, through fiction, symbolism, or mere representation. The shocks, contradictions, and relationships are the strongest in places where societies and nature continue their search. I am not interested in the image of a pristine forest, of the ecosystem in equilibrium. I am interested in the image of the desert, of the clash between forces of nature. The same applies to societies or urban landscapes. The weaker side always takes the loss, and that is the side I like being on. It always gives off more emotion, more narrative, more meaning, more absurdity. I am interested in that place. I tend to reduce dualities to their simplest form, but I always preserve the essential elements that comprise them.
These gaps are less radical in Europe, they are more formal and, although they are there, they are less visible. This neutrality causes reality to seem less real. Sadly, the neutrality in form and in daily rituals has become a common denominator to most European countries. There is a poverty to this reality which my work cannot feed upon.
What projects are you involved in?
Right now, I am interested more than anything else in resuming my line of work in field research. To explore and rebuild ideas and landscapes, a type of intervention that will allow me to wander freely and find elements with which to build alternatives, new narratives. Finding work teams also seems crucial to me. To join forces in order to drift on one single current.
I am working in projects the sets of which are more structured, based on the notion of representation of reality. Their starting point is reality itself; it becomes the representation, the fiction. The main actor is a mirror. It reflects the method of human representation. The mirror shatters into pieces, and I go on seeking answers in its endless reflections.
Comment biography Marcio Harum, 2011
IT’S TODAY OR TOMORROW IN THIS CITY
Each installation or video projection of a work by Sebastian Diaz Morales (Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, 1975) brings up a recurring doubt, which stems from a recurring question: whether what we are watching is a documental research, a biographic narrative with fantastic overtones, fictional journalism, or an ode to the landscape (natural and urban, as it plays its spontaneous role as main character in a road movie of the inner self). Watching the construction of his thoughts on cinema leads us to realize what lies ahead of the space and time contained in the artist’s videos and films: the perfecting of a powerful visual imagination (either with sound or silent). The atmosphere of the movement in the footage he captures and edits may resemble that of a somber psychological thriller, the lightness of a pleasant travel diary, or else an intense field trip based on a real-life, third-party geo-sociopolitical context. He comments on the past or the future as a clear extension of the present, devoid of cold interpretative analyses, but displaced into a distant world.
Reviewing his body of work means perceiving genuine structural filmic changes, which are experienced beyond what we assume to be merely semidocumental raw material. It is like receiving the very confirmation of the manifold and unsuspected qualities of an essay or even a successful literary adaptation. Movement, in his work, is generated by the desire to unravel and reenact situations which stem from an invisible world.
The day-to-day life and the chaotic traffic of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, provide the backdrop for 15,000,000 Parachutes (2001). Sequences of images of the national monument illustrate the collective drama of the megalopolis by the Indian Ocean, with its sky-high unemployment rates. Amidst urban shots in a sea of antennae, reflections of the overpasses on the mirrored façades, and litter, parachutists’ doubles jump from skyscrapers under construction, and empty buildings provide a touching metaphor for those whose struggle for survival must start over each and every day, again and again. According to Diaz Morales, “then it’s the illusion the second motor of things.”
“Casas, mais casas, rostos diferentes e corações iguais” (Houses, more houses, different faces and equal hearts)
The Apocalyptic Man (2002) is based upon Los Siete Locos (Ed. Rosso, Buenos Aires, 1929), by Roberto Arlt—a work which is key to understanding how and when the implementation of the frantic mechanical timing, typical of newsrooms, began to strongly influence literary creation around the world. In it, signs found by the artist during an obscure inner trip materialize enigmatically, one by one, during a procession on the Day of the Dead, in a province in Central Mexico. At the peak of tension, the main character disappears, and there appears his doppelganger, which originates from the encounter of the religious parade and the holy madness of this small city. “Undoubtedly, in life, faces have little meaning,” says Arlt in Los Siete Locos. Excerpts from the book appear throughout the projection, and together with the slowly moving image and the mysterious audio they set the pace for that cult of death attended by everyone. The heavy breathing of gamblers at a cockfight translates the power of catharsis. A backpacker’s desperate flight from reality as he runs from his own conscience, his enemy, as a sound effect appears to set a time bomb beating nonstop within the city’s subterranean heart. There lies the essence of that which terrifies readers in Los Siete Locos: the “come to being” through a crime. By conversing with Arlt’s work, Morales repositions the construction of the writer’s thinking in the present time, and outlines his own work in accordance with the crossroads that takes place through times.
The time and place of the barbarian with the slingshot
The white, pale, faint, quasi-shapeless contour defines the grayish backdrop of raw reality. Media cameras and impressive footage culled from international newscasts. Power and its weapons. The first scenes in Lucharemos hasta anular la ley (2005) are dizzyingly dense from the get-go; there appears the silhouette of a robed priest as he crosses the popular battlefield in front of the federal government’s parliamentary headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A man riding a bicycle passes unscathed through the rain of stones and curses against the state-owned building. The darkness of a Middle-Ages-like atmosphere set in a public square, smack-dab in the political and nervous center of Argentinean life, on a day of civilian protest. Far from championing any idealistic notion whatsoever, taking a critical stance towards media-based visual culture which surrounds us from all sides, Lucharemos hasta anular la ley reworks famous images associated with the major, unchecked economic and social crisis which marked the country in the beginning of the decade. Upon contrasting such obviously immortalized footage, Morales artistically agitates the community against the violence of the dirty policy of State Law against the citizen and citizenship.
Bibliographical references 2011
In a not so distant future
Documentation of the film and video show In a not so distant future, held at the special projects room of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 2003. The show featured the videos Water, Box, Handkerchief, Dress/Undress, and Force, and the installation The Enigmatic Visitor, all made in 2003, with curatorial advisory from Wim Peeters.
tele-journeys at MIT
Documentation of the collective show tele-journeys, held at the List Visual Arts Center of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in 2002. Diaz Morales participated with his 15,000,000 Parachutes. Curated by artist Joan Jonas, Jens Hoffmann, and Jane Farver, then the director of the hosting arts center.
15,000,000 Parachutes at Tate Modern
Recording of the video installation 15,000,000 Parachutes, from the Collection of the Tate Modern, in London. The work was presented by the gallery’s Latin American Acquisitions Committee in 2003.
Catalog of the NIMk
Diaz Morales in the online catalog of the NIMk (Netherlands Media Art Institute), which cross-references data from its media library and indicates where, when, and how many times the works of a given artist have been exhibited in its programs, both at its own quarters and in external partnerships.