Dreaming While Curating Mild Humidity – The (Digital) Age of Aquarius / Litils Háttar Væta – Stafræn öld vatnsberans

7.09. 2019

The digital world is a dream world of a sort. We are online in virtual reality not geographically locatable yet still encased in a persona as an extension of our offline selves.  The body is often seen as a container for the mind. When Donna Haraway expressed the idea of the cyborg as a hybrid entity between human and technology and/or information networks, she shifted away from the idea of the human being as the sole bearer of consciousness.

Where does our dreaming body end and virtual reality begin?

It is not unusual to closely connect the art world and dreamworld, especially as artworks have an ability to connect many disparate layers of reality on a personal and social level. However, art essentially is at a distance from reality, which may possibly make it more easy to heighten certain fictive aspects of reality.

Geirþrúður Finnbógadóttir Hjörvar, Real Estate #2, 2019. Photo by Gústav Geir Bóllason.

Two artists, Geirþrúður Finnbógadóttir Hjörvar and Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir, approached me with an exhibition proposal based on fluid networks of the internet, esotericism, and poetic conceptualism under the title Mild Humidity – The (Digital) Age of Aquarius. Based on the model of a horizontal network (also fluid) without hegemony, the artists chose the curator rather than the curator choosing the artists. I was intrigued.

I had first been exposed to the idea of the Age of Aquarius when I was younger in books about the Mayan Calendar by Jose Arguelles, for example. The Mexican archaeologist writes about how the Mayan Calendar aligns with the ages of the Western Zodiac, marking shifts in epochs of humanity from the perspective of both cultures. There is also the prevalent idea that the Age of Aquarius is one in which humanity will be able to manipulate their own dreams as one would in a lucid dream, waking up to the fact that reality is a sort of waking dream state. Perhaps the Age of Aquarius brings with it an ability to sense inner states such as the dream state as fluidly as we navigate virtual realities.

Exhibition view, Geirþrúður Finnbógadóttir Hjörvar, Real Estate #2, 2019. Photo by Gústav Geir Bóllason.

In this sense, the dream I had while curating the exhibition in a former herring factory transformed into an exhibition space on the North coast of Iceland, Verksmiðjan á Hjalteyri, is worth mentioning as information about the exhibition that is not critique, review, nor part of the exhibition text, but more of a side note from the curatorial journal. The former herring factory still holds traces of its former life in the upper floors where the herring (considered the blood of the nation as it was the main economic support for decades and actually has red blood) was taken by conveyor belt from the boats and processed. The strong presence of the exhibition space’s former incarnation added to a feeling of the exhibition taking place inside a living entity that operated with its own particular logic.

In Pétur Már Gunnarson’s iPad (2019), an ink print of a scanned image picks up the smudges of the users’ fingers tracing the everyday operation of the device. The outlines mark the importance of the fingers (also known as digits) in operating digital environments. When the device is on it is literally the world in your hand. When off, it becomes a black mirror with traces of your bodily presence. The question of depth in relation to the internet is brought to attention as the image is reminiscent of photos taken from outer space.

The Age of Aquarius brings with it many disparate connotations. Chief among them is an association with an era always on the brink of arriving. The actual dates of its arrival are contested, as are definitive statements on what will happen once it arrives, or what it means now that we are possibly living in the Age of Aquarius. While not being strictly part of astronomy, the Age of Aquarius is part of an astrological age occurring because of the cycle of precessions of the equinoxes. Each cycle lasts 25,800 years, equivalent to the passing of the 12 constellations of the Zodiac. About every 2,150 years, the sun moves towards the sign of a new zodiac constellation. The Age of Aquarius, therefore, begins when the Spring Equinox moves from the constellation of Pisces into the constellation of Aquarius. The dates for when this occurs/will occur varies from 1447 to 3597 AD.

The idea is that each astrological age affects humanity, therefore influencing cultural tendencies. With Aquarius being associated with electricity, cybernetics, democracy, humanitarianism, modernization, rebellion, and science fiction, it is thought by many astrologers that the 20th century is a likely time for the arrival of the Age of Aquarius or at least a precursor. In Mild Humidity – The (Digital) Age of Aquarius, the aesthetic of this ever-elusive tomorrow is embraced by using water as a metaphor for the subconscious. The digital logic of contemporaneity is built on the fluidity of information, the same fluidity that guides the subconscious. In this way, telepathy and the open narrative systems of the internet are the key components to a hive mentality of networks that usher in a new era.

After a conversation with one of the artists who wrote the proposal, Geirþrúður Finnbógadóttir Hjörvar, elements of her sculptural installations, as she told me about her process in creating them, weaved their way into a dream sequence after a few days of my researching the topics at hand. In some ways the dream sequence allowed me to visually and mentally comprehend the overlapping of contexts that the artist was intending to realize in her artworks, Glass Matrix and Real Estate #2, in a dream logic before actualizing them in the space of the exhibition. Because of the nature of the subject matter of the artist’s inquiry, this seemed especially fitting.

Pura Sangre, Film Poster. Source: Senalcolombia.tv

Pura Sangre, or Pure Blood, by Luis Ospina, is a film that is seen as a key work of Tropical Goth cinema that marks a development in the work of Grupo de Cali filmmakers in a shift from documentary work to narrative feature films. Pura Sangre is a satire on Colombian landowners and the vampirism of Latin American capitalism, inspired by a story from Ospina’s youth, an urban legend about a vampiric figure who preyed on the blood of young men. In the film, this vampiric figure is a bedridden sugar tycoon who communicates with the outside world via closed-circuit Television while being kept alive by blood transfusions.

In Geirþruður’s Real Estate #2, black and white photographs of real estate advertisements and real estate agencies taken by the artist in Cali, Colombia have been pasted on MDF board at specific mirrored angles to create a self-supporting structure. The artist explores one definition of a matrix as being a mathematical structure while also alluding to its topology which can be considered as space on a grid. The artist plays with the idea of an ´X´ and ´Y’ axis as indexes for Cartesian space that determine our perception of reality by placing a board at an intersection, therefore, becoming an axis. The physical action of constructing a building is made transparent in the work. Pasted on top of the matrix she has built is the concept of private property in real estate. The black and white photography alludes to the real estate enterprise while harking to the genre of Tropical Goth and the link between political parables and vampiric tales of power relations.

For Glass Matrix, the artist told me about her plan to use a screenshot from a digitized reproduction of the classic painting The Ghent Altarpiece (The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb), dating to 1482, the most famous work by the Dutch Van Eyck brothers. I then read an article about recent discoveries on the painting revealing drastic differences in the overpaint vs the original layers. And, after watching Pura Sangre, I dreamed that the opening sequence of technicians preparing the decrepit sugar tycoon for his blood transfusions were the same technicians analyzing the overpaint on the painting.

 

 Jan van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (all 12 panels), 1432, oil on panel, 461 x 350 cm

In Geirþrúður’s sculptural installation, Glass Matrix, the artist continues to explore the meaning of a matrix from the perspective of origin myths as well as that of modern-day information technology, in this case, the digitization of paintings. The topology of space is examined as it occurs at these intersections. The artist uses a standard retail fitting made for display in shop windows, with its grid-like shape, as a matrix itself – one could say it is the matrix of techno-capitalism in which we are all embedded, and in which the idea of private property holds precedence. Intersecting the glass grid is a foam plane on which is pasted a screenshot of an open web browser of a digitization of a detail of The Ghent Altarpiece, an unidentifiable scan of Eve’s womb.

Geirþrúður Finnbógadóttir Hjörvar, Real Estate #2, 2019. Photo by Gústav Geir Bóllason.

In the dream, I approached the glass retail display case, as described to me by Geirþrúður in real life, expecting to find real estate brochures in black and white, the only kind that had been printed in the last thirty years. Unceremoniously, all real estate images had been turned into black and white images as though the geographical point at which they existed had become taken out of what could be considered a fully human experience with all the color in the living flesh that living not in the context of dust can bring. In the dream logic, one lived in a reality of flesh-colored hues when living outside the context of dust. Living outside of the context of this dust (likely, a dream texture referencing cocaine) meant living in an empire not fueled by the zombified desires and inflated infatuations of a dust taken so far from its plant source that it has been stripped of any earthly matrices.

The ones who furnish the masses with the dust turn into vampires by their repeated cutting through a plastic commotion until the dust has soaked all of their blood, and slowly all their blood is replaced by a colorless space reserved for dust. This is what makes them such good real estate moguls; they reserve space for dust inside their body as a mechanism that keeps them alive. Naturally, it happens outside in the form of real estate.

Jan van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (detail from central panel), 1432, oil on panel, 461 x 350 cm

In the dream, I was surprised to find that the glass real estate display case, true to the reality of the actual work, had been cut into by a blown-up image of the Van Eyck painting of a lamb within a larger matrix of works. It was as if the image of the Van Eyck painting was a knife that arrived with force to wedge itself into the glass case, causing no dishevelment to the structure of the displace case, besides the presence of this new matrix of space that created new correlations with the glass plane that divides the cubic squares of the display case in a new topology of imagined real estate brochures and the representation of the surface of this 15th century painting under the auspices of the kind of scans available in 2019.

Geirþrúður Finnbógadóttir Hjörvar, Real Estate #2, 2019. Photo by Gústav Geir Bóllason.

The image cutting into the glass real estate was a detail of the lamb on the central panel with the area behind the lamb’s left hear blown up into a mass of grey digitized texture, arriving from a long way off in either its pixelization or its trip from the past to the present. I had read recently, in waking life, that an overpaint layer had been discovered on the lamb’s face, laughing at myself mimicking the two expressions in my own manner. Two side by side images shows the lamb in its original form with a neutral expression, indifferent, allowing the story of Christ to play itself out unhindered. What had been painted over the lamb’s face was a few marks here and there that turned the expression into one of grave concern and alarm, a direct message to viewers that they should be alarmed at the unraveling of historic events as well.

Detail of the head of the lamb before and after treatment.

The texture of information that gives a sense of realness to a matrix of space and how the textures of each matrix allow each other to exist at multifocal points began to reveal itself. It began in the same manner of the opening of Pura Sangre: Blood spattered the walls of the boarding house. Walking amongst the rooms one could find, unsurprisingly, more blood and the slain bodies it belonged to, along with roosters nonchalantly investigating the scene.

The real film sequence continued in the dream sequence. In the red light of a photosynthesis lab, a technician developed film with precision, running his fingers over the final development in search for a clue.

Still from Pura Sangre (1982). Source: Youtube

The role of the technician became parallel with a new role easily developed from that of a film lab technician: that of flossing the teeth of animals so that they could speak the same language as humans. The solo technician became one of many in a team devoted to the process of rendering this possibility. They began with the construction of a kind of marionette, an invention that made it possible for the technicians to hold the control-piece with one hand. The control-piece was attached to several looping layers of dental floss that created a canopy in which the head of four different animals could be placed.

Of course, the rooster that had been found investigating the bloody scene at the boarding house was the first one to try it out. They opened the beak of the rooster and placed the loops of dental floss inside it while with other nodes they attached to some bits of feathers for effect. The notion they were exploring was that the dental floss could activate the linguistic abilities of the rooster because of the specific texture in the floss, the tiny hint of spearmint, and the friction it created with the teeth of other species.

Alas, the rooster was silent. The floss began to untangle itself like the electricity had been turned off while the rooster flitted its head right to left and front to back, unconcerned, but curious about the trial and error.

Then came an Irish Setter, with the same results and even less curiosity involved in the process in which it had become involved in. The Irish Setter leaped down with the apparatus attached, tongue extended, tongue not giving way to any notions of speaking another language. It was a matter of teeth, that could be seen for certain.

Next came a rabbit; again, the same unconcern but willingness to participate. The teeth were a part of the whole matrix of nose and ears in a way that made the rabbit wiggle and sniff and leap away. Again, a matter of the mouth structure, the tongue, the opening and closing of the lips and teeth.

Finally, the lamb arrived, calmly and judiciously, it stood waiting to be involved with the apparatus of dental floss. The technicians and I stood around him taking notes and observing how language might erupt from such textures. What combining factors of bone, lip, saliva, tongue, and the crevices in between where the dental floss erupted could contribute to a poetic relation conducive to producing speech? The lamb licked his lips, getting a bit snagged on floss where it was wedged from his mouth to the heavens, but after a few licks and labiodental activation, the floss could be heard in its textured resonance give way to a grain of a voice, like a radio station tuning into a channel on Saturn, arriving from a long distance, ever-present yet not always revealed because of this sensitivity to textures, surface weaves and warps, the mind of Van Eyck as he applied the paint and made the texture, the blood and the coke heterogeneously built into the real estate, the real estate being a topology where all these things meet and erupt.

The blood spurting from the lamb’s heart in the painting was the same blood found in the 1982 thriller, creating an interstitial realm where the poetic imagery of blood was allowed to roam freely as dream logic. (Not to mention the blood of the herring that the exhibition space had been built for!) The technicians in the dream tested a new experiment about the origins of language in the soft palate of the mouth, a simple activation of gum pressure via dental floss. The dream technicians moved seamlessly amongst the investigations of the blood lab technicians in Pura Sangre and the technicians analyzing the overpaint in The Ghent Altarpiece in reality in the 21st century as though they all took place in a dimension. As Geirþrúður explored the meaning of a matrix from the perspective of origin myths and modern-day information technology in her sculptural installations, the dream tried in its own way to examine the intersections of these topologies, while also situating itself in a new topology: that of the dreamworld of the curator.

 

Erin Honeycutt

 

Sources: http://www.flanderstoday.eu/van-eycks-original-lamb-uncovered-ghent-altarpiece

Thanks to Geirþrúður for edits and feedback on relaying dream logic through narrative.