“I don’t think I’ll die while I’m alive” (1)
Every artistic or cultural manifestation has a political dimension, be it direct and explicit or indirect and implicit. On one hand, the artwork as a by-product of culture collects a series of elements as a document that speaks to us. It speaks, among other things, about the relationships of power between the individuals confirming the specific society it proceeds from (as would be the case of art seen from the viewpoint of Anthropology, Archeology or Sociology, for example). On the other hand, the artwork as the generator of feelings and meanings that imply a questioning, a critique, a possibility of –at least in theory– modifying power structures.
The exhibition TOD IN DIE TROPISCHE ERDE: “Please don’t let me die”, News from a tropical limbo, by Marco Montiel-Soto, relies on that latter subject. His work has the capacity to hand an invitation to think, generate feelings and meanings, multiple readings in spectators so that they, as an individual member of the whole, can change towards situations of conflict and violence like the current one in Venezuela. In this sense, the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo defines her position very well in terms of her own work and I consider important to mention:
Sometimes an artist’s presentation is subdued to the political environment and I really do believe art should be subject to specific political projects. Although, having said that, I should say I am a political artist. And I am a political artist that works from the Third World, that views life from the Third World. My work since the beginning has centered around political violence. I’m interested in the fragility of life, I’m also interested in power and how those who have it manipulate life. (2)
Faced with the problem of presenting an analysis of the Venezuelan reality, Montiel-Soto has an ironic representation as a strategy, through characteristic objects arranged in the space, go through a comparison between people and traditions that Humboldt registered extensively, near to the flora, fauna, landscape, and geography.
He effectively immerses himself into a tropical limbo. That which Humboldt received in his retina and makes his soul tragic and colourful; that delighted narration (faithful registry of what appeared in front of him) is substituted by press clippings that inform of episodes of violence, inforced by a constant audio reference to the jungle, accompanied by a TV screen where two alluding maracas (3), as puppets, move to their master’s whim, he who has power and communicational hegemony to sell a mistaken idea, far from the intense emotion Humboldt felt discovering the beauty of our inedit land before his very eyes. (4)
The relationship with the spectator, who interprets based on materiales and procedures that constitute artworks, produces a certain inscription of violence in and inside of the object. The transcendence to reflect on the travel of these fundamental characteristics of meaning to a spatial representation, beyond the object, is done through the creation of an intervention of social imaginary with the artistic space created by Montiel-Soto.
Therefore, before the problem of resignifying images of flora and fauna to refer to violent acts, for instance through the headlines, reinforces the irrepresentable to make evident a latent questioning that can ramify into different positions but also as a confrontation to death, pain, and violence.
In the case of the headlines relating to violent scenes such as murders, suicides, lynching, deaths or accidents, etc. (5) are a part of that limbo. The Venezuelan knows deep down he will die but, at the same time, death is conceived as something for the very, very distant future. So distant that he actually starts to believe in his own eternity, to have faith in eternity itself, not transcendence, he does not act for transcendence, that would mean caring for actions in terms of what matters, bur acting eternal as in not going to ever die, so all actions are done for the immediate present, this is the worse one of the Venezuelan’s attitude.
And this is also the reason why the hypothesis could be thrown that there is a bond between cruelty toward others and forgetting oneself as a human being; being spiteful and not experimenting any empathy for similar suffering is disdainful towards the human race, the same disdain held for the victim. (6)
One thing is to face death as something inscribed necessarily in the destiny of men in general as living beings, and another is to think the reality of each individual death. Between the dead and death, meaning, between a given biographical event and a determined ontological condition –or, better yer, scatological– thus, bonds are not simple. Plus, the ritual effervescence provoked by a certain death varies with the social importance of the subject. As Robert Hertz (1970) observed, death is not limited to putting an end to corporal existence. It destroys the social being invested in a physical individuality, a thing social conscience gives more or less dignity. But avoiding the evidence of entropy and the finite, we hear “Please don’t let me die”.
(1) Heard from an old man at a bar
(2) Guerra y pá. Zurich, Suiza: Daros-Latinoamericana AG, 2006, p. 122
(3) October 12th, 2010, for instance, the Government’s ethnocidal strategy was consummated. The Venezuelan state, Chávez’s ministerial body delivered supposed titled to three indigenous Yukpa communities in the Perijá Range, pretending to settle the debt of demarcation of habitats that was rightful to the community. President Chávez was not present for the act that these people were hoping for since 2002 when the process of demarcation was supposed to culminate. Instead, an enormous crew of soldiers covered the event, supposedly to provide security for the Ministers (Justice, Environment, Indigenous Lands, etc), and at the mere sight of protest from the least favored community, the protocol was immediately in place to placate their open claims. The deal was to accept the delivery of nothing.
(4) “The baron of Humboldt has done more for America than all its conquerors”. Simón Bolívar
(5) Sociology of Communication denounces that current society is recreated in leisure, in a taste for chaos, in discoursive consumerism that positions ephemeral agony and [re]invents new tactics, new patterns of existence. Death, then, is reinvented from the media practice of local, quotidian events made in instant facts that are told, consumed and socialized upon. The current chaos has its origin in the dislocation of a fascination for intimacy provoked by the media.
(6) Michela Marzano, La Muerte Como espectáculo, Tusquets Editores, 2010, p. 70
Sonia Sofía Quintero, 2015