Temporary Vases and Speaking Clocks

February 9th, 2014


The experience of a three-star hotel: an encounter with minimalism, but one far from a coveted industry or the sheerness foregrounded in such denominated art form. Minimalist as in a modest environment, as in its offerings cover basic necessities, as in be resourceful. A place undressed and, probably for its matter-of-fact lack of accessory, it simply goes unaddressed. At one three-star, the Everest, the one across a tiny cobblestone bridge hovering over a rumored magnetic field, the one becoming at a certain point a temporary home, time could be made to consider time in art. At that high-rise, which seemingly single-handedly assigned its stars, and I surmise it was a under the basis of its relative place in geography, since these were unmerited in reality, however, stars that were ultimately the only thing that lit those nights, hence, appreciated, contemplated, there, I ruminated on the cultural perceptions and manifestations of time invested, gained, expended in the arts. Time considered less as actual ends of a work, say, of a moment’s condensation in some type of material crystallization or topical representation, whether anticipated or unintended. Time, then, as it’s being occupied through, by, art, and so, art as an occupation that overturns conventions of productivity and resistance.


To create the telephone artwork Nostalgia Arrow (2013), artist Nicolás Bacal took inspiration from the now relatively outdated Speaking Clock, a telephone service operating since the 1930s, first from a French Observatory, that automatically provides its callers the correct time. Bacal invited Eloí Cruz, the voice talent for the Speaking Clock in Brazil, to read a poem on the perception of time. The poem turned telephone voice-over was penned by Bacal in collaboration with Sebastián Villar Rojas. Last year, during the exhibition period of the 9a Bienal do Mercosul | Porto Alegre, Eloí’s recital could be heard by dialing a telephone number; today, you can listen to it here, in a video documenting an experience of this work, which Bacal recorded during his hotel stay in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

On, after, by the Guaíba

January 9th, 2014

Back in early September, during the installation period of the 9a Bienal do Mercosul | Porto Alegre in Brazil, several of us working on the project occasionally took a break and met at the terrace of the cultural center Usina do Gasometro to experience the sunset. Up until that point, a period of cold, rainy days had overextended its stay, but Southern winds had taken mercy on us for a little over a week, blowing away clouds far into the Atlantic and leaving bare the skies over Porto Alegre’s river, lake, or estuary whatever called Guaíba. Whenever weather permitted, during the following nine weeks of the exhibition period we continued frequenting that terrace to observe the sun apparently sink into the Guaíba, and with that, to welcome the depths of a day arise with the dimmer light that’s night. That landscape. How much time it occupied my mind; the minds of others, too.

Once a month, from May to November, we had taken a boat that docked at the Usina and navigated into the Guaíba for a voyage of about 12 kilometers—coincidently, a similar distance between troposphere and atmosphere, and also the extent of thread used in Jason Dodge’s textile sculptures included in the exhibition—until reaching a little rocky island locally known as Ilha do Presídio. Our vessel did not exactly have the engine of a speedboat, so it took us over an hour to get to the island, another or more to get back. We had time, though, and good company. With a geological history dating back millions of years, this now-abandoned, former prison-island for political detainees was one of the venues of the Bienal, whilst not as host to the exhibition. That minute remain of continental split was the conceptual anchor and physical site of Island Sessions, a discussion and publication initiative of the Bienal that directly involved more than one hundred participants.

I’ve made a video to introduce you to the Ilha do Presídio and to Island Sessions. Clearly, the video is homemade, like this blog, so don’t expect being blown away by it, although the Ilha could and would have done so to some of us who visited. It’s just a brief video-clip to show you the place, to tell of the initiative. Its soundtrack includes an instrumental piece and a song created by Mario Garcia Torres for the Bienal. Most importantly: here you can see impressions, as well as read inflections, perceptions and reflections—essays, short stories, anecdotes—authored by participants of Island Sessions. (On the left column, click on a date/session, which is a chapter of sorts, each with individual contributors.) For a geological and cultural history of the island, refer to the essay by Eduardo Bueno; for a conceptual approach to the island, read instead a piece by Sarah Demeuse; for writings in prison or imprisonment and writing, consult an image/text work by Angie Keefer; for either a recipe or a timeline on censorship, go to the contributions by Luiza Proença; and so on.

Anyhow, it was good to be there: chilling on the Usina’s terrace at sundown; navigating the Guaíba; visiting its Ilha; spending time in Porto Alegre; being involved in the project. Indeed, the Bienal has now closed. After that fact, and, eventually, after a voyage in the high seas of the Pacific visiting remote islands and experiencing sunsets from places afar, this time around witnessing sunrises, too, I am finally back home contemplating other scenarios. Now, here, more so than memories of the Bienal, there are a number of questions that keep emerging. Among these, a nagging one: What is will? More amply: How does such a thing, a palpable sensibility of sorts, a force from a wholly unbeknownst source, shape language in the visual arts, create conditions for its expression?

The Cloud

June 29th, 2013

It was no doubt a phenomenon, a new, strange case of the believe-or-not-kind. At the very least, it was definitely an anomaly. And so, day after day, new people arrived to the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to experience it. These were artists and scientists, meteorologists and even seismologists, cloud busters, tornado chasers and other climate experts and aficionados. A new type of social summit had formed in the bays of the Guaiba, the site of the group’s camping and deliberations. The reason for their gathering was to observe a rare cumulus in the sky above. It was a cloud, but oddly motionless. The Cloud didn’t move naturally with the changing weather, nor was it slightly provoked by artificial wind-machines. The Cloud was simply there, anchored to the atmosphere. And it was slowly growing, getting puffier as the weeks went by.

Theories of The Cloud’s appearance varied. Some claimed it was actually Laputa, stranded because of some magnetic revolution happening in that floating island. Seismologists and writers had concocted that theory, noting that the grounds of Porto Alegre were shaking even with in the absence of fault-lines, and arguing that fiction had previously predicted other happenings, even geographies. Some others considered The Cloud a UFO in camouflage. No later did this theory circulate when welcome receptions for extraterrestrial aliens were thoughtfully organized. The newly settled campers felt the strange forces of The Cloud, saying they levitated like cumuli; the locals, for their part, felt more and more attracted to each other. Everyone was happily floating. A new language was created in The Cloud’s honor, a new typeface, too; they called it Porto Alegre.

As it happens, much before The Cloud appeared in the sky, the Fundação Bienal de Artes Visuais do Mercosul had secured air-rights over the Guaiba in preparation for the 9a Bienal do Mercosul | Porto Alegre. To their luck, this meant The Cloud could be technically included in their upcoming exhibition. The Biennial organizers thus gathered in the bay, inviting locals and campers to a rain dance in celebration of this peculiar inclusion. No cloudbursts came about. But the assiduous organizers didn’t stop there, importing a rainmaking machine invented by Juan Baigorri in 1938—considered lost for years, much like the Meson de Fierro meteorite, sought once by Baigorri. Then, The Cloud reacted. It poured.


Published in conjunction to the 9a Bienal do Mercosul| Porto Alegre, The Cloud is a book that gathers texts by Jules Verne, Vilem Flusser, Bruno Latour, Maria Lind, Monica Hoff, Walter de Maria, and Abraham Cruzvillegas, among others. The English edition of The Cloud was released yesterday in a sundown picnic—with overcast skies, and eventually some rain showers—at Fort Greene Park in New York City. The Portuguese edition of this book, A nuvem, as well as its Spanish edition, La nube, have or will be realsed between May and July 2013 in the cities of Porto Alegre, Recife, Sao Paulo, Pelotas, San Francisco, Mexico City, and Amsterdam. All language editions are published in print and as e-books, and have been designed by Project Projects, New York. More information at: www.bienalmercosul.art.br.

Pictured above: The Cloud in Fort Greene Park. Photo by Sarah Demeuse.

Bermuda Triangle

March 15th, 2013

Already two hours of turbulence, and the only thing he’s thought about is drinking a cup of coffee. Take a seat, sir, the stewardess demands, with a voice so deep that rhymes with her heavy-custard lashes.

They’re flying over the Bermuda Triangle, and he thinks of being gobbled up by the sea, taken by extraterrestrials, seduced by paranormal activity. He concocts scenarios for these potential disappearances, but his more pressing craving, coffee, interrupts these attempts at narrative. If he would only be served a cup, he could be more concentrated.

The scene is of a modern orchestra in full performance, with an audience horrified by the uproar of its wind instruments. He can perceive the smell of vomit increasing. The drama. And now, aside from longing the aroma of fresh ground coffee, he yearns the scent of Brazilian Paprika… that perfume nestled in a miniature khaki-tweed bag packed in his carry-on, the fragrance he wears when he is in fact not in Brazil, a mnemonic device, Proustian madeleine, for his life there.

He only gets goose bumps when, at every jolt of the plane, his one aisle mate clings her nails on his arm; experiences dizziness by his other aisle-mate’s constant air tracing of the sign of the cross. Perhaps some coffee could induce in him a more appropriate level of anxiety, you know, to be more attuned to the spirit of the flight.

His calm body is sandwiched between these two nerve wrecks: one who’s probably never had a grip on life; the other who may have over-done it, confusing her religious ritual with air marshalling, wanting to guide something—this flight, the weather, their mortality—that she, that he, that all there, bound to seatbelts, wont ultimately get, at least this time around. Come on, one can’t even get a cup of coffee.

A ding-dong ring-tone marks survival. The aircraft has stabilized. The window shades are slowly lifted, and the light-blue hue of a clear sky illuminates the interior of the bird. Passengers slowly fall asleep from exhaustion, from their preceding edgy mood. There’s mostly silence, except for the stewards’ usher, their drink carts march. Coffee, sir? , she offers him. No, thank you, he replies decidedly, I’d actually prefer the drink pictured here.

Image: The June 11, 2007 magazine issue of The New Yorker, showing “Roy Spivey,” a short story by Miranda July illustrated with a photograph by William Eggleston.

From the Grapevines

March 9th, 2013

At an acres-wide industrial dumpsite of hills made of obsolete machine parts, steel and other metal fragments ready to be molten for reuse. Some pieces from there will be taken integrally to create a sculpture.

- Shall we use the magnet or the hook?

- Would there be a difference?

- Both pick them up just fine. It’s just that the hook would leave a mark. The magnet doesn’t.

They’re on their way somewhere, waiting for someone. They’ve paused at the steps of a theatre that’s closed. It’s in the city center, and surrounding them is the jeer of a school recess nearby and the buzz of bureaucrats on their way to lunch.

- You can send any message telepathically, but for it to be actually communicated, reach, experienced, for that you need a willing receptor.

- You mean trust?

Prancing around, and overdressed for the occasion, an insect wears an aqua-litmus bugle-bead dress and a pair of Bolivian jet-black pompom earning in its delicately elongated mandarin antennas. They’ve met this elegant being in a fruit farm in the outskirts of the city. They’re in between rows of trees that move to the hiss of touching leaves provoked by the day’s breeze.

- Who would have thought that kiwi-tree branches were so entangled?

- Much more than a grapevine.

- And the eucalyptus skyscrapers there?

- They’re the farm’s walls, there to buffer the sound of the outside, you know, the highway, the cars, all that visual noise—they all however know they are in fact outside, but no one admits otherwise—you know—complicity called, begging understanding and for a more extended silence—to protect this environment.

Work brings the messmates together. Other possible affinities could be discovered as they speak, they seem to feel. It’s late in the evening, after dinner. Confessing experiences, sharing views.

- Attraction is different. It’s magnetic, a natural coming together.

- The other story is a condition of being taken, picked-up, apprehended.

- Unknowingly?

- Perhaps willingly.

- But what I like about sculpture is negative space.

- A modernist.

- Imaginably.

- That’s voluntarily, too.

- I mean the voids, that is what gives the contours to the thing, shapes what you see, discovering it, whatever it is, as you move.

Image: Capturing the winds of Osorio.

Save the Date

February 19th, 2013

Happening: The 9a Bienal do Mercosul takes place in Porto Alegre, Brazil from September 13 to November 10, 2013. The Biennial’s website will be launched in May 2013. In the meantime, you can follow its developments on Twitter and Facebook.

Condition: The title of the Biennial, which will be used less as a name than as a phrase, is an invitation to ponder on when and how, by whom and why, are certain ideas and work made visible or not at a given state of time. The title in Portuguese is: Se o clima for favorável. In Spanish: Si el tiempo lo permite. In English: Weather Permitting.

Point: Each language version of the title brings forth a slightly distinct emphasis, highlighting climate, time, as well as weather as crucial elements in the featured artworks and in the Biennial’s conception. How are atmospheric disturbances that affect, and that have effect, experienced?

Fact: The graphic design studio Project Projects created “Porto Alegre,” a bespoke typographic system for the 9a Bienal do Mercosul. The symbol set adapts glyphs from several scientific contexts, including meteorological charts, condition maps, and early prototype versions of the Periodic Table.

Event: Pictured above is one of the design applications, the “Save the Date” email announcement sent last week, which publicly introduced the typographic system. Click links here to see the title typeset variations on the English, Portuguese and Spanish announcements.

Second Person

February 12th, 2013

For you, the common cold is simply uncommon; influenza is far from influencing; a stomachache is more an urban myth than a sharp pain; infection is a synonym of inspiration; virus is something that attacks computers; disease, an invention of antiquity somewhat controlled by modernity; epidemics, a subgenre of apocalyptic fiction; depression and its variations, barometers of cultural tolerance and measure of institutional mores at a given place and time.

Not that you fully embrace these conjectures. These just happen to be the ways that you’ve experienced these maladies.

Sickness is a rarity, your very-seldom visitor. And as you take a drag of your cigarette, you recognize that its paucity is not exactly because you’re a health nut. Wellbeing has simply been around. Most probably, the blessed absence of sickness is a matter of luck. Okay, maybe it’s also because you were raised in a polluted part of the World, where you came naturally into touch and no later immune to most germs.

Ay, but when sickness does strike, its visit is pitiless and dwelling bizarre. It afflicts your major senses.

Something happens in an eye, momentarily blinding you. A next to nothing upsets an ear, briefly leaving you deaf. A thing grows in your vocal cords, provisionally muting you. Exhaustion the plausible source of these ailments, your body goes on strike—telling you it’s seen enough, heard enough, talked enough. Your senses literally shut down. Keep you still. That makes you ill. Handicapped. Guarded yet defenseless. Surrendered to surgeons, their treatments, operations and machines.

This is when an absolute faith in abstract-Others and a strong belief in technology take over your body. Prayers are implored. Antibiotics welcomed. Holistic cures practiced. Witchcraft performed. You’ve tried it all. It’s worked. However, none of this remedies what’s currently affecting you.

This time, for the first time, it’s your sense of intuition that’s uneasy. You get seasick at the sight of a fountain. You’ve often forgotten to wear your Teflon suit. You’re vulnerable. Suspicion is a breath away from awareness. Feeling more than enough. And, you’re overdoing it, the sense of intuition tells you, making it work extra time in that very insinuation.

For once, you’ve fortunately identified the signs before the crash. Some symptoms are evident. The right side of your head spools white hair. A fault line deepens between the eyebrows. The upper part of an ear blushes. Some other symptoms are invisible. The muscle behind the breastbone pulsates unsteadily. Blood heats. A certain aspect of the metabolism accelerates.

You point these indicators to others, to see if they notice, to brainstorm causes, to recommend antidotes. People tell you not to worry. Your friends say we’re only getting older. Your family says that it’s life, intensely lived. Your colleagues say that it’s stress. They all suggest vacationing. Your stylist advises dyeing your hair; your yoga instructor to hold your pose longer; your psychoanalyst to increase the frequency of meetings. Your doctor gives you probiotics and creams.

You truly find all this hackneyed. You feel you didn’t explain your debility just right or that they simply, palpably made a wrong diagnosis. You wonder if this is because pain doesn’t ensue with this sickness (and if it does, you’re body is too tolerant to acknowledge it, externalize it), and without that apparent sign, whatever noticeable proof of your condition goes undermined.

Ugh, for that very thought, your instincts were beseeched. Yet again, your sense of intuition put to work.

All the while, the sense of intuition’s boycott seems impending, and you’ve decided to pre-empt that. You’ll come to terms. The sense of intuition is your dearest. You need it more than anything. Want it. You trust it. You know it’s irreplaceable. There’s no natural prosthesis for it, and artificial intelligence is not significantly advanced to rely on. Besides, you know your body best. You must act, and you have a hunch that resistance is an essential characteristic of that very action.

The self-prescribed, preventive cure you’ve concocted: to shift decision making from the right to the left side of the brain. Better for melanin to decrease from that part of the head, you think, and just like that, you deduce that it’s best to logically address certain matters. Most. If only transitorily. You want your sense of intuition at the forefront, except you deem it’s vital to leave it resting and healing for a bit. You’ve rationalized this. It agrees. Finds ease.

The challenge of the treatment will be how to avoid the wrought belief of common sense supplanting the sense of intuition. And you prepare to tackle this.

You purchase Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor. Download all Lispector’s novels. Dive in Laguna’s poems. You frequent cafés named Barbarella, Alto Astral, and the cosmic like. You even make time for solitude at the ever-barest Everest. You take up a new language, and in that infantilizing learning-process you cling onto basic words, forget complexity, and disregard enunciation, that is, intent, because, fact is, you’re unable to fully grasp it… for now. You think.

You study Cancer, not your horoscope, but the disease that has assaulted close friends, that tough course on empathy that you’ve skipped. You address the signs of aging in loved ones, that stage of filtering memories, that questionable argument for deskilling, the hardest class on compassion. These sicknesses that have (up to this point) only presented themselves as lessons in life, some of which you’ve clearly flunked before, will be tried again.

Image: “I’s for the Cubies’ Immense Intuition” from The Cubies’ A B C by Mary Mills Lyall and Earl Harvey Lyall (USA: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1913), drawn from 50watts.com after Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, and landing here via Mario Garcia Torres.

Emeralds, Album Records, and Turkish Delight

February 3rd, 2013

In the past six months, I’ve had a handful of experiences that I’ve come to consider gems. These are passing instances that are small relative to world events; that are mostly brief and light, unlike the span and weight that comes with life; that are ephemeral as the second that just passed by. Yet, these are significantly shining, valuable moments to treasure. So when artists Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson invited me to participate in their new project with and about gems, I accepted with no hesitation.

I wore one of the four precious-stone artworks created by the artists. It was a work in the form of a pendant. This was a roving, intimate display of sorts preceding the artist’s current exhibition, Making a Record (Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald). My then pendant has three emeralds: the larger one is the raw, natural mineral; the thinner one is sculpted as a sharp spine, and was used as the stylus to record an album about emeralds; a rounder piece is a cut crystal, like those more commonly seen in jewelry.

Emerald was the color of the tunic I was dressed in the day I met Caetano Veloso. That sunny morning, I learned about a song he dedicated to his friend, the artist Lygia Clark. Apparently I gifted that musical theme to someone with whom I didn’t exactly want a friendship. (Where did I go wrong?) Emerald the present’s ribbon. Emerald also the color of the box of pistachio Turkish Delight, those candies savored on the afternoon of farewell to such affair. Hexagon the shape of that little candy box, as the form of the pendant’s largest, natural stone.

The gemologist and jewelry designer Karen L. Davidson, who was interviewed by the artists, her words recorded onto the album with the stylus on the pendant, tells that emeralds are a gem considered both fragile but hard; that these have a longer history than most stones; that they are great for one’s vision. It’s been hard not to associate my temporary pendant with other comings and goings that have, at best, arrived and ended because of some misinterpretation, at worst, because of finding indistinguishable the differences between possession and comprehension.

Now with the pendant’s physical absence yet its luminosity’s presence, I keep on reconsidering the assumed but most probable fragility of this hard, long-history stone. And so, I recognize that emerald is indeed the color, the mineral, the hexagonal crystal that has accompanied me lately in learning about what bonds, on how intimacy or complicity binds. Emerald is my gemstone. It’s the brilliant companion that keeps me lit even when it’s hard to shine.

Pictured above is the emerald pendant of Making a Record (Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald) by Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson, an exhibition on view at Audio Visual Arts in New York City from January 18 to February 17, 2013. Pierre Huyghe, Marina Warner, and Jamieson Webster wore and wrote about the three other pendants.

Brown Sugar, Electric Cigarettes, and Sculpture

November 25th, 2012

Brown sugar, electric cigarettes, and sculpture. Overpriced, all three, all the time. And hard to get here, all three, most times. No doubt, availability of things, their prices, depends on location. Enough learned of over-determinism; distributive economy, overrated. Point is, all three things I want here, and wont it now appears to be.

Sea, sí, I want to get rid of that refined dust that spoils my morning coffee, and instead feel the more brittle texture of its sandy sister on my tongue; want to blow scentless, evaporating clouds in environments prohibiting the dragon smoke of my reds; want to quit images for a moment, be compelled to walk around shaped matter that draws me, it, beyond a picture. I want some kind of gravitational force.

Just that is what I want for now. And here, without that, no magnet around, I am left to fingertips tap dancing passwords into portals where imagination machines are said be treasured. Once in, says so, one floats among some kind of cumulus monotypes that rain experience. Weather permitting.

Image: somewhere in the Pacific.

Why I Always Cry on Airplanes

September 14th, 2012

I was unsure of leaving this entry’s title in first-person. Was also unsure of how and if I should punctuate it—to end it with ellipsis, as in here goes the list of reasons, or to add a do before the I and end it with a question mark, as in I am bewildered.

Point is: I always do cry during air flights. It seldom happens before take-off or landing, so no need to associate it with fear of flying. It actually tends to happen mostly after an hour or so on air. Sometimes tears just begin rolling down. Other times tears are announced by a knot on the throat or accompanied by some indeterminate muscular pain. Few times there’s actual weeping, and I am unsure if it’s because these are tears of exhaustion or of measured emotion. For sure, never are these alligator tears.

I’ve decided to wear prescription sunglasses during flights to avoid exhibition. Reddened sinus effects, blush cheeks, and slightly swollen lips rarely manifest. Though parallel and occasional teardrops from the nose are inevitable. The uncertainty of these discrete waterfalls prompts me to push the orange-button on the seat dashboard. Once the steward arrives, I request a tissue, then some bubbles, and if possible, I add to my request, to serve them on a crystal glass rather than a plastic cup. Sunrays or stars are hidden from the aisle seat—my preferred area on-board—so seeing sparkles on a glass and feeling them down my throat always trigger the experience of moving in a landscape, of being grounded yet on air.

From the explanations available online, the reason for my tears is probably because I fly coach, unfortunately. According to recurring travelers and pseudo-scientists that populate the Web, oxygen is limited in the back of airplanes, making those people seated in economy more sensitive, teary, as they say, during flights. That theory, however, is mostly associated to crying while watching movies on planes, specifically romantic comedies and generally-tasteless Hollywood melodramas on airline repertoires, which, to me, this only means that films on planes (should I add tears here?) cannot be taken all too seriously. In any case, that popular theory would not reason my tears, as I tend to read or dream on flights.

It’s unclear when this started happening, the crying. I barely noticed them last year or so. When the tears actually settled into ritual was just some months ago. As of late, it is their appearance of comfort, their I am here to stay while on air, that has become somewhat preoccupying, sometimes even more daunting than the tears themselves. And so, I’ve begun wondering if crying is because I am leaving a place—my home, or a place that feels like it, or a space that could be that should I had stayed. I’ve also wondered the opposite, if crying is because of having to go back home, or to a place that feels like it, or to a space that could be that someday.

Whether it is the sense of impending arrival or the acknowledgment of a departure, I’ve begun coming to terms with tears and some day will do so with the idea of home—whatever or wherever that is.

Image: detail of Dear Mr. _____ (from a desert to a mountain to a waterfall), 2012, by Tania Perez Cordova.