On undisciplined bodies: notes on nudity, urban space, and civic demonstration

On April 20th of this year, during one of the dozens of demonstrations against Nicolás Maduro’s government in the last months, 27-year old Hans Wuerich undressed before a group of National Bolivarian Police officers. Bible in hand, he managed to climb one of the police tanks; he descended after exchanging a few words with the officers, his back covered in pellet shots. Then he walked home, still naked, and his family healed his wounds (or so Hans himself told Climax magazine). Professional and amateur photographs abound in protests –at least in Caracas–, so in a matter of minutes the images of Hans raising his arms and waving his Bible were on everyone’s screens.

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Elizabeth Cemborain: Dialog, Displacement, Distortion

This is the English translation of my latest column at La ONG’s blog (it is available here). I only found out about Elizabeth’s (extensive) work a few months ago, and I was very excited to share a few words about her glitch art experiments. This also makes me feel optimistic that there might be more people making interesting digital art being made in the country that I don’t know about yet. Elizabeth Cemborain (Caracas, 1959) studied Architecture at Universidad Central de Venezuela and later pursued a degree in Pure Art at the Cristóbal Rojas School of Visual Arts, majoring in Drawing and … Continue reading Elizabeth Cemborain: Dialog, Displacement, Distortion

Article in Shift Journal 9: Networks

A bit after the date, but an article I wrote about poor image circulation in Venezuela was published in the 9th issue of Shift, a journal on material culture currently hosted by the Graduate Center at CUNY and the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. This is an exciting event as it’s my first article in a peer-reviewed journal, and it also represents the most recent iteration of my research on this issue. In this particular text, I attempted to propose certain additions to Hito Steyerl’s poor image theory that I came up with as I applied it outside of the Euro-American … Continue reading Article in Shift Journal 9: Networks

The Assault of The Body, The Body Under Assault: Interview with Érika Ordosgoitti

This is the English translation of an interview with Venezuelan performance artist Érika Ordosgoitti published last week by the Chilean magazine Atlas Revista Fotografía e Imagen (it can be read here). Érika is a dynamic force in the Venezuelan arts scene, a tireless political activist, driving force behind the Caracas Performance Biennale, and an extremely sensitive, disciplined, and thorough thinker and poet. It was a privilege to speak with her. This interview is particularly focused on the body, urban violence, and the “photo-assaults” that she has been developing for more than 6 years now.

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Article in Revista Comunicación No. 175

An article I wrote last year about poor image circulation in Venezuela titled Reacción y subversión: la imagen pobre en Venezuela (Reaction and Subversion: The poor image in Venezuela) is included in the 175th number of Comunicación journal, edited by Centro Gumilla Foundation in Caracas. The entire number is devoted to issues related to audiovisual technologies, and it can be read in its entirety here (my article is 69-75); it will probably come out in print next year. This is very exciting for me as it’s my first article in an academic journal, and Comunicación is probably the #1 media-related publication in Venezuela. I feel very honored … Continue reading Article in Revista Comunicación No. 175

#Here: A Conversation with Costanza de Rogatis

Below is the English translation of my most recent article for La ONG’s blog. This time I interviewed Venezuelan photographer Costanza de Rogatis, with special focus on her social media images. The original Spanish can be found here.

Costanza de Rogatis (Caracas, 1976) holds a B.A. in Arts from Universidad Central de Venezuela and a Diploma in Photography from the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions, in countries such as Venezuela, Italy, the United States, Latvia, and Finland. This past August, she opened the individual show Puente at Tresy3 gallery in Caracas.

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ArchivoAbierto: Carlos Zerpa Archive at Abra Caracas (09/2016)

Some pics from a visit to ArchivoAbierto, Venezuelan artist Carlos Zerpa‘s “Open Archive” at Abra Caracas gallery. The exhibit includes press clippings, photographs, collage works, posters, and other documents that sum up Zerpa’s work and interests between 1969 and 1997. My favorites were definitely the flyers and zines (the powers of a Xerox machine, yes!). Zerpa had a playful approach to performance and video that, oddly enough, comes across in a much more relatable way (for me) in the design of his printed works. I also want to commend the work of ArtEncontrado, the producers. Artists of Zerpa’s generation, who are … Continue reading ArchivoAbierto: Carlos Zerpa Archive at Abra Caracas (09/2016)

Talk: The Conditions of the Poor Image in Venezuela @ Librería Lugar Común, Caracas

On 09/23 I gave a talk at Librería Lugar Común in Caracas, in which I presented some of my most recent research on poor image circulation in Venezuela. Aside from pretty good insights about other aspects to consider in future versions of my paper (like the really terrible Internet access conditions in the country), most comments left very clear that there is a general interest in discussing and arriving at some sort of solution for the current conditions of access to national film production. Ultimately, we are more and more moving towards getting these images ‘out there’ illegally. This will continue to … Continue reading Talk: The Conditions of the Poor Image in Venezuela @ Librería Lugar Común, Caracas

The anonymous and the animal in the imaginary of Lucía Pizzani

 

everything has a border doesn’t it? / the edge where the light cannot get in/ until joy knows the original wound.
which is why the earth is feminine,/ and the body, not the soul, cries out in heaven–
March Dawn, Brenda Hillman

 

I have only seen Lucía Pizzani’s work live on one occasion: her solo show Mariposario at Oficina #1 (2013). Since then, I am fascinated by her output and I try to stay up to date with it, so I was glad to learn she made the book The Body of Nature available for free in her website. This publication compiles images of her works, curatorial texts, and reviews of her shows from 2008 to 2015. This article proposes an approximation to Pizzani’s work based on a reading of the book, as I have not been able to see so many of her exhibitions in person. 

Pizzani (Caracas, 1975) studied Mass Communications, Fine Arts, and holds a Certificate in Conservational Biology. She employs photography, performance, sculpture, installation, and video to explore issues of gender, nature, and corporality –  The Body of Nature, therefore, is a perfect summary. Her work is delicate and precise, and could also be considered “feminine,” due to the association of certain practices, like ceramics (and dance, which is also present in her work), with activities developed traditionally by women. In general terms, Pizzani’s work is thematically luminous and dark, serene and turbulent; it constantly confounds and challenges the spectator to unravel what appears to be a formally “beautiful” piece and discover its intrinsic narrative. 

Without much previous knowledge about her research, my first encounter with Lucía’s work stirred up profound questions related to my self-image, my image as projected onto the collective, and the image that the collective returns to me –all of this associated, of course, with my female (straight, white, Latin American) condition. It is from this perspective that I wish to delve into two notions that I felt very present during my reading of The Body of Nature: the anonymous and the animal.

First, Pizzani claims to take stories and artistic references from Europe and South America and different periods, combining aesthetic, cultural and historical figures. This leads to the creation of hybrid and anonymous figures –without specific origin, without time- that inhabit her imaginary, particularly in Las Cáscaras, a piece from of El Adorador de la Imagen. Pizzani also frequently employs her own body, but it is presented in contexts that displace or complicate its identity: in the Vessel series and her body drawings, the body is a tool to generate a trace, and El Adorador de la Imagen Pizzani’s image is displayed performing a dance choreographed by the American Loie Fuller (1862-1928).

In a review of her solo show Vessel (Galería Fernando Zubillaga, 2009) published in El Nacional, curator and art critic Lorena González argues that this body of work, developed as culmination of Pizzani’s MFA at Chelsea College of Fine Arts, is the expression of a “fragmented corporeality, torn between physical confinement and today’s illusions of escape.” This is the result of an investigation that evinces “the vicissitudes of a body ebclosed by the anguish of our contemporary world.”

Vessel (2009) (live action at Chelsea College) © Lucía Pizzani

The room is the enclosed environment that distresses the body. It is through the impression of movement on the plaster walls that the body expresses its desire to escape. Pizzani’s body can only face enclosure through fragmentation, and can only be fragmented symbolically by generating its own traces. Once the action is completed only marks and grooves remain, which have the possibility of identity but are, in themselves, anonymous.

Philosopher and professor Megan M. Burke argues that, from a phenomenological perspective, anonymity is “the place prior to which my body and self are noticeably different than that of an other,” such that ” anonymity is a pure shared existence”. In the case of Vessels, if the traces on the wall are non- preceded by the performative action, they could be said to belong to anyone: Lucía’s footprints are everyone’s.

This understanding of anonymity is problematic from a feminist perspective, because that “everyone” involves the imposition of a single universal referent (the self) denying , therefore, difference (this is the main criticism that Burke directs towards Merleau-Ponty). On the other hand, the notion of indifferentiation is closely linked to the objectification of the body for commercial or sexual purposes. By introducing undifferentiated bodies in her work, Pizzani might seek to replicate in aesthetic terms the experience of social anonymity to which female bodies are subject.

Indifferentiation is addressed more directly in The unknown of the Seine and other Ophelias, winner of the Eugenio Mendoza Prize in 2013. This work refers to the story of “The Unknown,” an anonymous young woman who drowned in the Seine River in the late 1800s (her death was pronounced a suicide, though no evidence of it existed). The coroner was so captivated by the mysterious expression of serenity on the corpse’s face that he commissioned a death mask; later, in the twentieth century, that face became an object of fascination among the Surrealists and other artists and writers.

FIG4

The death mask of the Unknown at Sala Mendoza © Lucía Pizzani

FIG5

 Ophelia by John Everett Millais

Pizzani was inspired by the fascination caused by the mask of The Unknown and made it the leitmotif of her exhibition, also replicating it in ink drawings. Thus, she created a collection of “other Ophelias.” She also incorporated press clippings about four female suicides in rivers. The Unknown of the Seine was a dialog between fictional and real women who, in the shared space of “the Ophelias,” partook of the same identity and the same fate, their individualities dissolved in the legend of the death of Ophelia –which is not just any death, but a poetic death, practically devoid of violence, as described by queen Gertrude in the fourth act of Hamlet:

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Quemaditos and Youtube Nostalgia: The Conditions of the Poor Image in Venezuela [Excerpt]

Over the past year I have been working on research about the circulation of poor images in Venezuelan film economy. This is an excerpt from the most recent version of my paper devoted to the subject. An earlier version will be published by the end of this year in the journal Comunicación (Universidad Católica Andrés Bello).  I am in Venezuela  hoping to complete more interviews and some much needed ethnographic and netnographic research, moving towards an even more extensive essay. I will probably post more about this subject here in the future.

 

The Conditions of The Poor Image

A digital moving image travels fast across platforms and devices. It can be streamed, ripped, downloaded and re-uploaded, appropriated, modified, and corrupted. Adaptability is perhaps the most important distinction from its analog counterpart. But these processes of transmission/adaptation/retransmission take their toll on digital files: their journeys through formats eventually bring about loss of data, resulting in the degraded, precarious images that Hito Steyerl calls “poor images.”[1] A poor image belongs at the bottom of the contemporary hierarchy of images in which resolution constitutes a class position of privilege; a low-resolution image is the “debris of audiovisual production, the trash that washes up on the digital economies’ shores… [It testifies] to the violent dislocations, transferals, and displacements of images —their acceleration and circulation within the vicious cycles of audiovisual capitalism”.[2] A copy that deteriorates as it circulates, a poor image is a marginal product of the film distribution industry that upholds high resolution as its maximum value.[3]

The economy of poor images is a departure from the way mainstream film is traditionally accessed. Steyerl explains that the commercialization of cinema and the establishment of monopolies at local and global levels —about thirty to twenty years ago— pushed independent filmmaking underground, and it was individuals circulating copies within small groups who kept experimental, militant, and essayistic cinema alive. But more recently, with the appearance of online streaming services, these images have begun to resurface on open platforms like UbuWeb and YouTube.[4] The possibility of P2P sharing and free downloads has also made files widely available, as now they can be saved, edited, and redistributed individually. Steyerl argues that the networks thus created by poor image circulation are global and anonymous, and that they contribute to reconnect dispersed worldwide audiences.[5] In short, file-sharing platforms enable the ‘resurrection’ of content marginalized by the mainstream in the form of poor images, and facilitate its circulation well beyond the limits of a group of interested individuals.

It is clear that, today, someone in a small town in South America with a working Internet connection can legally or illegally stream and download an experimental film created by an artist in Europe several decades ago, but poor image circulation is not only about its own ability to surpass geographical and political borders (just as it is not only about the dissemination of marginalized content, as will be discussed later). Although Steyerl emphasizes that the poor image creates a “shared history” as it travels across the globe,[6] it is also true that it impacts and contributes to shared histories in much more reduced contexts. In the case of Venezuelan film economy, the poor image is a key agent that critically influences how national cinema is produced and distributed. For example, it empowers illegal commercial networks and generates problems that directly impact the subsistence of local filmmakers; on the other hand, it gives way to solutions to problems of access, and configures communities within Venezuelan audiences that harness its properties to rescue an unprotected film legacy.

Venezuelan Film Economies and The Poor Image

The ‘resurrection’ of marginalized films as poor images has implications beyond appearance or content. The fact that they are only available outside the mainstream reveals “the conditions of their marginalization, the constellation of social forces leading to their online circulation as poor images.”[7] As they surface, they raise questions about how they got to be degraded. Steyerl upholds the idea that the poor image is resistant insofar as it continues to circulate in spite of its degradation, refusing to submit to the conditions of exclusion being imposed on it.[8]

001ec949faf114b58a7d0b
Source: lapatilla.com

Hito Steyerl argues that the privatization of media production has gradually become more important than state-sponsored media production, and this has given way to poor image circulation since privatization of intellectual content enables piracy.[9] What is most puzzling about Venezuelan film economies is that, at first glance, they seem to work the other way around. Rodrigo Llamozas, founder of Cameo Marketing Audiovisual and former Distribution Director at the multiplex chain Cines Unidos, argues that almost all of the national films that are shown in the country are produced and/or distributed theatrically with some kind of sponsorship from the state.[10] The state operates through the distribution company Amazonia Films, and supports productions with various funding programs through the CNAC.[11] Additionally, state sponsorship is available to help makers finance transfers to 35mm and physically distribute their films across the country.[12] Therefore, it would be erroneous to assert that the state has preferred to privatize film production in Venezuela; its support simply does not extend to making films available to the public after their theater run.

hermano-cartel
Source: labutaca.net

Hermano by Marcel Rasquin was the domestic box-office hit of 2010. It played internationally, it is available in DVD format in Spain and the United States, and it streams on Netflix and Hulu, yet it was never officially distributed in Venezuela after its successful theater run. According to Rasquin himself, CNAC was interested in releasing a DVD, but the plans never materialized. He was also in conversation with private companies to release DVDs through alternative channels: one option was to sell them in the Farmatodo chain of drugstores, and another was to include it in issues of El Nacional newspaper.[13] Neither possibility came to be, and only pirate copies were (and are) finally available, which Rasquin laments: “What upset me most about the pirate Hermano was not only its low quality, but that it was an offline version –without color correction or credits, and with referential music —which included no less than The Rolling Stones.”[14] Ultimately, Rasquin thinks that those failed plans for distribution represented a moral obligation, rather than an actual ‘good business’ opportunity, and adds: “Movies that do well at the box office are cannibalized incredibly fast in the pirate market, and the truth is that the pirate market has enveloped everything. Legal DVD sales do not exist, and the state is not in conditions to battle piracy. It doesn’t have the time or the interest, either”.[15]

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