“Tejas Verdes: I was not there”: Poetic responses

The following poems were written by Dr Steve Willey and Serena Braida, after attending ‘Tejas Verdes: I was not there’ – a collaborative project between sociologist Dr Margarita Palacios and London-based Chilean visual artist Livia Marin, held at the Peltz Gallery from 3 June to 15 July 2016.

Bringing together Palacios’s research on violence and Marin’s work around loss and care, the project consisted of visiting several ex-detention and extermination sites in Chile – such as the Tejas Verdes concentration camp – and the performing of an aesthetic intervention in each of them. The result of the intervention was the production of a series of abstract realist objects that registered traces of the material remains of these sites, marking the materiality of the violent event in its multiple layers of meaning and yet registering its unreadability. This aesthetic intervention explored the possibilities of representing violence without reproducing it and the challenges of non-colonizing experiences of witnessing.

As part of the event series around the exhibition, attendees were invited to provide a textual response to their experiences of the artworks. The following are two poem which were submitted.

Tejas Verdes

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

‘Nine Speculations on Colour’
Or ‘30 Minutes in Tejas Verdes: I Was Not There
By Steve Willey

I.

A frayed edge of brown on white, a thread,
A point of oblivion. Fire has caught it. An analogue.
A wall has come away at a point of oblivion. I forget.
Each projection, a recess, each recess a receding secret.
My tongue, a hand, my eye. I am here. Touching
A shadow of hair, or ash, or grass.
One more analogue for colour.
A pebble, a red, a catalogue. I forget.
The walls have been brought back, to yellow.
The colour of witness. Red earth: the colour of witness.
The refusal of words: the colour of witness. A process
Of whiteness. Clay for contrast. I forget.
A frayed edge of sun. The brick. The blue paint. Doors.
Drips in latex. A mouth. A point of oblivion.
A crease. A frayed edge of brown.
Respond or forget. I forget. The black earth turns.
Forget. There is symmetry in it. There is a mirror in it too.
The upturned smile of a suture.
A frayed edge returns. Here in this too uncertain brown.

II.
In the middle of the room rests a long white table.
On the table lie eight restless corpses.
The corpses have recorded their own coffins
They sing in the earth of themselves.
Their coffins are the state. Soundless and surgical
A clean violent hum. A topography of pain, unapparent –
We, the mourners, gaze. Insufficient. Permitted as frequency
To block out the I. Stuck here with this language,
I insert a corpse into my mouth. I suck on it.
I roll my tongue around to salve its amber doubt.
Unnecessary, I return
To the corpses. In the sunlight, the corpses.
I return to them a tongue. A shoulder runs.

III.

This is the aesthetics of the record.
This is the aesthetics of the transport.
This is the aesthetics of the guest-book.
This is the aesthetics of ill-attention.
This is the aesthetics of a peeling.

IV.

The walls of the gallery display the walls of the extermination camp.
The walls of the extermination camp do not forget this grave insult
And display their disdain. This is how abstraction becomes blame.

V.

The walls transform to cloth
Irreducible buildings become coats
Your face becomes a wall I peel
Where only the blind listen
A fragment of bone bursts the fattening river
Process becomes a ripping or a photograph
Violent, noisy, too soft the invasive
Now all the rhythm of a timed-out pen.

VI.

A single grain, its head is bowed in shadow and in custom.
Sprouting from a map, a country and a promise
The lyric of this grain is the corpse
I keep missing. A poetics of diminished architecture
Builds no poem-world around
This grain, or pins the motivation to move from silence to song.
This grain, this corpse, this only single grain,
Caught up in a focus of exclusion
Cannot know about the dead, but it has thrived on them, fed.
A forensic throng. An analogue. A rhyme. A no sudden song.

VII.

Rage is in this. Desperation too.
In the gap between breath and insulation.
I am reminded of Frankenstein.
Of how the monster hid his monstrosity
Inside a wall to patiently learn their language.
And when he spoke, he was heard.
When he was seen, the walls refused to house him.
In this configuration walls are not architectural: they are guilty.
Rage is in this. Shock too.
Step back and breathe the walls apart.

VIII.

Acid, eggs, grain, ulcers, phlegm.
Tape, celluloid, plague,
Pathogen, alchemy, dogs.
In this desert of graves: glass
In the inadequacy of testimony: walk.

IX.

The colour is repellent,
Almost revolting
A smouldering unclean yellow

Strangely faded
By the slow-turning sunlight.
It is a dull yet lurid orange
In some places,
A sickly sulphur tint
In others.

The paper stained everything it touched
Yellow smooches on all my clothes,

There are always new shoots
On the fungus,
And new shades of yellow all over it.

I cannot keep count of them.
It is the strangest yellow,
It makes me think
Of all the yellow things I ever saw

Old foul, bad yellow things.
A yellow smell.
Outside you have to creep
On the ground,
And everything is green
Instead of yellow.

But here I creep smoothly on the floor,
I cannot lose my way.

All text in IX taken from words surrounding the eight appearances of ‘yellow’ in Charlotte Perkins’ short story ‘The Yellow Wall Paper’

­– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

TEJAS VERDES*

By Serena Braida

hip room. far-off. spitzer Schrei
disjointed. un-jazzed
unlike our kitchen
unlike delighted pecks.

Son of man, man, mum
mum’s recipe for defending our memories: grind orange dowel until
azure and chalky
&
to take stubborn strata smells
off your clothes, agitate

here is my pupa
the peeler nothing
lovelier than her fuzzy  surface
to be translated into mortars, that is, male
purity of sounds.

a theory of arms for the arms she never cared for.

deserted snow to hydrate her a fecund
quality of salt on her lips,
the shit of warriors smeared on the geographical nape,
lime buttocks, almendras breath, a new Democracy,
a batch of hell

* This poem was written upon visiting the Tejas Verdes: I was not there, and attending the roundtable the Aesthetics of Witnessing: A Conversation about Violence and the Challenges of its Representation, held on the 9 June 2016

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RELAPSE – Identity: Performing Bodies, Crossing Borders

This post was contributed by artists Vasiliki Antonopoulou, Nikolas Kasinos, Dimitrios Michailidis and Penelope Koliopoulou – members of the RELAPSE collective, whose next exhibit ‘Identity’ will run at the Peltz Gallery Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, from 28 April to 20 May.

RELAPSE - Identity exhibition at the Peltz

RELAPSE – Identity exhibition at the Peltz

On Thursday 19 May, the RELAPSE collective will hold a special event to coincide with its exhibition at the Peltz Gallery.

The evening, which runs as part of Birkbeck Arts Week 2016, will kick off at 6pm in room G01 in the School of Arts with a lecture by Dr Constantinos Phellas (Professor at University of Nicosia, Cyprus). Dr Phellas will address the identity development among ethnic minority lesbians and gay men, specifically Anglo-Cypriot men residing in London.

He will discuss some of the key cultural concepts and relevant historical factors that may shape the development of gay identity among Anglo-Cypriot men and provide accounts of sexual identity experiences provided by second-generation Cypriot gay men living in London to explore how these men negotiate their Cypriot and gay identities.

This first half of the evening will also include a roundtable. As with the collective’s current exhibition at the Peltz, the roundtable will focus on the concept of identity as constructed and performed through social rituals. How is identity embodied? How can its visceral manifestations be explored through art, to question political, social and religious ideologies of sexuality and the body? All will be discussed by attending speakers.

This event will be followed at 7.30pm in the Peltz Gallery itself with a drinks reception for attendees.

About the event:

Performing Bodies, Crossing Borders

  • Thursday 19 May, 6-7.30pm (followed by drinks reception to 9pm)
  • Room G01
  • Lecture by Prof. Constantinos Phellas and roundtable discussion
  • Event is free but booking essential
  • BOOK HERE

Find out more about the exhibit and RELAPSE in the previous Birkbeck blog article. The exhibition was curated by Dr Gabriel Koureas, and was made possible under the auspices of the Minister of Education and Culture of Cyprus, Dr Costas Kadis.

Open Call

Exhibition reviews

The exhibition team are inviting writers to visit our closing reception and submit their reviews.

Please send us your reviews at submissions@relapse-collective.com with the subject ‘reviews’ after the closing of our exhibition (May 19).

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RELAPSE – Identity: Behind the scenes at the new Peltz Gallery exhibit

This post was contributed by artists Vasiliki Antonopoulou, Nikolas Kasinos, Dimitrios Michailidis and Penelope Koliopoulou – members of the RELAPSE collective, whose next exhibit ‘Identity’ will run at the Peltz Gallery Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, from 28 April to 28 May.

RELAPSE collective formed as a result of the three of us finding common ground in our practice and deciding to organise this group exhibition. During our struggle to find an affordable space and consequently funding, we decided to create a collective online. Forming an international platform that brings people together being a strong desire from the beginning, virtual space as border-less and free, became the perfect host to do so.

The upcoming exhibition that started it all is based around ‘identity’. Thoughts around displacement, the self and our place within space underline the work to be presented.

We invite the public to take a step back from themselves, and join us in a ritual of self-observation in order to open the work to collective authorship negotiated between performer and viewer thus reclaiming the constructs of our own identity.

Beginning here, we aim to manifest ideas born in RELAPSE from the virtual into the physical realm on an annual basis. We hope that the ‘spot’ inside the virtual world that we occupy, becomes a platform for a growing and diverse community of openness and solidarity.

More About the Work:

Vasiliki Antonopoulou. I Don’t Want To Lose You, Video performance / installation (2015)

Vasiliki Antonopoulou. I Don’t Want To Lose You, Video performance / installation (2015)

I Don’t Want To Lose You by Vasiliki Antonopoulou aims to combine old traditions with pop culture as two ways of communication. One old and one new. One strictly site specific, and the other globally trending. As a life long expat, the performances in her video, show the artistʼs reflection on the place that forms a major part of her identity even though hardly present in its formation.

Going back to Greece as an adult, an attempt to reconcile with the displacement felt there unfolds a conversation between body and space. Using performance as her tool, the artist performs her own baptism. This is done as a symbolic ritual to re-establish her roots with the place. By performing this ʻinitiationʼ, she allows her self to access old traditions and customs. A privilege that she uses in order to place a silver offering on the Church of Tinos, bearing the name of actress Eva Green – the prize she wished to gain.

Nikolas Kasinos. Courage In The Face Of Reality, Multimedia (2014)

Nikolas Kasinos. Courage In The Face Of Reality, Multimedia (2014)

Courage In The Face Of Reality by Nikolas Kasinos is an exploration of the self as it manifests and changes within the context of society. An on-going investigation of the meaning and power of ʻtruthʼ in relation to elements of human culture such as morals, ethics, stereotypes and traditions. Interested in the (oppressive) effect these concepts have on people and consequently the self and identity, the artist experiments with different materials, symbols and signifiers of national, cultural and socio-political realities.

The tension between screen and performing act shifts contexts of public and domestic, opening the work to be negotiated between performer and viewer. With each individual performance an abstraction of the singularity, within the bigger context, is created. Even more so as a group of video performances, the installation emphasises the multiplicity and complexity of an attempt at locating the self within society.

Dimitrios Michailidis. Oedipus III , Mixed media installation (2015)

Dimitrios Michailidis. Oedipus III , Mixed media installation (2015)

Oedipus III by Dimitrios Michailidis deals with the fundamental issues one encounters when attempting to place themselves in a society. A comment on a reality in which social injustice, cruelty and anger appear before our eyes, the effect they have on identity and the power dynamics generated.

The great myth of Oedipus is applied as an allegorical comparison to the artist’s own existence in an on-going research and experimentation with form, light and shadows. He is interested and inspired by forms of suppression deriving from highly structured communities and religions. By creating theatrical scenery which allude to the spirit of ancient Greek drama the artist creates an isolated meditative space where mind and emotions can be misplaced.

Penelope Koliopoulou. Self Portrait Series, Photography work (2012)

Penelope Koliopoulou. Self Portrait Series, Photography work (2012)

Self Portrait Series by Penelope Koliopoulou portrays stories about the everyday life of couples, by transforming herself into both partners through the medium of photography. She explores intimacy and sexuality through stories, which question the boy-meets-girl pattern of traditional Hollywood love stories.

She presents a more realistic view into the workings of a love-relationship, by performing both positive and negative moments. Impersonating both partners she intends to make a comment on the issues of personal identity in a relationship and the abandonment of it, as well as gender and social stereotypes, while maintaining a level of humour.

Sometimes Iʼm ARrt by Nikolas Kasinos is an exploration of the potentialities of gender and (online) identity through the continuous palimpsest of performance. Combining live performance and video the artist seeks to re-present fantasy and desire from a viscerally located ever rewritable subject point. Transformation and/or frustration are portrayed and experienced through characters manifesting spontaneously from the act of performance.

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Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal

This post was contributed by John Timberlake, the Peltz Gallery’s artist-in-residence – a position which, in its inaugural year, has been carried out in collaboration with Bow Arts.

John and Dr Gabriel Koureas, senior lecturer in the Department of History of Art at Birkbeck, have joined forces to devise an exhibition now on at the Peltz (Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal), which reflects on the use of mangled metal as an exhibitionary strategy by museums of war in representations of Britain’s ‘small wars’ from 1945 to the present day, and the War on Terror.

 Here, John outlines the genesis of the exhibition.

Artist's Impression: Mangled Metal (cardboard,glue and acrylic paint, 30 x 2.5 x 2.7 cm.)

Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal (cardboard,glue and acrylic paint, 30 x 2.5 x 2.7 cm.)

‘Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal’ takes its title from respective concerns of both Gabriel Koureas’ academic research on the representation of the ‘terrorist’ in museological debates (see Gabriel’s essay ‘Competing Masculinities in the Museum Space: Terrorists, Machines and Mangled Metal’) and my own long standing interest in ‘artist’s impressions’, collages, fabrication, and the representation of history in art.

At the time we started our conversation in April of this year, the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings was not something Gabriel or I had particularly thought of. However, our thoughts had been concerned with thinking about visual representation of the traces of violent conflict in museum contexts, and we were interested in having a conversation about that. Since 1945, Britain has been involved in a series of so-called ‘small wars’ that have at times seemed invisible.

In particular, the project reflects interests Gabriel and I realized we shared – around uses and readings of the photographic archive and mediation of trauma and cultural memory, in terms of both the efficacies and inadequacies of such mediations.

Fabricator of devotional ‘relics’

AI MM fragment (cardboard,glue and paint, 45 x 47 x 23 cm)

AI MM fragment (cardboard,glue and paint, 45 x 47 x 23 cm)

We set about looking at the evidential documentation in the photographic archives in the Imperial War Museum, and I started making approximations of what I saw. In this context, my role as artist carries echoes of a fabricator of devotional ‘relics’ – perhaps analogous to that of the maker of religious icons or devotional objects, who constructs fake relics in order to help others believe.

Terrorism, like all militarisms, ultimately seems to believe in the possibility of violent gesture as historical tool agency or motive force. However, terrorism seems to particularly relish its role in the staging of horror, and might be thought of as the point at which (para)military violence most closely approaches the point of a sort of obscene theatre.

There is a strange convergence to be made here – perhaps distasteful, perhaps a category error, but perhaps also necessary, as ‘war art’ itself might be: ‘Theatricality’ was held by Modernists to be the point at which art became less than it could be a point of degeneration – hence the criticisms of emergent Minimalism in the 1960s and 1970s by the defenders and supporters of Clement Greenberg, then and since. For that reason if no other, an installation which referenced the Minimalist scatter piece, in which no single element dominated, and no particular resolved form of craft or artistic judgment was elevated above others, seemed to me an appropriate form of installation as the work developed.

Paul Nash,The Battle of Germany

Bomb fragment drawing

Bomb fragment drawing

Beyond the role of fabricator I have described above, my role as an artist in a project like this might also be seen as that of an interpreter of dubious reliability: making three dimensional objects from photographs which show them only from one angle inevitably leads to misjudgments about scale, size, and perspective – all of which are ripe in their potential as metaphors for reading history generally.

This work represents an engagement with sculpture of course, but like my We Are History installation at Beaconsfield in Vauxhall last year, it is also a work of painting – a ‘landscape’ of ‘abstracted forms’ which carries with it echoes of particular pre-occupations of English Modernism. So in that sense, I also found other preoccupations re-surfacing in the work as I made it. Prior to beginning the conversations with Gabriel I had been thinking a lot about Paul Nash’s great painting The Battle of Germany (1944) which is currently hanging adjacent to my own large landscape, Another Country XV in the Imperial War Museum in Kennington in the exhibition Visions of War From Above and Below.

When it first emerged, Nash’s painting reportedly left patrons and supporters bewildered. Looking at the painting now with the hindsight of seventy-one years, it proves the doubters wrong and seems absolutely right for its time – overdeterminedly so, in fact, so that it remains an uneasy painting. I always feel that having experienced war first hand a generation earlier, Nash must have been aware that working from photographs for this later work placed him in a position of ‘flying blind’.

artists-impression-mangled-metal-2Seemingly teetering on the brink of post war Pax Americana abstraction, the canvas presents the final stages of the Allied bombing onslaught on Germany as only half discernable in conventional landscape terms, as an airborne vista. Nash’s work creates a momentary strained cohesion of figurative elements, brushwork motifs, elisions and shifts that seem to emerge and retreat amongst abstract gesture: for example, there is a distant moon-lit horizon of the kind one might imagine seeing from an aircraft at altititude, extending midway from the left edge of the picture, but by the middle of the canvas its authority as a point of register for the viewer is supplanted by other horizontals, suggesting different planes of focus, or perhaps the pitching diving and banking of attacking and defending aircraft in a dogfight over a target zone, but also reflecting personal painterly pre-occupations of the artist evidenced in earlier, pre-war work.

The effect is one of a field of elements in flux. Hito Steyerl has written of how the blurred tilting horizons reflections and displacements of J.M.W.Turner’s Slave Ship Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying (1840) reflect the moment when the very idea of a ‘calculable and predictable future shows a murderous side through an insurance that prevents economic loss by inspiring cold blooded murder’.

At this point, Steyerl writes, ‘Space dissolves into mayhem on the unstable and treacherous surface of an unpredictable sea.’ (The Wretched of the Screen, pp21-22) Something similar might be ascribed to The Battle of Germany, painted at that point where the intensity and immensity of total war piles statistics upon ever more statistics, and extant terms of reference in terms of both moral choices are challenged or overthrown.

Nash’s collaging of different painterly passages, figures and abstractions seems to tentatively suggest uneasy equivalences, of which he himself does not seem to be sure: a rising cloud of unearthly spheres (a figure found in works of the interwar years such as Voyages of the Moon, 1934-37).

An ‘artist’s impression’

AIMM-installationIn some way or other, then, all these concerns found their way into the piece now on display in the Peltz Gallery: one might be tempted to be deliberately obtuse and claim it to be exactly that ‘landscape of abstracted forms’ that has been the pre-occupation of a certain kind of Home Counties English Modernism for the past century.

But I also hope that, given its subject matter, lowly materiality (it is just cardboard, paint and glue after all) it evidences an inversion of that, and embraces a more tentative and less self confidently resolved mode of making art, one attuned to flux and provisionality: an ‘artist’s impression’ that admits its fallibilities and misreadings.

Artist’s Impression: Mangled Metal, runs at the Peltz Gallery, 43 Gordon Square, from Saturday, July 4 to Friday, August 14. Opening times are Mondays to Fridays, 10am-8pm, and Saturdays, 10am-5pm

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