The eye can see things the arm cannot reach
Artists: Farah Al Qasimi — The Army of Love — Meriem Bennani — Hannah Black — Kate Cooper — Emma Balimaka & Adrien Cruellas & Florian Sumi — Cécile B. Evans — Adham Faramawy — FCNN — Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė — Alex Goss — Julie Grosche — Ilana Harris-Babou — The Institute of Queer Ecology — Derek G Larson — Hanne Lippard — Jen Liu — Katy McCarthy — Orla McHardy — Shala Miller — Virginia Lee Montgomery — Shana Moulton — Sondra Perry — Agnieszka Polska — Tabita Rezaire — SAGG Napoli — Stephen Vitiello.
Texts: Julie Grosche Like A Little Disaster Marc Yearsley
12 September / 12 December, 2020
ONSITE Chiesa di San Giuseppe – Polignano a Mare Italy No opening hours
ONLINE Sajetta – Visit The eye can see things the arm cannot reach 24/24 – 7/7
Like A Little Disaster:
Sinners will be forgiven. Corrupt will not […]. Open yourself to love. i
Originally, this video project was designed for the 17th century San Giuseppe Church in Polignano a Mare, but with the pandemic and related rules on social distancing, things have changed. The project underwent a splitting process (IRL/online) which transformed it into a two-faced herma, in love with a face that cannot be touched.
The exhibition is actually set up in the church but public access will never be allowed.
It is possible to visit it HERE – so the project exists simultaneously online and in the church where no one can experience it, except through a leap of faith.
Doubting is lawful. The doubt is in the game of faith,
in the game of love.
But nobody is here to check.
The works involved revolve around love (not as a subject but as an experience), conception, romance and intimacy, as well as female gaze and body. The church becomes the blasphemous frame for the projection of works that stage representations of love and sensuality.
Here, the object of faith and belief become simply love.
“The eye can see things the arm cannot reach” is an ultra-private, maybe purely speculative, project that leads us into the intimate dimension of faith. Faith in something that is definitely happening, but that no one can experience, assist or prove it, because to demonstration it is to deny it. Faith that bodies and love are not just an illusion; even during a pandemic.
Love is the son of Penia; poverty, need, missing, absence.
All the works involved show and invoke love for Other (lovers/friends/children/sisters/communities/comrades) but visualized in a way and in a time in which every interaction is denied. The show is set inside a vessel that generally hosts people who believe that the body of Christ really existed, but which now welcomes us, in the vortex of a historical moment that allows us only to believe that the others, their corporeity and their physical presence still really exist.
Interactions are now fantasized and the desire is at its apogee.
The dreamed, awaited, escaped body becomes the image of a reproduction responding to the dictation of desire. The lost body is truly absent; loneliness becomes the space of its abstract presence. Abstraction itself then is nothing but absence and pain, pain of absence – so perhaps love.
The condition of waiting for love-r can be defined as a mystical vocation to imagination and reverie. The lover who waits does not know more effective tools than the imagination to heal, albeit deceptively, the absence of the loved one. While waiting, the lover “manipulates” the object of love, giving it a body, a face, a character, intentions and words, which never match reality. The entity awaited, the mass centre of love dynamics, can actually prove to be nothing more than an imagined object: who, then, is this body for me, if not the fruit of my imagination? Isn’t it an unreal, evanescent body that I’m actually waiting for? Is the awaited body endowed with its own objectivity? Is its image linked, by its very nature, to the subjectivity of those who think it?
Corpus Domini ii
An important aspect emerging from the processes set in motion by the alternation of the works can be found in the idea/image/representation of the body and its ownership.
Quarantine represented an intensely self-reflexive moment, a non-time in which the body did not have to exhibit itself. Consequently, it also represents the dimension of distancing, of detachment, not only from others but above all from social constructs.
Love is the exclusive space of intimacy, separated from society and the roles it imposes; it becomes an absolute (solutus ab ➝ absolútus), dissolved from everything, in which everyone can liberate the self that cannot be express in the roles occupied in the social sphere.
Canonical hours iii – of love.
The videos will appear as visions in random and unpredictable moments of the day (H24 – 7/7). This modality makes a full experience of the contents impossible, in the same way that they cannot be experienced in the church. In this way, the project, to be understood as an autonomous work of art, claims its elusive nature, just like love’s.
Faith, love, religion, all objects that we cannot fully understand, will be treated for what they are; fading, impalpabilities, evanescences, within the online display.
Between one projection and the other a soundtrack, composed for the occasion by Stephen Vitiello (with texts from Diderot, recited by Tracy Leipold and Julie Grosche), will accompany and guide the visitor in that dimension in which waiting is the time of missing itself. The soundtrack is a fundamental element of the entire project, as well as of the church; it is that which contains and connects the various videos. The soundtrack becomes the space, the space of the absent presence.
But the other is absent; I invoke the other inwardly to keep me on the brink of this mundane complacency, a temptation. I appeal to the other’s ” truth” (the truth of which the other gives me the sensation) against the hysteria of seduction into which I feel myself slipping. I make the other’s absence responsible for my worldliness: I invoke the other’s protection, the other’s return: let the other appear, take me away, like a mother who comes looking for her child, from this worldly brilliance, from this social infatuation, let the other restore to me ” the religious intimacy, the gravity” of the lover’s world. iv
i Pope Francis, from the mass for Italian parliamentarians (28 March 2014)
ii The Feast of Corpur Domini or Corpus Christi (the “Day of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the Lord”), is a Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Western Orthodox liturgical solemnity celebrating the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.
iii Canonical hours are an ancient subdivision of the day developed in the Catholic Church for common prayer, also known as the “Divine Office” or Opus Dei (“work of God”).
iv Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments.
Like a Little Disaster invited me to do a screening back in January. Originally, I would have screened a solo presentation of a new video work consisting of two microorganisms falling in love. As I started work, Covid-19 hit and the world was forced into lockdown. In the video, titled Tender Isolation, one of the bacterium creates a coronavirus-like organism in the image of the second bacterium as an act of love. Like the virus, in the piece, love is spreading but I wanted love to become contagious.
As lockdown continued and friends and family started to feel further and further away, Like a Little Disaster and I decided to co-curate a show and invite artists and art that we love; to stay connected through a thread that seemed vital. The initial show was intended to be screened in a 17-century church in Polignano a Mare. In the course of events, it moved onto a digital platform but remains simultaneously screened in the church where no one can enter for sanitary precautions. From a speculation to another we are forced to believe that it is happening and that we will be able to touch each other again.
The 17 min interlude sound piece from Stephen Vitiello between each work turns the exhibition format into a long continuous soundtrack.The demanding viewing experience can become, if you let yourself be lulled by it, a presence, a new companionship to enhance your environnement. The eyes can see what the arm cannot reach is a private and intimate show meant to be consumed in the intimacy of isolation. It is a display of love, joy, bodies, sensuality, politics, existentialism, feminism, cannibalism, sentient organisms, women, mothers and children, motherhood, femininity, identity, belief and love. It is a dream group, a vision of an ideal, a paragon.
Singing is twice the prayer
The reproductive number of a virus is the expected number of infections an average carrier will cause. A superspreader event takes place when that reproductive number goes nuclear. Close to 1000 superspreaders have been a disproportionately potent vector for the coronavirus. Considering the early and ongoing confusion about how COVID-19 is passed between people, and the asymptomatic nature of many carriers, superspreading is an obvious result. Overwhelming recent evidence suggests that the virus can spread via aerosolized droplets that remain suspended in the air. Undetectable particles from an invisible source.
There is an apocryphal quote attributed to St. Augustine and often relayed in Catholic teachings, “He who sings well, prays twice.” A kind of cheat code for the inattentive. One notable early COVID-19 cluster was traced to a choir practice in Washington state, where a single person sickened 52 over the course of a few hours. Singing, then, is an efficacious way of dispersing the virus. And now, for the first time in thousands of years, churches are empty and dead silent. The faithful will have to pray at home, twice as hard, but for what?
At least in the United States, the accelerant of an airborne, interhuman virus has been intensely clarifying. Suddenly it appears (it has always been) that one fight bleeds into another, that precarity is endemic, that the pit has no bottom. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, all you can do is look, revealing for many what others already knew – help was never here, isn’t on the way, and if it happens to show up, it might kill you.
This show started as an idea in a world that was fundamentally not so different than the one we are in now. Certain variables have been removed and others amplified by a corrosive sickness, revealing just how schematic the disorder within is. It has since become clear that there is little reason for optimism that any sense of a return to normalcy will be accompanied by a sense of safety. Whatever the original concept was – it doesn’t matter now – the show then needed to function for a differently attentive audience; isolated, abandoned, sick, bored, anxious, unemployed, scared.
A church-cum-gallery with a show that won’t open, where what you see and when you see it is out of your control, if it is seen at all. It cannot be a distraction, it most likely won’t even be watched. A matter of faith in a collection of mediations from disparate, displaced artists. Body languages – sexual, sensual, platonic, feminine, fragile, obsessive – more precious and frightening than ever before, hinting at matrystroka-like micro dynamics amidst macro disasters. A cropped frame, inside a reluctant and unwelcoming venue, revealing asses, guts, nails, mouths…picking, touching, eating, smelling, cooking, waiting, scrolling. A show reformed from the ground up by disease, violence, and rebellion.
You cannot just walk in, walk through, visit, select your experience, consider, and leave at will. States of boredom and relaxation, isolation and connection, desire and impotence converge in one focal point. A screen, if you have one, appears less reliable the more you have to rely on it. And it has always been a poor approximation. Without the rhythmic physicality of face-to-face, conversations stutter and overlap, looking hard and never making eye contact. So much now, to the exclusion of much more, is a matter of faith; that the other is seeing you, that the wine is blood, that there may be a different, better world to return to.
We are the virus?
There was a meme that circulated in the early parts of global lockdown which started with a tweet:
Wow… Earth is recovering
– Air pollution is slowing down
– Water pollution is clearing up
– Natural wildlife returning home
Coronavirus is Earth’s vaccine
We’re the virus.
Wow! Daydreams of the apocalypse, with the rapid and total restructuring of society, of course provide momentary relief from the compounding terrors of the present and our ominous future. A reductive, binary struggle that levels the playing field and brings order to a chaotically cruel world. The reality of extinction level events is that the most likely ones are not only not spectacular, but are already underway, measurable and accumulative. Each summer hotter than the last.
One version stuck with me: “Nature is healing” paired with an image of Lime scooters floating in a canal. It’s a better reflection of reality right now than a slight decrease in carbon emissions during lockdown. 2020’s silver lining is that it’s easier to see that there isn’t one. Nature IS healing, it just doesn’t look how you’d expect. Here in our brave new world lies useless broken e-waste from an unprofitable startup rusting in a shallow grave.
While reductive, “we are the virus” begs questions it believes to answer – what is the ailment and what is the remedy? The available metaphors to discuss hyperobjects (and the virus is one) – wartime, self-care, silver bullets – always rest on the parallel trajectories of the personal and the universal, the problematic “we”. We are all in this together and you must do your part. This is happening to us equally and happening because of us. And when the fix is in, the now will be a distant memory from an ahistorical timeline. You are supposed to forget the details, to disregard the connective tissue, to miss the trees through the forest.
The sicknesses are many, and varied, and historic, and disproportionate. The cures? Non-existent and never offered. The peculiar nature of coronavirus symptoms for most – asymptomatic or dying – is a reflection of the untenable binaries. Everything must shut down but nothing can fundamentally change. Everyone must stay home but no one will pay for it. What’s left of the economy must reopen. A series of increasingly intractable delusions held ever tightly.
The American government, top to bottom, remains uninterested and inept. The workforce collapsed, was not protected, and will not recover. Entire sections of the economy are gone forever. Health care, tied to employment and already barely there, fully retracted. Rents, mortgages, bills, and debts pile up with no absolute relief. The stock market is pessimistically thriving because of the writing on the wall, not in spite of it. Multinational distribution corporations and pharmaceuticals are raking it in. Health insurance profits have doubled. In New York City, nearly all patients on ventilators died.
It would have been a beautiful and simple solution to mint a trillion dollar platinum coin and distribute enough money so everyone could stay home and everything could shut down. Instead, we have sustained technological, economic, social, and political collapse. The disintegration, while overwhelming, is specific and understandable. The virus is theoretically everywhere, while it actually ravenges the already fraying seams of the most dehumanized zones – prisons, nursing homes, fulfillment centers, slaughterhouses. Stagnant, punitive, immoral spaces of numbing repetition and alienation, recirculating deadly air to people who cannot afford to be anywhere else.
People of color are nearly 2 times more likely to die from the coronavirus. Black people are 3 times as likely to be murdered by police. Race and class, the lethal comorbidities of the two most out of control crises of right now: the coronavirus and the police. Both unleashing irrevocable traumas unequally. Both exceptional in America.
law and order, body and blood
As soon as going outside was a dangerous proposition, it became a gesture of the lengths you were willing to go. The early protests that received an inordinate amount of media attention were against lockdowns and masks. Aggrieved parties, mostly white, mustered their courage and directed their outrage at staying home and covering up. One man in an interview was brought to tears because he wasn’t allowed to buy grass seed, an unbearable loss of buying power. Paypigs briefly taking to the streets for their own debasement. If only such depth of emotion was activated for quite literally anything else.
Those protests could not be sustained because they were a deeply embarrassing and unfocused reflex. The debate that continues, to the extent that it masquerades as a debate, is an expression of powerlessness from individuals with very little to live for. Petulant, empty, and selfish. They went outside quickly and loudly before returning home to sit in front of the television like everyone else they knew. They had a little time to kill. For others, there was nothing but time.
Life in the U.S. is violent, punitive, racist, and immoral. Over the past decade, through a combination of social media and bystander documentation, state-sanctioned executions are streamed worldwide. That robust and expansive catalog of police violence grows each year. George Floyd’s murderers forced the rest of the world to watch. And no matter the evidence, they stick to the script. Don’t believe what you see. Wait for the facts. This is tragic but explainable. Any context, of course, is unforgiving and unconvincing. That cursed video, right now, drove people from their homes not for an afternoon, but night after night after night. What seems like a flood is more an oversaturation, a long-sprung leak finally rotting through.
Masses of people offered their only solution, risking health and safety because we had no choice. Flirting with sickness and death to draw a line in the sand, standing alongside those who never had the option to not be there, for those who had always been there. To commit to memory the names of those that were taken from us, a running list grows every day. To amputate these diseased organs of policing and prison. To destroy the tools of oppression. To take and redistribute the basic resources that have been denied. To believe and then produce the beginnings of something better. To practice love when it is most unexpected.
Cops love too. They love power and order, they love to believe that their purpose is pure and immutable. But they are woefully unqualified – what do we pay them for? Attempts to sap the revolutionary energy of the protests with calls for solidarity and kneeling were short-lived. The lame antagonism of cosplaying soldiers, humiliated and defeated, at least shows how tenuous and ineffective the police state has always been. They lash out as they retreat, ceding ground immediately. Despite the world crumbling around them, they were caught off guard. So they welcomed allies and guarded their symbols.
Driven by their defenders and fanatically guarded, the monuments to racist genocide, designed to humilitate, became a sideshow. Their mealy-mouthed representatives raged impotently to protect a fragile ideology. The irony is that those objects only matter to those standing in front of them. The people tearing them down know this much – it is an inevitability, a layover along the way to something else. Table scraps, not a full meal, so tear them down and move along. Power speaks with a forked tongue but cannot identify its subjects. The statues have nothing to say. They never did. They are hollow inside. We aren’t listening anyway.
When you strip away literally everything people have, under a total social deconstruction, and force the most vulnerable and oppressed to pick their poison, so many impediments to apathy or disassociation are gone. There is nothing to feel good about, no peace to be found, no reason to leave and barely anything to keep you busy. And yet, for some, there is nothing to live for but one another.
Now more than ever would faith and spirituality be a welcome practice. The mantras of self-care are a secular faith, code switching the here-now for the ever after. But self-care is mostly self-soothing for the overclass. Religious faith, frigid and disembodied, is so restrictive it is rarely interesting. Jude Law, greased up in his papal swimming briefs, is no joke. Raw, delicate, unavailable sexuality, made more powerful because there is no charged boundary, no flirtation with temptation. You can’t have him. Only a true believer can make another.
Now more than ever would love, expansive and humanistic, be a salve. There was something explosive and self-replicating from the cathartic solidarity on display. Boundless compassion becoming the viewing window, staring down and moving through anything that blocks the frame. Now more than ever would intention be a cure. The malls are closed, but the people who worked there aren’t dead yet. We need to speak to a different audience. And we need different people to speak. And if that isn’t possible (here, with this show, to the people with time, access, and interest), we need to talk about different things. We must remember, and show up, exactly where we are needed. In the downtime we’ll be here, alone, scrolling interminably; heavy eyelids under soft blue light, praying to feel something while we fall asleep.
Thanks to <3: Enrico Cattelan - coding -, Fabiola Mele, Giovanni Pedote, Ada Penna, Giovanni Pinto, Silvana Algeo, don Gaetano Luca.