Contradictions of the trip,
conditions of the trip
"[...] les cartes se superposent de telle manière que chacune
trouve un remaniement dans la suivante,
au lieu d'une origine dans les précédentes:
d'une carte à l'autre, il ne s'agit pas de la recherche d'une origine,
mais d'une évaluation des déplacements."
— Gilles Deleuze
By Maykson Cardoso
PhD candidate in Art History at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and is based in Berlin.
In order to understand the "triangular cartographies" that Ana Hupe presents, we must know, first of all, that we will not find in them anything similar to maps, at least as far as the representations of geographical divisions are concerned. These are part of another kind of cartography: if they are maps, they are maps of intensity, with which the artist puts us in front of that which crossed her, while she herself crosses through Brazil, Cuba, and Nigeria. Her cartographies are composed of photographic records, films, or even small objects that she collected along the way, imbued with her experiences and perceptions, and rearranged from the criterion or method of "triangulation". That is: her way of approaching, superimposing or juxtaposing these elements with the objective of showing or creating a common ground between them and, consequently, between the places from which they come.
The first meaning of this "triangulation" stems from relationships between these three countries, marked by the colonial violence that inevitably founds their common ethos; a violence whose effects are still valid today, going by names such as extractivism, slavery, exploitation, or even "progress," capitalism, necroliberalism¹. Thus, "triangulation" as a method, which also reverberates in the form of the triangle that appears in some of these works, is more than the mere exercise of those who dedicate themselves to finding connections between travel destinations: it is a means of shaping this common history, of denouncing the first point of intersection between the history of these places, which curiously appear on old maps such as the Triangular Trade that laid the foundations of geopolitics and, therefore, of the extractivist and slave economy of the colonial period.
By observing cultural aspects of the traditional Yoruba religion that arrived in Brazil and Cuba with the expansion of the slave market that enslaved thousands of black Africans in the "New World," Ana Hupe does not want to find the origins of the religion, but, rather, to evaluate, as Deleuze says in the epigraph, its displacement: what is preserved and what changes with respect to the Yoruba religious tradition from one place to another over time? What were the tactics used to ensure the survival of the traditional religion, despite all the prohibitions in the new continent? Some clues become evident, for example, in the sacred chants of the Brazilian candomblé or the santería in Havana: chants that a person of Yoruba ethnicity can often only recognize today thanks to the melody that has been maintained over the centuries, since the language only survives in a few liturgical words.
It is necessary to look at these works searching for what is revealed in them as an index of conflict, of contradiction. For example, in Street poems, the artist brings us phrases found in the streets of Havana such as "Trincheras de ideas valen más que trincheras de piedras" (Trenches of ideas are worth more than stone trenches) and "Brillamos con luz propia" (We shine with our own lights), superimposed over passages from the Cuban Constitution, sold in a newspaper for 1 CUC in several kiosks scattered around the city. The first phrase comes from José Martí, founder of the Cuban Revolutionary Party and organizer of the Cuban War of Independence at the end of the 19th century; the second comes from one of the verses of Pablo Milanés' Canción por la Unidad Latinoamericana (Song for Latin American Unity), whose last stanzas recall Latin American revolutionary leaders - Simón Bolívar, José Martí himself, and Fidel Castro - to call for the unity of the continent:
Lo que brilla con luz propia nadie lo puede apagar
Su brillo puede alcanzar la oscuridad de otras costas
Qué pagará este pesar del tiempo que se perdió
De las vidas que costó, de las que puede costar
Bolívar lanzó una estrella que junto a Martí brilló
Fidel la dignificó para andar por estas tierras
Bolívar lanzó una estrella que junto a Martí brilló
Fidel la dignificó para andar por estas tierras³
But if these utopian ideals that founded the revolution in that country are quoted there, in another work, Ana Hupe offers us the image of a "Broken Utopia"; the artist takes the Utopia of Thomas Morus - a book launched in the 16th century that tells the fictitious story of an "ideal society" -, rips off its cover, spikes its pages and arranges them like a pile of paper the floor. At first sight, her gesture may seem like rejection of the "utopian idealism" to surrender to the melancholy of the world, but at the same time it is also the gesture of recognition of this utopia as something insufficient: one must tear it apart, not to discard it afterwards, but to seek other ways of thinking about it and rebuilding it.
To the shredded pages is added her Biografía de una isla, a work in which the artist presents us excerpts from the book of the same name by Emil Ludwig. In this book, she tells us, the author starts from "one of the legends of the myth of origin in Cuba, narrated by an indigenous man who was locked in a museum in downtown Havana 500 years ago. He suddenly wakes up and begins to analyse the changes since colonisation.” Perhaps it comes from a look that is no longer just that of the European man, that possibility of rethinking and rebuilding our broken utopias. Those that are no longer guided only by the lyrics of a Thomas Morus, of a Karl Marx et caterva, but that are also guided by the voice of the native who takes the floor to narrate, himself, the colonial violences.
That Emil Ludwig is another European man to recover the myth of origin of the Caribbean island, is just another contradiction that appears, as said, in other works; something that the artist seems to leave marked by making use of the photo-transfer technique, which consists in transferring the contents of pages of books, newspapers or photographs, gluing them on the surface of the wood with a special product. The transferred content remains there, fixed, but appears inverted, mirrored, with the appearance of an old fresco, a peeled wall or a forgotten and worn out lamppost. In the specific case of texts, if this technique does not make it impossible to read them, at least it makes it more difficult; and what could be only a formal detail gains the sense of a disruptive gesture similar to that of punching the pages of Utopia. If the text there resists, it resists as rest; and the form with which it is presented to us also comes from that action of destroying something without then discarding it, because there is no other possibility than that of working with what remains.
Transfer is also the technique used in "The Brides of the Bloodthirsty Gods", that brings to light a journalistic article by “O Cruzeiro”, published in 1951. In this article, whose title - the same one that gives the work its name - is already somewhat sensationalist, the first journalistic record of candomblé initiation rituals in Brazil was made. The article caused controversy due to the exposure of a ritual restricted to a few initiated. The ambiguity of its title places women as brides of violent gods, a representation beyond contempt and misrepresentation of the orishas worshipped in religions of African matrix. Aware of this, Ana Hupe retrieves the pages of the magazine in which the article was published, cuts out the photographs, transfers them to wood, shreds them up and reassembles them, preserving, between the shreds, gaps. If in some way she gives us to see those pages, she makes the same gesture on them: she does not deny the existence of such a document and, neither, its content of violence; she accuses it of its existence and leaves the marks of its non-conformity on it.
In this game with contradictions, images become "dialectic image", or "critical image" - Walter Benjamin's concept which, in Brazil, has been constantly taken up from Didi-Huberman's point of view. One can think of this image as one that is something and its opposite simultaneously. When we look at them, they confront us, giving us back a look that also questions us. If Ana Hupe presents to us images of this order, this can lead us to think that she has no naive understanding of culture; every monument of culture, as Benjamin warned us, is also a monument of barbarism. To refuse the inherent game between culture and violence - especially that of domination - would be like throwing the dust under the carpet, repressing the trauma to avoid its elaboration. It is certainly difficult to confront it, but there is no other exit to account for our past. It is from such a position that contradiction also gains a positive value: it demarcates the point where this "elaboration"² is necessary.
In “Hegel and Haiti”, Susan Buck-Morss takes up the famous "dialectics of the lord and the slave" to show, based on the historical context, that Hegel had probably formulated this dialectic inspired by information from the Haitian Revolution. Although he never mentioned any reference in this regard, in analysing the evidence that allows him to build this hypothesis, the American philosopher questions:
Either Hegel was the blindest of all the blind freedom philosophers in Enlightenment period in Europe, leaving Locke and Rousseau behind in his ability to deny reality under his nose [...], or Hegel knew - of the royal slaves who were victorious in their revolt against their royal masters - and deliberately elaborated the dialectics of landlord and servitude within their contemporary context. 〈BUCK-MORSS, S. Hegel e o Haiti. São Paulo: N-1. p. 78.〉
This hypothesis demonstrates how much the freedom proclaimed by the European Enlightenment (Aufklärung), one of the ideals that sustained the French Revolution, had nothing "universal" as it intended; when the Haitian Revolution wanted to use these same ideas to free itself from its condition as a French colony, Napoleon sent his troops to prevent independence. The universality of these values, therefore, was restricted.
We must remember that the “footnotes” first appeared as an answer to the German context; so they are also part of a strategy to make what is still unknown or ignored to the spirit forged by this European Aufklärung a little more understandable. There are ways of thinking or making the world that are often still read under the key of the "exotic", the "eccentric".
Unlike the colonies, which have experienced the violence of colonisation and are still dealing with its effects today despite their independence, Europe still lacks stronger positions that can question its hegemony. Positions that could destabilise the placidity of its domains from within by bringing in elements from the outside. Here I include the epistemological domain, as demonstrated by Susan Buck-Morss, which is still acting as a substratum for the European Union, built on these "universal values". These footnotes, a paratex common to the most complex texts, under no circumstances lead to the reading of their texts-work; with them, the artist simply wants to ensure a minimum coefficient for their intelligibility.
¹ I borrow the term used by Achille Mbembe in an interview to Folha de São Paulo. The philosopher speaks of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic; he criticizes the way neoliberals treat people's lives, reducing them to a number in statistics. Thus, he relates his already widespread concept of "necropolitics" - roughly: the politics of governments that determine who can live and who should die - to the economic model in necroliberalism, which places the economy above everything and everyone. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/amp/mundo/2020/03/pandemia-democratizou-poder-de-matar-diz-autor-da-teoria-da-necropolitica.shtml
² In German, "Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit" - the "elaboration" or, as Jeanne Marie Gagnebin translates it into Portuguese, "perlaboration of the past" - is the title of one of the texts in which Theodor W. Adorno proposes a series of necessary steps to understand and confront, in the German context, Nazism and its effects without repressing it, that is, without forgetting or pretending it never existed.
¹ Maykson Cardoso is phD candidate in Art History at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and is based in Berlin.
² I borrow the term used by Achille Mbembe in an interview to Folha de São Paulo. The philosopher speaks of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic; he criticizes the way neoliberals treat people's lives, reducing them to a number in statistics. Thus, he relates his already widespread concept of "necropolitics" - roughly: the politics of governments that determine who can live and who should die - to the economic model in necroliberalism, which places the economy above everything and everyone. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/amp/mundo/2020/03/pandemia-democratizou-poder-de-matar-diz-autor-da-teoria-da-necropolitica.shtml
³ Translation of the poem
⁴ In German, "Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit" - the "elaboration" or, as Jeanne Marie Gagnebin translates it into Portuguese, "perlaboration of the past" - is the title of one of the texts in which Theodor W. Adorno proposes a series of necessary steps to understand and confront, in the German context, Nazism and its effects without repressing it, that is, without forgetting or pretending it never existed.
⁵ BUCK-MORSS, S. Hegel e o Haiti. São Paulo: N-1. p. 78.