María Mercedes Salgado: A Manuscript
Advisor/tutor: Bassam el Baroni
Independent reviewer: Omar Berrada
Arnhem, June 2014
What I have attempted in this text, and continue to do so while it exists and re-exists in the minds of readers is to re-assemble thought through writing, trying to leave as little gap as possible from one medium to the other. A difficult, might I say impossible task. There is a great deal that happens from thought to writing, and a great deal more from writing to reading, and so on.
However there is an intent, to generate a discourse through a mental voice. Very different from automatic writing or parrhesia. However, trying to represent a thought process; to describe throughout the form itself of the writing.
Throughout this attempt I have come to an observation of how this process works and in this text I try to convey it in two different parts.
The first part, written almost a year ahead of the second –having had time to breathe, and therefore undergoing many more transitions– refers to a sadder, usually over-experienced moment of discomfort in an artistic process. It somehow resonates to many because it is a common denominator in the various production methods of artists. However this discomfort, although common, is usually overlooked in the frame of the contemporary attitude, because it seems too romantic, too deeply nihilistic, out-dated. This post-post-post-post-whatever-time we seem to be living in, holds as a pseudo-ideal the act of denial. We live in denial. Hence the popularity of the hipster archetype – a contemporary Bartleby.
Unawaringly, some of us hold figures such as Bartleby or the mythic Beuys of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf as bastions of method, process and production. Shifting constantly -or wanting to- from one position to another, never satisfied -or resisting to- a single stand-point. This, as one would imagine can generate a more than natural amount of angst. It seems we are the generation of angst, too aware of deception, too skeptical. We were born into a shattered scenario, a post-war, post-conflict, post-ideologies, posteverything. A world of undone definitions. I still remember the difficulty my high school and undergrad teachers had trying to teach us what modernity meant. I still don't know exactly. Granted, it is a contested term (my point exactly). We live in a time of transfigured terms.
The enormous difficulty there is when it comes to defining our epoch, to developing a sense of pertaining to a specific time or space, to identifying with a particular style, political party, ideology, music genre, taste, hobby, etc.; this attitude of not committing to anything in particular, is what holds us together. This is our commonality. This undone hopelessness is the basis for our ways of labor and leisure; for our constructions of belief or un-belief, for our micro and macro political sense. Disenchantment is our common denominator.
It is difficult to say that there is a linear narrative, an ordered sequence of events. One would hope for the second part to always come after the first. But that would immediately imply there is hope and a possibility of solution. A purpose. And this text departs from a clarity of purposelessness, with no illusion of solution and no need for it. And so once you think you have made the transition from part one to part two: into a path of re-enchantment, there are days, moments of complete murkiness, where, again everything seems useless, vane, purposeless... and you find yourself back in the comfortable angst of disenchantment.
Because of the base-ground of purposelessness of the text, the second part does not aim to finding a Truth or solution or awakening. It does try to convey a tone, nonetheless of epiphany (without there ever being one). Focused on the revision and analysis of the reasons or non-reasons of my interest for this thought process, there is a permanent attitude of questioning and a construction of possible strategies of re-enchantment.
What is the purpose of narrating a production process? The attempt to answer
that question lies in the underlying idea of the second part of this essay.
There is a constant struggle with the inside, one that seems to be won by
miles by the outside. Unable to reach that outside, and aware that we will
indeed never reach it, or find it or trespass it, we still manage to device
almost infinite ways of working towards it. Where this feeling of urgency
comes from and what it is, pertains to a myriad of philosophical, linguistic,
artistic, sociological, even scientific approaches to our human condition and
what it means. The production of meaning itself, makes us, simultaneously
question the arbitrariness of it.
So we are stuck in this loop, a labyrinth without a necessary outside. Rather a
labyrinth we dwell in and which we must learn to inhabit, use, re-invent and
promote at the same time we confront it and question its legitimacy, become
aware of its injustices, its suffocating structures and stop “waiting for
I have been working on this overall compilation of fragments, trying to make some sense out of their unity. Why am I bringing all these elaborated mental arguments together? There are many reasons and ways of looking at this essay. And these reasons are all valid and non-absolute. At the beginning I was conflicted with not being able to define, among many positions, a single stand-point of interest (one sole argument, a steady, stable chair), having all these merging axis that somehow meet through each other, never at a single point. Now I actually think, this rhisomatic value (to borrow the term) is precisely where art as form is its strongest argument. The actual method, way, distribution, outline, composition, tone, mood, of this essay or what I will shorten as “form” (hoping not for an arbitrary generalization, but rather a way to a clearer explanation) is what carries, if possible, the attempt to generate affect, the sense of urgency, a hopeful relatability (the possibility of relating). And this I believe is what makes me write in this case.
I used to think I was obsessed with attention, obsessed with recognition. And although there is still some truth to that, I believe now, that it is more a question of generating affect. Of that place of mutual recognition between two single parts, or between multiple parts.
I have caved into the idea that all we do in life and art are attempts. This is just one more of these attempts. An attempt to maintain the question, a recount of the struggle it presupposes to accept the uncertain, and the strangeness of a drive that leads nowhere in particular. This is an attempt in every sense: to write in the first place, an attempt to narrate a state or states.
The thesis presents itself as a "plotless-narrative essay". What it narrates is the author's attempt at a critical definition of herself as an artist. It tries to account for the process of thinking and creating in today's world for people of her own disillusioned generation, and to come up with strategies of re-enchantment. In staging a "struggle for distance," it reads like a series of hypotheses toward an understanding of the self and of the role of art in the world through various figures of identification and dis-identification. This quest is informed by theoretical readings, but not laden with theory, not dependent on it. At times I wished for a more in-depth engagement with some of the theoretical material alluded to in the footnotes, though I realize that might have taken from the sheer, poignant energy of the text. Indeed, this thesis is fundamentally an exercise in writing. It is an experimental journey on the search of a written voice, through shifts in pronouns, in modes of address, in genres of writing. It is a relentless investigation into the artistic process, and the tensions between self-expression and self-doubt. The whole thesis can be read, also, as an attempt at and a commentary on the essay form itself, and an exploration of the possibilities it offers, for instance the alternations of cultural analysis, philosophical meditation, and poetry. The writing is at once intensely personal ("I over-share") and wittily distanced ("The Artist: This page intentionally left blank"); it dwells on its own contradictions, and succeeds at generating affect through form. The text is constantly reflexive: it reflects on the self of its author, and reflects on itself as a text, while also reflecting on reflection, by taking the double figure of echo and narcissus as one of its motifs. Finally, I should add that this thesis, while not disclosing its exact relation to the content of Salgado's visual work, provoked in me a real desire to discover her art practice. Omar Berrada