Pilar Mata Dupont: "Can Cartesian modes of dialectics be avoided in the creation of autobiographical works ?"
Pilar's 20 minute presentation for Speaking Without Thumbs - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2016
A Negative Genealogy (a work in progress)
Pilar began with a brief introduction of her ongoing research into her family’s history, taking a particular focus on the conflicting and often contradictory accounts of events that took place in her family during military rule in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. “A Negative Genealogy” is a work-in-progress that, in this iteration, takes the form of spoken narratives and video interviews with family members.
After the introduction, Pilar seated herself at a desk with her back to the audience. In this first part of the lecture performance, she read a narrative interwoven with recorded audio tracks. The recordings served well to fill in the imaginative spaces of the story and provide more substantial context. The audience could hear atmospheric sounds of nature and children’s voices, amongst other things.
Framed in three scenes, the artist tests the distinctions between autobiography and testimony, and hearsay and rumor. In this first ‘scene’ the artist behaves as a narrator and archivist, later she plays the part of interviewer and inquisitor. In both cases, she aims to “position herself artistically both inside and outside the work as subject and object”, taking up the challenge of working with subject matter that is not entirely comfortable, or even accessible, to deal with. Interviewing female members of the extended family, she touches on issues of generational distance and the way that histories are retold and remembered. Suspicions and old conflicts are exacerbated when histories are not spoken outright, or mutually agreed upon. In this way, Pilar uses contradiction as an artistic method.
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung noticed that this work demonstrates how a singular family narrative has the potential to narrate the history of a whole nation. Still he had the impression that some points were not sufficiently addressed. His interest in orality and oral culture, was fed by the way this story was told from the perspective of the women who had been left behind. And it is often the case, Bonaventure emphasized, that women are the ones who tend to pass on history from one generation to another. He had some questions about narratives that come from a position of privilege and power, and their relation to betrayal. For him, the scene in the narrative with the ants was used to show how violence is cultivated – he saw the whole history explained in this story (the child protagonist is told to cut the ants in half in order to prevent them from eating the family’s lunch).
For Ekaterina Degot this work stood out, in part because it had fewer references to the medium itself than the others. Echoing Bonaventure’s comments, Degot saw this as a documentary comprised of female histories. Though “it was not clear how much we were supposed to know about the political/military history.” She wondered whether the fragments of documents [handed out] could be included in the film and found the performance lecture format “a little strange because it ended up seeming like a theatrical presentation of a film. It remains a fragment and so does the family tree that Pilar handed out.” Considering its correspondence to research Degot emphasized the notion (as is known in science) that research is a stage and is not (as was shown here) a final work.
Pilar’s lecture performance reminded Bassam el Baroni of the work of some Beirut artists who have worked with the lecture performance to investigate a specific era in the history of Lebanon (during the civil war). “In this particular form the artist takes the role of a kind of witness dealing with the archive and narrating a story. This serves to blur fact and fiction and one is left not knowing what is real and what is fake.” El Baroni claims that they do this “to escape the tedium of the documentary (which is a problem)” and asks how “artists can get the best effectivity out of material that is so personally relevant to them – and still connect to the audience in a way that gives them a different angle than they would get from a TV documentary (for example)?” He says that many accomplished artists encounter the same problem Pilar must now face. The question for him comes down to two things: one is a question of methodology: “how do I deal with the documentary material?” Pilar hasn’t yet tackled this question in the material. He advised her to read the book The View from Nowhere by Thomas Nagle where he talks about “how to think objectively, subjectively,” and “how to bring together different viewpoints in an imaginative way that captures the viewer’s attention.” El Baroni’s second point is that one should keep in mind that documentary pushes one to escape its tempo when one are working with it. “You think this ambiguity is ok but it results in ambivalence which is not ok. You want to cut corners because you are kind of bored yourself and that comes across as ambivalent material.” He concluded by encouraging her to think more about methodology in order to get a better result.
Rachel O’Reilly commented on the difference between the thesis and the presentation format. She remarked that the subversive, dialectical parts and feminist readings which are happening in the thesis (and demand a longer duration) are cut out in the presentation so she misses a lot including the rigorous historical work on the role of psychoanalysis in the regime. Furthermore, the plight of the military wife (not an ambivalent figure) is missing or neutralized. Also, O’Reilly remarked that the family tree Pilar handed out was a paternally mapped family tree (since it is done by paternal blood lines). She asks whether is wouldn’t be [more] “interesting to map this though political gossip or women’s alliances or knowledge, for example.” For O’Reilly, “the presentation (through a misplaced modesty) let the raw material do a bit more work than it needed to. Bring your understanding of the impasse more to the front.” She concluded by saying that she would have liked to have seen Pilar highlight (from the material presented) the different relationships that the women she had interviewed had to singing and movement practices.
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