marina dubia &&&

Chapel Session letter, 2023

Dears Carla, Niels, my Context ---

I’m a ghost that keeps on haunting. My voice, this voice, is coming from Brazil, and from the walls of our room, and from me, myself, the person reading – which means that at least one body has been invaded. Ghosts linger when they have unfinished business, with causes and developments blurred by the separation between life and death. “Business”, I have recently learned, is more than a noun for contract-handshake-professional-entrepreneurship types of activities, but a quality of occupation, the humming, constant buzz of a swarm, rushing insects, thoughts, the waves at the beach.

Life is full, and in movement, and we are occupied and preoccupied, and I love my body humming along with the smoke of the exhaust pipes & the white sap of latex trees (even if I have never touched one). I resonate with your invitation for these Chapel Sessions, when you ask what gets us going, what makes us tick, or, how I have been terming it to myself, “what affects me?” (João Fiadeiro). Getting my fingers into this is the cornerstone of what I will shyly refer to as the “ethics” (Thiago Amate) I attempt to embody, which still in other terms could be called the attentive unravelling of causes, developments, intentions, and the stories that give them meaning.

So fixated I have become with this, that the word vitality (Suely Rolnik) emerged as guiding principle. Finding, chasing, generating, liberating, sharing vitality. And I have dropped any pretension of aesthetically realizing this – meeting, encounter, confrontation (Alexandre), deep visceral sex with vitality. Which is to say, art has been the façade that allows me to organize conditions to be vital; at the moment distinctions between art and living are of no concern to me.

There’s richness and abundance in some of the most basic acts of our existence. So basic, in fact, that they go neglected (Bee Wilson). I find vitality in food and in eating, in movement (Vera, Katia, Ricardo Neves) and dance, in the voice that ripples through the air into a story or a chant; simple acts of the body, ways of being – I am eating, it is what I am, dancing, I am; I am saying, I am what is said – that attracts others to be together, and then my second concern, “How to live together?” (Fernanda Eugênio) comes into play. “What affects me?” and “How to live together?” are delicate tools that must not be brutishly resolved; I could argue, for instance, that people walking the same street are both affecting each other and living the same situation, but if I satisfy myself with immediate facts, I fail to calibrate my sensitivity and hum along.

I practice sniffing out vitality, it is enmeshed in circumstance, a playful poltergeist that shows its presence through tricks and whispers. The body must be sharp, curious to seize this meeting and let it go in good time; and though I won’t attempt a definition, I will risk claiming that this requires full commitment of attention, a wholesome engagement that gives off a crisp edge of aroused presence. When and where these moments of deep connection happen is inconsistent: one day you have a magical conversation (Flávia) with a good friend, the next all you can exchange are dull amenities.

Is art the joy of working? To someone who wandered into art school in part due to her repulsion towards the idea of “having a job”, this is quite the provocative statement. I like to believe that touching the strings (Tim Ingold) that weave these “carrier bags” (Ursula Le Guin) of vitality should be both the joy and responsibility of our position as artists. Sure, we make things, we hunted and we gathered, but at some point “work” was extracted from human activity, “art” was refined into an exclusive domain, and “joy” condensed into pills for daily consumption. What is this life we are living? How is it shared, and through which paths does it pulsate? I picture a waterfall after rain, lush with force, violent beauty.

There are images that cling to my innards, and have helped me stay on track of this, well, vitality business. I want to try and give them some words, a body of graphite and pixels and vibrating sounds outside my own, for this Chapel Session. This ruse to be together, this excuse to implicate (Christian Dunker) one another; words on the table to trigger your attention, engage with a process. The three of them attempt to grasp the same feelings and complexity from different access points:

  1. My favorite translation of the portuguese word (Amilcar Packer) “entrelaçamento” (Rafael) is “enmeshment”. Google claims it has a negative tinge: a whale caught in a fishing net, colleagues (not our colleagues here today) decide to bring you into their drama (there’s no drama in the Art Academy). Doesn’t that perversity say something about the society we have built? Being involved with each other is a sticky, undesirable situation. “Entrelaçamento” has started to replace “relation” and “relating” in my vocabulary. Relation requires the one and the other, necessary but insufficient. You see, that relation in itself will be a system that relates to other relations and so on, forming a thick mesh in all directions, and from there it suddenly feels alienating to distinguish individual, isolated points (the modern religion). But you can still follow the lines and connections, navigate the shapes they form, explore causes and effects in an expanded field (Rosalind Krauss).

This also offers a powerful tonic against a form of oppression scarcely discussed, since we believe it to be natural or self-inflicted: loneliness. The enmeshed person has a myriad troubles ahead in comparison to the lonely individual, who manages and accounts for their relationships, but they are also supported and held by the mesh.

  1. Imagine some hands, this is the image of hands.

This one has been with me since high school, at least. Let’s go. Take any object, for me: usually a couch. Now imagine it is made of hands. Bare hands of all kinds, clustered in the shape of that object. They are open, they are closed, they hold the thing together (Bruno Latour), they hold each other and they hold you; you in the cluster, this part is easy if your object is a couch. But it could also be cat food pellets, a million tiny hands in each caressing your back, or an industrial mill, tons of millions of hands that tower over you, lost in them, but well-fed.

Those hands, they are the hands of every single person who has worked to make that object part of your reality. We are playing a game of scales; you can start with the first few hands that you remember touching the object, such as the salesperson, the truck driver and the cleaning staff, yourself and those who use it. Then move into the workers who assembled it, people who designed it, their managers and the people who fabricated the tools they used. Someone out there worked diligently to produce the synthetic coloring matching a lime-green hue in a chemist’s lab, and the person who employs them arranged with their secretary to sign a sales deal with a chief of department in a factory, that had agreed on a color palette with the designer of their water bottles, and after someone delivered the coloring, another person opened the package and another one poured it into the machine operated by dozens of others – all the way for each part and each detail of the object, I think of everyone. Their lives crossed and clustered into a consumer product that increases marginal comfort to your own passage on this planet. Every single one. We made this together. Every life is consequential. Every life is consequential to every life.

  1. Ecology, or the patch of land. Ecology has flourished into varied conceptions of life, but for this third image a biology textbook understanding should be enough: there are different ecosystems, where the enmeshed organisms live in a kind of stable life cycle (Richard Dawkins). These are many and plentiful, and interact with each other as well.

I am still elaborating and trying to put my finger on it, this image, and I insist that it is something to be worked with through our values rather than our behaviors, but for now we will have to be content with a paragraph drafted for another letter for another time and place:

“Cultural spaces could be managed as patches of fertile land: the first seeds will grow and change the chemistry of the soil, determining what else can thrive in the same environment. The next species to come will create a balance with the original conditions (João Fiadeiro). This community will never be able to accommodate or hold the needs of every plant and insect and bacteria and life-forms that exist in that region; but as caretakers of this process, we can and should be mindful of how our choices and methods are able to attract and nourish both wasps and elderflower, or if they will only cater to snails while being aggressive to everything else. And then, you can and should consider that your patch of land, too, does not exist in a vacuum: around it the earth extends, creasing into ocean-filled bays evaporating into the atmosphere. Our divisions are tricks of perception necessary for survival, a limit that life imposes and from which all manner of creative and destructive energies sprawl.”

Throughout this letter, I have summoned the names of some of the people who, through fortuitous meetings or their published words, have built my thinking and sensibility, and continue to haunt my turbulence; lovely ghosts at the edge of visibility in a world of specters, enmeshed spectral hands, a world full and bursting with sweet and delicious tension that I reach through my fingertips and taste in my lips.

I hope these considerations can be of use, and I am here, in Brazil, allowing my contours to melt in the heat and hoping that you, too, can dissolve and be porous, to leak across time-space and have some coconut water at the beach with me. There’s a performer and dance artist who proposed a piece to be delivered telepathically. There is a fixed date, and time, and wherever you are you need to do your own work to tune in. Calibrating sensibility, risking vulnerability and trust, opening the door to what is there (Alina Folini). If this is the kind of work we are talking about, then perhaps I could agree, that art is the joy of working.

Thank you for letting me be a bit of you, today. Warmest, Marina Dubia