I / CLOUDS
A cloud in a room.
As the audience walks through, the fog penetrates their bodies through skin pores and breathing. Foreign bodies creep in, crossing the boundary between the outside and the inside: body pollution is just a breath away. The cloud-like environment at once creates a dream-like scenario and triggers fears of contamination.
The cloud erases the boundaries of the body.
In 2002 Mexican artist Teresa Margolles installed Vaporización / Vaporization at MoMA P.S.1 in New York. Water that was employed to wash corpses after autopsies, taken from a morgue in Mexico City, was turned into a smelly mist by vaporizer machines. The work is part of a group exhibition titled Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values, that brought together a selection of artists that questioned the state of the body within the complex urban reality of the Mexican capital.
As featured on the MoMA P.S.1 website:
( 1 )
Dates. Let's set the scene: New York is a site of grief, preparing to remember 9/11. Images of destruction are re-played constantly in the media. The War on Terror narrative, with its distinctive bio-metaphors and bio-politics, aims at triggering an unconscious, instinctual sense of survival in the general population. A language filled with dichotomies accompanies this war and we are faced with two contrasting bodies: the American body, compared to the suffering body of Christ and with notions of purity, and on the other hand, the terrorists' body, that was represented as an image of violence and hate. It is a war on evil as George W. Bush likes to put it: a war on concepts where the enemies are abstractions.
( 2 )
The exhibition ultimately focuses on the corporeal reality of Mexico City at its extremes, creating a stark separation between the 'rich' and the 'underclass'. Here we find another dichotomy that mimics the language of the time. It also needs to be noticed that the use of the term underclass, has often been criticised as a codeword employed by intellectuals to demonise impoverished blacks and Latinos within the urban US. As such I ask: are these poor Latinos bodies also entering the realm of the enemy?
( 3 )
Here, the 'rich' is associated to 'Beverly Hills' while the 'underclass' to 'Calcutta', creating a disturbing geopolitical metaphor of hierarchy and value. Their bodies have indeed two opposite meanings:
Beverly Hills = rich = good
Calcutta = underclass = not so good
II / SUSPENSION
When borders are questioned, neighbours become tangible threats. When the threat comes from within the borders, each and everyone become a suspicious other, an enemy in disguise. By confusing the borders, and by invoking invisible borders – borders made of words, colours and concepts – there are no references left. Suspended in the land of incommunicado, we breath in total terror.
How the hell can we see from up here?
III / RAREFACTION
Condensed into a gaseous mass the enemy follows me, surrounds me, engulfs me. My feared other is everywhere, as much visible as invisible – solidly material and intangibly dispersed at once. A biological and visceral threat, geographically located although ever-changing.
Who are you?
IV / ERASURE
Smoke is the aftermath of destruction: it swallows people and spits out corpses.
It is a dense, contaminated cloud, that seeks to erase us. A cloud of death from which we can only run. Followed by evil clouds we look for a way out of this murkiness. But murkiness is always just a step behind, and we can never stop
to face it.
Can we be erased by what we can't see?
V / ABSORPTION
What if a speckle of dust has penetrated me? What if I have breathed that vapour and now it has bound forever to my cells? Am I still myself? Or have I become this other body, this other viscera? A speckle of dust has reached my air ducts. My skin has absorbed the fog. I run, facing forward, but these invisible particles take hold in me. They bind to my cells, they become my viscera. Can my body-as-organism metabolise this enemy, or,
am I now foreign to myself?
VI / FOG
The dream of walking through a heavenly cloud, has turned into a nightmare. Or perhaps, the cloud was a dirty fog the whole time: murkiness is all encompassing. It doesn't belong to the sky, rather, it rises from the gutter. But this diabolical mist, somewhere along the process, rises to the sky where it becomes a piece of heaven.
Where does it stop being evil and begins being holy?
Co-Founding Director of Mnemoscape