Visual art curator

Setting off on a Journey for "Sacred Repositories"

Added on by Angela Serino.

Text accompanying Rory Pilgrim's solo show at Galerie Andriesse-Eyck, Amsterdam  (14 February - 28 March 2015)  


We no longer reveal totality within ourselves by lightning flashes. We approach it through the accumulation of sediments” (Édouard Glissant) 


"Sacred Repository N.1: Violently Speaking" is a work about geology and renewal, fluidity and excavation.

As a starting point to the exhibition, Rory Pilgrim has selected a series of black and white photographs that are key to understanding the scope of the journey of his first film work. The starting photo shows two shirtless black men, their bodies curved into their work: they are miners chipping stone with clubs and picking a channel in a stone bed. This quarry in Portland, England, is in an area known among British builders for centuries because of the quality of its stone. Several governmental buildings have been built using this stone, one of which is the United Nations headquarters in New York. In one of the photographs of the series we see the official laying of the corner stone of UN permanent headquarters in 1949: a collective ceremony that "attests an act of faith,.. of unshakeable faith" to accomplish the goals of world peace and international cooperation by the then recently founded intergovernmental organization.  

The formal words spoken by US President Harry S.Truman at the ceremony in front of an enthusiastic, hopeful crowd draw a parallel between the purity and uniqueness of the cornerstone and people’s capacity to maintain such an ambitious project. The building's construction and the actions set to take place in it are bound together in this speech and a collective pact is set, sealed by the Portland stone as a cornerstone of peace. But is this relation enough to keep this promise of world peace over time? 

What happens when words are closed off in our throats because they no longer contain the strength to enter the world and change it? 

If “Words become broken / When history becomes open / And words no longer say what they mean”, where do we turn to keep our faith and nurture our spirits?

It is at this point of rupture, of broken promises and growing dissatisfaction with the state of things, where the journey of the film really starts. 

Despite the compelling images of the quarry, the frequent sounds of ships’ whistles, and sea waves lashing the Portland coast running through large part of the film, "Violently Speaking” is not a film about the journey of the Portland stones shipped from the coast of Dorset to the US, but rather what they stand for. It is indeed a film about the search for a new collective cornerstone: an element that is able to provide us with solidity and security and which can offer a shared ground from where a sense of togetherness with joy and hope can be built.

As an archeologist of the spirit, Pilgrim sets off on this journey to dig out and unearth sediments equally precious as the Portland stones. Instead of the dealing with only the physical stone, Pilgrim realizes a series of cultural excavations, making a cross-sectional cut through history and space. Going back and forth between the two continents, he draws lines of connections among natural sites (Portland Island, the Great Salt Lake in Utah), congressional buildings (some of which are institutional, like the UN General Assembly Room, but others which are not, such as the Quaker Meeting house in Utah and the activist office for Trans issues in New York), and groups of intergenerational women (the Quaker’s group, the Drag Queens and five British teenage girls invited to work with him). 

With this gesture, Pilgrim reveals that a 'repository' of promises, faith and new hope can be found in as diverse places as nature, a building, a word, a person’s silence or a dance movement. 

Almost as if following the regular rhythms of the waves governed by the moon, these different elements of nature, voices and women return cyclically in the film, highlighting a continuous transition from one material state to another, from one setting to another. 

As the film unfolds some of these repositories reveal their particular potential in generating the space for renewal, transformation and change that the artist is seeking. 

This is the case, for instance, of the 'voice' of the waves. 

“Oh I see waves /Waves that speak away/ As they crash into the shore / Violently Speaking”.       

In a carefully developed tension, the rhythmic sound of the waves lashing against the shore is present during most of the film. Sometimes they are calm sounds of gentle waves in the open sea, other times, we hear them hitting hard against the British cliffs. While following their movement we gain awareness of their potential. Water’s lightness and liquidity is no less powerful than the heavy materiality and solidity of the stones from the quarry of Portland’s island. On the contrary, the repetitive motion of waves can mold existing shapes or seep into existing structures and break them apart. The image of waves overlapping the round table and chairs in the UN assembly room seem to refer to just this possibility of disrupting existing orders while also acting as a metaphor for new forms of more fluid and inclusive belonging and identification.

Sea waves are not the only ‘voices’ that, violently at times, speak in the film. As in the artist’s other works, there is a privileged attention, care and interest to bring forth the voices of specific social groups, who in different manners fight for self-expression, social justice and equality or practice active forms of spirituality undermining principles of authority and hierarchy. Women and teenagers are still the most valuable ‘voices’ to hear. However, in the film there is not only attention for who speaks and what is said: there is as much attention towards words of self-empowerment and hope as there is to silence. Silent pauses alternate with singular words (‘compassion’, ‘mystery’, ‘understanding’, ‘acceptance’), the powerfully liberating voice of the Queer singer, the joyful lyrics of the teenagers’ group, and the sound of the sea waves. All the sounds of the film – connected as much to the human presence as to natural elements – are purified by silence. Silence creates a protective zone. And it is in such a condition, according to poet Caroline Bergvall, that “the catalepsy of experience will start releasing new vocabulary”. The silence that balances words appears as another possible repository.

The result of this first movement in search of “Secret Repositories” is an intimate work that asks for a similarly intimate focus from the viewer. As in Pilgrim’s previous works, we are still in front of a poignant exploration of life’s fragilities and of the fundamental contradictions we are all composed of – spirit/matter, belief/skepticism, resistance/resignation. The questions on the hand- embroidered banner unveiled on the occasion of the Stedelijk Museum re-opening are still pressing: 

Where do we find hope that builds from the past? Where do we find hope in a future to come?” (“Open”, 2012)

Note: all the pictures are stills from the film "Sacred Repository N.1: Violently Speaking" by R.Pilgrim. Read more about the work on the artist's website.

Rhoon Traffic Management Center 51º52'02" N 4°26'18" E

Added on by Angela Serino.

Text in the exhibition catalogue “Jodi” (Rotterdam, 2005).

"The use of a GPS to navigate a car turns out to be far richer in implications than generally recognized. In particular, it requires an identification with a moving cursor on a screen generated by a computer that tells the driver what to do. (...) the subtext of the new digital maps of control and drift is the existence of an individual who can lend concreteness to the points and lines flickering on the screen, and play with the layers of software and databanks to create effects stamped with an utterly new materiality "

Antoine Picon, "On digital cartography" GNS Catalogue Palais de Tokyo 2003

Maps and geographical charts, that have for centuries fascinated artists and cartographers alike, now come alive. Lines indicating rivers and geographical borders drawn on paper, and surfaces covered in cities and nations have now become navigable spaces to discover: images through which we can move with a mouse, with our sight, with our mind. With the simple click of a mouse we can switch from the urban area in which we live to a complete view of the globe as a whole. We can choose which features of the Earth to examine (pollution, atmospheric currents, population density and transportation networks). We can locate and follow airplanes, cellular phones, ships and individuals. The application of modern digital technology to geography (GIS) and the transformation of military objectives into civilian objectives brought about by military satellite technology in the early 1990's (GPS) have further expanded the visual domain as we know it. It isn't only a matter of having new uses, functions and devices at hand, but rather the challenge of new mental models and spaces that develop with this overload of imagery. If by techniques and economy one speaks of using existent instruments and information that guarantee understanding and user friendliness; then by artists one speaks of the development of new processes of appropriation of this larger space, of creating new ways to enliven the relationship between micro and macro, between near and far, physical and digital and making sense of it all.
This greater visibility doesn't necessarily mean greater clarity and truth, nor is it a guarantee of greater comprehension and knowledge. The new images at hand are organized according to criteria and precise 'rules of transformation' and are based upon necessary needs and functions (as old maps once were). The "window", both that of Leon Battista Alberti on the real world as well as that of digital culture today (GUI), has never been a transparent frame but rather a material device that shapes the experience of the observer, expressing simultaneously a unique point of view, the singular and partial view of the author.
This publication -Jodi's artistic project for the Rhoon Traffic Management Center- brings to light the "thickness" of this mediation, and it reveals the subjectivity and purpose existing under the apparent neutrality with which information, and therefore the new images of the Earth, are organized.

"Driving a Car/ Drawing a Car 1:1"(Jodi)

Faced with the current high tech instruments of the survey and visualization of information relative to automobile traffic Jodi adopts a material belonging to an opposite world: the analogue one of paper and drawing. "Driving a car becomes drawing a car on the road-network". The car designed in this way transforms itself into the origin and the unit of measure of a new universe of roadways that, like Jodi's previous manipulations of browser, software, web pages and computer games, it is shaped through a collage of images both real and virtual.
"The car" -and the road circuit that it represents- are subject to continuous manipulations through software and 3D rendering applications for the Earth's surface and popular Route calculators. The result is a car-route with instructions on How-to-drive-it-yourself and projections of the same route in circuit-drawings of computer car games.

The viewer is "displaced" by what he sees. "Chaotic aesthetic", "random behaviour" (Florian Cramer), "confused geography" (Ian Campbell) -characteristics of the artwork of Jodi- all change the function of the GPS Road navigator. The roadmap is progressively deprived of its function to instruct, providing certainty and security; its function to measure, calculated and precise, is slowly lost, and the accurate road instructions given by a confident voice ("At the end of the road, turn left, then turn right", "Turn right 200 meters ahead", "You are here", "At the roundabout, take the second exit"), in the end, reveal themselves useless.

The deconstruction and the multiplication of the interface and the graphics of the Road navigator are the means for a critical, conceptual discourse on high technology. To the navigator's preciseness and functionality, Jodi, in fact, proposes a "childish" universe. (The car, appearing crumpled, seems as if it's right out of a comic strip, or from a sketchbook of a child.) They create a playful atmosphere and procedure which contrast with the sensations and atmosphere of control and threat that derives from the interface design of GPS Road navigators. The 3D bird's-eye view (the model of navigable space created by some of the first flight simulators for Boeing in the U.S.A in the early 60's which then developed into a visual style often associated with monitoring and surveillance) is "dismantled" and "mixed up". It is transformed by the generation of lines in a stylized cluster of roads around and within the car-route, that conceal more forms and words to be discovered ("now here", "draw", "on the road").

Transported by the little car in this sequence of jodian images and maps, we continually bounce between the concrete and illusional representations, between real and virtual worlds where it is difficult to distinguish one universe from the other.
If the path from a to b is the place in which the identity of the driver is created and formed, then the little blue car that moves along the red line at sea level could be potentially our "real" car. Thus "the real navigator/user" could be the same driver who crashes the car in the race game of 'V-Rally 2' or that discovers medieval villages in 'Trackmania'. On the map-drawings their paths are the same.
But are we actually talking about the real driver? The roadway featured in a Road Navigator program doesn't necessarily imply that the voyage happened in reality. Just insert the spatial coordinates (in the form of mailing address, or latitude and longitude) and one can actually navigate while sitting comfortably in the living room of his home. The real driver thus resembles very much the virtual driver of a computer game.
This short circuit of identity, this continuous exchange between real and virtual renders any indication, any sign, or any system of coordinates or roadways completely relative.
New orientations and reference points are formed along the trajectories delineated by Jodi and the car. These reference points "break" the rigidity of standard screen-interface and render relative the suggestions of the common car navigation system. We no longer see one road, but we see -and drive along- many others.

Angela Serino


Added on by Angela Serino.

Text about Mounira Al Solh’s work, published in the catalogue “Catalyst” (2006)

Rawane's Song fascinates. It captures our attention by freshly and intelligently investigating concepts in contemporary discourse through analyzing and questioning the artist's own cultural reference points. Mounira compels viewers with two effective techniques. She uses the intimate form of a story told in the first person, diary-like. And for the entirety of the video, she pursues a seductive visual motive: two pointy red shoes, objects of conventional femininity with connotations of frivolity. These red shoes, which may be interpreted as the artist's alter ego, provide the critical distance necessary to be able to articulate issues of personal identity, in unrestricted and experimental ways. In its primary stage, this identity manifests itself as a negation. But contextualized within Mounira's own cultural background and all its accompanying beliefs and customs, it may actually be understood as an act of self-realization. As text from Rawane's Song reads: I have nothing to say about the war; don't feel that I'm typical Lebanese; nor typical Arab; have nothing to do with the Palestinian cause; know almost nothing about politics. The whole narrative, which is an attempt to designate new relations between the artist's aspirations and personal wishes within her provenance, as well as the predominant values of her culture, is delivered with a pungent sense of irony.

Overall, it also shows Mounira's strong capacity for self-reflexivity and refined investigative abilities. Such qualities manifest themselves in extraordinary, original ways throughout the development of the narration, sparking a push-pull dynamic between the video and the viewer. This pushing and pulling is what makes Mounira so captivating. She speaks to the public's presence of mind, referring in her text to urgent current issues such as war, culture clashes and religious diversities. And yet, she simultaneously comments on the very predictability of the public's expectations through describing her many failed attempts to make an art piece about the local war. Her point is well taken, for example, when she lures viewers to believe her fabricated war documentary's success in the international film festival circuit. In describing these awkwardly executed projects to perform as a typical Lebanese artist, Mounira is pointing to us, the public, as testimony to her failure to live up to such an expectation. The artist implicates our own socialized thoughts and behaviors, while provoking in us the urge to distance ourselves from convention and habit. (We are almost inclined to utter aloud, "Not me! I don't think like that.") Still Mounira's critical commentary takes the form of a soft, seemingly inadvertent oscillation. It constantly goes back and forth, between the private and the public, between the specific and the universal, between models of reading and viewing, between Mounira, herself, and us. It is here, in the in-between, where the greater value of Rawane's Song lies.

Angela Serino