In the director Naomi Kawase´s film Towards Light / Hikari (Japan-France, 2017), from which we have taken the heading for this lines, a young writer is employed to adapt movies for blind people. Throughout her work, the writer discovers that the blind people she address to with each movie´s audio descriptions are not expecting to access reality by means of descriptions of visible things, but to explore the periphery of vision through our capacity to “evocate” (from Latin, ex: outside / vocare: to call). This encourages her to reconsider her work and direct it towards a kind of narrative aimed to display the symbolic meaning of pictures instead of overusing its literal visible description. Towards Light proposes a reflection about film experience –a collective experience that places us towards a screen of light. It leads us to question certain stablished visual hierarchies. But above all, it defends imagination as the mental faculty to create images –the light metaphore since Plato to our current times. In more general terms, the Japanese Naomi Kawase´s film is also a lesson about the possibilities in art interpretation; an amplifying instrument of images´ visible and nonvisible sides, included in the symbolic field.
The Project El dedo en el ojo (cinco aproximaciones canarias contemporáneas) (The Finger In the Eye (Five Contemporary Approaches From the Canary Islands)) is aimed to give visibility to the varied audiovisual production in Canary Islands. It proposes precisely a reflection about the sense of sight. In a time when it is broadly agreed that images are omnipresent in our daily life, and taking into consideration –just as Boris Groys has remarked- “that there are more and more people willing to create than to observe images” (Groys, 2014), we dare to make use of such a proposal to claim for a useful blindness. This will unveil the underlying concerns of artists who perform audiovisual works in very different ways: Pedro Déniz, Cayetana H. Cuyás, David Pantaleón, Yapci Ramos and Gabriel Hernández. It will also help to shed new light on our own times. Like in the well-known Ensayo sobre la ceguera (Essay On Blindness), Saramago, 1995, we will try to elicit an apocalyptic scenario where blindness leads us to see.
The Japanese reference that opened this essay is not by chance. Japanese poetry has defined symbolism in seventeen syllables. Haiku acts as a symbolic filter for the language that tries to express the inexpressible. In other words, symbols make visible the invisible. In Hurdle (haikus) (2017-2018), Pedro Déniz applies the different possibilities of this poetic genre to his work with different images which, from a literal perspective, would take us to some daily scenarios: the movement of a watch, a big wheel going round, the wake of a boat on the sea, the shudder of a tree´s leaves, a wall falling off, dogs barking. Each of these “audiovisual notes” collected by the artist since 2009 contains an intensely emotional moment, transforming each scenario into a personal event. And thus, the video clips carry us to a symbolic layer which prompts that which escapes our sight. On the other side, ten notice boards upside down are advising us about the possibility of playing with language meanings. The keywords “grills”, “dangerous”, “to step forward”, “admission rights”, “end” (in English), “closed”, “field”, “beyond forms” and “action” are inspired by another quotidian haiku: “Grass is always greener on the other side”. A part of the installation is a painful hurdle which reminds us that this work belongs to a long-term project called Meridianos simbólicos del dolor (Symbolic Meridians of Pain). With it, Pedro Déniz has been exploring, since 2014, the need to mark out a symbolic place where pain can be accepted.
With a different approach, Cayetana H Cuyás builds up a symbolic place using an appearing and disappearing game proposed in her short film Historia de la Historia (History of the History) (2018). The absence of women in the hegemonic narratives is not unnoticeable, but on the contrary, the omission is quite highlighted. This form of self-censorship allows the invisible to become visible. However, the short film is introduced by a L’origine du monde reinterpretation which contrasts with the inaction in Gustave Coubert´s famous picture. It is not only about claiming a place in that territory of images –where in general terms women have been subject to reification- but about taking active part in building History and image production processes, taking into account that the current History is made up as the audiovisual remnant in the world. Cayetana H. Cuyás brings back together different scopes: from interviews and forms of archive material, to performance and dance. She walks on the valued border between fiction and non-fiction when she interlaces the patriarchal History´s narrative with the Monalisa´s alternative version. This gesture of historiographic justice takes place after assuming that those images authenticated in the light of such a unilateral History are not an exclusive part of our memory, but there are other imageries out of this visual canon.
The Greek Philosopher Agamben defined contemporary people as critical thinking individuals “able to see, not only the lights of their times, but also its darkness” (Agamben, 2008). La Historia de la Historia (History About History) could be expressed as the critical ability to perceive the light of the History´s negative that “shines from the darkness”.
David´s Pantaleón´s video installation Nacionalismo (2017-2018) also explores the different possibilities of archive materials, but from a different approach. The practice of archives appropriation known as found footage would take us back to Duchamp´s gesture of reusing found objects to decontextualize them and change their meanings. Thus, the video archive acquires a performative as well as symbolic category. This has enabled the use of archive material from the Blaauboer-Rodríguez Castillo and Filmoteca Canaria´s collections, together with another kind of archives not strictly audiovisual. Nacionalismo is therefore a work that speaks about the world through cultural icons and metaphors and that tries visual elements used by cinematography to create our symbolic imagery. This formal proposal connects at the same time with the conceptual proposal of the installation if we consider that the idea of nationalism –emerged in the 19th Century as a mechanism of subjugation- is founded precisely on the symbolic idea itself. In an attempt to show this distortion, cinematographic experiments, such as cinetracts, developed in 1968 by a group of French intellectuals, including Guy Debord, Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard, mocked the nationalists power logics by using archive images. David Pantaleón has this precedent in mind when he approaches the symbolism of territoriality with concepts such as island, isolation, periphery and nationalism on the basis of humour and incitement. As if it was warning us about what is hiding from our vision, Nacionalismo also encourages us to research the conflict that arises from the idea of tradition, including its conservative implication which is kept in the memory chest of Europe´s darkest conflicts and seems as if now it has been released.
Although Michael Foucault had already warned us about the colonisation of our bodies by a new sophisticated way of power – Biopower (Foucault, 1984), the current consumption of images -starting with publicity images, videoclips and the pornography industry- is controlling nowadays the biopolitical establishment of sexuality and different ways of desire. This sexual establishment, far from being founded on the grounds of Christian submission to taboos and guilt, lies in the basis of an apparently free and visually explicit public sexuality.
Tempting us to reflect on this hegemonic vouyerism and continuing with I Don´t Mind (original title in English), from Yapci Ramos´ work I Don´t Mind II (idem) (2017-2018), it gives back privacy to the desire. The explicit image is omitted as it was showing a kind of blindness that allows rehabilitating our phantasy. Instead, a series of portraits draw the extradiegetic sounds of pleasure that are being experimented by a group of people, specifically selected to represent diversity -in terms of social class, genre, age and sexual orientation- with a view to demonstrate the social impact and global effect of certain social rules. The word phantasia stems from Phantasos, Dream´s son or servant, who was in charge of creating visions or images while being asleep. If we apply this reference, phantasy and imagination have the same faculty that enables us to create images. By detaching sexuality from the current visual regime, we could be open to other subjective visions and expand our private space.
Precisely in a private space, the images from Gabriel Hernández´s work Parts of Some Quintet (2017-2018) are shown. The artist invites us to go blind in the exhibition room, while an off-screen voice prompts the optical and acoustic signs of each of those “images-movements” (Deleuze, 1983).
The personal geography of “N” and “L” -both main character and anonymous spectators in this work- connects with the public position to create, as an allotopy, a different site: our imagination. During the 60s, Robert Smithson plays the opposites “site” and “non-site” with a view to show place duality and images´ metaphoric and symbolic implications used to represent them. His contemporary, Yvonne Rainer, wrote in 1965 her famous No Manifesto, in reference to her work Parts of Some Sextets. A claim to censor the excess of representation while aiming to expand the spontaneous and undetermined movements in its choreographies. Thus, making certain invisible gestures would allow opening an unlimited imaginary just as Lewis Carroll´s blank map was able to unfold an infinite world. Gabriel Hernández challenges us to something very similar: to “watch” his video with the eyes that “see” symbolic images –the same Florentine masters´ eyes that invented their idyllic heavens-, away from the world of visible things and evoking, as blind emancipated spectators, the light that our own imagination projects.