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Interview

Remedios: Where new land might grow

The exhibition Remedios: Where new land might grow - organised and presented by TBA21  at the Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía (C3A) in Córdoba, Spain - brings together contributions from over forty artists with Amazonian, Pacific, Indigenous American, Afro-diasporic, and European perspectives: inviting the public to engage with art for solace, respite, and replenishment. These works echo the curative paths of healers and elders who have politically, culturally, and spiritually guided communities through the remembrance of past wrongs toward reconciliation and the celebration of renewed worlding. Madeleine Bazil, editor of the Rhizome, caught up with exhibition curator Daniela Zyman to talk about Remedios and about the complicated capacity of art to address social and ecological issues.

Abramovic, Ecstasy II, 2012.

Madeleine Bazil: Could you give our readers a little background about Remedios - Where new land might grow? What was the genesis of the exhibition, and how were the selected artists and works chosen? What did the curatorial process look like?

Daniela Zyman: The exhibition trilogy in Córdoba offers an opportunity to look into the future by (also) looking back. For a collection of contemporary art, this is a very valuable exercise of diachronic inquiry, which retraces the past [movements] and interests that have led to particular projects, commissions, and acquisitions. Rather than situating “older” works in their historical moment, it places those which have been with the collection for some time into a new light by drawing out new meanings and contexts.

The interest in healing is connected to a number of key projects, some of which are included in the Córdoba show. For instance, I have had a very long and fruitful conversation with Indigenous American artist Brad Kahlhamer, ever since Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza acquired his first works at Deitch project in 2006. In our exchanges, Brad and I were particularly looking at how tradition can be construed as an alternative reality system that can be accessed obliquely or in Brad’s words “delinquently”. How it is a constant work-in-progress, written and re-written at the same time for the purpose of discerning value and meaning in texts, rituals, and stories – in them, behind and beyond them, as potential revelatory spaces for the contemporary moment.

Another long trajectory links my thinking with Ernesto Neto and the Ameridian Huni Kuin nation. For the Huni Kuin, as for other shamanic nations, healing is the central figuration and ritual practice in their collective lives. I am unable to translate their notion of healing. It is a multi-dimensional concept that has to do with the cleansing and equilibration of the collective space of (more-than-human) being; the realignment on the ancestral plane; and the activation of the wisdom and energies of plants. “Cura” (as they call it) has nothing to do with the individual, even though the “work” must be performed by each individual.

I have started working in the context of Remedios with Courtney Desiree Morris, a Yoruba initiate. I understand very little of this universe. What has inspired me – personally, but in view of the work we are doing for Remedios – is the notion of “being of service to,” and the proximity of the act of worship to labour; in Courtney’s case, female work more specifically.

Last but not least, I have been following carefully the more recent developments around the question of reparations and repair – through Kader Attia’s work, critical race theory, and issues of restitution. So, the question that runs through a number of works selected for Córdoba follows [the work of theorist] Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, who considers repair as enabling those who claim reparation to shape the world in their eyes. It is a form of intervention, aiming to restore the conditions in which both the individual and his/her world can regain their presence, but not as they once were, trying to go back in time, but in the restoration of the possibilities that were denied to them and that are essential for the continuation of their world-making practices. Braiding these trajectories together, reading them against each other, and beyond, has led the selection process.

Neshat, Untitled, 1999.

Woodman, MyHouse, 2009.

AM Gordo, Quien es el, 2014.

Madeleine: Regarding art’s capacity to participate in conversations around healing and transformation, you’ve suggested that we ought to consider such healing as a “communal and coalition project’ rather than something individualistic or personal, and to address root causes rather than symptoms of societal malaise. And it's clear that social and environmental issues are inextricable from one another. I’d love to hear specifically about some of the work in this exhibition and how it engages with these interconnected notions.

Daniela: Indeed, I am very, very worried that healing is only understood as a technology of the self, a self-curing and a relentless occupation with one’s own well-being. By no means do I question the need to heal injury, pain, discomfort, and being in good “health” – and again I don’t mean any normative definition of health. To the contrary, there is probably nothing more challenging to [a] “good life” as to accept and live well with physical and/or psychological distress and/or infirmity. This is not what I mean and not what Remedios is trying to address.

Through Remedios, I am examining the objects, rituals, places, stories, shapes, and movements that have been devised by artists to channel, capture, engage, tap, and visualize reparative, curative, restorative, transformative, palliative, and affective infrastructures that affect spiritual, corporeal, intelligible, and ecological worlds. It is important to note that in many cases the ecological is not understood as a separate domain, as in gardening or pastoral restoration or conservation projects. The ecological is inseparably woven into these “infrastructures.” Artists included in the show, like Ernesto Neto, Huni Kuin, Courtney Morris or Daniel Otero, all exemplify this idea.

Lockhart, Five Dances, Neugerriem Schneider, 2011.

Bengolea, Lightning Dance, 2018.

Morris, Sopera DeYemaya, MNTB Madrid, 2020.

Madeleine: The exhibition text notes that art has a unique aptitude to hold “contradictions and conflicts." How do you feel the artists and works featured in Remedios embody or inhabit this nuance, and to what effect?

Daniela: Well noted, thank you. I am particularly struggling with the fact that many reparative “tools” – well, tools in general – easily get corrupted, or as I would call it, broken. We cannot be overconfident with the notions of repair, reparation, or healing in view of the neoliberal extractivism and the politics of denial practiced in their name. To repair — past wrongs for instance — often means some sort of inclusion in a normative category for peoples who have suffered great injustice. Or reparation (as part of a state’s responsibility) takes the shape of developmental aid to avoid the acceptance of incommensurable violence, perpetuated in the past. Restitutions, as practiced by many museums, get caught up in endless administrative processes or metaphorical gestures. This is one of contradictions and ambivalences I am talking about.

Many artists in the show originate from places or communities that have experienced and keep experiencing violence. This is perhaps one of the reasons they don’t speak easily of repair, but understand the burden and weight of reparation and its stakes. We can do a similar analysis for concepts/practices such as commoning, care, storytelling, or imagination. These terms are full of ambivalences, conflicts, and contradiction and have been broken by neoliberal extractivism. Artists must hold them in tension, and this is not easy, nor evident.

Kahlhamer, Bowery Nation, Nelson Atkins Museum, 2013.

Kahlhamer, Bowery Nation.

Weber, Public Fountain, MAM Tokyo, 2009.

Madeleine: What do you see as the role of the artist in the Anthropocene?

Daniela: Artistic contributions are invaluable in the effort to reclaim and meaningfully repopulate the imaginary, inventing and fabricating infrastructures through which to make livable the inequality, violence, and ordinary contingency of contemporary existence in the face of the breakdown of distributive politics, social relations, systems of care and solidarity, and ecological integrity. I am [defining] infrastructure following the late Lauren Berlant as “that which binds us to the world.”

The Anthropocene is, in my eyes, deeply inhumane. Its main metaphor is precisely the breakdown or failure, be it climate, ecological, political, and technological. It means that humans can no longer control, nor imagine, the world “we” live in, nor its future. The gift of the current moment is that artists, thinkers, writers can do the work of imagination in prophetic solidarity. However, a very precise, alert, and rebellious intellectual, affective and aesthetic work is needed in order not to be oblivious to the roots of the inhumanness to which the agents of the Anthropocene are reducing the world, and the risks and troubles of convening conjointly a livable world.

Chaile Malinche, 2019.

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