“Power & Ancestors” Group Exhibition : Papa Adama (BF), Ron Amir (IL-NL), Margo van Berkum (NL), Rotem Bides (IL), Enrique Collar (PY), Arturo Desimone (AW-AR), Tamar Rozenblat Goiati (NL), Marion Inglessi (GR), Nour-Eddine Jarram (MA-NL), Steven Jouwersma (NL), Terrence Musekiwa (ZW), Xavier Robles de Medina (SR) 03.03 – 07.04.2018December 28, 2017 8:56 pm
Power and Ancestors was a theme we arrived upon the way a raft riding waves ends up on the shore of a peninsular coast, covered in talismans and starfish. The small wave that transported us there, started with a conversation on the subject of the Voudou, the Afro-Caribbean religion of animism; and about what happens if we attempt to contrast the role of art-works in traditional societies once devoted to animism and ancestor-worship, with the role of art (or the absence thereof) in contemporary, pragmatic and individualist societies. An artist from Burkina Faso had convinced me that the first artist was an animist. I added to his radical statement (radical, after all, means ‘’to get at the roots of things’’, Latin radix) that the first philosopher was a smasher of idols, a disbeliever. An exploration of animism and art was not necessarily specific to Haiti or to Africa: for example, writer Franz Kafka expressed his fascination with it in a defense of idolatry in one of his deathbed aphorisms.
Contemporary society only mass-produces images in order to deprive them of animist power: a vulgar fulfillment of Walter Benjamin’s prophetic discourses on the ‘’aura’’ of the artwork in the age of mechanical reproduction (which today has become digital, tele-communicative and virtual, ethereal reproduction.) Can the artists steal back the imbued power of the image or object in a talisman? Can the poets steal back the gravity of the word? Some of them try to restore fire to image and text in this time of unlimited opinion-making and phone-text graphomania. The images expand in this realm of the instant and in the space at hand, broadening and diluting the tensions of meaning, almost as an act of contempt towards the more vertical continuity of images in time: at the expense of memory and the history of images passed on to us.
Anthropologist and co-curator Sebastian Rypson who directs the WM Gallery in Amsterdam pointed out that animism, being a cosmology, seemed far too broad: a line, a vein in that cosmology needed be isolated and taken down into a walled and glassed exhibit.
What may be unknown to most who are vaguely familiar with the term ‘’animism’’ is its direct relation to the animist’s reverence, as well as a dread of the power of ancestors.
In that sense, animism does not as quickly conflict with the acknowledgement of evolutionary theory (though, ironically, animistic traditional cultures were the first victims of European colonialism’s usage of terms borrowed from Darwinist theories of the 19th century. And, animist traditions within Europe were partly effaced by policies of modernization that glorified scientific revolution.)
Both natural objects and artistic creations can interact with forces that remain still beyond the grasp of scientific examiners or of decorators. In many third world societies that still thrive (culturally and socially) today, interactions with the dead and the invisible are regarded as everyday fare.
”What roles do The Ancestors play in our lives? Is the artist free, as in immune, from their influence rippling across the tidal pool of generations?” In most Western post-modern societies, it has become almost unthinkable for two generations to cohabitate under a single ceiling. This Tupperware tidying and separation of generations/bloodlines—advanci
As generations drift apart, turning irreconcilable, the old have no access to interlocutors among the young who can explain a rapidly- changing and newer, frightening world to them. (Interloqui, Latin ”to speak between”) The young and old do not exchange narratives: this mutual starvation results in the instability and hysteria of both youths and geriatrics, who end up lacking the sense of moral chiaroscuro and proportion which a writer like Czech Milan Kundera insisted was the basis for having a sense of humor : the ability to discern what is important from what is unimportant for Kundera constitutes the starting point of the ‘’sense of humor’’, a 6th sense among those distinguishing us from the majority of animals.
Left to their own devices, to their nurses and Big Pharma by their offspring, the old instead are fighting it out in the ballot-boxes that determine frightening developments in politics in, for example the EU, political elections and newspaper opinion columns (all, admittedly, more politicized versions of bingo and tele-bingo). Meanwhile the younger generations have scarce access to the memory and oral history of generational continuity—and, therefore, less of an encounter with such epic yarns and with the visual, tactile and other rich sensory memory of the phantoms of the past: contact with the deceased (rather than the merely aged) ancestors. New languages and codifications have emerged between generations, clubs and other fault-lines, dividing evermore sharply than before. Who will be the interlocutors if we cannot find them among those living and dying?
Do the dead bear a grudge for being forgotten? Is there a language to communicate with the dead in a world where even the living do not speak but rather text with thumb-scroll? This exhibition surpasses implacable clichés like the Ouija board hype of the 19th century.
The tendency of a somnambulant museum tourist to wave a (phone-) camera, substitute for a wand, on all exhibits in a foreign museum belies a deep mistrust of human memory. A void-chasm in memory and historical consciousness among today’s tech-savvy radicals leads, deceptively, to veiled conservatism and a snide-ness among those drinkers of iced Frappaccino. Leaps backwards and repetitions of what was not even novelty a century ago are represented, sold and bought as ‘’making it new’’ or as radical vanguard-ism. Is progress at all possible in an ex-nihilo vacuum of historical and ancestral consciousness about preceding struggles?
A radical leap is necessary. We hold that the animistic approach, a return to examples and objects relating to ‘’ancestor worship’’, to be that radical jump. Back is forwards. Through this aesthetic junction breakdown, we begin chiseling at the very foundations of the tight-knit oppression and codified, well-fed but oblivious and tight-assed misery of scientific, consumerist and management technocracy. We arrive back at the essentials and how we met each other in the long dark Neolithic night.
The artist can find a way to approach mystery and memory in a time of public amnesia and the aversion of any confrontation with mortality. The hands of ancestors do play a role in our daily and nocturnal existence—guiding, protecting or tormenting.
Some of the artists descend from immigrants and refugees and ow