IV - Decoding process
How are symbolic images, as perpetuated through myths, interfering with our reading of reality? And how are these myths changing along with the radical changes introduced by the industrial revolution? Can reality be understood as an independent entity, or isn’t its reading already shaping what happens next?
As different scholars (Schiller, Lefebvre and Federici, among others) have pointed out, the current understanding of reality emerged from a disenchantment with the pre-existing way of reading, first of all, of space. Indeed, a reading of space as a surface—interchangeable, little characterized by specific traits—is the premise that has allowed the process of massive colonization of land as we can witness today to be conceived. In my readings of Cristina Campo I have been haunted by a statement in which she describes writing: "It is or it would like to be from one end to the other a small attempt of dissidence from the play of the forces, 'a profession of disbelief in the almightiness of the visible.'"1 There is no other way of relating to one's own veils if not through an attitude of disbelief which, far from seeking to gain an objective view—one that would claim absolute truth—wishes to keep instead a disposition of openness. Cristina, or better Vittoria,2 wrote about fairy tales and religion, about the possibility of language to open up a different way of perceiving the given reality. I consider mythological images, fairy tales and religious symbols as deeply interconnected, as different aspects of the same substance that bring about a way of looking originating from a process of decoding—although often misunderstood, or misinterpreted. But is there a 'correct' interpretation? Perhaps the answer is no, as symbolic images cannot but talk to the individual personally, even when they address social groups. And when, suddenly, an image comes into contact with lived experience it is as if an interruption takes place: reality is on hold for a second, while the new reading overlaps and interferes with it, before it normalizes again.
With the intention of finding a correspondence between ancient myths and symbols and contaminated spaces, this project unfolds through its own decoding process to develop into a participatory ritual to be held in Latvia. The aim of this process is to elaborate a set of instructions to be given to the participants, inviting them to enter the ritual through assonances or dissonances, by following specific rules and/or breaking them: to enter a space where the myth can be lived. My practice uses a re-interpretation of rituals as a means to reach a form of embodied knowledge through the enactment of symbolic images. A ritual is a performed act: the word 'ritual' is deemed to originate from the Sanskrit Rta: Order, rule, with the meaning of aligning one's actions to the structure of the cosmos. Similarly, the Chinese word for rite/ritual: li "means primarily to behave according to the unification between the cosmos (heaven) and the social/moral (human) via bodily gesture and technical means. Li is sometimes compared with fa (law) in its normalising role" (Hui, 2021).
Contemporary artists have been using rituals to address environmental-related issues, and bring a different understanding of them through mythological images and ancient traditions. For example, the video installation Karikpo Pipeline (2015) by artist Zina Saro-Wiwa uses traditions from local folklore to perform a dance on old oil pipelines in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta. I am particularly fascinated by how this artwork can build a connection between ancient traditions and the reading of a modern infrastructure apt at conveying energy. Patty Chang’s project The Wandering Lake (2009-2017) is a personal, associative, narrative meditation on mourning, caregiving, geopolitics and landscape. Chang has looked at water resources as a political and poetical infrastructure, inspired by colonial explorer Sven Hedin’s book Wandering Lake, in which he attempts to map the location of a migrating body of water in the Chinese desert. The lake has now disappeared. Artist Lee Mingwei has worked on rituals, in particular rituals of giving and receiving. In The Moving Garden (2009-) Lee invites visitors to take flowers, with the instruction of bringing them out of the museum and giving them to a stranger. In Sonic Blossom (2013-) the spectators of the exhibition receive the gift of a song. These works are just a few examples of how contemporary artists are re-visiting rituals, symbols and traditions for the creation of a different social narrative, to avoid what Hui has described as the future of human technology: an apocalypse without revelation. Through my artistic process I aim to go in the same direction, re-imagining a ritual that could speak to a collective consciousness through the means of an ancient mythological image.