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by Raqs Media Collective

Sources, Itineraries, and the Making of a Thicket

An uncannily well thought out spontaneity of a remarkable pass in a soccer game.

 

The curving trajectory of the eccentric orbit of a digital object in a visualization of its movement.

 

The discovery of a text by a far-away author in an alien language written at another time as the key to the understanding of a reality close to home.

 

The well-timed spiral descent of an autumnal leaf from a branch in a tree.

The quickening of life inside the structure of a subterranean crystal.

 

I

It is said, that the destiny of soccer as a world sport changed in 1958, when crowds in Stockholm stood in their seats, mesmerized as they watched players with imperfect bodies from faraway Brazil introduce the spirit of “Ginga” into the state of play. Ginga is a kind of “trance-play,” a form of becoming with the ball, using much of the body, not just the feet, to wobble with the ball, to make the ball dribble, dance, and dodge.

It changed soccer from being merely a competitive procedure that some men from Europe undertook as they conquered the world’s arena into an ecstatic mode of liberating the playing field for different kinds of bodies and minds. Football was a nineteenth-century European import into Brazil, but the players of various descent in Brazil brought with them moves that sprang from a different history—from capoeira—a formerly prohibited dance and martial arts form that runaway slaves had evolved to defend themselves and to maintain bodies broken by slavery in a state of grace and dignity. The dance and defense of the fugitive slave was the source of “Ginga.”

Playing football became a way of practicing a forbidden art, and of reclaiming a lived and yet lost body. It evolved into ways of staying with the ball, being intimate with it, dancing with it, using it as a form of communication in an equatorial afternoon, in the village commons, or in the fallow ground between the bleak tower blocks of an immigrant neighborhood. The fact that women and girls, immigrants, prisoners, and rebels play soccer more than they play any other game owes a great deal to the transformation of the game with Ginga. It brought a different way of seeing bodies, weak bodies, amputated bodies, twisted bodies, even lame, could dance and bring a different kind of play into being. The “state of play” finds itself in a back alley in a favela, or a churchyard, or a random patch of arid, grassless ground between sugarcane fields.

It gives us many hours of magic in YouTube feeds, and it also gave us Marta Vieira da Silva, who was born in the sugarcane country around Dois Riachos only seven years after a total ban on girls playing soccer in Brazil was lifted. Marta, who was beaten by the boys in her village for playing football, fought back with the source that she had close at hand—capoeira. It gave her the Ginga she needed. In time, she became recognized as one of the greatest football players in the world.

 

II

In 2002, an installation (Co-Ordinates of Everyday Life) on the relationship between the commons of urban habitation in Delhi and legal measures to regulate space in the city was accompanied by a free software platform called “OPUS (Open Platform for Unlimited Signification).” Both of these marked one set of our entries into the arena of thinking about and with source.

OPUS, made with a single coder (Silvan Zurbruegg), worked towards a claim to the creation and sustenance of a potentially rich digital commons. Just as new migrants squatted empty space and created zones of habitation in Delhi, so too “OPUS” users could create, extend, and maintain a digital commons by uploading, downloading, sharing, and transforming content in different media. A “ball” of material could be “passed” and “wobbled” by different players in a never-ending session of digital Ginga.

Each act of transforming or tagging a Source file contributed to the creation of what the OPUS system, borrowing a term from philology, called Rescensions. Rescensions were non-rivalrous-iterations of clusters of signs, which were related to each other through the acknowledgement of ascent or descent from common sources. This software anticipated a design that embraced the potentially viral nature of the transmission of memes, facilitated by meta-tagging that mapped keyword matches. This allowed the system [1] to present, through drawn visualizations, the relationships between different objects. This used frequency distributions of words in the meta-tags, and thus creating a visual environment of the algorithmic aggregation of works. This anticipated social media proliferation that was to occur in half a decade after the launch of OPUS.

If anything, the operational protocols of OPUS demonstrated that a Source could never be viewed as mere resource. Sources do not simply lie inert like a seam of raw materials in the ground waiting to be mined and extracted. And now—more so—when we invoke Sources, it is with a further awareness of their already thickened life (with multiple protagonists having worked/lived through them), as well as of their potential efflorescence. A particular instance of a rescension does not preclude or exclude the existence of other instances—though it has to take into account that each time a source is pulled, it emerges from a chamber of resonating overtones. When a plurality of Rescensions derive themselves from more than one set of sources, the paths of their iterations collide and entangle with each other, creating thickets of meaning as they grow.

In time, even Rescensions become new Sources. When even one of these source-recensions miscegenate with another, they imbue Source-ness with multiplicity, producing invented and inventive fraternities and sororities of affiliation. The paths of different rescensions are inflected by their fealties and their magnetic attractions towards different sources and their emanations.

This leads to curving, eccentric orbits, as rescensions travel in the space between different acts of creation and transformation. The tracing of these curving paths leads to the marking of a whole new set of relationships between widely dispersed actions. These relationships are constantly on the move—one can speak of them having Itineraries. The source, when it unfurls a rescension, also reveals an itinerary. Itineraries circulate and transport memes, images, and ideas with great energy. An alertness and awareness grows that no particular source or rescension needs to dominate linked meanings, affect, or information as the Itineraries thicken.

And so let the thicket grow.

 

III

For the 11th Shanghai Biennale, we worked with two main Sources and anticipated curving paths and thicket of Itineraries.

Sources:

(A)

Jukti, Takko aar Gappo

Film, Bengali

Director: Ritwik Ghatak

1974

"Towards the end of Ritwik Ghatak’s 1974 film Jukti, Takko aar Gappo, the protagonist, who is also an alcoholic intellectual, falls in with a band of fugitive peasant and student rebels. To their proposals, and counter-proposals, their reasons and arguments, arguments and counter-arguments, the protagonist could only offer his stories, his reminders, his incandescent confusions. His eccentric presence becomes the wild card antidote to the certainties held out by both the hunter and the hunted. Taking off from where Ghatak leapt into the void of the unknown in his film, we see a role for art as embodying the glowing embers of doubt, and freedom towards the unknown in a world of weakening certainties. The creative, the speculative, the imaginary, is—for us—the entity that has the potential to introduce disquieting and angular values, concepts and dispositions that transform the mechanics and orbits of the dyad of politics and economics." [2]

 

(B)

The Three-Body Problem

Novel, science fiction, Chinese

Writer: Cixin Liu

2006 / Translated into English 2014 by Ken Liu

"We are drawn to the enormous energy in discussions around Cixin Liu’s visionary trilogy, The Three Body Problem. We think that it is no accident that an author who has a day job as an engineer in a power station in northern China should produce a novel (and a world) in which questions about ecology and survival should have a profound philosophical heft. In a post-script to his novel, Liu writes, “In this book, a man named ‘humanity’ confronts a disaster, and everything he demonstrates in the face of existence and annihilation has roots in the reality that I experienced [...] satellites, hunger, stats, kerosene lamps, the Milky Way, the Cultural Revolution’s factional civil wars, light years, the flood in my village—these seemingly unconnected things melded together and formed the early part of my life, and also molded the science fiction that I write today.” Liu continues, “I wrote about the worst of all possible universes in Three-Body Problem out of hope that we can strive for the best of all possible Earths.” His account of an alien civilization originating in a “tri-solarian world” (which has its echoes in the Chinese eschatological traditions of the “three suns”) challenging the basis of humanity’s future by way of a response to a call for help from a wounded planet is both imaginatively expansive as well as philosophically astute." [3]

Itineraries, we argued, were to be found in the exhibition through the Orbits we created to move with. We argued:

An orbit—the arc that loops into itself when an object obeys its attraction to another without crashing into it—is a dance actualized in space. Any two bodies will settle into a regular pattern of reciprocal attraction. Things get really interesting when a third body enters the picture. Now you have a whole new geometry of unpredictability—this is a three-body problem. Translate this into discourse, into thought, into the imagination. You could have argument and counter-argument changing their lock-stepped dance to the eccentric rhythm of a story. You could have a maneuver and a disputation change trajectory when complicated by a narrative. [4]

 

IV

“Every island assumes other islands,” writes Édouard Glissant.

From him, we learn that archipelagic thought makes it possible to say that every kind of stance about being someone or something can change through exchange and contact with others, and that this does not necessarily lead to a loss of self.

To Glissant, the slave leaves a shore as a slave, but returns as something else—a free entity. She returns multiplied. The unity of the enslaving wills gives way to the multiplicity of the liberating will. The being who was once a slave is a rescension of the being who was not yet a slave.

In this way, the itinerary of the former slave changes the source from which the slave arose. That orbit—which produced some of the greatest poetry and music in the world—shows how the future transforms the past.

What do we learn from Jorge Luis Borges, when he surmises: “Every writer creates his own predecessor”?

We learn the importance of the joy (and challenges) of choosing our ancestors, of discovering our sources, of inventing fraternities and sororities, as we journey through life. Not all of us come from any one place, or time.

This means embodying a way of looking at our sources in a way that challenges how the world was carved up, either by historical imperatives or by political fiat. It means reversing the usual ways in which space, time, origin, and other fixed categories dictate affinities.

It means that the lessons of free software from Delhi may actually be best learned through looking at the Brazilian women’s team football game.

It means that there are orbits waiting to be described between the habitation of urban land in one part of the world and the history of how former slaves liberated time and space in another part of the world by sustaining “railroads” and “routes” for fugitives.

A plurality of our sources, of seven billion people, could be discovered—some of these fictionally invented, and some activated as they lie hibernating, in wait. Just as the forest floor does not parcel out the benefits of its layers of compost according to the apoptosis of individual fallen autumnal leaves, so too, we recognize that the fertility of our time is not distributed in bins marked by date, territory, and theme.

We return to sources. To many sources. We find our way into and through subterranean crystal caves of structures of thought and practice with giant crystalline lattices that might contain the codes of lost and dormant forms of life. We find paths, itineraries, eschew themes and post-factum taxonomies. We find ways of gathering and being gathered that answer to the questions of a ball curved by Ginga. We render every move that would classify us by theme, or provenance, or telos inoperable, so that the sources may begin speaking.

We change the state of play.

 

Raqs Media Collective (Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi & Shuddhabrata Sengupta) follows its self-declared imperative of ‘kinetic contemplation’ to produce a trajectory that is restless in its forms and methods, yet concise with the infra procedures that it invents. The collective makes contemporary art, edits books, curates exhibitions, and stages situations. It has collaborated with architects, computer programmers, writers, curators, and theatre directors, and has made films. It co-founded Sarai—the inter-disciplinary and incubatory space at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi—in 2001, where it initiated processes that have left deep impact on contemporary culture in India.

Exhibitions curated by Raqs include ‘The Rest of Now’ (Manifesta 7, Bolzano, 2008), Sarai Reader 09 (Gurugram, 2012-13), INSERT2014 (New Delhi, 2014) and ‘Why Not Ask Again’ (Shanghai Biennale 2016–2017). Their work has been exhibited at Documenta, the Venice, Sao Paulo, Manifesta, Istanbul, Shanghai, Sydney and Taipei Biennales. Their prospective, ‘With an Untimely Calendar’ was held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, in 2014-2015. Other solo shows at museums include at the Isabella Gardner Museum (Boston 2012), CA2M (Madrid 2014), MUAC (Mexico City 2015), Tate Exchange (London 2016), Foundacion Proa (Buenos Aires 2015), Laumeier Sculpture Park (St Louis 2016), and the Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester 2017).

Notes
1
A system is a set of interacting or interdependent component parts forming a complex or intricate whole. Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning. (from Wikipedia entry on System, 12 May 2017)

2 From our Notes towards a Conversation in Making of a Biennale, November, 2015, private circulation with artists, curators, and other protagonists of the exhibition.

3 Ibid.

4 See, Eleven Notes for the Eleventh Shanghai Biennale, Raqs Media Collective, Blueprint, 11th Shanghai Biennale, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2016.

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Issue 35

Decolonizing Art Institutions

by Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv

Public Performance Detox Dance

by Dorothee Richter & Ronald Kolb

Editorial

by Shwetal A. Patel

Three Biennials in Asia (2016)

by Shwetal Patel and Shaheen Merali

On the critical decades and the role of archives

by Dorothee Richter

Learning from Dhaka

by Michelle Wong

Train to Biennale

by Binna Choi & Yolande van der Heide

Decolonizing Art Institutes from a Labor Point of View

by Sophie J Williamson

On Cultural Translation