Sonia Fernández Pan
This text accompanies the exhibition Abrir la boca bien grande, cerrar el puño bien fuerte, which took place from 13th of May to 15th of July, 2023 at Arranz Bravo Foundation (L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain).
The scene occurs repeatedly: when I open my bedroom window, there is a bag nestling in the branches of the tree across the street. I become instantly fond of it, hoping that the wind that brought it here will take time in wafting it away again. Knowing that this is not possible, I take a photo of it, recording the fragility of the moment. In the world of things, the ground is a latent threat. Falling turns things into debris. Indoors, they break, losing the utility of their form. In the street, any undesired descent dirties them. Our clumsiness turns them into trash, often unfairly. The bag hesitates, as if it wanted to simultaneously stay and go. This hesitation is not even its own. It is buffeted by the wind, which makes things move and change place or shape. It is also battered by my animistic projections, as I strive to see in a plastic bag hanging from a tree the epic of an uncertain life that refuses to die. The next day, the bag is gone. It has gone and, with it, the insistence of an undecided form.
My love for plastic bags that drift around our cities may be inspired by a scene from a film I saw many years ago. In it, two teenagers watch a video of a bag that dances in front of a building, propelled by the wind like a great petal among the autumn leaves on the asphalt. In a dialogue I could not remember, the boy tells the girl in an affected voice that there is life beneath things and that there is no reason to be afraid. One scene leads me to another. This time the protagonist is me, as a young girl, sitting on a street curb, silently struggling with language to find words to describe a revelation that much later would become an ingrained philosophy: that, despite their differences, nature and culture are part of the same thing. Although we tend to get along together well, I must admit that I still have to fight with language to give form to many impressions concerned with joining that which words separate or giving a stable form to something that does not have one. And I don’t know whether the solution entails creating new languages or testing different combinations of their meanings. It may be that these two aspirations are saying the same thing and that their nuances are a way of complicating things unnecessarily. Countering the vertigo caused by language’s ability to divert us from its safe meanings is, ironically, another talent that words possess. Falling and avoiding a fall occur simultaneously.
Plastic bags are not the only objects that drift aimlessly around this city, insisting on a life stolen away by an imperative of functionality that is more ours than theirs. For a moment I imagine an insurrection of things, although without really thinking deeply about what it would be like. Interrupting stories just as they are about to begin is a way of not having to be responsible for them. Letting something drop is also saying something without saying it quite all. The story changes, as when we want to stay in one dream but start another. This time the plastic bag does not fall to the ground, but rises upwards, following a trajectory in which it becomes lost to our gaze, passing near a flock of birds that engulf it in the strategy of their elastic formation. I wonder how the birds decide the forms they will create in flight and whether they are also aware of how humans observe them close-up, using an array of visual devices to reduce distances. And I also wonder whether the desire to know something is reason enough to fulfil this or any similar wish. There is something disturbing about the widespread belief that we have the right to know everything: an ineluctable invasion –one that is also questionable– of an other’s space.
In our relationship with objects, the feeling of possession predominates over the sense of physical experience. Objects become ours when we possess them, when we can use them at any time. Ironically, possessing an object is also the most effective way to forget it. Oblivion is another place that things easily fall into. In our personal relationship with our environment, the sense of possessing is weakened. Despite the many devices –from the most mundane to the most extraordinary– that we use every day to relate to it, or the indiscriminate use of the word “resource”, there is still something slippery in the environment, like a liquid that overflows its recipient time and again, or an idea that cannot be accommodated by language. Environment is more verb than noun. It is still a place inhabited by uncontrollable forms and elements. That we possess names and concepts to refer to them does not mean that we can capture them with language. I think of clouds, which can hide from us in just a few seconds after capturing our attention, disappearing into water vapour. I also think of the wind, which in its constant flight affects all surfaces. And how both, water and wind, need other bodies to manifest themselves in the environment, denying any ideal of autonomy.
When I was a little girl someone told me that nature does not exist, that it is an invention of the city. Perhaps this conversation never happened, or maybe the idea was different, because the memory also has its control mechanisms to shape the past according to the interests of the changing present, or even the future. What remains is my feeling of searching for nature but being trapped in the land- scape, in an experience that is more visual than anything else. Remaining within the frame of observation that I myself reproduce. Although the images may flicker, the eyes do not cease to function just because you close them. It seems that absolute darkness scares us so much, not because of what we are afraid might happen to us in it, but because we lose our definition of our own body. We lose control of an “us” as regards space. Being in absolute darkness integrates us into the landscape, and also into the environment. We open our eyes but they insist on remaining closed.
Not long ago I was the one who told someone that clouds do not exist, although I was not so sure of what I was saying. I meant, by this half-truth, that “clouds” is a name for a phenomenon and that clouds exist in general but not in particular. Nevertheless, they are part of our normal understanding of the sky, even though they often come down to earth, turning into fog and making water thick and light at the same time. And while it is impossible to catch a cloud in one’s hands, there are other ways of capturing them without weakening their friendly resistance to possession. Some classify clouds according to their shapes, in the illusion that it is possible to predict all their possibilities schematically, using symbols. Others claim that it is possible to digitise them, selling smoke with carbon dioxide. Yet others use them as an excuse to understand the landscape, evoking the echo of a form in different objects. I am simpler: I prefer to take photos of them before they disappear forever, often noting how the cloud that ends up in the image differs from the cloud we wanted to photograph. Personally, I am not really bothered if photographs deviate from reality or from our expectations of them. I even take pleasure in this lack of control over the representation of things so that their reality extends beyond our own. This links the impossibility of capturing the exact moment of a cloud with the impossibility of grasping it with our hands. I sometimes think that this recurring situation is a manoeuvre made by unstable forms so that we never tire of them. And so that the sense of experience –and also of desire– prevails over the sense of possessing.
Just a few hours before struggling with the wind, ending up being dragged along the ice, someone told me that their way of doing sculpture consisted in being positioned in a particular way. So, just as the art theories in the early-twentieth century focused on investigating how we tended to close or complete open forms, giving them a stability they do not have, I am still trying to find an argument that unites these two situations: pleasure –also fear– due to the momentary loss of control of my own body; and the adaptation of different objects towards a common goal. Although I saved myself from more than one fall during my trajectory in the wind, I remember that I did open my mouth and clench my fists, feeling how the tension in my body helped to keep me on my feet but without moving me forward. If my body were hollow and flexible, like a plastic bag, perhaps I would have ended up in the sea, filled with water after being engulfed by the wind. Due to increasing wind speed, I would end up in a relative impasse, stranded for two days in a lunar landscape of lava and snow. In exchange for not being able to wander safely, I discovered that walking in a straight line is not as reliable as it may seem and that there are places where it is not possible to distinguish between where a mountain begins and where the sky begins.
Sometimes I wonder what a relationship with the world would be like if it were not mediated by language. And not so much because I think that language limits or imposes possibilities, but because of my curiosity to look at something and not have a name for it. The fact that this unknown element is caused, inevitably, by language, complicates everything even more. At other times I merely fantasise about a more faithful translation of the process of thinking something, though I doubt that the experience of this entropy is as fascinating as its enunciation. The way language subjects us and allows us to fall in the process of saying something means that its intentions modify our own. And although I doubt that thinking from a form in free fall is possible, I do believe in accidents as part of meaning and in the transience of meanings. The fact that forms are less stable does not make them less forms or less meaningful.
1. Being aware how language limits and encloses reality, it has been decided not to title this text.