Throughout the process of constructing the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, its curatorial team, participating artists and guest authors will send out letters with open dialogues that directly and indirectly reflect the development of the exhibition. The text below was written by the researcher and curator Ana Kiffer.
The imaginary architecture of Corte/Relação [Cut/Relation] — an exhibition of notebooks, letters, and handwritten texts by Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) and Édouard Glissant (1928-2011), which will be shown in Brazil for the first time this September at the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavillion in São Paulo as part of the 34th Bienal — began in 2018 while I was researching Glissant’s archives, which had recently arrived at the French National Library.
Everything happened in an intuitive and unpredictable way, very close to what Glissant himself called upon as the driving force of trembling thought. Or, as the Yoruba saying goes, Exu killed a bird Yesterday with the stone he threw Today. Looking through box number 72, amidst various loose papers and small daily diaries belonging to the author, I came across the Letter to Ella. In it, detailed over four pages, was a plan for a “Literary and Cultural Magazine,” entitled Baton Rouge, which intended to rethink relations between Europe, the Southern United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The letter outlined the first issue, stating that the opening text would be a particular new work by Antonin Artaud, the title of which was not given.
A few months later, I had still not found any other record of the magazine and eventually came to the conclusion that it had never existed. My first three months of daily work in the archives had come to a dead end. A year later, in a conversation with Jacopo Crivelli Visconti and Paulo Miyada, I presented the initial outline for this project, which is based, not without irony, on a series of successive errors, absences, accidents, and failures. The first absence from which I devised Corte/Relação was imagining the magazine that never existed. Next, I imagined the meeting that never took place between Artaud and Glissant. Finally, I got started imagining the archives and texts that would create, from the non-existence of both the magazine and the meeting, a possible hint of existence. A fabrication made with the remnants of what we consider to be non-existent; that is what defined Corte/Relação at that moment and guided which texts and handwritten notebooks were chosen.
Trembles, specters, ancestors, holes, failings, sketches, erasures, smudges, drawings of knives, nails, ink spots, pencil strokes, marker, pastel, gouache, notebooks, notes, lists, crooked lines: non-existences. These are the visual and poetic tools of gesture that sow the hands of Artaud and Glissant, writing by drawing and drawing by writing. Plowing the page as if it were also earth. It was the multiple vestiges of those hands that inhabited the construction of the imaginary space of Corte/Relação, creating a fold between the interior of the archives and the exterior of the words and material traces that are disseminated today over the corrupted soil of this Terra Brasilis.
It would make almost no sense to look at all these archive-bodies without asking ourselves where we are. Once again, Artaud and Glissant, with their high, dissonant voices, made of hidden shivers, would demand our questions. Piercing our passive habit of soothing the things we hear. That is how I heard them, in a kind of inaudible particle of sound that only spreads in ground that trembles, and they said to me: What do these non-existent archives tell us? What have we been continuously burying? What still terrifies us? What ground trembles beneath our feet? How do we land in the desolate world of here and now? How does a country that erases its archives tell its history?
Following this path, Corte/Relação unfolded in three seminal gestures: in one, the archives were seen and heard as archive-bodies – pregnant with what we bury — because, when we hide and silence our history, it is the bodies themselves that come to tell it to us. On the other hand, the fold between archives and bodies was thought of as a fold between interior and exterior and consequently, it traced multiple terrains that went from the Baton Rouge to Brazil-Europe, Martinique-France, Latin America, Améfrica Ladina and Africa, Africa-Brazil, and back again. This gesture sought an archipelago of resonances between Artaud and Glissant, but that also come from them and from what their texts evoked, materially and virtually. A powerful confrontation in the face of the past and present massacre of the native peoples and the black holocaust of slavery. A fold between what was and what still is.
Next, I had to fabricate this fictitious meeting between Artaud and Glissant. I imagined that the magazine’s opening text would be a preparatory version of the then-unpublished Paris-Warsaw that Artaud wrote in 1947. The date of the text gave me a few clues. As did conversations with other researchers of Artaud. But none of that was definite. And I may only have made this choice because I was imbued with the conferences on the Warsaw Ghetto that Georges Didi-Huberman was holding at that time. Or perhaps it was because the many hatreds that Artaud numbered in that text suggest our world’s current trembles and, at the same time, what Glissant had not thought about: hate. His standing invitation to construct a poetics-politics of relation was not, however, pacifying. And I had to think about that. Even more so in a country like Brazil, where relation has come to mean abuse and extremes, or a kind of world without conflict, a happy and pacified miscegenation.
It was necessary to note that, although the force of hatred does not erupt in his work, whether conceptual or visual — as we see in the successive strikes and cuts, holes and fire that populate and perforate Artaud’s letters and notebooks — the insurrection of the body, Relation, for Glissant, plays no part in imagining a world without conflict. On the contrary, it demands a total revision of the Western cut that coined the notion of an Other in order to separate, dominate, conquer, or exterminate it. The shift that makes Relation work is focused on the collapse of prescribed notions of the world of “me” against the unknown and despicable world of the “other”. Prioritizing Relation revokes that centrality from the Western Being.
A world only exists in relation, and that world continues to be our biggest challenge. Now more than ever, when the costs of continuous apartheids, walls, borders, and governing and control of recognized “mes” against so-called “others” shows its irreparable and terrible face, compromising without precedent the idea and survival of an All-World.
For of all this, too, the last and invisible gesture of Corte/Relação was placing these two authors, who never met, on their collision courses: colliding one with the other and them with us. Artaud left France in 1936, signing The Revealed One on the cover of the book he wrote shortly before his journey. He came in search of a very specific Mexico: that of the Tarahumara Indians, of the mountain of signs, of a civilization that, according to him, was more civilized than the idea of European culture could possibly imagine. Glissant left Martinique for France in 1946, two years before Artaud’s death, claiming to be the one who returns. The Returned One. After the abyss of the ocean, after the bodies that did not survive the slave trade, the forced voyage, or the boat that tore so many different people and cultures from a land, from a common ground, repeatedly, towards a destination of its own end, the returned one is he who descends, inevitably, from a survivor. From an ancestor who did not die in the multiple abysses: of slavery, the whip, torture, despair, abuse, and, before that, of the ocean itself and its crossing, of the same boat that he later took in the opposite direction. In one of his last texts, Artaud wrote of the unfathomable abyss of the face, the abyss-body, the abyss that still blows the wind from this side. Around these abysses of the infamous idea of humanity, the Revealed One meets the Returned.
In the case of Brazil, if we really take what these authors told us seriously, we will have to rewrite our entire history. Questioning from beginning to end the literate edifice we have cultivated as a deceptive common ground, which today trembles once again. The notebooks, like sketches and zones of transit between different regimes, even ones that non-linguistic ones (or populated by languages still unknown to our deaf ears), would bring us closer to what the ancestral materiality of peoples among us, separate from regimes of writing, did not fail to build and inscribe. Might this also be an opportunity for us to hear to the ghosts and specters that wander the archipelago of texts assembled in Corte/Relação? Desire, desire: fabrication, imagination, so I write to you, like one more letter, thrown into the ocean.