FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (that’s where she takes me)

 

Without an eternity, without a sensitive, secret mirror of what passes through every soul, universal history is lost time, and along with it our personal history - which rather uncomfortably makes ghosts of us.[1]

Jorge Luis Borges, A History of Eternity, 1936

 

The eternity – as the Argentine master of labyrinths and mirrors, Jorge Luis Borges explains to us – is the model and archetype of time. It is a game or a spent hope, the writer argues in his non-fiction A History of Eternity, while deconstructing Plato’s time as a moving image of eternity and unfolding Plotinus’s understanding of eternity as a world of universal forms. For Borges, nostalgia is a model of unanimous eternity: ‘The exile who with melting heart remembers his expectations of happiness sees them sub specie aeternitatis [under the aspect of eternity], completely forgetting that the achievement of one of them would exclude or postpone all the others. In passion, memory inclines towards the intemporal. We gather up all the delights of a given past in a single image; the diversely red sunsets I watch every evening will in memory be a single sunset. The same is true of foresight: nothing prevents the most incompatible hopes from peacefully coexisting. To put it differently: eternity is the style of desire. (The particular enjoyment that enumeration yields may plausibly reside in its insinuation of the eternal - the immediata et lucida fruitio rerum infinitarum.)’[2] According to Susan Stewart, the author of On Longing,[3] The location of desire, or, more particularly, the direction of force in the desiring narrative, is always a future-past, a deferment of experience in the direction of origin and thus eschaton, the point where narrative begins\ends, with engendering and transcending the relation between materiality and meaning.

On the other hand, metaphysical thinkers emphasize the continuity of an experience and an eternity’s conception as the simultaneity of the three tenses: past, present and future. ‘The past is present in its present, and the future as well. Nothing comes to pass in this world, but all things endure forever, steadfast in the happiness of their condition’, Borges explains, recalling St. Augustine’s formula in which the elements of past and future exist in every present. To illustrate this case, he cites a process of reciting a poem, a metaphor of the intimate intertwining of the various tenses: ‘Before beginning, the poem exists in my expectation; when I have just finished, in my memory; but as I am reciting it, it is extended in my memory, on account of what I have already said; and in my expectation, on account of what I have yet to say. What takes place with the entirety of the poem takes place also in each verse and each syllable. This also holds true of the larger action of which the poem is part, and of the individual destiny of a man, which is composed of a series of actions, and of humanity, which is a series of individual destinies.’[4]

 

Thus eternity – ‘a daughter of mankind’ - comes into being as sequences of moments and a succession of action of which memory and history, universal and private, collide and constitute a collective language; from Plato and Plotinus, through metaphysical thinkers and St. Augustine down to Jorge Luis Borges and Giorgio Moroder, eternity unfolds as a post-utopian field of unconditional identity.

 

Val Gardena, its breathtaking nature, rich cultural landscape, unique local art tradition, the dramatic history of its region and contemporary social fabric, serve as a backdrop for a mise en scène of the narratives of longing performed by the artists invited to the 5th Biennale Gherdëina. Transcending the notion of here, while outlining a path towards there – a spatio-temporal phantasm of coexistence and endurance – the artists challenge the solidity of (local) tradition and (regional) identity. 

 

The exhibition, entitled FROM HERE TO ETERNITY maps a hybridity of the vernacular (the common, the ordinary, but also the domestic and the native) in its passage towards an expanded field where phenomena and issues, once familiar and tamed, change their meaning and reveal a complexity beyond any particular belonging or social, geopolitical, historical or cultural template. Often associated with a certain sense of timelessness’, and emotionally connoted by the notion of place and home (known as Heimat in German), the ‘vernacular’ originally derives from the Latin verna, which, as opposed to those acquired on the market, referred to slaves born as children of slaves into the household of their owner. More generally, the term meant things naturally belonging to or pertaining to the domestic sphere, as opposed to matters of state, the res publica. From this time onward, the term ‘vernacular’ expressed tension between the closed domestic sphere and the public sphere. Vernacular referred to the endemic, signifying characteristics of belonging to a specific region, of ethnic qualities, of a disease restricted to, or of a language spoken in, an area with discernible borders. To ‘vernacularize’ used to be a verb for adopting to or making someone adapt to the specificity of a region, to make a person feel at home.[5]

 

While affirming local particularity, the artists at the 5th Biennale Gherdëina are actively deconstructing the vocabulary of the vernacular by registering a necessary shift in its understanding, aiming – with critical distance and defetishisizing intention – at establishing a new socio-politically and culturally updated relationship with site and place of origin. The exhibition, conceived as a conversation between diverse artistic positions that engage materials, economies, formal languages and references, reconsiders the vernacular as an invaluable source that undergoes a process of a radical transformation during which histories, traditions and legacies are set in flux and moderated. Here, the vital forms of both an attachment and escape are at stake as active agents of a new identity formation; here, conceptual geometry, mythological and historical ritual, tradition and illusion, self-reflexive craft and material/formal sensuality conspire with equilibrium of matter, perceptive magic, the corporeal and the alchemic minimal to map a trajectory From Here to Eternity.

 

As such, the exhibition FROM HERE TO ETERNITY undertakes the act of ‘undoing’ the vernacular by investigating the possibility of alchemy in today's world of received ideas and predefined canons; it opens up a polyphonic and non-generic space, where stories and matters collide and dialogue with each other in a vertigo of resilience and productivity; last but not least, it identifies ‘here’ as the fertile ground of an unbound creativity, a zone of potentiality set up for an adventurous journey towards a (kind of) futuristic, imaginary ‘eternity’, a presumably safe, heterotopic place where thoughts generously unfold beyond their local constraints and limits. 

 

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is primarily an exhibition on longing and displacement, an imaginary journey. The artworks (mainly sculptures, but also installations, objects, drawings, performances and videos), elegantly distributed within a public space, the pedestrian zone, in the picturesque town of Ortisei (as well as in the Church of Sant Antonio and the Circolo Artistico) were, to a large extent, conceived especially for the Biennale and predominantly executed in wood, a cherished material locally, in a collaboration with the local artisans and in the workshops of woodcarvers. Beyond utopia and towards phantasmagoric eternity, the exhibition’s narratives unfold as tenderly as St. Augustine’s recited poem, all in all an embracement of tenses and destinies. Here, the act of thinking and the act of making, thought and process, before, now and after – a simultaneity that constitutes eternity – manifest themselves through the nostalgic lure of here and the abstract and seductive there, the eternal…

 

Adrian Paci subverts the notion of homecoming and transforms (cultural) identities in his oeuvre, focused on placelessness, while Christian Kosmas Mayer touches upon the rhetoric of failure by exhuming history as a hopeless ruin, a relic like a desperate protagonist on the abandoned stage of post-history. Katinka Bock expresses a post-romantic desire for longing; hers is yet another homecoming. archaic, primal, a return of relics. Szymon Kobylarz articulates a utopian quest to conquer both science and nature; his praise of crafts and human labour – also a homage to science and knowledge – is an accurate testimony of today’s world, on the edge of natural and technological disaster. The poetic and minimal work of Xavier Veilhan pays yet another tribute to history and nature, to time passing and humankind’s will to conquer it. In performative gestures that reenact history, Franz Kapfer makes a symbolic leap over geographies and sociopolitical references. Fernando Sanchez Castillo demystifies history and tradition in a masquerade of collective memory, while Marzia Magliora touches upon a regional history of toys and performatively dramatizes the geopolitical divide. Anna Hulačová’s art is a critical revision of a folklore and (any) local tradition. Her work, immersed in the phantasmagoric, maps a pre-cultural moment of identity formation. Michele Bernardi’s are poetic translations of longing and remembrance, his elemental forms and skeletons of objects echoing nature in an attempt to capture the ephemerality of experience. Nicola Samorì’s paintings and sculptures are celebrations of history’s (as well as religion’s) dominance over humankind’s collective consciousness and imagination; his work offers a fascinating journey through the labyrinths of a ‘vernacular state of mind’.

Adam Budak, curator

 

Nocturnal the river of hours flows

from its course, the eternal tomorrow

Miguel de Unamuno

 

[1] Borges, Jorge Luis, ‘A History of Eternity’, in Borges, Jorge Luis, The Total Library. Non-Fiction 1922-1986, Penguin Classics, London 2000.

[2] Borges, op. cit. p. 136.

[3] Stewart Susan, On Longing, Duke University Press, Durham NC 1993.

[4] Borges, op. cit. p. 136.

[5] Umbach, Maiken and Hüppauf, Bernd (eds), Vernacular Modernism. Heimat, Globalisation and the Built Environment, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA 2005, p. 9.