Eli Cortiñas

Eli Cortiñas

Eli Cortiñas is an artist of Cuban descent, born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria 1979. She was a guest professor at the Art Academy Kassel, the Art Academy Mainz and is currently sharing a professorship with Prof. Candice Breitz at the University of Art Braunschweig. Cortiñas has been awarded numerous grants and residencies, including Fundación Botín Grant, Kunstfonds, Villa Massimo, Berlin Senate Film/ Video Grant, Villa Sträuli, Goethe Institute, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Rupert and Karl-Schmidt-Rottluff et al. Her work has been presented in institutions such as Museum Ludwig, Kunsthalle Budapest, CAC Vilnius, SCHIRN Kunsthalle, SAVVY Contemporary, Museum Marta Herford, Pinakothek der Moderne, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Centre Georges Pompidou, Museum of Modern Art Moscow, Kunstmuseum Bonn and MUSAC et al., as well as in numerous international Biennials and film festivals. She lives and works in Berlin.

The house shook,
the winds howled,
the rain flooded,
the mothers cooked
we overcame
The house shook,
the rain flooded,
the mothers nurtured,
we overcame
The winds howled,
the mothers bawled,
the house flooded,
the women care,
the rain flooded,
we overcame
The house shook,
the winds howled,
the rain flooded,
the women bawled,
we overcame

Naming the unnamed, or the business of naming.

_In The Third Reich of Dreams, first published in Germany in 1962, Charlotte Beradt collected around 300 dreams that were dreamed between 1933 and 1939, during the Nazi period in Germany. There is for example the dream of Mr. S., a man of about 60 years of age, owner of a medium-sized factory, who had a dream on the third day of Hitler’s seizure of power. In a brief dream he describes what studies by sociologists and political and medical scientists would retrospectively define as the effect of totalitarian domination on mankind. Mr. S. dreams the following: “Goebbels comes to my factory. I had my workers lined up in two rows, right and left. I have to stand in the middle and raise my arm to make the Hitler salute. It takes me more than half an hour to raise my arm, millimeter by millimeter. Goebbels watches my efforts as if it were a spectacle, without any expression of dissatisfaction or pleasure, but when I finally manage to raise my arm completely, he tells me ‘I don’t want your salute’. He turns around and walks to the exit door. And there I am, in my own business, surrounded by my workers, with my arm raised, which I am now unable to lower down. I only manage to do so by fixing my gaze on Goebbels’ deformed limping foot as he walks. I stay like that until I wake up1Charlotte Beradt, Das Dritte Reich des Traumes (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1994).

A bourgeois housewife dreams this: “At night I try to unravel the swastika from the Nazi flag hanging in my street and I am proud and happy about it, but the next day when I get up and look out of the window, the swastika reappears sewn up” 2Ibídem.

Another dream reveals the following: “I dream that I fly over Nuremberg, that I lasso Hitler right in the middle of the National Socialist party conference and that I end up sinking him between England and Germany. Sometimes I fly to England and tell the government where Hitler is and that it was me who sank him at sea3Ibídem.

_In the foreword to a recent edition of Toni Morrison’s famous book Song of Solomon, the author speaks of her initial disbelief when some authors, instead of naming sources or references that have influenced them in their work, refer to the existence of some sort of muse that inspires them. Later in the text, Morrison confesses that it was only after her father’s death and during the process of writing the aforementioned book that she first experienced the propulsive presence of a muse, a voice guiding her, as she wrote the book. Morrison’s initial scepticism regarding artists who do not mention their sources of inspiration is not surprising, since the practice of obscuring, denying, silencing, obviating or simply erasing the sources of the fabric of what we have come to understand as culture is commonplace. The practice of not-naming is no stranger to the house of creative production. Especially when those “muses” or “sources of inspiration” are women, people of colour, or belong to communities that have been oppressed, colonized and/or dispossessed not only of their rights and land, but also of their material culture and knowledge.

_Looting is not only an act of violence, but also the basis on which most of the museum collections in the West are built. The foundation of such collections is often found in a material world that was violently obtained and whose rightful owners are denied access to that same material world they have been deprived of, in addition to being denied entry to the countries that have declared themselves the guardians and custodians of their culture. Political theorist Ariella Aïsha Azoulay argues that “those whose worlds have been destroyed by five centuries of imperialism have the right to live near the objects that have been plundered from their culture4Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, It is not possible to decolonize the museum without decolonizing the world (Guernica Mag, 12.3.2020) https://www.guernicamag.com/miscellaneous-files-ariella-aisha-azoulay/. She further suggests that “those objects could constitute the very ‘documentation’ that the countries that host these museums now demand of immigrants5Ibídem.

_Healing the Museum is the name of a performative project by Kenyan-British artist Grace Ndiritu. In an attempt to restore the sense of the spiritual intrinsically linked to the objects in the museum’s collections, Ndiritu has transformed museums with a virulent colonial history through shamanic rituals to which she invites artists, activists, theorists, curators and museum directors to participate.

_In an article titled On the Limits of Care and Knowledge, the artistic director of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, Yesomi Umolu, proposes a pertinent reflection on the limits of knowledge and care within contemporary art institutions. Umolu criticizes in her text the exclusionary character still maintained by museums today “that cater to the privileged and were built for the betterment of the Western subject and society at the expense of the Other6Yesomi Umolu, On the limits of care and knowledge (Arnet, 15.6.2020) https://news.artnet.com/opinion/limits-of-care-and-knowledge-yesomi-umolu-op-ed-1889739. She also adds that this fact is further complicated because “museums consider themselves spaces of respite away from real politics and social injustices7Ibídem.

_When it’s not objects, but bodies or human remains the ones held hostage in museum collections, restitution processes are complex and can be further complicated if those bodies are painted or tattooed. In the case of a Maori head, for example, the fact that it is tattooed makes it an art object and therefore subjected to laws that allow the country holding it to declare it a national cultural heritage and obstruct its restitution. Brazilian artist Maria Theresa Alvez proposes with her project Fair Trade Head a fair exchange of heads between the Maori – whose descendants are denied the return of their ancestors’ heads by France – and the citizens of the country that retains them, through a symbolic gesture of heads exchange. The French heads, which are symbolically donated by their own bearers, may be retained by the Maori until the French government returns to them all the Maori heads whose restitution has been denied.

_What is your name? In her brilliant Race After Technology, Ruha Benjamin points to a U.S. study stating that job applicants “with ‘white’ sounding names received 50% more calls from the companies they wrote to than job applicants with African-American sounding names. They calculated that the racial difference amounted to eight years of relevant work experience, which the white applicants did not have on their resumes8Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology (Polity Press, 2019). For Benjamin, naming a baby is a very serious matter, for it is not merely a matter of choosing a name, but of choosing with it the values, beliefs and narratives that manifest themselves when those names are faced with a system in which a “mainstream” name equals a white name, which in turn equals invisibility and therefore immunity. Benjamin emphasizes that “not being marked by race allows you to reap the benefits, but escape responsibility for your role in an unjust system9Ibídem.

_Amanda Melissa Baggs (They/ Them) was an American artist and theorist interested not only in challenging categories of ability, but in identifying the notion of what it really means to be able to speak, as well as questioning who establishes that notion of ability. It was for that purpose that they engaged in the creation of an archive of their own vocabulary with which they offer help in redefining the rigid paradigms that shape the conception of language. In a video entitled In My Language, Baggs introduces us to their language, their mode of expression, which is exempt from oral or written speech and involves repeated movements and interactions with different objects and elements. After a brief pause in the video, a commentary appears, in the form of a subtitled voiceover, in which Baggs explains how inclusivity works in a world designed for people without disabilities and how limited our perception of language really is. Baggs’ voiceover, which is articulated through a computerized text-to-speech conversion system, explains to us that the way we see them interact in the video is not a symptom of cognitive limitations, quite the opposite, it is simply not understandable to those who do not speak their language. Baggs powerful statement in the video continues: “We are considered non-communicative if we don’t speak the standard language, but other people are not considered non-communicative if they are foreign to our own languages, so much so that they don’t believe those languages exist. I want you to know that this is not intended as a voyeuristic spectacle in which you can see the strange workings of the autistic mind. This is meant to be a powerful statement about the existence and value of many different types of thinking and interaction in a world where whether or not your behaviour resembles that of the vast majority determines whether you are seen as a real person, an adult, or an intelligent person10Amanda M. Baggs, In My Language, 2007, 8’30’’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnylM1hI2jc.

_In her book Indigenous Women in Defense of the Earth, Aimé Tapia González advocates for a dialogue between Western feminisms and the feminisms and movements of indigenous women who defend the earth and the Abda Yala territory – the term used by the Kuna people to name the American continent before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
Tapia González emphasizes how indigenous forms of knowledge are not considered knowledge in the first place, because they don’t belong to the Western construction of language. Considering the role that intellectuals can play in often contributing to perpetuate ethnocentric and androcentric knowledge constructions, it may be controversial to quote a German anthropologist in the context proposed by Tapia González – an author who emphasises the need to make indigenous women visible as producers of knowledge. However, the example described by anthropologist and linguist Carlos Lenkersdorf in Tapia González’ book may be key to understand how a language that transforms subjects into objects is analogous to all forms of domination: “In order to show the differences between Indo-European and Amerindian languages, Lenkersdorf uses as an example a sentence in two versions: Spanish and Maja-Tojolabal: 1) “Les Dije”(I said to them). This statement is composed of subject (yo)(I), verb (dije)(said), indirect object (les)(them). Since in Maya-Tojolabal there are no direct objects, indirect objects, or objects of any kind, the approximate translation is: 2) “I said. You heard”” Here we see two subjects collaborating together in a common action. The sentence in Spanish expresses the relationship between a subject that determines the meaning of the sentence, while the indirect object is understood although it is not explicitly mentioned. Isn’t it perhaps this same construction, which is characterized by turning its interlocutors into objects, the one that reduces the manifestations of other cultures to myths, legends, magic, superstitions, dialects, etc.?11Aimé Tapia Gonzáles, Mujeres Indígenas en Defensa de la Tierra (Ediciones Cátedra: Anaya S.A., 2018).

_Harun Farocki’s film The Inextinguishable Fire from 1969 was conceived as a protest to the Vietnam War – or as it is better known in Vietnam, the war of resistance against the United States. Farocki begins his film by reading the statement of Thai Bihn Dahn, a Vietnamese man who had been the victim of a napalm bomb that burned his face, arms and legs. Farocki finishes reading Bihn Dahn’s statement and before proceeding to put out a lit cigarette on his own arm – to demonstrate how much more a napalm bomb would burn – he turns to the camera and says: “If we show you the image of the napalm burns, you will close your eyes. First you will close your eyes to the images. Then you will close your eyes to the memory. Then you will close your eyes to the facts. And finally you will close your eyes to the whole context12Harun Farocki, The Inextinguishable Fire,1969, 21’44’’.

_The Bolivian and half-Aymara activist and sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui explains in her book The Sociology of the Image, that an image not only functions as an illustration of something, but also as a theory. For her, the image is understood as a way of rethinking the role of visual language in the prevailing structures of domination. Cusicanqui speaks of decolonizing our own consciousness, overcoming Western oculocentrism and turning the gaze into an organic and complete experience that also involves the other senses, such as smell or touch. Something she defines as “reintegrating the act of looking back into the body13Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, La Sociología de la Imagen (Tinta Limón, 2015).

The dissolution of the self, or the wild exercise of the imagination.

_As the poet Mary McAnally said, “pain teaches us to pull our fingers out of the fucking fire14Audre Lorde quoting Mary McAnally in Sexism: An American Dissease in Blackface (1979).

_One of the first African filmmakers to subvert the iconography of the western film genre was Moustapha Alassane. Alassane was a Nigerian filmmaker who became known for his use of animation in short films that often critique the political system in his country and the West.

In his first fiction film, 1966’s The Return Of An Adventurer, black cowboys appear for the first time in African cinema. In the film, a group of boys and one girl anxiously await the return of Jimmy, a mutual friend who returns after having visited the United States. Jimmy returns with his luggage full of gifts for his friends: cowboy hats, costumes and weapons that will later ignite a war between the generations of the Hausa village in which they live. Alassane demonstrates a great sense of humour by reversing the classic antagonism of the western film genre, in which Westerners are portrayed as civilised and Indians as uncivilised or “primitive”. In this case, it is the Muslim community of the Hausa who embodies law and order and the cowboys behave as the true “primitives”.

There is only one female character in a central role in the film, a young woman who awaits Jimmy’s return and who answers to the name of Reine Christine (Queen Christine). Reine Christine greets Jimmy dressed in traditional regional clothing, but refuses to remain in the traditional role and demands to participate in the cowboy game and to dress as one of them. In this remarkably intelligent piece, Alassane, not only manages to subvert the genre of American cinema par excellence, but he also gives his only female lead the significant name of Reine Christine, an obvious and emancipatory reference to the legendary Queen Christina of Sweden.

_Queen Christina of Sweden was born in 1626. Her story is that of an extraordinary woman of great intellect who abdicated and turned down her right to the throne in order to be free. Rejected by her mother when she was born, but loved and adored by her father, the King of Sweden, she has been described as an extravagant, intelligent and independent woman with a great facility for languages, which led her to establish a long friendship and correspondence with the French philosopher Descartes. Passionate about horseback riding, hunting and fencing, the typical female activities of the time were not exactly attractive to Christina, who was the subject of endless jokes because of her deep voice and remarkable physical stamina. She liked to wear men’s clothing and was suspected of having an intimate relationship with her cousin Ebba. Based on their relationship and several notes she left behind after her death, it has been speculated that she was a lesbian. Queen Christina’s physical appearance not only gave rise to offence, denigration and jokes, but also to criticism regarding her abilities as a political leader. This is not surprising when we take into account the times in which she lived. However, female authority continues to be questioned today in the public and political sphere.

_Italian artist Bianca Pucciarelli Menna was born in Salerno in 1931 and was reborn as Tomaso Binga, her alter ego, in Rome in 1977. Menna had been making art during the 1960s, but in the midst of the feminist movement of the 1970s, she decided to marry her alter ego and take a male name as a way of critiquing the reigning gender inequality and the lack of visibility of female artists. Oggi Spose (Just Married) was the name of the performance in which Binga invited to celebrate the “wedding” between Tomaso Binga and Bianca Menna. The cards and gifts left by the guests turned gradually into an installation.

_The famous work of American artist Barbara Kruger, Your Body Is a Battleground, was created for the 1989 Women’s March in Washington in support of reproductive freedom. It became the visual emblem of the many battles to be fought.

_In April 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the opening of the new opera house in Oslo and received a lot of criticism and rebuke for her revealing outfit. The cleavage she was showing in her night gown caused a huge stir, gaining international media attention and sparking a major political debate in Germany. The media went crazy when they “discovered” Angela Merkel was a woman with feminine attributes. In addition to all the jokes and sexist remarks to which the chancellor was subjected, the incident became more serious and Germany began to publicly debate how much cleavage a nation’s leader should be allowed to show.

The question that arises goes beyond the choice of clothing, we have to ask ourselves first and foremost, how we have learned to look at women who wield power and why the definition of power itself and/or authority excludes the image of a woman. It seems that we don’t have a model for a powerful woman, except that she has to look like a man.

_It is a well-known fact that, under the guidance of a tutor at the National Theatre in London, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher underwent a vocal training program that included special exercises aimed at reducing the timbre of her voice to make it sound deeper. In recordings made before and after this training, a substantial difference in Thatcher’s voice can be clearly noted. But it seems that the problem with the female voice dates back to ancient times. Historian Mary Beard states in her book Women and Power: A Manifesto that Western culture has a long tradition of silencing women. Beard begins her book by describing the following scene from Homer’s Odyssey: “Telemachus, after being scolded by his mother Penelope for making too much noise with his friends, reprimands Penelope with these words: ‘Talking is a man’s business.’ A man silences a woman. That is what makes a man a man. Silence as a requirement for a woman is inherent in Western culture. How do we explain otherwise that when a woman speaks in public it is considered threatening or annoying, eternally annoying?15Mary Beard, Women and Power: A Manifesto (Profile Books, 2017).

_In 2019, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted while trying to read a letter in the Senate. It was a letter written by Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s widow, in which she explained what the imminent election of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General would mean for the African-American population. Scott King alluded to Jeff Sessions’ murky past and explained how he had been directly involved in blocking the voting rights of African-American citizens, who were beaten to prevent them from entering the polls. Senator Elizabeth Warren thought that it would be the right moment to read the letter, in order to question the election of the future Attorney General. After being interrupted several times by Senator Mitch McConnell, she was cut off and could not finish reading it. Later, after the recording of the incident went viral, five senators, all men, read the same letter on the Senate. Needless to say, none of them was ever interrupted.

_Writer Saidiya Hartmann coined the term “critical fabulation”, a method of blending together archival material and speculative fiction to subvert dominant narratives, counter-narrating the forgotten, silenced and erased histories within a deeply patriarchal and racist production of knowledge. In her fabulous book Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Hartman examines the lives of young African American women and queer people, who do not fit the binary definition of gender: “Few, then or now, recognized young black women as sexual modernists, free lovers, radicals, and anarchists (…) They have not been given any credit, nothing: they remain unimportant “surplus” women, girls deemed unfit for history and destined to be minor figures. This book is inspired by a different set of values and recognizes the revolutionary ideals that animate ordinary lives. It explores utopian yearnings and the promise of a future world that lies in rebellion and refusal to be ruled16Saidiya Hartmann, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (W.W. NORTON & CO, 2019).
Hartman’s work reveals a long tradition of “practices of rejection and criticism of a state that manifests itself primarily as a regulating and punishing force; a force for brutal containment and the violation and eradication of black life” 17Saidiya Hartman, On insurgent histories and the abolitionist imaginary (14.7.2020, Artforum).

_The work of American artist and activist Stephanie Dinkins focuses on issues of inclusion and representation in robotic technology and Artificial Intelligence. Dinkins explores new forms of social engagement that allow artificial technologies to be used by anyone, who in turn can actively participate in their design and configuration. For Dinkins, Artificial Intelligence should not be created exclusively by a small, white and male group of specialists, but should be fostered by and for very different segments of our society, especially those who have been marginalised and underrepresented. One of her most famous works is a piece titled Conversations With Bina 48, a series of protocols of conversations developed between the artist and Bina 48 since 2014. Bina 48 is the first African-American humanoid robot with one of the most advanced forms of Artificial Intelligence. Dinkins describes this project as “a quest for friendship with a humanoid robot, turned into a rabbit hole of questions and an examination of the coding of social, cultural and future histories at the intersection of technology, race, gender and social equity18Stephanie Dinkins, Conversations with Bina 48 (2014 – ongoing) https://www.stephaniedinkins.com/conversations-with-bina48.html.

_Bina 48 was created by the Terrasem Movement Foundation as an exact replica of Bina Rothblatt, the wife of the foundation’s founder, Martine Rothblatt (formerly known as Martin Rothblatt). Bina 48 was born as a possibility to create a sentient robot in the image and likeness of Bina Rothblatt, in which her consciousness and memories could be successively stored (uploaded). Martine Rothblatt believes in the mortality of the human body, but maintains that our minds can be stored and preserved in devices such as Bina 48. The goal of this process is that in a not too distant future, when our bodies can be frozen and defrosted years later, our consciousness, which has been stored in sentient robots like Bina 48, can be uploaded back into our physical body.

_Artificial Intelligence, algorithm building and machine learning have been steadily mystified as purely neutral entities and as autonomous processes, completely detached from human intervention. But the reality is that these technologies amplify existing problems ranging from the perpetuation of bias – historical, technical, racial or gender bias – to the inequity of economic power between the Global North and the Global South. On the one hand, we have the aforementioned problem of bias, perpetuated through the input of the historical datasets that serve as the source of machine learning and algorithms. Historical bias, also known as global bias, are already evident in society prior to technological intervention and are automatically naturalised, i.e. the already existing inequality is quietly introduced in an apparently neutral technology. On the other hand, we have military agencies and large corporations in the Global North outsourcing to an invisible and precarious workforce in the Global South. This process has been called by theorists Matteo Pasquinelli and Vladan Joler the “assembly line of machine learning19Matteo Pasquinelli/ Vladan Joler, The Nooscope Manifested: AI as Instrument of Knowledge Extractivism (2020) https://nooscope.ai/, referring to the perpetuation of a system of production, manufacture and division of labour born during the industrial revolution.

The planet en route

There is no place like home
There is no place like home
There is no place like home
There is no place
There is no
Dis-Place-d Eternally

_”If we want to understand the world better, we have to tremble with it.” 20Édouard Glissant in Manthia Diawara’s Édouard Glissant – Un Monde en Relation (2010)

_What is the purpose of this publication? To build on its solid legacy a new future in the midst of a dystopian world? A world in which social differences, inequality, racism, asymmetries of power and above all, inequity in the distribution of material wealth, threaten life more than ever? Are the worlds we intend to build with this attempt of communal articulation, worlds with which we are going to tremble? And who trembles inside the gated communities? Who trembles inside the prisons? Who trembles along with the rivers, the oceans, the forest, the plants, the birds and all other species? Does the Matsutake tremble, or have we learnt our lesson?

  • 1
    Charlotte Beradt, Das Dritte Reich des Traumes (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1994)
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
    Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, It is not possible to decolonize the museum without decolonizing the world (Guernica Mag, 12.3.2020) https://www.guernicamag.com/miscellaneous-files-ariella-aisha-azoulay/
  • 5
  • 6
    Yesomi Umolu, On the limits of care and knowledge (Arnet, 15.6.2020) https://news.artnet.com/opinion/limits-of-care-and-knowledge-yesomi-umolu-op-ed-1889739
  • 7
  • 8
    Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology (Polity Press, 2019)
  • 9
  • 10
    Amanda M. Baggs, In My Language, 2007, 8’30’’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnylM1hI2jc
  • 11
    Aimé Tapia Gonzáles, Mujeres Indígenas en Defensa de la Tierra (Ediciones Cátedra: Anaya S.A., 2018)
  • 12
    Harun Farocki, The Inextinguishable Fire,1969, 21’44’’
  • 13
    Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, La Sociología de la Imagen (Tinta Limón, 2015)
  • 14
    Audre Lorde quoting Mary McAnally in Sexism: An American Dissease in Blackface (1979)
  • 15
    Mary Beard, Women and Power: A Manifesto (Profile Books, 2017)
  • 16
    Saidiya Hartmann, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (W.W. NORTON & CO, 2019)
  • 17
    Saidiya Hartman, On insurgent histories and the abolitionist imaginary (14.7.2020, Artforum)
  • 18
    Stephanie Dinkins, Conversations with Bina 48 (2014 – ongoing) https://www.stephaniedinkins.com/conversations-with-bina48.html
  • 19
    Matteo Pasquinelli/ Vladan Joler, The Nooscope Manifested: AI as Instrument of Knowledge Extractivism (2020) https://nooscope.ai/
  • 20
    Édouard Glissant in Manthia Diawara’s Édouard Glissant – Un Monde en Relation (2010)
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