For Pepe (I have not enough language).
We all know why.
Working on commission, or on a given subject, has its advantages. When the team of specialists at the Visual Arts Development Center celebrated twenty years of its founding, Lidzie Alvisa was invited to produce a project. An entire promotional cycle, a whole history of management and art were celebrating a round-figure anniversary. For that reason the artist was called on to review the institution’s archives and there, precisely at that point, she stopped: beyond the information they contained, beyond the registers she could find –heterogeneous, good, mediocre or bad– Lidzie focused on what made possible the existence of all kinds of documents put at her disposal. The archive and what it means would thus be her objective.
Accordingly, Lidzie began to collect1 those devices we had generally used during that period of time –the last twenty years– to save information, taking into consideration, naturally, the anguish caused by their possible loss or breakage. Diskettes, CDs, pen drives, cell phones and other contemporary devices that have made it possible to save, circulate and visualize any kind of information became part –in large quantities– of installations created by Lidzie.2
According to researcher Anna María Guasch, “two basic principles can be associated with the archive: mneme or anamnesis (memory itself, living or spontaneous) and hypomnma (the act of remembering). They are principles that refer to the fascination for saving memory (things saved as memories) and for saving history (things saved as information) as a counteroffensive to the ‘death impulse,’ an impulse of aggression and destruction that drives to oblivion, to amnesia, to the destruction of memory.”3
Estado de archivo responds to both precepts, albeit not tacitly but as an evocation, and in my opinion, it constitutes the most compact series in Lidzie Alvisa’s artistic career up to the present. It has apparently minimal installations that combine, in an excellent way, the banishment of narrative4 and the triumph of sculptural skill or the dominion of the three-dimensional. I remember that exhibition, set up in Servando Gallery, left me with a good impression and accomplished its conceptual cycle in me: a work about memory that remained engraved in my memory.
Lidzie left behind, at least in that series, the representation of the body –the fixative par excellence of information– the pins and the sunflowers as elements that supported her entire dissertation on the tensions between violence and fragility, cutting and noble. And fears generally felt. She abandoned that intimate, self-referential perspective, and also the voice of gender noticeable in her pieces. She also said farewell to Priscilla Monge, her closest companion in artistic journeys.
Time, an essential element in her work –and little studied, indeed– underwent a speculative turn and acquired another dimension. It is no longer assisted in its perishable condition –the sunflower that dies, for example–5 but as duration –in the manner explained by Henri Bergson– intrinsically related with memory. Time is regarded here as gatekeeper and not as progress in space or a simple step.
This series not only deals with summarizing and zipping devices that can basically save information in Kb or time. To structure it, the artist decided to resort to the electrocardiogram as support of the compiled elements, arranging them in a series simulating altered lines of highs and lows, as if we were helping the very heart of the institution, of the artist, of her family, of society and culture in general. The graphic chart of the ECG is never linear, and in the case of Estado de archivo they seem taken from patients with prolapse of the mitral valve or ailing from auricular fibrillation, victims of the symbolic weight of memory, anguished by its loss. The logic of this work is the logic of life. No more and no less.
What do those devices contain that the artist has put at our disposal? We don’t know. We can intuit that stored there are layers and layers of audiovisual information and writing, but we are ignorant of their nature.6 We can suppose that there is an order in what has been collected, a cataloguing beyond the formal aspect. Will it be a random alignment? It doesn’t matter. In this diffusion of certainty before the document is where Lidzie draws away from the best known conceptualism regarding the subject of memory. In general, she provides the possibility of verification –as in Los archivos del corazón by Christian Boltanski– and the work is reduced to a consultation of the document in a relational and participative manner. Estado de archivo and Estado de ánimo, on the other hand, appeal to our imagination, to the pleasure of fantasizing, and does not care for the literality of paperwork or archivist information, or for the anti-speculative and sociological quality of the document.
While the artistic tradition brings back memory –photographs, documents, registers–7 and prioritizes information and sociology, Lidzie alludes to a covert operation: we know there is something inside those electronic components but we don’t know what it is. And of course, our consumption is more enjoyable because, among other things, we are speaking of memory in an abstract, general sense. Of memory as concept. In this sense, On Kawara is the closest of all with his series Data Paintings or Today Series, a work in process that took him approximately twenty years (another coincidence).
He, like Lidzie Alvisa, does not care about traditional staging for this type of artistic research, and the result is a succession of works of minimalist appearance –serialization and chromatic scarcities; order that gives little information at first glance and whose basic hook is visual attraction based on the primacy of esthetic quality. A cool visuality that stores and compiles warmth, a perfectly structured result that emerges about heterogeneous and dissimilar information. Here lies the main charm of both artists. The Japanese man places a small shy box with a newspaper clipping of the day that informs about those numbers that lack drama and that, in the end, are autobiographical codes. There everything takes on meaning. The discs and remaining modules used by Lidzie may take us back to the pallets of a big warehouse or black boxes containing enigmas, whose inside we can only reach by destroying the work, by blowing up the system.8
Estado de archivo is a series to be fully completed and consulted in the future, that construction that makes the present more bearable. At the same time it gives Lidzie Alvisa the possibility to frequently come in contact with a trend of conceptualism and post-conceptualism of strong roots and vitality in our continent, and tunes her into a whole theoretical production dealing with the archaeology of knowledge,9 with micro-mappings of stories excluded or marginalized from the discourses of power and which circulate as adjacent, rhizoidal or parallel correlates to the channels where knowledge flows in a hegemonic way.
Here the artist breaks the agreement with the evident data –statistically verifiable– and hides the story, leaving us on this philosophical plane of speculation, because the importance of this series lies in the symbolic tribute to memory as evocation of the document and not as categorical, conspiratorial or accusatory presence. There is no moral judgment in Lidzie, although the work becomes a sort of “spiritual auscultation” that diagnoses, does not judge but alerts: with the same speed that we can accumulate and date information, through the new means of storage, it is possible to lose it, whether through a virus or because of incompatibility of systems or by pressing the wrong key. The effort to destroy that information, which at the same time is a huge source of knowledge, is minimum and deadly. That is why this series is, above all, a compliment, a monument to that ROM memory –José Luis Brea assists me at this point, as usual– dealing with the capacity to collect, with the space available to compile stories, narrations of narrations. From a new kind of archive summarized in databases. Having to do with eccentric shelves where cultural accumulation is also possible.
1. The owner, administrator or holder of an archive is a type of collector as passionate, big-eyed and fastidious as any other.
2. The largest archive of Cuban audiovisual memory was constructed in Miami by Waldo Fernández, “Marakka.” Artists Ernesto Oroza and Magdiel Aspillaga made a documentary entitled Marakka 2012 describing the way in which this new kind of cultural manager appropriates the Island’s – and even North American – cultural products, establishing a new vision of piracy as something both morally and legally legitimate. He used things from BETAMAX cassettes to present-day CD’s, among other supports. Now that I am reexamining Lidzie’s work I sense a curious link between them: audiovisual material, archive, art. Conscience of the memory. As if she would freeze, or to put it more exactly, preserve in her pieces the coming and going of Marakka’s “new” materials.
3. Anna Maria Guasch, “Los lugares de la memoria: el arte de archivar y recordar,” in Arte y archivo, 1920-2010. Genealogías, typologías y continuidades (Madrid: Akal Ediciones, 2011).
4. That minimal and anti-narrative and even anti-scenographic trend was already present in her drawings with pins from 2003, or in a work as timely and compact as Plata sobre gelatina.
5. At this point it is legitimate to mention that Lidzie had already been speculating on the idea of linear and conventional time, shattering this notion and constructing it from an anarchic will. Such is the case of Mi tiempo, another of her best works, which is on the road to tautology.
6. These pieces also speak of technological irony in our context: difficult access to networks, schizoid or fragmented conversations through cell phones that work more like beepers, etc., etc.
7. Boltanski himself, Fernando Bryce, Richter, Regina Galindo (more about memory than about archive, traditionally speaking), Celia and Yunior, among others. Now that I’m writing this, I feel it necessary to add that every container is, in itself and in some way, an archive: they contribute information and, in their way, are keepers of a certain memory (tombs, body engravings, etc., etc.). In the present text, as will be seen, I am handling the most elementary and familiar idea of archive linked to memory: written, audiovisual information that enables us –going back to Foucault– to speak about the past.
8. It is in fact interesting to follow the path of the works: they have been broken into and opened (read) at Customs. Customs officials, due to paranoia and suspicion, have been “full” consumers of Lidzie’s installations.
9. An almost literal paraphrase of Michel Foucault’s book Arqueología del saber.