Lost paradise

Teresa Aninat and Catalina Swinburn, two outstanding Chilean artists of prolific project development, exhibited their art works in Fundacion Collahuasi, Iquique, presenting disciplines such as installation, performance, photography and sculpture. Through these works they articulate a coherent and significant script of past and present creations that are linked together by the theme of ‘memory’. They form a context that goes beyond historical, social, religious or political conflicts, laying strong emphasis on spirituality, nostalgia, tradition, aesthetics and globalization.

For their exhibition PARADISE LOST, the artists present a complex exposition that connects diverse mediums - photography, text, sculpture, installation and sound - and associates them with the concept of the expulsion of man from paradise at the beginning of our existence, and with the initiation of our eternal search for happiness and fortune. 

‘Paradise Lost’, an epic poem written by John Milton, is the starting point of reflection presented by Aninat & Swinburn. This book forms the basis of the concept portrayed in the main room of the exhibition, which leads on to another four rooms in which the four cardinal virtues - Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude and Justice - are alluded to. Each of these rooms reveals a virtue alongside a sin, and refers to the syncretism of a theme which makes reference to man’s constant search for the lost paradise.

The controversial themes that are established in the works of Aninat & Swinburn are generated through the intersection between the sacred and the popular, the practical and the real, humour and sentence. The works are exposed as a syncretic discourse, where different traditions meet, search to re-conciliate differing doctrines, and realize a process of trans-culturalization and racial merging, where the union of the sacred and pagan allow the spectator to identify themselves with the work of art and become a participant of multiple meetings and realities. The unions generated by the works, the fusions that come about and the assimilation of differing elements and materials used - such as Spanish playing cards, fortune wheels, chocolate coins, the planisphere, engraved stones, books, texts and fragments of newspapers – do not portray a substantial coherence to one another. The symbiosis that is produced in the works exposed gives birth to a new unique identity, a new interpretation, a new created element, a new object, but still maintains a different cult status.

When man lost paradise he began his search for complete happiness; each town and each time has searched for it through different beliefs and rituals, has attempted to guess their destiny, has asked for protection, good luck and fortune, and to know the future. ‘Paradise Lost’, John Milton (1608 – 1674), is the most complete and important epic poem in the English language. Made up of twelve verses, the central theme is Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. After eating the forbidden fruit, Eve calls for Adam to try some. When God realizes the sinful disobedience of his creatures, the pair is expulsed from Paradise. Before their definitive expulsion, God explains what the future and destiny of humanity will hold, dominated by struggle and suffering because of their original sin, and he shows them the world in which they and their decedents will live. The video that incessantly exhibits the transformation of the book faces the double writing desk on which ‘Paradise Lost’ stands; one side of the desk is covered with an acrylic stone that is engraved in low relief with the phrase PRUDENCETEMPERANCEFORTITUEJUSTICE, which questions the forced and almost school-like necessity of following rules in order to enjoy a good destiny, in life as well as in death.

 

ROOM 1:

PRUDENCE

Prudence is the virtue of acting in a just, adequate and cautious manner. It is also understood to be a way of communicating with others through the use of clear, literal language - a virtue that acts respecting the feelings, life, and freedom of others.

The meaning of the word ‘Iquique’ is just as varied. Local investigators refer to its Aymaran origin; its meaning of ‘dream’ and ‘bed’ refers to the fact that the inhabitants of the mountains suffered the consequences of the differing heights of the village and the port, which made them fall asleep. Others, basing themselves on the highland language, affirm that that name of the port means ‘act of dreaming or resting’, a metaphor inspired by the great amount of sea wolves and birds that laid themselves down on the rocky coast.

In its conception, Status quo, the installation realized by the artists in 2010, dealt with the constitution of Memory and the consignation of certain essential social acts, and by consequence cultural and political acts; by doing so we were able to approximate their origins and causes. If the construction process of the work is different from previous works, once again the duo Aninat & Swinburn use installation to create a stage where the performance takes place at the opening of the show. The script of the performance is dictated by the materiality of the work. Closing the temple-room, impeding spectator access, the artists built in the interior, where tones of shredded newspaper filled the space - a shelter, a lair, a refuge, a den - where they sat motionless. Assimilating a lair, this space, inhabited for the first time by the artists, activated the space as a container of dreams, in which the work became an evocative piece, inviting the viewer to deposit their memories and events, past or present. The performance, HIDDEN MEANING, designates the acts of sleeping as much as one wishes to do so. For the act of dreaming, the word ‘fantasy’ exists, even though generic phrases are also used (have a dream = to dream). The correspondent adjective to fantasy-dream is dreamy. Fantasy – which grants the sleepers wishes – also refers to any longing or illusion that motivates a person.

 

ROOM 2:

TEMPERANCE

Temperance is the virtue that regulates the attraction for pleasures, and produces the balance between the use and enjoyment of the goods obtained. It assures the dominance of will power over instincts and maintains desires within the limits of honesty.

 Superstitions, which are not fundamentally planted in the human being, can be based on popular traditions, normally related to magical imaginings. Superstitious people think that certain actions (voluntary or not), such as prayers, incarnations, spells or other rituals influence their life in a transcendental manner. Magical thoughts are a way of thinking that is based in faith, imagination, desire, emotion or tradition. What distinguishes superstitions from wisdom is their relationship between the occurrences that take place due to supernatural forces such as destiny. 

The Ekeko is an idol to which is said to have the power of bringing fortune, abundance and joy to its owner. Its origin is pre-Colombian and it relates back to ancient cultures that began on the Andes. The actual Ekeko conserves its original position as the god of abundance, but exercises his powers in relation to monetary and mercantile values that are perfectly accommodated in contemporary society. Considering the concept of Ekeko, and of the miniature objects that are attached to it for good luck and abundance, the objects that reflect the desires of the family members that venerate it, this room presents the contradiction; on the one hand it reflects the economic and commercial aspect that motivates an important social sector, the multiplying effects, and on the other hand, the cultural-religious phenomenon that motivates peoples feelings of faith and hope of possession is present. The works shown in this room, relating to this phenomenon, connect the spectators with the present generations and with the religious ancestral sentiments of the ancient cultures, whose expressions have endured up to the present time.

 

ROOM 3:

FORTITUDE 

Fortitude is a moral virtue that gives the soul strength to face with courage and vigour the risks, moderating the force of audacity, always keeping on the straight and narrow road to reason in every task.

Fortune was, in Roman mythology, the goddess of luck, good and bad, even though she is generally associated with the good – the extravagant – and fertility. Her allegory tended to be the wheel of fortune, a type of roulette that referred to luck or to the randomness of good or bad luck. Assembled out of playing cards that show the number ‘two’, a wheel of fortune has been reconstructed in order to signify a target; in front of the wheel lie virtuous weapons, encouraging the viewer to throw the first stone in search of their fortune, or likewise, to defend themselves against the bad that might come. According to the cosmogony, the number two represents duality. It alludes to a pair of opposites (day and night, cold and hot, man and woman, etc.) since unity has been divided and one is against the other. The number two is the first number that breaks with divine unity, and where malice and betrayal form its shadow. It implies the spark of creation, the germ of life. The presence of the artists in the work, portrayed as modern Artemises before the blank target (Hellenistic goddess of hunting, wild animals, virgin territory, birth, virginity, and young women; she brought and healed sickness and was represented as a huntress who carried a bow and arrow); their pose suggestively unveils diverse themes that question the destiny of social classes, politics, religion, war, and a woman’s relationship to all of them.

The baraja deck consists of forty-eight Spanish playing cards, divided into four suits and numbered from one to twelve. The four suits are: coins, cups, clubs and swords. These cards form the basis of the cards used in Tarot and the ‘major arcanans’ are the ones which are generally used for divination. Their origin is Arabic. In ancient times, they did not have jokers and the set consisted of fourteen cards of each suit, ten numbers and four figures, including a queen. The queen was eliminated due to the sexism of the time, and when the pack of thirteen cards per suit was not successful, the number ten was eliminated; therefore the pack consisted of nine numbers and three figures which make twelve cards in total. In the society of the time each suit had a certain meaning. The bourgeois (the rich) were represented by the coins, the clergy were represented by the cups (chalice), the swords stood for the army and the clubs represented the plebs (the poor that were related to nature, cultivating land). There are also links to the French baraja. The clubs are the leaves of the spades, the diamonds represent richness like the coins, the spades are the tips of the lance and the heart of Jesus relates to the chalice.

 

ROOM 4:

JUSTICE 

Justice is the virtue that establishes itself when it is joined to a set of rules that form an adequate frame in which relationships between people and institutions, authorizing, prohibiting and permitting specific actions can take place. 

The works in the exhibition are dissolved within the cultural scope like barren territory which identity stumbles through, discerning death as the end and the loss of memory as the only outcome. In these scenes, the works of Aninat & Swinburn are indistinctly made up of rituals or spells through which they try to find their way and swap their loss in favour of significance and memory. A ritual is a series of actions that are primarily carried out for their symbolic value. They are actions that are based in some sort of belief, be it religious or due to a political ideology, a sporting act, tradition, memories, historicism of a community, to name a few. Magic is a conjunction of rituals whose objective is to control the attributes of universal spirits and supernatural entities. The act of magic allows for direct communication, evocation, or indirect, invocation, with one or various deities or forces that have power over the laws of nature. Spirits called during rituals are obliged to fulfil the wishes of the magician, but only if the magician know the spirits name and attributes or, likewise, if their characteristics are described. These characteristics can be called on by the pronouncement of the spirits name or equally by writing it down.

Selecting prayers, advertisements, titles and phrases from the most renowned newspapers of the world and using a technique of deconstruction that tends to reveal the symbolic, political, religious and social meanings that are codified in the media, the artists have created, like magicians, a magical altarpiece. It contains evocation, invocations and performative images, portrayed as rituals, where the images stimulate the magician into portraying what the signs and formulas recorded describe. In this case the ritual is made up of prayers and formulas, where the entity is presented and praised, it is reminded of its duty and it is asked to consider the magicians desired effect that has been constructed according to the indications given by the entity. Rituals tend to have two variants for the magician to contact the spirit, and usually both methods are used at the same time; one way of communication is the calling of the spirit aloud, the other is by engravings. The artists invite us, through magic and their engravings on the altarpiece presented on a mirror, hence dealing with the idea of duplicity and of the separated image, to invoke and increase our receptivity towards everyday rituals that interplay with the media, which becomes a crucial manner of diffusing ideologies. The totality that can be seen is deceptive, an illusion of a complete object that is nothing more than a mirror image, an imaginative figure, deceptive, multiple and inverse.

TITLE: LOST PARADISE
AUTHOR: ANINAT & SWINBURN
TECHNICAL: INSTALATION / COLLAHUSI FOUNDATION, IQUIQUE, CHILE
YEAR: 2011