Anca Benera & Arnold Estefan “The Last Particles” at 40mcube, Rennes
Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán’s work highlights events from a recent – and even current, and therefore changing – world history from different social, political, economic and cultural contexts. The artists point to factual or narrative materials that they draw from chemistry, geology, geography, history, etc. They deal with territorial issues such as national borders (Conflict Lines, 2018), which appear to move according to geopolitical choices or because of conflicts, or territories that States might soon dispute without having the recognition of the international community (The Last Land, 2018). They are also interested in man-made nature, how geology is altered and how landscapes are reshaped by human activities. They invented the term debrisphere to refer to an unnamed layer of the Earth’s crust, a supra-stratum of the lithosphere that brings together artificial landscapes around the world, such as military coral reefs, man-made mountains, and other constructions, whether or not in use, that are the result of conflicts and wars.
If their sources are documented, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán reveal their partiality and relative reliability. ConflictLines, for example, presents the world according to Google and points out that depending on the country in which you get online, the borders that appear are not the same. Their works also highlight power strategies and the relationship between individual and hierarchical systems. By imagining new national, cultural or ethnic affiliations, and by inventing new identification signs for discriminated groups, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán tackle the notion of identity and question our collective memory (We are all Dust and Ashes, 2017 – ongoing).
The Last Particles
According to a recent study published in The Sedimentary Record1, the sand on Normandy’s beaches contains about 4% shrapnel and metal debris from the Normandy Landings.
Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán use this «magnetic sand» as a raw material for their installation The Last Particles and create new stories around these particles. Almost visible to the naked eye, they can also be observed under a microscope in the installation created by the artists, which is inspired by scientific laboratories. In the video, the particles become the actors of a choreography and gradually take on the appearance of a living organism. Their movements, which create the illusion of the view of a crowd or battlefield from up high, are based on the theories formulated by the writer Elias Canetti (1905 – 1994) in his book Crowds and power (1960), in which he explains the mechanisms that lead a crowd to follow a leader. The artists refer to the analogies used today in the analysis of crowd behaviour, which equates them to systems of atoms or molecules.
1 The Sedimentary Record, vol. 9, no 3, September 2011.
The Desert Rock that Feeds the World
The installation of Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán refers to the sand wall built by Morocco in Western Sahara, an area designated by the United Nations as a «Non-Self-Governing Territory» that contains a phosphate deposit of 1.7 billion tonnes on the Bou Craa site. Built to keep the Sahrawi people, the population living in the eastern Sahara, away from the natural resources of the region, the Moroccan Western Sahara Wall is the largest active military barrier in the world. It allows Morocco to control the northwestern part of Western Sahara.
For artists, this wall is a perfect example of debrisphere. They include in their installation a phosphate rock, in reference to one of the most important natural resources of Western Sahara. Essential for plant and animal life, in particular for the production of DNA in the human body, phosphorus is also used as a fertilizer. As it cannot be produced artificially, deposits create greeds that generate tensions, leading to changes in the landscape.
Citrus Tristeza is a virus that has led to the death of millions of citrus trees worldwide and made several others million unfit for production. By a tragic coincidence, the appearance of the virus coincides with the emergence of fascism in Europe.
The performance created by the artists and reported in the video consists in writing with lemons in the public space in Palermo, on buildings, ruins, or on the sidewalk. The lemon juice slowly evaporates, leading to the disappearance of the text before it can be read by the inhabitants. Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán also make a link with agricultural productivism in Italy, which has led to a sharp increase in exports and the exploitation of migrants, often from Romania or Eastern Europe, who are forced to remain silent because of their precarious situation.
The Conflict Lines
The boundaries between States are sometimes difficult to draw with certainty. They may vary depending on the country you are in and its land claims. In some cases, in order not to take a stand on a conflict and to preserve its interests, Google shows different borders depending on the country from which you connect to the Internet. It also happens that the search engine changes the boundaries according to the domain name visited by the Internet user. In 2010, Google briefly mistakenly gave part of Costa Rica to neighbouring Nicaragua, leading to the deployment of military troops to secure the internationally recognized border.
With Confict Line, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán reveal a world of blurred mapping, not delimited by Google Maps, and expose conflict zones hidden by the Californian company.
The Last Land
Marie Byrd Land in Antarctica is one of the last territories not to be claimed by any State, a direct consequence of the Antarctic Treaty which comes into effect after the Second World War and which only allows peaceful activities on this continent, a principle subsequently applied to the Moon and space. Today, a large part of Antarctica is the subject of land claims that are more or less recognized by the international community. Although the annexation of the continent is impossible, tensions arising from potential wealth of natural resources such as oil and gas could lead to the abrogation of the treaty, which is initially scheduled to expire in 2048.
If Marie Byrd Land belonged to everyone, each citizen could own 0.20 sq. m. of it in 2018. In this work, constantly updated according to the world population, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán take up the outline of Marie Byrd Land and give the representation of the territory a surface area of 0.20 sq. m., revealing the tiny part not claimed by any States that each could own.
Isa por ës homou vogymuk (We are all Dust and Ashes)
Kopjafaks are carved wood totems made in the Székely Land, a Romanian region located in Transylvania where Hungarian is spoken. Placed next to the graves, they represent through symbolic geometric shapes the different people whose bodies they watch over. The carved patterns on each segment of the totem allow us to know if the deceased is a woman or a man, and to know his social and marital status, his age, etc.
Originally, kopjafaks were used in Protestant cemeteries in Transylvania. More recently, they have been instrumentalized by the Hungarian nationalist regime and claimed as vernacular elements representing «Hungarian national purity».
To produce this work, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefán worked with a Transylvanian woodcarver and produced a whole new set of symbols designating social groups that are discriminated against by the current Hungarian government: migrants, LGBT community, homeless people, etc. They thus divert nationalist rhetoric, with the objective of bringing the newly created forms into the traditional representations of sculptors and seeing them appear in the public space in Hungary.
Curated by 40mcube
Produced by 40mcube and the Institut français
This exhibition is part of the France – Romania Season 2019
at 40mcube, Rennes
until 13 April 2019