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Teresa Solar “Flotation Line” at der TANK, Basel

by Alejandro Alonso Díaz

 

In a glass fishbowl at night, a cetacean body lies in the darkness. As the morning sun slowly rises, the whale emerges from the shadows, surrounded by eyes, pink bones, fingers, and corals. The flotation line covers almost half the space: 50% water and 50% air is imposed upon the bodies. The whale hangs with a heavy presence, rising in force as if breathing, coming up for air again. One at a time, a number of ceramic objects emerge with the daylight: maybe jellyfish, amphibians or perhaps fake fishbowl decorations. We humans relate to aquaria, tanks and fishbowls from the outside. We keep goldfish in them, observing how they swim, providing them with fishmeal, fertilizing their water and arranging their environments. We inscribe them to part of our static habitats, but a much more sophisticated and sensual thinking awaits inside.

Behind the glass wrapping of der TANK, Teresa Solar presents a collection of sculptures that turns out to be a complex organism with a clear zoomorphic configuration. The body of a whale serves as the epicenter of the exhibition, a sculpture hanging from the ceiling that forces the viewer to navigate the space, aware of its axes, as the gallery itself is a tall crystal cube resembling the proportions of an over-dimensioned aquatic container. This animal is a recurrent feature in the iconography of Teresa Solar—it has appeared in previous projects like Cabalga Cabalga Cabalga, the recent solo exhibition at Matadero Madrid and Ballena Blanca, Palacio de mil patios(White Whale, Palace of a Thousand Courtyards), a workshop conducted by the artist at Tabakalera San Sebastián—which hosts a vast range of divergent meanings and references, from Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, to Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Although a fascinating subject in the minds of artists and scientists alike, the body of a whale is also a figure endowed with dark connotations. While the sixteenth century is seen as that of humanism, the same may not be said of the century’s relationship with the oceans. As early as the Stone Age, humans hunted whales, but it wasn’t until the the sixteenth century that the spread of whaling occurred, and that the commercialization of blubber and meat became a major industry for Europe’s economy. In order to legitimize capitalist transactions based on whaling, it was necessary to build the image of a threatening ocean, founded in the period’s philosophies of nature, so as to portray the type of extractivism that rightfully confronts the dangers and risks of the Ocean. In this context, the whale-monster myth became a fertile subject. This period of expansion was also one of exhaustion, oceanically speaking: throughout the Atlantic, the Western ontology of the human was set to prevail over all other species. A notion of humanity unthinkable without the separation between man and nature, and operating as an ethical concept above all that which is non-human: animals, plants, and territories. And underpinning these ontologies is the question of culture, which remains unanswered in the case of cetaceans.

That whales have cultural structures and that they communicate is considered common knowledge. But there is a big difference between the type of communication that Vilém Flusser calls “natural”, the conveying of information necessary for survival—the waggling dance of bees, for instance—to what we humans call language. In contrast to natural communication, Flusser writes, the artificial or “cultural” communication of humans is“perverse because it wants to store the information it acquires.”[1]What can whale communication teach us about these two possibilities? Scientists don’t yet have an answer. Perhaps understanding such a process demands not only a scientific investigation—its main characteristics, biological functioning, and evolutionary breakthroughs—but also a perceptive and imaginative input connecting water and air, death and joy (a whale either hanging dead or jumping out of the water), body and mind, seafloor and cosmos. In the text accompanying the exhibition, Chus Martínez, curator of the project and responsible for the TANK’s commissions, writes: “a myriad of new unknown moralities, realms of the senses, orders of behavior, and futures for the creatures unknown till now.”

Flotation Line physically and metaphysically depicts identity at sea while attempting to position the human within an interconnected system: to re-portray humanity in a rescaling gesture, as in a fluid atmosphere where individual subjects adopt an imbricated position: the line that touches the hand that touches the whale, and which together become a collective identity. The tactile quality is as fundamental in this show as it is in the overall practice of Teresa Solar. For Flotation Line,the artist drew on a range of materials including fabric, polyurethane foam, metal and ceramics, putting together an exhibition in which the works don’t have individual titles, but instead seem to function as an entire whole. A gigantic fishing hook made of polyurethane hangs next to the whale’s body, colonized by an invasive kind of coral. Again, by playing with these permutations between the manmade and the natural, Solar’s sculptures evoke and subvert notions of humanism and natural hierarchies. The two pipes shaping the flotation line compress a fleshy pink ceramic, somehow subjected to the pressures of the ocean depths. On the other side of the gallery, another black ceramic sculpture with a similar organic texture speaks of matter undergoing transformation, like the initial vibration giving birth to a wave, a current or tide. Substances come into contact, transforming one another in a kind of fluid force that shapes matter; organic lines marking out a rhythmic pattern. The artist’s interest in the transformation of matter is in fact a fundamental aspect of her practice that speaks of her will to invoke transition. The use of arches (here in the form of a bone) or knots conform a glossary of incorporation, an account of the ways in which connectivity opposes the dichotomy between inside and out, between what comes first and what comes after. It is a kind of sculpture premised on the idea that transition confuses the distinction between the self and the other, subject and object.

The use of the flotation line—the interstice that separates water and air—as the exhibition’s agglutinant brings to mind the axiom by which you don’t look at this interstitial space: you can only occupy it. The ocean, Teresa tells us, is a place where intelligence occurs not only in the form of thinking but in the form of experience. The line of the horizon is not fixed in water; it implies the displacement of matter. Water moves and so do we. Immersing yourself means embracing the instability of the horizon, which no longer corresponds to how far your gaze can reach. Your body is your eyes now, and it is synchronized to your breathing.

 

[1] Vilém Flusser, Writings, trans. Erik Eisel (Minneapolis University of Minnesota Press, 2002).

 

Curated by Chus Martínez
Curatorial Assistance: Simon Würsten

 

at der TANK, Basel
until 15 July 2018

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