PREFACE / POSTSCRIPT to the Peruvian exhibition catalogue for the Venice Biennale
I am writing this on March 23, 2020. The Tokyo Olympics have been finally postponed and, for reasons more and more incomprehensible, the Venice Biennale has yet to be cancelled as Lombardy grieves 6,077 dead, and counting, in the midst of a moral, regional, [geo]political and generational human extinction event.
This significant delay on the Biennale’s part—as the world is caught and mangled in a pataphysical death spiral and our very conception[s] and habits of time[s] begin to wobble and change phases— deserves to be what its seventeenth edition is remembered for; the last, hubristic hurrah the design world should be willing—or able— to fling into the Faceless within our lifetimes.
How shall we live together?
As we can. If we’re able.
The surge in LA hasn’t struck yet—not perceptibly, although The Cough and sirens are already present. Today the plague gods visited our house: we learned of our first infected neighbour, and can do nothing for them—or ourselves—other than hope and pray, in terror.
California opted for the opacity of mitigation, which may be just as psychologically corrosive as having a real knowledge of the numbers.
My husband and I have just returned from our increasingly nightmarish walks. With only days in quarantine, our bodies have become attuned to rhythms that we didn’t know we had. We’ve lost our youth. And we are, one and all, discovering a most intimate and cosmic strangeness, amongst ourselves as well as with/in the world, in manners exceedingly painful.
The masks allow us to enact a ghoulish simulation of the airless parts of the disease. It’s grotesque to wear them: these are masks of more or less divergent mimicry, the abject laugh, the cruellest theatre. The Venetian revellers of Carnival reassembled as Plague Gods, Plague Doctors.
I accepted this commission sportingly, to complicate and challenge the Peruvian exhibition’s leading notion that gates are meaningfully violent, and that the civilised desire is to remove them from the commons. That I’d counter, with the curator’s full consent, by reframing gates as coterminous symbolic sluices that are able to embody and sustain the flickering and tensile contradictions of the space-bound limen.
So far, so good. It’s strong, conceptually—or was, before the days the Earth stood still.
A tweet by @white_owly flits into my phone’s screen: “Boundaries have shifted. Which means that ‘spaces in between’ have also shifted—they’re no longer where they once were. What was my limen is now everyone’s norm (which I mistyped as ‘room’).” Extreme times, extreme measures.
That. That’s it. I will never again forage or mince words. It would be an obscenity, unaffordable.
Mónica Belevan, March 23, 2020, Los Angeles