ISSUE 12/ September 2021


dissection and physiology of dead beings

Brassaï: flâneur in Paris.

by Aftermath laika

In design, an object originates from the mind, not from paper. It is there where the political and the technical, the aesthetic and the functional converge; the market and the rules. This considers organic thinking: if design is a reason, it is also the final cause why it differs from art.

Credits: Texts, Design and Illustration Aftermath Laika® / Buenos Aires 2021

The conjecture of the past is not an artistic whim, even when the imagination of memory, in Simondon's terms, acts profoundly in the discernment of an image. In these terms, archeology has required countless investigations; tools to prompt the questions.

In retrospect, the ancient world has vanished. The documents are silent traces and as deep as bone and dust; biological assumptions, hidden matter. Civilizations lost in time are fragments of a laborious puzzle. It presents the same scattered arrangement with which the paleontologist distributes the findings on his work table, making room for the missing ones.

Through these incomplete documents, the past becomes the future, –in hypotheses– and for example, there is no other way than to redefine the concept of invention. While paleography immerses itself in the signs, in the word; in the history of writing, archeology interprets the complete evidence; culture from its material remains. The reconstruction of a past world is a discipline whose strategy is articulated between the study of natural processes and that of the social sciences.

The story of two British anthropologists show a direct path between the particularities of the image and the social sciences. Before discovering the fossil skull of an ape touring a volcanic island in Kenya - the island of Rusinga - Mary Douglas Nicol - the daughter of an English artist who traveled tirelessly through Europe at the end of the 1932th century - had already illustrated two scientific books: The first, in XNUMX it was «The Desert Fayoum », an archaeological investigation by the anthropologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson over the Egyptian irrigation canals of the ancient Empire. The second was a commission in addition; Mary Douglas Nicol's drawings aroused an expectation in other scientists of the time: Chroniclers, curious or critical gaze?

In paleontology, the artificial reconstruction of a prehistoric object - its formal repair - is a multidisciplinary activity. Unlike the present and the future, the paleoartist he cannot invent the past. He can propose fictional alternatives, of course, but with enormous critical brilliance: an approach to the artifice of the past in agreement and consensus with an investigation of which he is a part, but he is not directly responsible. What is the visual history of a archaeopterix?

In art and design, an object - a drawing is - originates in the mind, not on paper. It is there where the political and the technical, the aesthetic, recur. In design, the market and standards are added; functional mechanics. In one way or another, the discipline considers gregarious thinking. But can the reconstruction of the past be understood as an artistic discipline? A buried city projects a revelation whose artistic reality lives without exception within a specific culture. Its matter, its modes, its uses, are a social body. Only from a fictional perspective can an object be independently related to a story.

Pasolini and his collaborators found in a construction of the XNUMXnd century BC, the medieval city of Shibam, –An extraordinary walled city in Yemen–, the ideal setting for filming Arabian Nights (1974) .Although the location did not necessarily propose a historical but an artistic appointment, since Arabian Nights is a medieval compilation of Middle Eastern folk events - episodes include Persian, Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian culture - the site, as a setting, functioned in the memory and imagination of the viewer without any distortion.

The designed object - a city, a fantastic animal, a book - is a reason, and it is the reason why its discipline - design - differs from art. In science, the paleoartist is the one who reveals the apparently definitive form of a life whose data are as innumerable as they are paradoxically insufficient. From that vantage point and protected from his graphic tools - his specific work - he reconstructs the missing, the appearance, the strength, the weakness; the gestural; biological and cultural particularities of a past that research has made available. For the rest, it is not possible to work on a design piece starting with its appearance without thinking its engine, that is, without considering a mechanism that gives it movement.

The images of Mary Douglas Nicol functioned as technical discourse, as anchor and depth of the text. Archaeologist Louis Leakey looks at the illustrations: the great circular oasis projected by the Theban pharaohs in the Egyptian Fayoum, - a system of canals drained by the vicinity of the Nile. His drawings may have visited the city of Per-Sobek and its labyrinthine buildings in Hawara. Also the lands where they buried their jeweled sacred crocodiles. Louis Leakey then offers to illustrate «Adam's Ancestors: The Evolution of Man and His Culture » Then they marry and Mary, as the mandate of the time indicates, adopts her surname: Mary Leakey.

Mary Leakey's drawings are accurate and curious. They suspect the past with the presumption of a faithful document. Could you call yourself an artist? Design is a discipline whose tools are optimal for projecting both the present and the future. The first, which concerns the contemporary world and exerts an influence as much as a discussion about becoming: The future is a mere conjecture. Both situations provoke a complex and diverse criticism in the designer, but while in the design of the present the anticipation of the social and technological event has the key to the proposal, the future design needs a greater effort: to create a previous worldview where to resort to the object. . But what about the past? The past is an antecedent that does not allow a bastard reading. What happened in that past founded the present, a time lapse that becomes future in relation to the object of study. If, for example, some object from the past was not documented, the critical field carries the same conditions that the future object will inquire about. The past then becomes the future.

What makes a palaeortista a designer? Paleontology and archeology reconstruct a past that is slowly verified by the sum of research and discoveries. The design of tools in the stone age by case, is differentiated by two well-marked economic periods: the Paleolithic hunter and the Neolithic farmer. Two different worlds. If the past is not documented, the analytical conditions are the same as for projecting the future: assumptions; conjectures.

Regarding certain semantic confusions and the way of naming the disciplines, the art direction is involved in issues that it could not arbitrate from its specific knowledge. Unfairly, a paleoartist seems to carry that critical charge in his title, -artist-. In cinema, reconstructing the past implies approaching a documented time. Certainly the task is not difficult. In any case it is a safe task. There is evidence and written documents that support this reconstruction. To design a stone age weapon you have to argue on the technological basis and be plausible with a story around it. The discussion is wide. Cinema and videogames are largely nourished by the artifacts of time and culture. As they are design disciplines because, unlike the visual arts, their development is linked to purpose and to certain conditions of technical reproducibility.

Regarding the procedures, the design, –especially during its initial stage–, can be controlled by chance through the blurring offered by the analytical crisis, but this question is inevitably lost at some point: the product must be reproduced or else be exposed as final. Any eventual modification will respond to another model, which will perhaps be an improvement or a setback until a new investigation proposes a different version.

El Spinosaurus It was perhaps the largest dinosaur that inhabited the earth during the Cretaceous, about a hundred million years ago. Its discovery dates back to the beginning of the 10th century, almost twenty meters in length and about XNUMX tons in weight. A sail on its back (a sort of hinged fin) rose another meter and a half from its spine. The lizard's predecessor - its skull and the configuration of its jaw have similarities to any species of saurian - may have been amphibian like a current crocodile. The funny thing is that there could be different versions of Spinosaurus, similar species, but as different as a dog from a wolf.

In the 1928 British academy entrusts Gertrude Caton Thompson with excavations in the remains of the medieval city of the kingdom of Zimbabwe, in South Africa. The settlement occupies a vast region that includes two kingdoms, palaces and an extensive peripheral town of almost 20,000 inhabitants extending 10 km2 around. Its center, formed by three singular and constructively differentiated groups as The Acropolis –The Colina Complex, the Valley Complex and the Great Fence– was destined for the kings and for the protection of the sleeping sickness caused by the African fly. Tsé Tsé.

The Portuguese colonization, in the middle of 1640, only finds desert: civilization and its kingdoms have mysteriously disappeared. You can only glimpse the groups dated by successive reigns, the walled enclosures over 10 meters high, the Conical Tower, the Elliptical Building and the extensive containing wall. The construction technique is surprising to them: large irregular stones laid without mortar or mixture of any kind.

By 1932, the centuries have collapsed much more than stone structures. Gertrude Caton Thompson receives the reports of the Portuguese colony, the texts of the conquerors who in any case attribute metaphysical considerations to the site. But not only that material is antecedent and guide: some hunters who rediscovered the site in 1867 –Mauch and Render; at the time merchants and explorers - launch a legend clearly plausible to the European ears of the time: such a large construction mediated around a replica of the Saba Temple in Jerusalem.

Of course, once again, it was not possible to accept a medieval African origin - essentially the Bantu kingdom - nor that a XNUMXth century fabric trading empire could solve the complex architecture of the Acropolis. Archaeologists of the time did not hesitate to associate Greek cultures with entrepreneurship. James Bent, a British archaeologist signed a strict opinion in his work called The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland: established Zimbabwe as a typically Phoenician construction.

Gertrude Caton Thompson was not intimidated. In successive excavations he compiled the material evidences of the innumerable domestic objects rescued; But among these objects, masonry as a technique was a definitive fact: it dates back to between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. Beyond a certain imprecision as a result of carbon techniques –modern and still inaccurate for the time–, Caton Thompson did not consider it possible that the works could move away from the dominant culture of that period: the Bantu kingdom. The presence of cultural exchange through commercial travelers later offered him an Arab perspective on certain construction details, but not much else about it, except for the importance of the final dating: even with evidence of objects and materials from the XNUMXth century, the date of Construction of Great Zimbabwe was finally centered between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries.

Although before meeting Mary Douglas Nicol, Gertrude Caton-Thompson had already worked in the excavations of Great Zimbabwe, the archaeologist finds in these graphic collaborations a strength that will define her later work in paleontology.

The excavations define a structure in section, a dissection regarding its discovery. It could be said that even autonomous in their discourses, the considerations of the exterior and the interior are organic to the same end and cannot be separated; In any case, they can be discussed from the inside out, that is, a body whose skin covers a physiology, an anatomy, a bone structure.

Technically, when an object jumps from the black box of the mind to an instance of graphical verification, it does so by means of three-dimensional modeling. But that first drawing is decidedly a cut, a dissection. The cut is an aspect of space and space is a conjecture of the interior of things, the space or occupied spaces and mechanisms. Two different ways of understanding matter, that of the skin in its function of covering, insulation and permeability; of termination, and the internal matter specialized in questions of circulatory mechanisms, motors and resistant structure.

The paleoartist knows and handles the technique of graphic documentation and this tool - the Monge system - allows him an exact strategy to elaborate a formal conjecture, after all, his work. This implies the management of spatial geometry. You can pre-draw or model a material body. In one way or another, the data must be agreed. The cutting of a living body maintains the same conditions and inquiries as in architecture, being the essential tool where the interior of things, the space or occupied spaces and the mechanisms are studied; the transversal, longitudinal and zenith section –the plant–.

Around the same time that Gertrude Canton Thompson was touring the circular ruins of Zimbabwe, defending the Bantu culture, Brassaï, a Hungarian photographer knows the streets of Paris. Night and time highlight the origin of the reliefs that he now looks at. All space indicates a cosmos that retracts and changes each time. The walls and trees renew the insistence of a society that travels its wandering speech in dreams. An expression without pause. It is 1930 and Paris opens his speeches in innumerable cracks and skills that other walkers - perhaps also nocturnal - have left as footprints for centuries. Friend of Dubuffet, Miller and the surreal atmosphere of his time, Brassaï is a flâneur that conquers the margins of a city that operates like an installation or if you like, like a canvas or paper. Brassaï installs the tripod like an anchor and mounts his camera around those manifestations and memories engraved in the insomniac stone, in the puddles, in the living trunk that will continue to grow with its footprints on it.

Finally Graffiti, he observes and chooses what his perception has already foreseen and operates: photographing an artificial geology that becomes magical behind his patient lens. The camera is simply a demiurge between his will and that of who has discussed his passage through the same street that stops. It is only allowed to inquire into history. His argument is none other than widening the path and the footprint with a silver emulsion. Brassaï will return whenever necessary and use his notebook to retrieve the plot of a story that he wrote down another night as he passed. The titles it points to are simple, "Faces, death, animals"; it is the image that drives the discourse.

 Brassaï is a sort of hunter who uses the night to detect his favorite prey, the laziness of a knife digging into the wall, the slightly violent insistence, curiously obsessive looking for a figure or the figure of a word hidden behind a hole. Each mark on the wall completes a cycle that will be discovered by a new passerby, and revealed at dawn in an uncertain way. 

Brassaï stops the moment of an event that, he knows, will definitely be another, an instant after he picks up his camera and starts walking to his study.

Aftermath Laika / China Sea, May 2021