As a child, I was told that the old system once used to create usable paths up a mountainside consisted in loading a donkey with a heavy burden and setting it loose in the direction of the mountaintop. The donkey economizes its energy to the utmost, always taking the most horizontal slopes possible, which, zigzagging, will lead it to the top with the least force possible in relation to the burden it is carrying. Once the path has been outlined by the animal, it would then be widened and adapted for human use. The “form” —the zigzag path— could be viewed as the result of an equation that includes: 1. A pre-existing obstacle: the mountainside; 2. A desire or goal: to climb the slope, 3. An instrument for measuring and calculation: the donkey, which has a built-in energy-saving mechanism; and, finally, 4. The equation needs something extra: the burden.
Likewise, in the artistic process, in order to arrive at a form —be it the zigzag or be it the mountainside whose slope and height remain unknown to us until we reach the top— we only know intuitively that we have to load a structure to the maximum, with a large quantity of materials. Real, Ideal and Vital materials that ensure that the relationship between the weight of them all and the animal’s energy-saving mechanism will create a path. A path that, when used, will tell us the size of the slope, and when arriving to the end (if we do) will show us the form – the zigzag and the height of the mountain. Just like the donkey, we have to come up with subterfuges, dangling any kind of carrot before us, encouragements that lead the animal we are in a certain direction. The specificity of the artistic process is that we are all these things: donkey, mountainside, burden, track and carrot. Once the foregoing has been fulfilled, a structure or strategy could give us a form, but no form in itself will guarantee us meaning, because it is always somewhere else and will depend on the complexity of the question and the motivation, and the way in which you combine the factors that intervene in relation to the genuine need of our action.
For the fifth time I hear him retell how, on the occasion of his wife’s birthday, he organised a dinner for fourteen people in the backyard of a famous restaurant. He had the bright idea of calling the biggest casting agency in Hollywood to request the presence, the services, of an elderly lady of aristocratic allure who would pose as a guest. She arrived at the agreed-upon time, dressed and quaffed to the nines, and they sat her at the head of the table. As the guests streamed in, they would discreetly ask each other who this lady was, but nobody knew her. During the dinner, when they started asking him directly, he replied each time with gusto, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen her before”. Which was true.
I’d had to listen to this anecdote five times before I realised that I share with him a peculiar relationship to rules (something written in stone) and language (as an escape route). I’m fascinated by how the character in this story set up the conditions that allowed him to experience the absolute pleasure of inhabiting language – in so far as a rule within a broader rule, which is not to lie – and to liberate himself from within it, dominating language through that performative moment of providing a reply carefully crafted with the sole purpose of granting himself the delicate pleasure of lying without betraying the truth or, in other words, speaking a (literal) truth and knowing that he was lying.
I recognise in this example a way of operating with language that’s similar to what I wrote on 8 November. Accepting an utter submission to a particular type of commitment not to break the law which, combined with a no lesser commitment to language, allows one, through the latter, to not betray either whilst betraying them both. It’s deserting without moving. Accepting the rule of the game that is to submit entirely to language and norms, and by submitting to breach it.
At the London Zoo I noticed the impunity with which the sparrows would flit in and out through the bars of various other bird cages–specifically the parrots. A phrase came to mind: “they put this here for us”, an example of what could be termed unconscious pronoia. If pronoia is defined as a positive interpretation whereby one has the feeling that people or the world are secretly conspiring in one’s favour, the scene here at the zoo made evident the sparrows’ inability to perceive, and therefore even to consider, the limits (in this case physical barriers) built by humans, which to them seemed invisible. Their behaviour provided evidence that a life driven by a lack of awareness can expand through any structure effortlessly.
Seeing how gleefully the sparrows landed, bathed and fed inside the cages, I delighted myself in imagining what they were saying to each other: “It was all set up for us, for us!”, expressing a feeling entirely deserving of these timely conveniences, which I presumed they made extensive to the entire zoo facility. The situation was made possible by the inadequacy of the cage bars’ function (and the gaps in between) to the size of a sparrow. The people who built the cages, so preoccupied with not letting some birds out, never presumed that others may want to get in. The sparrow, thus ignored and reduced to insignificance, excluded from consideration, with no value as an exotic bird, and therefore not yet capitalized on by anyone, enjoys full freedom to act. The lack of awareness in their behaviour, their levity and candid enjoyment of that abundance, was immensely inspiring to me.
DONKEY / IN AND FROM WITHIN LANGUAGE / IT WAS SET UP FOR US are excerpts from Vulnerario written by Jon Mikel Euba and published by Caniche Editorial in 2021. These excerpts have been translated from Spanish to English by Aitor Arauz.