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Magazine

16 January 2013
Habeas Corpus_CA Tarragona
I go to church, I rape women

Pilar Bonet


I go to church. I rape women.

I go to church. I rape women.

Maja Bajevic and Raquel Friera at the Centre d’Art in Tarragona

Amidst the shadows, the figure of a woman relates, in the voice of another, an alienating testimony:I rape women / I go to church I rape women. / I go to church. I rape women. . A veritable litany of faith and extreme violence. Statements, that synthesise the contradictions of religious orthodoxy and their sexist practices. This video, Double Bubble (2001), by the artist Maja Bajevic, born in Sarajevo, forms part of the project Habeas Corpus, that is presented in the space of the Centre d’Art in Tarragona.

This virile declaration, interpreted by a female body, leaves us stunned in the darkness of the Tinglado dockyards. A relentless war moniker, that is as desolate as the image of a city after the battle, or that of a community massacred by genocide. The smooth visual choreography, a silhouette amidst the lights and shadows of an interior space, consigns us to silence, despite the madness of the tale. The image reveals a profound emptiness, like that of those infinite cemeteries in Mostar or Sarajevo, or those Bosnian houses destroyed from inside. Without a doubt, it is one of the pieces that stands out, in the Habeas Corpus project. And something very interesting happens: the spectator recognises that the body and voice are strangers to each other, their rights and thoughts annulled. The abusive force of a third party deprives both of their own voice, converting them into an annulled desire, the embodiment or instrument of another: Whoever doesn’t think the same, should die. It is God’s wish. I’m just the messenger… proclaims the testimonial voice. The work of Maja Bajevic, an artist very much in demand in the last few years, shows the tough, psychological, moral, and also social, alienation that emanates from the historical conditions of contemporary society after the breakdown of old Europe.

In the show, the concept of Habeas Corpus links projects that have in common the function of the figure of the witness. The narration of personal experiences, a premise of artistry, here gives way to a fascination for testimony, to narrative ventriloquism and appropriation as strategies for creating new meanings for reality, truth or history. Photography, video or travel postcards make it possible to expand diverse images and experiences, secondary and unofficial sources that are capable of staging a debate about our own history. They are the dispersed memory and documentary testimony of events, places and their protagonists.

Like a series of prayers, recited or sung by a person and repeated, answered or completed by others, the video piece by Raquel Sánchez Friera also employs the voice over in a staging of the impossibility of truth: listen and understand. The art of understanding means that we aren’t even ever capable of understanding ourselves and the shift in our perception can offer us a new perspective on the history that we share. In the videography piece, 1.432.327 m2, the artist supplants the voices of the witnesses, diverse illegal immigrants who were retained in the CIE, the immigrant detention centres. Once again the image of alienation appears. These confinement centres are the symbol of a huge social failure and the dark side of the communitarian ideal.

Both pieces, by Maja Bajevic and Raquel Friera, operate as a recital and manipulate the linguistic anchor, the place from where the witness speaks, as a stage for dialogue. They declaim out loud a personal discourse, a sonorous testimony, one that faced with the loss of an id, pursues the abolition of the conflict between the identifier and the identified. Raquel Sánchez Friera appears on the screen in a close up, without context, and verbalises almost without expression the voice of the interns, who describe the room or the conditions of the centre where they were detained before being deported or freed. Places of nobody, alienating, that form no part of laws or human rights, architectures that make manifest the relation between spatiality and corporality, control and vulnerability.

The testimony, significant for being a voice that demands our attention, revealing the keys of a conflict, acts with firmness in the work of both artists. The screens of both videos function like a sonorous duet, a visual diptych where they, and each one of us, feel how something distant and hostile is specific to us.

Exhibitions like Habeas Corpus refute the stereotype that contemporary art is of no interest; it is totally impossible not to be drawn in by the works brought together in this show. All the pieces talk about our reality and its structures of discourse, about the truth of stories; including the projects by Rabih Mroué, Uriel Orlow, Bleda and Rosa, Kajsa Dahlberg and Teresa Margolles who also participated in this group project.

Is going to try, once again. Writing about art and culture from the critical, organising production through curatorship or sharing knowledge about teaching are the working registers that enable Pilar Bonet to think about the political factors of artistic production and its social responsibility. Somewhat less glamorous than a professorship, than a certificate of excellence, or a prize, but something that in the end occupies a critical amount of time, with little return. She received the best applause from her friends, many of them artists, for making a paella for them all. She’s going to try and do it, once again.

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"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)