Issue 22: Radiant

Elian Chali

Reading time: 6 minutes



No one knows what a body that can't can do

From the wounds that mark the body, artist Elian Chali shares a network of possibilities regarding political spaces and aesthetic agency that make the flesh’s vulnerability vibrate.

I think of contexts. I think of cities. I think of constructions. Of the freshness that they release and that caresses our hectic walking. I think of buildings. Of their plaster epidermis and their concrete flesh. Of the cracks/scars. Of the insects that camouflage themselves in the ornaments. I think of my own ornaments. Of the outer folds and intimate nooks and crannies. Of my guts/furniture. Of painting as makeup. And we are always so sassy, venting ad nauseam that the only thing alive is what our white and proper tongue chats about. I think of storms. Of Lightning. Of lightning rods. Of their joining with the earth. Of the entanglements of intestines.

And I think how much like a city this body/bag that I am forced to inhabit is.

Sometimes like a vacant lot, sometimes like a house. Like a ranch. Like a shack. Like a building or a neighborhood, gentrified by the garlands of identity. All that sediment of sadness that hollows out but also becomes food. It pierces. It drills. It digs into the cement and embeds itself in the same soil that negotiates the thundering segregation of our difference. And it becomes a bowl and is filled with water and turns into mud. But it blossoms and emerges. It sprouts. This is not a resolution on suffering as a creative maneuver. Nor is it an affair sickly-sweet with suffering. It is a specific calibration of the modes of writing our survival. It is a specific calibration of the modes of writing our survival. If pettiness makes all our windows shatter, we go on. If emotional fracking dislocates our tectonic plates, here we are. Diagnosis biometrics chlorine detergent bleach. Even if it pinches. Even if it costs many lives.

Priests, neighbors, parents, and doctors frightened, excited. Sharpening the scythe. Hyperventilating. And on the other side, with the precarious repertoire of vitality that occurs in some biographies, pain rests like a silent veil on our surface. It’s sticky, things stick to us as we walk. They attach, they ride. They weigh. That fragile variation that we go through in the density of our time, the curious and dramatic audience cannot perceive it; they link deformity-angst as a mathematics of expulsion from exemplary life. We regurgitate and cry until we laugh! But we are lightning rods. Even if we don’t want to be or don’t choose to be. Sometimes it flashes and sometimes we are shot.

We refuse to be translators of canned spiritualities from the center of the center of the center. We reek of that stiff divinity that school textbooks teach us, like concepts, techniques, and their euro-minions. There is no possible interpretation nor sufficient pedagogy to alleviate the lexicon of war that envelops and runs through us; any attempt is complicity disguised as evil beauty. But we metabolize. We swallow and vomit, swallow and vomit. Just like that, by the cycles of cycles. Not as an operation, nor as strategies: as a trance. Creeping desires. Tribal connection with the unknown zones where our uncertainties lodge. Our divination is a disfigured science that combines anticipation of social disasters + retaliation of the seas against destructive civilizations + a millimetric memory about the writing of the dominated world. What we manifest is not only a product of the internal wiring through which our joys and afflictions flow; the enterprise of emotions is another orthopedic attempt to moderate the untamed spirit. We pass things through our insides like a visceral road, a house occupied by the circumstances of this era.

If something belongs to us, therein lies the problem. Because the problem is belonging.

The culture of the epoch that history has been dragging along takes shape in the methodology of fragmentation in tension with the conflicts of the self as a novel. A spectacularized cosmovision for museums and their cadaverous economies. We create things that do not work, sensitive theaters of the small. Drawings on little pieces of paper, aphonic chants. So tiny as to destabilize the orders of the world. A radical leisure as powerful as the trace of a snail. We stain, leave tracks, corrode slowly, like pigeon shit on the facades of institutions. We connect what the asylums and hospitals determined to be unfinished under the prism of tenderness so that it becomes atmosphere, ethereal texture of power. And now that this discursive neoliberalism uses the body as a basic materiality, just as it knew how to use the environment, peace, and the conquest of the stars to subdue, it is our turn to make a statement. Because compassion for the sick as a way of inhabiting healthcare is a pamphlet of extermination. We will not tolerate the upholding of this border. Stubbornness and fragility will be the foundation stone of the neighborhood we want to build.

Without exemplifying, and avoiding the false respect of pity, there are plenty of memories to guide us and to process the enigma we have stuck in the back of our heads: May we interpret “In My Language” by Amelia Baggs from a performative power? How is the political sensitivity of tongue-twisters and cancer inscribed in Linn da Quebrada’s song? Isn’t Sunaura Taylor’s intersectionality between anti-speciesism and disability an urgent call for that escape from meaning and subjectivation that enables artistic practice? Could Bob Flanagan’s fissure between inevitable pain and chosen pain be the reverse of the Western concept of suffering? Between Andrea Bocelli’s blindness and Glauco Mattoso’s blindness, what abysses of meaning exist? Knowing that one assumes themself to be pro-life and the other a militant in the Brazilian cultural resistance during its last military trial—and it is not necessary to guess which is which. Are not Beethoven’s “Heiligenstadt Testament” and Van Gogh’s mutilated ear wrapped in canvas both desperate, muffled cries, catalysts felt with the body and produced with the artistic? Does the Southern Cone fit into Yinka Shonibare’s decolonial rewriting of history? What social cosmetics did Lorenza Böttner use to make up her face? Aren’t Félix González Torres’ candies quite similar to the torment around time that many of us feel? That our days are numbered and that our bodies are shaped by devouring? I think of what oscillates between Anibal Brizuela’s fragile creative experience in the Colonia Psiquiátrica de Santa Fé and superstar Yayoi Kusama’s chosen self-hospitalization in Tokyo’s Seiwa Hospital. Can unfamiliar mental territories be a common ground for production despite the difference in contexts? Or are neurotypical lives the only ones enabled to discuss the world? Does the same precariousness run through both confinements? Is there such a thing as a good confinement? What do systems of representation do to Evgen Bavcar’s photography? What vengeance is available against the cities within my walls? As Liliana Maresca asked, what is left when there is no body left?

To atomize political art into an aesthetics regulated by the moral correctness of the current circumstances is a hasty reduction: it supposes a disengagement from certain tactics that are fundamental to intervening in reality, even outside of what we understand to be art. Who can tell someone what is the right way to endure? Even when forms of struggle can be found to be diametrically opposed to militant manuals. There are practices that are not based on typical artistic operations but do achieve a valuable, inventive overflight. Also movements and groupings with poetic resonances that go beyond what we understand as art. Although utility is a bad word today, the use that an artistic process can have in the construction of a political subject can save many from death or make death something other than pure entropy. There are demands for ways to make common things that only happen when that context no longer exists: we do not know what time can do to what we do. Politics of care can become a place of horizontal production, of accommodation. The mechanisms of inquiry and interdependence murmur a similar dialect. More than political art, a political way of making art.


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