The temple of voices
In the summer of 2018 the exhibition It’s time to open the Black Boxes! was presented at the Museu del Convento de Santo Domingo, in Mallorca, Spain, directer by Andreu Aguiló. We are in a hall used to exhibit contemporary art, although its architecture indicates that it was originally built in the 17th century as a […]
In the summer of 2018 the exhibition It’s time to open the Black Boxes! was presented at the Museu del Convento de Santo Domingo, in Mallorca, Spain, directer by Andreu Aguiló.
We are in a hall used to exhibit contemporary art, although its architecture indicates that it was originally built in the 17th century as a church of the Dominican Order.
In 1216 Saint Dominic founded a community in accordance with a series of ideals, intended to operate as a horizontal system based on the values of democracy and cohesion for all its members. This required being in tune with local life and activities, and therefore a ‘general chapter’ or assembly was held every three years. However, despite holding clearly democratic principles and being one of the most intellectual of the religious orders, over the centuries the ‘Order of Preachers’ displayed frequent signs of intolerance, and there is undisputable evidence that it held ties with the Spanish Inquisition (my apologies for going so far back in time). This former church in Pollença, where we currently find ourselves, possibly reflects these internal contradictions, and the frustrated attempts to create a ‘bottom-up’ system eager to assume the principles of dialogue and responsibility.
We are in Majorca, where the first language is Catalan and where the Catalonia question, one of various challenges facing the Spanish state (corruption, votes of no-confidence, justice and the pension system), is a particularly sensitive issue. With regards to this situation, the gap between the various positions is widening throughout the country, making it extremely difficult to find a space for dialogue. In local terms, the islands’ residents seem to have their own agenda.
We are also in Europe, a continent where for the last ten years life has been shaped by a succession of political and economic crises, whose younger generation has been told that education is solely for the purpose of finding employment and that becoming a homeowner is a mere chimera. My generation, the millennials, occupies a territory that is particularly propitious for creating a state of mind cushioned by the media: we have been educated to study, work and perpetuate a model that our parents achieved only after a period of considerable tumult and commotion. Yet faced with a bleak outlook, one that I prefer not to delve into too far, which extends throughout much of the continent and is based on corrupt, protectionist, xenophobic, sexist and environmentally-unfriendly values, society has reacted, skilfully making use of social media to stir up public opinion by adopting attitudes based on open-mindedness and inclusion. Spain, particularly in the wake of the 15-M Movement, is the reflection of this new era in which citizen participation is flourishing and mass movements are once again emerging.
In contrast, a year ago I was in Athens, visiting the controversial edition of documenta 14 and meeting Danae Stratou in person for the first time ever. For me it was a stroke of luck; we discussed contemporary art due to the international exhibition I had come to visit, and politics, because for her, that is what life is all about. I grasped the serious nature of Stratou’s work and her vast capacity to influence political debate, reflecting all areas of contemporaneity and the perception the people have of their surroundings.
One thing led to another, specifically to her studio. A space with a view in which to work, overflowing with documents relating to her work and a hundred boxes, containing even more boxes. Danae spoke to us at length about her black boxes project, an installation comprising 100 aluminium voice-activated boxes. Since it was first opened in Athens in 2012, the exhibition has travelled to Krems (Austria, 2016) and Paris (France, 2017), spotlighting the concerns of the people that inhabit the various places it has been shown in.
This work, at once solid and mutable, is in itself an exercise in advanced democracy that can only be realised through citizen participation. In the months leading up to the presentation of the installation in each new location, people are invited to individually propose a word they consider represents a threat to them or gives them hope. Of all the words put forward, the hundred that are considered to be most representative are chosen and featured on small video screens, one inside each of the hundred boxes. The public’s active participation in the creative process means that the work varies from one exhibition to another, and from one country to another, highlighting the particular characteristics of each time and place, but also revealing those things that they have in common.
The rest is history: it is only natural that this artistic installation should be presented in Spain: on the one hand in order to support local democratic practice, and on the other to complete its function as a project featuring the reflections of a country that pioneered a series of crises that appears to be ongoing. From my position as exhibition curator, my greatest and most gratifying surprise has been the civic commitment of everyone that has contributed a word to the project. When we know that our opinion will be heard and appreciated, when the artist considers us to be adult and responsible individuals, then we take the chance to express our opinion seriously. In this case the boxes monitor our thoughts without intermediaries, as a means of liberating our silenced voices: the opportunity to express ourselves with so much freedom is quite simply extraordinary. I believe that all this is a true research discovery between art, democracy and political action: choosing just one word can be quite a challenge, yet there is not one that could be considered superfluous or proposed in vain; indeed, it is clear that there is a depth of reflection, albeit to varying degrees, underlying each word.
It is now the time and place to open the black boxes, for sharing and considering the ideas. The black boxes on aircraft, to which the title of this work refers, record and retain all the information relating to the machine and its piloting, and are normally opened following a catastrophe in order to discover what went wrong and how a similar situation can be avoided in the future. Although the hundred boxes comprising this exhibition represent society, the information they hold is equally precious: it is the voice of the people, expressing their concerns and desires. We mustn’t wait a moment longer.
Lifting the lids from the boxes and receiving the messages people wish to send us leads us to two essential reflections. The first is that over time, words change and acquire different meanings. Many of those featured have a strictly contemporary sense; they exist within our political and social context. I am referring to reflections that cover issues such as the environment, or others that refer directly to national politics. Words such as independence, post-truth or yellow, the latter symbolising the liberation of the Catalonian political prisoners – a new connotation for an eternal word. Five years ago, these words would have had a completely different significance, or perhaps none at all. Yet another discovery in this constantly evolving work.
The second reflection is that many of the words could have been proposed by people that are close to me: by my friends, my mother or even myself. They gave me the impression that they were proposed by people I knew extremely well, as I saw myself and my immediate community reflected in their fears and wishes. This confirms that deep down, in our true essence, we all share the same foundations and the same sense of worry, trepidation and hope. I am referring to the notions of family, envy, resilience and freedom.
It is an honour to have brought the contemporary art installation by Danae Stratou entitled It’s time to open the black boxes! to the Convento de Santo Domingo Museum in Pollença. It is truly awe-inspiring to think that this baroque church, characterised by its basilica plan, today houses a technological work: digital platforms have been used throughout the creative process, from the Internet which enabled people to participate to the electronic devices featured in the end installation.
At long last, this converted venue now hosts a participative proposal, just as Saint Dominic intended, and in three languages, enabling speakers of Catalan, Spanish and English to make their voices heard, and helping to lay the foundations for a new trans-European, reflective, participatory and tolerant community.
Pollença. June 2018