XYLAÑYNU. taller de los viernes
A Game of Parrhesias and Theft,
from Monday to Monday
I declare that I care very little about the crowning via the promulgation of another (or even an undoubtedly-true-and-everyone-might-was-well-know-it) genealogy of contemporary art in this country; and incidentally, I do so, presumably exalted by those contingencies that spring forth from the pseudo-paradigmatic example of creativity. And even less so about the resulting elbow in the face. Or the little air guitars held up in a glory of “ha, ha! I said it firsts.” In fact I am pretty sure that I will find the moment in which historians will fight for that grail—or for the source of the source, if you will— quite stupendous.
So then, let us pause this apprehension of that inarguably emblematic first place, with a favorable conjugation of multifaceted works in the geography of XYLAÑYNU, and in fact give a renewed chance to the recent feats which at the current juncture remind us of filiations which turned out to be fertile and even fun. And if someone, henceforth feels like a little exercise in fact-checking and allows for present time appointments to be cambered, drip drop bang kazam, here’tis, and may we be but little slowed by the radiation of that rattle which they called the taller de los viernes [Friday workshop] at the house of the bird of good omen.
I also would not want to expand on my admiration for the reach of these five, this flexible-at-the-flanks partnership. As skilled as the one so masterfully choreographed by Robert Bresson when he delves into the dynamics of high-ranking thieves in his great Pickpocket, one of my all time favorite films, all turbulence of cathartic blows, consigned as if nothing, amounting to a disdainful song and dance.
In Pickpocket (1959), the protagonist is a man who never changes his worn-out suit, who is stoic in failure, boring in life, tired of everything, with a strange relationship with his mother, as well as with the beautiful girl who takes care of his mère, with his only friend who tries to understand and remotely help him, and one full-on preying policeman. He has a very particular hobby: he is a pickpocket, which every so often once in awhile, requires him to have a coffee or buy another book which will only get dusty in the privacy of his solitude. At a key moment in his life, he decides to acquire perfection from a real professional, and decides to pick pockets full-time, stealing wallets, watches and pens, therefore embracing the only thing that allows him to express himself truly and makes him feel fulfilled.
At the same time there is a certain sexual content in his acts, he never uses force but rather stealth. He steals as an intimate violation of that which is other, and his success depends on not arousing suspicion and becoming as invisible as possible. In the subway, he comes close to his victims, pays attention to their breathing and waits for a moment of distraction to slide his hand in their coats or their wares. There’s a stoic excitement in his gaze, there’s victory over another, and although his expression reveals no happiness, he works up a passionate arousal just by feeling the experience of not thinking about what is socially correct. Bresson captures the man and his actions with a complicit camera: it’s as if he were asking him not to interpret anything except the plot. All this, at the same time as we try to pierce the fog surrounding a captivating character.
A book, The King of Pickpockets, makes its appearance in the film. Arbitrarily and capriciously attributed to one George Barrington, an Irishman who at the dawn of the nineteenth century effectively worked as the author of the historical account of an Australian region where he had gone in exchange for not being sentenced to death in Great Britain, by way of fake identities—most seductive, incidentally—through which he conned naïve aristocrats and even his closest friends. His stellar and most common activity was pickpocketing, hence the alleged sympathy of Bresson’s thief, Michel, with this character, Barrington, who ended up being considered a leader down under. The main character in the French film, as well as his promising redemption, in accordance to his mother’s sublime—and perhaps improbable—prophecy, takes place in an episode where he flees the law and his defense when facing imminent capture is precisely the ideological argument backed by Barrington’s writings, with their vital justification of the end justifying the means above and beyond common ethics.
What a detour, right? What do the anecdotes of these cunning men have to do here? Perhaps nothing more than putting forth a simple but very concrete apology for talent—the same inexorable sign possessed by this group, deservedly well-positioned in many a famous place and laudatory page. And perhaps also due to the shared traffic in a postmodern quota that we will henceforth measure.
So what, then? What’s going on today with this fistful of relaxed pegs, whose weekly meeting festively took place amidst applauding the appearance of one or another insightful sign glued to some bits of worn wood, or perhaps destroying entirely the examined work and its author by way of throwing balls at them? Well, it might seem that their enlightening categories remain the same. The unbreakable courage of experimentation with materials, supports and work models or of connection/situation is still valid and de rigeur in all five. This is, by far, the category which sets them apart in the visual discourse of a local history during the 90s, which projected their characters and liberties, announcing until-then uncommon paradigms in addition to the influences that subsequent generations of artists and professionals would embrace and publish as the bastion of a certain international perspective, or a precise mark in the global conditions of the cultural maelstrom.
The other category, which emanated from them and comes back to them frequently, reiterating their identities and credentials, also resulted to be revelatory in the turn of the century context of national culture, when postmodernism took hold of it. Combined in the analytical development of the individual phenomena, and intensity-proof in the manipulation of singular systems, one could distinguish—and certainly discriminate and repudiate—the simple application of styles and codes closed by conventional (academic?) rhetoric on the socialization of the expressive flow. Fortunately, it is the assimilation of the concept of the cynic parrhesia, an entity that still today (in the also complicated era of sincerity) can seem slippery, or even clumsily associated with the frivolous or the unthinking.
Etymologically, parrhesia means “to speak freely” and parrhesiastes is one who makes use of such freedom, who says everything, withholding nothing. This “saying everything” is what we understand today as sincerity—to state clearly what one knows with regards to something specific. To speak the truth. But making use of parrhesia also implies other aspects aside from speaking truth, such as frankness, exposure to danger, necessity for criticism, or ineluctable duty. Frankness happens when the parrhesiastes withholds nothing, says what s/he knows, thinks and feels without omitting anything or exaggerating at all. And when s/he says so in a clear and precise way so that those who listen may understand without confusion or ambiguity.
At some point during Western civility, parrhesia evolved towards philosophical parrhesia and changed in three aspects: 1-Not only is truth expressed towards another but also towards oneself. 2-There is need for askesis, which for the Greeks means practical training. 3-This practical training involves various types of specific exercises, which we could call “self-examination.”
As Foucault explains in Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia, cynic parrhesia detaches itself from philosophical parrhesia. It is both a detachment and a sweet perversion of it. It shares the aforementioned three aspects, is based on self-care principles and also values a harmonic aesthetic relationship with life, which in tantamount to an art de vivre. But depending on this, one is allowed to play with inaccuracy, double meanings/double entendres, ambiguous humor and even the exaltation of irony.
Fusing somewhere between Logos and Bios, the relationship between truth, ethics and an aesthetics of life-as-it-is presents itself to us: very complex and overwhelming due to the challenges posed to coherence by what is said, thought and done in a muddled reality. The parrhesiastes cynic must elude pragmatism’s daily abuses in addition to taking care of all these personal aspects so as to access to self-knowledge, which is the way to speaking truth, even applying certain forwardness and sharp wit, which are a tremendous treasure.
Cynical parrhesia is a practice, it is a way of life which invites self-sufficiency. It is nihilism as an ethics, as an aesthetics of life; extreme individuality and the constant exercise of seduction to try –like Barrington, and Michel Bresson’s pickpocket, or possibly each one who passed through that workshop at Gabriel’s house—to preserve liberty despite crookedness, cheapness, and what is imminently false.
Finally and truthfully (or something like it), XYLAÑYNU is a precise place and time—though not completely optimal. It is here that the diplomatic polemic, which certifies endless processes of perfection, meets the taste for play, which will never be opprobrious nor despicable to those who participate in it. This show has landed with a utopian dynamics, perhaps similar to a charade generated a century ago in a landscape of conversational wit, in which both pickpockets and philosophers have something important to say.