Bewilderment for All.
(Although they never knew what was going on …)
She is standing next to a ticket machine, waiting. The large white fringe hides her deep dark eyes almost entirely. She wears a black skirt with little plastic diamonds attached to it; a black bustier with leather laces decorated with golden buttons covers her teen breast; on her head, a red fluffy hat. Small black hearts punctuate her skinny legs. She looks so beautiful in her dress. I give her a quick glance and rush towards the train schedule board of the Gothenburg train station to check the platform. In the main hall there is a considerable number of teens, all in costumes, all manga characters. There must be a manga party somewhere to celebrate the Indian summer.
The complex architecture of these costumes is terribly fascinating and it makes me think of how beautiful, yet bewildering the urbanscape of our cities would look like if we all were to dress and go around in costumes, wearing funny masks and feathery hats. Be someone or something else, for a moment. Mimic the bark of a dog, the tweet of a bird. Know what it feels like to be a cat, a rose bush or a manga character. Move with the elegance of a bear; stand still like a stone; dress like Marie Antoinette; behave like an aristocrat, like a revolutionary; wear the clothes of a pirate. Becoming you, you, and you. Inverting roles. Subverting rules. Isn’t it what you like and want? Becoming someone else. Profane reality. Touch with your fingers the possible ways of existing otherwise.
Children know it well. When they happily walk around in princess and robot costumes, hand-in-hand with their parents on a normal working day. And it is not even a carnival. Theirs is more a statement than a caprice. They have taken their side. By putting their costumes on, whether a robot or a princess, they make up and inhabit another side of reality. They have agency on it. But what does it mean to be on the other side? In relation to what? What is the space you are occupying, from which you look up to the other side? This time, we are the other side of Glänta journal. Not a counter, but a within. The other within us. And as we stand on the other side, we share smiles, glances, ideas, opinions, different perspectives, and look together at the many manifestations and experiences of the carnival.
Conceived and developed in collaboration with Glänta journal and curator and guest editor Claire Tancons, this issue of ...ment is a poetic journey into the life of saints, of villagers of a remote province in Southern Italy, of the carnival in Rhineland; into the self, into artistic practices in which the carnivalesque and the masquerade, the playful and the ironic, are practiced as critical modalities of engaging reality.
The contributions in this new issue of ...ment give voice to experiences, sensations, impressions, personal memories that directly or loosely relate to carnival as catalyst for social and political processes. A parade is a political event by definition, suggests Arto Lindsay in an interview with curator and ...ment editor Clara Meister: “A parade”, Lindsay says, “gives people a chance to display themselves as important”. And what is more important than breaking through the ways in which life is codified, from clothes to behaviours, to the expression of your desires and emotions, and subvert it, if only for a short time? Carnival gives you this agency. It empowers imagination. And even in its most trivial forms, it becomes a proposition for forms of social action. “Carnival and protest are intimately linked”, explains Claire Tancons in an interview. She continues, “Carnival was used as a means of covert and at times overt rebellion under the disguise of the mask and the pretext of merriment.” And, it is true. Carnivals, parades, humour – the playfulness of the masquerade in both artistic and socio-political praxis – are visionary strategies of political, social and cultural action, even more so when they instigate a pointed critique of society.
The carnival’s liberating power, however, is not all heaven. It can also turn into hell. The hell of remaining entangled in the complex thread of social relations, political bounds and family ties. Whether you like it or not, the carnival as a form of social life ties you tightly to the willpower, desires, and bigotry of the community you happen to be part of. In personal memory of the famous carnival in the German region of Rhineland where he grew up, writer and art critic Jan Verwoert tells us about the double-binding effect of the carnival, certainly of mockery and subversion, but also of reinforcing conservative ideas and behaviours: “Whatever filth local Punks may contrive in subcultural attempts to shock the bourgeoisie pales by comparison to what can germinate inside a petite bourgeois head and is released when the lid goes off during carnival.”
And, what germinates inside you can also be the nasty feeling of getting trapped into a collective hangover from which you can neither escape, nor withdraw, but participate in or renounce to it forever. It’s the harsh reality of the Catholic feast. In or out. Become an actor and contribute to the rituals, or be lost forever. It’s my personal experience, here recounted in a short anecdote, of growing up in a small village in Southern Italy where the Saint Roch feast is the event of the year. There you will experience the suspension of rules, and its reinforcement in a defilè routine of bigotry, moralism, and trickery.
Who are you? Are you with or against us? What do you represent? The carnival as social event is also a game of representation and an exercise of unlearning it. The joy that comes with putting on a mask is that you can become the improbable character you have decided for yourself. After all, when dressing like a manga character, you can become a manga character, you are IN – with your body, sweat, and with your mind and imagination. Yet, there is a risk that you might get trapped into your new fabricated identity. It happens to Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace, too. They took themselves and their aspirations too seriously, I guess. And found in suicide the only possible escape. They make their appearance in the intriguing textual collage by the artist-duo Hadley-Maxwell, “Temet-ie Nosce (Know Thyselfie)”, a fragment of a larger project which includes installations, objects, a video, and a lecture performance. The text, an assemblage of abstract reflections and poetic flights, delves into the vast territories of the self, the construction of identity as public persona, the narcissism of participating in the life of social networking, and the social anxieties that come with all this.
To deflate the tone and arrogance of identity questions and to keep the carnival going as a way of living, not as performance, without falling into the trap you (or society) have built for your self, you can decide to hold on to the porosity of reality. You don’t have to deny the contradictions that in fact constitute reality – or worse – subjugate yourself to a game in which the rules have been decided in advance. There is no need to certificate your identity – unless you want to become a brand, which is and always will be possible.
In a beautifully written short literary piece, artist Camilla Wills introduces us to the bewildering pleasure of living in a state of metamorphosis; experiencing the fluidity of the relation between things, thoughts, and human beings. Travel through the eyes of a bee, talk to a mouse, or argue with an ugly building. Isn’t the carnival, after all, the fully sensorial experience of composure in metamorphosis? You might get burned, true. Don’t be afraid. Deal with the bruises. Not such a bad thing. As Camilla puts it: “A bruise is rich and incongruous, the mark is as certain as it is incomprehensible. Being the site of impact, a bruise is on the brink of a revelation like a keyhole or a fingerprint; it can be used to trace a line through history. […] If you hold onto something tight enough until it hurts, you can embed that thing into your self, you will take on an imprint of that encounter.”
And, the stories narrated in this issue of ...ment keep the imprint of the authors’ experiences, and the encounters with other authors, writings, ideas. You will meet those references in amusing portraits. They carry the traces of the hand of their author, artist and writer Michael Baers, whose sense of humour and care for details you will stumble across in the pages of this journal. From Hannah Arendt to the young teens dressed up like Manga characters, to Saint Roch – their voices resonate in this issue’s contributions. For, like in the case of parades and carnivals, texts are never written in the singular person, they bear no sign of private property. And still, they channel a multiplicity of voices.
Libido is cosmic, just as unconscious is worldwide.