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PATTI SMITH
Black Light

“The sense of literary creation is to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times”

 Vladimir Nabokov.

 A “hymn” derives etymologically from the Latin word for a song in praise of gods, kings or heroes. It is such an ancient form of poetry that it is difficult to trace how it was transmitted from generation to generation, but it certainly predates writing. Oral transmission seems to  have followed an invisible thread across the centuries because, although those illustrious men have no hold on the present, time has not obliterated their trace; it has inducted them into the halls of eternity.

Patti Smith photographs ordinary objects whose peculiarity is that they belonged to these "great men". They were so close to them that sometimes they became a part of them, a natural extension of their bodies.

The picture of Roberto Bolaño´s chair from which he contemplated the world, Frida Kahlo´s corset, which became the backbone for her crippled body, and her little bottles of morphine, like ellipses to help her endure the pain. A wan, grey suit that belonged to Joseph Beuys, stretched out on the grass and reminiscent of Rimbaud’s Sleeper in the Vale,. And then, that picture of Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, which perhaps tapped in counterpoint to the scansion of her last steps along the bank of the River Ouse on 28 March 1941. The death mask that has sealed forever the last image of William Blake, holding "infinity in the palm of his hand and Eternity in an hour". (1) And Duncan Grant’s paintbrushes, Herman Hesse’s typewriter, and Victor Hugo’s pen –  instruments that made their thoughts visible to the world.

These photographs of objects are inhabited by the hymn, the cabalistic song, the breath, "soluble in the air, weightless and unpoised." (2)

By photographing these objects, Patti Smith seems to have infused them with what the ancient Greeks called thymos, the breath that carries the soul, the mind and consciousness. This breath, this song passes by, blows through, penetrates everything. It envelops the shapes that hover on the surface of the image, gets under the skin of the objects, blurs their contours and releases the memory that they hold.

It becomes the matter of that memory, its thickness, its depth. It is the swish of the air, a rustling. A floating stillness.

In the image, even the void breathes. It gives itself room, envelops those objects and shields them from pointless verbosity.

A barely perceptible silence – light and like a kind of atmospheric density, a gently pulsating  expanse of sea.

Everything delicately and precisely poised.

Everything in its place.

Everything at last assuaged.

And then those songs carry us away to other places, places that consecrate the eternal presence of those great men, their place of burial – where the great "open gate of an unknown Heaven" reaches up to the sky. (3)

Patti Smith goes there to spend a moment of silence, to leave an object that may be just symbolic or may have special meaning. Perhaps something that recounts a "symptomatic action", something the great men left unfinished, something they failed to do in their lives. Like those blue, glass beads that she brought back from Harare and buried close to Rimbaud’s grave, since Rimbaud, repatriated in an emergency, had never gone back to the city in East Africa, but died too soon in a hospital in Marseille.

That gift, that present, was a kind of readjustment, a re-establishing of order, and heralded the beginning of something else.

Patti Smith said the suggestion of a prayer under the gaze of those stone angels and the tall trees whose myriad leaves held their breath the while. Before leaving she made a photo of that gravestone engraved with the names of Wittgenstein, Simone Weil, W.B. Yeats, Brancusi, and Susan Sontag, as if she needed to keep a trace of it, yet, at the same time, drive it from her mind so that the silent ferryman from the Book of the Dead should take the dead man across to the banks of another world. The photographic image became a document of the grief she was coming out of at that very moment; mourning has no notion of time, it cannot be written and can be expressed only in an image.

Those gravestones also represent the idea of a threshold, a frequent motif in Patti Smith’s photographs. It is a manifestation of both withdrawal and openness. It is the line of separation between the two. In that image of Fred Sonic waving hello with one hand and with the other opening a door that puts us in mind of "that unknown heaven", the half-open door symbolizes a nodal point, unattached to alternatives of outside or inside, onstage or offstage; it is the point of inflection where worlds become inverted, overturn, and are thrown into contact.

The staircase of the Chelsea Hotel, or the steps of the Gare Saint Charles – looking like an allegory of Jacob´s ladder, used by God’s angels to climb up and down. And the columns in the palaces of Pompeii, Rome, and other cities, straining up like tall trees, seem to join heaven and earth in one move.

And then, the series of beds, Vanessa Bell’s, Giuseppe Verdi’s, and Napoleon’s – transient places of dreams or abysses of disappearance.

Everything seems to lead us to a world of “absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak.” (4)

An infra world.

Although the Latin etymology of the word "hymn" is a “song”, in the early 20th century, German philologist and Romance language specialist Ernst Robert Curtius shed a different light on the etymology and meaning of the word. He maintained that it comes from the Greek ymnos, which means fabric, texture, and therefore text.

He maintains that this lexical unit derives from the language of weavers, since in antiquity, illiteracy being widespread, in order to compose a hymn it was necessary to work with visible compositions, tangible morphologies from the crafts – in this case, weaving. The interweaving of the warp and the weft, the patterns, the rhythms created by the weaving acted as markers and a visual reminder for the composition of those hymns.

The idea of weaving, of text, is inseparable from the concept of time, since writing is above all a matter of duration and continuum. In his book The Origins of European Thought, the distinguished classicist Richard Broxton Onians adds an extra dimension to Curtius’s theory. He indicates that the idea of  interrupted time, i.e. the kairos, denotes the moment in which the shuttle could be passed through the threads on the loom, the interstice in which all possibilities can be manifested.

The photographic image appears at this intersection of interrupted time and unwritten text, the snapshot, which has nothing to do with latency and expectation or Chronos, and which is closest to Kairos, the opportune moment.

It is Patti Smith´s use of snapshots, that wafer-thin incision into linearity with a Polaroid camera, that opens her photography onto a different allusive field, because what is peculiar to the Polaroid is the fact that at any moment something unexpected may turn up – something that frees it from the suffocating, funereal adherence of reality to its representation. They are accidents, anomalies, and deficiencies – like a dreamer’s scribblings, which take on the appearance of traces and wanderings of the mind, and tell a haphazard truth.

These accidents are rather like a negative of life, brilliant flashes in the middle of the night, erasures, burns, ellipses of meaning, traces of strangeness on the threshold of whiteness, arising from the depths of thought .

Perhaps we should see Patti Smith´s photographs as a manifesto in which every image is an upsurge of the text, a repetition ad infinitum of the present. When they are collected together, they add up to something: a scholarly palimpsest, a hymn woven in honour of those great men who populate her work and demonstrate their kinship. These are snapshots that can be held in the palm of the hand like a deck of cards;  each one of them might be titled "I is another" (5), and every one of them implicitly proves the plurality of a Patti Smith portrait.

 

Anne Morin

Curator

 

 

(1)William Blake

Auguries of Innocence.

(2) Paul Verlaine

Jadis et Naguère

(3) Charles Beaudelaire

La mort des pauvres

Les fleurs du Mal

(4) André Breton

Surrealist Manifestos

(5) Arthur Rimbaud

Je est un Autre

TECHNICAL DETAILS

> Contents120 B&W photographs of 8x10cm framed in 20x25cm
25 original drawings framed in differents sizes
> Size of worksSee list of works
> ConditionFramed- The show travels in wooden crates
> TransportFrom Madrid
> Rental ConditionsThe borrower will be in charge of:
-Transport from and to Madrid
-Insurance nail to nail
-Flight (Business class) and Journey of Patti Smith from New York, and flight and journey of the curator from Madrid
> AvailabilityFrom May 2018
> CuratorAnne Morin

 

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