CARVALHO, Isabel — Text for the handout of the exhibition Ar(a)C(hné)-EN-CIEL  

other texts

The exhibition of a set of works in a certain time and place reflects certain choices and principles of representation. Representation of the ideas expressed in a literary text, in visual and plastic terms (a word that we hope hasn’t gone into disuse, used to refer to that which isn’t merely received through vision), is immediately associated to a translation and, in a way, with an illustration. In this case, solely by convention, a text would occur first and be the original cause of the (visual/plastic) works on display. But this concerns neither the translation nor the illustration of a text - although questions inherently linked to translation inevitably persist, when moving from one art to the other (i.e. from literature to the fine arts).

In aesthetics, the issues inherent to representation and translation have become a permanently open problem: either in terms of how each art would specifically represent certain ideas, or should best do so. Diderot - the founder of art criticism who made an undeniable contribution to the development of aesthetics as a discipline - believed that each art has its own hieroglyph: its own specific form of representation. He considered that it is possible that certain ideas are better represented by one art than by another, and for this very reason we inevitably compare aesthetic results (and their effects). Hence, it both dangerous and erroneous to identify an original, unique, prior and initial textual cause, on the basis of which this body of work is presented. The danger stems from comparison and, consequently, from the possibility of subjecting one art to another, i.e. of works carried out with the text. This danger has little to do, as one might first suspect, with the path of inherent distancing from the arts and their emancipation (and the circumscription of their irreducible aspects). It is only related to a certain intended distance at the time of reception. The error, which we propose to correct, is to consider that the text is the sole cause. It is indeed a remarkable cause, but is never unique. We would never have chosen it unless it revealed something important to us, unless it touched us so profoundly in relation to a current issue, with political ramifications and numerous and scattered associations. The text in question is Diderot’s in-famous work, Les Bijoux Indiscrets. Who read it? At the time, subversive philosophical ideas were often introduced into a text considered to be obscene. As a result, the book was a great commercial success and had many readers. Back then the reader, as in the present day, who expected to find something truly obscene, would have found the text to be essentially irritating. There are numerous, dense, and at times meaningless, digressions on other subjects, far removed from the expected erotic content. There are chapters devoted to aesthetic criticism (literary and theatrical), politics, religion and the sciences. The compilation of so many subjects had a clear pedagogical goal (as stated in the dedication to the young reader, Zima, in a genuine act of initiation): the knowledge to be received, through exegesis of the text, should occur with sensibility (and the senses) and understanding, in a complete union between body and spirit, in line with a programme specifically opposed to a certain metaphysics. The pretext for the narrative development of Les Bijoux Indiscrets is a fantastic phenomenon, wonderful in character: in a distant time and place, a bored sultan, eager for new amusements, asks a genie to help him. The latter gives him a ring that gives the women of the court the power of speech (use of the voice) through their sexual organs, while their mouths remain closed. In a game of swapping the speech organs (by physiological analogy), a new discourse emerges, considered to be true because it is located in the most intimate part of human nature. First, the women reveal that they are dissatisfied, because their indiscretions are now public knowledge. With the aid of machines, resulting from technological advances, they try to silence the voice of their sexes (their "jewels"). The muzzles are counter-machines - that oppose the ring-machine - in a correspondence between causing to talk / and causing to be silent. In this alternating confrontation between the language of the mouth and the language of the sexual organ, and their respective voices, it is possible to interpret the following: that all language is a cultural construction and that the division of the sexes merely describes the degrees of mastery of this construction. At one point, it is stated, with the inherent satirical humour of Les Bijoux Indiscrets, that men have not yet been given the gift of speaking through their sexual organs, referring to the implicit fact that use of language is constructed in them, and by them. For this reason, there would not be divergence between that which is uttered by the sexual organs and by the speech organs. On the other hand, the social, political and legal categories of women, as the “other”, represented as being secondary to the masculine, is a projection that is necessary for the knowledge and control by the masculine, as a builder of language, of discourses. At the time of Les Bijoux Indiscrets, which was a period of voyages of discovery (by sea and land), the need to stabilise concepts (through the action of closing, demarcating a circle) was assumed to be a source of security. The conception of woman is a paradigm example of this. That which use of the ring permits, while leading to confessions, is to scratch the surface of language and open it up to truth, beyond its inevitable construction, thereby making it possible to broaden the knowledge of that which is meant by a specific category. Hence, if the definition of the category of woman (since Antiquity) has been rooted in her sex, knowledge of her sex is opened up and expanded through the display of multiple variants of erotic postures, embodied in the “experiences of the ring”. And all other knowledge is thereby opened up and expanded, with even greater relevance for a general philosophical programme. In short, Les Bijoux Indiscrets is a pretext for thinking about the body/bodies that is/are defined, circumvented and delimited by the use of language and its discourses, displayed as a platform for reflection.

In this exhibition, the ideas represented from Les Bijoux Indiscrets summarise those that converge towards the goal of deconstructing categories through the multiplicity of (existing) reality, using resources that are capable of proliferating languages. Through the arrangement of the works, the construction of a visual discourse adopts the metaphor of the rainbow. The rainbow is a metaphor for language, open to multiplicities, to fusing and confusing categories. The title of this exhibition is a play on words between arc-en-ciel (rainbow) and arachné (spider) - arc(a)c(hné)-en-ciel: a spider sky, a sky woven like a web of associations. The spider appears in one of the illustrations of Les Bijoux Indiscrets (in the original edition) and represents sensibility, branching of the nerves. The web is therefore the construction that refers to the other (someone): from one sensitivity to another. But it is also the common denominator, the essence of all that exists and which abolishes that which manifestly stands before us (e.g. the distinction between artist-producer and audience). It will be possible to recognise forms such as the trachea and glottis (determining physiological elements in the voice / speech), muzzles (corrupted, enabling all voices to be heard, whether or not they are constructed, or are effectively or poorly articulated) and the colours of the rainbow associated with the names of the speakers (CIDALISA - CÍPRIA – CLEANTIS – EGLÉ – ERIFILA – ESFERÓIDE – FANNI – FARASMANE – FATMÉ - FENIÇA – FLORA - FRICAMONA - FULVIA-GIRGIRO - HARIA - IPHIS – IPSIFILA – ISEC - ISMENA - LEÓCRIS - MANILA -MIRZOZA – MONIMA – OLÍMPIA - ORFISA – SALICA - SERICA – SIBERINA - SOFIA - TÉLIS - VÈTULA – ZAIDA – ZEGRIS - ZELAIS - ZÉLIDA – ZELMAIDA – ZIMA […]). The illusion (in the iris) of a colourful arc that is projected into the sky, is enhanced by another construction (woven, as in the myth), which furthers the proliferation of senses, to unleash the violence produced by the imposed categories.