(João Louro, desire and stain).
The Palazzo Loredan, next to the Grand Canal, is housing the exhibition “I Will Be Your Mirror – poems and problems” by João Louro, the Portuguese representation at the Venice Biennial. The building is a monument of the Venetian Gothic architecture of the fifteenth century, constructed at the height of Venice’s economic and cultural splendour. A synthesis of this magnificent moment is the portrait of Leonardo Loredan (1501–1521) as Doge of Venice, painted by Giovanni Bellini. The Loredan family was dedicated to politics, and provided Doges and admirals for the Venetian Republic. The title of Louro’s intervention in the Palazzo Loredan, “I will be your mirror – poems and problems” puts forward relationships and symmetries between Portugal and Venice. Like Oedipus, in the hermeneutic perspective of the interpretation made by Michel Foucault, Louro proposes problems as to the relationships between power and knowledge, in the sense that writing means charting.
João Louro’s project deals with the Portuguese Renaissance, which was marked out by the union between science, technique and culture at the service of the shipping economy and which resulted in a breaking of Venice’s trade monopoly on the Mediterranean routes and on the other adjoining seas. A consequence of this was the commercial, political and artistic downfall of the city. The Portuguese sailors, along with the governors, traders and sailors of other states that took advantage of the nautical knowledge produced by Portugal, transformed the dimension of the world known to Europe and produced the possible unification of the globe, the crisis of which is the map by Lopo Homem (1519). Lopo Homem, being faithful to the Adamic idea of the world and before the explorations carried out by Ferdinand Magellan, imagines a land passage that would connect the continents through the southern hemisphere and thus confirm the Biblical theory of Genesis about humanity descending from a single couple. If on the one hand, he defended the flatness of the inhabitable ecumenum and the spherical nature of the Earth, Lopo Homem did not admit that any other people might have reached the territory of the Americas, as none would have developed command of the nautical knowledge needed to allow one to cross the Atlantic — thus giving rise to such a connection between the continents. The challenges of the great journeys over the Great Sea brought mirages, mythologies, risks, customs, languages and dimensions that João Louro operates in Venice as a phenomenology of the perceived space. In that construction of new geography the courses of navigation were represented as great advances and hesitations of cartography compatible with the risks and challenges of those seas. The poet Luis de Camoëns (ca. 1524-1580) would be the great poetic interpreter of the Portuguese undertaking of conquering the world by sea as a collective identity projection in relation to the conquered geography: “Of all Europe, the Lusitanian Realm, / Where land ends and the sea begins.” (The Lusiads, Canto III, 20). The biography of Camoëns, as now in Louro’s project, was a mixture of poems and problems. From a certain period Venice and Portugal were powers that had cycles of heights and falls over the seas – for this reason the dialogue between the two powers might begin with the title of Louro’s project: “I will be your mirror”. There is an irony underlying that statement with the nostalgic syndrome of the lost empires. Venice and Portugal produced great culture, were permeable to the absorbing of influences from distant civilisations and faced though internal and external challenges – “poems and problems”.
In the portrait mentioned, Leonardo Loredan is wearing a prestige gown in splendid silk that Bellini painted masterfully. The Doge was not aware that the Venetian monopoly over the silk trade, although being maintained in rivalry with Genoa, was about to end, thanks to the boldness of Portuguese navigators like Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan (quoted by João Louro in the project for the Palazzo Loredan) and to the discovery of America by the Genoese sea captain Christopher Columbus. Simply the whole of the Silk Route, set up by Venice with the control of the Mediterranean ports and with a dialogue with Byzantines and Muslims was collapsing. The Venetian fleet was not prepared for the struggle for colonies across the oceans. The Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan left in 1522 for the first journey of circumnavigation of the Earth, having then rejected all influence of the Alexandrine cartography coming from Ptolemy. João Louro suggests the hermeneutics of that passage.
In short, in the problematising of a world of syntactic convulsions, João Louro’s focus is on the “point with return”, or, as he states, “that point that positively is not that of the “storms”, but is of “good hope”. Up to a certain moment that place was the end and the abyss. It swallowed up everything: hope, the sailors, the ships and language.” In the poetic essay The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector, the Language-Being that is enunciated and oscillates, that stands now worried now singing, is installed in ‘blind words’. ‘The world has no visible order and I only have the order of breathing. Let me happen”, she writes. The becoming between the storm and good hope is the movement of language in Louro’s proposal in Venice. In this corpus, language seems to be something that escape through all times and directions, on the way to places indicated by road signs, such as Nietzsche, Benjamin, Gödel or Wittgenstein in Land’s end, an allusion to the imaginary of the Finis Terrae of the unspeakable, of the unthinkable and of the incalculable.
The non-place, the non-site is the post of Land’s End that holds the direction arrows for the philosophies, four among so many others in João Louro’s process. The post is the fundamental emptiness around which the subject-language is formed. The philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein points towards limits of criticism: teaching the meaning of the word blindness and sight does not result in teaching a blind man to see. Louro establishes the correlation between cartographic naming and the region on the visual field of the optic disk on which sight enters into collapse. Does this experience belong to the field of anatomy or navigation? That is the blind spot – punctum caecum – called the physiological scotoma. “An image should be looked at with distrust”, rebuts Louro. In Land’s end, the projecting of metal traffic signs with the philosophical statements would not be completed without its all-over synthesis, that being an all-directions (a possible allusion to the all-over practices by Jackson Pollock), the point from which the interpreter would go off somewhere at which point only the pedestrian would remain. On this signpost, like an Aleph, there would be one only and all information; the name of the author would be written on the cylindrical base of the pointing arrows indicating all-directions: João Louro. Benjamin used a method of archive gathering (harvesting) for the project Das Passagen-Werk which he carried out between 1927 and 1940, in a project that brought together heterogeneity and discontinuity. In this he would produce the maximum distrust: self-portrait as a subject of doubt. And it is here that he sets himself at the confrontation between power and knowledge or within the path of intuition and of risk. There is a dual relationship between Louro and Nietzsche in Land’s end. His own philosophy, like The Gay Science and Zarathustra and the Nietzsche that defends that one should think on the edge, that brings with it philosophers of the quality of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Peter Sloterdijk and so many others. In this economy of narratives, Louro’s Venetian opus now rejects simplicity seen as economy of description, but always accepts, with the logic of Kurt Gödel, the complex dimension of complexity. Yet art is not the transferring of philosophy, nor of science, whether this be mathematics or biology. In juxtaposition to the Wittgenstein of the unspeakable, Louro now juxtaposes the Gödel of the indemonstrable. There is always a Portulan chart working out blind knots.
In order to go forward into the origin of João Louro’s production, one should remember that Portulan charts are nautical charts with directions established by the compass. They are pure mathematical syntax on a phenomenon of the same – the enormousness of the ocean space without any referential geographical accidents, where the water continually does not find land — differentiated by the Number as the only possible language that might take them, in terms of a spatial concept of Louro’s programme, to “all-directions”. The sea of Hesiod’s Theogony is a changing and shapeless being. In mathematical terms, the vectorial greatness of the Portulan charts created the conditions for dealing with the physical greatness of the oceans by the navigators. Ocean navigation did thus not go without the stating of a number, of a direction and of a meaning as to that direction of destination. However, as the Portulan charts did not take into account the Earth’s curve, they were surpassed by the cylindrical projections made by the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569, which became the standards for open water navigation. In the Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Descriptio ad Usum Navigatium Emendate Accommodata, Mercator resolved the problem of the Portulan charts, in which the linear scale was the same in all directions around any point. Louro’s proposal in Venice is to examine the flattening of the Earth by modern nautical charts. Mercator proposed the flattening of the meridians in the form of parallel vertical straight lines and of the parallel lines in the form of horizontal straight lines.
Cartography – Ortelius
João Louro quotes the classic Maris Pacifici map (or Descriptio Maris Pacifici,) drawn up by Abraham Ortelius in 1589, which represented the ship Victoria in its pioneering domain over the immenseness of the Pacific Ocean. The ship is accompanied by the text praising its achievement: Prima ego velivovis ambivi cursibus Orbem, / Magellane novo te duce ducta freto. / Ambivi, meritoque vocor VICTORIA: sunt mi / Vela, alae; precium gloria: pugna mare. That chart of the pacific Ocean, a landmark in the history of Western cartography, alludes to the glory of Captain Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese sailor who planned and began the first circumnavigation of the Earth in 1522 at the service of the King and Queen of Spain. Louro states the linguistic impact of Ferdinand Magellan’s achievements and those of his ship Victoria, as the word passed over to the other side: “he pierced the storms and there, on the other side, he found new words. He also found new languages that spoke of things for which there was no word to translate. That point of return is where lies all the language to be spoken,” both in the political and poetic fields. Louro now alludes to the poem The Lusiads by Luis de Camões, the epic of Portuguese Renaissance navigation: “I am that hidden, great Cape / Whom you call Torments”.
The meeting point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans was rounded for the first time by the Portuguese sailor Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, after which he named it the Cape of Storms in an allusion to the storms he had to face rounding it. Portuguese King Dom João II renamed it the Cape of Good Hope, as dominating it was necessary on the sea route to India, a strategy necessary in order to face up to the monopoly held by Genoa and Venice. Following on from Dias, another Portuguese sea captain, Vasco da Gama, discovered the so-desired sea route to India in 1498. In The Lusiads, the giant Adamastor, who meets Vasco da Gama in the poem, is punished by Jupiter due to his boldness in love. His body will become a Cape: “My flesh is made hard earth” (The Lusiads) and my bones made stone. That geo-political point of passage and return, in which resides “all the language to be spoken” is where, for João Louro, “begins the hope of communicating the language and mixing the old with that which has to be invented. It is the blind spot! The ‘punctum caecum’, the scotoma: the optic nerve.” The invented language thus navigates and slides between storm and hope. Yet the philosopher Tzvetan Todorov defends that giving a new name — that is, renaming and shifting the language of power — to the places taken by the Western empires is an act of conquest in the symbolic war. The ship Victoria thus bears the capacity to lead – Magellane novo te duce ducta freto – the new semantic convulsions and the polysemic squalls now arising from Louro’s disquiet about replying to the philosophical and aesthetic routes explored in Land’s end.
In one of the rooms of the Palazzo Loredan, João Louro installs a very creased map – “as if it were an old, fallen dark map.” The entropic cartography is darkened by the random creases and by the disobedient folds of the logic of cloth. The significant creasing, an aggregated value, comes out in the scene of the ruining of the blind map. At the edge of the unchartable there is a relationship of asymmetry between that mapping and the classic tatty map presented by Jorge Luis Borges, the allegory of a strictly delirious rationalism that is destroyed in its totalitarian will for absolute domination of the space. Borges argues that the whole does not become cartography. He defined the uselessness of overblown cartography and the excessive rigour of science, at the extreme in which map and territory coincide in dimension. The Map lies, abandoned to the inclemency of time and of the ups and downs of its unproductive experience – today, writes Borges, “in the deserts of the west Ruins of the Map lie shattered, inhabited by Animals and by Beggars; throughout the whole country there is no other relic of the Geographic Disciplines.” Mercilessly, Borges and Louro rub against the hyper-control of the State.
As in the proverbial metaphor of “Columbus’ egg”, João Louro’s logical regime observes, on this creased map, that very distant parts are connected, as if re-organising the world and making it one, as the creasing shortens the distances. The phantasmal map acts against the insular nature of the islands, provoking the fracture of empires and accelerating the contagion of cultures. The action of crushing — the artist’s seismic act — disturbs the ocular-centrism of the geographic charts. The cartography oscillates between the via di porre and the forza di levare, forms with which Michelangelo, in a letter to the neo-Platonist humanist Benedetto Varchi, differentiated painting (which aggregates) from sculpture (which takes matter away). In the essay “On Psychotherapy” (1904), Freud turned to Michelangelo’s model in order to approach Leonardo’s painting in an effort to understand the psychoanalytical method and the suggestive methods in the then arising psychoanalysis. The latter of these, states Freud, occur through the via di porre that “is not interested in the origin, force and meaning of the morbid symptoms, but instead superimposes something — a suggestion — in expectation of it being strong enough to stop the pathogenic idea being expressed,” as the psychoanalytical method itself acts per forza di levare, “and does not seek to increase nor introduce anything new, but to take something away, to make something bloom, given that for this reason it is concerned with the origin of morbid symptoms and the psychic context of the pathogenic idea it seeks to removes”. In a comment on Freud, Leda B. Spessoto notes that the via di levare reveals methods of mental functioning that are “not always organised through repression, but are often fragmented, with or without nucleuses of gravitational attraction, which makes the work go beyond a revelation and achieves a construction, thus overlapping the two approaches.” The action of creasing the black monochrome — the previous territory of Fiat Lux — is the work of making something bloom — phantoms — in the context of the genesis of power.
João Louro’s project proposes the almost nothing. In the same letter to Varchi, Michelangelo states, against the disputes between painting and sculpture, that “la pittura mi pare più tenuta buona, quanto più va verso il rilievo, et il rilievo più tenuto cattivo, quanto più va verso la pittura”. The creased canvas is an “almost-sculpture”, given that to crease is in the Verb List (1967-1968) that, for Richard Serra, make up sculpture; more economically, the Brazilian neo-Concretist Amílcar de Castro (ca. 1959) reduced sculpture to cutting and bending a steel plane. For Louro crushing means introducing a signifying becoming to the geometry of the land in the processes of territorialisation. He is interested in this political pathogenic of the repressed (Freudian Verdrängung) and of that which is beyond repression.
In a reminder of the dichotomy between painting and sculpture, the crushed surface of João Louro’s work, with its almost irrelevant orographic highlights, forms differences that would indicate subtle reliefs to the phenomenology of touch. These are Duchampian reliefs on the scotomic map; they are geographical veins in risible proportions of infra-mince. The operation takes place inside the borderline; that is, within the fracture of the crease, but this is only the becoming of unnamed space. Its momentum is located between the pre-signifying state and a regime of signs conventioned by the political scripture of the earth. Cildo Meireles replies to Marcel Duchamp’s disregard to art destined for the retina with Espelho Cego [Blind Mirror], made up of a malleable surface of putty. The plastic nature of the seen surface allows one to produce tactile images on the surface of the object-mirror, carried out by blind people “without any substantial loss of meanings”. The image is itself the carnal nature of the scotomic map and of the blind mirror. The space, in Meireles’s and Louro’s proposals, that the gaze sees as a shapeless surface is the field of the elaboration of the subject, being always spherical and unfinished. The between-folds-and-creases regions may be approximated to Deleuze and Guattari’s plateaux, which establish a connection between rhizome and map — the rhizome is cartography and not a copy; it is a map and not a print. The creased map engraves the seriousness of the de-territorialisation, and yet without a compass and without a place. This borders on inexactness in anarchic and seismic deformations of chance. The signifying regime faces its finis terra.
In comparison to the production of João Louro, the “wrong” fold of Folded Map (1967) by Robert Smithson recovers the awkward gesture of use of maps in daily life, against the logic of the industrial mesh of creases. Its folding is not to be confused with Louro’s creasing, because Smithson folds “wrongly”, disobeying the original creases of the map and deconstructing the logic of the organisation of the geographical chart in order to problematise the cartographic representation of the site and its small size to the graphic design. Marie-Ange Brayer analyses Folded Map as an “involution of the edge”, as the marks of the folds would be vestiges of coordinates or of the edges of gaps. Indeed, one might accept that Louro’s work belongs to the category of the “lacuna map” and faces the “impossible taxonomy of the place” in analytical parameters developed by Brayer. He proposes a wandering gaze, between fractal events, tectonic folds and the confines of the gaps, without a name and without phonetics and there, all accident and on the map and a non-site only as a minimum geographical trace. Before Smithson, the Teoria do Não Objeto (1959) by the Neo-Concrete poet Ferreira Gullar, defined that the non-object is an object in which what is realised is the “synthesis of sensorial and mental experiences: a body transparent to phenomenological knowledge, totally perceivable, that tends to perception without leaving a trace”. That same non-accumulated economy is at the base of Louro’s thought as it is reduced to bringing together folds, pleats and furrows.
João Louro’s creased map points towards the Globus (1968) by Claudio Parmiggiani, which deflates a plastic globe, crushes and fills it and is enclosed in a transparent jar for preserves. The filling follows the Aristotelian logic of the vessel, through logical inversion of the spatial signifiers in Parmiggiani’s object, in which the containers become the content. The globe was deflated of its emptiness and its sphere is reconfigured in the shape of the cylinder that receives it. The semantic crushings bring to light the tutorial act of subjecting a globe – the globe — to the totality of an Empire. The cartographic act of the povera artist obstructs information, creates inaccessibility to geographical knowledge and places the ocular-centrism of the control of the territory at risk. Louro’s creased map treats violence in a different manner — it forms a process of colliding disorientation, one more compatible with Diasporas, exoduses, exiles, wars and the genocides that shift multitudes that are compelled into directions that they themselves ignore. It is necessary to leave, without knowing where to, Bachelard once said. Louro’s blind map is an emblem of the contemporary world, since it bewilders and disorientates.
There is a region on the visual field of the optic disk where sight enters into collapse. That is the blind spot – punctum caecum – called physiological scotoma. João Louro does not give up thinking of language interlinked with sight, and thus appropriates the scotoma as a model of the crisis of the gap in the gaze and in knowledge itself. The scotoma is his experience of the Terra incógnita. In the debate on philosophy, Georges Bataille argued that “Hegel frequently becomes obvious, but it is difficult to live alongside that obviousness. In the sense that it carries on, it increases. The obviousness that is achieved in the dream of reason is no longer an awakening. History at its end, now everything being obvious, humanity would change, it would become unchanging nature”. Philosophy would have its blind spot – a question that Jacques Derrida would discuss about Bataille – and that is also not alien to Louro’s scotomatic cartography of the creased map. The mimicking of the sacrifice of death and the laughter at the opening of the sacred stand in a simulacrum that, for Bataille, would be configured as the blind spot of philosophy. In his analysis of Bataille’s relationship with Hegel, Derrida observes that Hegel was blind to the experience of the sacred. “Thus is sketched a figure of experience,” assesses Derrida, “that is irreducible to any phenomenology, a figure that is shifted in phenomenology, like laughter in the philosophy of the mind, and which it imitates the absolute risk of death through sacrifice”. Here lies the blind spot of philosophy, an instance of the sacrifice of the presence and of meaning.
After his asymmetric philosophical compass with Land’s end, João Louro is proposing to operate on the optical phenomenon of the scotoma. His political parameters are now between the “white cube” as an ideological space of the exhibition spaces and the ocular-centrism on the strategic base of the merchant capital spent in art. The territory is sometimes suffocating because it is a Beckettian void. Besides, the punctum caecum provides him with the chiasma of chance and of intentionality. Louro states that “in that place that has no image, it is the blind place where all images are trying to see the Ship Victoria on the horizon and the possibility to ‘say’ what the blind spot has not managed to see yet… they are doubts and will to cross the ‘cape of storms.’” At the south of Africa, at the meeting point between the waters of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, that another Portuguese navigator, Bartolomeu Dias, named the Cape of Storms in 1488, which indicated its dangers. King Dom João III, in order to encourage navigation, re-baptises the place as the Cape of Good Hope. Louro refers this as the tempestuous point that would be the agitation of language itself. What Ferdinand Magellan of the Ship Victoria grants Louro is the experience of the immense ocean territory of water, no port and nothing else. The questioning he proposes to us is what might be the blind spot of language? What remained as a sea route was the Number, whether this was the Portulan chart or the astronomical mappings, which were simultaneously abstraction and concreteness, the ocean a-topia and the edge of drift. In Louro’s work one experiences the impossibility of naming the scomatic a-space, as this geographer is thinking about an instance between a- toponymy and a-topia, about that which is nameless and placeless.
The scotoma of medical sciences and the blind spot in Hegel’s philosophy revolve the instance of the meaning. Derrida says that the blind spot of Hegelianism, “around which the representation of meaning can be organised, is the spot at which destruction, suppression, death and sacrifice constitute such an irreversible expense, a negativity that is so radical — here we should have to state an expense and a negativity without reservations – that they can no longer be determined by negativity in a process or in a system.” For Derrida a “reduction of the reduction”, but “not a reduction to the meaning, but a reduction of the meaning” (p. 115). In the process of signifying in his discourse, Louro leads one’s eye to that point of “destruction, suppression, death and sacrifice”. According to Derrida’s view when transferred to an analysis of Louro’s production, methodological transgression does not seek to achieve an unknown level of the identity of the meaning, but represent the possibility of maintaining the state of non-meaning.
The difference is between the “man of sacrifice”, the ignorant or unaware being, represented by the artist, and the wise man (Hegel) who possesses absolute knowledge. A certain view of ignorance seems to be a necessary condition for the training of an artist, as argued by the critic Harold Rosenberg, being a factor close to the “not knowing” stated by Bataille. João Louro does not place himself in a state of blindness nor in a state of visual not knowing. For Bataille, that polarity between unawareness and absolute knowledge would arise from the negativity in Hegel in an economy set out in death, destruction and suppression. In the economy of negativity, suppression and death may be schemes of action for art criticism. “Negativity is a resource,” declares Derrida.
On their return to Troy, the twelve ships of Ulysses (or Odysseus) and their men were scattered by storms. They ended up on the Island of the Lotophagi, the kingdom of lethargy. Looking for food, they invaded the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus, who captures them and begins to devour them. Ulysses brings a barrel of wine, which is consumed by the Cyclops, who falls asleep. Ulysses pierces Polyphemus’s eye, but as he runs away he reveals his name to the Cyclops. Irate, Polyphemus asks his father, Poseidon, to ruin Ulysses’s journey. In the words of Maurice Blanchot, included by João Louro in his project for Venice, the hero survives death through seduction, because Ulysses’s attitude is “the amazing deafness of someone who is deaf because he hears”. Ulysses then spends some time with Aeolus, the lord of the winds, who gives him a sack containing all the winds, except the west wind. This gift would have guaranteed his safe return to Ithaca, but the sailors, thinking that it contains gold, open the pouch while Ulysses is asleep, and all the winds escape. When all the winds escaped, producing a storm, Ithaca appears on the horizon. In the perspective of Louro’s project, which alludes to the Portuguese sea voyages of the XV and XVI centuries, Portugal was a nation tormented by Poseidon. For this reason, his expression “to pierce the storms” of language also means to open cognitive horizons to confluent questions like scotomia, Georges Bataille’s not knowing, ignorance in the critique of teaching of art by Harold Rosenberg, intuition in Henri Bergson, the lacking, the madness and the unspeakable in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher of Land’s end. Louro experiences the ineffability of the act of seeing. And understands, like Clarice Lispector, that “when one sees, the act of seeing has no form.” The artist’s effort is to face the ineffable with blind words, which navigate in Lispector’s The Stream of Life. Louro’s map is scotomic, fractal and tectonic. Being Terra Infirma, the map is thus the impossibility of the labyrinth.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the noun atlas emerges in the sixteenth century to designate a set or folio of maps and geographical charts as a first proposition put forward by Abraham Ortelius. In a second meaning, it is a set of prints or a book with images or diagrams on any issue, such as in Aby Warburg or Gerhard Richter, two processes of mapping in the field of art. The noun refers to the giant Atlas, who held up the pillars of the world. Indeed, in the rest of Europe it has come to denote a person who carries heavy burdens and also the challenging Atlantic Ocean, with its high peaks. Atlas is also the upper vertebra of the spine that supports the cranial occipital. João Louro’s logic is unfolded according to the tense articulation of those first two understandings. in the cartographic sense, atlas thus makes up the field of the flattening reduction of the Earth’s sphere to two-dimensional representation and of the possible geo-political consequences of that process.
The idea of atlas was gradually consolidated, yet João Louro’s choice of a fragment from the cartography of Abraham Ortelius is not contemptible, as it has to do with a relevant historical passage of geography. Abraham Ortelius was the author of the first modern atlas, with 53 uniform charts, published in 1570 in Antwerp by Gilles Coppens de Diest. Ortelius systematised a set of maps in the modern form of an atlas, being guided by values such as uniformity of the geographical information and a greater focus on the overall identification of the territories rather than the details. In his publications Ortelius perfected the process of naming – in the princeps edition of his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, he inserted the Catalogus auctorum, with 87 names of cartographers. Ortelius also instituted the Synonimia Geographica, which included historical geography and agreement among historical and modern names in geography. Louro’s cartographic set moves towards a paraphrasing of Blanchot’s — one ought to argue that the atlas that is Atlas is one atlas among others.
João Louro’s Venice project leads to the Atlas Mnemosyne (1927-1929) by Aby Warburg. This atlas is made up of a set of images articulated through a historiographical method and through the iconological effort of mapping out determined routes. Warburg’s archive method in drawing up the Atlas Mnemosyne presupposed a criticism or the linear notion of history since illumism in order to see it through transversal movements. It is an atlas of images made up of forty panels with about a thousand juxtaposed images by area, covering issues such as “coordinates of memory”, “migrations of the old gods” and “re-emergence of antiquity”. There were groups like human sacrifice and oriental astrology. The Warburgian method might bring together mythology and symbolism as well as contemporary images. Warburg organised meanings impregnated with pathos from history of art to mythology. The title Atlas Mnemosyne, indicative of his project, pays hommage to the giant Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, who was the entity personifying memory, a word which in turn comes from mneme in Greek. Georges Didi-Hubermann states that with Warburg “the history of art is disturbed”, and that re-reading him “demands a reversal of expectations.” Another panel from the Atlas is the “era of Neptune”, the Roman god of the oceans and the opponent of the Portuguese sea voyages, as stated in the epic Portuguese poem The Lusiads by Luis de Camoëns. The myth of Neptune mobilises Louro’s nautical cartography, a possibility of Pathosformel (a concept devised by Warburg to refer to the relationships between form and pathology). From Walter Benjamin and Aby Warburg, João Louro retains the due respect for each individual image, with each idea in his work, which removes him from being the model of the artist who reproduces objects on a large scale.
João Louro’s cartographic pulsing might be closer to Ortelius’s Theatrum than to the Atlas presented by Gerhard Richter, the painter who for decades brought together hundreds of photographs and press cuttings, a memory consigned to the fever of the archives – Derrida’s Mal d’archives. Richter gave away the key to his work: “I used the banal to show that the banal is what’s important and is human.” In this line of reflection, Benjamin Buchloh consecrates the Atlas by Gerhard Richter as the anomic archive, referring it, in comparison to the taxonomic sets made by Christian Boltanski and to the architecture typologies of Bernhard and Hilla Becher. For Buchloh, homogeneity and continuity preside over the Bechers’ works, while heterogeneity and discontinuity are found in the Atlas by Richter. The hundreds of “banal” images collected by Richter would be, for Sianne Ngai, the practice of the stuplime, an English-language euphemism involving the contracting of stupid and sublime, an “aesthetic experience in which surprise is paradoxically combined with boredom.” We shall see how Louro’s symbolic economy of cartography is not in focus with accumulation nor with dispersion. We shall see how the symbolic economy of Louro’s cartography is not in focus with the accumulation, nor with the dispersion, and much less with the anomic or unnamed.
Speaking of an atlas in João Louro implies speaking about more than anomie to the banal, more than the heterogeneous, working the heteroclite and the rhizomatic. In the Oxford English Dictionary heteroclite is the abnormal or irregular, a term that appeared at the end of the fifteenth century from Latin, from the Greek heteroklitos, from heteros (other) and klitos (to decline). In the Webster’s English Dictionary heteroclite refers to an irregular term in its inflection or to an irregular noun in its declension. It is what deviates from common forms and rules. In his Cours de linguistique générale, Ferdinand Saussure concludes that the heteroclitic state emerges in language in the distinction between its elements of language and elements of speech (parole, in the original French), and in the separation between the social and the individual. Indeed, Louro is a cartographer of the parole just like Roni Horn. An atlas by João Louro would only be possible as sediment like the heteroclite, the rhizomatic and the multiform entity just like language itself. His cartographic impulse faces the irreducibility of the flat condition or the sense of orientation, a problematic term of a Eurocentric dimension in the history of seafaring. Classic cartography implies the specific types of social powers in its agency. An atlas by João Louro would be a set of cartographic devices that simultaneously provoked a discussion about the map and the atlas, the political geometry of the plane and of the sphere, and the Number, Name, the heterotopic space and the scotoma. In these terms his cartography is closer to the geographic experiments of Cildo Meireles or those of Robert Smithson or to Richter’s Atlas.
João Louro’s minimo graphein stands against the mínima geographia of the two philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Mille Plateau, which is reduced to West, East and the United States, which they call America. They are not aware of the vestiges of Eurocentric geographical power that exist in those two first bands of the world in the etymological between-the-lines of their discourse. Standing against this is Louro’s political agenda. In a Eurocentric aside in praise of expansionism Deleuze and Guattari write about the differences between Europe and America even when using the model of the trees, such as in Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, because they are not going “in the same direction”. When they point out that there is a rhizomatic West, with “its Indians with no descent, its always fleeting border, its moving and shifting frontiers. A whole American ‘map’ for the West, where even the trees make rhizome. America has inverted the directions: it has placed its East in the West, as if the world had become round precisely in America, its West is the very edge of the East.”. Pieter Sloterdijk argued that Deleuze was seeking “a natural structure that could announce modernity on the level in an organised manner.” It ought to be reiterated that Louro’s cartography, albeit close to Deleuze and Guattari, does not corroborate that hermeneutic enthusiasm over the expansion of the Old West. Deleuze and Guattari admire the “mythical geography” in the culture of the United States — “as if the world had become round precisely in America” — without alluding to the Portuguese nautical achievements of the XVI and XVII centuries, here brought to Venice by Louro, which effectively experienced the global sphere with greater risk and daring. In their limited use of elements from Ibero-American culture, Deleuze and Guattari ignore, for example, the aphorism-map by the Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-Garcia (in a drawing from 1943) with the proclamation: Nuestro Norte es el Sur [Our North is the South), which seems upside down from the point of view of the Eurocentric cartography as Patagonia is at the top.
João Louro’s minimo graphein is based on attention to the symbolic regime of sufficient image scarcity, as in the only photo of Rimbaud, in the two of Blanchot in very modest situations or, one might add as a possibility, in the rare images of a cremating oven from the Holocaust. The Nazi concentration camp was the blindest of spots, an absolute moral scotoma. There are only four remaining photographs of Auschwitz taken in 1944 by Aleks, a Greek Jew about whom we only know his first name. These are the only indexing images of the genocide harvest of the crematorium and of the state of siege. In Images malgré tout, Georges Didi-Huberman states that these photos show the Nazi horror and form a deliberate act of resistance and testimony. Along with Blind images or Louro’s creased map, is the video Primitive (2008), in which Miroslaw Balka reduces the nine hours of the film Shoah (1985) by Claude Lanzmann to a three-second loop. The original contained statements by those involved in the atrocities in concentration camps. Balka reduced this to the exclamation by the SS guard Franz Suchomel, “zwar primitive” (“very primitive”).
João Louro’s method is the cartography of drifting, of blind rhizomes, of the dizziness of a-symbolism, of the breakdown of paralogistics. With the photographs of Rimbaud and Blanchot, the minimo graphein elaborates the image of the parsimonious Narcissus. If the portrait of Narcissus exists in the state of Blind image, some of them come close to the type of work by Rosangela Rennó in order to then differ from it. These Blind Images without the face of their author stand as anti-Rembrandtian. In Corpo da alma, Rennó brought together newspaper reports of people showing people with photographs of people who had disappeared. The Blind images are a blind body of souls who have chosen to live without portraits of themselves. They are always a photograph without a punctum, but move through other perplexities and distances. “I was looking at nothing,” states Louro about the origin of a work, “through the caption, or something. The image, from that ‘blindness on’ would be recreated through the mind; or otherwise would be the recourse to a previous mental image, already existing in each person’s mental holding, projected onto their minds: the ‘standard image’. I give a stimulus to this recourse in works I have called Blind Image”. This is the case of Blind Image # 109 (2006), which incorporates a narrative-story of a memory: “STILL FROM A FILM. The strength of her shapely legs, the dirty sole of her white sock, the thick sweater she wore despite the closeness of the room, her wenchy smell, and especially the dead end of her face with its strange flush and freshly made-up lips”. The cinematographic narrative, reduced to a red monochrome with the subtitle-text, is a Blind image that mobilises desire, seduction and fetish”. The argonaut’s blind route, like an atlas of sensations, is affected by eroticism; he wanders like instantly-achieved pleasure, while João Louro is the cartographer of desire.
In the reference to Vladimir Nabokov in the title of the Venice exhibition (I will be your mirror – poems and problems), João Louro superimposes his gaze over the struggles with the paradisiacal colourless view underlying and within Nabakov’s Poems and Problems. It is from the punctum caecum that Louro questions about language and about the inexhaustibility of art in setting out problems – mainly about their visual basis. When the scotoma is lapsed within the potential view of the visible, there is a lack of truth and visual proof. In this field, all visual proof of any truth of the visible succumbs. The artist experiences art without a proveable truth. There resides the incompleteness of sight, which, in the suggestion made possible by the artist, is in a dialogue with Kurt Gödel. Louro’s work is produced as a system of disconcerted topoi de, done so individually through perverse operation – as such Louro included Gödel, the philosopher of mathematics, among the arrows of directions in Land’s end. The imaginary on sight itself – a meta-imagining condition in Nabokov and Louro – can be found in lines in the poetry in Oculus:
“To a single colossal oculus
without lids, without face, without brow,
without halo of marginal flesh
man is finally limited.”
In architecture, the Latin term oculus is an orifice, usually being circular, that lets in air, light and the possibility of sight. The scopic regime of the work Oculus, by Nabokov (a translation of the Russian Oko, eye) keeps to the theory of the gaze, not as a clinical examination, but as a passage from Narcissus to the Other. The Brasilian writer Clarice Lispector thinks on the scopic regime of succession of darknesses that there are inside the mirror. If photography has exacerbated the narcissistic image in modernity, João Louro’s Blind images are aimed at two men without a mirror: Rimbaud and Blanchot. Only one photograph of Rimbaud is known to have been taken during his lifetime, and two (perhaps three) are known of Blanchot.
Maurice Blanchot’s silence, which was a condition necessary to his intellectual process, would be a sort of non-sphere or vacuum – the Russian term oko (eye) sounds the same as the Portuguese word oco (hollow). Blanchot’s literature shifts from the circular nature of narratives to the discourse of fragments. In the Palazzo Loredan art is João Louro’s oculus into sight from the zone of scotoma, from a point on the body without light rings, with no halo, from Blind images. He proposes a state of a-visuality, not negativity, but of organic impossibility, given that the scotoma seems to do without eyelids, forehead and face. There, the final limit is marked and indicated by the monogram. I will be your mirror reverberate the questioning lines Oculus, which follow the trail of that which once was a gaze: “And do you care about a world with an omnipotent sight, if it has nothing monogrammed on it?” Paul Duncan Morris argues that in Oculus the strength of the omnipotent sight – against which João Louro’s work has been a mark of resistance – “an awareness granted in the afterlife is presented as a weak alternative to the world monogrammed with some particularity during life. The poem opens with an image with no carnal presence or expression, thus being non-specific and stripped of the character into which humans turn after their deaths.” That situation involves the psychoanalysis of distance in João Louro’s work.
If Man “is finally limited”, all that is left to Vladimir Nabokov is poetry all that is left is language and literary discourse. For João Louro this final frontier of the human in the decisive limiting is a scopic-ocular regime of the field of the impulse of seeing (and of being seen) against the entropy of the gaze. “The idea of mediation, the lens, the telescope, binoculars, the microscope… Always looking ahead (the Orphic gaze kills when it looks back), avoiding the ocular paradigm and coldly avoiding contact with the subject. And in this sense language is a lens that points forward, that grants life, even when it deals with death. In language there is no blind spot,” he insists, in a remission to the idea of death as that verified by Derrida in Hegelianism.
“On spherical thought,” states João Louro, “I’ve got (…) Peter Sloterdijk in my library. He taught me to see the ‘spherical’ in a different way.” In the field of art in Brazil, spherical thought emerged long before becoming set out at the end of the nineteen sixties with the translation of Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, with its chapter on the phenomenology of the round. Louro’s multifarious topography listens to Sloterdijk’s systems theory with the figure of the sphere in three dimensions: the bubble, the globe and the spume, from micro-sperology to macrospherology and to networks. The human space is a dyad for Sloterdijk and not Leibniz’s monad revised by Deleuze. In the microspherical declining of Bubbles by Sloterdijk, people, from the foetal phase to childhood are never alone, as they always embody the Other and align themselves with it. Louro’s view, however, sometimes seems to be more monadic that dyadic with the idea of the monochrome creased map, like the folds in the soul of Being in Leibniz.
Peter Sloterdijk observes how “the first members of ‘high civilization’ made an effort to interpret the cosmos in terms of ultimate roundedness: soul and cosmos”. In the mosaic of the Philosopher at the Annunciata Tower (Naples, I BC.), a work quoted by Sloterdijk, seven elders debate the signifying sphere of the world and the divine sphere, symbols of the wholeness and fullness of the pre-Socratics Parmenides and Empedocles. Sloterdijk explores contradictions between the Platonic and Aristotelian views. In Aristotle, the world is a given reality, a spherology — Aristotle begins with the Earth. João Louro’s exhibition alludes to the relationships between the Portugal of the renaissance with classical thought. “The influence of the studia humanitatis,” writes Ligia Bellini, “contributed to generating an attitude of unconditional respect for the culture of the Ancient World and its revival in Renaissance Italy, and, consequently, a more philological and dogmatic approach to the classical texts.” The religious dimension projected by Portugal on navigation and the conquests favoured the implanting of neo-Platonism in the country, given that in Plato the world is explained through divine emanation.
Peter Sloterdijk also stressed the importance of the passage between the morphological story of the planet and of the globe. For him, globalisation starts as the representation of the whole world in the shape of an orb by the Greeks. With the discovery of America, continues Sloterdijk, and the first circumnavigation of the Earth, the idea of the orb has been replaced by that of the globe. Today the virtuality of all conditions leads to a growing spatial crisis. The era of the global goes beyond ethnic frontiers. In Espumas life has a multi-focused perspective, and is a network like all the spheres in the foam. In this there is a difference in our interpretation of spherical thought, in a critical perspective of a Eurocentric culture that is in the relationship between the idea of ‘orientation’ in the two dimensional aspect of modern maps and the globe as the political solid capable of proposing a model of equality and balance.
The figure of the titan Atlas carries the globe at the entrance to the Rockefeller Center in New York. Through the open sphere one can see the extremely high tower, the symbol of the vigour of capitalism in the period between the wars and of the global expansion of the American empire. João Louro’s project takes into account the expansion of the western empires during the period of the great sea journeys. The increasing profit, analyses Edward Said, “and the prospect of more profit were clearly of enormous importance, as is thoroughly proven by the attraction of spices, sugar, slaves, rubber, cotton, opium, tin, gold and silver throughout the centuries.” Creasing a map means erasing these routes of wealth and capital gains. In the same political line, Louro’s reference to Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation in his exhibition at the Palazzo Loredan seeks the origins of the dimension of the cartographic forms: of the map, of the atlas and of the globe.
João Louro problematises the notions between flatness (painting, drawing and photography) and the spherical (sculpture) to a point of contagion. A great image of the passage from the map to the globe and vice-versa is the spheroid sculpture Projeto para um planeta [Project for a Planet] (1963, metal, dimensions variable), one of Lygia Clark’s Bichos [animals], made up of a set of articulated moving planes around axes, formulating the image of a changing globe in its formation as a Bachelardian configuration of the spherical nature of being. This Planet is like a book of page-plane-maps forming a globular atlas-volume. With recourse to the text The Book to Come (1959) by Maurice Blanchot, it should be considered that the concern of Louro’s writing questions into geographical becoming, into its “volatile dispersion” or into a globe to come. Cartography makes up his Warburgian Pathosformel on the axis between the Flemish and Italian maps and the Portuguese sea voyages, in the passages between Ortelius, Mercator, Lygia Clark and Robert Smithson. The Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Descriptio ad Usum Navigantium Emendate Accommodata, the so-called Mercator Projection, was the first representation of the earth’s sphere in flat form, including with the projection of the vertical distance between two successive parallels diminishing as they are closer to the Equator. Mercator considered the loxodromy developed by Pedro Nunes, a Portuguese mathematician, in the Tratado da Esphera (1537). Mercator’s passages between flat dimensions of cartographic documents is important in order to understand the political sense of João Louro’s declinations in creasing a blind monochrome, registering territories of subjectivity or indicating their directions in philosophy. In that context, for example, it should be understood that the planisphere is the representation of sphere (or part of it) on a flat surface. The term planisphere comes from the medieval Latin plānisphaeriu, formed from the Latin plānus (flat) and the Greek sphaera (globe), which indicate the cosmos or the cosmic sphere, conceived of as an empty globe.
Ortelius’s map of the Pacific is the first one to describe this ocean. “The Mapa mundi is the planisphere of the eye,” concludes João Louro, after approaching a diagram of the ocular globe of the representation of the Ship Victoria taken from Maris Pacifici. A possibility of a poetic path of the cosmographic metaphors in Louro is that the ocular globe is now a wing – sunt mi vela, alae from reverence from Ortelius to Ferdinand Magellan – and on other occasions an anchor. However, Louro’s interest in anthropomorphism ends here. In the relationship he establishes there is an implicit montage of an asymmetrical pair of globes: the eye and the Earth; ie, the eyeball and the globe of the Earth. Louro puts out the possibility of a geomorphic anatomy – the planisphere is the cartographic model of the mapping of the field of sight, not as the phantasmatics similar to that of the Sacro Bosco de Bomarzo nor the visceral and carnal quality of the land by the painter Roberto Matta. The phantasmagoria of the Gardens of Bomarzo, commissioned by Pier Francesco Orsini to Pirro Ligorio and the sculptures to Simone Moschino. What is remarkable there is the immense open mouth consuming the explorers – the cannibalesque mouth of Orcus, the god of the underworld, punisher of broken oaths, the mansion of the dead and even the wild man. In Orlando Furioso, Ariosto treats him as bestial and blind, inspired by the Cyclops in the Odyssey. Matta’s Chile, argues the critic Justo Pastor Mellado – and this would be important for understanding the organic morphology in this painter — “is a country whose territory is represented on the map as a dual ambiguity between a fissure and an erection”, in a genital interpretation of the map in order to then add psychoanalytical references in the constitution of the telluric, like the volcanic imagery in Matta’s work, which has the strength of the life drive (Lebenstrieb in Freudian theory).
Dominating the cartographic measuring of the world has always represented a form of control and domination over the cartography and power axis. João Louro’s consistent cartography moves between violence by the maps and violence carried out on the map. Nothing is innocent here. In them orientation is related to the cartographic directions and to the real correspondence with the directions of the cardinal points according to hegemonic and empirical interests. Orientation, a recent term, has its etymological origin in orient. In Latin oriens mean east. The T/ type medieval maps placed the east ‘at the top’. Today the convention is to have the north at the top in the Eurocentric tradition of modern cartography. After all, Louro is not surprised that modern cartographical conventions facilitated navigation from the point of view of the territories of the cartographers and of their paymasters in Europe. The essayist Edward Said goes further in defending that, in cartography, aesthetics, politics and epistemology inevitably walk together. They are “triumphal maps” at the service of colonial empires. Louro’s map is pure militancy and political density. Robert Silberman argues that geographical maps may appear relatively neutral, but that maps with political borders are often instruments of power and mirrors of conflicts and conquests. He also demonstrates with initial acuity that there is a strong game of political and cultural forces at play in cartography. He quotes as an example the location of the first meridian in Greenwich, England, after a determination by the International Meridian Congress (Washington, 1884) in detriment to Cadiz and Paris. Silberman cites the syndrome of omphalos (from the Greek omphalus, navel) because the tendency of cultures is to place themselves as the centre of the universe, and that as far back as the second century AD, Ptolomy placed the north at the top of the map because the Greek cartographers were more familiarised with that part of the world. Having defined what the two-dimensional cartography of maps and atlases implies in a Eurocentric system, it is necessary to examine the meaning of proposing a spherical thought for thinking of the relationships of power through the cartographic system.
In the Palazzo Loredan all of João Louro’s arguments are creased, distorted or blinded: the ecumen and the planisphere, the naturalist chart and the providentialist chart, Aristotle and Copernicus, all the metrology. “If Copernicus’s more abstract revolution divided European intellectuals for a very long time – with his lay followers being opposed to his ecclesiastic adversaries – the epistemological mutation of the theory of the Earth will not clash with such hostility, even taking into account the reinvigorating of Aristotelianism in the second half of the XVI century: the experience had definitively established that the ecumen was spherical.” The sphere was the symbol of perfection for the Greeks. Thus Parmenides represented the real being as a sphere. The Parmenidian being is spherical and, as we shall see further on, Louro accepts a spherical gaze from the reader of Peter Sloterdijk. For Rüdinger Safranski, there is a point for Plato in which “the total being is shown as the ordered Good. Plato describes a Whole with a soul, a spherical harmony in which Thought is included. Platonic knowledge means discovering the goodness of the world and through it becoming good as well.” In the engraving Melencolia I (1514) by Dürer, the sphere represents the elementary world governed by chance.
The cartographic dimension in the work of Cildo Meireles that is of interest to the understanding of the map by João Louro is not the cultural specificity of the territory of Cruzeiro do Sul, [Southern Cruise] but the linguistic redimensioning of A Diferença entre o Círculo e a Bola é o Peso [The Difference between the Circle and the Ball is Weight] (1976). These are drawings and texts on paper crushed up into the shape of balls or spheres. Here, in an act that is apparently intuitive but is mathematical, Meireles organises the passage from the flat to the solid, from the planispherical reason to spherical thought. Meireles, who was a reader of Bachelard in the nineteen sixties, just as Louro reads Peter Sloterdijk – both know that the being is round (das Dasein is rund).
If the discovery that the world was round, the epistemological leap from the planisphere is a return to the two dimensional cartographic model with the reintroduction of the problems of Eurocentrism. In geometry the sphere is characterised as a three dimensional model in which each section is a circle. A perfect solid, all the points on its surface are at the same distance from the centre. In order to shorten the distances, Louro crushed the map, an intelligent extermpore solution in his spherical thinking. Thus, spherical thinking, close to what Louro calls the “spherical gaze”, organised through the globe, would tend to equalise distances, like a diagram of relationships between cultures beyond the hegemonies that control the design of the Earth. I will be your mirror, the title of the exhibition by João Louro in Venice, is a line from a song by The Velvet Underground that unfolds in a mirror, blindness, darkness and affable hands in the welcoming gaze of the Other.
Rio de Janeiro,