This text was published in Spanish on 04/17/2018 in the magazine arte contemporáneo ARTISHOCK
If it is too close, the object runs the risk of being no more than a peg to hang phantasms on; if it is too distant, it is in danger of being no more than a positive, posthumous residue, put to death in its very “objectivity” […].
Created as a temporal crossroads of memories and experiences, the exhibition Mapping Domeyko, by Ignacio Acosta (Chile) and Jakub Bojczuk (Poland), explores the relationships of travel and migration, drawing on the personal adventures and expedition routes of the Polish mineralogist, geologist and educator Ignacio Domeyko (Poland, 1802-89). Based on an expedition that took place in the region of Coquimbo and the subsequent discovery of Domeyko’s autobiographical memoirs in a used bookstore in Warsaw, the artists created a series of pieces that cross the routes of his 19th-century travels with the memories and experiences of a sense of territory in the present.
Curated by Agnieszka Kulazińska, Mapping Domeyko (2014-17) was on exhibit from December 2017 to January 2018 at the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdánsk, Poland. Upon a first reading, Domeyko’s memoirs contextualize the scientific expedition within a historical period in the 19th century focused on rational thought that invested in knowledge and technology as a means of exploring and dominating nature, which at that was still quite unknown. Literature popularized romantic and adventurous notions of such expeditions, despite the fact that they often paved the way for today’s undeniable exploitation of natural resources and the resulting ecological drift. During this time, Domeyko was summoned by the Chilean government while he was residing in exile in Paris (1831) and urged him to take up a position as professor of chemistry and minerology in the city of Coquimbo. Although his trip had an educational aspect, his arrival coincided with a period of mineral discoveries and the development of this industry as a sign of “modernity.”
The exhibit Mapping Domeyko explores the intersections of the 19th-century expedition by way of Domeyko’s memoirs and the lived experiences of the artists. Acosta and Bojczuk studied Domeyko’s life and used it to draw connections between clear and opaque temporal fractures, in and between an intersection of stories and consequences of the processes of “modernity.” For the artists, the search for a sense of the expedition is deepened through a critical and emotional reading, which emerged from the frameworks of Domeyko’s interest, which the artists assembled from a vast amount of written records, letters, maps and accounts that highlight his strong connection to the still-untamed wilderness of a territory subject to modifications and extraction operations. Moreover, the artists’ follow-up to Domeyko’s personal travels and expeditions serves as an associative allusion to the 19th-century tendency to link such travels to a libertarian and romantic spirit, in distinct paradoxical tension with the current conditions and challenges of human displacement that can be observed in tourism and migration. These paradoxes are insinuated in the work Jeografía, Jeolojía, Mineralojía, Paleontolojía, comprised of four drawings on paper, in which each drawing is a play on words and each represents one of the four countries that claim Domeyko as a citizen (Belarus, Chile, Lithuania, and Poland).
Mapping Domeyko’s nine installations are configured in a poetic dynamics of sculpted objects, archival material, sound and audiovisual interviews, photographic documentation, reconstructions of routes and maps, in an extensive passage of memories in motion, memories that are to be read in a dialectical relationship with the present; in the awareness of an implicit and explicit devastation in the history of the expeditions that mapped the world, and in the challenge of contrast when, in the present day, we conceive of the journey as possibility of mobility and displacement, given that, in the 19th century, border frameworks were far more porous and flexible. Nevertheless, the questions surrounding the journey—who, how, where, what requirements, what sort of experience—carry particular weight today, in light of the hardening of borders and the perception of a transformed nature.
Archives and discoveries of multiple times
The artists found three volumes of the Domeyko’s autobiographical memoirs: Moje podróże. Pamiętniki wygnańca, vol. I-III (My Travels: Memoirs of an Exile), as well as a press photograph (1951) by Hamilton Wright; the memoirs were unearthed in a used bookstore, and the photograph was purchased from an eBay seller in the United States. The photograph, published by the New York newspaper Feature News and titled Iron ore as provided by Mother Earth, captures the moment that a large rock from Chile is measured. On the reverse, Wright has written in a proverbial fashion: “This enormous piece of raw (iron) has not yet been crushed before being sent from the mine to the foundry.” Both, in their capacity as objects (books and a photograph), could be perceived in an instant of pre-collapse; in the case of the photograph, the moment in which nature is dominated by technology, both photographically and scientifically, based on rational thinking that measures, classifies, and dominates. These contexts lead to the time of Domeyko, with his restlessness and explorations through Chilean territory, a time in which he excelled as a professional and as a pioneer of the mining industry.
How does one reliably present (for the historians) an image without falling into a certain sort of over-interpretation (Didi-Huberman)? With their materiality and eras, the documents, objects, and photographs serve as an outlet for dialogue and expression, as the artists suggest, but they do so not from a stagnant or linear memory, but as objects leading to active routes and interactions with a memory and a contemporary history; relating the passages and experiences of the artists in order to connect with Domeyko’s past, in “multiple temporalities, heterogeneous times, and intertwined memories” (Didi-Huberman). It is at this point that the artists connect us with their bodies and voices; by inhabiting Domeyko’s places, by reconstructing his domestic and professional footprints, by reciting his texts before landscapes of travel and exile. However, in Mapping Domeyko, the artists crisscross the crevices of a story that is never absolute or reproducible, but which becomes relevant in order to question the experience of the journey, in alignment with present-day borders and the backdrop of a “staged” or devastated wilderness. To that effect, Ignacio and Jakub work from multidisciplinary processes and collaborative and affective methodologies, in which a large network of friends, family, artists, and institutions in Chile and Poland participate, as a means of nostalgically counteracting what they consider the current conditions of journeys and experiences with a region of impermeable borders. These collaborative forms allow for association with a possibly already-extinct notion of the journey, though not without certain romanticism.
One of the installations entitled The journey of five rocks from Chile to Poland and of five others from Poland to Chile evokes the feeling of an open border and of reciprocal collaborations in the transportation of minerals. This piece emerged from an exchange of rocks between institutions that collection Domeyko’s minerals: the Muzeum Geologiczne at the University of Jaguelónica (Kraków) and the Museo Mineralógico Ignacio Domeyko at the Universidad de La Serena. As part of the process of the exhibit, each of these museums exchanged five stones from their collection, which were transported in the collaborative spirit between the artists’ friends and families of the artists. No postal delivery was required for this exchange to take place. The stones were carried in suitcases and bags by traveling family and friends, from La Serena to Viña del Mar, then to Santiago and Madrid, before arriving at the University of Jaguelónica in Kraków. A similar trip took place in the opposite direction to transport the rocks to the Universidad de La Serena. This gesture reproduces the process of the transfer of minerals that Domeyko gave to several institutions in the 19th century; entrusting ship captains and friends to bring them to their destinations. For the installation, ten stones that are only found in the aforementioned museums were reproduced, then drawn, photographed and multiplied into 120 stones (infinite reproduction) through a silicon mold and casting system; the Chilean artist Livia Marin assisted in this project, under the auspices of Łaźnia at an artist residency at the Academy of Fine Arts (ASP), Gdánsk (2016).
n other works, such as the videos The Border Moment and From Paris to Buenos Aires in 1838, the artists approach the contemporary vicissitudes of travel and the borders to confront the routes that Domeyko experienced and the current reality of exiles and the divided borders. The footage in From Paris to Buenos Aires in 1838 was shot at the Emigration Museum in Gdynia (Poland), a historic sea terminal from which many Poles emigrated in the 20th century. In the video, Jakub is seen reciting passages from Domeyko’s memoirs, which narrate his journey between these two countries on his way to Chile. While the artist reads in front of a stationary camera, the scenery behind him gradually changes. In the video, The Border Moment, the voice-over recitation by Jakub exposes the concept of “margin” (border) and how this has transformed since Domeyko’s era. This video was filmed atop a moving train that crosses the border between Belarus and Poland, countries that formed a single territory in the 19th century. In both videos, From Paris to Buenos Aires in 1838 and The Border Moment, the camera/window/frame records from a stationary position, making the viewer a direct participant in one way of looking at and feeling the experience of the journey, watching the landscape that disappears and transforms as time and the train move forward.
In conclusion, mapping as a project enables fragments of stories to be joined with the remains of the present, traversed by the dreams and delusions of an ill-fated modernity, at the crossroads of intimate and public lives of “multiple times.” In this quest, Domeyko’s life acts as a fissure, a temporal hinge that empowers us to scrutinize the story, revitalizing the readings of the past in relation to the present.
Mapping Domeyko was on display from December 1, 2017 to January 28, 2018 at the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdánsk, Poland.
It is comprised of nine works and installations: My Travels: Memoirs of an Exile, vol I-III; Iron rock as it was presented by Mother Earth; Drawings of an Exile; Jeografía, Jeolojía, Mineralojía, Paleontolojía; My Travels; The Border Moment; From Paris to Buenos Aires in 1838; The journey of five rocks from Chile to Poland and of five others from Poland to Chile; and Postcards of an imaginary journey.
English translation by Kevin Gerry Dunn
Didi-Huberman, Georges. “Before the Image, Before Time: The Sovereignty of Anachronism.” Compelling Visuality: The Work of Art in and out of History, University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. 31–44.