“La veu de la Sibil·la”. Catalogue of the instalation.
Sponsor:Obra Social la Caixa
Collaborator:Illeslex i Bendix
The chant and the matter of hope.
“Beauty has no other origin than the singular wound, different in every case, hidden or visible, which each man bears within himself, which he preserves, and into which he withdraws when he would quit the world for a temporary but authentic solitude” (Jean Genet). I. Epiphany (poetics) of the Sybil.
For years now, Marta Blasco has been musing on and producing artworks based on the tremendous fascination she felt for The Chant of the Sybil.. This oracular figure, inspired by Apollo, has become an obsessive motif for this artist, who has made endless drawings, objectual pieces, a beautiful glass window and – specifically for Mallorca Cathedral – an installation. The Sybils intuit higher truths and have powers which, in Christian tradition, make them exercise a role parallel to that of the Biblical prophets. Marta Blasco turns the Sybil into a visual attraction mechanism, as though its “revelatory” power in itself were a crystallization that makes one see.
At the same time, her intervention in the Cathedral is an exercise in figuration which revolves around the prophetic, and a kind of abstraction of the ritual of the Sybil’s chant. The Latin verb abstraho designates the act of separating, of removing, of taking out any thing or person from another, in short of focussing on a relationship with the powers of absence. Death is “abstract” because it ‘ab-stracts’ and diffracts figures, because it imposes on beings and even on objects impossible, contradictory dimensions, because it works to make everything dissimilar. We must remember that the Cumaean Sybil showed Aeneas the path to “the kingdom of the dead”. The “neules” made by Marta Blasco shine and at the same time produce shadows, imposing a visuality which allegorises levitation and also evokes the end, the reduction of the Sybil’s own body to a handful of sand.
It is not easy to deal with the iconography of the Sybil without falling into clichés; with a huge dose of subtlety, Marta Blasco puts forward an ambience for that prophetic figure which reinforces a female presence, but which also signals or manages loss. Between things epiphanic and eschatology, in a dimension that is “suspended” but not lacking in drama as a result, the installations of the “neules” in Mallorca Cathedral works as a dream space, an “unknown sign” which emerges from a structure of obsession. This intervention transmits a certain amount of “disturbing oddness”, that is to say, it is reminiscent of a familiar ritual, but it materialises different components, expanding and giving new life to a tradition that is as much a presence as it is a chant.
A tradition connects the mythologies of ancient times and Christianity, indicating that the Tiburtine Sybil had prophesied the birth of Christ to the emperor Augustus. In the Middle Ages the Sybils were represented as part of the symbolism of the messianism of Jesus, and in the 13th century, the Erythraean Sybil appears in the Dies Irae of Thomas of Celano, announcing the end of the world. Marta Blasco revisits sybilline iconography
to travel through realism towards a more intense symbolic dimension; her “neules” for Mallorca Cathedral are presences – forgive the paradox – which refer to a certain absence. Being, we may point out from a Freudian perspective, is never something one earns, but something which, perpetually failing the call, is circled around (it even acquires the status of an obsession in pursuit of figurability) and does not allow us to touch more than remains. In the final verses of the “Paradiso” of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Sybil appears in an intermingling of vision and dream, memory and decomposition of what it was into remains: “Thenceforth, what I saw / Was not for words to speak, nor memory’s self / To stand against such outrage on her skill. / As one, who from a dream awaken’d, straight, / All he hath seen forgets; yet still retains / Impression of the feeling in his dream; / E’en such am I: for all the vision dies, / As ‘twere, away; and yet the sense of sweet, /That sprang from it, strill trickles in my heart. / Thus, in the sun-thaw is the snow unseal’d; / Thus in the winds on flitting leaves was lost / The Sybil’s sentence.”
For Lacan the real is what “permits the effective unknotting of what makes the symptom hold together, namely a knot of signifiers.” In her “neules”, Marta Blasco suspends a symbolic condensation; in these beautiful pieces she deposits the fascination she felt when she heard the Chant of the Sybil – in a way she exorcises emotional collapse with artistic forms in “levitation”. The “mourning of the inexplicable” named by Mallarmé may push us to flight, or by contrast make us circle around the worst: a way of being at a distance, but also a way of facing that which causes us anguish. Marta Blasco’s aesthetic task is that of carrying on looking, in the visible, at that which the visible always continues to hide, carrying on, like Georges Braque, “trying to salvage something from the immense gaping darkness that surrounds [things], that eats into them on all sides”. Al jorn del judici, in that finale which the Sybil sings, all eagerness comes to an end and the historic fate is fulfilled: with the sword the female figure does not cut down hopes, but fulfils the promise.
All mourning labour is a labour of place, and all spacialisation brings with it conflict, but also temporality, the “becoming-time of space”.
Mundane expectations find in the Chant of the Sybil a moment of tears but also a sweet call to divinity: “Venits a mi los amichs meus / de tots perils”. Marta Blasco’s installation in Mallorca Cathedral has the nature of a “dialectic image”, in which she takes up tradition and ritual again in order to offer an unequivocally contemporary crystallization: “It’s not,” said Benjamin, “that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on the past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. For a while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent. Only dialectical images are genuine images (that is, not archaic)”. Every authentic image is constituted as a “dialectic at a standstill”, at once crystal and sparkling movement of the crystal. The “neules” created by Marta Blasco are as much a symptom as an element of fracture: they descend from the roof of the Cathedral to generate a “devotional space” or, in other words, they elevate their subtle materiality to make hope visible. From the Sybils painted by Michelangelo in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel to the “neules” hung in Mallorca Cathedral just before Christmas, they all propagate a prophecy which reminds us that the end may be the most beautiful of beginnings.
II. Installed in rootlessness (artistically speaking).
Mark Greif points out that nearly all of us experience a simple dissatisfaction. The idea that any moment could be added to experience, but that by contrast, it is lost in time, leaves a permanent residue of loss. We discover that ultimately, all situations abandon us, and we lacked the will to take them far enough when we still could. Our tattered culture corresponds to a being that is frontier, the imprecise limit on which, according to Mallarmé, the dice should be thrown: the truth shines out in the symbolic. The proposals of the first German idealism system, its claim to a symbolic mythology, reverberate like a memory that persists during a shipwreck. Eugenio Trías asserts that, at present, great art and great philosophy can only be produced in the midst of a pertinent crossing of the desert, where beyond the mirages, an unsuspected space is announced. In this way, a kind of microphysics of art is laid out; in this sense all arts are oriented towards their limit ,with the express will of transcending it: “Great art,” says Trías in his Lógica del límite [“Logic of the Limit”], exhibits its immanent contradiction: without nostalgia it rises up to the sacred, at the same time as it expresses illustrated tendency linked to the radical clarification of its ambience or domain. When this exhibition of the insoluble contradiction occurs, then art fulfils the double demand of adapting to the historical time (modernity in autumn) and of rising up to the limit (of the sacred and the secret)”.
It is by no means easy to return to Earth. We must come to terms with the conflict of the artwork, that is to say, to the relationship between world and Earth. We must learn from how things grow in nature and come to decide what the right moment is. Perhaps chronology and meteorology speak of none other than a mixture, i.e. of the kairos, that which is opportune. The light that makes things visible imposes the time of nature: there the cut and the continuity, that which is static and that which is fluid, are joined. The song of existence is an intense, hazardous dwelling in the open, or in other words, an attempt to reach the origin of the origin, the aion. In Rilke’s Duino Elegies the beloved land requires metamorphosis: a becoming invisible in the heart. In the last instance, all the harm we do to the Earth is wounds we inflict on ourselves. If, with the appearance of the Holy Grail in Lohengrin it seemed, in the words of Baudelaire, as though the world had “disappeared”, all this implies is that the Earth, the inexhaustible deposit of meaning, retracts so that we can continue to aspire to finding its mystery (an endless task).
It is the artwork, as occurs with the imposing installation Marta Blasco has produced in Mallorca Cathedral, that allows the Earth to be Earth, instead of world. Uncovering is that which is inherent in the truth (aletheia). In the middle of the being in its totality, an open place is presented: there is a clearing. In Art and Space Heidegger stated that emptiness is not nothing; it is also not a deficiency, on the contrary, it is that play in which places merge: “Space brings that which is free, that which is open to establish itself and a dwelling of man”. There is a liberation of places, an installation of the truth which is, strictly speaking, a spacing. In different abstract artists, the idea appears that it is necessary to reach the first energy from which forms emerge, absence as a kind of narration, remembering the mystic sentiment of the void, in which the experience of solitude becomes positive: moments in which one can perceive the echo, the emergence of energy and images. In her visions of the Sybil, Marta Blasco has clarified that the relationship both with the earth and with that which is feminine is crucial, in a symbolic knot which poses a revelation.
Let us remember that the modern experience of rootlessness appears, singularly, both in Benjamin and in Heidegger: the aesthetic experience is shown as an estrangement which demands a labour of reconstitution and readaptation. That said, this labour does not seek to reach an ultimate state of completed reconstitution; on the contrary, the aesthetic experience is oriented towards keeping rootlessness alive. In 1935 Heidegger pointed out that the beginning is the most terrifying and the most violent: this is unheimlichkeit, a not-being-in-one’s-own-original-home. And yet, we are accommodated in the inhospitable, something which does not necessarily mean that we have accepted anguish. The tremendous (Das Ungeheure) which terrifies us, the sacred which is imposed, cannot dissolve into the air as though it were ultimately nothing. Marta Blasco takes up the mythical figure of the Sybil again to re-inscribe it in the religous-symbolic context, but at the same time, she delves into her own imagination in order to release the condition of disturbing strangeness.
“Like rococo,” writes Alberto Ruiz de Samaniego, “the installation is genuinely a salon art, but also, in general, it is a deconstructing art which modifies the interior structure of places, reducing or enlarging the size of rooms and their components, bestowing maximal importance on the contextual elements (furnishings, belongings, ornaments, transitional places, limits, openings, projective propositions, gaps and other inscriptions)”. Let us remember Perniola’s idea of the installation as the space that feels the visitor, welcomes him, touches him, feels him up, “stretches out to him,” he indicates in The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic, “makes him enter into it, penetrates him, possesses him, overwhelms him. One does not go to exhibitions to see and enjoy art, but to be seen and enjoyed by art”. A space or, resorting to theatrical terms, a stage on which the ideology of virtual interactivity is dismantled by the interpassivity of that which is an incontestable presence. By no means does Marta Blasco’s installation have mannerist features – on the contrary, its aesthetics tend to show the essential: the figure of the woman engraved on metal sheets which literally levitate, offering flashes of that sybilline figure. In an age in which non-places proliferate, when the permanente mobilisation of tourism finds the souvenir as its only reward, Marta Blasco regales an “epiphany” of intense, poetic potency, she bewitches us with her appeal to the “oracular”, she manages to make us lift our gaze, to confront us with images I dare to describe as inspiring.
Artaud, in his Lettre sur le langage (1931), said that alongside culture through words, there is culture through gestures. There are other languages in the world besides our Western language, which opted for a lack of ornamentation and a dessication of ideas, and where ideas are presented to us in an inert state. The subject of the subconscious is located on the body, is expressed in the specific, in an evocation of the radical other, that is, in an incitation for the public to move beyond perplexity and introduce its effects of meaning where, above all, it is offered a dissemination of naked objects.
Derrida sustains that only because there is no presence is the experience, amongst other things, of artwork possible. Whilst some artistic practices have recovered the body, they have not necessarily done so in order to reclaim a “physicality” but in order to allegorize multiple dispossessions on its basis. That is to say, dislocation also affects that corporeality that we consider a refuge of “certainty”: “what I call the body,” writes Jacques Derrida, “is not a presence. The body is – how might I put it – an experience in the most mobile (voyageur) sense of the word. It is an experience of context, of dissociation, of dislocations.” As Michaux indicated, the artist resists the drive to not leave any trace, leaving the materials in a territorial situation similar to a crime scene; the trace is that which indicates and is not erased, that which is never definitively present. In an age in which we have – perhaps all too calmly – accepted what Derrida calls destinerrance, as opposed to the ideology of the virtualisation of the “world”, numerous veiled situations appear, traces of the different, indications that drive us to a creative drift: “We leave traces”, says Baudrillard, “everywhere – viruses, lapses, germs, catastrophes – signs of defect, or imperfection, which are like our species’ signature in the heart of an artificial world”. Art may be not only an obsession, but also a viral process, something that destructures ostensibly “normal” communication. Marta Blasco produces something more than traces, she imposes forms that remember the Sybil and, in one way, rest on her apocalyptic “chant”.
The sybilline voice indicates the inevitable fate, it sings the events of the end, perhaps it materialises the hinge of the finitude with the longing for significance. We must understand the drive of death as an ontological derailing, a gesture of dis-investiture that refers to the dissolution of the libido: that which dislocates the subject (in the process of its constitution) is the traumatic encounter with enjoyment. The self, spectacularly constituted, believes that around it there is only a terrain full of rubble and, precisely because of this, it fortifies itself; seeing oneself as a unitary subject implies a form of visual repression. Whilst desire always leads to the impossibility of its satisfaction, drive finds its satisfaction in the very movement designed to repress that satisfaction: “while the subject of desire is grounded in the constitutive lack (it exists in so far as it is in search of the missing Object-Cause), the subject of drive,” writes Zizek, “is grounded in a constitutive surplus – that is to say, in the excessive presence of some Thing that is inherently ‘impossible’ and should not be here, in our present reality: the Thing which, of course, is ultimately the subject itself“.
According to Lacan, what the subject finds in the (specularly) altered image of his body is the paradigm of all forms of resemblance that will bring over on to the world of objects a tinge of hostility, by projecting on them the manifestation of the narcissistic image, which, from the pleasure derived from the meeting himself in the mirror, becomes when confronting his fellow man an outlet for the most intimate aggressivity. At times, we are fixated not so much on the reflection, as on a transitional object: “the shred of blanket or beloved shard which,” says Lacan, “the child’s lips or hands never stop touching”. We revisit the idea that detachment and castration intervene in the emergence of the subject. Castration means that pleasure needs to be rejected in order to be attained on the inverted scale of the Law of Desire. The Sybil’s sword that Marta Blasco has instistently drawn, or materialised on a beautiful window, metaphorically generates a symbolic cut at the same time as it gives an account of this creator’s courage and determination.
Her dream of creating the installation in Mallorca Cathedral has been something of a heroic commitment.
Freud said that, after being interpreted fully, all dreams show themselves to be the fulfilment of a desire, that is, dreams are the hallucinatory realisation of an unconscious desire. The dream traps us and leads us to the abyss of the sublime-vastness, of tenderness, of the frayed memory of the womb. Here a profound truth is found; Plato himself built his defence of the experience of the dream to fend off the prejudice that one must “free oneself from appearances”. At the end of the day, dreaming means “not knowing what is happening to me”. Certainly, there is a knot or labyrinthine structure that separates us from a clear visión of what we have dreamed; as Freud indicated, the navel of dreams is the unknown, something that is beyond the reticulation of the intellectual world. Art establishes a pleasurable delay, is a summons to a singular intensity of life. We must keep our minds open to everything, be capable of establishing, in Freudian terms, a constant “free association”, i.e. work in the direction of a radical excitation of the dream. Like rain, phantoms and the rarest of bonds fall in the region of dreams. Marta Blasco has drawn knotted pieces of fabric, she has also made ceramic roses, beautiful garlands that enter into dialogue with the ripped body of Venus. Her dream of the Sybil has not ended yet; it is pleasurably delayed.
III. To (miraculously) cross fantasy.
“Jenny Holzer’s famous truism ‘Protect me from what I want’ expresses very precisely,” says Slavoj Zizek, “the fundamental ambiguity involved in the fact that desire is always the desire of the Other. It can be read either as ‘Protect me from the excessive self-destructive desire in me that I myself am not able to dominate’ – that is, as an ironic reference to the standard male chauvinist wisdom that a woman, left to herself, gets caught up in self-destructive fury, so that she must be protected from herself by benevolent male domination. In more radical terms, the expression indicates the fact that in today’s patriarchal society woman’s desire is radically alienated, that she desires to be desired, and so on. In this case, ‘Protect me from what I want’ means ‘What I want is already imposed on me by the patriarchal socio-symbolic order that tells me what to desire, so the first condition of my liberation is that I break up the vicious cycle of my alienated desire and learn to formulate my desire in an autonomous way. The problem of course, is that this second reading implies a rather naive opposition between ‘heteronomous’ alienated desire and truly autonomous desire. What if desire as such is ‘desire of the Other’, so that there is ultimately no way to break out of the hysterical deadlock of ‘I demand of you to refuse what I demand of you, because that is not it?” The protection is possibly that of the desire itself, an awareness of the abysmal, in other words, those turbulences of passion in which every foundation is lost. But the paradoxical enunciation may also have to do with the dynamics of seduction, with saying that it is folded up and does not offer unified meaning. It does not appear to be an appeal to another located in a hierarchical position, but rather a plea that seeks to reach the problematic place of the subject: a movement that is not repression, but rather strange veiling. As in catharsis, rejection and repulsion are combined with fascination for the extreme, here, protection can be the moment before an unconditioned submission to the release that is so difficult to reach.
Foucault circulated the idea that man is an invention of recent date, based on which the archaeology of our thought can be conducted. If the retreat of language has the result that “these days one can only think of the emptiness the disappeared man has left behind”, it is also obvious that the possibility of rethinking the conditions of production of the subject is opening up, the microphysical network in which knowledge, desire and reality twist together. Perhaps the greatest problem is that life as we knew it has ceased to exist, but nobody is capable yet of assimilating what has survived in its place. Only by recovering the space he first vacated, can man, a misfortune (dystychia) more than an enigma, attain what he improperly calls totality; desire and imagination exceed the limitations, they strive to be outside of the law, inventing that other side of life. A symbolic combat is unleashed to overcome that love which turns the other into a specular reflection, or an obstacle that can be reduced, inhumanely, to nothing, undesirable remains to be thrown into a nameless tomb.
Without doubt, all of Marta Blasco’s work is associated to the modulation of desire, configurating itself as a rigorous art of the care of the self based on a strangeness of the body, something similar to what Lacan called extimité (extimacy), a complex process in which we relate profoundly to the Thing. It seems clear that the positions of the “masculine” and the “feminine” which Freud defines as the effects of laborious and uncertain accomplishment in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) are established in part through prohibitions which demand the loss of certain sexual attachments, and demand as well that those losses not be avowed, and not be grieved. Gender is constituted as a ritualised repetition of convention; in this sense femininity is an ideal that is always only imitated, but also like that melancholic ambivalence (a conflict which tenses what we tend to call ego to the point of taking it to the abomination of itself), that return of the libido to its starting point (Zurückziehung), but above all the situation in which an originally external object, or an ideal, is lost, at the same time as a refusal to break the bond appears. For Freud, responses of the melancholic still proceed from a mental constellation of revolt, which has then, by a certain process, passed over. The revolt that has been crushed in the melancholia can be salvaged to challenge the ideality of authority.
That barred subject Lacan spoke of brings to us the desire that can be opened up based on indeterminacy, undecidability or even destinerrance. “Consequently,” writes Derrida, “I believe that, like death, undecidability, which I also call “destinerrance”, the possibility of a gesture never reaching its destination, is the condition of the movement of desire which would otherwise die ahead of time”. Desire, as I perceive it in the aesthetics of Marta Blasco, is a mixture of enjoyment and dissatisfaction that cannot be resolved in the form of an “essential absence”; perhaps the abandonment of different suffering has something to do with our abdication of ourselves and, naturally, with the difficulty of establishing the encounter with the other. Lyotard spoke of the post-modern formula, in a troublesome imagination, like leaving a response suspended, without excluding the possibility of there being something of Other, “something of lack and something of desire”.
“There are three bodies,” he warns in The Cyberworld, the Politics of the Worst, “that are indisputably linked: the territorial body, that is, that of the planet and the ecology, the social body, and finally, the animal or human body. From this comes the need to reposition oneself in relation to the body, to reposition the body in relation to the other – the question of the fellow and of otherness – but also in relation to the Earth, that is to say, to the world itself. There is no own body without our own world, without situation. One’s own body is situated in relation to the other, the wife, the friend, the enemy”. Perhaps Butler is right when she points out that the body is not a site in which destruction takes place, but a destruction on the occasion of which a subject is formed. “The formation of this subject is at once the framing,” she states in The Psychic Life of Power, “surbordination and regulation of the body, and the mode in which that destruction is preserved (in the sense of sustained and embalmed) innormalization”. Remember the oracular sentences proffered in Delphi, of “know thyself” and “nothing to excess”, in a way antagonistic, as penetrating what we are may lead us to delirium and our disturbing, ephemeral condition drives us not so much towards restraint as towards pride, that is, the demented challenging of the gods. Through the iconography of the Sybil, Marta Blasco speaks of the generating power of women and of their exaggeration precisely at the moment of self-awareness.
Subjectivity can only be affirmed as the distancing with regard to its foundation, which can never be fully overcome. The free subject, integrated into the symbolic network of mutual recognition, is the result of a process in which traumatic cuts, repressions and power struggles intervene, that is to say, it is not primordially established. There is a resistance to identity within mental life; identity can never be summed up by the symbolic, because what the latter does not manage to order will emerge within the imagination as disorder, as a place for challenging identity. We must put an end to the permanent location of the woman in the paradox and, naturally, to her denigration, and her reduction to nothing. Marta Blasco literally works her fingers to the bone in her work (those torn bodies are not only allegorical) and in the Mallorca Cathedral installation she gives way to women with her ability to see what is happening, that is, with her oracular presence.
After the questioning of the subject (even after it has been dismantled and its rhetorical structure revealed), the importance of positioning is maintained. The individual is by now no more than the residue of the community’s experience of dissolution. The concern for what happens to us, the ontology of the present, can lead us towards committed practice and thinking. “Undoubtedly the most infallible philosophical problem is that of the present time,” says Michel Foucault, “of what we are at this precise moment. Without doubt the main objective nowadays is not to discover what we are, but to reject what we are”.
Everything that can be transmitted in the symbolic exchange is always something that is both absence and presence. It serves to have that kind of fundamental alternation which, after appearing at a point, makes it disappear only to reappear at a different point: it circulates, leaving behind it the sign of absence in the place it comes from. The artwork is understood as a function of the veil, set up as an imaginary capture and place of desire, the relationship with the beyond, fundamental in any structuring of the symbolic relationship: “It is,”
says Lacan, “a matter here of the incursion upon the imaginary plane of the ternary rhythm subject-object beyond, which is fundamental to the symbolic relation. In other words, within the function of the veil it is a matter of the projection of the intermediary position of the object”. The contradiction lies in the veil, in the duplicity of the functioning of the vei. The difference that veils and unveils is, to a large extent, a fold. Marta Blasco’s “sybilline” materialisations are (re)veiling, they offer images that are suspended, moving, light and at the same time, serious, which situate us in an enigmatic domain (it is worth saying: one steeped in metaphors).
We need to be clear that if we were to tear our veil (an image with both a religious and an erotic impact), it would not be something like the truth that would appear. The Real is not a “true reality” behind virtual simulation, but the same void that makes reality incomplete/inconsistent, and the function of all symbolic wombs consists of concealing this inconsistency; one of the ways to achieve this concealment is precisely to pretend that behind the incomplete/inconstant reality we know there is another reality which is not structured around an impossibility. It is not the moment of the disappearance of veils, or of the theatrical raising of the curtain, but that of the acceptance of the screen. One must try, as Marta Blasco does, to cross (traverser) fantasy, knowing that meaning, as Levi-Strauss or Lacan showed, is probably no more than a superficial effect, a mirage, foam. The symptomatic reading denounces the illusion of essence, depth or completeness to the benefit of the reality of the cutback, the rupture or the maturing. Art is always trying to acquire the “other scene”, i.e. that place in which the significant exercises its role in the production of the significances that remain unconquered by the subject, and from which the latter demonstrates it is separated by a barrier of resistance. It is the fall of the subject which is supposed to know what opposes the notion of liquidation of the transfer.
Art, produced masterfully in the way Marta Blasco does it, can thwart what the symptom imposes, that is, the truth. In the structuring of the symptom with the symbol, there is no more than a false hole. Language is connected to something that perforates that which is real. And, to avoid dissolving, we (barred/subjects) need to knot the experience, if only with a half-saying. The real is to be found, says Lacan, in the tangle of the true. The real is always a fragment, a bud around which thought weaves stories; the stigma of the real is not to entwine with anything. Between the fierce passion and the speechless sentiment, we could get the impression that everything dissolves in meaningless. Even the vision of divinity is, paradoxically, face to face “per speculum”. Because God may be no other than the definitive veil. “The truly traumatic thing,” says Zizek, “is that miracles – not in the religious sense but in the sense of free acts – do happen, but it’s very difficult to come to terms with them”. The (Lacanian) Real does in fact take place, and is actually the impossible. Another issue is whether we can symbolise or accept the Real. A thing that does not happen. In spite of everything, we cannot give ourselves over to the poetry of failure, or to the trick of absence. We have exhausted the sacrileges and, at the same time, disconcerting relics have proliferated. Following the voice and the presence of the Sybil, we need to return to the (maternal and secret) Earth where the decisive wants to become invisible.
Fernando Castro Flórez
President-degà del Capítol de la Catedral de Mallorca
There is always a different atmosphere about Les Matines a la Seu (matins at Mallorca Cathedral). The grandeur of the festivity is transmitted by all the elements that make up this singular building, the Cathedral. It is probably the most colourful night of the year, even though it coincides with the most inward-looking, wintry night on the calendar. The neules (hand-cut paper decorations) and the Sibil·la (the Sybil), make us focus on what we are celebrating, as a community of believers, and everything speaks in that symbolic language which explains all, even the future. Every Christmas, the Cathedral becomes especially symbolic, on days when we all feel like one big family, a community that identifies with traditions and innovations, with the traces and symbols of the past and with the creativity of our contemporaries.
In the year 2017, as The Reverend Gabriel Amengual, the canon for Heritage, the Chapter of Mallorca Cathedral, stated, he wanted to come closer to contemporary art so that the Christian message could be expressed in all languages, including today’s artistic languages. Our cathedral, La Seu is the mother of the churches of the Diocese, which is a living community that needs to demonstrate its vitality with new forms of expression of its faith and celebration. The installation La Veu de la Sibil·la (“The Voice of the Sybil”), by Marta Blasco, actually neither sings nor predicts, but is an invitation to lift up one’s gaze and observe in perspective, in an age in which horizontality is featured as a single paradigm.
This work by the artist Marta Blasco was installed over the Christmas period, but its itinerary extends well beyond the temporary term of the exhibition. This publication, illustrated with photographs by Jaume Gual, also fulfils the desire of the Cathedral Chapter to document these interventions and conserve them in documented memory. The book includes the speeches and interventions in the public presentation of the installation on 22nd December 2017. On behalf of the Chapter, we would like to compliment Marta Blasco, as well as the enriching narrative of Fernando Castro, the curator of the installation; and also, the dedication of Catalina Mas, the cathedral’s Heritage Conservator. With his intervention, The Reverend Gabriel Amengual expresses the sentiment of the Chapter and, in his text, he projects perfectly the spirit that impregnates all interventions in the Cathedral related to heritage, but much more so in this case, when this work by Marta Blasco entered into dialogue with the liturgical celebration of Christmas and amply fulfilled its purpose as a bridge between the spiritual and cultural values that saturate the life of the Cathedral.
Conservator of Heritage of the Cathedral
Today, the Catholic Church is the institution which conserves the largest amount of the historical and artistic heritage which unites us as a people and identifies us in cultural terms. In itself, architecturally speaking, the Cathedral is the firmest expression of the Christian faith conveyed into stone that is known on Mallorca, and it is a vessel for the artworks which, century after century, have served, pedagogically speaking, to transmit the faith and values of Christianity.
The passage of time has diluted the force of its message and this original function has often been relegated to the background. Artworks have changed, from being a path for spiritual and religious knowledge, into a route for study and pleasure. In this great transition, the Church has become the largest conserver of historical and artistic heritage.
Having arrived at this situation, the Church is faced with one of its main handicaps: the communication of its message through contemporary forms of art. How can the Church transmit the values of Christianity through artworks that no longer communicate with today’s society in the same way, to the extent that its intrinsic message requires? How can people be reached through works that are contemplated as anachronistic testimonies which transport us to a previous age? Is it possible to recover the contemporary transmission of the Christian message so that art once again moves those who contemplate it spiritually? These are some of the questions we ask ourselves when we are confronted with the inclusion of contemporary works in the Cathedral.
The installation of the neules, a paper cut-out decoration typical of Christmas on Mallorca, entitled “La Veu de la Sibil·la” (“The Voice of the Sybil”) is the result of the exhaustive research carried out by its creator, Marta Blasco, on the figure of the Sybil as an image and symbol and as an ancestral tradition which we quickly identify on Mallorca. As such, it is not an isolated work within the Cathedral, nor is it an element that disturbs the liturgy or questions the most deeply rooted traditions. The “copper neules” are neules not in order to forget tradition, they are made of copper in order to make us understand that it is possible to renew oneself and they are presented on the pulpit and in the context of the Christmas celebration because they were conceived, like their decorative paper namesakes, to accompany the celebrations and enliven Christmas worship.
The installation “The Voice of the Sybil” is above all the expression of the authentic need to renovate visual language adapted to today’s codes, to the visual perceptions of those of us who experience them today, with just one primordial objective, that of transmitting the faith and values of Christianity.
Canon accountable of the Heritage chapter of the Cathedral of Mallorca
The Chapter of the Cathedral is delighted to host and present this installation that Ms. Marta Blasco has designed and executed. It consists of seven copper sheets, engraved on both sides with motifs of the Sybil and hung from the pulpit where the Chant of the Sybil is sung on Christmas Eve, as though they were just more of the decorative paper neules that adorn the church, giving it a Christmassy feel.
The theme is Christmassy enough: the Sybil, whose chant has become an indispensable part of our midnight mass, or Christmas Eve celebrations. A song recognised as Intangible World Heritage. A song that fascinated the artist, and one which has inspired several of her works.
It is curious to note that the Sybil has never been the object of an iconographic representation. This means that, with this installation, the artist actually completes the Sybil, completes it in the way the complete work – as W. Benjamin said – is the union of the artist’s expression and the impression of the receiver or contemplator of the art; thus complete does not mean to finish, but rather to open up a new sphere of its reception and expression: the sphere of iconographic representation, so that intangible heritage starts to find its corporealization and to become tangible, too.
Although a certain materialisation has been bestowed upon the chant and the figure of the Sybil, its ethereal character has on the other hand been maintained, accompanying so many neules which, observing the old Mallorcan tradition, hang in our churches, swaying to the rhythm of a puff of the gentle breeze. And so, it is an installation that fits perfectly into the Christmas theme, even going beyond the chant itself. This fellowship with the neules nevertheless marks a certain distance: the size, the material and above all the colour, the diversity of colours, which will be multiplied even further in the Cathedral thanks to the diverse rays of light, with different colours and tonalities, intensities and directions, given the mobility of these large neules.
As well as reminding us of the Sybil’s testimony on the birth of Jesus, these neules recall an entire cosmic dimension: it is matter itself that trembles with emotion before the great event of the God who becomes a child – defenceless, unprotected tenderness released into our hands that have been so often stained with the blood of the brother.
Whereas the Sybil, the character from Greek and Roman mythology, was characterised first and foremost by her capacity to know and predict the future, our Sybil has the dual facet of announcing the birth of the Son of God and of announcing the future, in this case the absolute, final future: the end of time, the final judgement, the rebirth of a new heaven and a new earth.
This installation is part of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Mallorca’s general intention to move closer to contemporary art so that the Christian message can be expressed in all languages, including today’s artistic languages. La Seu is the mother of the churches of the Diocese, which is a living community that needs to demonstrate its vitality with new forms of expression of its faith and celebration. With this interest in mind, one that has always been shown by popes and which is therefore a very Catholic desire, we should be thankful that some artists have this same concern: it is an excellent contribution the Church’s mission.
Ever since I arrived in Mallorca in 1999, I felt a special fascination for the Cathedral, the natural colouring and profiles of which I glimpsed for the first time from the sea. Shortly afterwards, I happened to discover the Mallorcan tradition of the Cant de la Sibil·la, or “Chant of the Sybil”, and its symbolism and message made a great impact on me.
When the Cant de la Sibil·la was included on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010, I began to wonder why its iconographic representation was absent from the Cathedral, when its presence was so powerful both in the imagination of Mallorcan culture and in the Cathedral itself during the Christmas festivities. In parallel, I experienced a growing interest in the reason why certain themes were considered almost “taboo”, or proscribed, in the discourse of contemporary art.
Landscape, nature, telluric energies, the irrational and in particular, their relationship with different female literary, mythical or real characters, have been constant themes in my work. Already, in one of my first exhibitions in Palma, I presented works that symbolically dealt with “the human and the divine”, with a female figure metamorphosing into a tree, which may be seen as a prefiguration of my Sibil·la, an iconography I started to develop visually in 2012.
The Sibil·la is the enigmatic woman who reappears every Christmas Eve in the Matines Mass in Mallorca’s churches, to announce the Final Judgement. Bearing in mind the secondary role of women in the Church’s discourse, the fact that a female figure of pagan origin should fulfil such an important function was a powerful stimulus, making the Sibil·la the central protagonist of my work over recent years.
And so it was that I decided to present this, my most personal project, to the Cathedral authorities, a project that seeks to bring contemporary art nearer to the tradition of the sacred, combining the annual performance of the Cant de la Sibil·la on 24 December with the installation of these Neules which cross the naves (formerly made of bread) with the presence of a contemporary Sibil·la.
My artistic Project for Mallorca Cathedral consists of a mobile sculpture comprised of seven pieces of copper (the morphology of which is reminiscent of that of the old Mallorcan altar bread) engraved on both sides with images of a woman holding a sword or absorbed in her visions, with plant motifs, ribbons…, all elements that metamorphose and combine randomly in the air, like fate.