The 19th century consolidated the romantic figure of the traveler, the individual who traveled because it was necessary. No matter the nature of this necessity, he seemed more concerned with the journey than the final destination. At no time did the traveler conform to the outlook of the tourist, the pure delight of the scenery, since he is strongly committed to recognizing his host’s culture and dedicates his life to this. After a certain amount of time – the main instrument of navigation and travel – he is able to achieve a level of integration with the scenery that he no longer sees it; he is totally dissolved in it.
The tourist, in turn, is the individual who travels for pleasure, moved mainly by a curiosity to see new landscapes – places, individuals, cultures. In the 20th century, we learned from him to view the scenery through the camera’s lens, and to appreciate it afterwards, at home. As such, the tourist collects images of the places he’s visited, and they serve as proof, both of his displacement throughout the world, as well as the awareness that he belongs to one determined landscape, place and culture. Most of the time, he is not interested in understanding the culture of the other, but when he returns, he recognizes and reaffirms his own, by contrast.
Subject to many possible definitions, the early 21st century is marked by velocity, by technological obsolescence, by fleeting relationships, by the horizontal nature of the fabric of knowledge. When we travel, the time we dedicate to enjoying the scenery is excessively short and must be optimized, especially for those of us who seek real integration with the landscape. With a certain amount of training it’s possible to sharpen the gaze in order to see through the local landscape, transcending natural barriers, crossing borders, making use of the fabric of the data network which coats the physical world, transforming oneself into a transcendental tourist.
The transcendental tourist is thus someone who, whenever traveling, brings the memory of another place along with him. In theory, his gaze is prospective, it works as if, when contemplating the ocean, he is more concerned with demonstrating that the blue vastness is the same one to touch all the other continents. In an opposite and retrospective manner, it would be like looking at a tumbling pebble trying to survey all the stones scattered the world throughout that were born from the same rock. In practice, by documenting an exotic landscape, he is able to allegorically gather info pertinent to other peoples and places, as if constructing delicate, multidirectional bridges between them, allowing for new passages and amalgamating all this to his own notion of landscape. The focus of his video camera is at the same time precise and blurred and it invites all to imagine experiences that go far beyond the material world.
Traveling to Reunion – a volcanic island in the middle of the Indian Ocean – is like going to France, but not quite so, or perhaps much more. I documented in video the landscape I saw outside the car window on a road that goes all the way around the island. Three years later, when I finally took another look at these images, I was overwhelmed by the desire to “return to that ride” around the island, in reverse, an allegory of that reversal of time and its contention. A fleeting and impossible return. The image in motion, superimposed in layers, generated an improbable combination of imprecise and fleeting grays and whites. The persistence of the fragile black & white is always threatened when one of the layers disappears, before the introduction of a new (third) layer which restores the lack of color in a magical chromatic process that seems to challenge the laws of the technical image.
When played backwards, the songs of Daniel Waro sound like an undecipherable lament accompanying the images that resist disappearance in black and white – in the same way that the creole language, in its cleverness, always confronted and challenged the supremacy of the conqueror’s language. It is on the islands (where the annihilation of the language of the oppressed is presumed) that the “creole phenomenon” is manifested and resists, through the cloning of phonemes and verbal structures, while maintaining its original framework, as a marvelous mixture of black and white.
Anuloma-viloma azteca2010– 2011
Those of us familiar with the techniques and energetic force of the pranayamas know that the principle of alternating breathing between the left and right nostrils is geared toward balancing our left/lunar side and right/solar side. As such, Aztec Anuloma-viloma was created with the intention of harmonizing the images captured in the archaeological zone of Teotihuacán, located near Mexico City, whose name means “place of those who have the road of the gods” in the Nahuatl language.
Here we present two actions that are impossible to perform on the physical plane. In the first phase, titled chandra – “moon” in sanskrit –, the camera records the act of climbing the steps of the Pyramid of the Moon, while the next depicts a walk down the steps of the Pyramid of the Sun, both located on the Avenida de los Muertos. The cycle of this visual pranayama is completed in the second part of the video, entitled surya – “sun” in sanskrit –, in other words: the climb up the steps of the Pyramid of the Sun, all the way to the top, followed by the walk down the steps of the Pyramid of the Moon, all the way to the ground. Climbing up and down the pyramids, you hear the sounds emitted from the practice of the loud, syncopated breathing technique known as ujjayi, which aids in physical endurance throughout the long, exhausting process, as well as concentration, allowing for meditation in motion.
Kundalini is derived from a sanskrit word that means “coiled serpent” and defines the cosmic energy which, when awakened, can transit between the different chakras of our physical body, starting with the first, situated near the base of the spine and genitals. If it reaches the seventh chakra, located at the top of the head, it produces a profound mystical experience, leading us to inner peace and divine realization.
The interior of the Statue of Liberty in New York City was closed to the public for a long time after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed. Access to the statue’s crown was only allowed again eight years later, in a controlled manner, limited to just a few people per day who make reservations in advance. The crown is reached via a shiny stainless-steel staircase shaped like a helicoid, identical to the graphic representation of Kundalini energy. I walked up the 335 steps from the base of the Statue of Liberty up to its crown. In Kundalini freedom, the colors are the same ones attributed to the chakras from the first to the seventh, in the following order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet and pink. When we reach the top of the statue’s head, the scenery viewed through the windows of the crown loses all importance, because it means that we are freed of the outside world at the moment of spiritual realization. The image dissolves, from pink to the purest white.
Yanğyin Bosphoros2011– 2012
The distance between Europe and Asia is just 700 meters at the narrowest point of the narrowest strait in the world. The Bosphorus makes Istanbul – known as the “port of happiness” – the only city in the world to have one foot in each of the two continents and its 31-kilometer extension between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea are heavily navigated by a population of over 13 million. This transit, exchange, unity and duality seem to have been hallmarks of Istanbul since ancient times, as we can see in its music, dance, language, commerce, profane life and, last but not least, in its religion. In the same way that the Yang and Yin are not opposing forces or dualities, the two sides of the Bosphorus – as sinuous in design as the interior of the Taijitu diagram – are complementary margins which interact within a larger whole. Still, it is not our place here to define which side of the Bosphorus best corresponds to the “dark, lunar, passive, cold, withdrawn, weak” aspects and, in the opposite way, the “bright, solar, active, hot, outgoing, strong” ones. Just as things expand and contract, the temperature fluctuates between hot and cold, the movement of the waters and the two juxtaposed margins give the sensation of a continuous yinyang-yangyin movement to the sound of Ottoman music that alternates between Eastern and Western chords. Happiness continues forever on the other side of the door.
In Sanskrit, Sutra literally means “a line which maintains things united”; however, it also refers to an aphorism formed by a succession of specific concepts which, when united in a specific linear sequence, generate philosophical or moral wisdom.
During the 22 minutes it took me to drive from the edge of the Salar de Uyuni to the Isla Incahuasi, I tried to keep the line of the horizon separating the salt from the sky in a horizontal and central position on the camera screen while recording its image on video. An extremely difficult exercise that required concentration and a firm commitment. I realized that to keep my hands steady and the image perfect, I needed to calm my mind, to empty it, interrupting the flow of thought, trying to make it “a serene lake, with no waves,” as if imitating the future of the image of the Salar. This is what meditation, an equally difficult exercise, is like. At moments of success, the sutra – a green line – emerges over the perfectly vertical horizon. Uyuni sutra is stronger when there is a perfect balance between the two halves of the image: the right occupied by the apparently still sky and the left occupied by the flatness of the salt, which constantly escapes us. Opposites united, harmonized, appeased.
Método básico de assovio gomero-tupi2014–2016
Very little is known of the indigenous who once lived on the seven Canary Islands, before the Spanish took control of them in the 14th century. Little remained aside from a collection of names of enslaved warriors, a few reports of heroic feats and noble lineages, and a few thousand skulls exhibited in the display cases of an anthropology museum which, to this day, serves more to demonstrate the conqueror’s brutality. Still, the improbable did occur, overcoming all adversity; a single language, whose transmission is strictly oral, not only successfully resisted the invader but also adapted to him: the silbo gomero – a whistled language, today used only by the inhabitants of La Gomera and considered an oral and intangible cultural heritage.
A man born on the island of Tenerife, clearly of Spanish origin, crossed the ocean along with Portuguese Jesuits to become a wise saint in Brazil: José de Anchieta. Unlike his compatriots, the future saint learned to respect the indigenous peoples and, by applying the fundamentals of inculturation, later authored Arte da Gramática da Língua Mais Falada na Costa do Brasil. [“Grammar Art of the Most Spoken Language on the Coast of Brazil”]. His intention was always to catechize the Tupi, but he ended up accomplishing much more since he defended them against the abuses of Portuguese colonists. During the months in which he was held captive by the Tamoios, he conceived of the Poema à Virgem [“Poem to the Virgin”] but was unable to immediately transcribe it, as he had no pen and paper. He was seen on the beach writing and rewriting the poem’s 5000 verses in the sand. It was also said that he levitated in the presence of the Indians who, terrified, thought him to be some kind of sorcerer. Could this have been a trance? And what if, in that trance, the future saint heard the silbo gomero of his homeland and endeavored to teach it to the Tupi?
Mi mo, kokoro mo2012
The southernmost capital in South America does not resist time. It simply accompanies it, with no hurry for “the new,” slowly transforming itself, without giving up hope for the metal that no longer shines, for the neon that no longer glows, for the style that has turned anachronistic. What might be the result of an unresolved post-dictatorship melancholy – which may have poisoned this people’s incredible vocation for revolution – becomes a political gesture, making it so that time adjusts to the plans and desires of the city and its inhabitants. Austerity and wisdom.
In Montevideo, beyond the dingy walls of the Museo Blanes, a veritable treasure is hidden behind the building: the essence of nature condensed into a 2000-square-meter Japanese garden. Surrounding the meditative paths that trace the symbol for “infinity,” no fundamental elements have been left out – stone, bamboo, water, flowers, carp, the stone lantern, the “bridge of god,” the “teahouse,” the drawing in the white sand – and not one of them is superfluous. Austerity and equilibrium.
One day, while riding the rails of the internet, I came across a beautiful rendition of the International: an acoustic guitar instrumental played in the Haruhiko Arai film entitled Mi mo kokoro mo, which translates as “body yes, heart too.” The Montevideans are right: Austerity pero sin perder la ternura jamás [“but without ever losing tenderness”]
Mundo da lua2013
For those who chose Chapada dos Veadeiros to make their home in “the world of the moon,” that daybreak would be dazzling – rainbow crossing rainbow – and the trouble would only really get started after noon. A planetary transition provoked the inversion of the north and south poles. Although volcanoes started erupting and tsunamis devastated much of the earth, the energetic power of an enormous quartz crystal plate protected the locale from this apocalyptic prophecy and provoked a real estate boom. Several residents began to cultivate their land in a non-aggressive manner, purporting to be serving the planet. Others engaged in what they called “cleaning out their hearts,” forgiving people and connecting with the universe. The simple action of observing the surroundings, from the most distant and improbable to the closest and most mundane, is the starting point for a cosmic connection. Observation – an action as fundamental as breathing. Some sought the benefits of meditation, others simply sought.
Against all expectations, including those of the aliens who share in these predictions, there were no visible signs of transformation and the world and all its inhabitants seem to have followed their natural course. In Brazil, at the 14th parallel, in the bosom of the Serra do Segredo, at the highest point on the central plateau, the currents of the São Miguel River continue to mold the valley of the moon just as they have for thousands of years. Still, some humans claim that a great spiritual change has begun. You just didn’t notice.
Gogô and Didi are two cars parked on an unidentified street in Lagos, the biggest city in Africa, watching as a long parade of automotive beings – human, animal and manufactured –, of all types and sizes, pass by their headlights. They communicate by honking their horns in Morse Code. They aren’t aware that they’re being observed, nor that anyone with enough knowledge of the language to understand and decipher what they’re saying is close enough to listen. Much like Punch & Judy, these two old friends spend their time teasing one another in hopes that someone will perhaps stop and pay attention to their dispute. Still, their wait is futile, since there is too much honking for anyone to make sense of it in the midst of the urban chaos. While they wait, Gogô mirrors the “kindness” of Tony Allen and Didi embodies Fela Kuti’s “Africa man original.” Both seem to differ in lifestyle, but share the same clairvoyance on the African condition and a profound disdain for the heritage of slavery and colonialism. However, their conversation goes absolutely nowhere. Gogô and Didi are Tony Allen and Fela Kuti, as well as Punch and Judy and even Estragon and Vladimir. Any and every similarity to the characters created by Samuel Beckett was never a mere coincidence.
A eternidade a dois passos2013–2015
The ancient writings known as the Vedas relate that there was a moment in the history of the world in which gods and demons fought for the pot – kumbh – which held the nectar – amrit – of immortality. During the battle for the possession of the pot, four drops of amrit fell to the earth, each one in a different city in a planetary alignment that repeats every 12 years. The Kumbh Mela celebrates this event, alternating the locale where it is held before returning, once every 12 years, to the most sacred of the four cities, where Brahma offered his first sacrifice after creating the universe.
On that day, there were about 30 million of us camped on the outskirts of Allahabad for the historic Maha Kumbh Mela, a moment so magical that it would only repeat in the year 2157. There was only one mission, though a very difficult one: to not succumb to the waves of human beings coming and going in the same direction, and to reach the banks of the Triveni Sangam, the sacred meeting place of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati River, for a bath that would cleanse us of the sins committed in past lives and purify our souls. But getting closer to the gods isn’t easy; illumination and eternity require plenty of faith in order to envision paradise beyond those polluted waters and hear the divine calling. But the transcendental tourist is capable of immersing oneself in the muddy waters of triveni and emerging symbolically many kilometers away, at the foot of the Himalayas, the residence of the gods’ souls. There, where the waters of the Ganges, still green and clean, begin their journey toward the ocean, feeding and blessing millions of individuals before becoming diluted in the whole, is a perfect metaphor for the lyrical #ow of humanity.
Rosângela Rennó (Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, 1962), studied architecture and fine arts in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and earned a PhD from the School of Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo. The haunting and powerful work of Rosângela Rennó challenges a central precept of photography: that it works in the service of memory. Using archival photographs from a variety of vernacular sources (old newspapers, family albums, flea-market stalls), Rennó composes and transforms these found images into larger compositions taking the forms of collages, installations, and artists’ books. Her work draws attention to the finite duration of temporal intervals, the human capacity for forgetting, and the systematic erasure of the past. She has exhibited at the Fondation Cartier, Paris, the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, the Fotomuseum Winterthur, and elsewhere.
Among the public or open collections that collect her work are: Fundación Museo Reina Sofia (Spain); Caloustre Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal); Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo [MAM SP] (Brazil); Pinacoteca do Estado São Paulo (Brazil); Guggenheim Museum (USA); Center Georges Pompidou (France); Tate Modern (England); Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst SMAK (Belgium); Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA] (USA); São Paulo Art Museum [MASP] (Brazil); Museum of Moderna Art [MoMA] (USA); Inhotim Institute (Brazil); Colección Jumex (Mexico)