La Verrière
Hermes Foundation’s Brussels art space
6 October – 9 December 2017
Curator: Guillaume Désanges
Ballistic Poetry Season

“Since the late 1990s, Dora García has developed a unique corpus – minimalist and multi-form, conceptual and elegant – rooted in her critical approach to the phenomenology and iconology of Western history and thought. Working through performance, film, drawings, publications, television, workshops and seminars, her primary interest is in specific situations, presented with a mix of scholarship and risk-taking, science and fiction. In so doing, she stages sensitive, cognitive experiences whose meaning is left ‘in suspense’, despite their precisely-defined cultural and theoretical frame of reference. García proceeds via vast, themed ‘works in progress’, spreading from one subject to the next by a process of capillarity and overspill, fed by her reading, her natural curiosity and her intuition. Gradually, her work draws its own, subjective cartography leading us from research into the anti-psychiatry of Antonin Artaud, to James Joyce and Jacques Lacan, via ‘degenerate art’, the terrorist struggle and American-style ‘stand-up’ comedy. Each exhibition formalises a small part of the whole, contributing a piece to the wider, theoretical and aesthetic jigsaw puzzle. García is a sculptor of knowledge, shaping, cutting and carving it out like a material, to produce a series of specific (abstract and documentary) lay-outs, each bearing its own coded message. And yet the formation of this nebula of narratives points up clearly-defined, ideological positions, too: a defence of marginality, of that which contests cultural norms or holds out against the pigeon-holing of thought and ideas, and persists in plying the troubled, not to say murky waters of human intelligence.

With this in mind, I have invited Dora García to produce a new work for La Verrière, as part of the gallery’s ‘Ballistic Poetry’ season. Because her erudite oeuvre, based on a strict cognitive and theoretical programme, uses knowledge solely in order to explore its limits. Because Dora García focuses her interest on paradoxical, deliberately slippery phenomena, on the place where speculative thought becomes dogma, where analysis becomes speculation, and where logical argument becomes poetry; on the precise spot where partitions break down and structures begin to crack.

Because Dora García’s forms are similarly inclined to mystery and non finito: ultimately, her artistic programme evades any form of intellectual or artistic reason. Generously, she has used La Verrière’s invitation to work more precisely with the matter of poetry, taking as her starting-point a discussion between two writers (Andrea Valdes and Manuel Asín), and a poetical text by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, entitled Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens (The Thinker as a Poet in Albert Hofstadter’s English translation). The exhibition takes the form of a unit: a quasi-empty space with diagrammatic drawings on its walls, a book-sculpture… each element contributing to a space conceived as a stage set for a continuous series of performances.

What will it all be about? Writings and the spoken word, apparently. Time and space, assuredly. Theatre, philosophy, poetry and psychoanalysis, probably. The cosmos, the circularity of time, chaos and the abolition of the relationship of cause and effect, perhaps. Nothing is wholly pre-determined. Consequently, García is never interested in simple, straightforward subject matter, but in complex things that appeal to the mysteries of the human mind, where concepts encounter affects, and logic and the psyche come together. Dangerous liaisons that cannot be expressed, let alone demonstrated in simple terms. Hence García’s interest in the deviant figures of literature and thought (Lenny Bruce, Robert Walser, Antonin Artaud or James Joyce), whom she readily connects to other forms of political and social marginality (political radicals, the insane, and people who hear voices).

These links between genius and madness, reason and folly are readily assimilated with the poetic act, which is not – far from it – the flip side of intelligence, but another form of the same. This is indeed the central thesis of a recent book by the French philosopher Alain Badiou, entitled Que pense le poème? 1 (‘What does the poem think?’ Editions nous, 2016), conceived as a homage to the poem as one shore of the ocean of philosophy, the other being the ‘matheme’. Invoking such writers as Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, Georg Trakl or Fernando Pessoa, Badiou praises the poem as the ideal of ‘thought without knowledge’, as something literally ‘unthinkable’ and useful as a kind of cavity, a lack, a necessary, even vital insufficiency of thought. The poem is a literary act of dazzling immediacy that scorns the careful stages of discourse and validates the existence of mystery, which is one of the dimensions of reality. From the outset, it leads us to ‘use language such that it strikes the intellect of its contemporaries, like an arrow hitting its target.’ This supremely ballistic view of poetry – as a metaphor for something beyond logical reasoning that pierces and touches us all the more precisely because we do not know exactly what it is about – is connected in suitably indefinable ways to Dora García’s subtly trenchant art.”

Guillaume Désanges

View of Dora Garcia’s exhibition in La Verrière, Brussels© Isabelle Arthuis. Hermès Foundation