The intimate is also the external
artist: Elisa Helguera (Dash)
by: César Alejandro Valdés González
" we are aware of the spread of this illusory frontier."
Everyday spaces pulsate, excite associations. There are times when you walk and suddenly something particular enters your field of vision. A house with some strange detail, an abandoned newsstand. These mundane constructions excite our pupil, jealously capture our attention, we become aware of every detail in metaphysical appropriation. Gaston Bachelard in his book "Poetics of Space" reminds us that spaces are not homogeneous and common places, but go back to personal and memoristic senses. Bachelard also warns us that it is little worth psychoanalyzing or looking for cultural archetypes in these aesthetic sensations. Indeed, it is not worth applying psychoanalysis to art, says José Attal, it will be necessary to look for a psychoanalysis inspired in art. Under the pretext of the work of Elisa Helguera, I lose myself before that inspiration.
1. It is impossible not to think about the very concept of space. Space and time are categories inherent to the use of language, to the very fact of narrating something. All stories, big and small, passionate, grotesque, inconsequential, happen in a certain time and in a certain place. "Centuries of centuries and only in the present, events happen; countless men in the air, in the land and in the sea, and everything that really happens, happens to me," says Borges. The places themselves have a history of their own. Like the child, the places were perhaps conceived from ideals of grandeur and aesthetics, and only later materialized. It is also possible that they were born in a somewhat more hasty way. As a Frankenstein monster, they could have been born from heterogeneous fragments, from partial thrusts, as happens in so many Mexican houses: one more relative is born, it is built, as possible, one more room. The result: a house with metastatic rooms.
These spaces struggle not to die under the throbbing and inexorable passing of time. They are also populated by powerful human histories. They signify, they are invested with meaning, there also inhabit semantic and ideological elements.
2. External spaces are intended as a reunion of the internal, although they are not reducible to this. Borders are blurred, they are not clear. If we listen to Sigmund Freud and especially to Melanie Klein, the external is always a reunion of the internal. Lacan calls this the extreme: that which, just because it is more intimate, closer, returns from the outside in a continuous band. Moreover, psychism itself has a geographical logic, thinks Donald Meltzer.
There are privileged occasions where we are aware of the spread of this illusory frontier. When I join in the descriptive narrative of an extremely significant place, when I tell a space with extraordinary consideration and detail to my psychoanalyst, when I have a kind of spatial epiphany and I stop my gaze under a house that I had seen a thousand times and, however, now I see it as different, resplendent, vital. I stop, for the moment, the linearity of language. We see the extreme case in madness: the non-different of self, not-self. The skin, architectural stone of the self, does not contain. As the poet Oliveiro Girondo recalls: "How many times have I said to myself, will I be that stone?”
3. From the blurring of the classic and sharp barrier between the external and the internal world, the sinister is a category that emerges. The ominous is a feeling of the aesthetic order that causes anguish and terror, says Freud. It belongs to the terrifying order. I name some vicissitudes of the ominous and architectural space.
There is, for example, the relationship between the big and the small. The tiny can generate grace and later can be sinister. When we see a miniature sculpture that, for a second, allows us to forget that it is not reality itself, perhaps this ominous feeling becomes present. Psychiatry even has a category for when the small is perceived as large, and vice versa: micropsia and macropsia. But there are more aesthetic examples than those given by the cold tongue of medical knowledge. Think, for example, of "Gulliver’s Travels". There are three sinister turns: in one it is a giant in front of tiny beings; in another moment it is tiny itself. The simplest tasks are titanic. Who has not had a nightmare where you are tiny, how many movies and series have not captured this anxiety. And there is a third time where he coexists with noble talking horses, more human than himself (the houyhnhnms). Of course, the inanimate in the animated is not a foreign subject to the architecture of the sinister. There are houses so invested with meaning that they seem to throb, to have life, like haunted houses or where it is known that an event occurred that incites nostalgia or terror.
Also the repetition gives a feeling of being in front of something ominous. The same sometimes gives a curious sinister calm. This is excellently captured in Sayama Murata’s novel, "Convenience Store Woman". In this novel, a seemingly cultured woman finds her sense of life and peace by ordering everyday things in a convenience store. It is the deceptive calm that gives us, for example, to see the food in the supermarket neatly ordered or to categorize our books by colors and sizes.
In everyday spaces we also find majestic examples: the architecture of identical houses, repeated, where all the constructions have the same symmetry and have the same colors, portals and even tenants. They give us the dream of the hell of the same, of the loss of the singularity. It is the architecture of the Infonavit houses, of the devouring machine of capitalism. Precisely, here the work of Elisa Helguera is presented to me especially refreshing. The sensory ecstasy of allowing a second of appropriation of the singularities of the everyday (that newsstand, that fence, that house so curious that it has always been there, to be looked at closely) is almost an act of resistance in the current epoch, dominated by a love to the quick and to the equal.
4. Agglomeration is also a fundamental dimension which seems to be present in the daily life of our country. First, the visual terrain of the Mexican is, as Monsiváis says, too many people. The metro in peak hours; the balnearios where children struggle to find their own space in the crowded pool, surrounded by bodies dripping with water; the crowds at football matches; in the historic center; the plazas, despite the health alert by the COVID-19, they look crowded. Also on public transport they hang the bodies staggering, with one foot in the void, looking for a little place to grab hold of. Where two bodies fit three fit, drivers say with unexpected philosophical acuity. The Godín, in his sinister repetition, is the myth of the Mexican worker. But something else is hidden behind it. In an interview a famous British architect said that architecture, in its most essential and primitive logic, was made to leave out the dangerous: the beasts, the criminals. He added: the architecture now tries to get along with the external, because the man has dominated the elements, does not fear them anymore.
The space of the Mexican responds to the reverse logic: it is there to protect solipsism, the valuable intimacy. Octavio Paz had already warned. The Mexican, crouched in his internality as cobra, keeps with suspicion and stubborn passion his personal space. He’s got a bolt of lightning inside him waiting for anyone to move into his little patch of land. In Raúl Ánibal Sánchez’s novel, "El Matagatos", which tells the story of a serial killer, the author wonders how the neighbors did not warn the police that their neighbor hung cats on the wall and was a possible criminal. The answer: it wasn’t their problem, he wasn’t messing with their house.
5. Then, it is possible to think that the Mexican architectural paradigm is the fence with broken bottles. The glass, an almost magical device, functions like the thorns of certain animals: it shows the other that the living person is dangerous, that he is willing to defend his house with cloak and sword. Massimo Recalcati calls this phenomenon "The temptation of the wall". A psychic wall, which gains physical consistency, and protects from intimidating otherness. The neighbor who presents himself as a crook, as a thief, envious. The immigrant, the crazy. That’s what the big fences, the spikes, the glass are for, to leave them out. However, and there is the trap, what anguish outside brings with it an inner anguish, a turn towards oneself.
But the agglomeration presents itself with its counterpart: the empty, the sterile. Abandoned houses that hold signs: "Not for sale, do not be fooled". Empty lands between the metropolises, abandoned factories, intestate houses, "nobody’s" lands or, otherwise, the narco. The broken, the abandoned, the decadent, what falls apart. The carcinogenic. The obra negra is the curse of the Mexican’s daily architecture.
6. It is worth stopping at the work of Elisa Helguera. His work invites us to appropriate these spaces that, because they are everyday, we take for granted.