Temps de Sibil·les

Camí


(Espluga Calba, Lleida, 1947 - )

Times of Sibyls and Sibyls of our times

Dr. Laura Borràs Castanyer

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

 

 Josep M. Camí’s latest creative adventure sees the power of the world and the power of matter, gesture and denunciation allied with the potency of the tribute, the homage and he forging of a space which is at once Utopian and yet incriminatory. “Times of Sibyls” is the result of an in-depth look at art as a receptacle for the cultural imaginary, of a severe interrogation of the role artistic creation can play in our times and, lastly, of what can almost be considered initiatic research. The contemplation of the panel on display at the San Gil de Atienza religious art museum, a work previously attributed to Pedro de Berruguete but now considered to be that of José de Soreda and entitled, descriptively enough, “Samian, Phrygian and Cumaean Sibyls” represents the starting point for a sculptural project which goes beyond materials and the technical-conceptual innovation of this creator to become -in my view- an artistic point of inflection in his career, a space fort ethical reflection driven by the history of art and the history of society and a recognition of civil accomplishment which is a marvelous lesson in the moral restitution of anonymous voices and gestures.

 

An artístic point of inflection

A point of inflection because, although he does not renounce the poetic and abstract dimension of his previous work, here Camí inaugurates an explicitly ethical or, if you like, ethical-philosophical line of interrogation. I should take this opportunity to point out that I understand philosophy to be a will to question, like the ability to ask oneself searching question, as far as is possible, and to try to offer answers, as provisional, personal and non-transferbile as these may be. This is why I would say that the exhibition we are concerned with here appears to me to be a demostration of sculptural philosophy or philosophical sculpture, if you will.

The birth of philosophical hough is closely linked to the awakening of a subjective conscience which could easily be taken from the maxim inscribed on the oracle at Delphi: “Gnósei seánton” (“Know yourself”). In this aphorism there is marked pursuit of the intimate personality which , one way or another, has been present in previous Works such as Memento or Erit Tempus, but which in this series achieves a dimension which can only be considered  Faustian due to its being situated in the step from I to we, and in the assumption of the negativity or culpability of our times. In the literature (we need look no further than the tragedy), as with philosophy and now also the sculptures of Camí, subjectivity and dialogue are dealt with with the alternatess the fashions the whole of humanity as a space for experimentation. And if religious presence has always taken precedence in his work, albeit only culturally speaking, here and now there seem to be a move from holy intellect towards to profane, opening the door to a recognition of the work performed by women -individual or group, depending on each individual case. I interpret this, then, to be a singular move towards the vindication of a new civil religiousness based on the defence and respect for human rights, solidarity and aid for the underprivileged, whether these be individuals (in the Third or Fourth World), countries (the exploitation of continents), natural assets (desertization or global warming) or intellectual assets (freedom of expression and he hijacking of dialogue). When all is said and done, the difference between religious and philosophical thought ultimately lies in the fact that in the former there exists a rigidity of principle that converts original reflection into inalterable, immutable truths, whereas in the field of philosophy truths may vary due to the fact that they are fundamentally interpretations which have been inherited from myths, stories and tales. Viewed in this way, I believe the sculptural thought that Camí offers us in “Times of Sibyls” to be founded on a logos which embodies the interiorization of the human subjectivity of tales which tell us about ourselves and the world we live in through his “vision in stone”, not because this is the predominant materials, but because this is a view that could easily be that of the Gordon, with its petrifying ability to effect the ethical-moral dimension.

 

A space for ethical reflection

I would assert that with his work we are faced with a space for ethical reflection which straddles the history of art and social history alike. In this respect, what remains of extreme significance for me is the dialogue Camí establishes -in a fertile play of views projected above Soreda’s work- pertaining the way in which the history of art has formed a particular image of the Sibyls, full of mythical allusions; or put another way, how it has “talked” to us in images. In this case -and almost return to the origins according to which, in contrast to the Delphic Pytia, the Sibyls, incorporating them into the flux of our times, and in so doing he has reamed them with an incontestable, exemplary prophetic power. Miquel Àngel Buonarroti’s insistence on the unavoidable learning process for any sculptor –“listening to the stone”- becomes all the more evident when we realise that Camí has listened patiently to the materials he uses to undress the subject matter and, transforming it, metamorphosing it -even subverting it- manages to give it words, a meaning, a message. The dialogue between the past and present, the basso continuo underlying the entire project, which would find its simplest formulation in nulla estetica sine etica, along with his strong desire to stand out from a certain asepsis in the plastic arts when it comes to ethical, political or ideological concerns, finds a perfect creative symbiosis in the selection and working of the chosen materials. Thus, Camí has sought out the exact and precise adaptations of the materials to the subject matter he deals with recreating those materials which are considered “noble” -such as wood, marble, bronze or gold- and fusing them with textures from the modern world, with the material essence of the elements he uses to make his artistic and ethical proclamation, that is, by recycling old iron and reusing materials such as old wood, paper, lead fabrics, etc. He even incorporates seeds, sand, ash, coal and water into his work in a perfect modern transmutation of the world’s four ancient principle elements: air, fire, water and earth. 

 

Moral restitution

However, this exhibition is also a lesson in the moral restitution of voices and gestures which are both anonymous up to a certain point isolated, in so far as within the collective imaginary which art has doubtless contributed to establishing, the Sibyls clearly refer to the past, to a time of holy words and oracular prophecies. They transport us to a times when the oral word is predominant, where hierarchy is the reference and the word of the gods is the natural law under the implacable form of destiny. We know that the oracles were visionary structures which allowed a vision of that beyond the circumstances of the present, but ultimately they depended on human interpretation. The symbolic importance of the oracle[1] lies in the fact that it provides ambiguous and, at the same time, tremendously modern knowledge, as interpretation is left in the hands of the individual who has consulted it and who is the recipient of its divine message. We find ourselves in times when the total and absolute protagonist is the word, its power. By Camí’s hand, the words of these mysterious women -as much feared as they are venerated- take centre stage once more, transmuted under the appearance of wood, oxide, marble, fire, gold, seeds or bone: primary materials which, all of them malleable under the ideas of the sculptor who moulds them, speak to us of the past in order that we might reflect on the present and allow the construction of a more committed, more ecological and a fairer future of benefit to us all. Indeed, Camí lends a voice and a presence to woman and the role she has fulfilled in our civilisation. And he does this by reviving the names and the words of winners of the Nobel Price for Peace, because in so doing he restores the value of their action and offers them up to the collective memory of amnesic present which tends to very quickly forget that which is really transcendental and committed to all of humanity. From Baroness Betha von Suttner to Mother Teresa of Calcuta, via Rigobrta Menchú, Wangari Maathai, Aung-San-Suu-Kyi and Shirin Ebadi; these African, Asian, American or European women are vindicated by their actions. Not satisfied with this, however, Camí goes one step further Nobel Prizes to the mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, for example, as a collective voice which, as the poet would say, is an “incessant ray of light” and which, through constancy, indignation, refusal and tenacity has managed to make the world aware of its denunciation and of its demand for respect for the most basic of human rights: the right to life and the freedom of thought and expression.   

 

Sibyls from times gone by

The Phrygian Sibyl opens the exhibition’s itinerary. Her central position in Soreda’s painting and the fact that it is she who holds the book (here Soreda’s association with books can be deemed unquestionable), the cultural depositary of the poetical eschatological texts of the Sibylline voice which acted as a medium between the gods and mankind, allow Camí to speak to us of the past, of tradition: for us associated with the idea of the book. The patristic assumption of   knowledge personified in the Sibyls -and the inclusion of the Sibyls with   the   prophets in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel­ demonstrates the extreme importance of these figures in the Greco-Latin world and their assimilation into Christianity. Tradition is, by definition, that which pre-exists. It possesses an anteriority in relation to us, the spectators. One way or another, whether out of vindication or rejection, we are immersed in it, we from a part of it. Camí knows this fact and does not hide from it. Quite the opposite in fact: his interest is clearly linked to primitive insertion in a specific cultural and intellectual context and the possibility he has as a creator to update it, rethink it, rewrite it. As an interpreter of his sculptural work, I understand the meaning of tradition provided here textually as the product of a specific ability that   neither wants   nor is able to be universal, regardless of which ideas come into play on their author's cultural horizon. The extreme personification of his  art  understood as a fructiferous dialogue with  tradition -a tradition which here takes  the  form of  the  text  and the  music of  the Requiem which  gives the series its titles- represents the "what's the   name of” the  person who   thinks, who is, after all, always the one that ends up making sense of everything.

Quantus tremor est futurus

The verse taken from thc Dies Irae of the Requiem mass attributed to Tomàs de  Celano  (mid 18th century) and which lends its name  to the  work  confronts us with  the terror of future prophecies.

Quantus  tremor est futurus

quando iudex est venturus

cuncta stricte discussurus![2]

 

And there before the terror, a window. Open space and closed space. Terror   of  a prophesised future. Terror also of the inevitability of what is to come, but which must be faced. At  the  same   time, however, the vision  of   the   world  through  a  window behind  the wooden shutters of  which there  hides a wrinkled old woman made of  rusted iron with  gold leaf "smudges" transports me   to   the   past   and    reminds  me   of   "the woman  who   watches" from   the   medieval world. A woman who has been forced to see the world from behind the protection of castle walls, with the minuscule crack of freedom that is represented by a window open onto the world and its contemplation and learning. The conversation of the materials: rusted iron, ageing pinewood, in  agreement with  the  character  they depict; the  play of veiling (covering) and  unveiling (revealing), according to whether the window shutters are  open or  closed, make  the  work  a practicable, live, changing sculpture which sends a suggestive metaphor to the changing, interpretable, terrible and closed message of the Sibyls.

 

Quidquid lotet

1udex ergo cum sedebit

quidquid late! apparebit,

nil inultum T'emanebit..[3]

 

The dilemma between light and  dark which ends up as the  darkness of  the linguistic  message destined to  be interpreted  and, therefore, susceptible to  "misinterpretation", places  the  emphasis clearly on   the  central feature of  the  exhibition, the  ignorance or  invisibility (iron) of  the words and  actions of women (light) who strive to  get  their  messages and   actions -in  an  eminently pragmatic and  effective way-  to  those  who  need them.  In   this   way, the industrial iron spiral which serves as a basis and body for the work becomes a perfect  representation of the  wall which darkens a series of altruistic and   exemplary conducts  (woman's way of working for solidarity), visualised eloquently through a neon light  emerging from within and expanding- out­ wards in a splendid representation of the  luminous message -with   all  its   divine  characteristics-  of   the Sibyl's oracular word, aimed at bringing light to a dark world  full   of   threats  and  injustices.  The music of Mozart, which perfectly guides this text from the Requiem, is   filled with   the   plastic resonance that emerges from the   contrast of light and   dark in the work.

 

Liber scriptus proferetur

Liber scriptus proferetur

in quo totum contine tur

unde mundus iudicetur.[4]

 

The Sibyl of Cumae[5] -who Michelangelo robustly immortalised as the old woman of stone next to the more famous and beautiful Sibyl of Delphi[6]- was considered the  most  important of  the  10 Sibyls  of ancient times. Diverse elements stand out from her life story. In literary terms she   appears to   have   been Aeneas's guide through Avernus. Legend also  has  it  that  Apollo awarded her  a gift  and she  took  up a handful of  sand and  requested that  she  might liv e for as long a time as particles of sand she  had  in her  hand, whilst  forgetting to  request the  gift  of eternal youth; she  therefore lived nine  human  lives,   each   of   IIO  years   in   length, in absolute decrepitude. But there can be no doubt that the element which awoke the connection between this work and the Sibyl is the anecdote of Tarquín the Superb, the Roman king who would not buy the prophetic books she offered him because he considered them too expensive.

Faced  with   the  stubbornness of  the  monarch, who  did  not  want  to  pay the  full  price she  asked  for her  complete  prophecies (the 9 books), the  Sibyl  of  Cumae burned  three of  them and  then another  three until finally  -filled with   the  fear  that they would all suffer the  fury  of  her  fire- he was forced to pay her  the  full  amount she  had  originally requested for only  the  three books that  had  survived the  flames.

This imposing group of three chipped marble figures which, as the title indicates, tells us of the books which contain the Sibyl's prophetic words, constitutes the classic meeting point with the Sibyls. Each of the marble blocks, which are covered with glass and an iron seal so as not to allow us to a consult the books -in a clear representation of the inviolable seal of the prophecy- contain, respectively, the 3 great holy books and their fiery destruction. The triple marble container,  then, makes it clear the  extent  to which the  prophecy is  linked lo books -books  as  "receptacles" of the divine word- and  how  it  belongs to  the  sphere of  the holy, to  that  which is prohibited, inaccessible to everyone and therefore located inside a sealed urn. After all, the prophecy is an   irrefutable sign of power in   the extent to which it is born of revelation and is always fulfilled, irreversibly and inexorably.

Vita-ae.

The complexity of this work, which closes the section reserved for the “ancient" times of the Sibyls, lies in its physical multiple form. In fact, the work is composed of a box made of wood and iron in the shape of a funeral monument, similar to Sa Taula in Minorca, and bearing a tremendously eloquent inscription: VITA-AE. When the box is opened, two elements are revealed: a skull attached to a mirror, which doubtless refers to both the self -reflection of human life and its mirroring in the idea of  death; and a large ostrich egg, which provides us  with a "natural" and equally "organic"  topography to  that of  the aforementioned cranium, given  that  they  are of very similar texture, shape and colour. The egg, which is the beginning of life, and the skull, an inexorable representation of radical and absolute death. Beginning and end. The secret of life, the   enigma of   the life cycle which takes us from one space to another without us all of a sudden recognizing ourselves in the mirror of representations.  Not to intention the intimate mirror,  the one which provides us  with a  distorted  image of  ourselves which is  sometimes difficult to  accept and can be the   epiphany of  a new interior  dissonance or fracture, that of  the lack of harmony between our  own image of  ourselves and the image that the mirror  of  the  world returns to  us  in the eyes  of  others, of  society. In short, the contradictions, secrets and mysteries of   living, of life. At   this point Valéry's famous phrase comes to mind: "they are afraid of death and not afraid of life".

 

THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES

 

The  tense,  irate  and  wrinkled  face of  the Sibyl of Cumae, who  we   know burned   two    thirds   of  the prophetic  books she herself had written,  here plays  a role intended to  be that of  denunciation, of  prophesising current  times, our  times, where injustice and pain are the  order of  the day. Therein may lay the reason why this indignant Sibyl is the one that best helps Camí in his itinerary of recuperation on the one hand, but of reprimand on the other. By his hand we inaugurate the space then which, precisely because of   its more timeless character, talks to us of humanity's stubborn willingness to self-destruct as if it were almost a congenital failing.

 

For dialogue

Takes its name from "Cuadernos para el diálogo", where the ancient stone press -possibly symbolising all the weight of the fascist controlling power oppressing and compressing the entire collection of   every edition of the magazine- demonstrates on a physical level that no dialogue is possible. The work is, in a certain way, confirmation of the triumph of the current dictatorship of the single opinion, remote controlled and neutralising.

 

Requiem for Mesopotamia

This is one of Camí's emblematic works, a redwood tree trunk endowed with a bronze incrustation in the shape of a coffin which, recovered from Memento, manages to re-dimension itself here with regard to the Iraq War and the destruction of cultures taking place in the cradle of civilization.

Next we  find a  set  of  four magnificent works -like the four horsemen of   the   apocalypse- three of them made from bronze and the other from iron and steel, providing us  with a complete introduction to  some of the  epidemics of the  contemporary world: pandemics (Lacrimosa  dies illa),  wars (Dies irae), the exhausting of  the world' s  natural energies and reserves (Tellus sudore) and the climatic changes which are changing and may yet still further change the  earth 's physiognomy as we know it, bringing with it yet  further ills  (Vaticinata est) .

 

Voca me

The prehistory of this work and its literary references­ the author calls it "Martin and Paul" in "petit comité" -place us in a multiple, hybrid, particularly conceptual setting. We could be in the great theatre of  the world or the   opening  pages of  a  book which offers itself to life, due to the way  the work physically and forcefully stands out, reaffirming its three-dimensionality, especia1ly the vertically mounted "feather"- even inserted incisively, as if to clearly demonstrate  the extent to which writing is  key  in life and makes it possible; we could also find  ourselves in a  desert landscape where the sole presence of  a  tree still standing upright after the  battle emphasises the image of solitude and abandonment of  a world which has lost itself and lives isolated in an unprecedented  process of  self-destruction.

Voca  me,  then,  because this is  the cry  of  whoever is being judged at  the mass of  the dead after the  deafening "Confutatis" brings death face-to-face with the terror of eternal life. Vaca me because the sinner wishes to be saved, wants to hear his name called amongst those of the chosen ones. Voca me because only the chosen ones wi1l manage to free themselves of the terror and the evil which will find no forgiveness. In short, Voca me because the desire to be invoked, to be saved by means of the word which transforms itself into action, is a perfect translation of this silent task of invoking consciences, which Camí has produced in a sculptural adventure charged with lucidity.

 

Dies Irae

Dies irae, dies illa

solvet saeclum in favilla,

leste David cum Sibylla .[7]

 

 

This striking verse, which can be found in poems as early as the 9th century, prior to the Requiem mass which Mozart managed  to  endow with a visual content and weight which I would even dare to  state is the most expert translation of the linguistic code to the musical, presents us  with the  scene following the  battle. A series of  arrows/missiles hitting the half sphere of the globe made from  iron  and steel -war  materials par excellence- are erected in memory of the massacres of  the 20th century, the century of  the great physical, rather than virtual, wars, as it seems we are to believe 21st  century wars to be. And this even when one barely needs to approach the battlefield or even look properly at the scene -with the asepsis and distance/manipulation brought about by television- to know that all wars are equally bloody and unjustified. Even so, it is as if Camí had wanted to  endow this work with the  ambiguity of Sibylline discourse, to the extent that the arrows or missiles stuck in a sectioned, mutilated earth could also be considered burned  trees and also, why  not,  hands -Picassan hands, taken precisely from "Guernica"­ which reach out of  the earth to  beg the sky for peace.

 

Lacrimosa dies illa

Lacrimosa dies illa

qua resurget et favilla

     iudicandus homo reus.[8]

 

The allusion to  the  passage  that  follows the  culminating moment of  the  Requiem mass,  confutatis, refers to the crying and tears which will be shed on judgement day,  but  which it seems are  already present in  the  hell that is the   life many humans suffer on a daily   basis around the  world. In contrast with  the image of war  it stands alongside, this work and the immediate identification of  the   international sign   for help and aid  par  excellence, the  Red  Cross, is the  sculpture that offers us the  other side  of the coin from the  above work (which it complements). It allows Camí to reflect on the pandemics, plagues and epidemics which cover the entire planet and which   are merely a sign that we are not yet afraid of our own pride as millions of human lives continue to be gratuitously extinguished in some part of the world.

 

Vaticinata est

 The planet belongs to everyone, even though the interests of the different countries “managing" the earth in a territorial sense does lead to an excessive use and abuse of its internal reserves and deterioration of its climatic conditions. In this specific case, the  generalised warming of  the   planet, the   hale in the  ozone layer caused by growing pollution  and the indiscriminate  non-compliance  of the more industrialised  countries  of  the  world  with  the  various treaties that they  themselves   -in  an act of political hypocrisy without  precedent-  have    signed,  along with  other  systematic aggressions,  are provoking, among other  damages, the   melting of  the polar ice caps. In this sculpture we see how Greenland and the Arctic slip from their geographical place, and with their displacement provoke new cataclysms around the globe.

 

Tellus sudore

The concavity of the work, the hollow left by an interior explosion and the    relief of  Africa and South America as the only clearly visible continents, with a large black teardrop, reinforces the idea of the exploitation of continents colonised by the first World. The symbolic power of this  black  weeping is brutal - it is almost combustible and reminds us  that when the earth's  natural resources run out, they   run out  for everybody; everything could be destroyed, meaning we could disappear if we do not care for the  environment in  which  we live. The title is in fact quite eloquent, and is taken from the one of the Sibylline verses' "ludicii signum: tellus sudore madescet"[9]. The earth's sweat links perfectly with   an   annotation about the apocalypse from the first half of the IIth century which begins with a lugubrious cry for attention to the earth, "Audi tellus!" ("Listen, earth!"), although what Camí surely intends to point out is that it is actually we, its inhabitants, who should be listening to the deepest voice of the earth so as not to do it indiscriminate harm, to the detriment of all.

 

delaldeaglobal.com

The works which comprise these two units, already catalogued previously, fit in perfectly with   the author's redirecting of his own career along the central theme of the Sibyls' denunciation of the evils of our times. They deal with a subject which links to perfection all the reflections of this exhibition: genetic manipulation -another of the boundaries longing to be displaced in a modern day which is based on the permanent transgression of limits. Two enormous iron balls, one treat ­ ed  with  the  power of  the  colour of  blood, combined with  the  visual  and physical power of bones ground  by the  steel  clapper of a bell  which rings out what  is unfortunately still an inaudible requiem for   us  humans; a potent  demonstration  of   the   old   sin   humans   have dragged along with  them since time immemorial, from our very  expulsion from  paradise (and you  will  allow me  this   rereading, rewriting and  reinterpretation  of the  expulsion "provoked" by  the  biblical Eve),   of  the bris, an excess  that  takes  the  appearance of  pride and arrogance in  equal amounts;  but also   the  desire for recognition. Once again the duality of   the graphic message is complete.

 

ORACLES OF OUR TIMES

Under the Samian Sibyl's guidance we are led to the third part of the exhibition. She who, without a shadow of a doubt, is of a more vindicatory, more contemporaneous and more provocative character. She will be our cicerone for the various "steps" we are to take (in the purest style of an Easter parade) to see whether it is possible to talk of "new Sibyls" nowadays. It will be then that we realise that the prediction and prophesising from the two previous stages has made way for contribution, collaboration, in short, solidarity. At the same time, I cannot be sure whether the underlying, pessimistic, message is clear.  Reality carries some weight, however, and we are all aware of this even if we do pre t end to ignore its gravity; words are no longer of use.  It may be  that  we are  simply being told that  it  is perhaps not  only tools which  are  needed to face  a world where differences between rich and  poor are  immeasurable, where oppression on political, religious, ideological or cultural grounds is the  order of  the  day and where  the exploitation of  the   earth and   of  humanity make  our world one which is less  and less inhabitable for  future generations.

 

Nobel  Sibyls

This set of eleven units appears to me to be a type of physiognomy for "institutional" renown -the Nobel Prizes- even constructed in the form of a prize, a trophy, a medal.  Each of   these   II   medals, made from wood, iron and  gold leaf and corresponding to each  of the   winners of  the   Nobel  Peace  Prize awarded to women, make  up  a political geography of  the  how  and why  of  work which  Camí  wants  to  rescue from  the anonymity of  the world in which we live. It is therefore necessary to stop and observe closely  the forms and  textures, the symbols the  sculptor's  deceitful forms has endowed each  of  them  with, and to read the inscriptions which, by  means of conjuring, display almost oracular extracts of their declarations: armament, bread, life,  poverty, conscience , mines, green belt, criminal laws...

 

We  have  before us  what  is,  due to  its  exceptional nature, quite definitely a collector’s treasure: 1905,  Bertha van Suttner:  "Die Waffen nieder", 1931,  Jane Adams, "Peace and   bread", 1946, Emily Greene Balch, "The  miracle of living", 1976, Bet Williams and Mairead Corrigan: “Community  of peace  people" , 1979, Mother Teresa: “Service   to  the poorest", 1982, Alva  Myrdal, "The game of  disarmament", 1991, Aung  San Suu Kyi, "Freedom from fear", 1992, Rigoberta Menchú: "Así me  nació la conciencia", 1997, Jody Williams, "Eliminate landmines", 2003,  Shirin Ebadi, "Criminal laws", 2004, Wangari Maathai: "Green belt  movement".

 

The oracle of Aung San Suu Kyi

The great silent gong supported by Lebanese cedar trunk and iron -where the presence of the steel clap ­ per makes the absence of the gong's metallic body, that which   provides the sound and therefore the  utility, all the more evident- is  a  clear  example of  that which  we could  call  the  hijacking of  the  female voice,  embodied in the experience of  imprisonment and the deafening silence of  the  militant politics of  Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of  the father of Bunnese independence. The Lady in the sarong -traditional Burrnese dress- was kept under arrest without trial or charges for 5 years by her country 's militia, with whom she maintained an exhausting struggle to her great cost. To mention but three examples of the punishments she  was  forced to tolerate:  not being able to  be  by the  side  of her husband, an Oxford professor, during the final moments before his death as a victim of cancer;  having to under ­ go  inter views   with  her  son  for  hours  at  a   time  at  Rangoon airport;  and  not  being able  to   collect the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991. The radical confrontation of her patient tenacity -a markedly Buddhist characteristic- with  the force exhibited by the militia -who  justify   their  refusal to abandon  power with  the presumption that  the  Burmese  people  are unprepared   for democracy- is  exposed   in  this sculptural translation,  where the clapper of  the gong could be  a  metaphor for the  military whip above a  woman, small and seemingly inoffensive. The force of the work lies in the invisibility the militia intended to achieve international outcry at this unjust and bloody minded altitude. Therefore, I believe that the  non -sounding of this gong is  intended to  represent -ad  negandum- the potent outcry of  the apparently futile gesture of  a voice hey  are trying to keep quiet , to silence, to exterminate and which, nevertheless, acts  as  a supportive representative for minds, hearts and consciences. Camí's  mastery  of this point  goes far  beyond the physicality of  his work and contributes  to  demonstrating the extent to which art exhibitions should not just limit themselves to the display of   objects -as  tends   to  happen-  but should also  serve to  organise  views  and offer tools for dialogue, debate and thought.

 

The orac1e of Wangari Maathai

It is 2004 and in recognition of her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace, the Kenyan Wangari Maathai the first African woman to win a Nobel Priz- receives the prized award. Her struggle against political repression, in support of democratic rights, against corruption, in support of education, family planning and  nutrition  -the large -scale problems faced by the continent of Africa, but  democratised  elsewhere on the planet- makes people aware of the extent to which  peace on earth depends,  amongst other things, on our ability to guarantee the  survival of the environment. Founder of The Green   Belt Movement, the replanting of 30 million trees vouch for her politics being put into practice.

 

Within the   boundaries imposed by  an iroco wood rectangle reinforced with a rusted iron structure Africa emerges or  sinks -here reigns  ambiguity, at  once a warning, a  desire and a  denunciation  of creation and based on a structure which is solid and yet wobbly, resembling the  continent itself: fertile and fecund and yet,  despite this richness, on  the  edge of   a  debacle. Within the coffin that holds the body of Africa e merges the image from my personal iconography of the horror of a large "area o" which could be -mutatis mutandis- the desert and the plagues it brings with it:  destruction, drought and   death. Nevertheless, at one end of the Africa Camí has made with the use of an iron semicircle suspended in space -a terrible prophecy of the continent 's possible future- we find Wangari's solution:  a commitment to food, the seed of life. Date stones are both the representation of what remains -what has been eaten, the end- and the beginning of life, the seed that gives its fruit, which   in turn will   become food. The date, therefore , an original seed which  produces  splendorous trees such as  palms,  also brings  the stigma – due to the  iconography of  the  consumption of the trees to which they give  life, palm trees- of the reality of the postcolonial  legacy: the destruction of  the continent at the  hands of  overexploitation.

 

The oracle of the Mothers of May

This is perhaps the most striking work of the entire exhibition, the   most explicit, most forceful, most violent. We are faced with a huge torture press which presses mercilessly clown on the body of the continent of South America, harmed perhaps like no other by the bloodiest military dictatorships with the most devastating social consequences. The graphic power   of   the pinewood, combined with the darkness of the American poplar and the immaculate whiteness of the clothed silhouette run through with a red thread, is horrifying. The latter demon states fragility, but also malleability, the capacity to bear the very act of torture. lt represents the bloody stigma of the past and   present of the Latin American continent. The title of the work is a homage to the constancy and courage of the mothers and now also the grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. Their vindicatory contumacy - which at one time appeared to be the struggle of anonymous voices crying out in the desert -has borne extremely valuable fruit for vindication and justice. The example of the tension between the weak (the women: mothers and grandmothers) and  the  strong ( the militia  an d  its antinatural  legitimised  political  descendants) ,    the vindication of  women deprived of what they  most wanted  (the  legacy  of  their own  blood, their daughters and their sons,  their granddaughters and their grandsons), who have  found strength in  union and have  faced up  to the   abuse by  means of  methodical obstinacy and  categorical denunciation,  is   a  great  ethical example in which to  see  one's own  reflection.

 

 

 

The oracle of Teresa of  Calcutta

Death. Ashes. India. Here Teresa of Calcutta receives her   posthumous   tribute.  An   Albanian at heart, an Indian citizen and a Christian. An emaciated and wrinkled nun who helped people to a better life and, if not, a better death - legend  has it  that 3.000 people died in her arms- and  this "Saint of  the  Sewers" (as she  was  known   by  the   Kalighat  destitute)  began  her work of  charity by  demanding from the   city  authorities a  place  where the  poor could die with  dignity.

Specular image for many of the goddess of Kali. Goddess of death, but also of transformation and change, of mutation and the fragile balance produced by the oscillation between destruction and creation required for life to continue; Mother Teresa, Saint Teresa, is perhaps the most famous of the women recuperated by Camí. The iron and elm wood funeral pyre containing the mortal remains of India also has a space for the smells of cremation, incense. And, symbolically, in memory of the soul of this great little woman and the tenacity and dimension of her actions: an oil lamp with a perennially burning, twinkling wick.

 

The oracle of Eleanor Roosevelt

In what I now consider to be his   demiurgical work of the remodelling of the universe, Camí re-explains the process of producing the Declaration of Human Rights, dedicating this oracle work to the person who played the most significant role in this, Eleanor Roosevelt. Writer, first   Lady of the United States, defender of social rights and racial equality, she presided over the United Nations Human Rights Commission from 19 47 to 1951. The thirty articles comprising the declaration establish the   inalienable rights of all individuals, with no distinction. A text which, although of more moral than judicial value, interpreted by Camí rediscovers the formal of lay religion and erects a veritable civil totem to it. The first of these articles summarises the spirit of the declaration: "All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." But   all rights are   equally sacred, the right to life, lo freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression, lo work, to resist oppression, to political participation....

Thus, in a  kind of great wooden tablet inscribed with  the law, which I have always imagined to be a large organic codex of  treated poplar  which opens and reveals what really ought to be the  ten commandments of 1ay civilisation, all the expressive force of the article's first line is concentrated in the leaden scrol1. This acts as  a  pillar and hinge for  the  "pages" which hold the Roman characters  in a device alternating between negative and positive which, on the one hand refers to  and highlights the  idea  of an  inscription and typographical boxes, the print,  but on  the other  also refers to   the language  of   nature,  words and  the natural  order  of things -illustrated  with   the  image of  the fossils- in a perfect transmutation  of the conjunction between the Sibyls' natural knowledge and  supernatural knowledge as oracles, part divine -the  dictum- and part human, the interpretation.

 

BY WAY OF CONCLUSION.

Deontological polysemy or the ars combinatoria

of Josep M.  Camí

At the beginning of this piece I alluded to Utopia. I return to this concept now because, following the sculptural and temporal transmutation the  Sibyls and their prophecies have been subjected to by the hand of Camí's  fabulous creative abilities and the reflective power of  the theorist Cinto Santamera  (so present in his artistic career), I understand  Utopia to  be a type of apocalyptic dream. A chimera which only makes sense when placed in opposition to a specific situation in the present and which projects this present moment into the future with the aim of transforming it and thereby improving it. From this viewpoint, and in line with the Utopian functionality described by the philosopher Ramon Alcoberro, we will take the opposite route to the one we have taken until now.

Utopia announces the vision of a new state and fulfils the triple function I conclude Camí intends with this exhibition. First of all the heuristic function, given that to  the extent that Utopia is a path to a better future we should be  working towards, the  Utopian  prophecy of  the contemporary oracles allows him to convert his desire for real  improvement into a research hypothesis which is both ethical and aesthetic. Secondly, the critical   function towards the existing social situation, which we find developed in an oracular sense in the signs of the times. Deep clown, the idea of Utopia is conceived from our awareness of the intolerability of the present and research and construction for a better tomorrow. And, lastly, the practical function, the same practical function intended by the Sibylline prophecies of yore. In this respect, it seems evident that his is a research and proposal for action which is active: it may be born of contemplation and reflection, but it is based on action and behavior. As a consequence, the deontological polysemy of his sculpture has allowed us to   revisit an ancient concept -that of the Sibyls and their oracles and prophecies- and award them a horrifying modernity. It is well known that the imagination is only fertilised artistically by   means of   suggestion, allusion.  Nevertheless, Josep M.   Camí's latest   sculptural project takes a giant step into one of the premises prophesied by one of the most solvent contemporary oracles, Italo Calvino[10] and manages to dissolve the solidity of the world by studying its knowledge in depth.

 

Camí's craft turns "Time of Sibils"  into an archive of cultural relations (textual, musical, pictorial, religious, mythical...), of extra sensorial affinities (ethical, political,  moral) and of  abstract concepts  (peace,  ecology, human rights, death ...) constructed out of  the  physicality or destruction  of  the  materials  (wood, coal, stone, marble, bone, seeds, oil, incense, paper ...) and which transports an axiological sculptural discourse to halfway between artistic installation and corporatised ethics. This is the aspect I find dazzling in his work: the application of a specific ars combinatòria which allows the literal text of his sculpture to be the exclusive content on which such an enigmatic and instructive setting could be based. Quite a challenge for the times in which we live.

 

[1] Without doubt the most famous being the oracle at Delphi, through which Apollo would manifest himself, extending his message through his high priestess, Pythia, who, through the god’s mouth, delivers messages which are at once poetic, cryptic, hermetic and opaque. 

[2] How much terror there will be in the future/ when the judge comes / to pass judgment on us, rigorously!

[3] When the judge sits / all that is hidden will come out into the light / nothing will go unpunished.

[4] And by that prophetic book / which contains all / the world will be judged.

[5] Born in Eritreas, she was named after the city where se developed the prophetic gift with which she was born.

[6] Non-existent, incidentally, in Soreda’s painting.

[7] Days of ire / what a day of ire when the world is reduced to ashes / as David propheised with the Sibyl.

[8] What a day of tears / when reappearing from the dust / the guilty man is to be judged.

[9] The sign of Judgement: the Earth will be left soaked in sweat.

[10] “Knowledge of the world means dissolving the solidity of the world”, Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millenium.

Times of Sibyls and Sibyls of our times

Dr. Laura Borràs Castanyer

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

 

 Josep M. Camí’s latest creative adventure sees the power of the world and the power of matter, gesture and denunciation allied with the potency of the tribute, the homage and he forging of a space which is at once Utopian and yet incriminatory. “Times of Sibyls” is the result of an in-depth look at art as a receptacle for the cultural imaginary, of a severe interrogation of the role artistic creation can play in our times and, lastly, of what can almost be considered initiatic research. The contemplation of the panel on display at the San Gil de Atienza religious art museum, a work previously attributed to Pedro de Berruguete but now considered to be that of José de Soreda and entitled, descriptively enough, “Samian, Phrygian and Cumaean Sibyls” represents the starting point for a sculptural project which goes beyond materials and the technical-conceptual innovation of this creator to become -in my view- an artistic point of inflection in his career, a space fort ethical reflection driven by the history of art and the history of society and a recognition of civil accomplishment which is a marvelous lesson in the moral restitution of anonymous voices and gestures.

 

An artístic point of inflection

A point of inflection because, although he does not renounce the poetic and abstract dimension of his previous work, here Camí inaugurates an explicitly ethical or, if you like, ethical-philosophical line of interrogation. I should take this opportunity to point out that I understand philosophy to be a will to question, like the ability to ask oneself searching question, as far as is possible, and to try to offer answers, as provisional, personal and non-transferbile as these may be. This is why I would say that the exhibition we are concerned with here appears to me to be a demostration of sculptural philosophy or philosophical sculpture, if you will.

The birth of philosophical hough is closely linked to the awakening of a subjective conscience which could easily be taken from the maxim inscribed on the oracle at Delphi: “Gnósei seánton” (“Know yourself”). In this aphorism there is marked pursuit of the intimate personality which , one way or another, has been present in previous Works such as Memento or Erit Tempus, but which in this series achieves a dimension which can only be considered  Faustian due to its being situated in the step from I to we, and in the assumption of the negativity or culpability of our times. In the literature (we need look no further than the tragedy), as with philosophy and now also the sculptures of Camí, subjectivity and dialogue are dealt with with the alternatess the fashions the whole of humanity as a space for experimentation. And if religious presence has always taken precedence in his work, albeit only culturally speaking, here and now there seem to be a move from holy intellect towards to profane, opening the door to a recognition of the work performed by women -individual or group, depending on each individual case. I interpret this, then, to be a singular move towards the vindication of a new civil religiousness based on the defence and respect for human rights, solidarity and aid for the underprivileged, whether these be individuals (in the Third or Fourth World), countries (the exploitation of continents), natural assets (desertization or global warming) or intellectual assets (freedom of expression and he hijacking of dialogue). When all is said and done, the difference between religious and philosophical thought ultimately lies in the fact that in the former there exists a rigidity of principle that converts original reflection into inalterable, immutable truths, whereas in the field of philosophy truths may vary due to the fact that they are fundamentally interpretations which have been inherited from myths, stories and tales. Viewed in this way, I believe the sculptural thought that Camí offers us in “Times of Sibyls” to be founded on a logos which embodies the interiorization of the human subjectivity of tales which tell us about ourselves and the world we live in through his “vision in stone”, not because this is the predominant materials, but because this is a view that could easily be that of the Gordon, with its petrifying ability to effect the ethical-moral dimension.

 

A space for ethical reflection

I would assert that with his work we are faced with a space for ethical reflection which straddles the history of art and social history alike. In this respect, what remains of extreme significance for me is the dialogue Camí establishes -in a fertile play of views projected above Soreda’s work- pertaining the way in which the history of art has formed a particular image of the Sibyls, full of mythical allusions; or put another way, how it has “talked” to us in images. In this case -and almost return to the origins according to which, in contrast to the Delphic Pytia, the Sibyls, incorporating them into the flux of our times, and in so doing he has reamed them with an incontestable, exemplary prophetic power. Miquel Àngel Buonarroti’s insistence on the unavoidable learning process for any sculptor –“listening to the stone”- becomes all the more evident when we realise that Camí has listened patiently to the materials he uses to undress the subject matter and, transforming it, metamorphosing it -even subverting it- manages to give it words, a meaning, a message. The dialogue between the past and present, the basso continuo underlying the entire project, which would find its simplest formulation in nulla estetica sine etica, along with his strong desire to stand out from a certain asepsis in the plastic arts when it comes to ethical, political or ideological concerns, finds a perfect creative symbiosis in the selection and working of the chosen materials. Thus, Camí has sought out the exact and precise adaptations of the materials to the subject matter he deals with recreating those materials which are considered “noble” -such as wood, marble, bronze or gold- and fusing them with textures from the modern world, with the material essence of the elements he uses to make his artistic and ethical proclamation, that is, by recycling old iron and reusing materials such as old wood, paper, lead fabrics, etc. He even incorporates seeds, sand, ash, coal and water into his work in a perfect modern transmutation of the world’s four ancient principle elements: air, fire, water and earth. 

 

Moral restitution

However, this exhibition is also a lesson in the moral restitution of voices and gestures which are both anonymous up to a certain point isolated, in so far as within the collective imaginary which art has doubtless contributed to establishing, the Sibyls clearly refer to the past, to a time of holy words and oracular prophecies. They transport us to a times when the oral word is predominant, where hierarchy is the reference and the word of the gods is the natural law under the implacable form of destiny. We know that the oracles were visionary structures which allowed a vision of that beyond the circumstances of the present, but ultimately they depended on human interpretation. The symbolic importance of the oracle[1] lies in the fact that it provides ambiguous and, at the same time, tremendously modern knowledge, as interpretation is left in the hands of the individual who has consulted it and who is the recipient of its divine message. We find ourselves in times when the total and absolute protagonist is the word, its power. By Camí’s hand, the words of these mysterious women -as much feared as they are venerated- take centre stage once more, transmuted under the appearance of wood, oxide, marble, fire, gold, seeds or bone: primary materials which, all of them malleable under the ideas of the sculptor who moulds them, speak to us of the past in order that we might reflect on the present and allow the construction of a more committed, more ecological and a fairer future of benefit to us all. Indeed, Camí lends a voice and a presence to woman and the role she has fulfilled in our civilisation. And he does this by reviving the names and the words of winners of the Nobel Price for Peace, because in so doing he restores the value of their action and offers them up to the collective memory of amnesic present which tends to very quickly forget that which is really transcendental and committed to all of humanity. From Baroness Betha von Suttner to Mother Teresa of Calcuta, via Rigobrta Menchú, Wangari Maathai, Aung-San-Suu-Kyi and Shirin Ebadi; these African, Asian, American or European women are vindicated by their actions. Not satisfied with this, however, Camí goes one step further Nobel Prizes to the mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, for example, as a collective voice which, as the poet would say, is an “incessant ray of light” and which, through constancy, indignation, refusal and tenacity has managed to make the world aware of its denunciation and of its demand for respect for the most basic of human rights: the right to life and the freedom of thought and expression.   

 

Sibyls from times gone by

The Phrygian Sibyl opens the exhibition’s itinerary. Her central position in Soreda’s painting and the fact that it is she who holds the book (here Soreda’s association with books can be deemed unquestionable), the cultural depositary of the poetical eschatological texts of the Sibylline voice which acted as a medium between the gods and mankind, allow Camí to speak to us of the past, of tradition: for us associated with the idea of the book. The patristic assumption of   knowledge personified in the Sibyls -and the inclusion of the Sibyls with   the   prophets in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel­ demonstrates the extreme importance of these figures in the Greco-Latin world and their assimilation into Christianity. Tradition is, by definition, that which pre-exists. It possesses an anteriority in relation to us, the spectators. One way or another, whether out of vindication or rejection, we are immersed in it, we from a part of it. Camí knows this fact and does not hide from it. Quite the opposite in fact: his interest is clearly linked to primitive insertion in a specific cultural and intellectual context and the possibility he has as a creator to update it, rethink it, rewrite it. As an interpreter of his sculptural work, I understand the meaning of tradition provided here textually as the product of a specific ability that   neither wants   nor is able to be universal, regardless of which ideas come into play on their author's cultural horizon. The extreme personification of his  art  understood as a fructiferous dialogue with  tradition -a tradition which here takes  the  form of  the  text  and the  music of  the Requiem which  gives the series its titles- represents the "what's the   name of” the  person who   thinks, who is, after all, always the one that ends up making sense of everything.

Quantus tremor est futurus

The verse taken from thc Dies Irae of the Requiem mass attributed to Tomàs de  Celano  (mid 18th century) and which lends its name  to the  work  confronts us with  the terror of future prophecies.

Quantus  tremor est futurus

quando iudex est venturus

cuncta stricte discussurus![2]

 

And there before the terror, a window. Open space and closed space. Terror   of  a prophesised future. Terror also of the inevitability of what is to come, but which must be faced. At  the  same   time, however, the vision  of   the   world  through  a  window behind  the wooden shutters of  which there  hides a wrinkled old woman made of  rusted iron with  gold leaf "smudges" transports me   to   the   past   and    reminds  me   of   "the woman  who   watches" from   the   medieval world. A woman who has been forced to see the world from behind the protection of castle walls, with the minuscule crack of freedom that is represented by a window open onto the world and its contemplation and learning. The conversation of the materials: rusted iron, ageing pinewood, in  agreement with  the  character  they depict; the  play of veiling (covering) and  unveiling (revealing), according to whether the window shutters are  open or  closed, make  the  work  a practicable, live, changing sculpture which sends a suggestive metaphor to the changing, interpretable, terrible and closed message of the Sibyls.

 

Quidquid lotet

1udex ergo cum sedebit

quidquid late! apparebit,

nil inultum T'emanebit..[3]

 

The dilemma between light and  dark which ends up as the  darkness of  the linguistic  message destined to  be interpreted  and, therefore, susceptible to  "misinterpretation", places  the  emphasis clearly on   the  central feature&