In November, 2011, Lucas Pezzino and I were walking along the boardwalk in Tel Aviv when we came across an urban artist hard at work painting a mural on an abandoned wall at the seafront, under the Mediterranean sun. We took photographs of ourselves next to the set of characters sketched on the wall in homage to some of the most influential Jews in history –Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Golda Meir, Albert Einstein.
Our intention was to return to see the finished work and talk with the artist about her motives and choices. When we returned two days later she was no longer there. But neither was her work. Another artist had covered the mural and was diligently drawing a colorful graffiti. Our photographs are all that is left of the original mural, including one of the artist and her work and the memory of that brief but persistent creative event.
Murals are by definition, a fleeting, ephemeral art. They are a voice that gives testimony but which is fated to disappear. A testimony which falls under other voices, in an eternal palimpsest, preserving the imprint of a previous script which, although erased, never stops insisting. Like those ancient tablets, antecessors of the mystic writing-pad which inspired Sigmund Freud to let us know about the writing/imprint of the unconscious.
But not all murals disappear. Some are kept, taken care of, restored and even venerated. This edition of Aesthethika is dedicated to looking into that tension between permanence and change in the ethical/aesthetic exercise of collective memory.
The title Murals as Voice is taken from one of these experiences, a project directed by Gayle Embrey, who makes a film shot in Argentina, the United States, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Slovenia, Liberia, Australia … a cinematographic refuge for the memory of murals which are or have been the scene of social conflicts. Murals that have contributed, through art, in making voices with no other channels of expression, heard.
Most of the murals depicted in the film are no longer visible. They have most probably been covered over by others, just as those others will in turn be covered by those preceding them.
The palimpsest and the ‘mystic writing-pad” will help us understand the strength of this curious creative process.
Palimpsest (from the ancient Greek "παλίμψηστον", which means “overwritten manuscript”) is the manuscript that still conserves traces of a previous script written on the same surface, but which was purposefully erased to give room to the existing one. Originally this was used because papyrus was scarce, but it was later used to protect and hide works of art or valuable manuscripts. Techniques developed in the XIX century made it possible to recover the memory of what had been hidden.
The Mystic Writing-Pad on the other hand, is a well known artifice used as a game for children. It is a wax tablet, over which a sheet of wax paper and thin transparent celluloid have been laid. A clear writing or drawing impression can be made on it but it can be easily erased by raising the double covering sheet. In this way the pad is not saturated with information and can always be used again to leave a new imprint that will replace the previous one. Freud suggests that if we lift the entire covering sheet off the wax slab and we examine the subjacent wax from a certain angle and adequate light, we can recognize the traces of the preceding writings. This surface, says Freud, is an analogy of the unconscious.
But there is nothing to inscribe if there is nowhere to draw it on. And both forms, the palimpsest and the mystic pad, suggest a dialect between what is on the surface and what has been suppressed. It therefore defines an ethical function of the mural : to serve as a latent and manifest testimony of voices clamoring to express themselves.
In this day and age where advertising and market immediatism take up all the vital spaces, it is especially important to rescue the imprints that are being left in the urban memory of murals, graffiti, stencils and other artistic expressions.
This edition of Aesthethika, gathers together articles on different plastic expressions in different parts of the memory of Buenos Aires and Rosario (María Elena Dominguez/Ashley Dowd/Irene Cambra Badii), on the democratic value of murals (Andrés Zemeri), on the bas-reliefs and the horror of the Gorgon (Louis Crocq) and on murals as a gesture of resistance (Claudia Bernardi / Gayle Embrey /Iair Michel Attias).
The front banner of this edition, a detail of a mural in Palestine, has been taken from this experience. Recovered by the filmmakers of the Murals as Voice project, it summarizes the horrors of war, interpellating us through those horror stricken eyes.
Unexpectedly it takes us back to the gentle mural on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, reminding us of the dialogue between two of the characters depicted on the wall. In 1932 Albert Einstein addresses Sigmund Freud to interrogate him on one of the great problems facing civilization : “Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war ?”
The answer he receives is the following :
(…) Impossible to say, and yet perhaps our hope that these two factors-man’s cultural disposition and a well-founded dread of the form that future wars will take -may serve to put an end to war in the near future, is not chimerical. But by what ways of byways this will come about, we cannot guess. Meanwhile we may rest on the assurance that whatever makes for cultural development is working also against war.