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Nuno Crespo 
Cosmological  Fantasy

Introduction Elisa Strinna has an artistic practice that is formally characterised not only by an intense use of multiple media – fundamentally: sculpture, video, sound and performance – but also the way in which she manages to create intense and immersive atmospheres that make the observation of her works not merely an isolated perception of singular objects, with independent meanings, but a complex experience in which the different works constitute visual, sensory and formal universes. Her work could be described as a kind of cosmological experience in the old sense, that is to say, a sensory, speculative and empirical approximation to the centre and origin of the universe. In the exhibition Sol Cego [Blind Sun] we are invited to take a journey through a series of microcosms in which we discover diverse and complementary aspects of our world. But the exhibition is not about the geology and history of the planet and the development of terrestrial platforms and surfaces; rather, Strinna’s works form an interrogative, critical and poetic gaze on nature and its existence not as formal and material magnitude, but as spirit and magic. In this respect, the works on display develop a thought – an experience – about the formative energies of the world; in other words, they constitute what I would like to call
a cosmological fantasy. All of the artist’s works can be understood as investigations into the constant flows between things, people, and the different worlds that we construct and inhabit. Nowhere is there an attempt to describe, archive or classify the natural world, but its force is critical. Thus, we find ourselves before the conception of a poetic thought that is built on the confrontation between a positivist and rational idea of progress and the way in which the world’s technological, mathematical and scientific development has become a factor of disintegration, destruction and extinction. It is here,
in the interpretation of this confrontation – which should be understood
as a debate and creative reflection – that her oikos and ecology reside. In essence, Elisa Strinna’s work is profoundly ecological. When I use the term ecology here, I am referring to the development of an artistic thought that finds its vocation in the effort to reunite with the world, nature, and other humans; that is to say, the work is ecological because ecology describes, primarily, the human effort to study and understand the relationships that all living beings – as living beings and not abstract entities formulated and named by generic scientific processes – establish with one another and with the spatial, geographical and biological context they inhabit. For the Ancient Greeks, Oikos – which gave rise to things
as diverse as ecology and economy – designates a place, which is neither geometric nor abstract, but the place of living together, as a family,
the place where real life occurs as a relational event, that is to say, an experience of community. For the Ancient Greeks, Oikos was the basic minimum unit of life and included not just the other people, the physical place of residence (the house, the land, the possibility of cultivation), but also the administration of their shared resources. This brief example serves to highlight that thinking ecologically is not thinking exclusively about natural processes and environmental and climate crises, but also thinking critically in cultural, political, social and economic terms about how living together is still possible without being a life of extinction. It is in this profound sense that Strinna’s works are ecological, because in them we will not find any type of illustration of ideologies
or dissemination of manifestos. At their centre is the constant challenge to the dominant capitalist logic that sees the world, and its resources,
as a collection of materials to be exploited indefinitely. This is how her works challenge the usual notions of progress guided by the logic of material accumulation, by technological development and the exhaustion of the Earth’s resources, undertaking this challenge by proposing and creating indiscriminate connections between technology, the natural world and the human world. This triangle of humanity / nature / technology organises the many pieces that make up the artist’s work and is what allows her to not only develop an important critique of the reality of our anthropocenic era, but also explore the different ways in which we perceive reality and produce knowledge. It is this dual relationship between the matter of reality and the way we perceive it (which is a form of constructing reality) that constitutes one of the main driving forces behind the construction of Strinna’s works. The collection of works brought together in Sol Cego, by proposing a trajectory that goes from the sun – the sound piece entitled "Blind Sun" (2019) – to the depths of the sea – the video "The Upwelling" (2018), through which we discover a terrestrial place that hides forms of life totally unknown to us and are confronted with the limit not just of our technology, but also our knowledge – tests the different places – geographical and conceptual – from which we can develop a vision of the world and
the things that happen in it. The microcosms created by the artist are,
in reality, attempts at refocussing our attention, which does not mean creating more or less exotic and unknown landscapes that we must explore. Rather, these visual experiments pursue a strategy of confronting human intelligence and their terrestrial tools with the potentially infinite and unknown dimension of the planet and the cosmos. In addition to all of these aspects, this essay – and the exhibition that gave rise to it – brings together many material forms whose temporality is uncertain. It surprises us because the forms of these works possess
a wholly strange and unclassifiable temporality: many of them resemble primitive forms, found in ancient times, which recall biological realities rendered into sculptural matter and evoke an unusual kind of fossils.
All this seems as if the artist were attempting, with these works, to create a memory of terrestrial biology. Each group of works represents a kind of microcosm generated from the complex articulation between light, sculptural objects, images and sound, elements that make up an active system where creation, circulation and destruction are constantly called on to construct a dynamic system between things of apparently distinct families. Technic as a Cosmic Force It is important to highlight that the works of the artist are never fixed points of contemplation and observation; rather, they constitute dynamic perceptive systems with which we are invited to interact. Even when the artist presents sculptures, it is always necessary to penetrate the centre of these universes as if we should become an integral part of the landscape we intend to observe: in them, we can never simply stay on the sidelines. We are fundamental elements of these landscapes that we wish to view and move towards. Hadean Stories (2018–2019) is the suggestive title of one of the groups of sculptures whose existence is not so much that of isolated objects, but of elements that propose and give rise to a total transformation of the space. Each sculptural element acts as a catalyst for transformation; in other words, it does not have an individual narrative, or particular iconology. Its meaning resides in the way in which the forms merge with the space, causing a significant atmospheric and spatial transformation. Formally, these sculptures, camouflaged on the walls and the floor, resemble rocky forms in which past life has been geologically inscribed and engraved, but the energy they generate has an atmospheric, immer- sive and poetic effect. It is almost as if the artist is enacting a fantasy about the origin of life and nature and that this primal place coincides with the subterranean, hidden, magnetic world, but also the mythical world of the dead, that is to say, the world of transformation. This mythical coincidence between the centre of the Earth and the place of the dead is a fertile and poetic point that feeds the imagery provoked by Strinna’s works. It is a surprising world, which the artist describes as a place of mystery, of contemplation, because this origin is completely strange, unknown and enigmatic to us. A territory that we can only access indirectly through the construction of metaphors, allegories and fantasies. Here, this fantasy materialises in unexpected material forms which suggest we are in a natural and geological environment, but one that is totally foreign to us: organic atmospheres that resist all attempts of fixing and instrumentalisation. This diaphanous quality constitutes one of its elements of fascination. The experiences the artist proposes construct a vision which refuses to understand the cosmos as a place of exploration, extraction and manipulation. A rejection of the commodification of the Earth which implies recognising the rights, identity and spirit of the cosmos. Recognising this existence of the Earth is a way of expressing incompre- hension in the face of all human forms of fighting against nature and the planet. Hannah Arendt says that this rebellion against the Earth coincides with a rebellion against life itself as it is naturally given to us, expressed in the strange preference for in vitro, the desire to literally leave Earth to go the Moon, the ambition of life on Mars and, we could add, the preference for the virtual to the detriment of the real (1). According to the philosopher, this rebellion is even more incomprehensible when we consider the fact that on Earth man can live without effort and without artifice, with all other options constituting an experience of effort and, essentially, a step away from Earth, in other words, a step away from the place where life is, literally, given to us. In this way, we can understand Strinna’s works as not only representing ways of rescuing nature from technological instru- mentalisation, but as attempting to find ways of reconciling human beings with life itself as it occurs in its brutal, vital, non-technological form. The organic and mysterious atmospheres the artist creates are a way of reintroducing magic into our perception of nature, that is, reversing the desacralisation of the natural world which modern science has consumed and which the digital machines of our time, demiurges of new worlds, have taken to a new dimension. In a text written by the artist herself, she explains: “In the past – and still today, in some non-Western cultures
– Nature was conceived as a living entity. As a place where it was possible to experience the sacred, the mystery of existence. Recognizing the sacred in the natural – outside the self – man could also perceive it inside. Experiencing the holy implies recognizing the limits of logical thinking, relying at the same time on intuitive knowledge, accepting the unknown as a founding component of existence.”(2) This should not be misunderstood as an attempt at mysticism. It is a way of reversing the pragmatism which has made us confuse essential human emancipation in the face of necessity, animality and constant subjugation and oppression, with the destruction of nature. It is true that the fight against nature is, to a certain extent, a fight against the natural determinism to which all human beings are subjected (their animality) and from which they wish to free themselves, but this fight has now resulted in such intense destruction that it will lead not to the affirmation of the power and freedom of humanity, but to its extinction. In the name of emancipation, nature has been transformed and domesticated; thus, Technic has become a cosmogonic force: acting on and shaping the cosmos. If we understand that the cosmos is created and supported by a complex set of forces, then Technic is one of these forces and, accordingly, Technic is a cosmogonic force. Federico Campagna says that: “Technic is just one possible cosmogonic force, and only one possible form of reality. Without doubt it enjoys hegemonic status today, and it shapes the world and the existential experience of billions of our contemporaries – but this doesn’t make it any less contingent than any other possible form of reality.” (3) Experiencing Immateriality While the materiality of the sculptures, recalling fossils and primitive biological existences, is important in the way the artist reconstructs a certain cosmology, there is a transformation of matter into breath, voice and sound that is equally relevant. As a counterpoint to the extreme materiality of the sculptures, Strinna has developed pieces of audio which should not only be understood as sound sculptures, but also as radical experiences of the artwork’s dematerialisation and, consequently, ways of transforming human perception, increasing its awareness of the different forms of manifestation of terrestrial forces. The sound piece "Blind Sun", a collaboration with musician Roberto Francesco Dani and singer Beatriz Ventura, is defined by the artist as being a vocal spectrum – a metaphor for the solar spectrum – that translates the elements of the sun, which are themselves in a state of constant transformation (colliding, fusing, etc.). The composition of this work is a process of transformation of data on solar radiation, collected over the past 20 years, into sound. While the sun appears here as the origin of life, a field of energetic exuberance and colour, the bottom of the sea appears as the opposite pole of this same life: a polarity between sun and oceanic abyss that supports many of the actions carried out by the artist. At the bottom of the sea – a terrestrial abyss and limit of life – there is a place that human ingenuity cannot reach and which confronts us with a limit of human intelligence, as well as a limit of Technic. The video The Upwelling not only undertakes this journey through unfathomable depths, it also constitutes an archaeological vision of the sea floor in which we discover not only a natural seascape, but
a whole system of communication through cables whose presence seems to form what Strinna refers to as a third nature. The cables merge with the natural bottom and become hybrid bodies between the organic and the artificial. These cables at the bottom of the sea are a symbol of the way
in which the virtual medium of clouds, which seem to have dematerialised a great number of human processes, actually have a material, physical support, deposited in the chasms of the Earth. It is ironic to discover that data clouds do not, in fact, hover above our heads but are buried deep under our feet. This work is not just about these ideas of a third nature, the result of the encounter of organic with technological matter; its images and words refer to how the crossing of the Mediterranean has been a source not only of transmission of information, but of death. It is impossible not to think of the flow of migration that has transformed the Mediterranean into a real open-air cemetery. Conclusion In all of Strinna’s works there is a sense (a kind of fine and very subtle perception that defies naming or conceptualisation) that life is a place of vulnerability. This life the artist confronts is not human life, but the cosmic life that occurs in the place between the Sun and the depths of the Earth. The different cosmological environments created by the artist are, in fact, distinct ways of imagining other possibilities of experiencing, organising and recognising reality beyond the existing ones dominated by social and technological logic. While, on the one hand, the artist’s strategy is poetic and creates atmospheres where our sensibility is led to imagine other worlds, on the other, it develops a very pertinent critique of Western rationality based
on technological assumptions. Her works are attempts to reintroduce
a certain magical way of thinking about and understanding the world which lead us to conclude that, as Wittgenstein so aptly identified, the difference between the rational, scientific and technological way of thinking and that of those who, for so long, we have called primitive is just a question of different types of magic: these two ways of understanding nature correspond to two different magical models (4). This confrontation of magics makes Strinna’s poetic and visual thought political as the experiences of her works lead us to find potentially effective models of restoring human beings’ relationship with nature in non-Western cultures. (1) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958 COMPLETAR (2) Elisa Strinna, ‘Following the Thread of Energy Production: From Dams to Shamanism’, in Document and Contemporary Art, 2017
COMPLETAR (3) Federico Campagna, Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, Bloomsbury: London, 2018, pp. 6–7 (4) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’, Humanities Press: Atlantic Highlands, 1979

Elisa Strinna
Tales From The Abyss

“Life on Earth consists of specialized drops of a (..) aqueous solution. Life is a consequence and function of the liquid that covers the Earth’s surface.[1]” Abysses are marine areas deeper than 2000 meters that, like the outer-space, for humans are almost unreachable. Abysses exist in a perennial night, inhabited by luminescent organisms whose life remains mostly unknown to us. The western part of the Aegean Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, reaches depths of about 5000 meters and is what remains of a very ancient sea. In the constant transformation that characterizes the planet, due to the convergence of plates, the seabed has increasingly reduced, swallowed up in the mantle. The seabed is still consuming at a rate of 5 millimeters per year, and in several million years Africa and Eurasia will become one. Seabeds collect the sediments of emerged lands, subjected to a constant process of erosion and fragmentation by atmospheric agents. The salt waters rejoin these sediments; they are transformed into new territories most likely doomed to future erosions. “Marine ecosystems form three levels. The top-level is occupied mainly by plankton. The intermediate level of the oceanic ecosystems is occupied mainly by animals that swim. By fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. (...)The lowest level, the “benthos,” is the ultimate destination of all life on Earth (…).” [2] The organisms that live in the ”benthos” never appear to the surface. In the Mediterranean Sea, the Messina Strait is among the few places where these mysterious organisms can be observed, due to the upwelling phenomena. In this area, oceanographic movements produce currents that transport the abyssal organism to the surface. At dawn, on the “ beach of the abyss,” we can observe unknown beings devoid of life, whose eyes explode due to the change of pressure or perhaps because of light exposure. These organisms live in a perpetual night, and unlike terrestrial ones, who survive by absorbing sunlight, they generate light themselves. “The aqueous mass is bathed in eternal night, devoid of any radiation except that which comes from the organs of living creatures that pierce the darkness with their multi-colored luminescence.”[3] The Sicilian Channel is one of the areas with the highest traffic density in the world. This area is not only an ecological corridor for migratory birds leaving South Africa for Northern Europe but is also the crossing point of an innumerable quantity of merchant ships that distribute the raw materials of modern industry around the globe. In addition to merchant ships, this portion of the sea is crossed by the plastic rubbers of human migrants trying to reach Sicily from North Africa. At the same time, both due to its geographical orientation and its relative depth, fiber optic cables connecting Europe to North Africa are laid on the channel, to then continue towards the Middle East and Asia, in an attempt to connect virtually the entire globe. Innumerable fiber optic cables depart the coasts of Sicily, which re-immerse themselves in the sea after crossing Europe overland. Twelve depart from Mazara del Vallo alone. Today, submarine cables carry 99 percent of all our communication. For strategic and technical reasons, the cables are hidden from the user’s view. ”Analyses of twenty-first-century media culture have been characterized by a cultural imagination of dematerialization [...] cables have been submerged in a historiographical practice that tends to narrate a transcendence of geographic specificity, a movement from fixity to fluidity, and ultimately a transition from wires to wireless structure [...] but despite the rhetoric of wirelessness, we exist in a world that is more wired than ever.” [4] The first cables were laid in the oceans in the mid-nineteenth century and were made of copper. However, with the discovery of minerals with increasingly powerful conductive capacities, today’s cables are mostly composed of pure silicon and other rare earths.  The global increasing of virtual world consumption goes together with the increased speed of internet connections, making cable infrastructures always more crucial to corporate interests. Social interactions, trading businesses, and financial ones, today use the network as the leading platform, making social and economic pursuits always more intermingled. Cable disruption can cause the loss of incredible amounts of money, severely damaging the financial world as well as many companies with businesses based online. Despite being the architecture that sustains a massive virtual structure, cables are quite vulnerable in their very nature. They easily are damaged by boat anchors, earthquakes, or even by marine life, and their repair requires continuous work and investment. While cables carry our communications around the globe, transcending limits of time and space, millions of people risk their lives to cross political and geographical borders. “I went through the jungle, and the desert on a pick-up, traveling for 13 hours to finally reach the sea. I never sow the desert before, and so the sea, because in my country there is only the jungle. And the desert is like the sea. Your car gets stuck in the desert, and you’ are dead. My journey in the sea lasted 12 hours in a rubber boat. I arrived on a continent that I hadn’t chosen as the destination of my journey. I wanted to reach my relatives on the North-West coast of Africa. Hoping to get there, I crossed 6 countries in 3 years. With me, many other people crossed the sea; many were crying, terrified because they did not know where they were going. But we all knew that going back was impossible. Better to die in the abyss than to live as prisoners, forgotten in lagers, brutally killed and raped or sold as slaves. Before leaving for the sea, they told us not to be afraid because soon we would reach the land where our dreams come true”. Five hundred years before, many other Africans crossed another sea on a much longer journey, towards a destiny that would have turned them into slaves. The abysses preserve the traces of those passages: ”Whenever a fleet of ships gave chase to slave ships, it was easiest to lighten the boat by throwing the cargo overboard, weighing it down with balls and chains. These underwater signposts mark the course between the Gold Coast and the Leeward Islands.” [5]      ​ ​ [1] p.68, Vilém Flusser, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, ATROPOS PRESS, New York • Dresden, 2011 [2] p. 68,Ibidem [3] Ibidem [4] P. 9, Kindle edition, Nicole Starosieleski, The Undersea Network, Durham: Duke University Press, 2015 [5] Excerpt from Glissant, E. (1997) The Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing. Ann Harbor: University of Michigan Press. ​ ​ ​

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