Unknown to most outside of museology, and in this case also of high-end technological developments, this century has produced a generalized tendency for the scanning and digitization of museum collections. These technologies include mainly the tridimensional capture, visualization, and modeling of objects, artifacts, and even environments (caverns, forests, complete storage sites): rapid capture photography workflows or photogrammetry, laser scanning technologies, or even CT technology for imaging the inside of objects — data capture methods that, once processed into a point cloud, allow for two-dimensional renderings and full tridimensional simulation. This world scale tendency for digitization has spurred a traffic of cultural materials not seen since the times of Napoleon, this time around in reverse order of shipment. The financial investment on former underdeveloped countries, in parallel to the correlated decadence of western centers, has as much contributed to the migration. Most museums, heirs to positivism, see the digitization as a matter of irreversible technological progress to be deterministically followed — the dematerialization of art finally accomplished. And if at first any claims over the return of given items was regarded as a threat — fueled as much by reason (the absence of adequate preservation requirements) as by prejudice (the original countries’ backwardness) — as the digitization process evolved, museums themselves, pressured by indebted governments, have come to see the economic costs of preserving most items as an unneeded expenditure and are willingly ceding to their return. Here is how the reasoning goes, doubtlessly intelligent: once their inventories are fully digitized, the public goal of museums is accomplished, and they can therefore dispense with their physical inventories — if most of them can be displayed beyond any material constraints, or even be replicated by tridimensional machinery, as is often becoming the case. Perfect replicas are made and take the place of their originals; museums can even, if so their taste dictates, age the replicas accordingly so that the difference between original and copy becomes invisible to the naked, unspecialized eye. Thus the storages of the supposed underdeveloped world are filled, the glory of Nation-States is celebrated, and local communities long robbed are happily restituted. Yet, all access to the digitized models, often requested for research, is blocked. Property resides with those who digitize. Profits are exclusive. And so the cycle of colonial indebtedness is once again recycled under a new guise.
1997 and the Jurupixuna are travelling across the Atlantic, to be exhibited in the city of Manaus, the white capital of the Amazonas, as the Jurupixuna would probably state if they could, for some long lost magical reason, talk. The chosen hosting location is the Rio Negro Palace, built in 1903 by the German rubber baron Karl Waldemar Scholz when the rubber cycle was at a high in the Amazon, and later sold when, in the years of the Great War, it was at a low. First sold to another rubber boss, then resold and repurposed into the governors’ house until the late twentieth century. Ultimately, it was transformed into a respected cultural center dedicated to the arts and history of the region. Poignantly, this is where the Jurupixuna stand exhibited, suspended, waiting, never fully serene, as a visitor upon leaving the museum once suggested — the sight of their features, no matter how brief and fleeting, was as much fascinating as horrendous.
This is the first time the Jurupixuna are being shown back in their home state since they were taken to Portugal by the naturalist Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira between 1783 and 1792 when of his Philosophical Voyage to the land of Brazil. Given the invitation, at the Museum of Science and Anthropology of the University of Coimbra the choice was obvious. It comprised up to thirty Jurupixuna of the long extinct Juruna group, an indigenous group originally found in the region of the Japurá River, on the southwest of the Amazon, and later transferred by the Portuguese up to the Northeast along the Rio Negro, where its last representatives would eventually be killed or die out. The last of the Jurupixuna are orphans. First, the colonization, the examination, the conversion and the appropriation, the demarcation and the genocide; afterwards, the museum restitutes, penitent, humanist, delivering back to the indigenous their ancestors — were the Indians credulous beings and it would not surprise that the Jurupixuna’s return should be taken as the return of the spirits, devolution invariably charged with predation, be it from the Indians towards the Jurupixuna, or from the museum towards the Indians; as for the spirits, it is hard to say, the Indians do not tell. Upon hearing about the imminent, even if temporary, return of the Jurupixuna, indigenous communities from the region prepared to receive the handcrafted heads of the ancestors — the Indians were curious.
The temporary loan, a set of three hundred items, presented a series of paradoxes to be solved by F. D. Tarde, Portuguese curator appointed for the exhibition, chosen, however, more for the role of temporary consul than necessarily for his anthropological curriculum. Among the announced demands made by the indigenous was the use, so they intended, of the museum for their own ritual meetings, according to their own customs, and even those of the Jurupixuna. Of particular relevance in this takeover were the Waimiri-Atroari and Tuyuka groups. Alarmed, the museum forwarded an open invitation to the indigenous, so that they could set up a pair of malocas within the museum and use them freely, but only under the condition that the museum’s educational services could also take place within these. The Indians consented. In spite of that, the museum was perplexed by the idea brought forth by the indigenous of the supposed rights (the ways) of the Jurupixuna, as if these had somehow an agency or a personhood to themselves, when in fact what surprised them most was the ease with which the indigenous handled legal matters, appropriating the modern logic for themselves. For F. D. Tarde, though, with his feet already in the Amazon, the wit was not surprising. Against Christ, the Church, Political Economy, Law. Ownership against property. For five hundred years, the Amerindians’ loss has been the fault of an other world ruled by law. Increasingly though, the Amerindians have learned from their original sin — their inability to understand, or better yet, to follow Reason — and are twisting legal rhetoric, the (other) discourse, in their favor.
Once closed the bargain, weekly inside the malocas indigenous crafts are taught to the white people, and tattooed patterns and signs painted on white skins. The two malocas were built each by the Waimiri-Atroari and Tuyuka respectively. The first was built in three days by thirty Indians, with materials and tools made by the Waimiri-Atroari; it is now a set, a live diorama, simulating communal life. The second reaches almost onto the palace’s balconies and is used for rituals, storytelling, and crafts — the contrast between the regimentation of the palace’s floor plan, as a stand-in for the white people’s scientific racism, and the commonality felt in the malocas is staggering. Two hundred years after the first comprehensive naturalist expedition made by the Portuguese into the forest lands of Brazil, after all the extermination wreaked by the rubber slavery, and the gold, and the wood, and the oil, and the highways, and the military investment in the region, the indigenous have at last their symbolic victory over the white palace. However, soon enough most of the indigenous were abandoning the area they themselves had built, uninterested in the mundane profanation of their signs, their language and cosmopolitical world view, forever, no matter the learned know-how and good will, barred to white people. Regardless of authorization, they were intent on occupying the Jurupixuna’s room.
For the indigenous, the Jurupixuna came with specific norms and precepts — their sight was forbidden to women and children; only men, in particular those initiated, were allowed to see them. F. D. Tarde understood. In the end, a room in the museum was chosen, darkened, and closed off; and a computer program devised specifically for the purpose of regulating the room’s spotlights, which glare for the briefest of moments (10 seconds) upon one mask at a time. Contemplation was not to be allowed. The museum consented. And still the indigenous were not fully satisfied, and, ultimately, F. D. Tarde was forced to accept the daily presence of an Indian guard at the entrance to the room, forbidding, at a certain hour, visitors from entering. For the palace, involving the indigenous proved easy: it was an obligatory inclusion, institutionally cosmopolitan. In contrast, the solution found for the Jurupixuna implied a process of exclusion, harder to justify.
Visitors that enter, attentively, fearful, ignorant, for the most, weighted by that characteristic tiredness museums easily contaminate visitors with, and are awed, but skip quickly through, back into the light of the palace’s corridors. Occasionally however, a visitor lingers, one or two, waiting, in expectation, in the dark, searching in vain for details of those vague, dim, superficial silhouettes, lightened in turns, those closer, or farther away (but not quite, there appears to be another farther still, diffuse, abruptly illuminated, the visitor can tell). A most frustrating exhibition display, acknowledges the anthropologist Tarde, but fair, and what is more, professionally correct. However, if a visitor waits and is persistent enough, he will eventually find a Jurupixuna revealed to him, clearly and in all of its weirdness, and then, even if for a moment only, he will be able to detail it, gaze upon its zoomorphism or anthropomorphism (depending on the perspective), and see eye to eye with it, and see in it, beyond its actual shape, a familiar, unmistakable, even if made strange, humanity. Fleeting, the light fades out, and the feeling is gone. Back in the darkness, he remembers only the shape and the quality, like an imprinted shape in the observer’s retina, a negative image of what he believes to have just seen, or worse, of what he believes himself to be.
|he sees a jaguar;||I see a jaguar, he says;||the museum archives register a jaguar;||it sees a man.|
|he sees a monkey;||I see a monkey, he says;||the museum archives register a monkey;||it sees a man.|
|he sees a fish;||I see a fish, he says;||the museum archives register a fish;||it sees a man.|
|he sees a bat;||I see a bat, he says;||the museum archives register a bat;||it sees a man.|
|he sees, clearly, an ant-eater;||I see, this is surely an ant-eater, he says;||the museum archives register an ant-eater;||it sees, perhaps, a hunter.|
|he sees weird creatures he cannot identify;||I see monkeys, angry, ferocious monkeys, he says;||the museum archives register n/a;||it sees a hunter.|
|he sees a red skinned mammal from whose mouth jumps the head of a small caiman;||I see an animal jumping out from the mouth of another animal, he says;||the museum archives register n/a;||it sees that this might be a human.|
|he sees three bicephalous creatures;||I see a howl from whose back grows a baby jaguar, he says, I see a siamese bovine, I see a Janus-like creature I cannot identify, around its head (its faces) spin rings like Saturn’s;||the museum archives register bicephalous creature;||it sees and understands.|
Inside the room, for one hour a day only, the Indians gather in the dark, sitting, standing, but at each ritual humming, chanting, smoking, drinking cauim, burning incense that infiltrates the palace’s ventilation system, to the worry of the museum staff, hoping not needing to negotiate further, to be cornered between the rights of indigenous people and museum logistics, and, worse, to be offensive or disrespectful. An untranslatable murmur spreads throughout the palace, along with smoke that has by now become part of the exhibition spaces, part of the governors’ rooms, the royal collection, the Amazonian mahogany furniture, the colonial (colonized) wood library. In the visitors a guilty nervousness, in the palace’s team an organic discomfort. In their minds it is Manaus that feels different, as if the forest were circling the city, marching virally in on the city, to take over that which is, naturally, its property — this is what the palace believes to be happening, inside where it is not allowed, pre-colonial rituals codified in books, culture, and education. Inside the Jurupixuna’s room though, there is no chanting, only a stereo playing pre-recorded chants at a high enough volume. And there is no smoking, only burning leaves that pretend it is so to those imaginative minds outside. There is even no drinking at all, only a theater play distracting from the real intentions of the group.
Against norms, the Jurupixuna are taken off their display stands. The indigenous hold each Jurupixuna in their hands and study them, turn them upside down, examining their insides, the stitching, the type of wood used in their structure, the tree bast which makes up their skin, the jute which is sometimes used (falling from queer nostrils, from half human, half animal ears), the composition of the paints, the geometry of the patterns or dots (depending on the animal invocation). The Indians take the time to observe the manufacture of the Jurupixuna, profiting from their bargained time alone to relearn lost crafts, to reproduce the Jurupixuna, multiply their existence beyond control and for any purpose, either ritualistic or commercial. Such manipulation is something the Indians could have easily negotiated, an interest the museum would’ve possibly allowed, even if possibly for mistaken reasons. On the contrary, they voluntarily withheld their intentions. For as the Jesuits of old said in a certain century, the savages of this land find great pleasure in treachery.
The archival documents from the Museum of Science and Anthropology of the University of Coimbra, from which captions have been made for the exhibition at the Rio Negro Palace, read (for one single Jurupixuna, library entry ANT.Br.144):
“Bicephalous made of bast. Helmet, cylindrical and flattened, exhibiting on one side a protuberant face, and on the opposite side, another, more flattened face. The protuberant face has salient black orbits, with white background speckled with black, while the eyeballs are thick wax marbles. The mouth shows four round teeth on each jaw, and in between these there are four orifices through which the bearer could see and breathe. The snout is protuberant, with pronounced nostrils and salient cheeks originally covered with white paint. The missing part of one ear has been substituted by wire. The bast that makes the ears was painted beige and a strip of the same color circles the whole black contour of the face. The flattened face also indicates cheeks, however these are not salient: a white circle highlights them in the middle of the wide black strip that reaches from the mouth to the forehead, where, immediately above, it extends into a second, wider strip, colored in beige. The eyes are round, salient and black, with white background, and wax marbles compose the pupils. The nostrils are round and salient. The open mouth has a white background delimitated by four round teeth in black. The mask distinguishes itself by three rings covered in bast, as if framing the faces. The topmost surface of both heads exhibits black decorations, mostly composed of what could be regarded as floral motifs, delimitated by black half-moons, which may or may not be internally painted. The mask is heavily retouched in red.”
In fact, the bureaucratic description made by the museum about the Jurupixuna is what interests the indigenous, not any anthropological claim about their legitimacy or the magical attributes. And so too will computational data and the inhuman wisdom of algorithmic knowledge (its time travel capacity of predicting the future, relive the past) be, years on and with the rise of technology, of interest to the indigenous. Happy when the red light beams scanning tree bark skins, neck to forehead, ear to ear, head to head in those bicephalous, burning light particles of tissue as it renders, just enough for the repetition of the movement—if need be—to up the expenses in insurance guarantees and the darkened laboratory to freeze in silence and immobility save for the calculating gesture of the machine. Crooked fangs glimmer, arid lips redden, pulpy for the moment it scans up looking the two to four eyes that pop out blind from seeming animal craniums. Formerly voluminous heads now bidimensional, manipulated through algorithm, while tattooed patterns and sprayed dots and scales set loose from matter and returned to the stars and vegetation enliven a coronal aura lasting since the eighteenth century, at least. Is it alive? The Jurupixuna and the machinic eye, red lasers that bring life back, life man can’t naturally see, can’t cosmologically grasp, life translated into digital skins, the image skin of information. Minor differences like tiny spirits unknown to civilized man shaking warmly in virtual comfort. To be processed back to a rigidity replicated in plastic, oil, decomposed organic life, in the end, pre-human matter, it also colonized.
One cloudy day in the rain season up in Santarém, a Jurupixuna pops up in the local crafts market, where it is being sold for a modest price. Materially, it is quite the reproduction, faithful in every respect. Many gather around and bargain for it. The word spreads and becomes history. Simultaneously, from deep inside the forest come rumors of masked rituals, the like of which has not been heard since the eighteenth century; they are heavily perspectivist, abundant in cauim, and end in long days of vomiting followed by generalized retreat and abstinence. During such periods the women take over the villages, while the children act like pygmy warriors. The confirmation of such festivities, along with the purchase of a copy of a Jurupixuna, causes the first of several fits of frustration to be felt in the following years by the anthropologist Tarde — at that stage it was impossible for him to imagine his future contradiction, as the one responsible for the final restitution of the Jurupixuna back to the forest. The professional, but also passionate care he had imposed on himself in respect to the integrity of the Jurupixuna, that responsible integration into the social cosmology to which they once belonged and into the communities to which he, in planning for their exhibition back in their homeland, was indebted to, now escaped him. Tarde is well aware of other ethnographical objects, also exhibited in Manaus, qualified as art for tourists, that is, the manufacture, in the late eighteenth century, of objects made by acculturated natives for the tastes of the European market. And it comes to him, “If the indians are still oppressed and kept under control, why should it be any different in the twenty-first century?”
F. D. Tarde will take such frustration back home to Portugal. Years later, still tormented by the procedures he had negotiated back in 1997, he will argue against their digitization and, behind closed doors, against the patenting of the virtual models — for he knew how the precepts over the Jurupixuna would be suppressed by their digitization and likely virality on the virtual frontier. But who knows, perhaps F. D. Tarde will be wrong. Unable to stop the new century’s tendency to profit from the total transparency of society, he will ultimately lose the case. Once confirmed how indigenous groups across Amazon were reproducing and circulating the Jurupixuna, he will finally acknowledge his anthropological depression, exchanging the inconstancy of the Amerindians for the pious stability of local groups in central Africa. However, once the Jurupixuna are digitized, it is F. D. Tarde who signs the agreement allowing them to sail the Atlantic for the last time. Returning the Jurupixuna to the forest may very well have been F. D. Tarde's last relevant gesture on the wrong side of the Atlantic, before vanishing, lost somewhere in the African plains, as if in a reenactment of the second life of Rimbaud in Djibouti and Addis Ababa, and ultimately exchanging the apparent inconstancy of Amerindians for the stable devotion of Central African tribal groups. As for the digitization, is it possible for the Jurupixuna to see how whenever man’s labor produces a new technology capable of social transformation (from the sextant to the computer) it is also property that is redefined — a concept unknown to the Amerindians. And also see, much clearly than man, clearly than F.D. Tarde, the scanner network ecosystem out from computers and generate the promise of intelligence, it all alive and independent too? The answer may very well be found deep in the forest.
List of Masks
· Plant fibre\liana
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
· Plant fibre
· Plant fibre\reed
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
· Metal elements and joins\wire
· Plant fibre\wicker
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
· Plant fibre
· Plant fibre\reed
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
· Plant fibre\bamboo
· Plant fibre
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
· Shoemaker's wax\wax
Terceiro Direito, promotor of the raum platform, is grateful to the Science Museum of the University of Coimbra for kindly allowing us the use of images from their online collection, available at http://museudaciencia.inwebonline.net
Pedro Neves Marques and the Jurupixuna
Pedro Neves Marques (b. 1984, Lisbon) lives in New York. In his work in the mediums of video, photography and installation, he has paid particular attention to the role played by words in the visual arts. Already at the time of his first solo exhibition, Imagética Abreviada [Abbreviated Imagery] (2008), recourse to writing emerged as a supplement to the experience of visuality. The possibility of text offering understanding of the image, partially exposing itself and simultaneously distancing itself from discursive appropriation, while image works as a document of the lived experience that is both suspended within it and removed from it, constituted, from the outset, a recurrent concern in his works, one whose aim it was to announce the emergence of subjectivity. For this reason, what we see in this work is a dialectical relationship with the forms of power that determine this process. From works such as The Tigris Expedition (1978), or Uma Cortina de Fumo/Mármore e Vidro [A Curtain of Smoke/Marble and Glass], the latter made in collaboration with André Romão and both works dated 2010, the artist explores how the traces of lived experience and its subjectification collide with a given order of power, as was the case with anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl of The Tigris Expedition (1978).
In reconstructing a Sumerian boat and heading an expedition across the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, Heyerdahl was tracing navigational routes undertaken five thousand years earlier. During his incursion into the Red Sea, Heyerdah’s journey was interrupted by hostilities and political conflicts of the present day. In these works, the overlaying of various political constraints worked together with the documentation of the rupture itself, prompoting a sense of temporal hybridity. The works that followed summon diverse orders of knowledge that vex and fold over one another, moving beyond disciplinary specificity, in a web of relations that manifestly produces such a sense of cultural hybridity.
A good example of this process occurs in the film Where to sit at a dinner table? of 2012. Here, using as his point of departure a tapestry designed by Albert Eckhout titled Combat of the Animals, a line is quoted from the Manifesto Antropofágico [Cannibal Manifesto] by Oswald de Andrade, with Martinho da Vila’s music Verdade Verdadeira [True Truth] constituting the sound-track, prompting a consideration of ecological theories that emerged in the 1950s, dealing with the eco-system and the distribution of its energies. These ideas were based on essays by A. Tansley, H. Odum and D. Worster, constructed around the principle of. These ideas are articulated with associated theories of the individual and of participation in a system of self regulation of markets that characterises economic neoliberalism. The unfolding of the plot of this film around the various discursive practices that it invokes, sponsors an interrogation into the fate and adjustability of ecology in the context of capitalism, transforming them into a generalised act of cannibalism, a motif to which the tapestry at the start of the film alludes
Through a process akin to an archaeology of knowledge – describing its practices and underlying forces – as well as of a layered and dense structure of different narrative segments, Pedro Neves Marques produces a drift capable of scrutinising and making visible the course undertaken by various processes of knowledge and subjectification in their confluence with the structure of capital. If, in the areas of knowledge that it weaves together, this film approximates the film-essay, the sustained association between these areas produces an avowedly narrative structure, with implications on the construction of meaning. In Os Jurupixuna [The Jurupixuna] (2014), the artist establishes a sense of continuity with this kind of narrative unfolding. If, in Where to sit at a dinner table?, the anthropophagic rituals described probe the forms of identity of both colonisers and Amerindians through processes of suspension and transformation of the identity of the latter (as a form of resistance against the imposition of the colonisers’ identity), its refusal also leads towards a regulated cannibalising system compatible with the capitalist ecological order. This occurs to the extent that the naturalisation of capitalism merges with its own viral spread
In Os Jurupixuna, Pedro Neves Marques undertakes a series of explorations around the procedures and outcomes of the archivisation and reproduction of the artefacts and contexts of colonised cultures in their relation to digital technology. The form of the written essay gives way to demonstration, which transforms it into narrative. In its unfurling, a fiction is created – at first realistically probable, later more ambiguous, but no less significant than the essayistic component – on different processes of cultural appropriation and the implicit power games that are outlined there. Fiction and the processes of acquiring knowledge or speculative reflection thus become indistinguishable component parts, producing a ceaseless contamination of the boundaries between them. The symmetrical relationship that Where to sit at a dinner table? established between the native Tupi and the colonisers, occurs again in Os Jurupixuna through the restitution the artefacts of the latter to their place of origin in an exhibition organised in Manaus. This return is the mechanism that triggers an awareness of originary difference. In other words the native inhabitans that visit the exhibition, descendents of the Jurupixuna who have been extinct for over two centuries, appropriate the exhibition itself by invading it in order to establish a new relationship of research and learning with the artefacts. This relationship is structurally similar to the knowledge specific to the discipline of anthropology that gave origin to the exhibiton.
Numerous symmetries are thus produced, for instance in the exhaustive manipulation and description of the objects, the temporary exclusion of visitors for purposes of study, the restrictions of the lighting of each one of the Jurupixuna to ten seconds, or the images that obstruct Pedro Neves Marques’ text, and a sustained quest for common human characteristics within the differences so flagrant in the specimens. As the narrative of the process unfolds, the task of continuous translation required of the native Americans in their perceptual processes becomes evident, and, finally, in the recreation and appropriation via copies, an inevitable production of hybridity becomes manifest. The contrast and bifurcation of the symmetry between the two processes of acquiring knowledge is exposed in the underlying approach to the mythologising desire to salvage something of an origin, that the anthropologist F.D. Tarde believes in preserving through disciplinary knowledge, and in the value apparently granted, by these indigenous people, to the consequences of knowledge thus derived. As Pedro Neves Marques observes: ‘whenever humans produce a technology capable of social transformation (from sextant to computer), it is always also property that is redefined.’ In the last analysis, this is also the role that the fictional domain imprints upon the image in this, as in many other works by Pedro Neves Marques.
Translated by Ruth Rosengarten.