The Yellow Book (1)
site specific interventions, performative lectures, drawings, book covers
Chiquita Room, Tàpies Foundation, Arús Library, Museum Picasso, Barcelona, Spain
Curated by Erich Weiss
Text contribution: Agnieszka Kilian
Photo: Andrea Fernández and artist's archive
Picasso speaking with Andrè Malaraux described his famous visit in Trocadero in the following way: When I went to the old Trocadero, it was disgusting. The Flea Market. The smell. I was alone. I wanted to get away. But I didn’t leave. I stayed. I understood that it was very important: something was happening to me… The masks were not like any other pieces of sculpture. Not at all. They were magic things. But why weren’t the Egyptian pieces or the Chaldean? Those were primitives, not magic things. The Negro pieces were “intercesseurs”, mediators; ever since then I’ve known the word in French. They were against everything – against unknown threatening spirits...(1)
This heritage does not exist on its own, beside us and without us. Not only does it take away the subjectivity of the ones burdened with it, through exoticising practices, but also constantly emerges in ever new forms. It works, adapting to conditions, still masked in expressions or associations. It does not change its structure or essence, based on exclusion, and at the same time the consolidation of whiteness as a norm. The spaces of our body and mind are marked by a number of exclusions, where the Other is magical, but of course voiceless.
Enthralment with Strangeness and Otherness is a dangerous intellectual foundation and quite a lasting one at that: it reverberates through literature and library halls, where the voice of the Other is silenced to still stir fascination, though almost always as a space for white people’s activities. This exoticisation acts like a poison. Healing is not a simple action, but it can start as a gesture: a careful look or critical introspection; creating a space where the lack of and loss of a world as a whole is perceptible – so we can feel that we are part of a world that hurts and causes hurt. A world that has been defragmented and where one group has privilege, forcing the Other to inhabit an alienating and fragmented reality as soon as "the white man's eyes" calls forth this "other" being. (2)
Jaro Varga looks at this entanglement of knowledge and ignorance: imagination, appositions and references, deeply rooted in the lack of awareness of literature, also literature that shapes him as an artist and a person. Healing may not equal simply erasing the past. Making amends may never mean erasure. Transparent covers that the artist slips onto library books force our gaze to simultaneously embrace two realities: the one we can never deny, as we were (and are) partaking in it, and the one that never had the chance to happen: the world as a whole, which does not happen as an opposition between the object and the subject where [our] relationship with the world is one of appropriation. (3) Frantz Fanon is unequivocally right when he writes that the white civilisation has been built upon this disunity and a suspicion that while it has conquered the world, it has not established a relationship with it. It is this painful place that Jaro Varga reaches for: bonds never struck, absences and the ringing silence where knowledge about the world is always white.
Monuments in the very heart of Africa? Schools? Hospitals? Not a single bourgeois in the twentieth century, no Durand, no Smith or Brown even suspects that such things existed in Africa before the Europeans came... (4)
This disunity is simultaneously a scar and a wound. For the old injustices not to turn into new wounds, the process cannot be limited to a single voice. Jaro Varga shares this awareness, inviting us to collaborate and sharing what is absent in this symbolic space – authors, histories and voices.
1. Andrè Malaraux, „Le tête d`obsidiante” in: Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, Simon and Shuster, New York 1998, p. 90
2. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Grove Press, New York 2004, p. 19
3. Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, Grove Press, New York 2004, p. 107
4. Ibidem, p. 110
The Yellow Book
Project questions the universality of hegemonic knowledge and its transmission through books and libraries. Based on a comparative critical reading of various bibliogra- phic collections with references from his own library, the artist rethinks personal knowledge in relation to universal knowledge, making visible possible gaps in the do- minant discourses. The project consists of ephemeral interventions in emblematic libraries of Barcelona, such as the Biblioteca Pública Arús, the on in Fundació Antoni Tàpies and Museu Picasso, and is completed with the publication of an artist’s book and an installation at Chiquita Room. Here, titles from the artist’s personal library are brought together in relation to those selected from the libraries, and also a series of drawings that he intuitively produces as a choreography of the mind.
During the weeks before and after the opening at Chiquita Room, Jaro Varga spends time in the reading and study spaces of these libraries as an art performance. His al- most invisible actions consist of making subtle transformations to the covers of the books selected from these bibliographic collections. Varga thus expands his role as an artist to that of a librarian or researcher who seeks to (re)discover the multiplicity of layers unfolding beyond the dominant narratives. The artist moves his practice from the studio to the libraries and intuitively selects titles to connect them with new references. In the process, he discreetly turns the library into a political place. The installation at Chiquita Room echoes these actions, collecting books from his personal archive as a reflection of his study of libraries in the most literal sense: to consider a subject carefully, to look for some cause, circumstance, consequence, after analysing, understanding well and forming a judgement about it. Nevertheless, The Yellow Book is a project open to participation and the artist welcomes advice and contributions from the public on other bibliographical references or possible dialogues between books. In addition, Varga’s personal drawings, which arise organi- cally around the ideas he finds in the books, are part of the artist’s book of the same name, published by Chiquita Ediciones especially for the occasion.
Jaro Varga is fascinated by how, until recently, our knowledge has been expressed through writing and has cultivated his interest in the principles of how the sum of that knowledge is created, including the continued failure or inability to discover “how things really are”. Book covers are a complement, the outside, the superficial. They exist outside the books, but they are also part of them. In general, covers protect books, literally and also metaphorically. As during the Second World War, for example, when banned Polish books were covered with dust jackets of German detective novels to give them a chance to survive. This tactic was also used to smuggle books across the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany. But covers can also exist without books, like empty shells, just as books can exist without them.
Laura González Palacios, Chiquita Room Director