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DISPLACEMENT

May – March 2009
New Paltz, NY, USA

My piece called Displacement represents cycle based on the displacement process and directed towards the transformation or destruction of its elements. I brought together four materials. Two of them are basic natural elements: water and soil; and the other two are ancient building materials: plaster and concrete. I used them as actors in my play about a fusion between nature and civilization and their mutual negation. I showed how the matter is being controlled, measured, and brought from the natural order to the order of the human system. In its turn, this system cannot undermine the natural circulation of matter and the cycle of life and death. I showed this by transforming the materials and returning them to their original place.

My own role in this performance is a random human constrained by the basics of human existence such as: you have to work to buy food; you have to eat to be able to work. Human labor, as a means of sustaining civilization, is a central element of this play. During the performance, the labor was directed to the displacement of the body of material with the purpose of bringing transformed material to the original location. Here I refer to the figure of Greek mythology, Sisyphus, who was compelled to roll a huge rock up a steep hill, but before he could reach the top of the hill, the rock would always roll back down, forcing him to begin his task again. I use this metaphor to raise the notion of the absurdity of existence discussed by Albert Camus in a philosophical essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. In my piece, I presented the scene for the human existence as a conflict between nature and civilization and the human being as a reason for and a victim of this conflict. A human works to rationalize the matter, to project meaning onto the universe but the universe remains cold. Human labor is needed to sustain life, which is absurd because we all ultimately die.  

In order to prepare the place for the performance I dug two square holes, one of which is bigger than the other. The bigger one contained a concrete water pool filled with water; the smaller one served as a void to cast the plaster into. I started the performance by mixing plaster with water and pouring it into the smaller hole. After the plaster had become hard, I split it with a pickax. Further, each piece of plaster was taken out of the hole, weighed, and thrown into the water pool. Each piece displaced a certain amount of water which was carefully collected, weighed, and stored. The weight of each piece, along with corresponding volume of displaced water, was recorded. The list of measurements was presented in the Dorsky Museum with the video documentation of the piece.

When all plaster was collected in the water pool, I started the final step of my performance. The plaster was crushed into little pieces and mixed with soil removed from the smaller hole. Collected water was added into the mix. I mixed three parts (water, soil, and plaster) until they became identical and when the mix was ready; I shoveled it into the hole. I worked until all plaster, all soil, and all water were used. The volume of the whole mix exceeded the volume of the hole. This allowed me to shape a rectangular slab elevating over the ground surface.

I am concerned about the literal as well as symbolic meaning of the materiality of my piece. By “literal”, I understand this to be the physical characteristics of materials: their hardness, softness, density, and fragility. These characteristics allow one to perceive the meaning through physical senses, to use one’s own body as a mediator. I would like my viewer to be sensually involved in my performance: watching me breaking, lifting, carrying, one can perceive the weight, firmness, and liquidity of materials and their relation to flesh. Symbolically, I aim to present flesh as one of the materials which is energized, but subjected to aging, decomposing, and transforming like any other natural material.

I chose concrete and plaster for their accessibility, their ordinariness, their presence here and now, their long history going along with the development of civilization. In my piece, plaster represents the initial source of material, the “unknown”, which was carried through the system of knowledge to become familiar, rational, and understood. Concrete structures the tissue of everyday life: sidewalks, skyscrapers, bridges, and dams are the frame for the human life cycle. In addition, I used concrete as it is a construction material associated with manual labor. I performed successive physical acts such as mixing, splitting, dividing, weighing, displacing, measuring, and mixing again, which seemed to be a useless exercise. I aimed to show the labor as a way human beings bring their own flesh back to the realm of nature. Here I refer to the words of the Ecclesiastes which show human life on a macroscopic scale:

What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

In regards to the other materials I chose, water and soil, they are the most common basic elements humans deal with. To explain my attitude, I would like to trace back to Greek and Indian Alchemist philosophers who theorized that there were only four classical elements or states of matter: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. This theory was replaced by Geber's theory of seven elements in the Middle Ages, which was then replaced by the modern theory of chemical elements during the early modern period. Alchemy was known as the spagyric art, which comes from Greek words meaning to separate and to join together. Ancient scientists made experiments with the natural materials by mixing them together, dividing and testing their qualities. They applied allegory and symbolic meaning to their actions. I derive my current art practice from that moment in history, when science and philosophy did not exist as separate fields yet. Further development of human thought caused the separation of disciplines, but they maintained their integrity in art as an alternative knowledge.