Fragment of the "Treatise on transmuting architectures”, collective creation with Giulianna Zambrano, and Francisco Arrieta as part of the program Des/Territory. Project developed as part of the Artists in Residency Program “Caja Negra” of Teatro para el Fin del Mundo and the Aid Fund for Ibero-American Performing Arts "Iberescena" (2021).
Let's start by establishing the term from which we start. Niger Arca, literally translated from Latin would be "Black Box", which is the title of the residence that has called us. However, I have decided to use the Latin expression due to its conceptual malleability: Arca—in its original meaning— it can be a tablet or even an archaic boat. In the Torah, Noah saves the terrestrial species from the flood by sheltering them in it, and Jehovah hides the detail of his alliance with the chosen people in an indefinite Arca that would end up being lost. Arca is a space in which things are written so that they survive; in which it is possible to keep secrets.
In the field of aeronautics, the Niger Arca is the one where all flight activity is recorded. It has been designed from the start to survive extreme impacts and high temperatures: that is, the destruction of the aircraft that contains it. His intention is to endure the collapse. In case of a mishap, give testimony of facts. Being an indestructible and fatal file.
Black Box in turn alludes to a mathematical model. It explains the functional relationships between living beings, between machines, and all of the above with each other. Proposed by systems theory and computing since the mid-twentieth century, the conceptual model of the black box helps us in the study of complex systems by ignoring the internal functioning of an element, at the expense of understanding its response to certain stimuli and being able to plausibly predict their behavior.
This model works —for example— to understand the role of a neuron, to whose gradation and quality of stimuli corresponds in such a scheme a differentiated system of responses in which the internal functioning of each brain cell is not relevant, but rather the ability we have to predict their response to certain stimuli or to know during what moment this shows greater activity.
In communication, the black box is used to conceptualize studies that discard the content and syntax of messages, focusing on their mere prevalence.
The issue that brings us together is the investigation of the black box of an abandoned aircraft that, after fifteen years of service in the open, has been reduced in the manner outlined above*. The conceptual root described so far, however, recognizes in Niger Arca a concept applicable to the catalog of demolitions presented in the context of this festival and symposium.
A ruined space is a likely place to go to keep secrets. Resists the passage of time. If it burns, will its mysteries be exhausted?
* Refers to the presentation that Develop the state of cannibalization of the Boeing 727-200 exhibited by Francisco Arrieta as part of the same Treaty.
I refer to what calls us to expose that this investigation has not been raised on an innocent horizon.
Both in the loss of the plane and the way of referring to that event as documentation, as well as in the specific object of a material memory of the plane that once flew, there is an underlying concept that floods the mandate that summons us: the archive.
This presentation will be duly registered in order to become an archive, which in turn will be nourished by other archives. We do not know if the result of this presentation will be consulted one day, but we perceive in the imperative that this event occurs, and in the mandate that it has to be recorded, certain materiality that mobilizes bodies, resources, and specific discourses.
For a moment we could omit in our analysis the content of what is being exposed here. "Niger Arca" would be the model through which a circuit is formed that rescues, interprets, and complexify the remains of Boeing 727-200, generating a series of actions with respect to it, in turn duly registered and consequently transformed into more archive —in turn, susceptible to one day being rescued, interpreted and complexified.
In merely schematic terms, the model throws us the paradox of our own materiality arranged in temporal terms: we will be black boxes talking to the black boxes of the future, about past black boxes, whose content we may possibly ignore.
The paradox would be harmless except for being arranged within a determined system of patronage, interpretation, and standardization. And it is here, that the mention of the Iberescena Intergovernmental Council at its 29th meeting, which in virtual deliberation between December 9 and 26, 2020, has chosen to pay for this investigation, without:
determining its content in detail and its resulting scenic technique,
nor the possibility of performing it in person or remotely,
but the detailed manner in which the result will be archived.
This, in order to meet the strategic objectives of the interstate program: the creation of audiences, the promotion of rights, the equitable distribution of work groups, and the inclusion of marginalized communities.
In exchange for the resources necessary for this investigation, the interstate program requests a report. This investigation is, in a way, the preparation of that report.
Our analysis so far would be limited if we did not warn about the process by which the Ibero-American states in the context of the Great Reclusion that began in 2020, have provided the opportunity for the artists and their bodies to investigate certain objects, their heritage function, and the territory to which they belong.
To what end? This report will in turn be included in many others, which in their lack of interest in the content will structure the game of layers that is the Niger Arca of cultural externalities that the States have bequeathed to artists: converting the intangible —an airplane in the middle of the jungle used as an art experimentation space for more than five years—, in Archive.
After all, in the scheme of the Niger Arca, the content of the file is irrelevant, but rather the effect of data accumulation stored in the black boxes of the Ibero-American States. This accumulation, transduced in financial capital, it is interpreted as cultural investment and capable of being evaluated with social indicators.
It is therefore a process of data mining, whose development continued during the Great Confinement stage.
This imposes a specific search: not only the adaptation of theater to exhibition formats or remote co-presence—which would be what would be assumed given the sanitary restrictions—, but also to formats that allow it to be reproduced archivally. That is: be signed up by the Niger Arca.
What are the characteristics of such a transition?
Performativity requires video; transmitted live or replicated on demand. That implies cameras, computers, Internet connection. Namely, infrastructure that connects the theater with the black boxes that contain what the State calls cultural investment.
But we must be very clear here: we are not talking about any type of video, but about the particular encoding aimed at digital consumption platforms: H.264, ProRes 422, among others.
These Codecs have owners, as well as the platforms that make the new theater possible. Its use precedes the Great Confinement, in the gradual requirement that the theater has to be registered to verify that it has existed: that is, that it constitutes an archive.
The video archives the bodies, encodes them, anonymizes them.
The art of presence, which was believed expanded, was actually in the process of restricting its field.
The black box is that indefinite space in which we have put the theater in order to see it and study it, but once inside it we are unable to understand how it works.
Let's briefly return to the plane.
What was destroyed?
In general terms: scrap.
In testimonial terms: a theater.
In terms of cultural infrastructure: possibly nothing.
The presence of the bodies at the site, made it something.
Even today the presence of those bodies invoking its memory makes it something.
But soon those bodies will stop attending the site. Instead, the mining of cultural externalities will soon precipitate it into the archive by processing its parts.
Although perhaps—perhaps—in some way it will prevail. But if so, what would we do with it?
The key term, in this case, is Eudaimonia: the search for a better life.
The current century has made us witnesses of the succession of simultaneously significant events thanks to the use of technologies: the marginalization of life, the exacerbation of political violence, forced displacement, ecocides...
In an environment that is hostile to them, the artists reacted with the most radical countercultural gesture possible: seeking the common good. To try, at least in its small field, to restore the nobility of the world.
Contrary to the modern notion that disassociates it from any deontology, the association of art with ethics has remote origins. For Aristotle, phronesis was the faculty, of the artist or of any person, to live life with wisdom and nobility. It required continuous search through practice.
This search, hereafter called "research", has been exercised contemporaneously on the archive, which is the way we call the material substrate of our memory.
The theory of the black box applied to the archive turns it into a material link or point of intersection, between different fields: the intersection between aesthetics, ethics, and politics; between the human and the non-human; between the included and the excluded; between the personal and the political; between technology and the environments.
The option for the archive, in art, would be linked to Eudaimonia as a will to search for the intangible.
The term comes from the Greek “eu": good, "daimon”: spirit, demon, demon, daemon. In the archaic Greek religion, a demon was an intermediate being between humans and the dead. Noble spirits were believed to be humans from the golden age who protected and guided men on their way to Hades. Christianity imported that idea, entrusting the saints —official and anonymous— to protect the living and guide them back to paradise. With secularism, the belief in spirits declined, but the need to speak with the dead prevailed in the concern for heritage.
Ceasing to believe in muses and saints, artists entrust themselves to archive.