even more Magris

(But why? well, a twisting story, like the river itself. I got to Magris through an exhibition we saw with MC in Barcelona already seven years ago (!!!) – it was one of those strange exhibitions on a city and an author – in that case it was about Trieste and Magris. We were so intrigued, so taken in, that we bought several books by Magris, in Spanish and Catalan then and later in Italian, like my edition of Danubio. And we were engrossed by the idea of visiting Trieste and a bit of Istria and that amazing (now) border region – something we could finally do for a few days in 2015.

Three years after that, I was in Warsaw for a few days with Roman and Wanda, and during that visit full of conversations, of exchanges, of walks, of visits to galleries and museums, of mathematics and art, somehow I felt immersed in another side of the same world described by Magris. I mentioned him, I mentioned his books – and oddly enough, Roman and Wanda hadn’t read him. Oddly but fortunately, and synchronically: right after talking about him, I saw on a stall of the bookshop of a museum the words Dunaj and Magris. I immediately gave it to them, knowing it would help continue many conversations.)

Danube is not an easy book to read. At least in my case: it meanders, it makes me pause, it makes me remember and write, it makes me dream and continue long-forgotten conversations, some from decades ago. The book in itself changes quickly enough that it is not really an essay – although many parts could constitute many excellent essays, it is not a story – although it is full of short stories, it is not gossip of course – although it contains a delightful dose of insider gossip, it is not a travelogue – although in a way the whole book presents itself as a huge travelogue.

Roman mentioned he had been reading the Hungarian part of Danubio these past days – exactly at the time of that very short but very intense visit to Hungary, to Budapest. Reading it now myself, it has been like reliving (through unrealized possibilities) many aspects of my own visit. I cannot quite explain it. An example: I took a photograph of a “random station” where the train stopped for a few seconds. Then it turned out that that name (Mosonmagyaróvár) is prominent in Magris’s book – for an intense paragraph. Many other parts of Danubio read like a priori/a posteriori representations of what my eyes, what my camera (whose memory is greater than mine – for I would have forgotten a name like Mosonmagyaróvár were it not for the fact my lens, my camera recorded it, and then I saw it in Magris’s book) registered!

Every now and then, you reach a paragraph like this one:

«Delle ottocento famiglie giunte col patriarca, ora restano sessanta o settanta. Un viaggio è sempre anche una spedizione di salvataggio, la documentazione e la raccolta di qualcosa che sta estinguendosi e fra poco sparirà, l’ultimo approdo a un’isola che le acque stanno sommergendo.»

(“Of the eight hundred families arrived with the patriarch, now sixty or seventy remain. A trip is always a kind of saving expedition; the documentation and the collection of something on the way to extinction that will soon disappear, the last landing on an island that is sinking in the waters.”)

How true. Any time we travel we are in some sense visiting a place that is disappearing, sinking in the waters.

The Magdalena River, near Honda

Moving Topoi: first cut.

As I described a few weeks ago here, I was invited to give a PechaKucha presentation, for the 11th version of the event in Bogotá. I finally settled on describing our ongoing joint project Moving Topoi with Roman Kossak, Wanda Kossak and María Clara Cortés.

The project starts as an attempt at creating a dialogue between two Mathematicians and two Artists. Originally intending to create some form of communication between two disciplines that have a hard time explaining away what they are – and after many partially failed attempts of dialogue (essays, seminars, presentations), we decided three months ago to do a completely new piece of something (maybe art, maybe a weird version of mathematics, maybe nothing : | ) between the four of us.

For reasons that are half-unfathomable, we ended up naming our joint project “topoi” (here is John Baez’s “in a nutshell” description of mathematical topoi – wikipedia has a reasonable take on that too) or “moving topoi”. Topoi (“places”, in Greek) in Mathematics are generalizations of the notion of space, abstractions of the notion of “being there”, useful ways of comparing and contrasting many structures (or situations, or actions) lying in apparently different, incomparable worlds.

The intent is to build directly new topoi, some mathematical, some artistic – but in many ways to open up common space, really common topoi made up slowly by the four of us, unfolding in time.

For now, the project is essentially photographic. Each of us makes a little set of 4 photographs and posts them to the rest of us – and elicits (or doesn’t) responses, all in the same format. NO verbal explanation of the photographs is given: just a keyword for the topos that is being opened, activated, created or answered to.

In its restrictiveness (no words, or almost no words – just sets of four images) there is something weird: after a while, topoi did start appearing, some of them consolidating sharply into lines – timelines of a topos, and the project started having its own life.

At the moment, after three months, we have about 440 photographs, about 40 or 50 new topoi – some of them quite developed, some of them just having appeared once. The project so far is best viewed as a timeline of sorts… there are however various different ways in which the project may be shown as new topoi appear, as some of them start evolving. At some point, showing some of the photographs in printed format, with some way of curating the show that enhances the topos aspect – or some other way of presenting this.

Or even breaking momentarily from our closed (4-ways) format… activating external topoi by inviting other people to participate in specific situations.

The inspiration has come from various sources and conversations. For the format, the Tales of Tono, that photographic book made some thirty years ago by Daido Moriyama, was essential. For some of the ideas, various conversations and reading seminars hinging on phenomenology has been instrumental. Samuel Todes…

Crucial in the whole conception (both intellectually but also formally) is the set of “dividing lines”, the (2\times 2)^n dichotomies (2 Mathematicians, 2 Artists – 2 cities (Bogotá, New York), 2 places in the country (Chía, the Catskills) – 2 specific urban areas (Midtown Manhattan, Chapinero), 2 specific bucolic areas (Fonquetá, Fleischmann’s), 2 men – 2 women, 2 Europeans – 2 Latin Americans, etc. etc.)

The PechaKucha format (that I described here) was a “first cut”, an early test for topoi. I discussed with Roman, Wanda and MC various aspects of the presentation, and ended up giving a very distilled, very reduced glimpse of it.

The presention will be made public in PechaKucha’s website at some point.

Here are the images, meanwhile! (You could watch them as a presentation, leaving exactly 20″ per image, to get a feeling of the temporal aspect of the PechaKucha presentation… or wait until the official organization posts the actual presentation.) On slide 7, there is a handwritten list of the (so far) topoi, itself opening a topos – the picture of the handwritten note is part of our project.

unearthing old videos

A conversation with Rami, and an ongoing communication with MC, Roman and Wanda, led me to reconsider these old videos (they are linked, of course – they are linked with friends, with Carlos and Zully, with Rami and Monica, with Gabriel and his mother, with Zoran, Tim and the Geometry and Model Theory crowd, with Alejo and Alfonso):

[Andrés baila – made by María Clara Cortés, Barcelona, July 2011]

[Hacia la tricotomía – Mérida, Venezuela, September 2011]

[Zoran Škoda plays and sings – Chía, July 2012]

[Alfonso Correa and Gabriel Padilla play/improvise on sephardic themes. Both Alfonso and Gabriel are very sephardic friends of mine. June 2012]

[Fragments of a conversation between María Clara Cortés and me – as seen by Alejandro Martín. June 2011]