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STRANGERS' HOUSES


I’m standing alone in a stranger’s house in the doorway of a silent room. I inhale, close my eyes and step in.
At first without my sight I'm in a void. My understanding of where I am is usually so intensely visual, that now without my eyes I'm lost. I will be here in an emptiness without any boundaries until I rebuild the space in my imagination. How far were those walls? When I walk forward, how long will it be before I knock something with my feet or knees? The room has collapsed out of my perception and I have to construct it again from scratch.


This is what I'm daydreaming when I look at these photographs. They are all domestic scenes, empty of people and though they could almost be anyone's kitchens and living rooms- I know that these interiors are the intimate spaces of people who have been blind their whole lives. As I move from one to another I think about how it would be to find myself in them and what they would feel like to my hands and feet. I’m drawn to these thoughts by the images themselves because in nearly every one, all potential paths through the space are somehow blocked. Each image throws up a surface on which to make this imaginary tactile exploration. My gaze keeps bumping up against walls, mirrors, curtains, different devices that are usually used to hide, reveal or alter what I see except that here I come against them as solid objects. If the reason we hang pictures on the wall is to try to forget its vertical surface, these photographs are reminding me of its heavy mass instead.

This room I entered with my eyes closed had some photographs, hanging on the opposite wall. Now I start to



move towards them, feeling my way past the chairs. I reach carefully up and across the wall and wallpaper until I find them with my fingers. I can feel the frames, the wood, and the glass, but psychologically they have no effect on my experience of the room, they are just surfaces amongst all the others.


These blank private spaces, organized or chaotic sit in quiet contrast to the public spaces we move and act in. Every free surface around us in the city and the highway immerses us in images (mostly but not only commercial). In many places we move seamlessly from one to the next, hovering in a kind of just-about-to-happen present. Our eyes are cut free from our physical recognition of the space, the hairs on our neck or our noses, navigation or destinations are only permitted through reading the visual codes.

The people who inhabit these domestic spaces are used to a heightened sense of now, a gentler rhythm of movement and to mentally extrapolating backward and forwards in time to find their history and their paths in their imaginations. For me these pictures of their intimacy represent an invitation to try and diagnose from inside images what exists outside of them, of alternatives to visual logics and politics. Perhaps thinking with our hands and ears could provide us with the tools we need to dissect our image-world as deeply and thoroughly as possible, and respond to the questions it poses us: to begin to travel the alternatives rather than floating.

-- Liz Haines



Interim notes on Arno Roncada and the imaginary place.


Diese wahrhaft wunderbare Natur hat mich heftig ergriffen, wenn mir gleich vieles in seinem Wesen dunkel geblieben ist. –Ludwig Tieck, 1834


1.
The giant volcano Hes or Fire Mountain rises above the lonely plains of Kalon. Since time immemorial, the mountain was a sanctuary for the Cult of Fire. More than two thousand years ago Kalon was conquered by Rassen, one of the generals of Alexander the Great. He forced the Cult of Isis on the volcano, which now was called Hes, in honor of the goddess. The first high priestess of Hes brought some changes to the original cult in which the mere worship of fire had to make way for an exaltation of life and nature.
Around Hes live wild tribes who worship the priestess and bring her gifts. Their belief in the goddess of fire involves certain primitive and savage rituals. One of the most remarkable was called “the hunting of witches”. The shaman of the tribe casts spells with a big white cat on his head. Then he puts the cat in a box and passes the line of suspects who have their hands tied behind their backs. If the cat jumps in the face of one of them then that is an irrefutable proof of witchcraft and the culprit will be burnt alive.

Henry Rider Haggard, Ayesha. The Return of She, London, 1905.

2.
“The Valley of Humiliation” is situated between “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” and “The Hill of Difficulty”. Some say that it is no good there, but it actually is one of the most fruitful and peaceful areas of the region. Simple farmers work the rich soil and shepherds herd their sheep on the slopes. It was a very suitable place for contemplation and meditation, where the Lord’s country residence was and men and angels met and pearls were found in the fields.

John Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that which Is to Come. Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream. Wherein Is Discovered the Manner of his Setting out, his Dangerous Journey and Safe Arrival at the Desired Country, London 1678.


3.
Neither story has anything to do with the photographs of Arno Roncada. At least not on an anecdotal or narrative level. But considering them as an uninhibited possibility for interpretation, however, we get pretty near the mark. The two stories are synopses from the acclaimed reference book ‘The Dictionary of Imaginary Places’ by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, an endless and detailed inventory of states, islands, beaches, mountains, cliffs and rocks, with this in common: they do not really exist, only by the grace of their creators. In a comparable manner, Arno Roncada creates his images in an imaginary geography.

4.
But they are photos, aren’t they?

5.
Of course they are. But what we get to see is never what there was to be seen, or ought to be seen. Or did you ever see a thundering avalanche under a clear starlit sky? These photos, says Arno Roncada, show that the 'sublime' in the twenty-first century is about the dominance of the representation of reality. Specific recording techniques and software make a reality of its own hyperbole. This can sting sometimes, but can also create space for interpretation and imagination.

Furthermore, we see that Arno Roncada’s creating of imaginary places is not only limited to image manipulation, there is often a game of references and citations made. Photos such as Untitled (Self-portrait at Zabriskie Point and Power Plant (Red Desert) quote verbatim from the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. (By the way, Red Desert not only refers to Antonioni's Il Deserto Rosso, but was once the location where Planet of the Apes was shot). Anyhow, and all too briefly summarized, Antonioini avoided possible explanatory moments, dialogues, and objects. His films are mysterious like life itself ... Arno Roncada is seeking a similar reserve, by which the viewer can withdraw from the creator’s vision and create his own expericence.

6.
Remote, but also endless. Literally, sometimes, through a veil of clouds and fog.
“That’s the great thing about fog”, the woman remarked. “You can see whatever you want.”

-- Erik Eelbode, March 2009




Personal notes #1

Some keywords : migration, topography of displacement, cultural disorientation, simulation of place.

First, I entered “migration” in a search engine, looking for an approach to understand its socio-geographical meaning in terms of reciprocity : here and there are mutual.

Then, I went to photograph Mexican and other Latin American undocumented migrants trying to enter the promised land of El Norte. The border however, was transported away to a municipal park in Hidalgo state near Mexico City. The unfolding spectacle wasn’t an actual border crossing, but a tourist attraction disguised as a live simulation. This topography of displacement and make-believe, where the relation between tangible and virtual reality is both significant and tenuous, is the phenomenon that interests me. In the process of


recording I adopted the viewpoint of both the immigrant and the border patrol agent, delineating the dividing line between ‘here’ and 'there'.

In the series ‘California Dreaming’, I followed the flow back south of remittances and photographed the transformation of a small town, called Ermita (transl. heritage), where (former) migrant workers, appropriated the typical Californian bungalow to become a hybride variation of architectural heritage.
In the proces of tracing the expanding flow of migrants, I recorded the dismantlement of the ‘Museo de los Migraciones’ in Zacatecas. Quite unusual, I thought, a museum of migration that is about to migrate.
Also the constructions and permanently incomplete buildings in ‘Obra Negra’ function as architectural markers of post-migration.



Gunshots and whooping sirens.
Bodies scatter through the bushes.



Footsteps and heavy breathing.



The location of 'the Night Hike Project'.



 
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