Collective photographyc exhibition. ''Parties are, above all, memory. Being participants of their gaiety and pleasure is not enough. They require memory, and also commentary, narration and diffusion. Needy of echoes, parties must live on in the memory and only this way do they endure. Or, only in this way are their multiform essences made known''. Festive Expressions by Victoria Soto
Cornelius Azaglo and many more...
Parties are, above all, memory.
Being participants of their gaiety and pleasure is not enough. They require memory, and also commentary, narration and diffusion. Needy of echoes, parties must live on in the memory and only this way do they endure. Or, only in this way are their multiform essences made known.
The party reminds of the past. It is converted into an ephemeris and offers itself up as calendar. It measures and orders time. A party or festivity schedule structures and organizes our lives, holidays and Sundays, weddings, baptisms and communions, saints' days and birthdays, Christmases, carnivals and Easters, trips and vacations, dates, meetings and farewells, contracts and raises, banquets and bashes...
An equally syncopated program marks the milestones of historical narration. Ancient depictions in relief bear witness to the first ritual structures, processions, parades and triumphs. Their myths tell us about the basic components of the festival: music and dance, food and drink, competition and contest. The miniatures and medieval chronicles reveal this inheritance of collective enjoyment in tournaments and processions, but they already distinguish between the religious and the profane marked by Christianity. Renaissance drawings, like the sketches made by Leonardo for the apparatus for the Milanese festivities of the Sforza, are significant of the most elite courtesan pomp. The printed texts from the Baroque era reveal that festivals reach levels of ostentatious development with their fusion with art. Newspaper stories, painted canvases or photographs from centuries that precede us, still recall that old and impassioned belief, the integration of the arts. Announcing billboards and programs for fairs and festivals are also testimonies to the fact that celebrations and festivities regulate our time and our history. Today, more than ever, the mass media are still an explicit manifestation of this transitory fact, the party; reflection, symbol and legend of civilization, a phenomenon difficult to pin down.
The Modern Age makes man conscious that the written word is a perfect witness of the festive 'image and event. The invention of the press gives rise to a specific literary genre, a confused genre, occasionally very much like fiction, that of reports on crimes and reports on parties. An affected literature, neither true nor false, in charge of transmitting detailed chronicles and vicissitudes of numerous European festivities, both public and private. No important festival throughout the Baroque epoch was organized without taking into account the corresponding printed edition. With pictures or without them, this literature propagated the very existence of the party, so that "they know the truth... in the centuries to come", a half truth overflowing with praise and that, nonetheless, manages to reflect its image and, above all, the diffusion and spreading of the desired opinion of the event. It is a value providing literature and yet at the same time, a malignant justification.
Beyond the printed word, the party is an outline in the air, a gesture and a pirouette. A sign of movement and life, of eroticism and the absence of inhibition. Few parties ignore dance. It appears during the most heroic epochs and it is a privileged argument of plastic testimonies. Dance, dance, damn you! This almost biblical phrase, negative premonition or warning of punishment for impious worshippers of a golden calf, for the brutal inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorra, yet an unavoidable sentence. After the dance always comes the music, another of the essential components of the party. The pirouette is enriched if it is accompanied by chords and rhythms, and that sound becomes a collective dance, one of the great amusements of all time and all social classes.
Eating is also a party. Man has always felt hunger, hence the banquette is a festive expression. For meals to become festive feasts, routine survival must be transformed into whimsical refreshment, into a unique festivity that converts the daily dole into an ample and shared attitude. Boccaccio and Boticelli offer us different, yet sincere reflections on one of the most visceral forms of festivals, that of taste and the palate, that of the banquette. Their banquettes are reminders and also premonitions of the story of Nastaglio clegli Onesti, a visionary, rejected and doubtlessly vengeful lover. For the writer, the story is entertainment, a tale made amusing for a few and to make life a feast for ears and, above all, to forget the plague and the death ravaging outside. In Boticelli, Nastaglio's story of the event he witnessed and told of at the banquette he offered to his disdained lover, is a narrated warning in a series of tablets destined for the headboard of the nuptial bed of one of the wealthiest ladies of the Florentine aristocracy of the Quattrocento. An authentic alert regarding infidelity. For the Flemish painters, the nuptial theme was a common one in their compositions with their peasant weddings, guests who eat, laugh and argue while seated around the table, who dance like whirlwinds in the adjoining pasture, kiss and hug each other, as in the canvas by Jan Brueghel cle Velours, who incorporated the monarchs themselves, the archclukes, among relatives and country folk, or like Village Dance by Peter Paul Rubens, a dance that is continuous rotation, a whip of gaiety, a human carousel.
Any feast is testimony to the most primitive festive expression. The nuptial banquette is announced like an epilogue of the amorous motif and the opportunistic commitment, like the end of the beginning / the beginning of the end of one of the situations man is destined to. It is a calculated party, as is the birthday or New Year's Eve and it is welcomed with warm wishes and good intentions in the form of cakes and candles, twelve grapes or clinking toasts, gestures that attenuate that elusive and sad passage of time and that are immortalized in the registers of pictures, in photo albums and home videos.
Converting the party into an event has been, and still is, an obsessive premise throughout the course of history, which seems inevitably to demonstrate that, in this world, there is always as much gaiety and occasion for celebrating as there is hardship to suffering. But party is not the correct antonym for sorrow, bitterness or misfortune. These come about, without preparations', they arrive unexpectedly, unforeseen. Mishaps are not forewarned. Festivity, which has so often triumphed over misery, does not occur; it is a willful expression determined by man, as foreseeable as it is spontaneous.
I invite you to a party. - When? - Whenever you want. It is not only a joke. it is the vital posture of man, homo ludens, the festive being, the only living being who can party, as Odo Marquard (1950) pointed out.
We are insistently confronted with the association of the terms, noun and adjective, "festive man", in the eccentric and extroverted quality inherent in humans which makes the party the best, in other words, the most gratuitous amusement~, a necessary act, and one that must be reiterated for individuals to subsist. Parties are celebrations of our very lives, which set aside habit, destroying routine, eliminating burdens and alleviating pain and the sensation of suffering. For this reason, to the vital being, parties are fragile and ephemeral. Their duration, like life, is limited. Without any limits, parties are not parties at all. Life is a party.
Like the life of man, parties are journeys. Journeys that are motif and metaphor, The festive function is almost always marked by its protagonists' wonderings, by the movements of its integrants. The displacement and movement of living and dead, generates this phenomenon. The procession, the retinue and the cavalcade are manifestations par excellence. They map out the route, the trajectory and the path for the festival. Festival equates "procession" in the hieroglyphic writings and "retinue" is a form of reception, that of Roman triumph and, since the Renaissance, that of the triumphant entrance of a monarch into a city and also of his march to the grave, the pantheon, whereby he is transported by another procession, and followed by the "entourage". It very well may be this triumphant modality which best represents the paradigm of the regal festivity, which emulates the victories of the Caesars, the most widespread and well known formula since the Middle Ages, and that which perfects the posterior modern era. The very happy journey Phillip 11 made throughout Europe or the Pompa Introitus Rubens adorned to liven up the new archduke's arrival by sea, are manifestations of this.Corpus Christi and Easter embody this showy and primary exhibition. Indeed, in these cases, the people act as spectators, as supernumeraries moving at the will of those who have advantageous roles: the king, the prince or the court, the pope or the bishop. But their participation is as executable as it is receptive, for it lies in the contemplation itself, in the veneration, in the astonishment, the expectation and the perplexity.
Every party implies something of a great march, of cavalcade with a choreography that has been more and more diversified and its components refined with practice and over time. Religious ones with friars or disciplinants, military ones with soldiers and generals, civil ones of bourgeoisie and synclics, regal ones with princes and vassals; the march is an aesthetic event that slithers through streets and neighborhoods, that pulls carts and carriages, and draws crowds into the service of the most diverse causes and motives: from the beatification of a future saint to the wedding of a prince, the end of the war, the outbreak of revolution or the most trifling municipal commemoration. Marches and parades are in themselves the best manifestation of the urban festival. And now more than ever. The "Love Parade" is, since 1989, the most incredible processional celebration as far as its participants, for it now gathers a million souls, a human wave that combs the main avenues of Berlin, forming a cortege of fifty floats. A real love march in which the premise of freedom and techno dance of its beginnings, and with futuristic overtones -The future is ours, Music is the key-, have transformed into an ecological posture, a political demonstration with the support of the organizers themselves, including the government.
For time does not stand still. Parties are far from immobile; their contents change and adapt to the circumstances, transforming their expressions. Since its mythological and religious origins, parties survive in a multitude of forms. New Christian versions disguise ancient pagan rites, as the place-names and calendars demonstrate with numerous Marian sanctuaries, pilgrimages and customs. Many festivities popularize, in folklore, ancestral cults linked to nature, like May day and Saint John's night. The blend of religiosity and profanity is symptomatic of the festive capacity, elastic capacity, its motives and objectives taken advantage of with opportunism. Regardless of the original, indigenous and autochthonous beliefs, they end up being absorbed by cults and indoctrinated by Christianity. The symbiosis only reaches a certain point, however, for the permissibility of religious festivals is subject to too many limits. The first mystery plays and dances of Corpus performed in Latin America were relegated to the lower classes, Indians, blacks and mulattoes, recruited by force, and on more than one occasion, the idiosyncrasy of each race produced ancestral rhythms, surprising, strange and, in the end, irreverent contortions, which made it imperative to suspend the participation of this sector, for it let loose laughter among the faithful.
Smile, for the gods appreciate you. Laughter is the principle of pleasure and perhaps one of the maxims of parties, one of the symptoms of their success, a liberating instrument linked to humor. A joke is a festive spark. Laughter, expression of joy, festive gesture and vocabulary, seems basically opposed to the religious celebration, the festival that most presumes intransigence. To subsist, nevertheless, it opens its doors to mystic binges, pious uproars and devout raves, to the unleashed fervor of sevillanos and rocieros.
Fortunately, parties have never been a question exclusive to the Christian precept. They derive from many historical, political and social circumstances.
Many parties reflect the collective past of towns and cities. The Moor and Christian festivals not only commemorate a historic event, the siege by the Arab troops on the eastern enclaves of Spain, but are also reminiscent of the fear of the Turks, hatred toward the infidels and resentment of the Moriscos. Festivals from the past point to the future and have multiple interpretations, interpretations that also warn...
Repetitive in time, the festive act transforms the commonplace, submitting it to mutations and obtaining a license: the subversion of customary occurrence, a subversion justified by a temporal measure, that of exception. The frequency, occasional or controlled, permits what is abnormal, incompatible, and only as exceptional events are disturbances or perturbations permitted. It is the flipside of spectacle that, with the verb 'to make' added, is synonymous to scandal, row and hooliganism.
Parties come hand in hand with deception and trickery, this ambiguity mirroring the ambivalence of their very essence. They exist alongside morbidity and terror. In their search for astonishment, ever since their beginnings, they have adored provocation and remitted to the passage about dramatic scenes in Aristotle's Poetics: "what is appalling and pitiful can emerge from spectacles". Whatever produces fear, even the most unbearable fear, is attractive and is a perfectly compatible festive element, as are sorrow and pity, the buffoon and the despised, the animal that has lost its autonomy, the rooster dismembered on the pillory, the goat hurled down from the bell tower or the mortally stabbed bull. Festivals coexist with violence and aggression, and with these, they find fatality. It is not estranged from the festival. Although to a lesser extent for some, the festival is an accident. indeed, with it or at it, people are bumped off. History proves this. Catherine Medici witnessed the death of her husband, the king of France Henry 11, whose head was pierced by a lance in a tournament during the nuptial festivities. Current events also illustrate ill fate and bad luck at the annual San Fermines, in the fights and treacheries at soccer matches or at massively crowded rock concerts.
Death is celebrated. The party is as close as man can imagine to something he can never have an opinion of, the last moment. Literary and medieval themes, elaborated from learned and devoted sources and plagued with beliefs and legends, were imaginings of death as a triumph, an infernal machine, the festival of chaos and destruction, where an army acts to devastate every living being, in a desolate landscape that inspired Pieter Brueghel the Elderly to create The Triumph of the Dance of Death to remind us that nobody escapes the infernal festival, not one social stratum, not one privileged person. The equating power of death resounds relentlessly throughout the XVII century, the macabre and scatological century par excellence and that which exalts two terms that, apparently, do not tally well, funeral pomp. There has never been any historical period with an apotheosis of death, an end more festive than those celebrated during the Baroque era, with its grand funerals for popes, kings and princes, with their skeletons for funerary monuments and their terrible images of the Momento Mori. The neither more nor less of Vald6s Leal.
The phantasmagoric festival of death and its processional image lives on in time. Carlo Carra or George Grosz, during the second decade of the XX century, convert the march into an all-out festivity. The funerals of Galli the anarchist is a real urban jubilee, as devastating and impressive as the procession that the German painter imagined and dedicated to Oskar Panizza.
From the macabre medieval dances to the Baroque funerary ceremonies, death is a festive exaltation, for it proposes the best rest after life, the final limit of vitality and it offers up a glimpse of mortality, a consoling democracy for man which translates the omnes ante mortern aequales sumus. The same reason reminds us that we are all alike before life, that we all have the right to our dose of life, to a ration of pleasure and hay. El Bosco reflects this in a magisterial way in a triptych, The hay cart, which is the mirror of human behavior, a moralizing satire of a supposed knowledge of how to exist in life that, for some, is very difficult, easily acquire their portion of hay, their well-being, that offered by the best of life. Meanwhile, for many, for almost everybody, the access to that ration, to that state, is a fight to death in which men and demons intervene in unison.
In some way, the festival is the party is the fight for life. This is demonstrated by the simple animal facet of man, that which intervenes to survive and defeat the inevitable fate, the inexpugnable, painful and mysterious death. We will never know anything at all. Bullfights and quite numerous popular festivals, like Verges' Danca cle la Mort, are the exaltation of death, and they also foretell. Like a drumbeat, even today, the mere presence of a skeleton reminds man of a gloomy, fatal and unavoidable end of the party.
In the process of transforming, of violating commonplace reality, the party always proposes an imaginative and creative posture. It thus uses artifice and the result is an expression linked to aesthetics. The party recreates and constructs another reality and, despite its ephemeral nature, it consciously leaves a trace, from archeological vestiges to legends that live on in oral tradition, or an entire and enormous variety of artistic residues. Pictures and drawings uncover the history of impossible wooden structures, facades, arches, temples, altars, fountains of wine and castles of fire, designed by the best historical artifice. Hence, the plastic dimension that has been acquired, and is still being acquired today, by certain festivities is one of the clauses that unifies their study. The traces, of all kinds, left by festivals, habilitate them like intriguing chapters, like subjects worth studying as global phenomena that include diverse typologies or, in other words, what some consider an authentic chaos typology.
For its exhibition, festivals resort to all the elements that can cooperate. The so-called "integration of the arts" is the reflection of its exaggerated exteriorization, of its public and collective dimension. It is part of the grandiloquence manifested by the pretension of festivity, and also the repercussion sought. The number of components intervening are prescribed long ago to conform a "dream", a grandiose "theater", terms that since the XVII century have been synonymous with the word festival.
... Victoria Soto Caba has a doctorate in History and she is professor of Art History at the Universidad Nacional de Educaci6n a Distancia
photo: Seydou Keita
Fifty one Fine Art Photography, Zirkstraat 20 2000 Antwerpen-Belgium