To do something—Mircea Eliade would say—is to “know the magic formula that allows you to ‘invent’ it or to ‘make it appear’ spontaneously.”1 Forms take time to become physical and real. They appear first in the imagination. Taking raw matter and turning it into a shape or figure is one of the instinctive activities of human beings. We could even say that it is the first attempt to mold our own personal world—an action that channels and absorbs our primal impulses and energies. Even so, simple figures do not belong to the social realm until they metamorphose into vital forms; that is, when they are useful and significant, once we attribute to them qualities, designate them with names, and finally posit them inside a symbolic system of value and desire. Roland Barthes asked, “What is the characteristic of myth? To transform a meaning into form,” since “every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society.”2
As we enter a new dimension today, one which is not necessarily flat, but entropically amorphous, meanings are drifting astray, and as a consequence, myths have been broken. Yet, the objects that surround our daily lives, regardless of their social value, have acquired a monumental relevance, similar to the relevance that Georges Perec attributes to the “infraordinary,” the “endotic,” i.e., the anthropology of everyday life.3 Forms and objects have become part of our domestic microcosm, one that currently does not include the social realm, and thus cannot be appropriated by society. But one in which, perhaps, we could subvert Barthes’s argument, and instead of transforming meaning into form, we could transform form into meaning. What is more, we could forget about meaning, and just focus on forms: physical, tactile, and corporeal. Forms that in their mere existence convey potential meanings and interpretations for the future. These forms do not need to be invented, as in Eliade’s statement, but just pointed at, touched, molded, collected, and organized. This means that while we occupy the everyday, another type of vital forms emerges to confirm our existence in the world.
During an interview4 about her work (There Could Be Many More Than These, INSITE97), Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino used the term vital actions—the point of departure for this third issue of the INSITE Journal—to describe how energy and sensibility shaped her sculptures during the process of molding clay. She speaks about how her hand, what she calls the Bachelardian “happy hand,” is guided by matter, and how each unique and unrepeatable gesture stimulates desire: a natural form of being in the world. There are numerous revelations here—the most relevant in this context being that the process, no matter how monotonous, no matter how repetitive, is the one that conveys the liveliness of forms, and also, that it is here where myths begin to take place.
The value of forms doesn’t rely on their physicality, but rather on their inherent impetus, which is the authentic magic formula that keeps them in a continuous state of invention. Naturally, value is not considered here in relation to property, fetishism or commodity, but in connection to the ability of forms to prompt our imagination and stimulate desire. This is also the reason that the importance of the Perequian notion of “infraordinary” is not about the concreteness of objects and spaces, but about our permanent ability to perform and communicate through them. In other words, the myth we create for and around our own personal vital forms, whether sacred, or mundane, natural or artificial, found or made.
For ESSAYS, Professor and curator Julia Bryan-Wilson provides powerful statements that connect different realities of our current time, while addressing the relevance of vital forms, labor, and materiality. In the same section, curator, writer, and art historian Lars Bang Larsen considers “irritation” as an organic dimension that affects bodies and systems to permeate and intensify social life.
For IN FOCUS, writer and critic Jeffrey Kastner delves into the project Signs of the Imperial Valley: Sand Spikes from Mount Signal (INSITE2000) by artist Allan McCollum. In his text, Kastner poignantly analyzes the historical layers of this geological form, to then consider it as a phenomenon of “absent entity” with multiple meanings. For Anna Maria Maiolino’s project There Could Be Many More Than These (INSITE97), curator Sharon Lerner thoughtfully characterizes her organic work as being part of a vital cycle that imposes a “ritual distance.”
A new section of the Journal, Selections from the Archive, includes previously unpublished materials (an interview, video, and audio transcription) of artist Silvia Gruner during the realization of her project The Middle of the Road (inSITE94), where she narrates, in-depth, the process and purpose of her work.
DOCUMENTS highlights the project Porcelain (2017–18 inSite/Casa Gallina) by artist Marianna Dellekamp, in which she convened a group of women from the Santa María La Ribera neighborhood of Mexico City to weave together. At the same time, each of the participants shared personal objects that were first reproduced in porcelain by the artist, and then broken and repaired by each member, using as a reference the ancestral Japanese technique of Kintsugi. Finally, artist Andy Goldsworthy is featured with his project Two Stones (inSITE94), in which he covered a stone and wooden sticks with clay in two different sites (inside the San Diego Museum of Art and outside in Gold Gulch Canyon, Balboa Park) to let them organically metamorphose as time passed by.