Estructura completa

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Complete Structure

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Purchased by ESCALA 2013

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Proximity in body geographies

david pérez karmadavis has worked in several performance actions with the conflict between Dominicans and Haitians as citizens of a shared Island. Estructura completa understands the geography of the island of Hispaniola as “a body divided in two nations, with a ground that unites them, a border that divides them, two governments that commercialise it, and a long history that withholds them”. Comprehending the island as torn flesh, Estructura completa investigates the body as a territory of the Self and, through it, the cartography of the social.

In the video, a mestizo, blind, Dominican man, carries a black Haitian woman, who has had both legs amputated. Due to their physical impairments, the woman guides the man through the public sphere. The ‘incomplete’ bodies were chosen as an allegory for individual alienation, for only through a symbiotic arrangement dictated by physical necessity, can they successfully operate in a public space. The notion of two distinct nations is embodied as an amputated woman and a blind man, obscured from public recognition. At an emotional and sensorial level, the work takes into account the social performativity of gender, race, and physical and sensorial disability, to bring to the fore the relational character of purported stable definitions, such as national identity.

As the video documentation of Estructura completa demonstrates, the camera operates as a flâneur in close proximity to the bodies touching and being touched, feeling each other’s weight, movement, smell, voice, breath, and pulsations. The limits of each body are contested through an uncomfortable, yet necessary, proximity —they are brought together by the absence of a bodily margin, which, in turn, reflects the border that marks the island’s geography.

A dialogue is created between the two protagonists of the work by the cognition of language. In their physicality, the bodies come together through an intimate encounter: a phantom limb is supplanted by the carnal presence of the other and the blind body can only see through the mediation of the other. Embodied as dual wholeness, Estructura completa constructs a space for the dialogical proximity of bodies inscribed by their histories, and experiences, of difference.

The protagonist’s citizenships, Haitian and Dominican, are foregrounded by a sense of nationality characterised by its relationship to the ‘other’. In the case of the Dominican Republic, the erasure of the Haitian other was at the heart of the creation of the nation in 1865, which guided by the explicit rejection of Haitian and black ancestry. In its origins, the Dominican Republic was founded on the distancing of the Haitian other, a practice that still continues in the twenty first-century through governmental policies of denationalisation of Haitian immigrant residents, and the denial of Dominican nationality to children of Haitian women born inside the Dominican Republic.

By inserting a dialogical proximity of bodies coming together in the flux of the public sphere, karmadavis’ work invites us to understand that a complete structure is built on the mutual care of the body-geography of two nations sharing an island. Moreover, it posits that the malfunctioning of either of these bodies is the result of their distancing.

(Text commissioned by ESCALA for the exhibition Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex, 2014)

Marina Barsy

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