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Installation and performance
Elastic bands and cords, five beams
Sala de Arte CCU gallery
Photographs: Jorge Brantmayer
Santiago, Chile / from November 2023 to Febrary 2024

The performance work of Sebatián Mahaluf was largely, and for a long time about a corporal and material tension. The stretching of the cords from which the bodies literally and metaphorically hang in the Desplome exhibition (2020), fainting without falling to the ground, yet. Fragile glass recipients containing viscous grease residues, the Beuysian corporal metaphor par excellence, and in its minimal material expression, they weight down and stretch under their ropes until reaching the hard proximity of the ground without touching it. A moment of suspense that made the spectator, for an instant, to become a performer, this is, bending the body in order to contemplate the fine space between the fragile receptacles and the ground.

Lentificar is an installation that once again shows us a situation of imminent collapse, but extremely decelerated. The slowness here by far surpasses our patience as spectators. It is slower than any slow motion, even slower than any Bill Viola video piece. In The Greeting (1995), Viola shows us the encounter of three women whose action, in real terms, only lasts forty-five seconds. Viola slows the sequence down, stretching its duration to ten minutes. Slowness and stretching, two issues that have practically become Bill Viola’s discursive hallmark. Now, the slowness in Mahaluf is conceptual, this is, we have to make the exercise of reflection and inferring these concepts, an exercise we are doing now. Despite the differences between these two “slow-downs”, both propose, in one way or the other, the utterly brief moment prior to collapse. Viola decelerates in order to win time before the collapse… of life. An issue beautifully exposed in the film The Seventh Seal (1957) by Ingmar Bergman, in which the medieval knight postpones his last instant of life inviting Death, who is coming to take him, to a game of chess. This is, distracting Death only for one more moment because the game is lost from the begining. This is what is perceived in many of Viola’s slow-motion movies, slowing down the last moment in order to have a little more time and thus pay better attention to the scene of the world. If we are beings of death, paraphrasing Heidegger, let us slow down time before the film credits roll in, which is what Viola is telling us. In a certain way it is a trap. The knight cheats Death. Viola cheats time so no detail of the last glance at the world escapes us. Mahaluf cheats the inevitably imminent collapse, decelerating brevity into an uncertain albeit long period of time.


An interesting position we can contrast with the vertiginous speed of Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg, a film based on the book of the same name by British writer J.G. Ballard, published in 1973. What we see in the movie -and the book- is a post futuristic ode to velocity. The characters get in their cars to fully accelerate and find a swift death by crashing their mortuary race cars. They even turn acceleration and eventual death into a spectacle, recreating famous and fatal car crashes, such as the one by James Dean in his Porsche Spyder in 1955. As one can see, we have the two extremes of the same -elastic- cord: a slowness that sems immobility and vertiginous velocity; in the middle of the cord, only real time moves.


Let us return to Desplome. With said work we know, now, of the collapse of the bodies, grease recipients or Chinese vases as possible metaphors, later collecting the fragments of the impact in order to reintegrate its parts. The work of historians or archeologists. But before all that, Mahaluf showed us the brief moment before impact. This is, he showed us the stretched-out time, the relative or quantic time for reflection before disintegration. In a way, the same happens with Lentificar. In this performative installation we find overworked elastic bands by the cord sustaining them. The material or support fatigue, as a weakened art, in this case, has an unsettling conceptual relation with the work of Matthew Barney. I refer to his already classic Cremaster cycle of video performances (1994-2002). What Barney puts into play is maintaining tension, more specifically in the case of Cremaster, maintaining the seminal fluid. As we all know, cremaster is the name of the muscle with the physiological function of maintaining the testicles tensed for spermatogenesis. This is, it is the biological device to slow down the moment prior to death. Or, are the heavy beams hanging from elastic cords, going up and down due to the performance action, something like a genital metaphor? Of course. But there is a difference. Lentificar does not have a heroic epic pretending to maintain the tension beyond its own strength. Eventually, what follows is the collapse of extinction, if a reunion of its pieces is possible later. That is why Mahaluf proposes us, before it happens, a decelerated moment. Apparently, we need to stretch time before meeting at the right moment -political, philosophical, existential- of avoiding collapse or contemplating destruction. 

*Extract from the text "Chinese Porcelain in a Thousand Pieces", by Juan Francisco Gárate.

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