CORPUS SEPARATUM (2019)
– prokaryote precariat –
styrofoam, resin, wall painting (in cooperation with Brain Fatigue), metal bucket, water, sea sponge, publication A3, video (3 min, 15 sec)
In the battle for the seas, the last undivided realm of the Earth, grids were spread over the waves. The grids slid over each other. “THE BINDING RESOLUTIONS OF THE INTERNATIONAL ADRIATIC RESEARCH COMMITTEE INSTRUCT THE NATIONAL COMMITTEES TO JOINTLY MAINTAIN PRIMARY STATIONS AT THE INTERSECTIONS OF THEIR PROFILE LINES, SOMETHING WE HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO CARRY OUT DUE TO THE SECRECY OF THE CROATIANS. WE CANNOT APPROVE OF THEM HAVING REGISTERED LONGITUDINAL PROFILES INSTEAD OF THE LATERAL ONES REQUESTED IN THE INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT”, Hungarian sea researchers complained, losing pace in the race for disenchanting the seas and replenishing them with national myths.
Marine research stations are the intersections of these vying grids, of scientific language and fantasy, producing metaphors which connect the faunal with the human and the unicellular with the galactic.
Musing about their progenitress, the Naples Stazione Zoologica, István Apáthy writes in 1890: “SUCH IS THE FATE OF PELAGIC ANIMALS. THEIR BODIES ARE AS TRANSPARENT … AS A SOAP BUBBLE, ONE TOUCH AND GONE … SURE ENOUGH, THEY CAN TAKE AS MUCH PRIDE IN THEIR FREE WILL AS HUMANS DO. FOR WE ARE BUT PELAGIC CREATURES, TOO, IN THE GREAT OCEAN OF THE UNIVERSE, WITH ITS TIDE BEING DESTINY AND ITS SHORES – WHO KNOWS? – PERHAPS AN OTHER PLANET.”
Naples in the 1960s. With one eye on the microscope, Ilona Richter from Hungary, is making scientific paintings of these soap bubble bodies, recordable only through artistic mediation. She becomes friends with co-worker Jerry Lettvin, the American AI- and neuroscientist, who loves to think about the translatability of Morgenstern’s linguistic creatures and who is left convinced by his Naples research into octopus vision that much of Greek mythology was inspired by cephalopods. But the artistic and the scientific approach can wipe each other out as well.
Back in the 1920s, having lost Fiume/Rijeka, the exclave port town – “corpus separatum” –, its marine biological station and sea access in general, Hungarian sea research is kept alive at the Institute of Limnology at lake Balaton. János Vaszary is commissioned with an enormous painting for the research room. Finding no inspiration in the lake’s fauna, he ends up with an impressionistic underwater seascape of the Adriatic. The scientists hate, hide and eventually lose the painting. Meanwhile, in Fiume/Rijeka, now part of fascist Italy, with Croatian artists excluded, Vaszary earns a grand prize for a Balaton vista, the medal is cast from the shells D’Annunzio had used to occupy the city…
In the great circulation of the Web of Wet, the cultural, political history and memory of the Hungarian sea melts into the ungraspable world ocean of human and nonhuman networks. “THE BRAIN—IS WIDER THAN THE SKY — / FOR—PUT THEM SIDE BY SIDE— / THE ONE THE OTHER WILL CONTAIN / WITH EASE—AND YOU—BESIDE”, Emily Dickinson writes with mystique materiality about a consciousness grasping the immensurable. But what good is a head without a brain? The bony shells are kept in reliquaries, the parts of the kings are scattered in the South. Maybe “IT IS BETTER TO PRESERVE RELICS IN THE SALTY AIR/ THAN UP IN THE DANK NORTH”, as Ottó Tolnai concludes. Seen from the erstwhile corpus separatum, Fiume, the dank North is the body of Hungária. In the Budapest Irredentist Monument, the crucified figure of Hungária stood for North. The plinth of South had a Banat Swabian girl seeking protection at a Hungaran peasant. The sea was forgotten. Only the circle of The Sea – a journal published unwaveringly until 1944 – demanded a fifth plinth with an anchor. But where is the fifth direction to be found?
Two years ago, in prokaryote precariat’s Rijeka exhibition, there was a giant starfish feeling for the imaginary fifth plinth, regenerating its mutated fifth arm. But – as it turned out – memory, sank subconscious, had already created its own unheimlich memorial there with the emblem of the new catholic school housed in the former Royal Hungarian Marine Academy: the paleochristian anchored cross strikes as a schizophrenic reminder of the building’s denied past.
From the inexhaustible amphora of the Fiume coat of arms, the notion of the sea is gushing into Hungária’s brainless head. But the body does not register the sea anymore. One of Jerry Lettvin’s research fields was the apparent paradox that a complex memory may be activated by a single neuron cell. Prokaryote precariat stimulates the sea cell off the Hungarian brain with the questions of Corpus separatum, alluding to the theories of the state, the politics of the memory, the sacred and the profane and the body and the mind.
“DESPITE ALL APPEARANCES, WE ARE MARINE CREATURES WITH OUR CELLS LIVING IN AN AQUARIUM OF DILUTED BUT BARELY ALTERED SEAWATER”, A Tenger journal once quoted René Quinton. The press review in Tengernélküliség (“Sealessness”) spans from the fin de siècle to the Second World War, from Quintonian universalism to Gábor Kolosváry’s 1943 plan of anchoring the Hungarian taxonomy of the long lost Adriatic animals in Hungarian minds. The video, Naming You, uses this linguistic Reconquista in morphing these unseen creatures into one another; trying to reconstruct them solely based on the names, translated back and forth in our sealessness.