"Dancer, Anchor, Stage" by Mira Dayal

Added on by Lilly Hern-Fondation.

This essay was produced in conjunction with the exhibition Camilo Godoy: En Vivo y En Directo, curated by Tania Bruguera, on view at CUE Art Foundation from February 28 - March 27, 2019. This text is included in the free exhibition catalogue available at CUE.

Camilo Godoy,  Noticiero  (installation view), 2002/2017. Video, sound, television set, wall mount, green screen wall, 10-minute loop.

Camilo Godoy, Noticiero (installation view), 2002/2017. Video, sound, television set, wall mount, green screen wall, 10-minute loop.

While sifting through my archive of journals recently, I came across a postcard-size work that Camilo Godoy had given me on my first studio visit with him in 2015. It’s a lenticular card that shifts between two images of two identities: Godoy as a United States citizen and Godoy as Colombian citizen. The depicted passports include near-identical pictures of and information about the artist, but, as the artist indicates with the piece’s title, Global Ranking (2012): 74 and 4, the access provided by each document differs significantly. While rankings have changed since Godoy made this work in 2012, their divergence is still notable; according to the 2018 Henley Passport Index—which assigns scores primarily based on data collected from a global airline trade association, in addition to information on the breadth of access to other countries without a visa—United States citizenship is in the fourth tier, while Colombian citizenship is in the thirty-ninth. [1] The 2018 Arton Passport Index—which similarly factors in visa requirements but additionally considers the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index ranking of the country as “a significant measure on the country’s perception abroad”—shows a comparable ranking, with the US in the third tier and Colombia in the thirty-fifth. [2]

The lenticular card is a simple device—it hardly seems to be a technology. It provides a visual slippage between images while simulating depth and movement. When employed for the purpose of comparing ease of travel, or movement across borders, it becomes a poetic metaphor for something that is possible only conceptually, not in practice. Becoming a citizen—or obtaining access to spaces that have not pre-approved you or your origins—is never simple.

Long before Godoy had a studio practice, he was transfixed by the news, with its representations of the spectacle and violence of nationalisms. The earliest work in this exhibition at CUE Art Foundation is Noticiero, 2002, a video Godoy made while still in grade school in which he records and recites the evening news in Colombia on July 6, 2002, wearing a child’s suit. At the time, the Colombian president, Andrés Pastrana Arango—who had himself worked as a news anchor and would later become the country’s ambassador to the United States—was nearing the end of his term. George W. Bush was just beginning his first term as President of the United States; his State of the Union Address that year began, “As we gather tonight, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers.” Watching the news that evening, Godoy saw the War on Terror unfolding, nightscapes illuminated by blips of light whose damage could not yet be seen. His relationship to those events was not only as secondhand witness but also as narrator, one who processes, interprets, and relays information. Godoy’s voice captures the intonations of newscasters, their precise diction and grave emotional registers, even for a viewer who does not understand the spoken language of the broadcast.

A companion video from the following year plays nearby on the original camcorder on which it was recorded. Shock and Awe, 2003/2018, would seem to be a simple abstraction of green and white hues if not for the voiceover, this time only the original newscaster’s voice, in English: “So there you see it… approximately five to eight minutes of an intense airstrike against targets in Baghdad. Remember, this is a city of five million people. I can only imagine what terrifying state most of those people are in.” Again focusing on the screen of the television, this moving image became fixed in Godoy’s memory and a record of the formal onset of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A report from CBS News around the same time cites then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s position on the strategy of visual and military bombardment: "The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield... and the control of their country is slipping away." [3]

Camilo Godoy,  Shock and Awe , 2003/2018. Video, sound, Digital8 8mm Handycam Video Camcorder, tripod, 60 minutes.

Camilo Godoy, Shock and Awe, 2003/2018. Video, sound, Digital8 8mm Handycam Video Camcorder, tripod, 60 minutes.

Watching these pieces, one thinks of the very definitions of record: as a verb, “to register permanently by mechanical means,” “to give evidence of,” or “to cause… to be registered on something… in reproducible form”; as a noun, “something that recalls or relates past events,” “a collection of related items of information,” or “for public knowledge.” [4] (The term is also frequently used in the titles of newspapers, an older form of broadcast news.) Godoy emphasizes reproduction in displaying Shock and Awe on a device that has the potential to record, play back, and overwrite. The word registration brings associations with paperwork, citizenship, and law, while evidence brings to mind crime, violence, and civil court. Mechanical provides another harsh contrast to the more subjective recall—a contrast evident in the juxtaposition of the young artist’s face and the disastrous war tactics unfolding onscreen.

But where is the public in these works? Whose country is whose? The implied audience, the recipients of this record, consists of those watching the screen: a 2002 Colombian television public turned 2019 New York gallery public. In this gap of time, space, and geography, memories of these events have faded. A sense of urgency has been lost. The tug of responsibility has weakened. Yet, from a distance, this new public might realize the impact of those once-urgent events, might feel how it was to be a thirteen-year-old boy watching a war begin from a distance. To re-cord (stemming from the Latin word for heart) is to re-tell, re-hearse, re-play, re-experience.

***

With both of these videos, Godoy also grapples with the enunciation of language, the [in]visibility of power, the clarity of representation, and the [il]legibility of information. These themes are enriched and extended in the newer body of work on view. In Everybody knows that they are guilty, 2013–, six sheets of paper are marked by forgeries of the signatures of every president who has been in power during Godoy’s lifetime, written in human blood. What kinds of damage can be inflicted by this single gesture of authority? Whose blood is on whose hands? Seeing Ronald Reagan’s name written in blood immediately brings to mind the aids crisis, its prolonged invisibility to some and its devastating effects on others—an issue of illegibility and neglect by misinformation. Though there is only one name written on that page—the movie star signature of the highest public figure—the thin lines of blood seem to thicken as one reads. Each drawing is titled to explicitly forge such connections between the president whose signature is isolated on the page and his role in significant acts of violence (ie, Ronald Reagan [1981-1989: AIDS, Culture Wars, Central America, etc.], 2013).

Nearby, WHO STOLE SAN JUAN? WHO DESTROYED NAGASAKI? WHO CRUSHED MANAGUA? WHO BOMBARDED BAGHDAD? WHO DRONED SANA’A?, 2018, provides a durational reflection on a similar set of concerns; the series of clocks are hung as if to display the time zones of each of the five titular cities. While the second hand smoothly progresses around each face as expected, the hour and minute hands are stuck in different positions on each clock, indicating the moment of a historic intervention by the United States in that city. The effect is both allegorical and literal—violence affects time and space unevenly, and in some cities, time still does not (and may never) flow as it used to. The machines are out of order, frozen, signaling cities in shock. What does it mean to bear witness to destruction, and to continue to bear witness? Elsewhere, dawn turns to dusk. While we now live in a time of near-instant communication, access to power—electric or political—remains unequal and fragile.

Though WHO STOLE SAN JUAN? WHO DESTROYED NAGASAKI? WHO CRUSHED MANAGUA? WHO BOMBARDED BAGHDAD? WHO DRONED SANA’A? may appear to be a sculpture, it also gestures toward performance, albeit a violently imposed choreography of arms and bodies across time and space. The title of the piece was inspired by a line from Simone Forti’s News Animations, which she developed in the mid-eighties and which Godoy saw in 2016, in which she notes, “In the U.S., we don't know the histories of the people we impact." Thinking of this inability to understand a supposed enemy—perhaps someone across an arbitrary border, a citizen of a distinct country, separated again by time and space—Godoy was reminded of the World War I protest banners that Howard Zinn described in A People’s History of the United States, which read, “WHO STOLE PANAMA? WHO CRUSHED HAITI? WE DEMAND PEACE.” The headline style of this work’s title is modeled on those banners but reads as a protest chant even without the direct reference. Through these links, one glimpses Godoy’s relationships to dance and protest, dance as protest, dance as both origin point and ongoing backdrop to the other works in this exhibition. Dance may be seen as a mode of connection, an embodiment of information. And while dance is associated with movement, it has also retained a complicated relationship to both notation and documentation; in this light, one might consider Godoy’s video pieces to be rehearsals or re-stagings.

***

A more formal thread through these works is the color green—the dominant hue in Shock and Awe, the color often used in chroma key techniques for newscasting, a color associated with peace and money, nature and rot. Part of the gallery is enrobed in green, designating a spatial zone for both production and transparency. During two performances over the course of the exhibition, Godoy will stream broadcasts from the green room of the exhibition space, following a teleprompter and riffing on the subjects of the works in the exhibition, centering on the politics of each president whose signature is framed in Everybody knows that they are guilty. Once again, the artist becomes narrator, his role being to embody, absorb, synthesize, and educate; the presence of the teleprompter in particular gestures again toward rehearsal and recall. In this role, Godoy is meant to be a messenger, delivering the truth from the frontlines to the screen in dramatic overtures.

Writings about the relationships between the news, politics, and art often repeat that art cannot possibly react to the news as quickly as the morning Times; that art cannot affect change or influence current events with the same efficacy as, say, street protests, elections, or nationally televised speeches. Godoy’s embodiment of the figure of the newscaster is not an attempt to make art as effective or responsive as the news per se. Rather, it is a method of slowing down the news, allowing it to tickle the spine, to disturb the mind, to be repeated, to be fragmented and reconstructed. Alternate stories emerge. Parallel lines are uncovered.

It is with this approach that one might think through the most disparate work in the show, Diplomacy, 2018, the culmination of Godoy’s research into an alternate history of modern dance, which began when he encountered the exhibition “Politics and the Dancing Body” at the Library of Congress. [5] In reading about the dancer and choreographer José Limón, one of the few seminal modern dancers born in South America, Godoy became interested in the Limón Company’s sponsorship by the United States’ Performing Arts International Exchange Program, an endeavor of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s State Department intended to impress upon other countries the import and strength of the United States’ cultural capital, or more explicitly “the benefits of life and art under capitalism.” [6] Their sponsorship provided funds for a tour through South America in 1954 that coincided with a major UNESCO meeting in Montevideo; as scholar Victoria Phillips has noted in her research and in correspondence with Godoy, the tour was also scheduled in tandem with C.I.A. operations centered on Cold War diplomacy. [7] While the degree of Limón’s knowledge of his entanglement is difficult to parse, the paucity of research on the connection suggests that the explicit ties to American economic and political interests (most notably a desire to prevent the spread of communism) were not advertised. [8] Godoy’s work with the documents and photographs of the company and its travels is speculative, collaging links between people, places, and events to forge a new story about dance and diplomacy.

 

[1] “Passport Index.” Henley Passport Index, Henley & Partners, 10 July 2018, www.henleypassportindex.com/assets/PI_2018_INFOGRAPHS_GLOBAL_180709.pdf.

[2] “Global Passport Power Rank.” The Passport Index 2018, Arton Capital, 2018, www.passportindex.org/byRank.php.

[3] Holguin, Jaime. “‘Shock And Awe’ Throttles Iraq.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 22 Mar. 2003, www.cbsnews.com/news/shock-and-awe-throttles-iraq/.

[4] “Record.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/record.

[5] “Politics and the Dancing Body.” Library of Congress Exhibitions, Library of Congress, 16 Feb. 2012, www.loc.gov/exhibits/politics-and-dance/index.html.2012, www.loc.gov/exhibits/politics-and-dance/index.html.

[6] Dunbar, June. “Jose Limon: An Artist Re-Viewed.” Jose Limon: An Artist Re-Viewed, Routledge, 2002, pp. 97–102.

[7] Ibid, 97.

[8] Ibid, 101.


This essay was written as part of the Art Critic Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA-USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE, which pairs emerging writers with AICA-USA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for more information on AICA-USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season. 

Mira Dayal is an artist, critic, and curator based in New York. She is the founding editor of the Journal of Art Criticism, co-curator of the collaborative artist publication prompt:, co-organizer of the email project of missing out, and an assistant editor at Artforum, where she is also a regular contributor. An exhibition of her work, "Anagen," is currently on view at Lubov in New York. In April 2019 she will present a co-curated group exhibition at CUE Art Foundation

Mentor Sara Reisman is the Artistic Director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, whose mission is focused on art and social justice in New York City. Recently curated exhibitions for the foundation include Mobility and Its Discontents, Between History and the Body, and When Artists Speak Truth, all three presented on The 8th Floor. From 2008 until 2014, Reisman was the director of New York City’s Percent for Art program where she managed more than 100 permanent public art commissions for city funded architectural projects, including artworks by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Mary Mattingly, Tattfoo Tan, and Ohad Meromi, among others for civic sites like libraries, public schools, correctional facilities, streetscapes and parks. She was the 2011 critic-in-residence at Art Omi, and a 2013 Marica Vilcek Curatorial Fellow, awarded by the Foundation for a Civil Society.