At the height of the Spanish economic crisis in 2010 I visited a company in Madrid producing three dimensional replicas that in five years went from appearing in Science magazine to making porexpan hearts for fake wedding cakes.
They had taken part in the fabrication of replicas of several caves from the Cantabrian coast in the late 1990’s. During the spanish economic bubble, the company was in charge of scanning, to the highest quality at that time, several cave paintings that were soon to be closed to the public.
The cave walls sheltered humans from the extreme meteorological conditions of the Upper Paleolithic. Now, 13.000 years after the caves were occupied, conditions have changed. Rising temperatures and mild climatic conditions allowed 7,000 millions humans beings to inhabit every remote corner of the planet.
Nomads turned sedentary, hunting turned into leisure, and magic into spectacle. Humans switched from active to pasive and masses were driven from one place to another. Visitors come in thousands as well to every place that’s now a site, and their breath carries biological potentials longing for existence as well.
The cave wall was always there, unaware of other temporalities.
Then scans were made to reproduce the cave surfaces and prevent them from being damaged, as they had become allergic to humans. The replicas of some of them became museums, places where visitors could exhale on some other real, and spread out in gift shops and restaurants.
Other scanned cave surfaces were not so crucial for the Eurocentric narrative construction and were therefore not reproduced. When the company went bankrupt along with the whole Spanish economy, the scans entered a standby period, saved as digital data. The scanned 3D files were saved on Zip drives, a floppy disc which seemed to be the ultimate storage format in the 90’s but became outdated in the 00’s; by the 10’s we could hardly find any readers for them.
So here we are in front of a scan from an inaccessible wall, recorded in an unreadable format as some kind of digital archeology. Every translation involves a loss. When our only reference is a low-fi digital interpretation, it seems like we attend to an industrial metabolism of magnifying losses.
Politics of the replica.
The notion of replica is crucial for the western fictional construction of space and time. As with amusement parks or World Expos, in cave replicas distances and waiting times are hightened and fragmented in order to fit a comprehensible experience and keep up attention and excitement. Reality is too vast for our participatory rythms, shapened by the culture of music singles or video compilations.
As Bataille noted, the Lascaux cave “participate[s] in the spirit of the festival overflowing the world of work, necesary for the protection of this world”. The excuse of protection led to the closure of the real cave and the production of the replica. In every translation there is always an interpretation.
The politics that permit a reduction of life cycles into artificial rythms have powerful implications. Opposite to natural cycles like the seasons or natural light times, the fictionalization of people’s experience and the use of confected temporalities to have established productive fictions like electoral cycles or working days and weekends. The politics of the replica, as we will call it, help to reduce history into comprehensible terms and interpretations. The visitor wants to belive, so the visit to the replica legitimizes other fictions and multiples.
Economic development implies overproduction and superfluity. The time reserved for leisure is a crucial ingredient of consumer society as leisure itself becomes a major source of business. Crisis demands editing and measuring the object’s relevance. The positive aspect of systemic crisies provokes drastic editing.
History is written by those in possession of language and the tools of expression. Taking this one step further, after Walter Benjamin, the next logical step in a validated history, depends on the ability to reproduce and spread narration.
The Eurocentric construction of reality and its ability to authenticate and overwhelm the world with its version of history is provoked by the capacity to overwrite others—that is, by symbolic overload.
A clear example is furnished by recent cave discoveries in Indonesia. Found in the 1980’s there was no rush to date them, and once they where dated were proven to be 40.000 years old. There was no rush make this public, especially when the new replica of Chauvet in France is about to be inaugurated in 2016 with an investment of 60 million euros.
This leads us again to the Eurocentric or Franco-Hispanocentric perspective, revealing how history also erases history using capacites to set up a standard or to dictate what is pre- or post- in relation to sanctioned measurement.
Exercise of the unnecessary.
The works in Skins address notions of surface, the superficiality of time and constructs of relevance and necessity. They lean physically on the phenomena and technology involved in the replica.
The scanning technology used in the ‘90s reproduce the cave in a manner redolent of the technological horizon of that time. Is through technology that the visual is engineered, and we only know the visible contingencies of the past through the defined interventions of particular technologies of the present.
In the beginning we mentioned an “industrial metabolism of magnifying losses”. Here we suggest a constructive use of that loss. We aknowledge that the 3D scanner (unlike human visión) sees no image. It’s a selective eye, that touches with ultrasound waves, not with light. It just reads form and volume. X-Y-Z. The scanner used in those caves read the same naked volume that these prehumans confronted. No color, no representation, no magic symbolism. Just raw, connotation-free-cave-skin; but yes, with a delay. The delay of techne, the same one that borught them to foreground.
The result is a file that has no depth, and no cultural information. An interpretation enslaved by its time, a time of exponential mutations.
After that file what has happened is a production of the cave surfaces by the same procedure, companies and workers that took part in the production of Altamira cave and others. Skins uses the language and imperfections of the replica not to hide its structure, but to make it transparent and bring the walls to a stage prior to human intervention. They refuse to represent anything but themselves.
They are just fragments of a larger totality, edited by historcal chance. It’s not a rewind or a fast forward, its more reformatting that wall information into a real previous to representation, liberating them from the historical, political and cultural weight acquired through time.
There is no restoration posible, for any restoration is a new object. These pieces deal with that finiteness of the replica by reformatting the wall skins on an exercise of the unnecessary.
They constitute the timeline of a surface in relation to self-reflective anthropocentrism. The contemporary time-cut of the replica, especially its simulated resolution, represents a technological temporality. Entropy and acceleration merge with quantity and overload. We bear witness to a viral dimension of the ontological exercise through which our place in the universe is decentered.
Carlos Irijalba. Amsterdam 2014
This exhibition takes part in the Off Section of:
AND THE WALLS BECAME ALLERGIC TO HUMANS: METABOLIC REPLICA
7 October– 11 December, 2021
Galería Juan Silió
C/ Sol 45, bajo. 39003 Santander.
Thuesday – Friday 17:00 – 21:00 h.
Saturday 10:30 – 13:00h. / 18:00 – 21:00h.