Le Due Gemelle
From S E B A S T I E N G O Y
"Le Due Gemelle" is a text in short story attire. The following is the first part of this text.
It is not the first time that our narrator visits the botanic garden of Rio de Janeiro. This time he has to sneak in, a ridiculous action, a posture, given the price of the entry ticket and his westerner wealth, but the taxi left him without money. So he waits for the guard to turn away and moves swiftly out of sight, between the palm trees of Aléia Barbosa Rodrigues. The regular layout of the trunks on both sides zebras the alley in oblique cells. What is he doing here? What was mere touristic interest turned into something else, an investigation, the possibility of a work. Yet the investigation is intellectual, there isn't much he could find physically there. A group noisily crossing the shadow wall of his cell prompts him to turn sideway.
He remembered with the distance of appropriation the metaphor offered in a documentary about conceptual art: the white cube of the gallery acts like a greenhouse, a colonizing construction from and for the Western World aiming at showing the exotic, the tropical. The metaphor might have been meant for the documentary itself, he was not sure anymore, as proof that its maker was conscious of the format's own limitations, as it implied that any representation of a continuum based on a selection of its elements can hardly claim faithfulness. His pity wondered how the documentary maker found a reason to make the documentary once he realized the artificiality of the task. The idea that such a representation would reveal more about the maker than about the subject-matter itself came to his mind. He also thought that any ordering of these elements induces a narrative. Even if he knew very little about historiography, he was certain these questions had been repetitively addressed.A butterfly, electric blue, the size of his hand, was drawing a lazy lightning to strike a flower and disappeared in the folding of its wings. He could make an anti-documentary, whatever this meant.
He read before that the Jardim Botânico had been founded in 1808, by João Maria José Francisco Xavier de Paula Luís António Domingos Rafael de Bragança then known as Don João de Bragança, prince regent of Portugal, who grew away from any perspective of power, in the shadow of his older brother, the crown prince José, whose unexpected death tore at his mother's heart, the Queen regnant of Portugal, and precipitated her madness, a series of nightmarish circumstances that propelled Don João, a feeble character if one, to a role he was not meant for, having suddenly to face History and the napoleonian troops, only to turn his back, as suggested by his british ally, and flee with his court of fifteen thousand persons and the entire Royal Library to the crown jewel of the ultramarine Portuguese Empire, Brazil, a colony which welcomed the transfer of the royal court in a triumph, a colony which was a blank canvas for the aspirations of the non-king, pushed, unconsciously or not, to re-assert his power, to embody his sovereignty in an ambitious program of reforms and constructions, creating medical schools, military academies, an opera house, the Bank of Brazil, an Art Academy and of course the Jardim Botânico, stunned as he was by the luxuriant nature, this blatant promise of a renewal, leaving room for human affairs and for the new reign only in magnanimous gestures.The garden's map shows the compromising architecture his exploration did not suggest: a grid of perpendicular alleys structures its extension but all of them would ultimately be bent, melted or stopped by the imperatives of the landscape before crossing the garden in full. He remarks however that the Aléia Barbosa Rodrigues stands out, as the vertical axis of the map and as an exception to the pragmatic ending of the roads. The Aléia is interrupted once, in the center of gravity of the Jardim, by the Fountain of the Muses, and then pursues its course only to be cut a few meters away from the opposite border, by the Portal of the old Academy of Fine Art. Retrospectively, the uncanny presence of an art academy in this place probably whispered the tropical didactical idea of the botanic garden as a metaphor for Art History. The plants collected in space, as so many art works collected in time, regrouped to provide a cognitive representation of the whole in its extension. Or maybe the idea came earlier, when he was walking on the white stones of the Japanese Garden. Or maybe not.
He takes a picture of a woman and her daughter on their request, posing in front a panel detailing the current effort of the in-house research institute and their sponsors: the identification and labeling of the specimens in the garden. Despite all appearances, a botanical garden is meant in its inception for scientific purposes - being essentially a laboratory and an archive of plant species for researchers, educative and leisurely motives being grafted later. The art history metaphor was following him, rather than the opposite, but stumbled upon one salient difference: the inclusion of a plant in the collection was, he was almost certain, directed by scientific valuation whereas the adoption of a work in the canon of Art History remains tighten to aesthetic judgement - a wedge of subjectivity between art historiography and science.
This time, or the one after, a couple gets in the vicinity of the camera and crosses its field in a pudic dance. He was expecting them, but not their request for permission to cross, when they were already in the picture. "The animals of this garden have to be tamed", he thought, "and taught to give their spontaneity back". And also: "the unforgiving sun of midday is turning me into a sticky shirt shamble." He ponders genuinely whether the future Don João VI would have granted autonomy to Art History or even if the field existed by then.He felt lucky to find in a bookshop a small opus in his mother-tongue, simply entitled "L'esthétique", and adopting the chronological order. The latest developments at the beginning of the nineteenth century were to be found in the "Critique of the power of Judgement" of Kant, Immanuel, published in 1790. He read: "aesthetic is what concerns the relation of representation not with the object but with the subject. The adjective thus qualifies a type of judgement, not a field of objects." And: "The first part of the Critique of Judgement examines the question of how the aesthetic judgement which is subjective, can nevertheless have a universal validity" And also: "To establish the existence of a disinterested pleasure amounts indeed to establishing the autonomy of the aesthetic value". And finally: "contrarily to the thesis of Baumgarten, the aesthetic judgement does not provide knowledge of the object." He was thrilled by the enlightening moment he just had until the anxious image of him explaining the kantian system, out of his recollection of these four pages, to an undercover kantian expert from Berlin came to his mind.
He will learn later that the Royal Library contained a book explaining the kantian system. That his ideas were known to the court of Don João, thanks to Francisco Bento Targini, Viscount of São Lourenço. That Martim Francisco, another of the court’s intellectuals, wrote a book entitled A filosofia transcendental de Kant, that silently vanished in the nineteenth century. That the philosophical school of São Paolo was so strongly kantian then that it defined a kantianism. That the Viscount of São Lourenço was also known as Francisco Vilela Barbosa Targini, Marquis of Paranaguá.And he's again in the Jardim Botânico, armed with all this knowledge, without a clue of what to register, what the work could be, if there was any. A pointless work. A purposive work, but without a purpose. He is surrounded by references but feels very lonely. He simply likes that the Jardim Botânico, being the tropical in the tropical, exhibits a form of reversed exoticism, in the reversed metropole of Don João. Like a topo-logical folding. "The periphery becoming the center" would murmur the incumbents of post-colonial studies. The analogy between the botanic garden and art history still attracts him, or maybe the analogy between the garden and a museum is already more interesting. Which is OK, except that it's not particularly enlightening: plant equals artwork, guided tour equals guide tour, tourist equals tourist. The only fruit of this analogy is bittersweet: a careful control is exercised by an army of underpaid workers on the plants, for the garden not to look too orderly, but any branch, leave, root, stem, shoot, any outgrow that would interfere with the structure of the garden will be cut. Similarly, the institutional frame of the museum, in a complacent irony, allows artworks to gently break its rules, but not too much. He also thought of all the palm trees he saw decorating the hotels.
A man gets closer to his camera, left recording the Jardim dos Beija-Flores, on its tripod. It's the middle-aged mulatto he saw before on a bench sleeping under the blazing sun. He remembers thinking: "This hobo sleeps seated, out of dignity". Now he doesn't know if he should move away to avoid any contact with the hobo, any voice that could be heard on his recording, or move closer to his camera to discourage the stealing. He counts on his capacity to play the ignorant tourist, unable to speak portuguese, to shorten his anxiety, but he is addressed in english. He eludes answering the first question, why he is filming, by mentioning that he is a visual artist, working on a project. No better invitation to the tramps' self-narrative could have been given: "I used to be an artist, too, not so long ago. I was famous here, my thing was to scratch cars, yes. I started doing it at night in parking lots, I was annoyed by all these black SUVs in Leblon and Barra de Tijuca. I'm really good at drawing so I would draw botanical or zoological illustrations, I like those. It would take me a whole night, to cover the side of a car - there's no better place to hide. There's this funny time, when I escaped the guards after triggering the car alarm of a Hummer, I just laid under the screaming car! A gallery owner tracked me down, after a couple of his clients kept the scratches on their car. I made good money, I would use Cadillac, Mercedes of any class, H2, H3 but not the Fords. The gallery would sell the whole car. But I lost it the day I was asked to engrave "a rose in the dark": I couldn't decide whether to leave the black SUV untouched or not. I mean, we can talk about a white rose in the dark and a red rose in the dark, no? But they can't be distinguished in the dark, either. I couldn't choose, I was paralyzed. " He asked the hobo: "what about making abstract drawings?" "Well, tell me what the object of drawing is: the picture of a man, or the man that the picture portrays?" This answer brought back the anxiety, but it was no longer physical, it was the fear of falling in a socratic trap, leaving him mute, undone, or worst, appearing slow and dumb. He cuts short: "What are you doing now?" "I live in the Jardim Botânico, the guards let me sleep here at night. During the day I beg the right tourists, like you, for coins and when I have enough to buy a new entry ticket, I go out." Pleased to be given this opportunity to end the conversation, he gives him 10 reals, enough to buy two entry tickets. The hobo, the note in hand, asks before disappearing in the orchids greenhouse: "Isn't it a remarkable fact, that pictures and fictitious narratives give us pleasure, occupy our minds? Muito ubrigado!"A toucan is intercepted by the next palm tree. To his surprise, the bird looked very small. He realizes it's the first time he sees a toucan in real. It might be that it was further away than what he thought in the first place. He also realizes that he hasn't spoken about Hélio Oiticica yet.