In 1995 José Saramago wrote “Blindness”, which describes what happened to a world where everybody became blind. But contrary to our idea of blindness, to be in the dark, those people could only see white. If we bear physics in mind, white as the sum of all light-colour long-waves, then in Saramago’s book people were blinded by light, or light didn’t allow them to perceive anything else.
This book allowed me to start developing my interest in vision. In the gallery space you will see a series of white panels, paper sheets that, if it was not because of the back light, you wouldn’t see anything else than plain white paper. These drawings are taken from the Archives of the Museum of Rijeka which retrace the history of the invention and development of the torpedo.
Light, vision and language reveal themselves as representations of power, concepts that became strategies used by modernity for domination and control: to see / to name is to seize, therefore, to normalize and possess. One of the most important elements used by Modernism was enlightenment –aufklarung-, a process through which to evolve, to progress, to build the new, to get away from the darkness of ignorance.
Enlightenment was the route to reason. Although, it became faster into a totalitarianism (even in Arts with the Whole Art-work or Gesamtkunstwerk), an annihilating process, that interrupted and faded any coexisting systems. Light, in this case, reveals a blurred history that mixes will, ambition and destruction, about how faith in politics, science and technology developed destructive devices and how the flourish of economy made a business from war.
Before the World Wars, Mr Robert Whitehead moved to Trieste, then to Rijeka, looking for a partner to materialize a machine to send an explosive charge underwater. This device needed a special design in order not to explode when the missile felt the resistance of water, also a detonation system, and a way to control its trajectory. The technology for this was in Rijeka and was what built the future of the city.
Rijeka sat in an interesting place and time, considering the strategic geographical and economic position it held in contrast to the delicate political one at that time in neighbouring states: desired by Italy and other neighbour nations because of its convenient location for business with a port at the entrance to the Adriatic market, it was also the road from the sea to the heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire. This position therefore required the protection against threatening or possible violent situations, and provided an opportunity to create what became a major war industry in Europe.
For almost a century, Rijeka became the scientific place for invention in tele-directed war technologies. The success relied on the development of blind-vision and speed. Machines like gyroscopes and accelerometers, propulsion machines and aerodynamic shapes were created there at that time. Then sound as a tool (sonar) or as a limit (sound barrier) enriched the possibilities of the research. The un-seen was the motivation to create, a way to represent what the eye can’t perceive (the invisible).
This became a double-sided story: all that was good became harmful, deficiencies became strong suits, absences became opportunities, and so on. This yin-and yang shows whiteness is never neutral or objective. History is always written from one side, the most powerful one. This series of drawings point that out. Taking out the paper, revealing the image with light also leaves in the mind the question of whether it is the positive or the negative version, like when working with film silver-based photography.
After a century of continuous work the torpedo factory and the launching platform were closed. Times of peace never accepted more sites focusing on war or control (e.g. soviet regime buildings). The site was condemned and became a ruin, and as “modern ruin” it is one more scar witnessing the failures of Modernity, places that write the history of decay and, as Marshall Berman named his book, all that is solid melts in the air. It’s ironic to notice that this place, developing techniques to the un-seen turned with time into invisible, this time meaning obsolesce, inhabitability, indiscernibility, in other words, oblivion.
This exhibition, combining architecture and archives is one of my questions around our lack of power against time, the place where we write history and our lack of memory, inspired by the pillars of shape, function and purpose that where the standards of (visual) design in Modernity, especially coming from a country that is one of those that never completed modernisation.
City Museum of Rijeka, Jelena Dunato, Juliana Santacruz, Andrew Nicolls & John Angel Rodriguez.