JENNIFER NELSON: “FROM ZERO TO GOLD”
Myths are the soul of our action and love.
We cannot act without moving toward a phantom.
We can only love what we create.
(Paul Valéry, A Fond Note on Myth, 1928)
JENNIFER NELSON at the National Bank in Athen (Greece)
THE LIVING CARYATID, by Rosanna Albertini
This is a story of time going in a circle and art losing the pace
of climbing eternity and rather emerging from human turmoil
like a white lily from the mud
for Jennifer Nelson is an adhesive substance attracting
as a magnet the needles that four years ago History scattered
in Greece giving the country entropy in a broken vase leaking
disorder and randomness feelings of pain and dreams of hope
that usually remain buried for us looking from afar
under the surface tension of the news
and sink and disappear in the ocean of human despair
which remains untold because life collectively doesn’t have commas or periods
those only belong to single humans not so clear about their meaning
her family life in Greece was blessed by motherhood a spring of joy
while austerity appeared like a collective disease invading the citizens’ soul
stifling them under neutral computation as if numbers had ingested
a secret justice held by the clock of the European Central Bank
International Monetary Fund European Stability Mechanism
July 3, 2015 Alexis Tsipras OXI Speech — NO to the EUROVULTURE
mythological politics where time present and time past are only one
“…it was from this very place that Zeus abducted Europa.
[and with her generated the Minotaur]
It is from this very place that austerity technocrats want to abduct Europe again
from its democratic traditions. NO. We tell them NO on Sunday.
[The referendum brought up 61% of NOs]
Our NO will make History. Whatever happens, we are the winners.
I urge you to ignore the sirens of terror. Greece is and will remain
the cradle of European civilization.”
From LINKS, International Journal of Socialist Renewal. July 31, 2016
had the prime minister mentioned the small man in the streets of Athen who
revealed some time ago in the past the beauty of human conversation
including lack of illusions and ended his own life Socrates drinking cicuta
to obey a power stronger than his philosophical approach to life
this contemporary prime minister would have known he was only
postponing his poisonous drink …. nine months after
“Europe offered Greece 86 billion euros of loan in exchange
for a tightly policed Greek government implementing a package of reforms:
pension cuts tax increases privatizations labor market deregulation”
and Tsipras said YES
We were at that speech in Syntagma Square. It was quite moving as we got off the train, we couldn’t get out of the station, there were so many people.
And everyone was amazed. We’d all thought we were alone in our thoughts and then suddenly it was clear that we were a massive democratic block standing against this insane policy.
As everyone looked around in surprise to find that people of all stripes and persuasions were agreeing with this resistance, a chant of “No” broke out in the metro.
The square was, in fact, a huge party that night…But democracy didn’t help us. The banks were more powerful. (Jennifer Nelson)
Nothing grandiose or expensive was possible for Jennifer Nelson
American artist who moved to Greece to discover she was married
to the place with “heavy commitment and light material”
“wind in and wind out breath and sound and voice held by the lungs
ingesting the seeds of grief from which one gets coughs and bronchitis”
Greece 2015 – Austerity time
Pointless to add that any country could fall into the same pit.
Debts: the way they become visible, is on paper. People read them as if they were a natural outcome of the banking machine, “instead they are constructed, games of power, art isn’t any different,” says the artist. One has only to decide what kind of game, who are the participants. Jennifer wanted to be fertile despite every challenge, to do something out of nothing.
An artist friend who had been close to Joseph Beuys, Soulis Moustakidis, showed her the way: ZERO CAN BE GOLD. Moustakidis made an underground press carving messages in potatoes and used potatoes to stamp on papers he stuck under unknown cars so when the cars moved all the papers flew around like leaves. This action took place under the Junta dictatorship.
Jennifer Nelson’s ART piece: UNTITLED ( MESOGHEIA) 2016
The Caryatids Porch of Erechteion, Athens, 421-407 BC (Wikipedia image)
Intricate hairstyle of a Caryatid, displayed at the Acropolis Museum in Athens (Wikipedia image)
Standing between two columns underneath the lintel of the Greek National Bank,
Nelson embraces the posture, silent exposure and stillness of the feminine statues
holding the ceiling of the porch that sticks out of the Erechteion, a temple placed on an Acropolis ledge facing an ocean of petrified waves. Poseidon’s rage after throwing his trident against this temple? This is the city of Athens. The six Caryatids, steady and quiet, lift a knee as if starting a step to fly out of their temple. If they go, the porch doesn’t have any more reason to be.
JENNIFER NELSON, Untitled (Mesagheia), 2016-present, Bills, Home made glue, Gold paint (from Germany) Work in Progress, Photo Panos Kokkinias
A PAPER WEDDING DRESS. Jennifer’s phantom is in her mind. The idea moved her knee towards an art piece born in Greece, wrapped by the stone walls of her husband’s family house. The PAPER DRESS was her reaction to the hours spent in long lines in front of the banks’ doors waiting for the weekly money, like everyone else, in a dignified solitude. Banks were shut down. It was like “being taken prisoner of the contingent numbers and times” Jennifer says, “you can loose house, electricity, commodities, but also something bigger. Dead end has been experienced individually, in secret and in shame, within each small family unit.”
Delving mind and hands into the bills’ paper our Jennifer artist captured the numbers negative energy, and touched the paper’s resilience, to readdress them into a new life of opposite sign. She collected as many papers she could and used them to make a replica of the traditional Attic wedding dress, symbol of fertility and richness, mostly embroidered with gold and covered with jewelry. Around her, with her, many other hands -children, women and men- worked and are still working to accomplish the artwork. The enormous neckless is exclusively made out of paper bills whose fibers were broken and made flexible again by human tips of fingers, also by her son Nasos’s fingers.
Working Hands, Photo by Athena Stamatis
Her long hair braided exactly like the Caryatids’ hair, Jennifer Nelson has made herself a Caryatid of our time. Nameless and voiceless. Except for her dress that spreads a j’accuse louder than thunder, and brings the feelings of shame to a glorious, collective ending.
As she wears them, all those numbers printed on paper, credit cards, bonuses, bank symbols, are changed into embroidery, decorations, become talismans. But the art is not the dress by itself. It is the dress around the artist’s body, touching her skin and bones, keeping her flame alive.
Jewels of Debts
Fragility turns into strength. Such a delicacy is probably the best adhesive substance. It gave to the makers of the piece an uncertain space in their minds through which a personal dream could appear, for a second or perhaps forever. We don’t know. Socrates again: the value of thinking, and of exposing thoughts to the public. Ancient myths were based on the belief that, when we think, we touch something despite distance and separation. Our mind’s eyes have fingers. Sensations from our physical life are saved inside the mind, their energy can be replicated and amplified.
This PAPER DRESS is the kind of art piece I would like to see as the prototype of a generation of pieces, all over the world, the talisman to get out of a misery that is not from lack of money. As T.S. Eliot’s words put it:
“Internal darkness, deprivation
And destitution of all property,
Desiccation of the world of sense,
Evacuation of the world of fancy,
Inoperancy of the world of spirit;
This is the one way, and the other
Is the same, not in movement; while the world moves
In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.
T.S.Eliot, Four Quartets
And Jennifer Nelson:
Of egg opportunities lost
and debt that won’t be forgiven
naked to your math,
I loved I love I will love
The Alchemist’s Account (four line excerpt)
JENNIFER NELSON, Democracy is a Party, 2019, videostill
T.S.Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950, Harcourt Brace & Company New York, San Diego, London, 1980
Rosanna Albertini, Technological Rituals, USC Annenberg Center for Communication, 1999