Métrico Imperial

Métrico Imperial

Manu Arregui, Zigor Barayazarra, Fito Conesa, Juan Hidalgo, Miguel Ángel Gaüeca, Diego del Pozo

25 / 05 / 18  -  05 / 07 / 18 // VLC
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
Métrico Imperial
 Metric measurements

The title for this project is taken form the two dominant measurement systems today and seeks to dismantle their supposed neutrality and their relationship with the construction of anti-hegemonic or non-normative identities. Anti-colonial, Feminist and Queer thought has questioned notions such as “natural”, “objective” or “neutral” pointing out that many of these categories suppose the persistence of a system of domination and control over individuals and their bodies. When conceiving any sort of “modification” to the norm as an anomaly, the rest of the subjects are condemned as exceptional or anti-models. This “opposition” presupposes a fictitious homogeneity in the rest of the population.

Key words: scientific, corporality, Feminism, hetero-patriarchy, imperial, masculinities, metric, normativity, power, poetics, Queer, violence.

0. The subject

 “What elements are indispensable to beginning poetic output? Firstly, the presence, in society, of a problem whose solution is only conceivable in a poetic work.” Valdimir Maiakovsky, How to make verse? 1926

I have always lived trying to take apart codes. At first, in order to integrate myself and be a part of, and now to discover, opposing and contradictory, that I’ve always been there, in an inadequate and uncomfortable way, but in this flux of measures and behaviours.

So I might not measure what I have been told I do or that my foot may change according the frontiers I cross (41, 8, 7, 26...) and, in this way, feel that the solidness of my body is nothing but a variable.

I am writing thinking of measurements, while my eyes go over a surface that I am supposed to identify with 13 inches, without knowing what it is that this dimension means.

Control lurks in the unknown. Despite, this case, us not needing to do anything more than a ‘translation’, I know that in this displacement there will be something of deceit, an error so miniscule that the object won’t be its outline or measure, but one more error, an unsatisfied desire seeking out the adequate quadrant for its size.

“I don’t want knowledge, I want certainty” David Bowie, Law (Earthlings On Fire), 1997 

1. OnThe Measure Taken: Brecht 

Measurement is barbaric” 

With these words Miguel Sáenz begins his analysis of The Measures Taken by Bertolt Brecht in his prologue to Complete Works for the Theatre of this author. Sáenz not only writes this introduction but translates the entire Brecht’s Collected Plays, in case we doubted his word. His observations centre on the brutality of the plot of this work, above all if we bear in mind that it belongs to the series of Brecht’s learning-plays, which leads us to question, and condemn, the teaching we can unravel in this work.

Possibly his approach to The Measures is conditioned by the entrance of the police to interrupt one of the performances in Berlin, a few days after Hitler took power, or by the fact that the FBI focused their interrogation of the author on the contents of this piece, or it may be the veto that Brecht himself put on public performances of the same. Whatever the motive may be, the discomfort that The Measures produces is evident. 

However, let us centre on the character of this Learning-play as teaching pieces, which allows us to follow a different rout when faced with “the barbaric act” or at least try to differentiate education from the transmission of knowledge. In this way we are not doomed to sacrifice ourselves, but to think of the power strategies which run through The Measures Taken.

 “The learning play is distinguished here as a special case because, thanks to the poorness of the plot, the interrelation of public with actors and actors with the public is simplified” Walter Benjamin, what is epic theatre? 1938 

Not only did Benjamin, close to Brecht, write about this “teaching”, Brecht himself went deeply into the notions of learning and knowledge, and into the social conditioners to which they are submitted. His exile and the lack of interest in the United States in his work lead him to dissect the characteristics of his own previous work and, especially, into the Learning-plays developed between 1920 and 1940. The dynamics presented in these Learning-plays include giving questionnaires to the people attending, proposing that if they were to be ones to act in the play without having to take the public into account, they could re-write these works following this interchange of roles. Thus the notion of education the author proposes throughout the piece, to the writer, the public and the ones carrying out the piece, insisting on the performative component of this type of experience, in the learning of our own bodies themselves.

If we do without these aspects it becomes easier to select the version of The Measure Taken based on the Malik edition (1938) for translation in which they do without various fragments such as those played by the Control Choir, a character which makes reference to the idea of discipline but also quality, where the relation between analysis, theory, politics and society is expressed:

“What measures did you take? In times of persecution and when theory is in a state of confusion Fighters are expected to make a sketch of the site And carefully consider all defences and possibilities.”2 

1 The title of this cantata, produced in collaboration with the composer Hans Eisler, has also been translated and The Taking of Measures or The Decision. 

2 “What measures have you taken? /In times of persecution and when theory is in a state of confusion,/ the fighters have the hope making a outline of the place and carefully consider all the defences and possibilities.”

On recovering this type of fragments the title of The Measure Taken opens up its polysemy, eluding to its direct identification with The Decision, as it has been translated in other occasions, and broadens its relation to a “scientific” perspective which attempts to assess the intangible and how it effects the social construction of “reality”.

We may state that this need to measure the intangible, which are found in the first attempts to measure continue to exist today. It may be that today we do not have another Robert Boyle trying to weigh air but many of us can feel the evaluation, ways of looking that delimit aspects so similar to air such as the authentic, compliance, masculine, justice or truth.

These stories – exhibitions and texts linking this project – try to show up these areas of conflict. The places where the measure may become an aggression.

“Getting no answers, people are mobilizing. Getting no answers, a movement is emerging.” Gregg Bordowitz, Picture a Coalition, 1987 

2.54 What is measuring?: Metric decimal 

 “What is measuring? Is it not just to substitute the object that we measure for the symbol of a human act whose simple repetition exhausts the object? Paul Valéry, Variedades, 1933

In the same year that the police interrupted The Measure Taken and accused the organisers of high treason, Paul Valéry gave his conference Inspirations Mediterraneennes in which he discussed the statement of Protagoras which put man as the measure of all things. When faced with this anthropomorphic construction Valéry stresses the abstraction (exhaustion) that the act of measuring causes.

Currently we find the supremacy and coexistence of measurement units, the metric system, fruit of the enlightenment and established by Napoleon in 1799, together with the imperial system, which is how Anglo-Saxon measurement system is known. This coexistence supposes in itself a political confrontation and shows the naturalisation we use when measuring is fruit of a relatively recent tradition. Especially if we think that the Metro Treaty that wasn’t signed until the 20th of May 1875, a date which can be compared to the 5000B.C. when we have documentary evidence of the first desire to measure. 

Measurement and weight are notions that come up connected to an economy of mercantile exchange. We may assume that this field has been incorporated into our everyday life, without perceiving that it was the other way round, that we ourselves are also part of this exchange system. And thus, the need to undergo “quality control” that allows us to integrate into the chain of production and find our market niche.

It is interesting to point out that, until the appearance of the metre, measurements operated on a more intuitive mathematical system and its systemisation was anthropomorphic, given that is came about using body measurements, or connected to the productivity of human work – surface area harvested, distance covered in a day on foot or by horse... It was the thinking of Enlightenment and the will of the French Revolution that did away with the anterior system and drove one based on the notion of universality that propitiated the abandonment of the “measures of man” before the unit that defined lengths from the distance to the meridian.

The mathematician Nicolas de Condorcet, who died five years before the establishment of the metric system in 1799, even stated that it was “for all the people of all times”. But this universality was abandoned a few years later, in 1812, due to its unpopularity. It was the scientific community that carried out its diffusion around the middle of the same century. What is sure is that the metric system and, above all, its decimal conception that connected mathematics and measurement, allowing the consolidation in its abstract configuration of the effect of scientific authenticity which is with us to this day.

“Because it is evident that the inconclusive explanations, the sceptic prudence and the critic of the base ideas are not well received in a culture that has too many insecurities for the “secure discourses” (more than rigorous, a notion that today isn’t so important) that we suppose are the sciences to begin also to question its own basic concepts, or at least some of the most definitive achievements.” Alberto Cardin, Dialectics and Cannibalism, 1994 

What is true is that this certainty forms part of a lie. The original metre model is configured from the ten millionth part of the longitude of the meridian. What is still curious is that this length was adopted at a time when the meridians had been measured in such a way that, after their measurement, it was discovered that this fraction of distance was a few millimetres longer, on stating that “under the pretext of measuring the degree of the meridian (...) a hundred thousand crowns were paid out.” Despite discovering this error of measurement, in 1809 they decided to adopt the original model, severing it from any reference whatsoever, and France became the country that guaranteed the measure, taking all measures possible for a metal bar to stay stable in order to guarantee this supremacy.

An abstract symbol again became an instrument of control and conflict with other countries and agents, showing up the arbitrariness of this system.

“[call for geometries, the louse-men] 

Directly the louse-men arrived and were able to measure everything even to the width of a hair and weigh everything to the size of an atom. But between themselves the measurements were different, especially when it came to the weight of air, and they found this job difficult to carry out. Faced with this, the empress began to feel let down and told them that there was no truth or justice en their profession and dissolved their society.” Margaret Cavendish, The Shiny World, 1666

3 The body: Imperial 

“Know the figures enough to measure the rhythm and numbers.” Jean Genet, The Tightrope Walker, 1958

One of the countries that the metric system came into conflict with was England, which decided to use what they called the imperial system, based on anthropomorphic units, connecting us again with “the measures of man”.

This way of configuring the system is, in appearance, the oldest. Egypt had already set up an elbow as a unit and this type of strategy is what the Greco-romans used with the foot. From this there came all the other preindustrial ways of weighing and measuring, in which volume was prioritized over weight in order to avoid fraud.

Despite being related to this system, the imperial system is not earlier than the metric. It was set up as an answer to this in order to show rejection of its revolutionary origin and strengthen a blockade of its colonies when faced with the mechanisms of commerce controlled by the French system.

This system sets out new regulations that set measures and weights. Not in vain, in Europe the censure registered up to 391 values for the pound and 282 for the foot.

But despite this uniformity that enabled commerce and research, the anthropometry of the imperial system turned out to be as problematic as the abstraction of length in the meridians that rule in the metric. Given that this way of measuring, on being quickly regulated, as had already been done in ancient Egypt or in the Greco-Roman tables which include the Olympic foot, show up the differences in our bodies when compared with this ideal or Vitruvian model. That is to say when faced with diversity of bodies the measure imposes a single and universal one, which not only excludes the differences, but also all feminine bodies.

“I’m coming up man-sized Skinned alive I want to fit I’ve got to get” P.J. Harvey, Man-sized, 1993 

We know that historically that the female body has been subordinated by the male. This characteristic is evident in the case of the look that examines and represents it, but also in the metamorphosis such as that of Kore and Kouroi, given that the sculptors simply “feminized” the masculine references.

 “The representation of the vagina as an inverted phallus, that Marie-Christine Pouchelle discovered in the texts of surgeons of the Middle Ages, follow the same fundamental oppositions between positive and negative, the right and the opposite, than have been imposed since the masculine principle appeared as the measure of everything.” Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination, 1998

This feature of antiquity continues until well into modern times, even in fields like medicine. We even had to wait until the congress and later publication of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective in 1970 to find the first medical books on women written by women themselves. Their titles could not be more eloquent: Women and Their Bodies, 1970 y Our Bodies, Our Selves, 1973. 

But this tyranny of form and measure that imposed a single body onto the rest not only affected constructions of femininity, but many of the masculine bodies that didn’t conform to this “Vitruvian harmony”, whose persistence we can even find in Le Corbusier, or in the dominant concept of masculinity.

4 Classifying: Masculinities 

“(...) and at the moment I’m a sixteen-foot-tall five-hundred-and-forty-eight-pound man inside this six-foot body and all I can feel is the pressure all I can feel is the pressure and the need for release.” David Wojnarowicz, Being Queer in America. A Journal of Disintegration, 1991 

 “I know the system of excessive friendship. Who are you cheating? God looks at me. I’ll measure each centimetre of the slope that separates me from sin.” Jean Cocteau, The White Book. 1928

One of the conventions that we assume when trying to make clear the plurality of masculinities is to mark ourselves as another. This position as being other strengthens the hetero-patriarchal mechanisms of control when we relegate all those that do not adjust the model to a state of otherness. But if we turn this otherness into dissidence we show that the measures which govern masculine bodies and their behaviour are much more vague, even those which are closer to the dominant models.

 “Let’s not forget that we are all The Other of another.” Robert Jacoby, I have aids, 1994-5

Even so, it is evident that measures, often disguised in scientific discourse, have been the instrument of the persecution of dissident masculinities. It may be that currently there are no “sciences” such as phrenology, which determined the character from the measurements of the cranium, or the physiognomy, based on the face. But not only are masculinities still measured and classified, as is shown in many studies into supposed biological origins, but also such tangible questions such as that of “camp” or mannered gestures.

The perversity of these measurements, these adaptations to the model, is that they are not just external. We ourselves and even in surroundings close to us, apparently “confortable”, we submit our appearance and gestures to the measures which do us harm.

“Our most intimate fantasies, desires, projections, internal dialogues and ever shifting identities are bisected, influenced and ruled by public discourse, legislations and the law.” Felix González-Torres, Public and Private: Spheres of Influence,1993 

We may consider it as futile to try to weight air as it is to define the quantity of “feminine gesturing” in the wrong body. But this fact, the search for the mannerisms, not only excludes subjects and behaviours but also demonstrates the level of normalisation of misogyny. So, our hands measure and give us away by connecting us to the pernicious ‘mistaken’ corporality.

However, not only do we submit ourselves to the self-scrutiny thanks to, as Foucault pointed out, the interiorizing of power and control mechanisms. Environments like the “gay community” are run under homo-normative models that continue to indicate as punishable not only “femininity” but also any corporality or behaviour that doesn’t fit into the pigeonhole marked for this. 

“Normalcy is the evil side of homosexuality.” Jack Smith, Wait for me at the Bottom of the Pool: The Writings of Jack Smith, 1997 

“Yes I would sleep with myself / if I were you” Sam Vance-Law, Narcisus 2.0. Homotopia, 2018 

It is clear that all social groups have their codes and that these permit the constructions of hierarchies and exercise different power mechanisms. What is surprising is the way in which the reproduces the mechanisms that oppress us and condition our identity constructions. But in the end, like the imperial system, like the members that make them up and the subjects which are both agents and objects of this constant measuring, all this is a reinforcement of our learning processes. A mechanism that makes us re-think our self-definition strategies, knowing that this flux can be organized in rhythms and our arms are us ourselves.

At the end of the day our historiography, like the metric system, lives alongside the paradox of a wide open past and a recent systemisation, it comes as no surprise that until the 17th of May 1990 that the Wold Health Organisation (WHO) excluded homosexuality from the International Statistical Classification of Illnesses and other Health Problems, seventeen years after the North American Association of Psychiatry had done so.

5. Mechanism/Device: The Exposition 

 “They are the devices that essentially generate the poeticization on an age; this  is made-up of the museum disciplines, photography, psychoanalysis, etc. An age is poetic because it is equipped with devices to be in this or that way.” Jean-Louis Déotte, The Age of Devices, 2004

Leaving behind the disruptive territory that generates friction between Agamben’s notion of mechanism and Déotte’s devices allows us to articulate the pattern between structures an appearance. Even more if we take into account that for Déotte art is that which propitiates the transition from mechanism to device.

We have already seen that both the metric system but also the imperial system configure structures that not only affect measurement but also political, economic and identity constructions and also the development in these bodies and their performative nature

Both these systems enjoy the privileges of neutrality and naturalisation that, as feminist and de-colonial theories have pointed out, allow them to strengthen their hegemony without being questioned. This exhibition seeks to question these unchanging issues.

If we consider measurement systems as mechanisms and the work of Marcel Duchamp, 3 stoppages étalon (3 Etalon Interruptions) (1913-14) as device we may perceive an area of poetic subversion, once again the metrics, in which we question our reading of the world and our construction of masculinities.

In the same way Exercises in Contemplating Mannered Movement, 2014-17 by Manu Arregui (Santander, 1970) appropriates scientific codes and language to show how impossible these systems of measurement are in contrast to the strict social codes.

Zigor Baryarazarra (Bilbao, 1976) presents S/T (The Lunch Project), 2014-2018 in which we find once more the hand, object and subject of measurement throughout the project, but in its materiality it shows the breakup of the dominant classifications of sculpture, making us evaluate our intentions.

The work of Fito Conesa (Cartagena, 1980) function as an intersection between two measurement systems: music and visual practice; in these he takes apart many of the assumptions connected to our understanding of masculinities and the tyranny of homo-normativity. Conesa doesn’t avoid taking a stand, offering in the personal as field of political combat.

The work of Juan Hidalgo (Gran Canaria 1927-2018) has thrown into crisis aesthetic, formal and social principles. The measure, connected with the field of music but also rhythm and performance, along with masculinities, such as the space to question identities and arms, have articulated much of his works. He also challenges artistic conventions using elements that destabilise its own neutrality, such as colour. 

From his first works, Miguel Ángel Gaüeca (Bilbao, 1967) has destabilised the elements that allow us to determine identities. This research has operated in specific fields: homo-normative and class codes... using the art world as space for analysis and breaking down power strategies.

And finally, Diego del Pozo Barriuso (Valladolid, 1974), in his research into the areas of contact and the mechanisms and gestures codes of violence, enables interaction between different forms of political action, other areas of knowledge and the possibility to generate new codes and areas of relation. 

So, this mode of working are put together as a system which bears witness to capriciousness of the modes of knowledge that we have received. And still, we keep on calculating, evaluating and weighting, submitting our own bodies to this discipline, while knowing that we will never be the right size.