Entering the F.E.K. Archives is like encountering the Sphinx. We are made to answer the riddle: Who do we have here? A man? A woman? A woman behind the man, or the reverse? And that’s exactly the trouble. It’s none of the above. It’s just a room. There’s no woman here. There never was.
Let us be clear, the story of the Archive is as follows: Tancred kills Clorinda. Again she is killed. Her bark cut by the flesh of his sword. Later, Adan, seeing Fernanda for who she is, kills her once more. Laying her within the glass-covered earth.
And now the Archive strikes again (of course, being an archive, it is the site of all beginnings). Here, the artist takes the woman and cuts her down. Now she no longer has even the thud that announces a fall. She is doomed to be eternally in mid-flight. Always too dead to finally eventually die.
Freud, in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920),” invokes the “most moving poetic picture” of Tancred and Clorinda from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. We need not go into the abundant literature attempting to retrieve the story from this old man’s grasp. Instead, here we ask what this particular reinscription of the Archive has captured.
Tancred kills Clorinda twice, and yet it is Tancred whose sorrow we are asked to lament. Later, Adan, having previously killed Clorinda (Fernanda) in the only way possible (representation), kills her again. But especially deeply this time and through the hands of the artist (Wolfson). When Tancred stabs the tree-Clorinda, she is then allowed to scream. Here, Clorinda speaks only in Wolfson’s voice. Her note, removed and under glass, is reproduced on a piece of paper for us to read. Copied by the artist on paper–the only remains of the dead tree-Clorinda (“These twigs and trunks are given soul and sense,/ and therefore murderous is your offense”).
Let us be clear. This is in no way a destruction. It is a decimation.
At issue, of course, is the calmness of the situation. She screams, look at me I am tree You ate of my fruit. Stared into my eyes. And then, only then, flayed me open. Blood upon the wood. Upon the earth. Upon the red-soaked earth.
Did he love me, Fernanda asks? Did he love me when he wrote me? Wolfson? Tasso? Was it always determined that I would be their wound?
No. This is not a determination. It is only a negative rendering of the age-old complex. A penis rises from the earth. An obelisk phallus. A penis/plinth. A penis that made the world. A penis in which we all reside
What precisely is my point? That there is something wrong with this Archive. And it is more deeply inscribed than the usual problem of representation and its necessary displacement. Here, a woman has had her hands taken away. Shoved into the earth and told to grow. Grow from soil dead and dry. And so she cannot. Instead, we are left waiting with only a man’s mouth to speak the words.
Apollo, Tancred, Calderon, Wolfson–they take away her hands and plant her as a tree (think of the Pollaiolo: Daphne s branch-hands reaching towards the sky, Apollo pulling her down to the dry, cracked, earth). This exhibition simply does it again. Fernanda as Daphne as Clorinda. They are everything that is silenced before it can open its mouth.
Rebecca Comay, in her brochure essay for this exhibition, gets close to this realization. ” What we remember is already a phantasm or simulacrum of itself, a construction or artifact–literally a fiction–and our loyalty is never far from exploitation. This difficulty pertains to every act of commemoration.” Yes, of course, it is true that within every moment of the archive, every moment of representation and commemoration, we are always encountering a copy with no original. But can there ever be a moment free of this phantastical representation? We are always only reflections in a mirror facing another that replicates on towards the infinite (of course I acknowledge there never was a mirror at the start). And so, this being the case, we are forced to address, who holds the mirror? Who forms the face? Is that a man’s hand I see darkly beyond the looking glass (and here I mean the man-that-I-am, or will be, someday)?
In the first German edition of Jerusalem Delivered there is an etching accompanying the title page to Canto XIII (Fernanda herself noted this unusual etching in her seminal work on Jerusalem Delivered, The Blow That Finally Eventually Felled The Tree.) In this etching, the crusader Tancred takes his sword to the thin and gnarled tree. The rays of Heaven shine upon him from the top left corner. But there he is again, at the bottom of the page, surrounded by demons. Clorinda is a lion ghost, snarling upon him. I am a tree, she screams. Or was one. Now I am solely a wound. And I cry for I know that you will go on killing, stabbing at my flesh again and again. You did from the start. I did too. That’s what love’s for, I guess.
In this specific way I read the f.e.k. Archives as a love poem. A sonnet stained with blood.
Upon the walls of the gallery are two distinct texts (does it have to be stated they are of course under the signatures of Calderon/ Wolfson–one and the same?). They are double-addressed: to Fernanda (The silent Queen. A statue of a Goddess. Just make sure she never speaks.), and to the other intended reader, which is you.
Wolfson is very quick to make it clear that this Archive and its subsequent violence isn’t his responsibility (“I am not the writer of the poem”). He is just a bystander, watching it all happen (“I am still standing there watching the leaves rain down upon the blood soaked earth”). He is just Klee’s angel, blown away in the wind.
And Adan, he’s not the poet either (“No soy un poeta”). It’s all Fernanda. She’s the one with the blood on her hands. A crying Mary. A miracle. She is the mother and the wife. The virgin and the whore. The poet and the song. “La Damayel Arbol.”
But Adan, she can’t be both. The tree is no lady. It is just a dead branch. Lifeless upon the blood soaked earth.
How proper that the sculpture that houses Fernanda’s last note, in which she claims her regrowth (“Look for me there, sprouted anew”) is a felled tree, always in mid-fall. Fernanda lives there, half-dead in this semi-erect phallus, waiting to be heard. But she won’t be. The glass an ancchoic chamber.
And as for those other two, renouncing their poetic intent? Refusing their implication in this decimation? Let us quote a poet in response. These men, they doth protest too much. Methinks.
The tragedy of this Archive is that Fernanda is nothing but the stroke of a pen and not even allowed to sign her own name. In the end, this is my tragedy too.
But before you laugh, look down at your own hands and see. This tragedy is also your own.