Between Heaven and Earth Longwoods Art Project essay by Marek Bartelik

Marek Bartelik
Art historian and art critic

Grimanesa Amorós produced a video, capturing the singer Susana Baca performing on stage, singing La noche y el dia (The Night and the Day) and pirouetting, almost weightlessly, like a bird. Baca, a charismatic Peruvian singer, performed live in Spanish before an audience of Icelanders with Amorós’ video behind her. In the video, as if challenging her cinematic attempt to capture the impossible—the ethereal appearance of fying, Amorós turned the camera toward Baca’s bare feet, which, while moving to Se me van los pies (My Feet Are Leaving) in imitation of the words of the song, kept her on the ground. Baca’s pirouetting gradually turns to rhythmic stomping, its sound revealing the presence of the stage below. While the audience is transported through the boundless space of music, another lasting song follows.

Fusing various cultures in and through contemporary art has resulted in a new form of Gesamptkunstwerk, one that is based on a synergy of experiences revealed polyphonically, through different mediums. The singer and the artist were reunited in Amorós’ video piece, Between Heaven and Earth, 2005-6. Here Baca, invisible to the eye of the camera, sings with her voice conveying a yearning to reach a distant place and expressing the anxiety experienced when stepping onto a shifting land that is divided between reality and dreams, neither here nor there. The central stage belongs to an artist- wanderer, who reaches maturity by realizing the obvious: that sharing our experiences in a polymorphous world through art requires journeying, which unavoidably, quietly, brings us closer to other people—and to ourselves.

Amorós’ new video takes us on a trip to the world of the indigenous people who live in remote places far up the fjörds in Central-western Norway, in an absolute wilderness. Their festooning presence “up there” is both concrete, evasive, and suspended, as Amorós wishes, between heaven and earth. From their homes, one would expect that these quiet people would observe the world undergoing gradual yet rapid transformations, but instead, they seem to be oblivious to those changes. As if oblivious to those transformations in the outside world, Amorós videotaped the Norwegian landscape and seascape in their natural state, only accidentally disturbed by human activities. In her video, Amorós “fies”— revealing vistas mostly inaccessible to the pedestrian dimensions of life around her, integrated into nature. The camera’s movement (paralleled by the artist’s fuid mobility) is like a dance to defy gravity, not unlike Baca’s classic routine on stage.

Our attention shifts back and forth to New York City, more precisely to the Patterson housing project in the Bronx, which the artist videotapes with the same intensity as the Norwegian dwellings. It is diffcult to say what kind of similarities Amorós has discovered in those two locations (is it about isolation?), but their shared strangeness seems to be familiar. The sites’ common presence is open-ended to speculation, which belongs to a mental space in-between. Perhaps what unites those two places in Norway and New York is the presence of a third place—a non-site—one that can only be experienced subliminally, out of the camera’s eye, as a space behind the bending horizon, and from which an imaginary journey may begin.

A slow train from Cusco to Machu Pichu travels down the mountains, taking a wandering writer to a stop in the Peruvian jungle. From there, he walks for three days to reach the famous ancient ruins, which represent the end of a civilization. The site is frst seen from a peak just above it: the remnants of human dwellings—houses, palaces, temples and tombs. They appear thrust up from the ground like a spectacular coral reef frmly pressing against lush, green vegetation, rising from the shadow with the brilliant sun. The picture is postcard-like, and not unlike the one that, once upon a time, an artist experienced on a small Norwegian bridge under a fery sky swirling with a delightful anxiety. The world continues to reveal its endless potential and fragility to the wanderer as he experiences the Peruvian soil under his feet—and he sings.