Absolutes have melted long ago. These are times in which references quickly appear and vanish, as social movements, public figures, and even relationships mimic technology in their becoming obsolete with almost calculated precision. As entities, those references lack a clear shape, their skin unable to contain them as they dissolve into one another, spreading as a nebulous labyrinthine accumulative cartography. When trying to hold them, they deform and become sticky, gelified, permeating the skin of the holder with their softness. They are everywhere, hosting all movements, accommodating the resistances, conforming and absorbing all desires, ubiquitous as continuous congealed ether, an endless and omnipresent plasm.
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns... is the first line of Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey, one of the multiple mothers of the Western narrative. But it could be said that the figure referenced in that line and also the poem's namesake, Odysseus, would have lost his heroic force nowadays due to the constant replacement of the protagonist in contemporary society, a symptom of its gelification.1
A Soft Tragedy is a spatial storytelling project presented upon a floating raft, based loosely on the first four cantos of The Odyssey. This opening section is called The Telemachiad, and focuses on Telemachus and Penelope as they try to determine if Odysseus has survived the Trojan War, which had ended ten years prior. While Odysseus' conspicuous absence forms the basis of the action and the decisions of Telemachus and Penelope in The Telemachiad, for A Soft Tragedy the figure of Odysseus is deleted completely and the four cantos are rewritten without him as a reference point. In this reimagined version, his son Telemachus doesn't have the hero as his guiding drive, and his wife Penelope no longer needs to wait for his return. They are, in essence, freed, and inherit responsibility for their own fates. The gods might help them, but their paths won't be decided by a singular narrative voice. Instead, readers project their own cacophonous constellations of plots.
Based on this adaptation, four writers (Elvia Wilk, Alex Turgeon, Hanne Lippard & Dafna Maimon—as one, and John Holten) are each invited to interpret a canto according to their own approach. The resulting texts are then embodied by a polyhedral structure of voices, incorporating different lines of development within the narrative. A Soft Tragedy develops as a navigated journey along the Landwehrkanal, with stops corresponding to each of the four cantos. Two additional dockings correlate to the prologue and the epilogue.
In the intervals, a group of artists (Antoine Renard & Clemence de La Tour du Pin, Santiago Taccetti, Mirak Jamal, Olga Balema and Michele Di Menna) embed a series of interventions related to changing states of matter, reflecting upon the aforementioned metaphor ofgelification. The story is told by matter and movement, drawing physical parallels with the contemporary condition lacking in solid references or even clear antinomian figures.
The raft itself is built as a translation of Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione open-source shelf module system into a device of floatability and displacement, from where the successive readings are delivered. On top of the raft, a custom roof construction is incorporated by Ethan Hayes-Chute, part of the crew together with Valentina Karga & Pieterjan Grandry, who are proposing a gel-related trading system as the epilogue. The role of the narrator is concretized by the helmsman of the raft itself, maritime advisor Patrick Burkhardt.
1 LÓPEZ PETIT, Santiago. Entre el ser y el poder. Una apuesta por el querer vivir. Traficantes de sueños, Madrid, 2009.
This is an off-site project developed with TIER (The Institute for Endotic Research) as part of the Project Space Festival Berlin.
With contributions from:
Olga Balema, Patrick Burkhardt, Pieterjan Grandry, Ethan Hayes-Chute, John Holten, Mirak Jamal, Valentina Karga, Hanne Lippard, Dafna Maimon,
Michele Di Menna, Antoine Renard, Santiago Taccetti, Clémence de La Tour du Pin, Alex Turgeon and Elvia Wilk.