Alain Resnais & Chris Marker - Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Statues Also Die) - 1953

Uploaded by cerebrodepao on 19.08.2012

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When men die, they enter into history.
When statues die, they enter into art.
This botany of death
is what we call culture.
That's because the society of statues is mortal.
One day, their faces of stone crumble and fall to earth.
A civilization leaves behind itself these mutilated traces
like the pebbles dropped by Petit Poucet.
But history has devoured everything.
An object dies when the living glance
trained upon it disappears.
And when we disappear, our objects will be confined
to the place where we send black things:
to the museum.
Black art,
we look at it as if it had its reason for being
in the pleasure it gives us.
The intentions of the black who created it,
the emotions of the black who looks at it,
all of that escapes us.
Because they are written on wood, we take their thoughts
for statues and we find the picturesque
there, where a member of the black community
sees the face of a culture.
It is its smile of Reims that she gazes upon.
It is the sign of a lost unity
where art was the guarantee of an agreement between man and world.
It is the sign of this gravity which delivers her,
beyong métissage and the slave ships,
that ancient land of the ancestors, Africa.
Here is the first division of Earth.
Here is the fetus of the world.
Here is Africa in the 11th century.
From age to age, as its shape slowly unravelled,
Africa was already the land of enigmas.
Black was already the color of sin.
Travellers's tales spoke of monsters, flames,
diabolical apparitions.
The whites already projected onto the blacks their own demons
as a way to purge themselves of them.
And yet, once beyond deserts and forests,
which he believed to be bordering on the kingdom of Satan,
the traveller discovered nations,
Which song cradled this little princess?
This little orange ripened in the caves of Benin?
Which cult presided over this little republic of night?
We don't know any more.
These great empires are now dead kingdoms to history.
Contemporaries of Saint Louis, of Joan of Arc,
they are even more unknown to us, than those of Sumer and Babylon.
In the last century,
the flames of conquerors turned this whole past
into an absolute enigma.
Black upon black, black battles in the night of time,
the sinking has left us only with this beautiful striped wreckage
which we interrogate.
But if their history is an enigma, their shapes are not foreign to us.
After the Frisians, the monsters, the helmeted Atrides of Benin,
all the vestments of Greece over a people of a sect,
here are their Apollos from Aifé
which strike us with a familiar language.
And it is fair that the black feel pride about
a civilization which is as old as ours is.
Our ancestors can look at each other face-to-face
without looking down with empty eyes.
But this brotherhood in death is not enough for us.
It is much closer to us
that we are going to find the true black art,
that which puzzles us.
The enigma begins right now, here, with this poor art,
this art of hard wood, with this plate for divination,
for instance.
It is not very useful for us to call it religious object
in a world where everything is religion,
nor to speak of an art object in a world where everything is art.
Art here begins in the spoon
and ends up in the statue.
And it is the same art.
The wisdom in art and the ornament of a useful object
like the head support and the useless beauty of the statue
belong to two different orders.
Here, this difference falls apart when we look closer.
A chalice is not an art object, it is a cult object.
This wooden cup is a chalice.
Everything here is about cult.
Cult of the world.
When he makes the chair rest upon human feet,
the black creates a nature in his image.
Hence, every object is sacred because every creation is sacred.
It recalls the creation of the world and continues it.
The broadest activity cooperates with the world as a whole
where everything is fine.
Where man affirms his reign over things
by imprinting his mark and sometimes his countenance upon them.
Animal shapes like the one over this weaving bobbin,
plant shapes like the ones over these ornamented boxes,
all of creation moves in formation under the fingers of the black artist.
God showed him the way, he imitates God
and this is the way in which he invents man.
Guardians of graves, sentinels of dead people,
watchdogs of the invisible,
these ancestors' statues are not made for the cemetery.
We put stones over our dead
in order to prevent them from escaping.
The black maintains them nearby to honor them and benefit
from their power, in a basket overflowing with their bones.
It is the dead who own all the wisdom
and all the security.
They are the roots of the living.
And their eternal countenance takes, sometimes, the shape of a root.
These roots flourish. The unvoluntary beauty
of animals and plants shines in a girl's face.
And we can take its light for a smile,
or else its glow for a tear,
and feel touched, on the condition of knowing
that these images ignore us, that they are from another world,
that we have nothing to do in this gathering of ancestors
who are not our ancestors.
We want to see suffering, serenity, humor,
when we know nothing.
Colonizers of the world, we want everything to speak to us:
the beast, the dead, the statues.
And these statues are mute.
They have mouths and don't speak.
They have eyes
and don't see us.
And they are not so much idols as toys, serious toys
which have no value except for what they represent.
There is less idolatry here than in our saints' statues.
Nobody worships these severe dolls.
The black statue is not the God,
it is the prayer.
Prayer for motherhood, for the fertility of women,
for the children's beauty,
it can be covered with ornaments
which have the value of illuminations.
It can also be rough, like this earthen ball
protecting the harvest,
or, still, connected to the earth, to death,
by means of shape and by means of matter.
This is the world of rigour,
each thing has its place within it.
These heads don't have to be frightening,
they have to be fair.
Look carefully at their scars,
this magnetic field where every shape
from sky and earth comes into being.
There's no need for the object to exist and to serve.
This overflow of creation, which deposits its signs
like shells upon the smooth wall of the statue,
is an overflow of imagination,
it is freedom, turning of the sun, flower knot, water curve,
fork of the trees, one after the other,
the techniques are mixed,
the wood subtly imitates the fabric,
the fabric takes its motives from earth.
One realizes that this creation has no limits,
that everything communicates,
and that from its planets to its atoms
this world of rigour comprises by its turning
the world of beauty.
A god made these gestures.
The god who wove this flesh
taught them by its turn to weave the cloth
and its gesture sends back every second to the weaving of the world.
And the world is the cloth of the gods, where they received man.
Try to distinguish here which one is the Earth and which one is the cloth,
which one is the black skin and which one is the Earth
seen from an airplane,
which one is the bark of the tree and that of the statue.
Here, man is never separated from the world,
the same strength nourishes every fiber.
Those fibers, among which, the foremost sacrilege,
lifting the Earth's skirt, has discovered...
Beast's mask.
Man's mask.
Mask which participates of both beast and man.
Pierrot of the rivers.
Harlequin of the forest.
These masks fight against death.
They unveil that which it wants to hide.
Because the familiarity of the dead leads to the domestication of death,
to the government of death by means of spells,
to the transmission of death,
to the charming of death by means of the magic of shells.
And the sorcerer captures in his mirror
the images of this country of death,
where one goes by losing one's memory.
But, winner of the body,
death cannot do anything against the vital strength
spread through every being and which composes its double.
Through life, this double takes sometimes the form of the shadow
or of the reflection in the water
and more than one man gets angry for being hit right there.
But death is not only something one bears,
it is something one gives.
Here is the death of an animal.
Where has the strength which inhabited this hand gone?
It is free now.
It wanders.
It will torment the living until it has taken on its former appearance.
It is to this appearance that the blood of sacrifice is addressed.
And it is this appearance
which is fixed in these legendary metamorphoses
in order to appease it
until these winning faces are done
repairing the fabric of the world.
And then they die, in their turn.
Classified, labelled,
conserved in the ice of showcases and collections,
they enter into the history of art,
paradise of the forms
where the most mysterious relationships are established.
We recognize Greece
in an old African head of 2000 years;
Japan in a mask from Logoué;
and still India;
Sumerian idols;
our Roman Christ;
or our modern art.
But at the same time it receives this title of glory,
black art becomes a dead language
and that which is born over its death is the jargon of decadence.
Its religious requirements are followed by commercial requirements.
And given that the white is the buyer, given that demand outstrips supply,
given that it is necessary to go fast,
black art becomes indigenous handicraft.
Each time even more degraded replicas of the beautiful pictures
invented by African culture are fabricated.
Here, the village is vulgarized, the technique is impoverished.
In the country where every form had its signification,
where the gracefulness of a curve was a declaration of love to the world,
one becomes accustomed to an art of bazaar.
These fake jewels,
which the explorers offer to the savages in order to please them,
end up being sent back to us by the blacks.
The particular beauty of black art
is substituted by a general ugliness.
An art where the objects become bibelots,
a cosmopolitan art.
An art of the flower-pot, the paperweight
and the souvenir pen-rack,
where one sees, transparently, the Tower of Babel.
Also an art of portraits.
Henceforth incapable of expressing the essential,
the sculptor seeks after resemblance.
We taught him not to carve farther than the tip of his nose.
But that which we make disappear from Africa
doesn't count for much among us compared to what we have in store.
That's because we are the Martians of Africa.
We disembark from our planet
with our way of seeing, with our white magic,
and with our machines.
We cure the black of his diseases, it is certain.
He catches ours, it is certain as well.
Who loses and who wins in the exchange
has been of no concern whatsoever.
The magic devised to protect them when they die on their own account
is powerless when they die on our account.
Against the Christian paradise and the lay immortality,
the cult of ancestors evaporates,
the monument to the dead substitutes for the funeral statue.
All of this dominated by the whites, who see things from their heights,
which rise above the contradictions of reality.
From these heights, Africa seems orderly, rich,
covered with people from modern cities,
filled with its concrete igloos like white blood cells
of civilization.
From such heights, Africa is a wonderful laboratory
where it is possible to partially prefabricate
the kind of good black dreamt up by the good whites.
Then all this protective apparatus which gave sense and form
to black art dissolves and disappears.
It is the whites who intend to take on the role of the ancestors.
The true statue for protection, exorcism and fecundity
hecenforth is their silhouette.
Everything unites against black art.
Caught in a pass between Islam, enemy of the images,
and Christianity, which burns idols,
African culture collapses.
In order to lift it up again, the Church attempts a métissage:
the black-christian art.
But each of the two influences destroys the other one.
And this flawed wedding makes Catholicism in Africa lose
its exuberance, its glow,
everything that blacks, indeed, anyone had recognized in Europe.
Temporal power practices the same austerity.
All that was pretext for works of art is replaced
be it clothing,
symbolic gestures,
or talking.
One says "yes, yes, yes".
Sometimes, one says "no"!
There, that is the black artist who says it.
And so a new form of art shows up: the art of fighting.
Art of transition for a period of transition.
Art of the present time, between a lost greatness
and another to conquer.
Art of the provisional, whose ambition is not to last, but to witness.
Here the problem of the subject is not posed.
The subject is this naturally ungrateful earth
this naturally troublesome climate
and inside work, at an unfathomable scale,
the rhythm of the factory confronting the rhythm of nature:
Ford meets Tarzan.
The subject is this black man, mutilated from his culture
and without contact with our culture.
His work is able to provide neither spiritual nor social sustenance,
he works for nothing, his reward is nothing
but a derisory salary.
Into this country of gift and exchange, we have introduced money.
We buy the blacks' work and we degrade it.
We buy their art and we degrade it.
The religious dance becomes spectacle.
We pay the blacks to give us the comedy of their joy and their fervour.
In this way, by the side of the black-slave,
appears a second figure, the black-puppet.
His strength serves us, his prowess amuses us,
on the side, he serves us as well.
Nations which are endowed with racist traditions
find it all the more natural to trust to men of color
the concern for the nation's olympic glories.
But a moving black is still black art.
And in sport
the black can find, hoping for the best,
a good terrain for mystifying the white's pride.
The white does not always appreciate the joke.
It happens that he cries "foul" when things are turning out bad.
If a black boxer manages to defeat a white one
in a country marked by Hitlerian racism
they try to break him down with blows of menacing insults and projectiles:
he had better stay in his place.
And when it's no longer for play,
when the blacks, for instance, join the labor struggle,
it's the blows of guns and batons that break up the demonstrations.
This climate of premeditated menace
drives the black artist into a new metamorphosis
and, in the ring, or in an orchestra,
his role consists in returning the blows that his brother has received
in the street.
And witness here, far from the appearances of black art:
for the art of communion, the art of invention
finds accomodations within this world of loneliness and the machine.
The man who had impressed his mark upon things
accomplishes now empty gestures.
What we have is this, from the bottom of this loneliness,
that which will create a new community.
Black art was the instrument of a will to grasp the world
and also of the will which undertook to change its form.
Look well at this technique,
which frees mankind from magic.
It presents sometimes with magic a strange relationship of gestures.
It is always against death which one fights.
Science, as magic,
admits the necessity of the sacrifice of the animal.
The virtue of blood.
The harnessing of malevolent forces.
The sorcerer captures images every day.
And death
is always a country where one goes forth at the cost of one's memories.
No. We are not redeemed by shutting off the blacks within their own celebrity.
There would be nothing to prevent us from being, together,
the inheritors of two pasts
if that equality could be recovered in the present.
Less remarked, it is prefigured by the only equality denied to no one...
...that of repression.
Because there is no rupture between African civilization and ours.
The faces of black art
fell off from the same human face,
like the serpent's skin.
Beyond their dead forms,
we recognize this promise,
common to all the great cultures,
of a man who is victorious over the world.
And, white or black,
our future is made of this promise.