‘Part 2: The Artists’, Living in Joy: A Philosophy
The work of Boma Pak is difficult to describe. It is difficult to describe because her practice adopts a different form and style every time a new work is created. This constant change of form and artistic language does not happen by chance. It is not due to an insecurity that the work adopts a new form. It is due to the inevitability that certain questions and concerns are complex and that complexity cannot be taken in through only one language. What are these concerns? To put it in a straight and simple manner: it concerns how capitalism is a co-creator of identity. Tradition, a force that stands for values maintained for centuries and difficult to fool with today’s desires, has yet created a perfect alliance with capitalism in certain societies and, therefore, a new tradition. Every time we write the word “new,” we are full of hope, thinking, perhaps, that the new is synonymous with “better.” New, though, often names a combination of systems that are taken from the worse of two worlds. For Boma Pak, her work is deeply intrigued by these combinations of traits between tradition and the pragmatics of capitalism. Keeping this in mind, it is easier to see the commonalities of her works and installations and her interest, for example, in realizing installations where the immersive aspect is addressed. Especially vulnerable these co-modifications of identity are those genders that see and define themselves outside the patriarchal parameters. But at the same time, patriarchy is affected by the mutations imposed by capitalism and the claims for more rights. We can say that the basic rights of a democratic society, like the incorporation of women in the labor force, areㅡeven if acceptedㅡa challenge to a patriarchy that in the past was not even facing the scenario.
All changes affect and modify our behavior, sometimes a little and sometimes radically. We learn to make use of data and we adapt. Boma Pak observes how se do adapt and analyzes what is it that gets maintained and what disappears in this process. Many times in her work, she becomes interested in presenting the work under another identity. In doing so, it is not Boma disguised as another woman artist, a personality of the past or even a character of the future. When she allowed herself to be someone else to produce a body of work, she was someone else. Being someone else is an act of fiction and an appeal for faith. It demands from herself to try and train herself in an artistic language and a format that she may not have considered before. It is an act of fiction that has empathy as its core, but also a question: Would my life be different if I were another artist? Another woman? Another human? At least, while producing and exhibiting the piece, it would seem so. Art allows us to be another. Literature has been invented to allow us to be so many others. Fantasy, as well, stresses the fact that being another is fundamental to the dynamic flow of a story. Art, historically, though, has given people the privilege of being themselves. Being who you are can be a trap though, a prison, an enclosure too small to realize your views, to explore worlds that demand being able to constantly change form.
The work she specifically has produced for Living in Joy is a wedding. The platform, the remains of the banquet, the flowers… I still remember the first time I read the structuralist theories of French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss on the exchange of women. To summarize it, he states that the circulation and exchange of women, seen as a commodity, is a fundamental train of patriarchy and a way to establish but mostly to consolidate alliances.[i] It is difficult to describe what one feels in reading a text that is describing structures of social organization in the Amazon when it just seems like a warning to all those situated in societies where it is still the case. It seems, therefore, very important to revise all the rituals that mask the economic and class alliances quite well, again and again, suing a feelingㅡloveㅡto mark the signature of a contract. Saying this is not synonymous with criticizing the practice or claiming for its annulment. It is more important to be an active participant on the pact. By being equal in terms of signing the contract, with full consent, we would impose a proper reform of those contracts, more than their invalidity. We all know it from business, when all parties want to reach a fair agreement you undergo a long series of revisions that may not even be resolved in a fair trade, but also forces everyone to read the conditions, the details. It is in the details that pain becomes mostly living.
The “wedding” in Boma Pak’s work can be interpreted as a genre, as a basic foundation to perform the values and expectations of a community, in the same way as painting has been a genre where not only history but also the customs, tastes, and habits of a certain world have been historically performed. A wedding should not be read literally only; it should also be seen as a format where major symbolic systems engage in an interplay. In that sense, her workㅡlike pop artㅡ departs from a scene and an image that we all recognize easily to make us reflect on the aesthetic and the ethical systems that sustain a format, which is to say a language. Why is that? Because art, specifically contemporary art, is extremely sensitive to the social forces that validate or invalidate it. Art emerges in direct relation to the social premises defined by a community, by a social system.
I would say that this new work produced by Boma Pak makes us face how the social performance of a ritual contract is designed for us, families and friends, brides and grooms to “forget” about the fine print of the pact. The elevated walkway symbolically refers to the higher and more elevated status of marriage. Being married is more that being single. This is true numerically as well: the number of family members, the number of assets, the number of pains, and eventually the number of children. The flowers are there to convey the happiness that marriage may bring with it, but also the implied innocence and women’s passing beauty and youth. Women are flower. The walkway is also there to perform the role of table in the wedding reception. In many countries, it is a party completely financed by the bride’s family.
However, we have seen how it works now under the complete parameters of a human, of the particular humans that still today perform weddings in the particular traditional way. But we can open the interpretation in two different dimensions: same sex marriage and the marriages of characters, elements and beings that are not human. Same-sex marriages being celebrated and embodying the rights of the performance rituals are a great aspiration of a society. Can a marriage of people of the same sex bring the community the same joyㅡand benefitsㅡthat traditional marriages did in the past? Are those contracts also happening under the same premises and interest alliances as heterosexual marriages? Are there differences between same-sex women-with-women and men-with-men marriages? Are marriages among non-binary people different? Are marriages between a woman or a man with a non-binary person also different? What is important to think about is that a ritual that seems obsolete for a certain understanding of being a non-heterosexual woman still may offer possibilities of social acceptance and collective celebration for other gender communities. And to think about it is already a step forward and the acknowledgement of an individual’s rights.
But the wedding may embody a familiar scenario that may push us to think of the necessary contracts of love and positive interest we need to form with nature. We need pacts to symbolically marry our forest to pragmatically care for them. The same with the oceans and the same with every imaginable living creature. Unfortunately, we know that a wedding may also mark the nightmare of domestic abuse and violence in all the forms I previously cited. We have created multiple romantic fantasies to convince ourselves of the necessity to remain together in love. A togetherness thatㅡhere at leastㅡin the work by Boma Pak is not merely formed by two individuals, but by a collective love of the cultural community redistributed in the social. Every time an artist produces and presents an artwork, it establishes a bond with their peers and the communities around them. The work of Boma Pak makes us aware of all the dimensions and also aware that it is worth engaging in an evolutive imagination of identity, one in which art can help.
From ‘Part 2: The Artists’, Living in Joy: A Philosophy by Chus Martinez
[i] This ideas are mostly articulated in The Elementary Structures of Kinship(1955).