Correspondence between Lúa Coderch and Virginia Roy
From: Virginia Roy
To: Lúa Coderch
Date: Oct. 18, 2020, 23:49
Re: Place and materials
I’ve received your last email. Thank you for sharing some of the shelters you’ve made during this time. The fragility of these structures captivates me and yet I am intrigued by their firmness in delimiting the space they inhabit to form a home. I’ve asked myself how you came to select each landscape. There’s something in each choice that reminds me of film, in that the image forms part of a wider, even immense, frame. Nevertheless, as you have said, the creation of this “nest” also responds to the search for a safe, comfortable place, albeit camouflaged for protection, as birds do.
After seeing images of the shelters, I’ve been thinking about their materiality, the elements you use. I meditated on their construction through the formalization of the varied materials you find. The importance of building in nature that you’ve come across brought to mind Marc-Antoine Laugier’s An Essay on Architecture, in which he defends the “primitive hut” and natural elements as constituting the origin of architecture:
“Some branches broken down in the forest are the proper materials for his design. He chooses four of the strongest, which he raises perpendicularly and which he disposes into a square. Above he puts four others across, and upon these he raises some that incline from both sides. This kind of roof is covered with leaves put together, so that neither the sun nor the rain can penetrate therein, and now the man is lodged. Indeed cold and heat will make him sensible of their inconveniences in his house, open on every part, but then he will fill up between the space of the pillars, and will then find himself secure.”
I hope you are well, I send my regards.
From: Lúa Coderch
To: Virginia Roy
Date: Oct. 25, 2020, 12:21
Re Re: Place and materials
I’m pleased to read your words and to see that you’ve resumed this form of correspondence, which had been set aside for other matters. I had missed it.
You’re right when you speak of the formation of a place. It’s something that I only saw myself later, you know? And yet, it was practically the most important part of what I was doing. You see, when I began to build these little shelters, I wasn’t thinking about this at all. It was 2015, and I was exploring the possibility of voluntarily disappearing: becoming invisible, wiping myself from the map, leaving everything behind and perhaps beginning again from zero, in a completely different form. I had just finished my previous project, Strategies to Disappear (2011), and I had compiled a large number of drawings from survival guides and manuals, tiny diagrams that showed how to protect yourself in an extreme situation, such as camouflaging yourself or surviving a night outdoors. I was attracted by the romantic imaginary of the fugitive, in a way that I’m a little ashamed of now. So I had all these drawings, more than a hundred, for all types of environments: forests, deserts, frozen landscapes, beaches… Each environment has its own construction techniques, based on the materials available. If there were rocks, then you built with rocks, if there were fallen branches, then with wood, of course. There’s a lot of Laugier in this, as you’ve said, and that elemental conception of architecture also attracted me. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with all this, but I had assimilated it: in a certain sense, it was present within me.
One fine day, I went to the nearest mountains and made my first shelter. This was the basis of 2015’s Night in a Remote Cabin Lit by a Kerosene Lamp (which you can see here: https://vimeo.com/128885011), a precedent for Shelter. For this piece, I filled a backpack with postcards that I’ve received over the course of my life, taken from that “treasure chest” that, in some form or another, we all have. When I came down from the mountain, I wrote to a friend, telling her about the construction of the shelter, about the way in which some objects remind us of the landscapes of our lives, about Jean-Paul Sartre’s line that the past is the luxury of proprietors.
All of Shelter started there, with a mere game, a somewhat childish exercise that also reminded me of the forts we made under the table when we were little. But the game soon became more serious: due to a series of circumstances that arose while I worked on this project, I found myself disoriented, in a moment of doubt or vital uncertainty. That was when what I was doing started to make sense and stopped being related to the desire to disappear. Because, of course, that movement of flight or dissolution is interrupted when the first night comes: the urge to shelter as soon as the sun sets.
The shelter, a tiny, clumsy, provisional architecture made with what can be found on site and what little you take with you, is the material translation of that need to have something solid, to settle in the place in which we circumstantially find ourselves, even if only for a short time and in spite of our reservations. Suddenly, what I was doing began to revolve around those things that concretely give meaning to our lives: love, friendship, memory and the objects in which it is contained, the stories we hear and tell, the possibility of speaking and finding ourselves in others. All that which constitutes our north, the signs that guide us. In this way, as you say, there is an exercise of delimitation, of making a frame for immensity. And then putting yourself inside that frame.
From: Virginia Roy
To: Lúa Coderch
Date: Oct. 30, 2020, 0:35
Re: Re: Place and materials
Thank you, Lúa, for your email.
It’s been like opening a window and understanding your shelter within the shelter. Your words make me think about the need to create, to jump into that frame, such as in the Anselmo piece [Entering the Work, 1971] that you have inserted into your work. Besides the delimitation as location, I think of how that delimitation gives us form and anchors us to a materiality. And the way in which the cardinality you allude to becomes corporeality, because it’s not just about fixing something in space, but the space that it creates.
Part of what has been happening to us is that it’s hard to give form to disorientation. That disorientation you mention in the lyrics to the song: “People in here, they know just what to do / They look at me, and they think that I know too.” This dislocation takes on a meaningful presence in, for example, the presence of the compass in another of the episodes, that valuable objects that you pilfer as a little girl in your friend’s house, prisoner of the pull of a magnetic needle.
To disappear is a form of disorientation, and vice versa. I recall the Catalan author Enrique Vila-Matas and his many attempts to disappear, such as in the novel Doctor Pasavento, in which Andrés Pasavento disappears, following in the footsteps of his beloved Robert Walser (another elusive author), but Pasavento realizes that nobody is looking for him and nobody misses him. I feel that this disappearance, which is also disorientation, can be read as the central axis of your piece. And an important part of these shelters is taking on that bewilderment and uncertainty.
I send my regards.
From: Lúa Coderch
To: Virginia Roy
Date: Nov. 3, 2020, 2:55
Re: Re: Place and materials
Good morning from the other side of the ocean.
You said that I’ve opened a window. As I write to you from my kitchen table, a table soaking in the sun, a roll of paper towels waves like a white flag. This undulating dance, which nobody else watches, makes a very soft noise, like the flapping of wings. It’s true, the window has been left half-open. If I stood up, I’d be able to see a patio from this window, an urban central patio. Beneath my window, there isn’t any clothing hung up to dry, just one faded rag. Further down, there’s my neighbor’s terrace. The ground is covered in paving stones, some of them more orange, others redder, laid out like corn. This terrace, sunny and well-swept, has a washing machine underneath a dilapidated asbestos overhang and is delimited by a high chain-link fence. So many stories begin by speaking of position, of location, because each voice is rooted in some way, no matter how precariously.
In Shelter, I attempted to juxtapose these two ideas—a location, a material delimitation—as a prerequisite to everything else. Disorientation is the background against which we move. This is why the compass you mention appears at least twice. Once, the object in itself, as an instrument for orienting one’s self in space. And the second time, as you said, in the memory that explains how this particular compass came into my hands, through an illicit act that, for this very reason, is branded on my memory and has become a point of reference. Disorientation and orientation make their appearance in many other moments, such as when I discuss climbing a pine tree and making out the streets I know so well and a landscape spread out before me from this privileged vantage point. And yet, again, what drove me to climb the pine tree was an attempt to disappear. As in Doctor Pasavento, yes, and you’ve also reminded me of “Wakefield,” that incredible story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in which the protagonist hides from his family for years on end—but on the other side of the street, where he can observe their life without him.
On the chain-link fence that encloses the neighboring terrace, birds flutter around, coming to rest over the course of the day, but never for very long. Now a turtledove, then two parrots who pause for an instant as they fight. Two parrots and now a sparrow. And later, a heron. But no seagulls, the seagulls fly by with a threatening air, but they never alight on the chain-link fence: they weigh too much. It’s an urban central patio, which means that, on the other side, there are houses that overlook streets full of traffic and people coming and going. But there’s nothing of that here, just a background whisper in which it’s hard to distinguish concrete noises, perhaps that of a motorcycle accelerating through an intersection, or a siren, an airplane, a song. Muffled voices filter through half-open windows, as if they had lost all their density, even if it was just an honest laugh or a baby in tears.
The other horizon of Shelter, besides that of memories and objects, is other people, friends and strangers, the living and the dead. Here there’s an idea that I continue to work with to this day. I am certain that, nowadays, our senses constitute themselves in solidarity. We live amongst uncertainty and we yearn for the density of conviction now that the grand narratives that structured our history have been disintegrating in a process that seems to be exponentially speeding up. Disorientation, we could say, is the price that we’re willing to pay to emancipate ourselves from paternal authority, whether it be God, king, science, tradition, progress, the future. In a certain sense, we could say that we’re orphans of meaning and that, as Lauren Berlant argues, we find ourselves immersed in the simultaneous, incoherent concurrence of multiple narratives that attempt to explain what is going on, and what is possible and impossible in our personal and collective life. What do we deserve? How far can we go? What can make us happy? What role do we play for others? Is this all there is? Is there anything beyond survival? This is why it’s so important to reflect, without nostalgia, on meaning, collectively reconstructing our own narratives of the good life. This is the idea that appears in They Look at Me and They Think That I Know Too, the episode you mention. This was the first time I considered this possibility, in that this disorientation might not be mine alone.