Between the Image and an “Imaginarium” of Dubai

by David Santos

In the far distant year of 1940, an inexhaustible chest called “The Arcades Project” spoke almost unheard. There, as a conjurer of the modern transformations that affect image production in the era in which images can be reproduced technically, Walter Benjamin illuminated the magical and epistemological power of the image, and not just the photographic image, but in a close relationship with it: “image (he says) is that wherein the Erstwhile comes together in a flash with the Now to form a constellation.” In other words, image is immobilized dialectic. For, as the relationship of the present with the past is purely temporal, the relationship of the Erstwhile with the Now is dialectic: it is not temporal but imagetic.” Once so identified, our awareness of the outcome of this constant ricochet that immobilizes us before the magisterium of enchantment was born. And with the photograph, we have all played since the beginning of time in the “dialectical” assumption of a new but powerful “imaginarium”, which, although tied to the real since its origin, (as a consequence of the ancient mimetic and figurative impetus that transfigures drawing from the cave to photography), promoted from the mid-19th century, between the ineffable “flash” of the “Erstwhile” in the “Now” and its powerful transcendence, the babel-like growth of the archive “inferno” – after all, the insatiable purpose of our era, keeping us linked – even today, and increasingly so to an “archive fever”, as Jacques Derrida noted in the mid-1990s, and to which the ether of the Internet brought the possibility of a real global and democratising explosion, based on the rapid growth of immediatist search engines such as Google.

The “flash” that Pauliana Valente Pimentel offers us with her new series about time spent in Dubai, even if it does not counter the contemporary impulse to produce more and more images, thus contributing to the exponentiation of our collective archive, returns us to the idea of an “other” that is still something impenetrable, that, despite sharing with us many aspects of a world that is increasingly global, near and similar, shows itself to us so far as is possible, on the basis of its own admitted distance. And it is in this game that an increasingly hybrid “other” hides, which is simultaneously both strange and familiar, although these images do not involve a voluntary surrender of this Arabic “other” to observation by the photographer. The absence of a stronger and more essential commonality from this work process can be understood here and there from the frustration of the intensity that Pauliana seeks from those whom she encounters and who, this time, caused her to perform an additional take on real, while she nevertheless provoked some gestures of genuine momentaneous openness. After Greece, the Caucasus and Cape Verde, where the truth of a surrender was sublimated in the production of groups, or “constellations” of intense dialogue and mutual sharing, Dubai revealed itself to be a greater challenge and in the limited series now exhibited, Pauliana paradoxically found greater solidity and promise of signification in the entrails of a physical and almost lifeless reality, and in a focus on the detail of unexpected connections between objects, circumstances of an ephemeral temporality or landscape references – in the desert or in the new city – which produce a subtle but equally bewitching relationship between the visible as administered by the political and social officiality of Dubai and the surprises of an almost strange atmosphere, which is designed by someone from another reality, who has a photographic gaze that is, in part, inspired by other cultural references, but which, despite the easily identified contrasts, seeks to mix them with this local dimension in a manner that is productive and effective from the point of view of a possible otherness, achieved by this “imaginarium” that only photography can deepen.

It is precisely this visual dance, face to face, in which the paradox is displayed and manifested as a hesitant or transformed exoticality that drives Pauliana Valente Pimentel’s most recent project. This time, the artist invests much more in recording and focusing on the intersections that reality produces in the face of human distraction, or the inability to recognise these megalomaniac projects that promise absolute dominion over nature and chance, without noticing how nature and chance are manifested on every corner, in every disruption or ancestral force of life itself. Entangled in the designs of the unknown, and by leaping between its social or ethnic expression and the glow of the signification of the most unsuspected relationships marked by gestures and everyday experience, boring into the interstices of chance the always occasional apparitions  but revealing the beauty and power that surrounds us of which we are unaware, Pauliana overcomes the barrier of the human, of the figurative, or of her direct gaze (even though one of the strongest images in this series reassumes it), in order to surrender herself completely to the identification of this poeticality of places and their traces of humanity or of absence of control. It is perhaps between the image that we in the West have of a thriving place that is somewhat allegorical or baroque in its outpouring of oil-based affluence and the “imaginarium” that Pauliana drove down to in the hidden recesses of this unbridled growth, that the place, nature and the city continues to expand as a kind of laboratory of a late-capitalism that shamelessly ostentates its global magisterium, that the focal point, or distance, that conditions us, but, at the same time, impels a reading of the “other”, when everyone knows, each one in its own way, that it is of these encounters and divergences that relations between people, peoples and cultures are made. And yet, this is also the way in which the archive or memory of humanity is created.

Note 1 – See Walter Benjamin, Passagens, (1927-1940), (translation by Irene Aron and Cleonice Paes Barreto Mourão and revision by Patricia Freitas Camargo), Belo Horizonte/São Paulo, Editora UFMG/Imprensa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo, 2006.

Note 2 – Cf. Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive: une impression freudienne, Paris, Galilée, 1995.