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Duende with Gauri Gill, Jann Clavadetscher, Juan Carlos Alom, Navid Tschopp, Raphael Hefti, Raphael Perret, Sam Porritt, Sahej Rahal and Shreyas Karle

Address: Rote Fabrik, Seestrasse 395, 8038 Zurich
Preview: Wednesday, June 19, 6.30-9 pm
Dates: June 20–25, 2014
Timings: June 21, 23 and 25: 4-6 pm; and otherwise by appointment
Exhibition walkthrough with curator Gitanjali Dang: Sunday, June 23, 5 pm


In his preface to In Search of Duende, 1998—a collection of writings by poet Federico Garcia Lorca—editor Christopher Maurer picks up on Lorca’s cues and describes duende as “…irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death and a dash of the diabolical.”

Although a great deal of our understanding of the Spanish term duende has been derived from Lorca’s magnificent, albeit romantic, extrapolations—he thinks of duende as ‘a power and not a behaviour’ and ‘a struggle and not a concept’—the nebulous notion of duende is alive with many inner lives, some less explored, some unexplored.

Outside of Lorca, duende is a mythological creature and appears under different names in cultures across the world. Tomte, the name given to its Swedish avatar has its root in tomt as in home. Duende itself hails from the Spanish dueño, as in the ‘real owner’. Despite the many imaginaries surrounding the legend, its association with the idea of the home becomes the most compelling vis-à-vis the current scenario.

Intersecting this etymology with Lorca’s reading allows us to conduct our own extrapolations and conflations. Drawing together the two ideas makes the leap to the embodied aesthetic seem like less of a leap.

The embodied aesthetic is predicated on the distinction between the aesthetic project and the visual art project. Despite the distinction, which will be elaborated on presently, the word project is a key denominator because it implies an ongoingness, in the absence of which none of this would’ve been possible.

“Visual art—called thus because its operative components rely either heavily or solely on visibility for their survival—requires that we constantly mind the gap between the artist and the art, the said and the unsaid, the done and the undone, the written and the unwritten. The aesthetic project, on the other hand, emerges from an embodied and consequently more irony-free practice, which keeps the gap to a minimum. […]

In the aesthetic project you embody your aesthetic like a turtle embodies its home. Distinctions collapse, they become same and you operate out of this sanctuary. Turtles are khanabadosh. A hindustani word, khanabadosh stands for those who carry their homes with them. […] Turtles and tortoises are slow in part because of the weight of their homes. The embodiment of home/aesthetic entails slowing down. Introversion, introspection, and sustainability are hard-wired into the embodied practice.”

This in no way is to suggest that the visual art project and the aesthetic project don’t intersect, because they do, and the results can be quite combustive when they do.” 1 The artists contributing to this project work from within the art industry but they’re alert to the gaps regardless, and as a result are constantly finding ways to move towards a more embodied practice.

Conflating the mythical origins of duende and Lorca’s reading of the term with the idea of the embodied aesthetic as home and vice versa creates a layered approach to the aesthetic project.

The embodied practice could then be the result of duende encountered when one is confronted with a gap that demands minding. Alternatively, an aesthetic project might emerge from an encounter, which evokes this shadowy duende in the artist. Either way, duende—in some capacity no matter how small—permeates the embodied aesthetic. Works by Gill, Clavadetscher, Alom, Porritt, Tschopp emerge from these broad territories.

For those who are already dismissing this proposal on account of its quasi-Romantic leanings, works by Karle, Rahal and Perret function as self-effacing meta-commentaries that flag out the complexities of viciously circular arguments, which are intrinsic to discourse. It might be germane then to appreciate the position of duende through lenses as varied as object-oriented philosophy and neuroesthetics among others. Hefti’s work, being predicated as it is on the transformative and/or interruptive processes, is a directional cue for rethinking our relationship with duende.

Needless to say, this process of trying to better understand the implications of the aesthetic project is hugely on-going. Duende in no way implies a finality of any sort.

– Gitanjali Dang


Notes: 1 Gitanjali Dang, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Moving’ in Life Between Borders: The Nomadic Life of Curators and Artists edited by edited by Steven Rand and Heather Kouris  (apexart, 2013)


Supported by Pro Helvetia & Rote Fabrik


Captions/ Details: Clockwise from featured image
I) Installation view (Detail)
II) Juan Carlos Alom, Evidencia, 2001, Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich
III-VI) Installation view (Detail)
VII) Video documentation of exhibition