Letter to Le Havre
From: VLAD MORARIU & THE SATELLITE GROUP / THE KNOT
To: PALAIS DE TOPKAPI
9 Cours République,
surprised as you may be when opening this letter, please bear with us and follow our narrative to the end. It tells no particular story, there is no plot involved, but rather the result of a montage. Bear with us: it is not accident which causes our meeting in such a strange and old-fashioned way, through the mediation of a letter which arrives with the postman. In fact, there are reasons to believe that everything concurs for our meeting: that this piece of writing is part of a collective art project we thought of for a long time, that it functions in the frame of the Knot in Bucharest and last, but not least, that literature has been our most trusted guide. In fact, our hopes have been placed in a fictional geography – the geography of an imaginary Le Havre, which in Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea bears the name of Bouville. Literature has proved inspiring and decisive, as we believe that, much more than any other kind of art or philosophy (maybe only cinema should claim rights of comparison) it has the power of breaking the “natural course” of things. There is nothing “natural”, “God given” or “implacable”, there is only what we make out of things. So in a way, by writing to you, we highlight this power of change. We link to you by way of our imagination – we imagine that you live on a contemporary Boulevard Victor-Noir, a Rue des Mutiles, or a Avenue Galvani, that something similar to Railwaymen’s Rendezvous or to Café Mably must exist in your proximity, and that at times you can hear the echo of the Paris train arriving in the station, or at least see its people bursting into the street of the harbour of Le Havre. It was your Real proximity with the train station, though, that persuaded us to write precisely to you, and the internet and its maps have served us well to trace your marks in the French city. We imagine and hope that there is something about your space and time which, in a sense, are ours as well, and which constitute a condition for mutual exchange. This is why we will be grateful if you will pass this letter further to your friends, relatives or customers.
“So a change has taken place during these last few weeks. But where? It is an abstract change without object. Am I the one who has changed? If not, then it is this room, this city and this nature; I must choose. I think I’m the one who has changed: that’s the simplest solution. Also the most unpleasant. But I must finally realize that I am subject to these sudden transformations. The thing is that I rarely think; a crowd of small metamorphoses accumulate in me without my noticing it, and then, one fine day, a veritable revolution takes place.” (Sartre)
Bear with us: it doesn’t really matter if what we imagine is absent. In a way, since what we imagine is already placed on our cognitive maps, as a reference point which guides us in our lives and our societies, it must exist in some way or the other. It is thus that writing to you becomes an act of remembrance, through which we re-visit what we felt when we read the novel first, what our thoughts and aspirations were when we finished it, feelings and thoughts which never come again as such, but only as the conscience of something which is irremediably lost. So, by writing to you we experience the anxiety of the Nausea, we feel it coming and going, here and there, now and again.
“... the Nausea seized me, I dropped to a seat, I no longer knew where I was; I saw the colours spin slowly around me, I wanted to vomit. And since that time, the Nausea has not left me, it holds me ...” (Sartre)
This is just a way that we use to appropriate our imaginary: we do this because we know that only by reinserting it into the visible world we manage to survive. And since our imaginary has been the main drive of our actions, we see the very process of writing this letter as a political endeavour. A certain Roquentin, and a certain Bouville have always remained in the background of our actions and thoughts, in some area of our subconscious or unconscious. Since the letter is sent to you, who are absent from our present perception and completely unknown to us, we feel that by writing this piece we also explore our unconscious, which for us can be only political. To this we add and admit the nostalgia with which we write to you, as the mourning for something which has never been truly ours, as a longing for something we felt is irremediably lost.
For we have all been sympathetic with Roquentin’s self-wandering, which we recognize still as the paradigmatic situation which frames our lives. We hear the noise of solidarity breaking apart, the roar of the media enchanting our eyes and souls while we slightly forget about our political agendas, whereas the social bond is more and more fragmented. We are weary of ourselves being subjected to capitalist estrangement, and we experience progressively Roquentin’s sense of loneliness and of being lost, of losing any meaning in the face of what life has become.
“Some of these days / You’ll miss me honey” (jazz piece)
We write, we said that already, from the Knot in Bucharest. To my right a group of wild architects are talking about maps, and this is again no accident, since it is a map that we used to find you. They are planning future cities beginning with what is at hand, the interface of the one surrounding us. We are thinking about Bouville and Le Havre – we are actually only imagining them, as we have never been there. By some strange connection, we already share an invisible public space – unseen streets and signs, parks and cafés, squares and passageways, places of meeting and places of interdiction. This is our proper common. Something could exist. In Bucharest we see the huge blender which swallows histories, ideologies and architectures, in one of the strangest mixes ever to have been conceived. We are not using any value system when saying these things, we are not assessing that this is right or wrong, we merely write what we see. Bucharest and its mixture is truly postmodern: and we include ourselves subcutaneously, under its skin, we pop up like advertisement billboards and we interrupt people‘s traffic like the newest car brands at the traffic light, we play our DVDs, our music and our projections, we get flues and viruses, and we end up by being swallowed anonymously. Something could be changed. In the continuous rush for accumulation, which traps so many people like us, the Knot with its pink, blue and navy air inflated elephants, seems out of time and space, like an alien ship which lands in the park. An artist makes out of her cooking a piece of art: I ask her while I swallow what results out of her Bohemian recipe, and I learn that in the end the designation “art” has no importance here, once you see people re-conquering a manner of talking and debating which seemed lost. We are occupying public space, we are claiming it back. This is a playground for artists, theoreticians, musicians and architects: a Knot-Mobile stands in its centre, looking like those mechanisms that you see in the cartoons that transform at times into fighter-robots. But our little truck is rather like a big turtle which only takes at times the shape of a stage, a DJ-set, a storage room, etc. Many things function only here, as if the very context that the Knot constructs – the Knot itself tends to link the existent with the imaginary – has some mysterious transformative power to give utility to some site-specific furniture, or some other cultural artefact. But the Park itself miraculously connects with all this. It bears the name of a king, but it hosts a colossal monument that is said to have hosted the remains of Romanian communist leaders. When night comes – and since it is already a grimy October, night announces its coldness earlier – the alley upon which we camp with all our devices and noises lights its little flashes, up to that Monument – star-port, which is placed at the other end of the stairs that we see in front of us. It is as if the monument in itself prepares us for a take-off towards who knows what far-away Galaxy. The Knot is not itself a harbour (like Le Havre), but it harbours all our resistive energies.
“On everything I like, on the rust of the construction girders, on the rotten boards of the fence, a miserly, uncertain light falls, like the look you give, after a sleepless night, on decisions made with enthusiasm the day before, on pages you have written in one spurt without crossing out a word. The four cafés on the Boulevard Victor-Noir, shining in the night, side by side, and which are much more than cafés—aquariums, ships, stars or great white eyes-have lost their ambiguous charm.” (Sartre)
And so, the charm slightly fading away, we come to the end of this letter. Nothing else has been achieved by it, but a closing of the gap between us and you, and between us and ourselves. No beginning and no end, no intrigue, no denouement. There is also no hope, other than that which hopes your coming out, your sheer manifestation, your sign of joy and bond. We thus hope for a key which will empower us to decode our unconscious inhibitions and to re-appropriate our creative potential for action and resistance.
Vlad Morariu and The Satellite Group