TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT Summer 2019

OKWUI ENWEZOR

Steve McQueen, Carib’s Leap/Western Deep, 2002, Super 8 and 35 mm transferred to three-channel digital video, color, sound, 28 minutes 53 seconds; 12 minutes 6 seconds; 24 minutes 12 seconds. Carib’s Leap. From Documenta 11.

IN 1999, Okwui called me to say that he had been appointed the director of Documenta 11. It was a long phone conversation, in which we spoke about our daughters, who were each one year old at the time, and how the exhibition could change their futures.

It did.

Two weeks before Okwui passed, I was sitting in a Munich hospital at his bedside. He was weak. He began to read poetry out loud. The oral experience was as if he were eating the most delicious fruit, biting into it, the juice dripping from his chin, as he relished formulating the sound of each word. 

He ended with “Piedra de sol” (Sun Stone, 1957; translated by Muriel Rukeyser), by Octavio Paz, here excerpted and edited:

 

I want to go on, to go beyond; I cannot; 
the moment scatters itself in many things [. . .]
willow of crystal, a poplar of water, 
a pillar of fountain by the wind drawn over, 
tree that is firmly rooted and that dances, 
turning course of a river that goes curving, 
advances and retreats, goes roundabout, 
arriving forever:
the calm course of a star
or the spring, appearing without urgency, 
water behind a stillness of closed eyelids 
flowing all night and pouring out prophecies, 
a single presence in the procession of waves 
wave over wave until all is overlapped, 
in a green sovereignty without decline 
a bright hallucination of many wings 
when they all open at the height of the sky,
course of a journey among the densities 
of the days of the future and the fateful 
brilliance of misery shining like a bird 
that petrifies the forest with its singing 
and the annunciations of happiness 
among the branches which go disappearing,
hours of light even now pecked away by the birds, 
omens which even now fly out of my hand,
an actual presence like a burst of singing, 
like the song of the wind in a burning building,
a long look holding the whole world suspended, 
the world with all its seas and all its mountains, 
body of light as it is filtered through agate, 
the thighs of light, the belly of light, the bays, 
the solar rock and the cloud-colored body, 
color of day that goes racing and leaping, 
the hour glitters and assumes its body, 
now the world stands, visible through your body, 
and is transparent through your transparency,
I travel through your waist as through a river,
I voyage your body as through a grove going,
as by a footpath going up a mountain
and suddenly coming upon a steep ravine
I go the straitened way of your keen thoughts
break through to daylight upon your white forehead
and there my spirit flings itself down, is shattered
now I collect my fragments one by one
and go on, bodiless, searching, in the dark [. . .]
you take on the likeness of a tree, a cloud,
you are all birds and now you are a star,
now you resemble the sharp edge of a sword 
and now the executioner’s bowl of blood,
the encroaching ivy that over grows and then
roots out the soul and divides it from itself [. . .]
I want to go on, to go beyond; I cannot; 
the moment scatters itself in many things, 
I have slept the dreams of the stone that never dreams 
and deep among the dreams of years like stones 
have heard the singing of my imprisoned blood, 
with a premonition of light the sea sang, 
and one by one the barriers give way, 
all of the gates have fallen to decay, 
the sun has forced an entrance through my forehead, 
has opened my eyelids at last that were kept closed, 
unfastened my being of its swaddling clothes, 
has rooted me out of my self, and separated 
me from my animal sleep centuries of stone 
and the magic of reflections resurrects 
willow of crystal, a poplar of water, 
a pillar of fountain by the wind drawn over, 
tree that is firmly rooted and that dances, 
turning course of a river that goes curving, 
advances and retreats, goes roundabout, 
arriving forever. 

 

Steve McQueen is an artist, film director, and screenwriter based in London and Amsterdam.