Buenos Aires

Faivovich & Goldberg, Decomiso (Seizure) (detail), 2016–17, 253 digital C-prints, 253 file folders with notarized documents, file cabinet, storage racks. Installation view. Photo: Javier Agustin Rojas.

Faivovich & Goldberg, Decomiso (Seizure) (detail), 2016–17, 253 digital C-prints, 253 file folders with notarized documents, file cabinet, storage racks. Installation view. Photo: Javier Agustin Rojas.

Faivovich & Goldberg

ZMUD

Faivovich & Goldberg, Decomiso (Seizure) (detail), 2016–17, 253 digital C-prints, 253 file folders with notarized documents, file cabinet, storage racks. Installation view. Photo: Javier Agustin Rojas.

In the vast and various field that is the debate about appropriation, histories are unearthed and identities bear fruit. What happens then, when an artist proposes to co-opt massive rocks that have fallen from the sky, unseen and unrecorded? Who lays claim to them when they lie on a monotonous terrain with just an empty horizon in sight? When the artist duo Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolás Goldberg planned to displace a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite from Campo del Cielo in Argentina for Documenta 13 in 2012, the Moqoit First Nation, for whom the rock and the place were sacred, protested and the work was withdrawn. Instead, the artists presented a large plinth made of oxidized iron, a monument of omnipresent absence, an empty pedestal awaiting some spectacular or alien arrival. While theorists since the Romantics have called upon art to “render the invisible visible,” the magic trick that manifests the mysterious, Faivovich & Goldberg extract the inaccessible from the solid, making, as it were, the visible invisible. 

Two years later, in 2014, more than four hundred meteorites, confiscated by the state attorney’s office from a local estate—where they would have been harvested by meteorite hunters, smuggled and sold on the black market—were being stored in an inconspicuous back room. The artists managed to convince the authorities to allow them access to the interstellar outcasts in order to have them weighed, classified, and indexed. The result was the artists’ exhibition “Decomiso”—Spanish for “seizure” or “confiscation.” A sterile maze of white metal racks amid white walls displayed 253 unique digital C-prints, each indexing a named meteorite against a bureaucratic blue background. “All artists seize,” writes critic Javier Villa in the exhibition text. “They recover materials from obscure and unclear origins, whether they are revealed from intuition, unheard historical facts, unexpected science or anomalous views on politics.” In cleaning, measuring, naming, and photographing each rock, the artists gave these anonymous objects an independent ontological status.

The meteorite, which existed prior to human thought, occurs on a cosmic time scale: It is not bound by law or ethics. Once pictured—photography “began, historically, as an art of the Person: of identity, of civil status,” as Roland Barthes said—the meteorite becomes an earthly object, replete with character and quality. It is transformed from a cosmic readymade to a copy, photographed on generic and bureaucratically blue carpeting, subject to human power structures. Calculating a meteorite becomes a conceptual gesture, a way of mirroring our hubristic desires. Though individualizing them zooms us out of our anthropocentric outlook, offering the rock its own subjectivity, the rock is not, on its own accord, able to make the decision, Who am I and where do I belong?

The artists based their system of indexing on the objects’ current location, a unique number, and the location of confiscation, changing the meteorites’ geological framework from deep time to a procedural contemporaneity, and finally into an artificially preserved site. Faivovich & Goldberg function as border control: They cast the process of cleaning, scraping, inscribing, and weighing as a kind of initial screening; the photographing of each meteorite as biometrics; the storage of the rocks in fuel drums coated in anti-rust paint and welded shut as a stamp of entry; and the exhibit as a settlement. The vast field of appropriation suddenly becomes contoured, with gradients and incalculable trigonometries. The exhibition, then, was not centered on the photographs themselves; the photographs become tangential references to the objects’ physical presence. In this, the show captured the meteorites’ paradox of invisible visibility. 

A separate building housed a video, Patio Santiagueño, 2016, which documented the cataloguing process, as well as a lunchtime gathering of the state attorney’s friends, who begin singing the folk songs heard on the soundtrack. As if music, somehow, were the only human medium that might bridge the distance between the indefinite origins of the meteorite and its demarcated destiny. 

Himali Singh Soin