Baku

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Sleipnir, 2018, wood, metal, steel bearings, electromagnets, sound. Installation view. Photo: Pat Verbruggen.

Pedro Gómez-Egaña, Sleipnir, 2018, wood, metal, steel bearings, electromagnets, sound. Installation view. Photo: Pat Verbruggen.

Pedro Gómez-Egaña

YARAT

The pathways of our world are more tangled than we could ever know. From Azerbaijan, the Colombian artist Pedro Gómez-Egaña has drawn a line toward Norway, where he now lives. His solo show at Yarat Contemporary Art Space comprised a single installation, Sleipnir, 2018. Its title referred to the eight-legged horse ridden by Odin, a Norse god said to have traveled from Azerbaijan to Scandinavia. Odin carries the head of Mimir, the god of wisdom, whose eyes can see the whole world. We rode into a realm of fantasy, imagination, and poetic freedom.

In 1999, the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl found petroglyphs, particularly of ships, in Azerbaijan that bore a stark resemblance to those occurring in Norway. Heyerdahl surmised that Azerbaijani people migrated north to Scandinavia, and that the Vikings originated in the ancient Caspian region. This idea does not attempt to be a historical reevaluation but confronts anti-migratory politics by scoffing at geography. While northern superiority still prevails in conceptions of both modernity and nature, this hypothesis questions the origins of Scandinavians, flinging them into murky waters at the confluence of Europe and Asia. Gómez-Egaña’s installation embodied both knowledge at the edge of science as well as this inversion of the map—the sense that we are journeying toward new horizons.

Built to look like a ship with eight masts, a large red mechanical structure made of metal and wood sat in the center of the space. Dividing each segment of the octagonal construction were gray levers, and stationed beside each was a black-garbed performer. Visitors were instructed to enter the structure and take a seat within one of eight interior compartments. Inside, cut off from fellow participants, we were engulfed in darkness, and the melodic sound of string instruments evoked a place between dream and reverie. Gómez-Egaña himself composed the music, blending Azerbaijani and Norwegian folk themes that repeat with varying tempos. Then, we heard the slow, deep voice of the artist as he began to tell a tale composed of fragments from Jorge Luis Borges’s 1945 short story “The Aleph.” Borges imagines a point in space that contains all other points—the whole universe and its unfathomable infinity. Borges’s words, as recited by Gómez-Egaña, sound like an incantation: “I see the teeming sea; I see daybreak and nightfall; I see the multitudes of America; I see a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid. . . . ” After a few minutes, the artist transitions into his own story about his father building a dwelling on an island for his mother, and how scorpions infested this house of dreams. The tonality of the language is so similar that it is impossible to know when Borges becomes Gómez-Egaña. Fantasy becomes illusion. His mother would lie awake, “killing every shadow in case it’s alive.” The passage ends with the words “The whole world is just one ocean. But not for me. The house is my ocean, and tonight is my ship.” The world closes in on a single point.

Outside the structure, silver spheres the size of fists continued to swing like pendulums from the ceiling, moving outward, then back toward an invisible magnet inside the wall. They hit the wall with a thump, the rhythm conjuring a rider in the distance. Perhaps the spheres represented Odin’s head or a crystal ball in which one can see the poison of the past. Perhaps they represented the aleph itself, which “can see every place in the world, from every possible angle.” Reflecting us in their mirrored surfaces, they drew us into their magnetic field, as if oscillating between north and south, a compass promising direction and divination.