If you open the book, which you saw in yesterday’s post (and you can see here if you missed it) balancing on people’s head in Athens (in a photograph and as a performance), as part of a darkened installation in Kassel (along with its 12 sisters), and which I held in my hand in the Wexner Store here in Columbus, Ohio (where it waited, patiently for my return), you will encounter several references to the mythical Sirens. But, perhaps lucky for you, you will not hear them. Instead, the song of the Sirens of Irena Haiduk’s work is transposed into the format of a book. For example, instead of page numbers, the book’s sections are divided into the hours, minutes and seconds of an audio track. In addition, there are some opening instructions that ask you to read with a different kind of voice:
INSTRUCTIONS: As you read, please do not use the usual voice in your head. The descriptions below are provided so that you hear the voices of the contributors instead.
To explore the appearances of the Sirens in the book, here are the descriptions of the relevant voices, along with the ‘time’ when they appear:
Voice 1: A voice on the deeper end of the female pitch-spectrum, with a soft, warm tone, and an easy-going, relaxed pace. Her breathing and word accenting is unconventional, coming from a slight Nordic accent.
Voice 2: A testimonial voice of sustained pitch with a vague Eastern-European accent, often interrupted by outbursts of laughter. This alto is always on the verge of singing, accompanied by emotive pace changes.
Voice 3: A voice with a quick speaking pace and strong authoritative tone are sustained by a rich lower alto and an uneven shifting higher tone located in her upper jaw and released on a constant, even exhale.
Voice 4: A voice of unknown quality, but if you had to describe it, it would sound like Voice 3 imitating Voice 2.
Voice 1: According to Greek mythology, there are two ways to escape death by Sirens. The first option is to look out to sea with open eyes and with your ears plugged with wax. The second option is to tie yourself to the mast, blindfolded, and let the song wash over you as the ship sails ahead. Irena Haiduk seeks another way, drawing us closer to the Sirens.
Voice 2: Sirens are divine creatures whose singing and silence is irresistible. In some versions of the myth, Sirens are cannibals, but most contemporary scholarship explains that they simply don’t need to eat because they’re divine. The sailors do not nourish them; instead, the Sirens waste the sailors to death by immobilizing them by waiting. CANVAS [the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies] leaves behind a similar state of waiting in countries where it operates, whether Ukraine, Burma, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine again, Syria, or Iran. The benefits of idealized capitalism and dreamt-of democracy seem imminent but they never arrive. These countries are left to waste.
Voice 2: In this moment, Rachel [the replicant from Blade Runner] is a voice of both past and the future – Sirenic, since the Sirens know all past and future; they are out of time…They are uncanny…I wanted people to be seduced by the voices – not only because they are incredible voices, but also because thy are familiar. It’s an uncanny effect in that very moment, similar to the uncanny feeling when you walk in and see the Siren figures that appear to be alive.
Voice 1: As much as your project at the Renaissance Society is a very oral artwork, it’s also very visual. The way you’ve done the waiting room, it’s very meticulous. The shade of purple, for example, was very particular. There also the Sirens with their black dresses and their bodies painted different Mediterranean complexions.
Voice 2: The beautiful women carrying the books are walking around us every ten minutes during this talk, keeping time, making a clock. They make twelve women total when we added the seated statues in the exhibition. The reclining women in the gallery are of Mediterranean complexion. They’re from close to the Sirens’ islands and their skin is their proof. In another way, they are like Sirens, too: they are non-aligned. Historically, this idea of Non-Alignment was meant to be a way to evade the Cold War, as certain smaller countries changed the rules of the game rather than aligning with one of the superpowers. (Yugoslavia was one of the founders of the movement and one of the only countries in Europe to join.) Non-alignment as non-allegiance is also emblematic of the Sirens, who live in a perpetual present, unable too see the past or future but gazing upon the movement of the markets. Financial assets are the only things in the world, aside from data flows that carry them, that have true freedom of movement.
Voice 3: Soon, you’ll find nods to Greek Mythology: the mannequins and so too the models (the same things) you are about to see, after all, function like Sirens, they tempt you into the empty space of the gallery, singing you a song, a song that sounds like an exchange between human machines, a conversation you hear in warm waves. Their bodies are luxurious and languid. They are as lifelike as they can be, and they have names: Christy, Rachel…Names that belong to the models from whose bodies they are cast. In Chicago, in the near dark, you might not be able to tell, in fact, if they are living or not, at least not at first. You also won’t be able to tell if those who are with you, listening, but not seeing (much) are living or more mannequin-Siren-things.
Voice 4: The Artist’s work is so damn complete. How do I enter? This I remember thinking when we spoke, though maybe I didn’t: there is nothing left to chance. Every detail, every historical fact, every coincidental translation, every symbolic assertion is there in the armature, the apparatus, the conversation-song sung by
Voice 3: So, then, it also makes sense that in Seductive Exacting Realism, there are as many clever nods to the fashion, products, and pictures of popular culture as there are to the high literature that pretends to distract the Sirens from their work. The Sirens, these model-mannequins made to appear even ore seductive than the real-life models whose bodies their plastic figures copy.
Voice 4: the Sirens. Listen. What else is there left to say, except to say it all again? I will say what I imagine it encompasses, even if I’m wrong. In The Odyssey, the Sirens taunt, “No lonely seafarer/ holds clear of entering/ our green mirror.” But how can you enter a mirror? Is it through your twin? The Art Historian who writes in the present about the near future but with an eye to its posterity, its future as history, and an Artist, who makes work that points to this very problem of temporal delay, a relay that strands us in the present that repeats and repeats. The work feels like a magnus [sic] opus.
Voice 3: The Sirens are reading, or pretending to read. They hold books, eight volumes from a thirteen-volume edition of the Complete Writings of Marcel Proust, translated into Serbo-Croatian in 1965 by the Croatian Poet, Tin Ujevic. Four additional volumes are separated and scattered around the split installation, here and in Istanbul. One volume is missing. It was lost. The book that follows the exhibition, the one you’re reading now, is meant to be a surrogate for this lost volume, number twelve as it happens. It marks its own return to the past, its one static time: it is an imposter, a pretense. How appropriate that the Sirens, whose work is to lure you in and out of time with their song, should be reading Proust, the author of Le temps perdu, a novel written about the intrusion of memory into the present, about the longing for an ideal past that pierces through to trap you in reverie, near exquisite pain.
Voice 4: I sing a Siren’s song to myself, seduced by my own power to entice myself and to conquer myself. Again and again. I have started and stopped this essay a thousand times since I began writing it, stressed and indifferent. Stressed about being indifferent. Writing shit. Indifferent about writing shit, but still stressed because somehow it has to stop.
Voice 3: Listen closely to the Siren’s song as it plays in the gallery, this recorded conversation between two hired voices, two women, two women-machines who re-speak the interview between the Artist and the Revolutionary.
Voice 3: However, the fact that the Sirens who sing the songs of Seductive Exacting Realism allows you, perhaps, to play against these rules. Make contact with the, don’t run away, don’t stuff your ears. In Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus encounters obstacle upon obstacle on his ten-year journey back to Ithaca after already having fought ten long years of war in Troy. We learn of these obstacles, these hurdles that the hero cleared, one after another, not as they happen, but as he tells them later to the Phaeacians, thereby incorporating the into his story. Indeed, moved by his story and telling of it, the Phaeacians deliver him to Ithaca while he sleeps. When he wakes, having reached his destination, he will resume the telling, he will bring the history of Troy home. Odysseus controls the larger narrative of Homer’s poem, not to mention his own destiny, his own capacity to move through the world precisely through his capacity to tell it. In the end, it is his stories that compel the Phaeacians to act and thereby propel the story towards its forgone conclusion: his arrival home. Of the obstacles he surpasses on this self-narrated history, the Sirens are unique. The danger of the Sirens derives from another source than the witchery or violence that clever Odysseus is always able to outdo, outthink. The Sirens threaten precisely Odysseus’ greatest strength: his control over history through his capacity to tell it, to make it whole, to make it a total picture. Weltbild.
[At this point our audiobook stops and sinks into silence – you will have to read/hear it for yourself to find out how this Siren song ends. By way of adding our own conclusion, here is another Siren song, a song of naming, that happened today in Kassel]