Bookends: Waiting Rules for Caryatids

Spinal Discipline is the name of Irena Haiduk’s performance at documenta 14 in which thirteen members of the “Army of Beautiful Women” walk while balancing the surrogate Proust book Seductive Exacting Realism on their heads.

This use of a book as a tool for correct posture and grace is accompanied by other seemingly superficial features of the clothes and shoes they are wearing. Yet both the dresses and shoes are also part of the performance as they are products of Haiduk’s ‘oral corporation’ Yugoexport. In fact, the shoes have their own section in the exhibition checklist, which runs as follows:

Nine-Hour Delay (2012–58)
One thousand pairs of Borosana shoes worn by the female workforce of documenta 14
Shoe sizes 35–42
Produced for Yugoexport

The title seems to reference the sense of waiting associated with the hours of the working day (the ‘delay’ that working hours brings to our lives) and this idea is referenced in the conditions for purchase by visitors to documenta 14, wherein they have to agree to use these shoes only for work. This connection between working and waiting – the work of waiting – is given a broader political emphasis in the excerpts from the notebooks of the Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić included in Seductive Exacting Realism, translated by Haiduk and called Waiting Rules. Here is a brief sample:

The forces propelling life here are not hard work and initiative, but waiting and patience, since it is patience that nourishes and maintains waiting.

When you silently accept life under your enemy’s terms, you live as your enemy wishes. In essence, you do not live; your whole life, and all your expectations, transform into patient and never-ending waiting.

They never noticed their lives shifting to the dead end of waiting.

Deformed by their lives of monstrous waiting, they no longer exist as themselves.

While these waiting rules are enacted in Haiduk’s performance in the act of waiting by the audience and they are also part of the nature of the static role of the book on the shelf, in the library, as reflected in the set of volumes of Proust’s work on display in the Neue Neue Galarie,Haiduk also transposes them onto another story of oppression and waiting: the theft of the Caryatid from the Erechtheion in Athens.

In a photographic work called Thomas Love Working, Siren Call, Haiduk superimposes a black and white image of one of the participants in Spinal Discipline (and one of the ‘Sirens’ from the Renaissance Society exhibition) onto the ancient temple, as if her act of balancing the book on her head turns her into a human Caryatid.

When encountered within the contexts of Andrić’s waiting rules, this projection onto the temple joins other ways in which the bringing of the Caryatids back to life in narratives is used to critique the kidnapping of their sister by Lord Elgin and how the remaining five sisters wait for her return in Athens. In her book The Classical Debt, Johanna Hanink quotes from a children’s book on sale in the new Acropolis museum called Adventures of the Acropolis’ Marbled Girls. Hanink emphasizes one scene in which the five remaining Caryatids in Athens hear word from their stolen sister in the British Museum in London: 

“She feels loneliness…She thinks of you day and night. She is trapped, however, like a partridge in the trap, She wants to be near you again. She does not want to get old in a terrible wet place. I have also seen the spots she has from parasites, since she lives without sun and light in this foreign country. She is crying each time she remembers you.”

In this fictional narrative, the waiting is shared between the six sisters, split between London and Athens. Furthermore, the waiting that is projected onto these statues – giving them voice and life – mirrors the way that living people under oppressive regimes are, in turn, transformed into objects (“you do not live”), through their “lives of monstrous waiting”.

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