Eugenia Calvo

Title: More heroic work

Author: Andrew Berardini
Place and date: París, june, 2013. As part of the exhibition Collective Fictions, Palais de Tokio

It’s really quite sad, but words have failed Eugenia Calvo. Maybe I only think its sad because I’m a writer, and maybe only sad at first. Later it bursts with beauty like when it rains indoors from ceiling sprinklers during a fire.

Words are only tools after all. Sometimes they just don’t work. I don’t own many tools, so I’m often tasked on how to fix my clogged sink with only a red rubber mallet or to repair a broken doorknob with a needle and lavender thread. These are obviously not the right tools, but I try to manage with what I have.

Not Eugenia.

The words started to fail a little bit here and there, an inappropriate synonym, a untranslateable idea, a cliched and tinny phrase. This happens often I think, but for most people it’s merely a blind spot. You really have to look very closely to notice a blind spot, and mostly we just use the wrong word,  the rough translation. Certain languages just don’t have a word for the color blue. When asked about blue, it’s not like the speakers of these languages don’t see blue, but they find it easier not to see it. It’s difficult to see things you just don’t have the words for.

Eugenia read the logistician Wittgenstein: “What cannot be spoken about, we must pass over in silence,” but then promptly ignored him.  Language foundered and she moved on, as in a crisis, provisional objects filling in for the failure of words. It might have begun on plates during dinner. She would arrange her food just so. The pictures on the plates were very helpful in this regard, one wonder if her family had just regular white plates if Eugenia’s innovations in linguistics would have happened at all.

It quickly metastisized from there. She managed to invent whole new languages with complex grammar and syntax, vocabulary and metaphor, puns.

Not unlike a European magpie, Eugenia arranged objects with brilliant and stunning subtlety. Her re-organizations of furniture should provoke the founding of a chair in linguistics explicitly to study only these groupings. Unfortuneately for science, Eugenia’s actions have taken on a folkloric status, a soothsaying industry emerging to interpret her arrangements, to pull esoteric meanings out of her mysterious displays. They mostly get it wrong. Sometimes she is only saying “serious limitations” or “I’m in love” and they make it prophesy all kinds of ridiculous augeries on politics and careers.

The patterns of the wallpaper do matter.

Eugenia speaks not a word, but she’s continued into new dimensions of object-linguistics, beyond food and furniture, emergency arrangements with human hair, fish bowls.

She has ribboned high scraps of paper  n the precincts of a shadowy room; I have mediated on these deeply. It cannot be translated. There are merely the closest words I can come up with, though my language feels so thuddingly dull and leaden compared to the towers of paper, moving through time and space in a way that words never can.

My best translation is “More heroic labor.” But that of course isn’t right at all.