(on censorship)


the hunt censorship beatrice orlandi paolo uccello

Dear Merzedes,
You asked me to write about censorship. I am addressing this to you: how many letters have been hunted, opened and violated to pursue the highest aims of censors, the concealment of unwanted truth. And were truth is to be found more than in an e-mail to a friend, or between a head leaning to the sound of a familiar voice and a whispering mouth? I will share with you some thoughts that have been crossing my head since you asked me to join this exhibition. Truth is superfluous in the realm of power. For centuries, while men were proclaiming with loud voices, their discourse controlled to the tiniest conjunction, women were confined in the waste territory of confidences, secrets, gossips, shared one with the other from the gloom of a bedroom or the softness of a sofa. Nothing more than timidity, prudery and shame left as censoring agents, things so easily overcome by friendship and trust within the bond that secrecy offers.
You saw a couple of month ago my piece “Monster”, exhibited in the same building as this show will be. I told you about how my text for that exhibition was rejected and with you I used the word censorship. We were having beers and found each other both struggling at the same time to defend our practice from suppression and control. One morning I received a phone call, someone at the other end of the line was telling me my text couldn’t be published, and offered a newly written text that I could approve within an hour, before lunchtime. I didn’t tell you how I directly called another friend, Maja: we talked for a while, I was looking outside the window to the modest buzz of people leaving their jobs for lunch, my face made sticky by tears. When I hung the phone the hour given me to approve a text I had not written my self was passed. I wrote a new version of my text, which was accepted, translated and printed in Swedish, outside my full understanding. In public my project was a compromise, beside a question mark of a Latin sentence that nobody could translate, embroidered on my clothes.  The project survived in its full meaning as a rumor between close friends. Free speech inhabits intimacy; no authority can bear intimacy’s subversive space within its structure. But intimacy wards secrets and diverse thinking: power’s favorite catches. The text I had embroidered for hours on the back of my suit translated from Latin said: Candor at the price of its own death.

candor ermine monster beatrice orlandi

These words, since the Middle Ages, used to accompany the image of ermines, the animals hunted for their white winter fur to be used in cloaks of kings and popes, as emblem of power. Legends tell how the ermine, hunted, seemed to prefer to be killed rather than to get its fur soiled. (I smile thinking of how hard it is to get away bloodstains from white sheets using salt and bicarbonate).  For centuries power and richness was covered in the small white animal’s fur, each dark tail that dotted the coat a reminder of a kill and a unit of measure. Honesty, Innocence, frankness: a trophy; their violation an emblem of goodness and beauty for the crowned heads. You and me could very easily imagine the ermine’s candor of the embroidery as the one in the expression “candid speaking”, the “Parrhesia” of the ancient Greeks, and we would so fast trace back to our common concern: censorship. The rhetoric of power hunts down the bluntness of truth, and the destabilizing strength of confidences and intimacy remains innocent, caught and kept outside history, if not as ornament. 

beatrice orlandi

But when I think about censorship I also think about the self-practiced act of veiling the truth. This of course is a practice that belongs to the suppressed fringes of any leading model. To encrypt meaning to protect a fragile reality is something we did as teenagers in our diaries or in the messages we exchanged under our desks during science classes, using codes. For the same purpose flowers has been given and received, sealing a message behind each of their harmless, pathetically beautiful corollas. In these examples resides, I believe, a counteracting power, a power that is not rendered in big gestures nor reduced in a passive aggressive behavior, a power that conceals (not confine!) the perimeter of intimacy, where confessions, threatened truths and subversive thinking can reign undisturbed, behind an only apparent full control and understanding of the dominant system. We both speak many languages; did I ever ask you how you feel about that? Any language, even my native one, nowadays feels like a constructed system of censorship, something I adapt to but never fully identify with. Last Friday I had my first public poetry reading; you missed it, I saw a picture on Facebook of you and Hilda together in Finland. Reading my poems felt like offering secret messages encrypted behind a familiar language by a set of rules that my very own misunderstandings, associations and outsider’s position create. The limits of a foreign language confines me in a very intimate space where every word, uprooted from ownership and a strong set of references, can bend to the private game of a personal dialect. The listener recognize the words, a rose is a rose, a ring is a ring, he recognize the weakness of the one who speaks, recognize her expected faults, and move on. He walks past a message that is so vulnerably exposed and at the same time so well protected by the reader’s preconception and well-trained interpretation skills. Not insignificant, but unnoticed.

facebook beatrice orlandi poetry bianca

A slip of tongue is an optic trick, the frivolity of an embroidered garment or the banality of a flower the thick walls needed around candid speaking. Prisons, bedrooms, bad relationships, occupied lands, kindly lend the language contained in their claustrophobic limits to the confined, underestimating her skills in circumventing and her needs for contact.While saying this I come to think about hackers, whose aim is to elude limits given by a system and achieve new outcomes, often at the expenses of the one who fully owned the language. Encrypting and self-censoring is unfortunately not only a resistance act. I am quite sure our virtual selves, the one colonizing social medias or professional profiles, are a result of a fine work of censorship and self-editing. After talking about hacking, you will come to think that our pictures, our writings, our actions online, are encoded in a language we, most of the time, cannot control. But I am also thinking about the editing that happens to our material selves before ascending to the smoothness of our screens. I am thinking about the censoring action that our own virtual image, flawless among flawless others, perpetrate on us. I have spent the past week capturing screenshots from videos I took of myself, and editing every single picture to put it back in motion later as sequence of frames. I was working on “The hunt in the forest” that will be part of this show. It’s summer, I am both behind and in front of the camera; in December I pass fast forwards hundreds of minutes of video to capture those few stills that I will later use.

beatrice orlandi censorship the hunt in the forest


To see my naked body, my insecurity, my mistakes, disgust me. I look away when the figure on the screen moves from behind the camera to the lighten spot in front of it. I know she’s looking around, reluctant. I look again only when the human figure becomes a dog, a dear, a horse. Something I can manipulate, abuse. I understand how things like this are done. I spend hours and hours editing each figure, taking it away from her background, erasing her flaws, the things that marks her being, her breast, her stomach, her expression. I am doing it for the neatness of the result; I am doing it as protection.

Every picture I see of her reminds me it was summer, I can see the sun marks, the freackles, the bright nail polish she back then liked. Every picture reminds me of the past summer, the suffocating heat wave that never came as meteorological phenomena, but that was there as a side effect of depression. The hundreds of hours I spend on editing my pictures hits me, I cannot leave my room, I dismiss commitments. My innocence hits me, my fragility hits me, it repulses me, my clothes pile up in a corner.
In my own version of Paolo Uccelo’s painting from 1470, “The hunt in the forest”, there is no fox, no ermine, no hunter. The viewer overwhelmed by the nakedness of a female body might forget to look for the truth.
At the same time as I was shooting for the “Hunt” last summer, another video I made was censored. I haven’t talked to you about this yet, haven’t I? It was a video I made mostly for private use, to rescue myself from something that had been troubling me for months. It worked, my head was empty again, my body almost renewed. I uploaded “9 ways how to kill a cat” on my new and never distributed Vimeo account, with the intention to make it part of my collection but never to be shown in an exhibition. Few hours later I received an email saying that I should immediately erase that video. Panic made me turn the video into private, pride turned it again into public few days after. Another email comes soliciting censorship. I do not answer. The video can still be watched on Vimeo. This is a very private story encoded somewhere in a bad art piece I made last summer and left online. I am sure we will have occasion to speak about this in private.




the hunt beatrice orlandi censorship