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AMOR AND PSYCHE (In Times of Plagues) (2020)

HD digital, colour with stereo sound, 9'24" min, 16:9, 2020

A video performance poem structured in four chapters (Conditio - Status - Echo - Mutatio), approaching chemical, physiological, psychological and spiritual aspects of Breath. It has been initially conceived in September 2019, during Verena Stenke’s three-weeks clinical isolation for tuberculosis and the initial phase of the subsequent therapy. The video displays original MRT and CT thorax scans of this period – her “inner portraits”. The work has been resumed and actualised during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in May 2020.


© VestAndPage, 13 May 2020

SCREENINGS

DIRECTORS' STATEMENT

As the doctors say of a wasting disease,

to start with it is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose;

after a time, unless it has been diagnosed and treated at the outset,

it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure.

So it is in politics.

– Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

 

Andrea Pagnes: Tuberculosis is one of the oldest contagious infectious diseases. If neglected, it is potentially fatal. Even today it is the cause of over 4000 deaths a day. It is caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis gram-variable, also called Koch's bacillus. It is often thought to be eradicated, but it is not. It is still present throughout the world, and only early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can defeat it. It is treacherous, invisible, it is transmitted by air, such as the viruses of colds, flu, and SARS-CoV-2. It has an incubation period that can vary from eight weeks to indefinitely, remaining dormant for many years in infected subjects without causing them any apparent harm. The immune system can restrain it, but not completely defeat it. If some people with latent infection never develop active TB, some 5-10% of carriers will become ill during their lifetime. In this case, it can suddenly become active, as it happened in Verena in early summer 2019. We could not imagine that the fevers, progressive loss of appetite, reduction in body weight, tiredness and prolonged lack of concentration that afflicted her during the past years, were symptoms of tuberculosis. We learned about it randomly at the beginning of August, due to a magnetic resonance tomography which Verena had to undergo for a herniated cervical disc. Chemotherapeutical treatment to cure the disease lasted six months. Being a couple not only in art, but also in life, I was always close to her, even during the three weeks of clinical isolation after the diagnosis. I seemed immune to infection perhaps because of the vaccination I had as a child, or because Verena's disease had not yet become infectious, according to the doctors. The idea of returning this experience in art form had arisen in both of us as soon as the isolation period had passed. However, we did not want to slip into a celebration of the illness, let alone a heroic mythification of the sick artist. First of all, we wanted to understand what effects and transformations two people who share everything together suffer when an illness occurs in a completely unexpected way, altering habits, dynamics and balances of relationship. To live the long process of treatment and rehabilitation and then, once finished, to go back to what had been.

 

Verena Stenke: Even present time before in our imagination, the video performance began in April 2020, following an invitation to participate in an online art project for charity purposes to raise funds to invest in health care materials for the emerging COVID-19 emergency. Practicing breathing techniques such as Prānāyāma, Transpersonal Rebirthing and Creative Dynamic Breathing since a long time, we thought to focus the work on breathing, primary element of life and at the same time to show how difficult, unnatural, even painful it is to be deprived of mutual contact, having to keep a distance for causes independent from us.

Pathogenic microorganisms, including viruses and bacteria, and species including humans are inextricably linked by a co-evolutionary relationship made up of reciprocity, compromise, struggle, acceleration, intensity, extinction, awakening, modification, and the patience to be able to adapt to new situations. During the course of my illness, patience has been the greatest lesson. Isolated from the social context, I found myself involved in a much wider natural process. I experienced elemental connections with nature previously unknown to me, forces that we cannot control ascribed to the enigmas of our own origins. In a radical subjectification, I wondered if the soul itself belonged to biochemistry, like breathing. And just like breathing, during the months of the illness my being oscillated between feverish obsessions, luminous intuitions due to mental hyperesthesia, psycho-pathologies caused by the toxicity of the bacterial action in the lungs and medicines, symptoms of poisoning, loss of self-control, semi-asphysious due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide due to the lack of oxygen. And then the will to resist, to understand. Hope as a result of the suspension of critical capacity caused by lack of oxygen in the prefrontal cortex. The ego becomes something else. Spes phthisica, the state of euphoria that occurs in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis, pervades the being intermittently, but in an absolute sense: it is a kind of rebellion before going beyond, the lucid dream of a life, the face of a love. At other times, this total numbness of the spirit leads everything to concentrate in one place.

I so listened to the breath, the danger of losing it forever for an invisible cause but one that acted within me and expressed itself through all this. Perhaps, if there is something that can kill us imperceptibly and unnoticed from within, then there could also be something that can counteract it, invisibly feeding the strength to survive.

© 2020 VestAndPage