‘My we, your we, our we’ is an exhibition at Copperfield Gallery that focuses on the work that artist Marco Godoy has been developing during the last few years. His interest in the complexity of power relationships and the mechanisms that are used to perpetuate social divisions are made evident through the different works that one finds in the space. Three consecutive videos (synched with lights) punctuate the exhibition, reflecting on the legitimation that certain symbols, such as borders or language have acquired through time and by the use of different political strategies, performances and tricks.
(Alba Folgado) - When we talked, you insisted on the multiple layers of understanding that compose power symbols that are present in our societies. This led me to think about British Parliament, a place full of ancient symbols that are still in use, like the ceremonial mace. Without this object, formerly used as a weapon and today understood as the representation of the royal official authority, House cannot meet or pass laws. So, when seeing your work, I am intrigued with your decision of telling the history of power constructions by using objects that could become, or have been, icons themselves, such as the erased baroque column or the neon with a hand representation.
(Marco Godoy) - The parliament building and its users is a structure of legitimation that works a good example of a place that is capable of turning the intangible into tangible, affecting the state of objects, people and land. These kinds of structures keep the symbols that represent authority away from people, helping to preserve their aura of unreachability. So, I think that, in order to switch that situation, it is important to approach authoritarian symbols, normalise them, and lose the respect we acquired for them before.
For a long time, I wanted to make an artwork, with an object that had a real use, in the form of a legitimation process. The column belongs to a baroque altar from the XVII century, a piece that was used to literally hold sacred images. It took me long time to make this happen, as there are not that many original baroque columns available these days. I wanted to be able to work over the golden surface, where it lies all of its value. So, I worked against it, revealing the wood underneath the polychromy and making the visible the object beneath the gold.
(AF) - Then, I have the impression that the exhibition divides itself into two interconnected topics, on the one hand would be your preoccupation with games (or tricks if you like) that are used to catch the attention of the spectator and in doing so they maintain our system of value and authority. On the other hand, would be the definition of borders and their subjectivity when appearing as imaginary lines. In this case the video ‘The Distance Between Us’ explains boundaries not only as division elements, but as lines that could be elastic depending on their geographical position or even when they materialise as part of our bodies, as it is the case of the human skin. Could you explain how do you envision these lines and what would be the importance of their thickness?
(MG) - The magician is capable of performing a trick and fooling our perception in front of us, and I find this fascinating. Tricks used by magicians are applied with very similar logic when polychromy is added to a piece of wood in order to create a sacred object. I’m interested in modifying the status of something in front of our eyes. That precise moment in which the condition of an object changes, follows the structure of alchemic processes. Perhaps turning lead into gold was a misleading metaphor, and the real alchemy is performed on objects and people to create and maintain authority and value. This alchemic process keeps working today but with different tricks that are used by political, economical or religious authorities to legitimate their power.
I am concerned by the current estate of physical borders. When working with Syrian refugees and their undocumented journey across Europe I realised how much of their experience had to do with borders that are not physically constructed. Racism and classism can be invisible, but it is still tangible in very precise ways. Therefore, the video addresses the importance of invisible borders and their paradoxical influence in our life.
(AF) - To summarise, but also connecting with the idea of invisible borders, I would like to focus on the video ‘Boże, chroń Królową (God save the Queen)’, one of your latest works. This piece shows the result of a workshop in which native English speakers from Britain try to learn the lyrics of their national hymn translated to Polish, the language of one of the biggest migrant communities in the United Kingdom. Their impossibility in mastering the language talks to me about the barriers that limit the access of vulnerable groups to certain privileges. What was your aim behind this role-changing exercise?
(MG) - The symbols and performances that represent a Nation are usually quite rigid, as they do not adapt to social changes. If a society changes its demography, should they also change the symbols that represent that nation? How could we perform yoga exercises over national symbology so it gets more flexible?
The work ‘Boże, chroń Królową (God save the Queen)’ plays with these ideas by getting a group of people together during a two-day workshop. This video shows the documentation of their experience: English people learning Polish to sing their own national anthem creates an awkward situation, where something feels wrong. But why?
The national British anthem translated to Polish makes no sense at all, as anthems are meant to be performed only in the country’s language. Thus, how can an anthem include and represent the new populations that are taking part in that community? While learning some Polish, this workshop became a low-key iconoclasm act. The anthem started to appear very fragile, exposing its own contradictions and limitations within global contemporary society.