Reino Crepuscular: into the depths of Cortázar
For the Herald
An underground audio-video project delves into the world of the writer’s stories
The subway is one of the most convenient ways of getting to the Museo de la Ciudad. It is located just two blocks away from Plaza de Mayo and about four from the subway station Catedral, the terminal to the D line. It is also the most appropriate way of getting there on this particular day, since the project presented in the Sala de Filete, the café of the museum is, precisely, about subways.
As people come and go outside the café and tourists take their pictures of the San Nicolás Convent just across the street, it is hard to take much notice of them as the initiative called Reino Crepuscular (Twilight Realm) takes those who attend the event on an underground journey with none other than Julio Cortázar.
Back in 2012, when Buenos Aires was the World Book Capital, Daniela Lozano put forth a project called De libro a libro (From Book To Book). The idea of it, as she explained when presenting it this Friday, was to “create a show about a city using different artistic expressions and then publish a final book about it.”
The first show that came out of this was called Reino Crepuscular, consisting of a dance exhibit and a video that was screened as the dancer performed. In this event, however, the dancer is not present, and the video is screened on its own. It is more than enough to understand the essence of the project: that is, to interpret Cortázar’s stories about subways Cuello de gatito negro (Throat of a Black Kitten), Bajo nivel (Underground) and Texto en una libreta (Text in a Notebook) and make them into something different.
The type of dancing performed, Lozano explains, is belly dance, an Arabic style that is in keeping with the majolica that decorates the subway stations and is the main aesthetic feature of the videos.
Watching these videos — beautifully edited and set to such fitting music — is enthralling in a very particular way. Because what is being adapted is a series of short stories, there is not just one narrative the artist must be faithful to. Much like Cortázar’s writing itself, the viewer soon realizes that the idea of these videos is to break the rules rather than follow them.
The idea is not to tell a story but to create a mood. Again, like the Argentine writer’s words themselves, this project’s most valuable achievement is the way in which it builds atmosphere. Split into nine videos, Reino Crepuscular takes us on a safari of the underground world of subways we so often walk along and so seldom reflect upon. It introduces us to its many characters, the musicians, the various kinds of people and even the trains themselves, in a way in which we may not have ever thought of them.
One of the videos, for instance, focuses on people’s feet, while others allude to the serpentine tunnels the trains so swiftly shoot across, or the kaleidoscopic nature of the stations as wholes.
While these images are projected, a voiceover reads passages from Cortázar’s stories, and invites us to join him in thinking about this at once beloved and hated means of transport. He ponders how the subway lives in an eternal state of “nighttime,” and how they create “a feeling of otherness that some of us experience as a threat but also as a temptation.”
Paula Lena, the dancer of the show, plays the part of an Arab woman who walks along the corridors of a B line station, and becomes infatuated with the sounds an Arabic musician makes as she waits for her train to arrive. Lena explains that this character is meant to be looked upon as the “sovereign of this twilight realm between Retiro and Constitución.”
As part of the project De libro a libro, Lozano also adapted a few chapters of Rayuela (Hopscotch) into a series of videos called Andábamos sin buscarnos (Wondering Without Finding Ourselves), which is available online and which was screened at a festival in Berlin and the book fair of La Paz, as well as the Espacio Incaa in Salta.
Just like jumping through hopscotch, Cortázar’s work has found a way to travel the world in many shapes and sizes, and just like descending to the depths of a subway station, his writing, whether presented as a video or a dance exhibit, always manages to crawl under the reader’s skin.
When and where
August 29 at 6pm, at Museo de la Ciudad (Defensa 219). Daniela Lozano also runs a cultural center called La Maga, located at Tacuarí 905.