From The Museum of Innocence to Quarantine Diaries
7. If objects are not uprooted from their environs and their streets, but are situated with care and ingenuity in their natural homes, they will already portray their own stories
A Modest Manifesto for Museums
At the beginning of the quarantine, Colombian artist Roberto Uribe Castro began to publish on Instagram a series of photos of bars of soap. A few days after starting the project, the photos of the soaps began to become a collaborative work that makes us reflect on the surreal reality of the world. In other words, the cakes of soap were filled with poetry
Cristina Esguerra, Arcadia Magazine, 2020
The Poetry of Everyday Objects
The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk, one of my favourite books, is a love story between Kemal, a young member of the Istanbul bourgeoisie, and his poor distant relative Füsun. The love story that begins as an innocent and uninhibited affair, evolves into a passion, then into an obsession, and finally when Füsun disappears, into a deep melancholy. Kemal soon discovers the calming effect that the objects that once passed through Füsun’s hands have on him. As if it were a therapy for the illness that torments him, Kemal takes possession of all of Füsun’s personal objects that come within his reach, in order to collect them.
This poetics of the everyday object was brought immediately to my memory when I saw Quarantine Diaries, a collective art work by Roberto Uribe-Castro. Through this work Uribe-Castro brings together photographs shared with him by people all over the world portraying their soap cakes. These pictures are then shared on his Instagram account thus making a collective diary in the midst of a global pandemic.
When I asked the artist Roberto Uribe Castro where the idea for the soaps came from, he replied that in 2008 when his father died and he lived away from Columbia, he became aware of the extent of time he was away from his home and the difficulties to maintain a material memory to track the passing days. This inspired him to document the passage of time through an object, an everyday object, that both he and his mother could keep until they met again. The artist and his mother agreed to keep the leftovers of the cakes of soap they used, to share them at the next meeting. In Roberto’s words “to resort into the materiality of the cake of soap to record the passage of time”.
Then in 2020 Roberto was back in Colombia, his home country, where he was to give a course at the Museo Nacional de Colombia. Like everyone else, Roberto did not count on the pandemic, leaving him trapped for several months at his mother’s house, unable to return to Berlin. When I asked him, what happened during this time and what this has to do with the idea of the cakes of soap to record the passage of time, he tells me that he started to use part of his time to review old memories of the house. That is when his mother started to show him the cakes of soap, she has been saving for him.
The idea fited perfectly. Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic broke out and he began posting photos of the old cakes of soap that his mother had stored and the ones he was using during the lockdown in his Instagram account. For Roberto the posting served him as a sort of a personal calendar. It marked the passage of time when quarantine made it difficult to differentiate one day from the next.
The series of soap photos did not go unnoticed amongst Roberto’s followers in his Instagram account. He had made four posts when people started sending him photos of their bars of soap from different parts of the world: “I got photos from friends, but also from people I didn’t know. I got photos from the United States, Brazil, Thailand, Pakistan, Morocco, France, and from different cities in Germany and Colombia”. Hence, the photos began to become a collaborative work of art: the work’s relationship to time is evident to the viewer. The used soap reflects a fundamental characteristic of how we feel life today, its ephemeral nature, with use, the bar of soap disappears.
This brings me to another literary analogy: for Marcel Proust (1871-1922) the past was hidden somewhere outside the realm… beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object, in the sensation which that material object will give us, of which we have no inkling. It is precisely this evocative process, which is constantly described by Proust in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, where he stresses the continuing effects of specific things and their properties: their color, taste, or smell, for instance, in the process of evocation.
This resonates with Roberto’s work, where we can perceive that the magnitude of the great art-masterpiece has been transferred to the poetics of recognising an object that is perpetually moulded by skin and time, until it disappears without leaving any trace of its existence. As Roberto states “the cake of soap narrates life itself, the vulnerability of bodies and the different forms of approach with an object that has always been there, without rhetoric”.
In an essay published in the University web portal Labgeoesterica.com the authors comment on the participatory construction of Quarantine Diaries and the opening of the art world to anyone who wants to tell something through a bar of soap and a camera, a gesture where the artist is lost in the multiplicity of agents, with their unique interpretation of their pieces, adding different layers of meaning to the co-creative process. For the authors of the essay, this gesture by the artist, of making public the photos of an intimate everyday object and opening the participation of others, with their photos, on his Instagram account, is a gesture that represents in itself the object of art: its capacity to unfold, to be moulded, and to be subject to a singular understanding that intermittently adds to the extension of the limits understood by art (Vargas, Sanabria, Martinez 2020).
Essay by Adriana Valderrama Lopez
Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies
School of Arts and Humanities
Although more than a year has passed since the beginning of the pandemic and the first lockdown, the reflections and possibilities for dialogue which Quarantine Diaries invites, are still relevant and necessary. Artlink would like to extend the invitation made by Roberto Uribe-Castro to participate in this project. On one hand, soap as an object that can hardly be thought of as a work of art, because of its private function in the bathroom; cleaning oneself is an intimate act. On the other, there is the new evocative material life that soap has acquired through the pandemic. It is precisely this dual status and the possibility of opening up the collective participation of Quarantine Diaries in a virtual platform that has motivated Artlink to host the exhibition in 2021.
The project raises awareness of the overlapping spaces between the personal and the collective, the intimate and the public, the hygienic and the infectious, the material and the digital and is an invitation to consider everyday life in the midst of a pandemic and reflect on what this past year has been and its implications for our future.
To participate in the #quarantinediaries project please send your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com The pictures will be shown on robertouribecastro and artlinkfortdunree Instagram accounts. If circumstances allow there will be an analog show at Fort Dunree in May 2021