June 15, 2004

María Lionza's last stand

Penultimate vision of Maria Lionza
by Federico Vegas

That custom of leaving to chance and the Bible the solution to our problems, I exercise with the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges.

When something mortifies, astounds or confuses me too much, I open one of its tomes and can always find a good piece of advice.

Looking for enlightenment as a result of the tragedy of Maria Lionza?s repair, I came across one of Borges? first essays: The penultimate version of reality.

The title already has something to teach us: The story of María Lionza is missing its most important chapter. The word "version" also conveys a big load: in its medical meaning it refers to the "procedure to change the posture of a fetus that presents itself incorrectly for birth". For Maria Lionza that change in posture entailed an absolute torsion of her womb, while her birth continues.

Borges starts his essay referring to the theories of Count Korzybski. He adjudicated three dimensions to life: vegetable, animal and human. The vital style of plants is pure quietness and storing of energy. The vital style of animals is free movement and amassing space. Man hoards time, which is memory of the past and the prevision of the future.

This quote is pertinent to understand that the issue of the fragile Maria Lionza is perceived by the Mayor's office as an issue of space when its main significance lies in time. And space means nothing to us without the dimension of time. Without it, velocity and acceleration do not exist, neither do so haste nor slowness, and much less the memory of that we have visited. Without time we can perceive space but we cannot convert it into experience and reflection, thus losing the link with what's most human and humanist of our condition.

By defining this limitation to our perception to pure space as an animal facet, we do not want to qualify the labor of the Libertador Mayor?s office as an animal act, and we do not qualify it because it should be the exception and it is rather the rule.

We all become blind animals of prey slowly, so much that we've abandoned the visual in our urban travels and promenades. In our transit the aural is predominant and radio reigns. Sight, which has always been the principal sense in a stroll, has become opaque and indifferent, as if the glazing of cars and people's glasses were covered in butter. We concentrate ourselves in hearing and not in seeing. By stripping the city of time, i.e. its history, space loses its sense and is rendered indeterminate, tedious.

This is the reason behind the insistence for removal of Maria Lionza from the route for which it is paradigm and principal protagonist in the perception of space and the structuration of collective memory. The animal does not understand time and despises it. He thinks all spaces are equivalent for urinating or bury bones. Things are placed "where" they can be and it does not matter "when" they have been.

The animal does not perceive the value tradition gives to a specific place, does not comprehend the value of Maria Lionza's sculpture lies in the fusion with its surroundings, that it is inseparable from its landscape, that its stage is the freeway of which she is the principal episode.

Besides, Maria Lionza is a sculpture in which time predominates in its most caring and sentimental version. The disheveled works of Otero and Soto manipulate pure space. It is at least difficult, for those who pass these works to modify their feelings according to them; even being sentimentally involved with them. Conversely, Maria Lionza has born witness to a thousand things we have lived: she has seen us grow and has grown in front of us.

Thirty years ago I found her kitschy and démodé, later luxurious and tempting, then beautiful and emblematic, later still revealing and fundamental. I?ve come to feel for her tenderness and jealousy I don?t usually feel for inanimate objects. I believe today she is the best sculpture in this valley, and certainly the most loved, the most eloquent. Now that she has opened her interior to the sky and all of us, as symbol and sign of our profound division and incompetence, she deserves more than ever her sacrificial place: time and space we will not be able to forget anymore.

The ongoing argument on where to fix her is purely spatial and non-transcendental. Something tells me that she must be poured again to make her last another fifty years; it should be done where it can be done more practically and economically (and they should start repairing the other works of Colina as well).

But, where to place her? By God!
Let time speak and listen to it!
The sense of sight needs episodes to hang on to in a city that is sinking like a ship. Politics are not enough, we need to circulate and remember what we have been.

At this time I wonder what master Colina would say.

Perhaps his answer would be:
"Leave her, how and where she is!
She is finally alive and speaking to our times!"