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With deep historical consciousness, Ali Cherri’s practice traces political and geological correspondences to investigate the effects of catastrophe—both man-made and geological. In the epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk (dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur, c. 2100 BC), “called a god and a man,” sets off on a quest for eternal life after watching his friend Enkidu die before his eyes. The death of Enkidu, who was made of clay and water, confronted Gilgamesh with his own mortality, which he had never feared before, considering it futile. By looking at different creation myths, Eternity and a Day (2019), premiered at this biennial, journeys into stories of mud creatures, such as Enkidu, and swamps, in which one can drown but also resurrect. Very few spaces represent the periphery of human existence as well as muddy swamps. The stagnant waters over which hover buzzing insects and in which splash small creatures of every kind, unveil a complex picture of a dull and gloomy misery, both worrying and invasive. Neither completely soil nor completely water, this in-between ground is dreaded, enigmatic and ghostly, and causes death and sickness. Mud-gathering sites are also literal geopolitical swamps where economic forces converge: from traditional brick quarries to gold hunters’ muck swamps.
Fascination with mud both as matter and metaphor has a rich history. Its transformation into material for construction is a process as old as humanity. The artisanal brickmaking process has been practiced for thousands of years, and utilizes all of the natural elements: earth, water, fire and air. The story of mud is the story of perpetually shifting geographies, of elemental forces and terrains that cracks and break into new topographical formations. The first gods we dreamed up made the world out of mud. Out of mud we made pottery and the first vessels in which to preserve and carry things. Mud also became memory: it held and kept. The first life came from mud. The place where earth and water met and mingled gave birth to the first single-celled organisms that would become every living, breathing creature in the world: flora, fauna, and fungus. In The Tower of Mud (2019), bricks rise to form a vertical structure, a tower that comes out of a tradition as old as our memories of time. Following the consistent and evolving symbolism of aspiring for verticality, The Tower of Mud is a celebratory monument to the union of soil and water. It is said that a handful of mud contains “more organized information than the surface of all the other known planets.” If mud had its own memory, what might it deem worth remembering?