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Dispatch: A Buriti Tree


In his dispatch from this year’s School of Common Knowledge, journalist, activist and researcher Lucas Pretti narrates his wanderings – both physical and psychological – in Zagreb. He uses the metaphor of the Buriti Tree – the tall palm tree synonymous with survival in harsh conditions – to ruminate on productivity, time and the dangers of abandoning words to others.

In Zagreb (how did god get me here?) I wander. It’s a pleasure I don’t allow myself to enjoy all the time. Always when travelling. Perhaps that’s why I like travelling. Walking, as the Situationists proposed, you reach unexpected places, your body takes you following the psychic geography of the moment. I stop at the Kinoteca. Between stone buildings of an architecture I don’t know, (it is my first trip to the Balkans) on a slope of the street I find a bar where there are people chatting in Croatian, the cools and the workers with the smell of cigarettes from the tables next door. In the closed Kinoteca, there’s a poster with the week’s programme, a suggestive cycle of subversive cinema. (What does the word ‘subversive’ mean?) The word ‘buriti’ jumps out, a Portuguese/Brazilian film I should probably know (I am Brazilian) but don’t. I do as our parents and grandparents could not have done and search the machinic brain on my phone. I read that it’s about indigenous people, an Amazonian fable that is so much to the taste of the contemporary art system – of the lights of the contemporary, as Fran and Agamben would say. It will be on tomorrow at 3pm, three hours before the start of what I came here to do, the school with ‘common’ in its name that claims ‘new convivialities’ and ‘artistic practices of resistance’ despite being funded by EU money and contributions from the participants. The rest of the name is ‘knowledge’, a word also present on my corporate business card from the Open Knowledge Foundation. (Is that the link?)

The film is 123 minutes long, so I don’t think it will work. It will end very close to the hour, I’ll have little time to move around a city I barely know, and it could make me late, a crime that working with American organisations for many years has inculcated in me. Arriving here and then taking an uber, rather than a tram, just to arrive on time, is a set of decisions I don’t give myself that pleasure all the time – like wandering. Just as I don’t give myself the pleasure of writing, as I’m doing now, in this Balkan cinematheque.

I think.

In common is the question of time. Wandering and writing require time. And for some reason, I’ve convinced myself that I don’t have the time. The tasks multiply and no matter how flexible the routines are, completing them is always the priority. In a text that I read a few hours ago, scrolling quickly (I read over it, always over it), the author was talking about time. The text was in the reading list made free by L’Internationale, this international confederation of European museums, whose directors are first and foremost friends (or colleagues? or comrades?). The author’s name is new to me – I can’t pronounce it. She said that the Croatian artists of the 60s and 70s (always the 60s and 70s) from a collective called Gorgona were in opposition to the type of artistic practices and identity of artists from Western Europe at the time. They said that in the East they had no space (or less space) but they had time. Different social circumstances in socialist Yugoslavia, different rhythms. That’s why they claimed, among other things with an anti-magazine, the right to be lazy. Ai, que preguiça! Macunaíma and the link with the buriti. Are all of us from outside the centre claiming the same thing?

I felt a certain ugly jealousy, I must confess. Claiming laziness is our, Brazilian, thing – whether in the hammock of the taba or the quilombo, not working as a gesture of anti-slavery struggle, or as a simple unelaborated habit of a way of life in connection with the world, nature, whatever you want to call it. Of a non-capitalist, non-profitable time. Is that what the commons is talking about? Purely human activities, such as caring, cooking, writing, wandering, (making art?), require time. That’s what we’ve been bribed to do, whether it’s the banal obligation to arrive on time, the accumulation of tasks so as to always take up a lot of everything, or the capitalist acculturation ingrained in our psyches that disconnects us from the geography of each moment.

The buriti is a tree that guided the travellers who explored the Amazon during colonisation, but also the indigenous inhabitants of those lands, because it indicated that there were conditions for survival there. They grow by the river, where there is water, space and habitability. They are tall palm trees that can be seen from afar like monuments jutting out of the treetops. Buriti is also the name of a book by a colleague with whom I collaborated a few years ago and which was never published. In that sense it’s quite beautiful, I’m among the (three? four?) people who know it. It was written/created during a time of exile in Catalan countries, when this colleague and I fled the uninhabitability and the political suffocation of Brazilian lands to look for something in Western Europe, albeit in the south (today everyone claims to be situated in the south, how ironic). The book isn’t that good, nor does it work outside of that specific context, but I stay with its symbolism. The buriti was what we were looking for in a way, a little oasis in the middle of the untamed jungle (of life) where we could rest and hydrate ourselves for a while. We really wanted to spot it among the tourists in Barcelona, amid so many non-houses where we needed to live for a while. Like any oasis, it was unreal, a projection, a desire for security and a family drive. That the buriti now re-emerges on the eve of a new stage is suggestive, an encounter with what I may have come to do here in a land so far east, or perhaps south, to so many from the north.

So I’ve just decided to watch this film. Tomorrow I’ll be here at 3pm and I’ll try to keep to a profitable time and arrive at 6pm for the opening of the School of Common Knowledge. As Caetano would say, I drink, I smoke, I can’t stand it. The film probably isn’t worth it, just as ‘subversive’ as the indigenous pavilion at this year’s Venezia Biennale without Brazil in its name. This practice of reclaiming language and resisting its meanings often ends up being the final gesture before defeat. By abandoning words, we leave them to those who control time. Just like the verbs that accompany time. You don’t have time, you don’t lose it, you don’t spend it, you don’t make it. Time is. Time to wander and to write.

I take another beer, light another cigarette and reflect on this uncontrollable and momentary urge to write (is it like children who can’t be ordered to play?). This morning we received an email inviting us to produce open thoughts about the process we’ll be going through from tomorrow. A publication window on a newly revamped website which seems to be claiming more relevance in this increasingly activist and communal contemporary arts system (are we losing those words?). Internally I say yes. I always say yes. Would I have written these words if it hadn’t been for this invitation? Would I have wasted my time without knowing if it would do any good?

If you’re reading this text, it means it’s left this notebook of scribbles in red ink and without paragraphs. I hope it can serve as a tiny buriti for those like me who are looking for some meaning in all of this. A temporary intellectual oasis before the next battle.


A new word

‘Fiera’ → interview with Roberta Marrero

‘Feral’ → Krater

Is the term ‘feral’ emerging to contradict institutional/controlled/predictable practices? Or just a new fad after ‘dissidents’ is a bit worn out?

Old words

A suggested visual definition for the term ‘post-socialism’ 

Wandering around ‘liberalism’

Back and forth

Constantly pushing

It could have worked

I look forward to more details in your next email

The views and opinions published here mirror the principles of academic freedom and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the L'Internationale confederation and its members.

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