dark room, Francisco Godoy Vega

narrator Francisco Godoy Vega
term dark room
affiliated institution Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

According to Henri Lefebvre in The production of the space the principles of institutions are repetition and reproducibility [1]. The terms according to which we interact with institutions (museums, libraries, prisons, hospitals, etc) are thus based on the naturalisation of specific actions. This was finely designed by the museum during the Enlightenment, providing models of bourgeois public behavior for cultural institutions. These terms were based on the apparent neutrality of the museum and the exhibition space, which were questioned by Brian O’Dorney in his classic Inside the White Cube [2]. Even though many artist and critics have analyzed the ideological structure of the ‘White cube’, I would like to focus on those that had approached the issue from ‘the dark side’. Fred Wilson, for example, in his 1992 key project Mining the museum, posed fundamental questions in order to imagine a non-reproductive institution, one becoming from below. That institution would dirty the whiteness of the museum. Questioning the false transparency of vision in the museum, allows to imagine an institution that assumes the abject, the possibility of contagion and, as a place of becoming, the confrontation against Western disciplinary structures.


The concept of ‘darkroom’ involves a reinvention and erotization of the institution; a revolt to the illuminist conception of the museum as a bourgeois public space base on the control of the social interactions of people. In the museum you cannot dance, you cannot be dirty, you cannot sleep, you cannot fuck. This imagination of a ‘museum of darkrooms’ should be addressed from, at least, three starting points, which belong to three different, even contradictory, traditions, informed by colonial and feminist theories.



Firstly, the darkroom allows us to conceive the institution as an architecture of desire. This pulsion-based architecture eschews disciplinary instructions, assuming the abject spaces of deviant desire. A queer space: a perverse, useless, amoral, sensual, experiential and obscene space. It is a queer space that, as Aaron Betsky says, “instead of references to buildings or paintings, instead of a grammar of ornament and syntax of facades, here was only rhythm and light” [3]. It is the place for the hidden geography of the abnormals who use the normalized architectures of social life the construct their reverse. In foucaultian terms, it could be a “place of liberation”, a political space for transforming living conditions in modern cities. The transformation of parks, public toilets or other modern institutions occurs as the opposite of the evident and normed: it happens mostly in the dark. As the Spanish artist Pepe Miralles says: “darkness it is the needed allied for sexual interaction: light is heterosexual, darkness is the habitat of vampires” [4].


Those spaces of vampires are, in sexual terms, the places of cruising. Colombian photographer Miguel Ángel Rojas took pictures - and developed them in a photographic darkroom- of the sexual subculture of the Faenza theater in Bogotá during the seventies. Almost at the same time, Alvin Baltrop did it on the piers of Manhattan. Those cruising area where spaces of freedom and sexual liberation but at the same time, where places of social interaction, generating microsystems that confronted the standardized system of the family, monogamy and the bedroom. Finally, these photographs register the possibility of assuming the insecurity of public space, something that has been completely erased by the cultural dispositives of modernity as is the case of the museum. Those public places have recently mutated, as Chilean artist Felipe Rivas San Martín has shown in the work Cabina (2012), where he presents the way modern public spaces have taken a new camouflage: places as bars or internet cafés, and more recently mobile applications, that are explicitly made for sexual interaction.


In a more experiential way, Argentinean artist and sociologist Roberto Jacoby used the metaphors of the darkroom on his homonymous work from 2005, that was presented in 2011 at the vaults of the Reina Sofía museum. He showed a series of video recordings of a performance that was held in complete darkness, visible only through a night vision camera, where happened different sexual and non-sexual situations. On a different sense, this approach was used by the Spanish artist Andrés Senra in his ongoing project Cruising, common and queer psicogeography, developed as a critical approach to Madrid’s next World Gay parade. By using different technological devises he proposes tours to cruising areas taking the bodies of others as well as your own as places of the commons, open to multiple uses and possibilities of transformation.



Secondly, we can approach the darkroom considering the ideas of the French feminist thinker Lucy Irigaray, who developed some concepts that confronted the falocentric structure of modernity. In the book Speculum of the other woman, she proposed the reinforcement of the concept of opacity and the phenomenon of the labyrinth. Both concepts were conveived as epistemological experiences of the interior of the vagina. Where freudian theory had seen an absence of the falo, she argues a reinvention of the experience of the interior as a space full of folds. The turn of the speculum of gynecology was proposed not as a medical instrument, but as a breaking off with regard to the supposed universality of the gaze: the tactile experience is a micropolitical experience that never try to have an overview of a phenomenon but a fragmentation. In this sense, women are “the opacity jet non-diferenciated of sensitive material” [5].


In 1992, the US prostitute Annie Sprinkle entered into the art world through her vagina. With the performance Public cervic announcement she showed to the public the interior of her vagina, making a more tactile and intimate relation between the public and that work of art. In her more recent projects, she have continue dealing with the paradox of the medical discourse and, in an ecological turn, have worked on the idea of ‘making love to the earth’, introducing sex and nature intro an erotic setting inside or outside the museum. Other latín american artists as Johan Mijail or Fannie Sosa have worked on this idea of a ‘natural love’ but in their case related to indigenous, negro and mestizo religions in Latín América.


Other artists, in particular in the queer scene of Barcelona, have worked on a displacement of Sprinkle’s concern with the vagina to the annus. María Percances and Jordi Flecos have developed in different contexts the project Arte enANO, that can be translated at the same time as ‘small art’ and ‘art in the annus’. In their projects, Maria changes in different moments the images shown in the interior of her annus. The same can be said of different projects developed by Mariokissme, where he uses the annus either as sites of pain or as sites from where listening to music that reflects the colonial and contemporary tensions of sodomy. In this sense, these artistic practices have expanded the complexity of the vigina to the anus as a key space of the contemporary that has been privatized by modern medicine.


The invention of an institution that assumes the contemporary caos becoming the interior of the vagina and the anus, makes them productive in a revolt to the Western logoculocentric experience of the museum. We should remember that Irigaray criticized Derrida’s analysis of logocentrism, as he did not recognize its intrinsic masculine structure. The phenomenon of the labyrinth, on the opposite, reject transcendental meanings and the perception as truth of the masculine universalism. The ‘femina vita’, as Irigaray’s called it, hidden the truth and assume the second sex traditionally postposed as a revolt. It is then the reinvention of a knowledge produced by pulsions before the symbolic language: against the beauty and clarity, the precise definitions and perfect forms. The dark continent of femininity assume the lack and reinvent it from the memory of the fluids of the milk, tears and menstruation.



Finally, there is a third possible approach to these dark continents considering Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui’s concept of ‘ch’ixi'. This aymara’s word refers to a place where white and black can never give birth to a pure grey. The ch’ixi mix operates not by subsuming but juxtaposing concrete differences. It works as an image to think of the coexistence of heterogeneous elements that doesn’t produce something new and closed. Whereas Walter de Mignolo launches the idea of the ‘dark side’ of the Renaissance [6], Rivera Cusicanqui takes a transhistorical turn in order to think the place of the ‘encounter’ as an insoluble problem. Particularly, she refers to the contemporary colonial conflict, considering that the trauma of the conquest in the Andes is still alive in multiple bodies.

In artistic terms, we can relate this idea to the Mexican artist Pedro Lasch. In his project Black mirror he generated a conflict of language and opacity juxtaposing, without a hierarchy, pre-Columbian sculpture with images of modern Spanish paintings.



From these three different points of departure the main question that it is still open is how not to ‘represent’ sexual and racial dissidence but to ‘transform’ the logics of institutional spaces. How to imagine a darkroom that confront the false neutrality of Western hetero-enlightened museum. How to imagine an institution that hosts the danger of desire and the risk of the contagious, confronting its modern disciplinarity and assumed neutral hygiene. We have rehearsed this in the exhibition Marica multitude. Activating sexual-dissident archives in Latin America at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende. The art works, the museography and the debate spaces have been conceived as darkrooms, including different experiences beyond vision, such as smell or touch. But there is always a gap and the structure of our own unconscious relation with the museum needs more exercise in order to make whiteness explode.

[1] Lefevre, Henri, The production of the space, Oxford, Blackwell, 1991

[2] O’Doherty, Brian, Inside the White Cube. The ideology of the Gallery Space. Expanded ed., California, University of California Press, 1999.

[3] Betsky, Aaron, Queer space. Architecture and same-sex desire, New York, William Morrow and company inc., 1997, p. 5

[4] Miralles, Pepe, “Geografías del morbo”, Bostezo digital, 2011, in: http://bostezodigital.blogspot.com.es/ 2012/08/geografias-del-morbo.html#more (last visit: 8th May 2017)

[5] Irigaray, Lucy, Speculum of the other woman, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1985.

[6] Mognolo, Walter, The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization, Michigan, University of Michigan Press, 2003