“Objects have physically disappeared. Only their images and their memory remain.”
– José de Jesús Martínez, Teoria del Vuelo, Panamá, 1979.

Artist Michael Stevenson makes adjustments to narrative texts, re-constructs objects and renders images which draw, by means of allegory, upon his long-standing fascination with island states. For Portikus—based on an island in the river Main, which is home to a bird sanctuary—Stevenson applies his astute visual thinking, site-specific approach and propensity for the absurdly ambitious to create an extraordinary viewing experience on Frankfurt’s Maininsel. He will transform the entire building into a large camera obscura to produce an image ‘in-flight’.

The main protagonist informing the Portikus exhibition is the Panamanian mathematician, Marxist philosopher, poet and playwright José de Jesús Martínez (also known as Chuchú), who was the personal bodyguard and advisor to Panama’s leader General Omar Torrijos Herrera (1968 - 1981). Chuchú was also a keen aviator and flew a number of light aircrafts, each named after an Aleph number from the mathematical sequence used in set theory to represent the infinite.

A plane, in reference to Chuchú’s pursuits, will be lodged in the Portikus attic to be seen across the river. In keeping with Stevenson’s commitment to producing objects that animate historical narratives, often as replicas, facsimiles or architectural re-constructions, the object will be transformed into an image through the very fragile and the most minute effects of optical lenses and mirrors, so that it appears in the main exhibition space.

Along with this ‘live photograph’, Stevenson has produced a re-print and translation of Chuchú’s text Teoria del vuelo (Theory of Flight). This re-published piece of writing aligns the artist’s curiosity with Chuchú’s for flying—its effortless transcending of geographical borders and implications for philosophy. The leaflet, bound with the lightest paper a printing press can handle, will be free to take away.
And so, Stevenson enfolds the inter-relationships between the geographical and the political to make objects in which narratives from history become abstracted speculations. At Portikus, Stevenson takes cue from a text on flying and constructs an encounter with a live-photographic image, spatially deferred from its source and harnessing the properties of light, hence creating a meditation on the infinite.

The exhibition at Portikus is made possible by Deutsche Bank Stiftung.

Photos: Helena Schlichting