April 8, 2021 - Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo - Julieta Aranda: Stealing One’s Own Corpse (An Alternative Set of Footholds for an Ascent into the Dark)
April 8, 2021

Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo

Julieta Aranda, Stealing One’s Own Corpse (An Alternative Set of Footholds for an Ascent into the Dark)–Part 3: Politics Without Oxygen, 2018. Video, 9:37 minutes.

Julieta Aranda, Stealing One’s Own Corpse (An Alternative Set of Footholds for an Ascent into the Dark)–Part 3: Politics Without Oxygen, 2018. Video, 9:37 minutes.

Julieta Aranda
Stealing One’s Own Corpse (An Alternative Set of Footholds for an Ascent into the Dark)
Part 3: Politics Without Oxygen
March 22–June 20, 2021

Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo
Centro Cultural Universitario
Insurgentes Sur 3000
04510 Mexico City, Delegación Coyoacán
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 10am–6pm,
Thursday and Saturday 10am–8pm

T +52 55 5622 6939


Julieta Aranda’s work explores politicized subjectivity through the perception, the use of time and the notion of power of the imaginary. This piece, the final installment in a trilogy, investigates the contemporary existential conditions that have been provoked by scientific and technological progress and explore the possibility of an “escape route” for the human race in these overwhelming times.

View online exhibition Sala10.

English version of the video here.

Interspecies Journeys
Cuauhtémoc Medina

One of the most tempting yet terrifying historical experiences is that of witnessing the dawning crisis of an age. Whether due to the unperceived, infinitesimal accumulation of changes and dysfunctions or being in the midst of a monumental event that does away with all our securities (as is happening right now with the experience of the pandemic), there’s a moment that disrupts the coherence of the routines and prejudices that gave meaning to an age. The thread that tied together our sensibilities with different hypotheses on society and the cosmos has come undone: our images, motives and words no longer find their place.

The series around which Julieta Aranda’s work has gravitated over the past six years has been a log and a meditation on how our common sense has melted away. Under the suggestive title Stealing One’s Own Corpse (An Alternative Set of Footholds for an Ascent into the Dark), Aranda has composed three films that constitute an assemblage in which the conditions that surround the emergent sensibility of the twenty-first century are expressed in terms of a mediated revelation, free of all mysticism, and a poetic-scientific, economic-ecological adventure, as geological as it is introspective.

These videos, which disregard the conventions of both the video essay and the documentary, and which seem to dominate the ambition of uniting contemporary art with intellectual labor, appear as a series of notes in movement on the axes, still somewhat unclear, that will form the basis of the new subjectivity of the oracles of the Anthropocene. These pieces are attempts to reconfigure our intuitions, desires, values and fantasies of exchange and relation. Backstitches of new fabrics made of agglutinations that are more than merely unprecedented, that are radically unthinkable, overflowing the imaginary banks of that which we designate the “horizon.”

Giving a new meaning to her education as a filmmaker, Aranda proposes a reinvention that questions fundamental categories such as spatiality, the production of the urban and the relationship between the interior excavation of the subjective and the modes of production and self-production of extractivism. In an incessant counterpoint of images, aphorisms and poetic hybrids, these films interrogate the way in which the indiscernible in artificiality and spirituality frames the impossible task of building a future. Suddenly, the gaps of meaning in our psyche are compared to the abysses created by open-pit mining, the tunnels of particle accelerators and the underground deposits of forests and animals in age-old putrefaction.

How can we replace the specters of so-called spirituality if not through a mythopoetics of subatomic particles, such as the Higgs boson? What type of politics can we found on the corpse of individual arrogance—one that includes physiological animism and that understands us as beehives of millions of viruses and other microbes? If we accept gnoseology as a new subjective project, we must understand death as part of the cycle of creation and the consumption of carbon energy and, therefore, conceive the uncountable craters and abysses that we have drilled into the earth in search of oil and minerals as signs of a cultural and economic onanism. The complex task that the century asks of us is to overcome the crude perspective of the exceptionalism and purity of human life to host the multitude of conditions that derive from deconstructing a universe that, half a millennium after Galileo and Copernicus, is still essentially anthropocentric.

Upon watching Aranda’s filmic meditations, I have thought of the face of Robert Oppenheimer as he watched the first atomic bomb fall in July 1945 and evoked the words of Vishnu in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Aranda, exhibiting the third video in her series, which, in 2019, she prophetically subtitled as an essay on “politics without oxygen,” also decided to inscribe it in an installation in which, among other phrases, there appears a fragment of hope: “No one has ever died of contradictions.” Hopefully this can be our byword. Stealing One’s Own Corpse is a manifesto of heterogeneity in the increasingly out-of-reach project of inventing some kind of future.


A Dirty, Promiscuous, Marvelous Thing: a conversation between Julieta Aranda and Cuauhtémoc Medina

Cuauhtémoc Medina (CM): Let’s begin with the fact that Stealing One’s Own Corpse (An Alternative Set of Footholds for an Ascent into the Dark) is a trilogy. In 2014, when the Berlin Biennale invited you to make the first part, were you already planning a series for this special intersection of questions on the subjectivity of the present, or did further chapters become necessary in the process?

Julieta Aranda (JA): I originally wrote the first and second parts together, but the ambition of the project demanded space, it started to become too difficult to manage all the content I wanted in just one video. There are three for now, I don’t know if I’m done. The first part is about outer space, the second is about one-on-one space, cities, language and the place we directly occupy on the human scale. The third is about what I call “inner space,” which includes religion, metaphysics, science and “the invisible” in general. This is the part that I feel is still unfinished.

CM: The infrastructure part?

JA: Yeah, well, I like “Politics Without Oxygen” a lot, especially due to the events of the past two years. It’s as if the fourth part is writing itself.

CM: Throughout the series, you create something that gravitates around prophecy, essay and poetry, without settling anywhere in particular: a poetry of facts and materials, in which subjectivity is also an ecology and an economic system. It’s an installation in video, I’d say.

JA: You know that my education was as a filmmaker and that I abandoned it because of some fundamental problems I had with the structure of the field. I wasn’t interested in characters or identification processes, I never figured out how to work that way. And so I ended up as an artist. This series of videos reconciled me with the language of the image in movement.

CM: The reason I made an analogy with installations is because you don’t have a narrative, instead you create a space in which a series of themes, arguments and aphorisms come in and out.

JA: As I said, my major problem with film was with the narrative structures and the identification with the characters. I don’t think that this piece is dependent on a chronology.

CM: Without losing sight of its visualization, it seems to be that this “politics without oxygen” sketches out a question about death in relation to our economic and social velocity. The temporality of the decomposition of living beings into hydrocarbons is the moment in which the biological cycle doesn’t correspond to birth and death, but to the processing of waste in a type of perspective that isn’t exactly cosmological, but perhaps metabiological.

JA: There’s a concept that isn’t alluded to directly in the piece, but that I think about a lot: the idea of the “double death.” Death and decomposition processes have a generative potential: something rots and ferments into something from which life emerges, a compost. When you go to the forest, you come across rotting trees, and underneath their leaves, you find mushrooms, ferns, seedlings, you understand that death is a gift to life. It’s a death that doesn’t just create death, like those birds whose stomachs are full of plastic bags and lighters.

CM: The fragment here is aphoristic, there’s an insistence on producing islands of meaning that appear episodically. The great metaphor of this productive, energized emptiness is the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) particle accelerator in Geneva.

JA: It has to do with the emptiness left behind by extractivist processes, physically and materially speaking, as well as more metaphysical forms of emptiness, especially during the self-extraction process. I also wanted to interrogate the limits of representation and the moment in which images cancel themselves out, stop functioning, and we come across certain conventions of what is representable and what isn’t. An emptiness or an invisibility.

CM: Over the course of the trilogy, you suggest a series of personal experiences. You appear in the second installment, experimenting with the absence of gravitational force. In the third, you’re at CERN, the site of our obsession with returning to the moment of creation and understanding what is incomprehensible. These installments are a type of log of transcendental experiences.

JA: Yeah, definitely. I’ve never spoken about this, but I’ve written about it. This series of videos was born when they invited me to participate in a project in which they sent three artists on zero-gravity flights. I had a great time: you can see that I’m dying of laughter as I’m spinning around in the absence of gravity. There was nevertheless an expectant formality that, at any moment, a project would come out of it. They would ask me every once in a while, “Have you done anything yet? What are you going to do?” The next moment occurred when I was looking at an issue of a pretty sleazy magazine, Sports Illustrated, in which they had the model Kate Upton as Barbarella: she was floating in zero gravity in a silver bikini. That’s when I realized that we were playing a similar role, that of generating a series of aspirations. These were processes of gentrification. The European version was obviously a little more intellectual: sending three artists up to float around. The US version featured a blonde with certain memorable attributes, but the function was the same, they scratched the same itch – “Where are we going to put the next Starbucks?” Once I understood the role they were asking me to play, I was able to conceptualize this series of pieces.

I began to write, take notes, think about how to tie it all together. I spent a year trying to write a script. Filming it was fun because I had a couple of actors sitting around a table, in a conversation in which no one could leave, as in Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel. There were six people having dinner, six voices discussing this problem. I filmed it in a very classical fashion. Even though I knew I wasn’t going to use this material, I tried to give meaning to all the contradictions I came across in that year of research. Truths and contradictions that you have to keep in tension, and that only become productive in that tension.

CM: In the installation that accompanies this third part, one of the phrases on the wall that most stands out is: “No one has ever died from contradictions.” This is one of the leitmotifs of the piece: to not fall into the subterfuge of homogeneity, purity, the identification of ecology with green soap.

JA: Not falling for greenwashing or the solutions proposed by Silicon Valley in which the future is something singular, ignoring that the future is multiple and that there are people who are, in fact, extinct, even as they’re walking down the street. There are presents that unfortunately don’t have a continuation.

CM: In each part, there’s a very violent observation of animals: in the first, you show an open-heart surgery performed on a rat; in the second, you have a scene (which would have made Roger Caillois happy) of a praying mantis devouring a lizard. In the third, you present an image that’s very difficult to forget: a snail that seems to be taken over by some kind of parasite. Can you talk about this animism in flesh, bone and blood?

JA: Curiously, you’re alluding to the main characters of each one of the videos. If there’s a point during which I am interested in creating a moment of identification, it’s through the animals. In the third video, I wanted to allude to the porousness of life, the process of symbiosis: the way in which we’re all mixed up with other living beings and in which there’s a certain percentage of our constitution that’s specifically bacterial and viral. There’s nothing clean about life, it’s a dirty, promiscuous, marvelous thing. When the snail appears in the video, I wonder if, when we talk about life, we’re talking about human life or life in general, because life is much more complex. Like matryoshkas, we have something inside of us that has something inside of it… What does that snail have? It’s sick, and it’s doing something totally contra natura: it’s going to the sun so that a bird will eat it so the parasite can reproduce inside of the bird, which will shit out its offspring and then another snail comes along. It’s a bit brutal of a reproduction process.

CM: And the snail is one of the images of the mystery of interiority: a being that is inside of itself.

Julieta Aranda (Mexico City, 1975; lives and works between Berlin and New York)
In her artistic practice, Julieta Aranda composes sensorial encounters with the nature of time and speculative literature. She observes the altering human-earth relationship through the lens of technology, artificial intelligence, space travel and scientific hypothesis. Working with installation, video and print media, she is invested in exploring the potential of science fiction, alternative economies and the “poetics of circulation.” Her projects challenge the boundaries between subject and object while embracing chance encounters, auto-destruction and social processes. Julieta Aranda is also an editor of e-flux journal, and co-director of the e-flux online platform since 2003.


Curator: Cuauhtémoc Medina
Curatorial coordination: Ana Sampietro, Jaime González
Communication: Ekaterina Álvarez
Media outreach: Ana Cristina Sol
Content editing: Vanessa López
Spanish translation: Jaime Soler Frost
English translation: Julianna Neuhouser
Graphic design: Andrea Bernal
Press management: Francisco Domínguez, Eduardo Lomas

Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo
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Stealing One’s Own Corpse (An Alternative Set of Footholds for an Ascent into the Dark)
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