FIT TO STAND THE GAZE OF MILLIONS 

installation Newtown, Wales 1997 | Cardiff, Wales 1997 | The Hifa Museum of Art 1999-2000

( memory and thoughts of Earthquake in Chile by Kleist)

distribution of text according to the installation panels 

1.

This was  a cruel,  macabre,  anarchic tale

about  two hapless lovers. I  read  it  in  my

youth.  It  was  written  by Kleist.  Josepha,

an  only  child of a well-born family, loved

Jeronimo  to  distraction.  This  displeased

Her  old  father,  who  locked  her up  in  a

convent    surrounded    by   gardens   and

protected   by  a  wall which, however, had

a  breach  in  it.   On  Corpus Christi  Day,

Josepha  broke  the neat  procession of  the

nuns  to give  birth  to  a  son  right on  the

cathedral steps.The scandal shook the city.

The  authorities  took  the  baby  into  their

custody,   the  pretty  convent  harlot   was

thrown   into  one  dungeon, her  Jeronimo

into another. The request of the Abbess, the

 

2.

wailing  of  the  nuns, the pleas of Josepha’s

father  could  do no more than commute  the

sentence passed on the sinner from  burning

at  the  stake  to  mere  decapitation. This

caused much indignation among the matrons

and   virgins  of   the city; to appease 

them, the public execution was to be carried

out at once. Pale  as chalk, Josepha stared

into the crowd filling  the  square,while

Jeronimo, driven to the  brink of insanity,

tied a rope around his   neck,    prayed

fervently    to  the  Holly Virgin and  readied

himself to embrace  death.   Just  then,  the

earth  shook   horribly,  and  a roaring noise

arose as  most of the  city  crashed  to   the

ground. I remember Kleist  having  written

3.

something like “ as if heaven had fallen

apart.’ What  ensued  was an inferno. It

took  an  a u d a c ious  architecture  of

demolition,  such  as only  Kleist  could

manage, to promptly extricate Jeronimo

and  Josepha  from  the  ruins,  safe and

sound..I can remember his olympian imp-

-atienc, his summoning all his ambitious

virtuosity to the rescue: he cleaves Jeron-

-imo’s prison house with one decisive blow,

then brings down the building opposite just

in time to prevent another threatening ava-

-lanche of rubble. The prison floor is heaved

up and sharply slanted, hanging momentarily

from a surviving arch. He has engineered,

in fact, a sort of a slide on which Jeronimo

 

4.

rides  down  to  freedom, to scenes of havoc

and  destruction  and  into the waiting arms

of   his  Josepha,  saved  by  means  no  less

miraculous,  whose  exact  nature   escapes

me  at  the moment. But this slide is a work

of  genius,  truer  and  clearer  than  justice

itself. It is the reason I remember this story:

How  the  earth was made to quake in Chile

for  two  lovers  to  come together. I cannot

remember  what  that  other  building  was

before  it  turned  the  prison  floor into an

emergency  slide.   To   judge  by   Kleist’s

heightened alertness, it ought to have been

the  courthouse;  but the story  takes place

in  the 1640’s  and I  have no  idea  where

they   used  to  put  their   courthouses   or

 

5.

whether Kleist gave this any thought. Be

it as it may, the earth does quake. Eager,

but cool and collected, Kleist  can now turn

to a systematic settling of accounts: first

to go is the Abbess, along with a complete

row of her perfect nuns, whose merciful

hearts he causes to be squashed by a gable

of their monastic abode. The Archbishop;

he irons flat under the cathedral. The

Viceroy’s palace is swallowed by the earth.

Oh, yes, the courthouse; he burns it down.

And Josepha’s father’s house; he drowns in

a boiling lake. The whole city of santiago

lies in ruins. A single church is left standing

reserved for the worst yet to come. Goethe

loathed all this. He warned the republic of

6.

letters and society at large against the

ennervated sentimentality emanating from

such inventions. Art does not tolerate

adolescent hysterics, he thought. Kleist

was of quite the same opinion: in short, the

baby, too, is found unharmed. Jeronimo

hugs Josepha, Josepha hugs little Phillip,

and all retire for the night to a nearby

valley. There is soft grass, bonfires, idyllic

solidarity among survivors, class and rank

abolished, white bandages under the

moonlight. It is utopian reconciliation all

around, and Josepha’s finely-rounded

breasts have milk to spare for the child of

some wounded noble couple. These act

more nobly than ever. Thousands of

 

7.

refugees are lying around, resting. And

then – zeal, the working of the religious

imagination, the need for expiation. The

crowd is united in a desire to pray in the

one remaining church. Jeronimo and

Josepha decide not to make for the Old

Spain, but to put their trust for the future

in the New Chile. The nobility approves.

The procession of the survivors struggles

back up to the city, where they are awaited

by a priest, left intact in his splendid

vestment. He gives them the sermon of a

lifetime. In brief, the culprits must be found.

There they are, of course – the happy

believers amid the congregation of the

faithful. That’s it then.  A  lynching.