This protest march has a goal but no endpoint, the calves do the work

Human lower legs are pretty pointless. Sometimes they are hairy, balloon-cheeked, tan or milk-bottle colored. Sometimes they even have something of a walking column, and if there are pants over them, the calves are completely irrelevant. Argentinian artist Sebastián Díaz Morales focused on these calves from curb height, as well as the ankles and shoes of people walking somewhere in large groups. In his video work Miles Marchan (Thousands March), which is now on display in Museum De Pont in Tilburg, the camera is low to the ground, following countless feet, they are going somewhere, but you have no idea where. It sounds boring, but it’s not.

The Walking Man. When we think of this in art, we usually associate it with a lone wanderer, a tragic figure on the run for life, or someone who is something small in a larger whole. Both the artist and the viewer pay special attention to the posture, and if we already have a look at someone’s backside, the attention is more on the back than on the calf.

“My lonely life is in the streets”, wrote Martinus Nijhoff more than a century ago. What about the lives of those who cross the street as a large group? Less loneliness and less tragedy, you might think. The South African artist Moshekwa Langa (2001) (included in the collection of the British Tate) showed in his video work Where should I start? however, this need not be the case. He too only filmed people’s feet and lower legs just before they boarded a bus. You followed with fascination the hesitation of the residents of the village of Bakenberg before the step was taken. Shirley Bassey sings in the background about where to start. Tempted to fill in the stories behind those feet, you were made aware of the fraught background of South Africa’s black population, who traveled vast distances to walk to their white employers every day.

Film still from: Sebastián Díaz Morales, Miles Marchan (Thousands March)2021. (video, 60 min., Philip Miller sound image)
Photo Museum De Pont / carlier | Gebauer, Berlin, Madrid

Shopping Sunday

You also feel history at Morales. The footwear is more luxurious than at Langa, and the almost broken sandal here is in most cases an expensive branded sneaker or a nice sandal. The steps are not hesitant either. If you didn’t include the title and soundtrack by South African composer and sound artist Philip Miller, you’d sometimes feel like you’re dealing with a shopping Sunday in the Kalverstraat, so casually the lower legs sometimes get going. . Other times, there is clearly a march going on in the tight rhythm of the sneakers.

With Morales, you have no idea what is being protested against. There is a goal, but no end point. As is often the case with Morales, in his films where, for example, a man keeps opening doors, climbing stairs or where people participate in a procession. Morales likes to move people without a destination. IN Miles Marchan it is literally the silent majority that moves forward. No shouts or chants of protest, only in the sounds Miller put down below you hear the hooting, now and then some kind of ceremonial sounds or drumming. Sometimes the background is threatening, other times a little hesitant. Miller directs the viewer’s gaze through sound, without seeking effect. He could easily have moved or frightened the viewer with the music, but neither Miller nor Morales clearly had that in mind.

Installation image by: Sebastián Díaz Morales, Miles Marchan (Thousands March)2021. (video, 60 min., Philip Miller sound image)
Photo Museum De Pont / carlier | Gebauer, Berlin, Madrid

It is about the universal protest march, which could have been held almost anywhere and could be about anything: climate, corona measures or more wages. Some walk with a cane, behind a walker (although most of the legs belong to young people) or do dance steps. It all doesn’t really look hopeless. The feet mostly move at a slow marching pace, where rhythm and abstraction alternate in sound and image.

Miles Marchan is the portrait of the 21st century man without a head involved. The person here is depersonalized, as you know from small children: they cling to a lower leg in a crowd of people only to discover to their horror that the leg they are holding is not their father’s or mother’s. Those who sit through the entire class will note that the human lower leg can be fascinating in all its facets and more individualistic than you might think.

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