Mother Death Poetics: Eduardo Gil’s “Urine Readings”

by on Jan.01, 2013

A few weeks before the Sandy Hook headlines, I saw an exhibit at the São Paulo Biennial that already suffused the figure of the Child in death and ill inheritance, as well as the powers of susceptibility with which all children radiate.

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If the orphans of Eduardo Gil’s “Urine Readings” appear as mere adumbrations of children, they do so by invoking the negative space of a meaningful future.  Here the cliché wonder of the child is completely imbued with foreboding.  While interpreting a mattress, one psychic said something like, “You can tell—and it’s difficult for me to say this, because these are children—some of the ones who slept here were so scared that they didn’t even let themselves pee.” 

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By proving indecipherable to all but the most peripheral of religious/spiritual practices, the orphans’ urine allies with the sacred against Western epistemology.  Each urine reading defies the positivism that makes the future not just calculable, but only determinable in the hands of abstract powers that be (technocrats, lobbyists, the IMF that once starved South American economies).  Meanwhile, forbidden as the children are to lie under epitaphs that would name them and sum up their lives, their invisible bodies—or ghostly fluidity—opposes linear, capitalist timespace.  They stain, leak, and rip through store-bought commodities.

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This leakage, I think, enacts an inassimilable excess that no caption or blog post can fully account for.  With an aura of crude heat, the piss of each orphan glows on spectators’ faces.  “Urine Readings” is thus inconceivable as anything other than a provocation for new approaches to perceiving, intermingling, and embodying birth, death, ancestry, and maternity.  Neglect, in all senses of the word, becomes a zone of saturation we repeatedly feed off, a circulation whose feedback loop (from one mattress, to us, to another mattress) modulates our attention, calling for interference in ways that will have to be lived out.

*Thank you Sarah Fox for letting me borrow the term “Mother Death,” which we’ll explain at another date on your nonlinear calendar!

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