ALEPH

aleph_entrance0

participatory project + installation presented at the group-exhibition ‘Out of the Attic’, at Sint-Mariastraat 112b, in Rotterdam.

Viki Semou invited the visitors of this exhibition to search for the ‘Aleph’ as J.L.Borges describes it in his short story with the same title. In order to see it, they should follow the instructions as given to Borges.

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Aleph

  • It is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Mother letter, the beginning.
  • In mathematics, it symbolizes the numbers of which every part is equal to the whole.
  • For Cabala, it represents the divine, the infinite, the air.
  • In Tarot, it is related to the fool, the unknowing. It is a null-signifier, symbolizing what is beyond thought.

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In 1949 Jorge Luis Borges wrote the short story ‘The Aleph’. In the story, Carlos Argentino Alvaro says that Aleph is a point in space that contains all the other spaces of the universe. He claims that it is in his house cellar. Borges verifies that he saw Aleph as well, following Alvaro’s instructions. This happened shortly before Alvaro was evicted and before his house was demolished for the expansion of a bar-salon.

Rumors say that, although this story is true, Borges intentionally changed some crucial details in his story to protect Aleph from misuse. For example, Aleph was not in the cellar of a house in Argentina as Borges implies, and it was not demolished. It is said that Aleph still exists and that it is in the attic of a house in the Netherlands that is threatened to be demolished again and again through the years. There are reasons to believe that this house is at Sint-Maristraat 112b.

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Instructions to see Aleph as they were given to Borges

First a glass of pseudo-cognac,” he ordered, “and then down you dive into the cellar. Let me warn you, you’ll have to lie flat on your back. Absolute darkness, absolute stillness, and a certain viewing angle will also be necessary. From the floor, you must focus your eyes on the nineteenth step. Once I leave you, I’ll lower the trapdoor and you’ll be quite alone. You needn’t fear the rodents very much — though I know you will. In a minute or two, you’ll see the Aleph — the microcosm of the alchemists and Kabbalists, our true proverbial friend, the multum in parvo!

[...]

“Of course, if you don’t see it, in no case your incapacity will invalidate my witness. And now, go down.”

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Sint-Mariastraat, a chronicle

1892- the houses of Oude Westen in Rotterdam are built. Rumors start about a particular house in a street of the neighborhood. The street is named Sint-Mariastraat, to consecrate the ground.

1940- the german nazis bomb Rotterdam and they stop the bombardment just before they reach Oude Westen.

1927- Alvaros come to live in the Netherlands on Sint-Mariastraat 112b. Borges comes to visit them very often.

!947- Borges sees Aleph, following Carlos Argentino’s instructions, just before the Alvaros are deported to Argentina. They have no access on Aleph anymore.

1949- Borges publishes his short story ‘The Aleph’, to make its existence public. However, he changed some crucial details to protect Aleph from misuse.

1970′s – The local authorities decide to demolish the houses in the Oude Westen neighborhood. The action group of the residents succeeded to prevent this from happening. None of the houses were demolished and they were all radically renovated except from the houses of Sint-Mariastraat.

2010- Rosa Montero, a resident of Sint-Mariastraat 112b, confided to Viki Semou that she saw Aleph in the attic of her house.

2012, May. Montero disappeared just before a court-case for her eviction took place. She was one of the 8 people still resisting displacement against the plans of the owning company to renovate the houses by demolishing them and keep their facades. An argentinean friend of hers took her place in the defense of the house.

2012, June. Viki Semou taking advantage of the exhibition ‘Out of the Attic’ invites people to search for the Aleph in order to convince them about Montero’s claims. As Montero said: “If people know about Aleph, then, they will protect it from demolition”.