Who’s Afraid of Komodo
Nothing but a dull soft-drink
It’s the dry season. A buffalo sleeps through the heat of the day in one of the last waterholes. Dragons lurk around the margins. The buffalo seems to view them as just an irritation, not a danger. A serious mistake. The dragon is wary, a jab or a kick could injure it fatally. Its bites are just flesh wounds but other dragons are alert now. Like sharks they are excited by blood. The buffalo leaves with just a limp. The dragons appear to have failed. Yet they show a peculiar interest to the buffalo and follow it wherever it goes. As the days pass the buffalo’s wounds don’t heal. It starts to weaken. The dragon’s hunting method begins to come clear. A brand-new discovery reveals that the dragon has venom, like a snake. The bite will eventually prove fatal but it’s going to take several weeks. The dragons, however, can afford to wait for a meal of this size. But the process is a long, drawn out one. Three weeks later and the buffalo is very weak. The same night it will be dead. Ten big dragons strip the buffalo to the bone in just four hours.
Stories that excite, usually concern frightful accidents, mysterious criminals, severe passions, exotic places or strange and rare creatures. From early childhood books to cable TV documentaries, everyone has lost himself in such stories; and has surely chosen some to recount when in mood for talk or when simply awkward. We have all been present in occasions where the distance between the discussants, maybe gathered around the table of a common friend, is left behind for a moment, thanks to a bigger distance that they all might share with a serial killer or a flying squirrel, whose story rekindled the conversation that was somehow flabby after the necessary introductions. Such stories are actually useful in cases like this, if someone wants to avoid indiscreet questioning or boastful talking. Their most important attribute, though, is nestled in this distance that we mentioned above. The more far off their topics, the more consumed they are in the strange and the encyclopaedic. Τhe more they exclude everyone’s involvement, the more they maintain a light mood of courtesy, suitable for a dinner between strangers, avoiding disunity or unnecessary disagreements. In the face of all their interest, these stories are often finished, though, and left behind by the coming of the sweet dish. So, as fascinating as they may be, if there is anything these stories don’t do, is introducing us; and this, because they are specifically catered to an audience that simply asks for more details in order to entertain their curiosity. Their subject cannot become a field of discussion, debate or even identification. Indeed, something that we would talk about, would really concern us. It could be the football team we support, our views on the current affairs, or even, if we go too far talking, the upcoming election. Such conversations, belong to lively gatherings, where dessert is often forgotten in the fridge, the glasses keep emptying, and the ashtrays are ceaselessly glutted. And right then, one may suppose that we are really getting to know each other. However, even these lively and comfortable gatherings are often limited to the dining room, with the hallway door closed and the guests’ WC as the only option for someone to wash their hands. And at this moment we are clearly reminded that we are not allowed to swim any further than just the shallow waters of the private sphere.
For centuries now, this bloodthirsty predator has been sharing the island of Komodo with the indigenous population. For the locals, the contact with these huge Nothing but a dull soft-drink or who’s afraid of Komodo It’s the dry season. A buffalo sleeps through the heat of the day in one of the last waterholes. Dragons lurk around the margins. The buffalo seems to view them as just an irritation, not a danger. A serious mistake. The dragon is wary, a jab or a kick could injure it fatally. Its bites are just flesh wounds but other dragons are alert now. Like sharks they are excited by blood. The buffalo leaves with just a limp. The dragons appear to have failed. Yet they show a peculiar interest to the buffalo and follow it wherever it goes. As the days pass the buffalo’s wounds don’t heal. It starts to weaken. The dragon’s hunting method begins to come clear. A brand-new discovery reveals that the dragon has venom, like a snake. The bite will eventually prove fatal but it’s going to take several weeks. The dragons, however, can afford to wait for a meal of this size. But the process is a long, drawn out one. Three weeks later and the buffalo is very weak. The same night it will be dead. Ten big dragons strip the buffalo to the bone in just four hours. reptiles is part of their everyday life. They have also come up with a story that seems to help with their cohabitation. Centuries ago the first tribal mother gave birth to twins, a human and a dragon. The Dragon started feeding on the neighbours’ animals and thus, creating problems. Gradually it embraced its wild side and fled to the woods. The outcome; two populations living simultaneously in close proximity. On the one hand the humans with their huts and villages and on the other hand, the dragons dominating the forest.
There, one would discuss the issues they have an opinion about and to do so, they would employ all their thoughts and readings and all the things they might have heard about. But there also conversations that unfold much deeper, where life flows, ordinary and indifferent; where one eats toasts or watches a series, where one disrobes or gets ready for a night walk. There, the stories could be dull and boring. Stories about what one had for lunch, complains for another’s behaviour or externalising tension from yesterday’s misunderstanding. Stories like these can’t fit in formal dinners and big crowds. Their telling is fragile and selective. When, sometimes, it reaches the wrong ear, it meets an affirmative nod or some banal comments that can gradually alienate us from the topic until something more interesting comes up.
Last July, the governor of Komodo suggests the transformation of the whole island into a natural park and the removal of any human activity including the habitation of indigenous community, in order to protect the dinosaurs’ endangered relative, the Komodo dragon. The global touristic interest for this ginormous reptile seems to be flooding this small Indonesian island to such an extent that the dragons are not the only ones facing extinction, but also the much like rare, for our days, populations living among them.
If someone listens to them as an external observer, he will soon despond from their banality and insipidness. These are the same stories though, that in the ears of the concerned and the close, resonate with caring intimacy. These stories are written on our everyday things, on our gestures and expressions or on the position we enjoy sleeping. In such discussions, we do not get to choose our stance; we possess it, in a way of natural selection and the only thing we have to do is to serve and appreciate it. Nature does not make its appearance here as exotic or remarkable, but as an invisible continuous inscape which one inhabits without noticing it. These are the stories that before we even plan on how to narrate them, they speak for themselves, bringing forth such basic truths, that are often lost in the dreariness of their extrinsic observation.
It is obvious that the governor’s suggestion, despite its undoubtedly pure intentions to protect the dragons, is inhabited by a curious contradiction; if anyone considers that for centuries humans and dragons have been sharing the island peacefully. This contradiction is not due to some misconception, it is the result of two incompatible stories that unfold in tandem without either one being able to refute the other. On the one hand, nature as an ecosystem under protection, man as its observer and protector and the dragons as the rare and precious findings to be preserved. On the other hand, nature as our very fundamental, with man and dragon sharing it as they do with their origins.
Their topics are common and conventional, but infused with the catalytic power of daily engagement, they are traced to extensions of our very self, expressing it in all its clarity. We will listen to these stories when we turn to the ordinary and commonplace, only to find out that, there, also lives the familiar and the intimate.
And this incompatibility shows up crystal clear, when asked how he can raise his children among these dangerous animals, a local fisherman, glibly responds that he is more afraid of them drowning in the waves while playing on the sandy beach.
One could realize this, when in the middle of a long summer trip, somewhere remote and exotic, he comes to recognize, between strange and alien tins, the soft drink that uses to drink everyday back home. There, momentarily, he can overlook the standardization of mass production, to apprehend that, even with these distant foreigners, he has still something in common. Therefore, if the arresting or the strange keeps us at a safe distance, and the thing that concerns us divides us and creates friction, the dull, the daily and the commonplace is what unites us in a captivating way. What we are interested in, is finally, a turn to the everyday object, not for its functional or aesthetic value, but with the disposition to recognise it as the carrier of our common shared experience. If here we can acknowledge somehow a subject of the exhibition, it is nothing but this ordinary object, though viewed not from a position of external observation, but through our continuous entanglement with it. These objects become in the light of this perspective, the first syllables of a language universal and direct, and the above-mentioned turn lapses into gesture of communication, that gleans the object from the bed of mundanity, to expose them in the clear halo of our common experience. A move from the mundane and the banal to the close and the intimate, without which, we will always stand at a distance, intimacy will always give its place to boredom and even the most tender caress will not be able appease us, feeling like an annoying repetition.
Allouche Benias Gallery
Opening 10/9, 11.00 – 20.00