Díptico ENG

Mariana Enriquez | 2017


I think of a haunted house, which is not the same thing as a house inhabited by ghosts or a house where a witch, who lived there, cast a spell. A ghost is something else entirely; it is a thread of the past that persists against its will, even if no longer identical to its former self—it’s not what it once was. What endures into the present is usually the representation of its trauma: the ghost presents and represents that which wounded or hurt it. Not all ghosts are terrifying because they have not come to represent their pain. They have simply returned to the place where they were known or come to visit the family that loved them, which they now observe silently. All ghosts inspire fear though none can hurt us. The word “haunted” means not only a place visited by ghosts, but also to be restless and disturbed, persecuted and vexed, or even “out of place.”


Jorge Macchi first opened the archive in a coffee shop in Villa Crespo. It was sunny out. “Díptico” [Diptych], a joint project with architect Nicolás Fernández Sanz, is as simple as it is disturbing: reproduce the space of the mythical Ruth Benzacar Gallery at the location in Plaza San Martín, in downtown Buenos Aires, in the gallery’s new space, here in the Villa Crespo section of the city, near the train tracks. The old gallery is conjured; a spell is cast to make something appear. Macchi and Fernández Sanz conspire to summon that gallery and they insert it in this space that is also a gallery, but was once a warehouse and some other things as well. The new gallery, altered and equipped by Fernández Sanz, is quite different from its predecessor. If the earlier space was a basement with permanent artificial lighting, the new space is flooded with sunlight that streams in through an enormous skylight; if the old ceiling was low, this one is extremely high; if the basement space was divided by three columns and an air duct, the new one is open and uninterrupted. The old gallery in Plaza San Martín, Macchi tells me, doesn’t fit into the new space unaltered: the “transfer” is not a faithful representation but a scale model. And that seems right: ghosts are never what they were—they are uncomfortable and jumpy, and they repeat only a fragment of their past. The new-old gallery inside the new gallery (the current gallery) does not, at least not explicitly, bring with it the former space’s artists, bustling openings, or legends. But they are most certainly there, as an echo, just as traces of the old gallery are found throughout the new one: galvanized door handles and railings originally designed by Benedit; Orly Benzacar’s desk, an impressive marble square capable of breaking bones that once belonged to her mother, Ruth; an enormous magnifying glass with gold handle—these are among the traces that made the move from Retiro to Villa Crespo. Clues. Salvaged remains.


The maxim that lies within any modern magic system is “as above so below” which means—broadly speaking—that everything above corresponds to what is below to accomplish the miracle of One Thing. Everything that happens on one level of reality happens on the other. The maxim is used to align the microcosm and the macrocosm, the one and the universe. But I like to think that, in a parallel reality, while “Díptico” is being erected, Macchi and Fernández Sanz’s doubles are building the Villa Crespo Benzacar in the Plaza San Martín Benzacar.




I think of a haunted place. A house is a place, and so is a gallery, though it’s not a house: it, just like theaters, parking garages, restaurants, and museums—places visited and then partly abandoned—is empty, all alone, at night. Are there night-time visits and ethereal guests that security cameras do not pick up? What I am thinking of is a house or a place haunted by a ghost that was not a person but a building. I know that I’ve seen one—in fact, I know it well. It’s on the same block as the house where I grew up in Lanús, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. It’s made of tin and wood, and its yard is overgrown with plants in what appears to be a jumbled mess: intentionally designed to mislead, it has that unmistakable fake disarray of all deliberately wild gardens. A mini-jungle of vines, lemon trees, rosebushes that someone prunes. I spent my childhood one hundred yards from that house. I returned in my youth during one of the economic crises that besets Argentina cyclically. I see it now at least once a month when I go visit my mom. Not once in these forty-three years of walking past it morning, noon, and night have I seen anyone walk in or out, peer through a window, feed the fat cats that walk over the ochre tiles, sweep away the fallen autumn leaves, grease the little door that leads to the patio. Nobody, not ever.

Is the house really there or am I just seeing things?

It’s there. I’ve taken people to see it, to show them what vexes me. Someone told me it was “repulsive.” Someone else didn’t want to get any closer than the sidewalk across the street. I’m not afraid of it, though. I can spend a long time observing its patio, looking out for any movement in the windows or behind the curtains, waiting for a stream of smoke to come up from the backyard. Do they have barbeques? Everyone else in the neighborhood faithfully performs that Sunday ritual. Do they burn leaves? All of the locals who have patios do in late May. But I’ve never seen anything like that here. The house sits there, motionless, its windows eager eyes. It takes care of itself. But that’s not the strangest part. In a neighborhood where each resident knows every last detail of the daily life of the person who lives next door—their life story, woes, when their kids have graduated from high school, who’s dating whom, who’s pregnant, who died, who’s sick, who got robbed, who went to jail—in a neighborhood where the lives of others is still the stuff of life itself, nobody can tell me anything about that house. When I mention it, it’s like they fall into a trance. My mother was born in the neighborhood, and she knows nothing about the house’s past. Neither do my Godparents, who live right on the corner. They don’t know who owns it, or whether or not anyone lives there. It was already there when they moved in. All of them—my mom, my Godparents—are over seventy years old. It was already there when they built their own makeshift homes that they were able to remodel and improve over the years. I’ve even asked the block’s most stellar gossips about the house. At first, they don’t know which house I mean. Then they say, “Ah, yes.” Then nothing. Silence. Then—in somewhat startled tone, as if they’d never thought about it before—they admit they don’t know anything about it. It’s as if, because not entirely real, the house were not worthy of attention.

That’s how I know it’s a haunted house. It’s there but it’s not real. That’s what really happens when ghosts are around. The shrieks and chases are the stuff of low-budget films and spirit-hunter videos on YouTube. But a true apparition produces a paralysis not at all like hysteria. A shadow in the shape of a man crossing the room—that’s what I remember. I was in bed with a book. That’s Dad, I thought, on his way to the bathroom. Why is he walking through my room, though? Oh right, I thought, it’s because we’re at my grandmother’s house—not at home—an old house where you have to walk through a  number of rooms to get to the bathroom, which is off the patio. Back to my book. The shadow looks nothing like my dad, who was small, thin, and had curly hair. The shadow was of a very tall and broad-shouldered bald man. Besides, the room was too dark for my father to cast a shadow. Finally, after waiting a long time for the shadow—my father’s shadow, I thought—to come back, I fell asleep. I was restless but not frightened. Haunted. Visited by a ghost. The next day, when I found out that there was no way my father had gone through my room to get to the bathroom the night before because he had slept in the living room—that was when I got scared, an instinctive and not very credible fear, the fear we are compelled to feel when the event described by the phrase “I saw a ghost” actually happens. But seeing it didn’t scare me. All the bald shadow stirred in me was uncertainty. That’s how I remember it to this day. I have no idea whose ghosts it might be, I don’t think it goes by there often, I don’t know why it did that night. Maybe it was lost, misplaced, looking for its home.


3- “Díptico” will be registered with a video, a mockup, and photographs. But capturing the experience will not be easy—it’s not easy to capture any experience. A photo of our joy at a birthday party hides our frustration, our tears the night before, our anger at the oven that burned the cake—the one in the photo is store-bought. Jorge Macchi tells me about the melancholy light planned for the gallery to be installed, about the holes in its wooden ceiling that will let beams of light from the current gallery through. He tells me about a small room it will have, a room off by itself, set between spaces, another little ghost, this one lost. A Casper. (How dreadful Casper—nobody seems to realize that it’s a dead child.) Fernández Sanz shows me a photo of the mockup to help me understand the small room. The wooden gallery, the new one that represents the old one—what we might call the model—doesn’t fit in the Villa Crespo gallery, as I explained, and—meddlesome—the current (white) gallery often makes itself felt like an overlay. Part of the new gallery’s central space, the little room is in the back; the ceiling is so high and it gets so much light because it is located directly below the new gallery’s skylight. Two of its walls are white, part of the new gallery, but the other two are wooden because they represent two walls in the back of the old gallery. The little room is squeezed between the “Díptico” gallery and the backroom. It’s a place between times. A passage. Another little room comes to mind when Macchi mentions this one, but I stay focused on the photographs. A ghost cannot be photographed either. Look on the Internet. Now that everything’s right at our fingertips, go look for photos of ghosts. Even the best and most disturbing ones are not all that credible. In his book “Daimonic Reality,” writer Patrick Harpur says this about the impossibility of photographing or filming otherworldly beings: “Cameras might not lie, but they don’t really tell the truth either. No matter how much we enlarge or analyze photos, the photographic process turns the image into something else … Something seems to be there, but no longer is; it’s material now and then suddenly immaterial …. a sort of flicker in reality. That’s what demons do: they flicker and we are left in a daze.”

It will or will not be possible to capture “Díptico.” We will have to walk under its dim light, be dazed and enraptured by its ghostly flickering, in order to understand. Or, rather, to sense. “Díptico” should be ungraspable, just as experience is ungraspable. I think of the little room again, but this time what it brings to mind is crystal clear: a story that Madeline Yale Wynne—a New Englander and a leading figure in William Morris’s arts and crafts movement—wrote in the nineteenth century. The story is called “The Little Room.” In it, a young woman takes her boyfriend to her aunts’ house in Vermont, where she tells him about something strange. In the northern wing of the house, there was a little room between the front and back rooms. The girl’s mother loved that room and wanted to show it to her husband. But when she tried, the room was no longer there: instead, there was a china-closet. Mother “asked her sisters when . . . a closet [had been] made of the room that used to be there. They both said the house was exactly as it had been built—that they had never made any changes, except to tear down the old wood-shed and build a smaller one.” But later the room reappears and the sisters change their story, saying that the room has always been there. Haunted by the room, the sisters reply with vagaries, or—bewitched—perhaps they lie deliberately. And they drive that woman, the girl’s mother, who sees and does not see the room, mad; her daughter can see it as well. It’s a lovely room with a couch cover of India chintz, a shelf with old leather-bound books and pink shells. The woman, the mother, doesn’t want to go into that haunted room; she sends her daughter into it to fetch her things. The mother withers away, grows sick, and dies. And the aunts go back and forth, saying that there is a little room, that there is no room, only a china-closet, and so on until the end of the story. The haunted room appears and disappears.


That story is a distant precedent of “architectural horror,” a mini-genre that appears from time to time in novels and short stories. English writer M. John Harrison describes unknown pubs whose inner doors lead to “the other London”; you can walk through them, but the return to present-day London from its parallel is often traumatic. These are not castles, fortresses, abandoned mansions. They are just little doors. Like the little room in the back of the Benzacar Gallery. Daily threads. Seemingly innocent doors. Just an ordinary house in the working-class town of Lanús. Houses that are ghosts, places that don’t belong to this world but that have been called into it. “The Nineteenth Step” by Canadian writer Simon Strantzas: a couple buys a house to remodel; they will live in it while the work is being done. The man, Alex, is the first one to notice the problem with the stairs. There’s not the right number of steps, he says. It’s an odd number. The building code requires an even one. There are either too many steps or not enough. According to regulations, which he reviews, there should be eighteen steps between one floor and the next. But there aren’t. Does it really matter? his wife asks. And he says no, it probably doesn’t.

But it does.

They become obsessed. They walk up and down the stairs time and again. Sometimes they count eighteen steps, sometimes nineteen. It must be an optical illusion, they think. But they know it’s not. “Something was wrong in the reality of the house, some bend in what [they] had until then believed was solid, and if something as simple as the number of stairs was wrong, then who knew what else could be?” What might lie after the nineteenth step? And what if a twentieth step appeared?

I recount the story (poorly) on the phone to Fernández Sanz. He tells me that drawing is architects’ grammar, and that it is quite common for architecture students to make mistakes about the number of steps. They miscount them when drawing a staircase and an intruder—the ghost step—appears.

The installation will be silent. Not a single sound. When Macchi and Fernández Sanz tell me that, they mention in passing something about the Schumann Resonance. I am not sure exactly what they are talking about, and I think of the German composer Schumann. Music by Schumann? I decide to look into it. Well, it turns out what they meant has nothing to do with Schumann the composer, but with the extremely low frequencies of the Earth’s electromagnetic spectrum. It is said that astronauts are made to listen to those frequencies to keep them from leaving the Earth behind for good. I think of the nineteenth step. Do Macchi and Fernández Sanz want, perhaps, to keep people inside the conjured gallery? Or do they want them to be able to make their way out of the old gallery into the light and not be left in that ghost gallery, in that parallel reality? Are Macchi and Fernández Sanz becoming superstitious, fearful of losing visitors for good, fearful of coming across the twentieth step or the door to the Other Gallery, like Harrison’s Other London? And do they look to science for the answer? Though science—as I sense they know—was once magic.

Of all works of architectural horror, the most remarkable is Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel “House of Leaves.” Though it is a highly complex work—a story within a story with various branches, and a blind scrivener that is undoubtedly a reference to Borges—the core of the book is the house in the title. A family films their new home—just plain-old family videos. But the register becomes a nightmare when the family comes back from a trip only to discover a new space in the house: where there had been a bare wall there is now a sort of closet, a wardrobe with door. A space has appeared—and that is the very definition of the uncanny: the familiar turned strange. There is nothing inside the closet and it is in no way threatening. The cause for dread is its very materialization. Investigating the phenomenon, Will Navidson, the house’s owner, sets out to measure the structure. And he discovers another bit of physical madness: the width of the house’s interior is six millimeters more than the width of its exterior. It’s nothing, just a trifle—but it is impossible. It’s not a detail, but the distortion of reality. So Navidson asks for help: he calls on his brother and a scientist friend. The cameras set up to capture what was happening to the family begin to show this impossible horror. A black and freezing-cold hallway grows out of one of the living-room walls; on the other side of that wall is the garden, but the dark hallway doesn’t lead anywhere except into more darkness, where something is growling. Shortly thereafter, the walls holding up the bookshelves expand and the sound of them falling brings on full-blown madness. Soon, Navidson has no choice but to hire a team of speleologists: the cold and pitch-dark passageway has expanded and is now a vast space that he cannot explore on his own. The speleologists begin their work and they find a Great Hall with ceilings over one hundred and sixty feet high and an arch nearly one mile wide. In the middle of the hall is a spiral staircase some two hundred feet in diameter that descends into nothingness or, rather, into pitch blackness. The speleologists are out on their third expedition for eleven hours. The darkness shifts and grows, expands and contracts. They get lost in the house and their voices are heard from behind the walls; they disappear into the depths. The mystery of the house is never fully resolved, but that isn’t what matters because this is not a house that holds a monster: the monster is the house itself. It does not belong to this world.

Are there houses like those in Argentine literature? The only ones that come to mind are the obvious examples. And Cortázar’s “Night School” from his final book, Unreasonable Hours, made me shutter much more than his “House Taken Over,” undoubtedly because it is set in a familiar place: Mariano Acosta high school. When the kids decide to go inside the school at night, they find a ghostly orgy-masquerade in which teachers and administrators and—finally—the students themselves take part. But the students, their true selves, are not the ones in the school at night. It’s that the school itself has turned into a gateway to the future where ghosts dance, mocking the cruel years to come. There are ghosts of the future as well. “Díptico” may be a re-creation of the past, but Macchi and Fernández Sanz bring it from the future.



I wonder what kind of ghost haunts a place. It is believed that ghosts are woeful or evil or—at the very least—naughty, but that’s not always the case. It is also believed that they are pallid or translucent, like clouds, sheets, ectoplasms, the devil’s drool, or spider webs. But some ghosts are shadows. And some have a color: M.R. James, nineteenth-century master of horror stories, left a posthumous text with ghosts of a bloody reddish hue. And they have distinct personalities as well. Japanese ghosts are ruthless and impossible to appease; they are almost always vengeful and cruel. But it’s often possible to strike a deal with a Chinese ghost. The Póra—a Guaraní guardian ghost—is rarely embodied; he is sensed. A haunted place is said to have “póra.”

I think of ghost towns, though that is a misnomer. The term ghost town should refer to a town that appears and then vanishes, that returns or comes back. There are ghost cities. One of my favorites is Ys, a city in Brittany that was swallowed up by the ocean. In the nineteenth century, it was made famous by folklorist Hersat de la Villemarqué, who discovered a song about what was considered the most beautiful city in Europe and compiled its myth. In the original tale, Ys never surfaces. Claude Debussy came up with the idea that only its cathedral—and, hence, the sound of its ghostly bells—emerged from the water; his “Prelude” is a deformed and re-created musical ghost-myth based on that sunken and swallowed church. I remember another sunken city, the lost Russian city of Kitezh in Werner Herzog’s film “Bells from the Deep.” It was going to be destroyed by the Mongols but its citizens prayed, asking God to hide it and He did—under the ice, in the depths of a lake. It is said that, at times, the bells of the Kitezh church can be heard and the lights of the candles in its windows seen. Pilgrims who want to see those candles and hear those bells crawl over the surface of the frozen lake; they put their faces up against the ice. It snows, but they persist; their ears freeze but the ghost city is elusive. Kitezh, unlike the more generous Ys, does not display its lovely cathedral.

What will this conjured Benzacar Gallery be like? Does a constructed ghost also have a distinct personality? Why not? No one knows who creates ghosts. I wonder if, at night, when the gallery is closed, visitors to the old Benzacar will explore the model: will it attract lost art lovers? And, when it is taken down, will the model appear in the pale white dawn, registered by cameras just as ghosts are—that is, poorly and imprecisely? Will, years and years from now, the ghost of brown wood be seen between the pieces hanging on the wall? Or will it vanish for good, just as the ghosts that say farewell on the ouija boards do, never again to visit the fearful spiritualists playing the game?

Too soon to tell.


5-  It takes a lot of work to summon a ghost. The phantom Benzacar, before its apparition is revealed, is full of cables and saws, of people lifting up pieces of wood and steel beams. In one corner, that light—a line, a reflection like a memory—is seen flickering against the wall. Summoning a ghost is a magical act: necromancy is the discipline of calling forth spirits to ask them for knowledge or favors. Knowledges and powers. In English, making magic is considered an art; in Spanish, the word used is “work.”

Macchi and Fernández Sanz are doing art and work, that is, they are making magic. Magic is the ability to effect change through will, to create something where there was nothing. Magic, then, is—in fact—art.

But this enormous and dimly lit ghost has not been summoned for prophecy or for help, not to any specific ends. Why then? The clearest answer, it would appear, is love. The old Benzacar Gallery is back thanks to an arduous act of love. I think of Heathcliff, the beautiful and evil protagonist of Wuthering Heights, who summons Catherine, the woman he loved, and manages to get her to come back. She does not always take the shape of the beautiful girl she once was, though; sometimes, she appears as a child running over the cold moors, knocking on the windows of the house until the glass breaks. It is no secret that one must be careful with what one wants. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist before writing Sherlock Holmes—where did all that detective’s rationality come from?—but he became thoroughly engrossed in conversing with ghosts after his son Kingsley, wounded in World War I, died. Not long ago, in Buenos Aires, I learned of a group of young women, daughters of the disappeared, that would get together at a country house not far from the city to play Ouija, trying to summon their mothers and fathers. Acts of love. Will this materialized Benzacar attract artists who are no longer among us? Will they come to fetch their work? Is the gallery within the gallery an open door, a way of welcoming?

One thing it is is a memory box. Each visitor will summon his or her own memory of the gallery that was and is once again, and call forth those presences; visitors will touch these walls, and go back to a rainy afternoon, to a painting that made them cry, to bubbly laughter. Bring lost ghosts back home again.