To know not to know

To Know and to Not Know in One Salon


The implicit contradiction in this Salon’s title – an event that during most of its history has tried to settle seemingly insurmountable differences about the idea of art, about what’s native and what is foreign — does not propose a reconciliation, rather a coexistence of beliefs in the same space.


Part of the exhibit presented here deals with SABER [To Know], the compass for survival that recognizes the importance and actuality of ancestral and innate forms of knowledge, of specific traditions and ways of understanding developed in a particular territory. The other part, recognizes a parallel force, a DESCONOCER [To Not Know] that accepts the suspension of univocal meanings, that launches us into doubt, ambiguity and uncertainty, a link to all that is new, allowing our escape into the future or impossible presents.


Differences between the works focused on knowing and those that spark not knowing are revealing, they make manifest two ways of thinking and engaging with the world. Consequently, the Salon offers two faces: one bright, clear and translucent;  the other opaque, obscure and remote. One offers enrichment, clarity, the other restlesness, uncertainty; its task is to keep us aware of the world in all its inundation and incomprehensibleness, to make us distrust the pretension of having found a definite formula.


Nevertheless there are, on one side, things that we can only know by believing – even if we don’t know them – and, on the other, things we know through our experience alone, so that we are left without doubt. In short, it is said that there are things we don’t know, things that we know and things that we simply believe. It is said that he who believes cannot simultaneously know, and that he who knows is beyond the darkness of not knowing. We also know there are truths that remain hidden, resisting our stubborn certainty that every interpretation of the world and of our own existence, is based in an opposition between things ‘known’ and ‘not known’.


Saber desconocer [To Know Not to Know] allows us to recognize the impossibility of keeping separate and in opposition both tasks. And it does not ask us to renounce independence and revelation. On the contrary, it allows us to confirm that when you ask about the meaning of the world we immediately become believers.


Socrates, the platonic, always claimed, regarding ultimate and determinant truths, he knew nothing by his own experience, they were all things he had only heard. He who believes is a listener that doesn’t know on his own, that doesn’t see with his own eyes; he listens and maybe in listening his eyes become acute and can perceive when something is revealed. Like the believer, we avoid a frontal view of the world. We dream with a complicit relationship, a dual relationship with beings and things; not a contract but a pact that illuminates the mysterious character of this reality and challenges its nature as an accomplished fact.


The world doesn’t exist for us to know it. Further, any knowledge is part of a ‘believe to know’ rather than a real knowledge. And to know it is not enough, we have to allow it to be the way it is and let it be an integral part of our lives. To know and to not know are both verbs, actions that recquiere our participation. It protects a question that can be answered in a myriad provisional ways but that can never have a definite answer. The tenacity to ask requires us to plunge in the limitless opening of everything that exists, to remain open for an answer, searching.


Because as soon as we become sure that we know, we stop thinking; we stop truly contemplating the world and our existence. Then, why should we chose between knowing and not knowing? What’s stopping us from respecting, including, thinking both things at the same time? Only the serene acceptance of this discordance and the disposition to accept both faces without trying to harmonize them before time – and without giving up too soon, either – allow us to genuinly be part of this world.


Saber desconocer is not a naïve and spontaneous union, it originates in the awareness of a painfully discovered need. In other words, it may very well be that, in the end, the root of it all, the ultimate sense of existence, can only be perceived by those who believe. To believe brings a new light to reason, allowing it to contemplate the things that will remain dark but that yet need to be tended to.


We need to believe that from the muteness of things something will spread out, that a wink, a claim will find its way among everything else to mean something… but what? Those moments, of course, do not arrive frequently. But when they do arrive, they remind us that there are blessed moments when the world wants to look and be looked at.


To verify, to demonstrate, to know… when we attempt to capture reality we are forced to face the world, losing the chance to establish a secret complicity. We always imagine ourselves face to face with reality, but there is no knowledge, no lack of knowledge, it’s a double illusion. There is only reciprocity. Once the elation of science has passed, we have managed to unmask knowledge and found that nothing protects us from the illusion, from the lack of truth. We didn’t know how to know, and we are just starting to learn.


A footnote for the visitor:


The exhibit’s structure takes into account the architecture of the venues. For instance, the Medellín Museum of Modern Art offers an ideal stage for the two ideas, with its twin spaces hosting two collective shows. One, titled Destiempo [Out of Time], relates to not knowing, and the other, Estado Oculto [Hidden State], to knowing. Between the two, in that great hall in the middle, a singular piece connects both poles metaphorically and visually, like an oxymoron.


The spaces at the Antioquia Building and the House of the Encounter are ideal for individual projects, and those of the Museum of Antioquia replicate, with less symmetry, a coexistence of knowing and not knowing, with intermediate zones where the apparent contradiction can be displayed.


In short, the exhibit features some works that enrich our knowing and others that make us restive and appeal to our not knowing; a third kind have the strange mission of bridging the divide, tracing vectors that show us that the canon, the things we know, the things that we believe we know and not know, are all arbitrary, uncertain and, frequently, incomplete.