Stéphanie Noach opende zaterdag 23 maart de tentoonstelling 'Een choreografie in het donker' van Aimee Zito Lema. Stéphanie Noach is verbonden aan de Universiteit Leiden en gespecialiseerd in hedendaagse kunstgeschiedenis met de focus op het Caribisch gebied en Latijns Amerika. Haar openingswoord vind je hieronder en is in het engels geschreven. 


It is December 2023 and Aimée Zito Lema lies motionless on the floor of her studio in Amsterdam. She is covered by a large, an enormous, light-sensitive paper. Yet initially there is no way to notice this. The studio is engulfed in total and complete darkness. It has literally become a dark room. Let us not be confused: no anonymous sexual activities took place here. In this completely disproportionate dark room, photos were developed. The process was as follows: as Zito Lema sunk into the penumbra and began losing sense of her surroundings, her assistant, Didi Lehnhausen, molded the photographic paper around her body. This was heavy labor: the paper was robust and seemed to resist any modification. But Lehnhausen persevered, and as she pushed and as she folded, little by little it started taking the shape of the artist’s body. Small elevations emerged above her head, knees, and breasts, and cliffs appeared between and next to the limbs. There were wide as well as narrow parts, and there were sections where the paper was craggy, rugged, and wrinkled, while there were others where it remained perfectly flat.


Stéphanie Noach - opening 'Een choreografie in het donker'

After the photographic paper stopped being just that, paper, and started being a body too, a landscape if you will, Lehnhausen located negatives on it. Life-size negatives of pictures that recur throughout Zito Lema’s oeuvre and that I will return to later in this talk. These exact same pictures, Lehnhausen thus placed directly on the artist’s body, sometimes hidden between the folds, at others perfectly visible. One on top of another, next to another, under another, behind another, in front of another. Some spaces, she left for what they were. Untouched. So that, alongside the tangle of images, there seemed to be nothing but white.  Then, for a brief second, she turned on the light. The paper responded immediately. Lines started to appear, and the beginning of what was to become an image. At this point, Lehnhausen removed the material so that Zito Lema could get on her feet. Together they carried the paper to a tray with, consecutively, the developer, the stop bath, and the fixer. And then, finally, they bathed the image for approximately 30 minutes.


Doka - Aimée Zito Lema


The ritual I just described occurred 14 times. And the result we see and sense here. It are the fourteen life-size images on the walls around us. Together they compose the series Choreography in the dark. On the floor, we see several trays of water, just like the ones that were used for developing the photos. And we see a red light, reminding us too of the dark room from where it all emerged.

You might wonder why I went to such lengths describing this sequence of activities. I have asked myself this question. And I believe, and it seems to me, that the answer is the following: by meditating on all the things that took place in the artist’s studio, in this temporary dark room, we get as close as we can get to what is at the heart of Zito Lema’s work: memory. But be aware, it is not memory in the classical sense, not a representation of the past inserting influence on the present. What we witness in Choreography in the dark, and I think in Zito Lema’s work as such, is that memory, more than anything, is a process. A process that is profoundly fragmentary, delicate, and always in the making.


Een choreografie in het donker - Aimée Zito Lema


In nearly all—if not all— of the texts about Zito Lema’s work, the question of memory is foregrounded.  Mostly it is mentioned in one breath with the images she reproduces and that we see here again, imprinted on her body that is, I have said it before, also photographic paper, also landscape. These photographs come from the artist’s photo-album as well as from Argentina’s national archive. Although such a distinction feels inaccurate for the two are constitutive of each other. The pictures show a jacket of the artist’s late father, the shirt she wore while giving birth to her second daughter, a house under construction. But also: a person being carried away by soldiers and people protesting on the streets. Some of them were taken during Argentina’s military dictatorship—in the years around Zito Lema’s birth—others after the return of democracy—when the artist and her family returned to Argentina after spending years in exile— and still others stem from the last decade— when she became a mother, in Amsterdam.

The pictures constituting Choreography in the dark represent fragments of Argentina’s military dictatorship as well as of Zito Lema’s personal history. That much is clear. But the point I want to make is that this is not the reason why her work should be considered as one of memory. Zito Lema’s work is one of memory because of how she engages with these historical materials, what she does with and to them, and not because of what they represent.

That is, through how she locates them on her body; pushes them in its fissures and its cracks; puts them on top of, next to, under, and behind one another. Through how she composes ever new constellations with the same materials, while always leaving space for absences and openings. Please allow me to read a small fragment of a text Walter Benjamin wrote in 1932, Excavation and Memory, that reminded me of Zito Lema’s choreographies in the dark.

Benjamin writes:

He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging. Above all, he must not be afraid to return again and again to the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil. [1]

By continuously using the same pictures, yet in ever distinct ways, Zito Lema, acts as the digging man Benjamin talks about. Also she is not afraid to work with the same materials over and over again. To scatter them, turn them over, and then scatter and turn them over again.

Here then, for me at least, resides the particularity, the strength, of Zito Lema’s work. In the continuous rethinking and recomposing of the past, avoiding straight lines, fixity, and wholeness. Zito Lema opens a history that is, literally, full of cracks and absences. [2]

Stéphanie Noach
d.d. maart 2024


[1] Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol 2, Part. 2, 1931-1934 (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005), 576

[2] The question of opening a crack in history has been central to figures as diverse as Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and Walter Benjamin. More recently, poet and scholar Isabel Cadenas Cañon asked herself how artworks can open cracks in the homogeneity of history.