Vita Vel Regula (2013)
Vita Vel Regula (2013)
50 black and white c-print photographs, 7 x 5 in. each
50 plaques with participants’ full name, birth and death date, 1 x 4 in. each
16 manila envelopes labeled with specific open dates and instructions inside, 6 x 9 in. each
Overall Installation (2 panels): 62 x 74 in. / 157.4 x 187.9 cm.
PANEL 1: 39 x 74 x 1 in. / 99 x 187.9 x 2.5 cm.
PANEL 2: 19 x 74 x 1 in. / 48.2 x 187.9 x 2.5 cm.
On February 28, 2013, I presented a work entitled Vita Vel Regula (Rules of Life) at the Renata Bianconi Gallery in Milano, Italy. The project is a game for 50 participants, to be played only once. It consists of each participant receiving 16 sealed envelopes labeled with specific opening dates and instructions. The game started on March 1, 2013 and will end on either November 23, 2097 or with the passing of the last participant. I am not likely to live to see the end of this project.
I have invited 25 participants, all of them younger than me and who are likely to outlive me, and with whom I currently share a strong family, personal or professional relationship, to participate in this project. The 25 remaining participants were selected people who attended the opening of the gallery that night.
The first envelope contains a set of instructions that was opened the day after the exhibition opening, March 1, 2013. The second envelope will be opened twice the amount of time after the first envelope, the third envelope twice the amount of time than the second, and so forth. As the days space between each other between envelope and envelope, the waiting times become months, years and then decades. The 12th envelope is due to be opened on May 27th, 2019, the 13th on August 13 of 2030, the 14th on January 16 of 2053, and finally the 15th on November 23, 2097. My daughter Estela, the youngest participant who is now 3, if alive then, will be 88 years old. The 16th envelope is due to be opened at the time of my own passing.
Because of its posthumous conclusion, Vita Vel Regula will be my last artwork.
Strange Oasis, Kent Fine Art, New York, 2015
It’s Your Turn, Galleria Bianconi, Milan, Italy, 2013
Droitcour, Brian. “Exhibitions, The Look Out: Pablo Helguera,” Art in America, 6 March 2015
Letter read to the Audience on February 28, 2013:
Ladies and gentlemen of 2097,
After having spoken at so many events throughout my life, I have never spoken at an event where the audience doesn’t exist yet.
This is because tonight event is not only for us in this gallery. It is also for a hypothetical audience, most of which have not yet been born. They will be closer to the generation of our grandchildren, or of our great-grandchildren, if we are lucky to have descendants. It is almost certain that not a single one of us present tonight will be alive on the evening of November 23, 2097, exactly 84 years after today. My own daughter, who is three years old today, if still alive, will be 88 years old then. We are a lifetime away from that point. It is difficult to imagine what the world will be like, if it will be a happy place, if it may have become irreparably destroyed by our wasteful society. But in the same way that we can’t know what the future holds, and what we could learn from those hypothetical audiences of the future that will watch the video of this event we are making now for them, it is also interesting that we are often equally ignorant about those who lived in the past. I often think of it when I look at a 19th century portrait of a great-great grandmother that my family has, la abuela Luisa, of which I know practically nothing other than she was the grandmother of my grandfather and lived in the city of Zacatecas, Mexico. She left no letters or objects and there are no photographs of her other than that painting. Historical records and witness accounts often help us to piece together the past, but it never provides a full insight; so those who lived say in the 1920s are equally distant to us now than we are from those people who will exist in 2097. So this recorded message from us is to them. There may not be a magic insight we can convey to you (and now I speak to those of you, on the other side). What you may find most paradoxical is that our time may be most readable to you than to us, who are living it now. But in any case, how great it would have been to us if the voices of the past had consciously attempted to speak to us directly, if my abuela Luisa would have written me a letter for instance. And tried to make specific efforts to reach out to us and let us know what mattered to them the most. This is what at least we can do for you, the future audiences. We can write to you, we can speak to you now hoping that you may listen later. We can attempt to salvage the natural boundaries of human lifetimes by employing a bit of artifice, in the form of a conceptual artwork, something that we invented and that may not even exist by the end of this century. But it is important, also to say that we are also writing and speaking to another hypothetical, and not-yet existing audience, which is ourselves, in ten, twenty, thirty years. We may find that we were very different people now from what we became later, that we may have forgotten who we once were. It is thus not only the potential of a conversation with you but with those who we may become along the way. This is why I have created this game to be played once, consisting in 15 envelopes which will be opening over the years by the living and willing participants. Each envelope is dated and scheduled to be open in twice the amount of time than the previous one. The gap will thus first be a few days, then will be months, then years, and finally decades. One envelope is scheduled to be opened at my own passing, hopefully several decades from now if I am lucky. After I am gone, and hopefully you outlive me, I will continue to speak to you from what is contained in those envelopes, should you chose to continue your promise to keep them and open them at the indicated time.
I will ask the visitors at tonight’s event to write a private note to the audiences of 2097, who will go in a time capsule that will be opened on that date, hopefully, by this hypothetical audience that may humor us in doing so. I also hope that the second to the last opening of the envelope in 2053, roughly 40 years from now, we may come together one last time to open that envelope, the last time that I may be able to join you. Wre I not able to come or be alive then, I would ask you those of you who can to do so. I wish I could say I will be there in spirit, but I don’t believe in that which is not tangible. I do believe in art, I believe in its perseverance and in the perseverance of ideas, and I believe in the constancy of people and the bonds they create, which Is what compels me to propose the current collective experience. So let’s celebrate that bond that we have now.
Created. Lets take a photograph that you, the audiences of 2097, will be able to see, knowing that we took it for you, so that you know how we looked, how strangely we dressed and spoke, how innocent perhaps we looked, but that we were here for you, and for our descendants, to open that last envelope with the things that we wrote tonight, and as you open that last envelope, you will bring, finally, to completion an experience that lasted 84 years ago this evening, at a small art gallery in the city of Milan