Like leaves who could write a history of leaves
The wind blows their ghosts to the ground
And the spring breathes new leaf into the woods
Thousands of names thousands of leaves
When you remember them remember this
Dead bodies are their lineage
Which matter no more than the leaves.

-Alice Oswald, Memorial

[1] In the first photograph in this exhibition, we see Marcelo Brodsky standing against a wall, arms and legs stretched out, with a tree trunk in front of him that divides his body in two and also covers his face, keeping us from identifying him directly. If we know it is him—the photograph’s title, “Autorretrato fusilado,” tells us that it is a self-portrait—we also know it is not him, since the image’s title refers not only to a subject who is about to be shot to death but also to the destruction of the self-portrait itself. Presenting a subject who is about to lose his life—even if, as is the case here, the event is staged and performed—the photograph is also a wildly rich archive of everything that is to come, an archive not only of a long and murderous past but of a future that, still to be realized, is already inscribed in this single prophetic image. Taken in 1979 while Brodsky was in exile in Barcelona, the image presents a wall in the plaza in which the Franco regime carried out innumerable executions during the Spanish Civil War. The walls of the Church in the Plaza de San Felipe Neri are peppered by bullet holes and also disfigured by one of the many bombardments during the war, a bombing that caused great damage to the church’s façade in 1938. This is a self-portrait that inscribes him into a broader history, but one that touches on his own history as much as it does the history of others.

This is a self-portrait, in other words, in which Brodsky, putting himself in the position of all those who were murdered during the war and all those who will be murdered in the future, presents himself as an other, identifies himself with others, with dead others. Indeed, if he is both himself and not himself in this photograph, it is because the image suggests that a self-portrait is never simply the portrait of a self, but rather a kind of archive, a network of relations, a set of historical traces that, giving us several contexts in which we might situate the subject, also prevent the subject from ever being self-identical to himself. There can be no self-portrait, he seems to suggest, except the one that stages the death, or future death, of the subject. This point is reinforced when we recall that the Church of San Felipe Neri was built on the site of what, during the Middle Ages, was a Jewish cemetery. The plaza belongs to a site of death, to a site devoted to the memory of the dead. This fact seems encrypted in this first image, like a kind of secret, since, in combination with the tree trunk that divides him in two, Marcelo’s limbs, his arms and legs, form a kind of hexagram, a Star of David, a figure that surfaces elsewhere in Brodsky’s work and that signals his own lineage and inheritances. In this way, the photograph identifies his identity with the tree, itself a privileged figure of genealogies and familial identifications. Preventing us from viewing him directly, from identifying him straightaway, the tree nevertheless forms part of his identity.