‘Too Fleeting’: a vision of the world of today
Fernando Lancellotti and the number-men

‘Development forces us to save time, to move rapidly, allowing us only to retain the useful information as in speed reading.’ J.F. Lyotard

By Jorge Glusberg
Director of the National Museum of Fine Arts

The Pythagoreans assumed that numbers were the essence of things. Two thousand years later, the Renaissance asserted that reality could be represented by numbers. Throughout this century, in the wake of the advances of civilization, the conclusions of the Pythagoreans and of the Renaissance were inverted and parodied: today, men are the essence of numbers, which don’t represent reality, but instead produce, reinforce and prolong it.

Turned into things, human beings are simple numbers: increasingly precise and abundant statistical statements. Let’s take the case of the world population: it grows at a rate of 80 million inhabitants a year, which means an average of 219,000 a day, that is, 3 inhabitants a second.

Today, in 1999, 6,000 million people take up space in the world; in twenty five years time there will be 8,000 million, and some assumptions even predict nine thousand million, because the trend of demographic growth accelerates more and more.

The Argentine artist Fernando Lancellotti raises the issue in his installation ‘Too Fleeting’, which is exhibited in the Centro Cultural Recoleta (Recoleta Cultural Centre). Indeed, the title is allusive to human life in today’s societies. If three people are born every second, in thirty seconds we have 30 newborns: these quantities are truly of a hair-raising transitoriness.

But those three individuals that every second come to the world are not less transient. Not only because they are later to die in so or so many years, but also because their names will soon get lost in their country’s and the world’s sea of data, and they will be substituted by a number, especially by the number of the ID —called identification card due to the randomness of bureaucracy and of the Civil Registry, though the aim is, unexpectedly, to bury the individual’s identity, to horde, objectify and make it anonymous.

The term ‘person’ comes from Latin and referred to the actors’ masks. Shakespeare has already alluded to life as the passing through a stage, pointing out that ‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. Lancellotti goes to great lengths to tell us that our civilization is interested in ciphering, not in deciphering; in counting us, not in knowing us.

Masks, ephemeral numbers. Notes that don’t last. Statistics modified every minute by computers. Fleeting individuals, volatile brands. That’s what we are: as we pass before the black silhouettes, which represent us in every-day scenes, an electronic device counts us, turns us into a number, then into another number. Too fleeting, because that other number will change with the next onlooker that’s behind us, also he turned into a number, and then into another number and so on endlessly.

Lancellotti’s installation thus displays itself in a theatrical manner: as we enter, we are observed by black silhouettes in the form of human beings, who are frozen in every-day gestures and positions. We don’t know who they are, what names they have, where they come from, where they are, what they’re doing. The light enhances darkness; it doesn’t illuminate it; anonymity increases instead of dispelling.

However, as we move around the theatrical space of the installation, even we acquire anonymity’s features; even we become unaware of ourselves, of our names, of where we come from, of where we are, of what we do. We become silhouettes, actors, masks, transient individuals, much too fleeting. All we can be sure of is that we are a number, the number we were when we came in, and the number we’ll be when we leave.