CAtArINa's Dictionary

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"To follow desire in solitude....

CAtArINa's Dictionary is a series of videos that convey the creative life of a young woman named Caterina, who is increasingly paralyzed and said to be mad as she lives out her time in Vita, an asylum in Southern Brazil. 

These works are inspired by and draw from the book Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (UC Press 2013) by Princeton anthropologist João Biehl. In Vita, Biehl leads a detective-like journey to know Catarina; to unravel the cryptic, poetic words that are part of a “dictionary” she is compiling; and to trace the complex network of family, medicine, state, and economy in which her abandonment and pathology took form.

Gary Hurst was particularly struck by Catarina’s Dictionary (composed of excerpts of nineteen of her notebooks and presented at the end of the book) and the dialogues between the anthropologist and a person deemed “ex-human,” such as the following:

What are you writing?

“This is my dictionary,” she said. “I write so that I don’t forget the words. I write all the illnesses I have now, and the illnesses I had as a child.” 

Why do you call it a dictionary?

“Because it does not require anything from me, nothing. If it were mathematics, I would have to find a solution, an answer. Here, there is only one subject matter, from beginning till the end. . . I write it and read it.”

Vita’s intricate text raises a plethora of issues and questions related to poverty, migration, domestic violence, sexism and the pharmaceuticalization of care—all presented from a highly personal and relational perspective which challenges hegemonic ideas of normality, objectivity and ethics, while also bringing human plasticity and the unfinishedness of social life into view. 

In this CAtArINa's Dictionary video series, Hurst further explores these pressing issues through Catarina’s raw poetry in a vocal and visual form. In collaboration with the French actress Elsa Hourcade and Princeton Lecturer Andrea Melloni, Hurst creatively draws from Catarina’s original writings (archived by Biehl in Princeton). In these video pieces, Catarina’s ‘dead words,’ so to speak—“Dead alive, dead outside, alive inside”—are given the voice of other women in various languages. In these videos, then, the plot is that of a woman trying to enter the poems of another woman. At the same time, audiences are faced with an archive of multi-media associative objects that do not simply reflect or overwhelm Catarina’s words, but rather seek to give them a body to inhabit.

Opening up Catarina’s writings, harnessing her poetics and making things out of these signifiers and of what they might signify, is a journey of translation that audiences join in. CAtArINa's Dictionary thus draws from and actualizes an abandoned person’s efforts to write herself back into existence against efforts to erase her from history and worldliness. 

...that's the illusion of the abandoned."

CAtArINa's Sketches, Book III






CAtArINa's Dictionary



Installation Diary


CAtArINa's Dictionary was presented in “la compagnie, lieu de creation” in Marseille between November 2018 and February 9 as part of the exhibition Encore with Photographer Valerie Horwitz. See materials from the installation and read an account of the project by Gary Hurst. 



About the Artist

These video works were created in the VizE Lab by video artist Gary Hurst. Hurst’s artwork explores the interplay and translation of image, text, voice, sound and music. As a multimedia artist with a broad creative experience in drawing, video production, live video (VJ), set design, theatre, and dance, his works are often intricate parts of large-scale productions in a wide variety of settings.

VizE Lab for Ethnographic Data Visualization
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