Celeste Sanja


The enchanting dance began...

The initial sparks ignited amidst the shared guilt of transgressions, as celestial bodies fell into perfect alignment. It signified the moment for the commoners to seize back their nocturnal realm. Adorned with garlands that held a captivating charm, the children leaped gracefully over the blazing inferno. And so, the enchanting dance began.
According to the pagan faith, the fire concealed within itself a central role in heathen spirituality, imbued with numerous mystical qualities. To the faithful, fire was not just a flickering dance of flames; it was a concealed vessel of power, a guardian of secrets, a wellspring of protection, and a font of rejuvenation. It was, in essence, a living embodiment of magic. As tribes and clans began to form their sacred bonds, fire transcended into the communal beacon known as the bonfire. Bonfires assumed various roles throughout the annals of history. Embodying ceremonies, celebrations of the imminent harvest season and signaling, they have been a symbol of collectivity and communion, a fulcrum upon which the collective soul of a community balanced. In the crackling embrace of the bonfire, the peasants covertly exchanged ideas and dreams of a brighter future and equality.

The bonfires lit the soil of the commons, the lands, collectively used and owned by farmers. The concept of the commons played a significant role in agrarian societies and continues to thrive in the contemporary digital space as a staple of successful and  shining testament to the benefits from the collective utilization of shared resources. The social significance of the commons, embraced by the warmth of the bonfire flames, stood as a potent emblem of solidarity among the rural working class, fostering the exchange of ideas, intellectual contemplation, and a spirit of rebellion. On the common grounds of pre-capitalist Europe, characterized by collective farming and self-sustained food production, communities were arranging various processions across their fields to bless the harvest, which was also a poignant reminder of the paramount significance of self-governance and unity. At the heart of these untamed social functions there were women, who, having less access to land and less social power, depended more heavily on them for their subsistence, autonomy, and elevation of their social status. The common lands constituted the nucleus of their social life—a place where they congregated, exchanged news, offered advice, and where a distinct female perspective on community events emerged and assumed more power. Even though the power of fire was also thought to protect against the powers of evil in whatever shape or form they stalked the land, soon the flames of primitive communism found themselves extinguished within the confines of the enclosures. This marked the first in many steps towards privatization of the public space and establishment of the system in which we presently reside.

The shadowy grotesque has shown its form...

All principles of collective cooperation and sharing, the notion of primitive communism, dispersed with the abolishment of the open field system, which didn’t only mark the decline of agricultural cooperation, but as well intensified economic inequality within the rural populace. The unifying solstice celebrations were successfully quelled by the dominant power structures; to induce a transgression of the rebellious mind of the proletariat into obedient laborers, the ruling class found it necessary to deprive the working class of any elements that might foster a spirit of dissent. As part of the broader agenda of social engineering that unfolded, taverns, alcohol, bars, gambling, public nudity, and communal pools were all prohibited and stigmatized. With this symbolic overturn of events, disparities deepened within various facets of the gender realm. Women quickly found themselves at the heart of this dark shift, deeply immersed in the system's descent into control, division, and dehumanization, as the individuals most acutely attuned to this transformation. The ruling systems and nobility strived to degrade and devalue humanity through various means; the differentiation and stratification into various hierarchies facilitated a more pronounced fragmentation within the resistance movement, consequently leading to its reduced effectiveness. As collective contracts disintegrated, the concept of individuality became increasingly distinct, while the sense of unity began to dissolve into perspectives, polluted by the growing prevalence of racism, misogyny, homophobia and hate. Women became objectified and dissected into understandable and manageable pieces.

As their intellectual capabilities became devalued, the focus shifted towards their body, particularly their capacity for childbearing. The only responsibility left for them was the future compliant workforce, whose bodies would also be subjected to control and domination in order to enhance the productivity of assets. Slowly and radically, women would be pushed out of their job placements, replaced and separated from the production realm to the unpaid, devalued reproduction inside the domiciliar constraints. Not only did they lose their jobs, but with the introduction of remote work, entire families were compelled to assist their breadwinners with unpaid labor in order to meet the escalating demands of the employer. The gradual discontent of the workers at the beginning of the capitalist establishment process caused the birthrate to decline dramatically. This compelled the nobility to exert control over every facet of female sexuality and childbirth. Abortion was outlawed, and during labor, the preservation of the fetus's life took precedence over the well-being of the mother. In some  instances, women were at risk of being punished even if they did not display excessive joy for their children. Women became gradually subjugated to procreation, assuming a passive role in the birthing process, which was entirely controlled and dictated by male obstetricians. Infantilization and degradation of women became the secret weapon of the establishing ruling class, slowly erasing them from every realm of public spaces.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, radical legislation stripped them of economic autonomy, excluded them from legislative processes (in some cases, they couldn't even stand trial on their own), and forbade them from living alone or in self-managed female communities.Bonfires on the common grounds became replaced by persecutions of witches on flames. Witch hunts played a crucial role in solidifying the emerging patriarchal system and reinforcing misogynistic beliefs in the public's perception. The public passive  compliance turned into the denunciation and spying on any woman who did not conform to the constrained and submissive feminine ideal, which had been established during those historical periods. Their bodies, labor, sexuality, and reproductive capacity became an indisputably manageable and compliant territory, transformed into commodities for trade. Beneath the surface of fabricated and often highly sexualized accusations, surrealistically described transgressions that frequently drew inspiration from folk tales of the time, harboring the intention to eradicate general forms of feminine behavior that were no longer tolerable and needed to be made abhorrent in the eyes of the population. The extreme absurdity of the accusations and the fact that it was impossible to prove, meant that it could be used to punish any form of protest and make even the most common aspects of daily life suspicious. It should come as no astonishment that regions characterized by heightened enclosure and privatization witnessed a pronounced prevalence of witch trials and associated persecutions. The control over territorial domains naturally expanded into a form of governance over the female corporeal domain. 

Their degradation made them an easier prey for practicing philosophical, political and medical theories, which emerged during this historical era. Their bodies were bound on the dissection table, participating in a ceremony known as the anatomy theater, where dissection evolved into a public spectacle, governed by regulations akin to those of the performing arts. At the dawn of Cartesian thinking, the body became a  raw material, destined for examination, restraint and manipulation, while its inherent emotions were subdued and harnessed in pursuit of maximizing its productivity.  The notion of a human being was reduced and turned into a commodity, traded and engrained in the gears of the cogwheel mechanism. The human was stripped of its subjectivity, imaginations and dreams, stripped of its coat and hat under Descartes’ gaze. What remained was but a shadow.  The fire had extinguished, the commons’ soil had grown cold, leaving behind only the whisper of smoldering branches in the mist of neoliberal ideology.

Special thanks to:
Jure Sulič for technical and emotional support, Zala Klančnik, Eva Debevc and Monisha Das for those amazing evenings talks that expanded my interest in the subject and helped me connect the thematic dots that intrigue me.

Celeste Sanja Smareglia as an intermedia artist and 3D designer creates animations and various visualizations at the intersection of fashion, architecture, design and digital art. Driven by a distinct inclination towards creative computation, wearable technology, and the intricate pathways of algorithms in the natural world, she aspires to intricately interlace digital innovations with the tangible realm in her creative endeavors. Employing a spectrum of embodiment techniques, she seeks to establish a nuanced connection between her digital constructs and the palpable actuality.