The most scientifically corroborated theory by Panamanian linguists for the etymology of the word PANAMA is derived from an hispanicization of a Kuna language word “Pannaba” which even the great chiefs of the Kuna tribe, among them, Nele Kantule, assured us that the word roughly means “distant” or “far away”1. And so it is, a country beset by one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal, augmented by an artificial waterway, 82 kilometres in length, has its naming definition in terms of a short cut to the far-away…
This pragmatic financial time loop is twisted through land and territory to reduce circuitous and dangerous oceanic routes of trade and commodification. As a conduit to global expansion, criminal enterprise, and financial tourism, it was built on marginalised labour, arguably modern-day slavery, human sacrifice and petty exploitations. Yaphet Kotto (the famed actor of the Alien franchise) was born into this abstracted territory. He also worked with Richard Pryor and Paul Schrader on Blue Collar (1978) as an under-employed auto worker who participates in a criminal raid on the United Auto Workers Union. Escaping with little more than an accounting ledger, his fellow associates discovered evidence of the Auto Union’s illegal loan operations and ties to complex organized crime syndicates.
This plays-out as a strikingly similar schematic to the unknown hero who released the infamous Panama Papers. In holding a digital ledger of approximately 2.6TB of data or 11.5 million leaked documents they detailed the financial and attorney–client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities of 2016. Documents contained financial information about wealthy individuals and public officials previously kept private; some of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.
It is said by some, but not always in the public eye, that an Offshore Magic Legal Circle exists. This is a sparingly used term for a widely recognised London ‘magic circle’ of top law firms utilised to protect the offshore industry. The term is used in a pejorative sense (e.g. when the general media reports on the Panama Papers–type offshore financial scandals) or is found in major legal publications (like Legal Business), but there’s no strict public or legal consensus over which of the firms belong in the Offshore Magic Circle. It is a territorial circuit breaker that a 2008 article by Legal Business (Issue 181, Offshore Review, February 2008) intended to expose. Among this disputed list which has been repeated by others, we can find a top 10 offshore law firms, excluding Gibraltar–specialist Hassans.
The anonymous whistle-blower who leaked the Panama documents has never been identified—“My life is in danger” they feared and cited their motivations due to income inequality among populations as the main reason for the action and said they leaked the documents —”simply because I understood enough about their corrupt contents to realise the scale of the injustices they described …” Doe added that they had never worked for any government or intelligence agency and had expressed willingness to help prosecutors if granted immunity from prosecution. After they verified that these above statements did in fact come from the source for the Panama Papers, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) posted the full document on its website.
The reason to draw these important but abstract schema between the offshore legal industry, engineering feats as territorial colonisation, criminal, legal and financial exploitation and underground heroic acts of anonymity, is to speculate on the consequences of expanding the human endeavour across the universe. Exploration of outer space is driven by an intersection with our philosophy of mind: a MIND-SET that excretes its way into any inhuman space.
This is an anthropomorphic phenomenon since a history of consciousness, territorial exploration and inhabitation began. Is there a human future beyond Earth? Are we responsible enough to bare it? Year by year, our exercises reveal undoubted truths of an absurd and fragmentary species, at times a monstrous, mysterious, and terrifying civilisation. From cosmic fiscal crimes, to atmospheric property ownership, space lawyers, interstellar accounting these themes of space exploitation and extraction are the very ‘rings of debris’ that surround a human experiment. Populated by the mind-sets of rational empiricists, property developers, and asset lawyers, who may consider that space is simply fantastically complex and incomprehensible? A medium that is alternately soothing or strangling every inhabitant, theory and object2? Consider distant star fields. Silent and endless. Dynamic lights transmitting or reflecting time as information: impossible, yet also proximate. We cannot exclude the possibility that fragments of interstellar transmission are colliding with our earthly compositions—bio-phonic, geo-phonic, and anthropophonic.
John M. Smart’s solution to the Fermi Paradox of extra-terrestrial communication is that advanced intelligences do not expand into space, do not colonise vast galactic tracts or disperse self-replicating robot probes in a program of destructive exploration, instead, they self-implode, in a process of ‘transcension’ resourcing themselves primarily through the energy efficiency gains of an extreme miniaturization. Through this transcension, they withdraw from outer communication ‘egoistic actors exiting a universal stage’ and blink-out in a silence of cosmic escape. And so too did Yaphet Katto, and the anonymous John Doe of the Panama Papers, removing themselves from extensive communication, they turned inward, to introspective yet rich disappearances. In Blue Collar, Yaphet Kotto chose to wear a t-shirt that prominently displayed the Yogananda Spiritual Eye. Whether a nod to his previous role in Alien, or representing deeply held personal beliefs and transcendental practices, we can see in the diagram of the eye a symbolic rebellion against extractive exploitation of labour as an introspective intention: A Magic Offshore Circle.
To wrap up, this sculptural installation is not merely an event. It is a diversionary thought experiment on the space. When the participant recognises the space, the internal miniaturisations they possess and project onto exteriority, it is only then the work becomes somehow intelligible. With thanks and love to the spiritual act of Doe and Yaphet.
1 Historia de Panamá. Primer Año. Noris Correa de Sanjur. 1976
2 Harold Rosenberg (1949) “On Space” In Discovering the Present: Three Decades in Art, Culture and Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1973: p. 72–73.