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The Unbearable


12 April 2021
This month's topic: Make visibleResident Editor: David Bestué

The Unbearable

Efrén Álvarez, Atlas/Salvator Mundi

“This drawing was commissioned by David Bestué for this series of articles, and throughout our conversations we described it as steeped in “the unbearable.” Things went like this:

David set up a meeting for what I thought would be an interview. A few months before he had told me he wanted to propose something to me which I figured would be a text that we would work on together about the idea of ​​the “unbearable” in art. The theme seemed a bit confusing to me then and I still don’t understand it very well now, either. I don’t know what my work has to do with the idea but it seems he will explain more to me in the next few days.

He sends me a draft of the text, a kind of curator’s statement, which I don’t understand very well. It mentions a series of articles around the idea of the “unbearable” but states that the word “unbearable” is not definitive, and that that isn’t even the point. I imagine he will clarify things later.

After a few messages, we meet at his house. The idea was for us to have the text ready within a day, and so we reserved a couple of hours to work on it. I bring some of my fanzines just in case they are of any use. I had to go and look for them, it’s not that I have them lying around on the table or anything. I had been assuming that he would interview me or something like that but then I am overcome by the fear that he’s going to shoot a video and record me without even knowing what we are talking about. I still don’t understand why he wants to talk to me about this idea.

Once I arrive, it seems it won’t be an interview since he hasn’t even prepared anything. He begins to record the conversation with his cellphone, and my fear is confirmed. He asks me what I’ve been working on lately. I show him a few of my fanzines instead. What I’m doing now I don’t think he’s going to consider art work, even though I hang up that famous “artist at work” poster in case someone wants to believe that is what I am doing.

Showing him the fanzines doesn’t go over very well. He criticizes me for adding text and for not simply relying on the drawings, which according to him is what gives my work its value. Have I been pretending to be someone I am not? We talk about some technical aspects of my drawings and a bit about politics. He is trying to find out what I want to achieve with my work, and finally he asks me straight out. My attacks on art institutions betray me, he says they’re not an important issue. In regards to the idea of the “unbearable,” he still hasn’t found the right word.

He shows me Thomas Hirschhorn’s monument to Gramsci and he mentions Helios Gómez’s expo in La Virreina, to which David adds a big exclamation mark, two artists who actually DO what they say they do. He loses patience several times when I try to resolve the conflict that seems to have arisen. Perhaps we are attaining the frustration that he wanted to talk about with me. He cuts me off and changes the subject. He won’t let me explain anything, it’s as if he no longer wants to talk to me.

We don’t know what to do. Our meeting is floundering and it becomes obvious that there isn’t enough time, nor will there be, to prepare a text. He cannot spend any more time on it and they won’t pay me more than for just a couple of hours of work. We both agree that this isn’t going anywhere. We save a bit of time by coming up with the idea of making an intervention so we can avoid doing the interview.

Luckily, he starts talking about his own work. It seems he has been giving workshops for a long time on the “unbearable,” or the other thing that we are still calling it. He takes out his KeyNote and we look at some photos.

Slide after slide, it all seems like a huge waste of time to me, but no, it’s just my resentment of his unasked-for criticism. In fact, I’m actually starting to get a sense of what he’s saying. I feel I could actually enjoy the project. I couldn’t have come more predisposed. David has been right before and now I sense a genuine interest in a big problem.

Mark Lombardi, Daniela Ortiz, Allan Sekula, Alex Reynolds and other artists whose name I have forgotten appear in the slides. I don’t know if we’re producing new information or if the preconceptions I brought with me to this interview are now taking effect. It seems to me that we should have started here, but the time we had set aside for this meeting is already over.

After a few days I decide that I am going to write this text. I have the drawing in my head. I want to collaborate completely without putting up any obstacles. David didn’t forget me during this time of withdrawal that I am in, and he wants me to participate in this project. I consider the possibility that he transmitted to me the idea about the “unbearable” that he is working on in a non-verbal way during the meeting we had. I don’t rule out the idea that this is an absurd thought, but there is something to it: photos, grimaces, timely frustration. In any case, I think I understand what he wanted to talk about.

If I had to say something, it would be that I wound up believing that if what we are talking about cannot be called “unbearable” it is because, under normal conditions, it is usually the exact opposite, something perfectly bearable.

Wild acts of global environmental and political destruction come to mind, an imprecise and neglected memory of the workings of our institutions, large and small, or the way in which the perfectly tangible entity called the Bourgeoisie has completely disappeared from thought, but not from the contemporary world, just like domestic traumas buried within our daily relationships.

We only hesitantly speak of these things. Of monstrous buildings ignored or prohibited in the neighborhood, or as he says in his book about the monastery of Escorial (Empire and Stomach), of curses and residues that won’t disappear.

In a more personal way, this whole affair with David has reminded me of THE TERROR OF THE SITUATION, the title of an influential spiritualist novel that refers to a liturgical tradition promoted by Ashiati Sheimesh. The main goal of this philosopher hero was to produce in his followers a permanent state of consciousness of the most terrible and unacceptable facts of our existence and of the universe.

Which is why I have chosen a religious theme for my intervention.”

In his drawings, Efrén Álvarez explores contemporary cosmovisions applied to conflict and social dynamics.

His projects could be described as an instance of the same tradition of Leech, Hogarth, Goya, Crumb or Rius, which is affected by the mysteries of the beginning of the millennium, the crisis of 2008, the cycle of insurgencies of 2011, the multitudes of Hardt and Negri, the world-economies of Wallerstein, the supposed end of History and the crisis of the left, as well as the enthusiasm in the imaginary of the networks and the cultural revolution of the first Internet.

His work has been presented both in galleries and in independent contexts. In 2011 his series Económicos was presented in a solo exhibition at MNCARS, where in 2014 his work also forms part of the exhibition Playgrounds, More recently (2015-16) his works have been seen in the controversial exhibition the Beast and the Sovereign, at MACBA in Barcelona and at WKV in Stuttgart.

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