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‘Intento de escapada’ is the novel by, the critic and art history professor, Ángel Hernández that he recently published with the publishers Anagrama. The author himself clarifies in the epilogue that it’s not so much an essay as a novel, a literary genre that unlike criticism or an essay, allows the author to narrate a story and outline a “fictional” discourse that for all this doesn’t end up being far from the “truth”. Foucault stated on the odd occasion that he hadn’t written anything but fictions throughout his life and that fiction could quite well be a devise that functions in truth, in such a way that it would be possible to “fabricate” something that doesn’t yet exist. To think from fiction to make things actually “fictionalise”, or happen. That said, despite not being a real story we find throughout the book too many references, too many familiar landscapes and transited paths that remit to art history, but also to the current panorama of contemporary art. A map that Michel Houellebecq (The Map and the Territory, 2011), already tried to trace, only here Miguel Ángel Hernández does so from within, from within the “art world” to which he pertains and is more than familiar with.
The story is articulated on the basis of a classical structure (setup, conflict and resolution): a Fine Art student – with no aspirations to be an artist – from a city in the provinces (Murcia?) sees his routine altered by the appearance of the international artist of the moment, Jacobo Montes, who is to exhibit in the city’s art centre. Through the mediation of Helena, his art theory professor, who is in charge of the space, he becomes the artist’s assistant, to discover little by little that “Art is a dirty thing, and there is no way of washing it without it losing its colour“. As Montes’s assistant, Marcos carries out a painstaking investigation into the problem of immigration in his city that is key for Montes’ final installation. In this sense, Miguel Ángel Hernández returns to recuperate the idea of the artist as historian, as he described it in his previous book –L’artista com a historiador (benjaminià), 2012- that of the artist that searches for the untold story, for parallel or alternative histories; the stories of those forgotten in the grand stories to reconstruct them through images and objects. A tendency in contemporary art that can be observed in artists such as Joachim Koester, Tacita Dean, Jeremy Deller or Francis Alÿs, to cite just a few examples. To make history, telling things in another way, is to be political, and in this point the work of investigation initiated by Marcos ends being more radical than that of Jacobo Montes. Marcos exemplifies the artist that doesn’t want to be an artist as such, so much as the artist-historian that Benjamin yearned for.
Jacobo Montes is the transgressor and controversial artist, alter ego of artists like Santiago Sierra, Teresa Margolles, Guillermo Vargas, and many others. Like Sierra, Montes develops a “committed” art, reproducing forms of exploitation of the capitalist system, he himself exercising power over the oppressed, in this case, the immigrants. The novel raises the questions, up to what point can a work of art function as an ethical act and up to what point is it legitimate to do so by simulating the same exercise of power and submission as it criticises? What are the limits of a presumably political art? Is it necessary to victimise and denigrate the other to emphasize his visibility? Up to what point does this type of practice have an impact on reality? Questions and contradictions, already formulated and exhibited, that appeal to the responsibility of art and the artist regarding the present and the society in which it arises and exists. However, like any other sphere of life, art is trapped in the same logic that moves the world, that of capital and not precisely symbolic capital. Like any other discipline, art ought to do an exercise in self-criticism, the very same self-criticism that a judge ought to impose on himself when he evicts someone for not facing up to mortgage payments, a banker when he sells preferential shares to his clients, or “anyone” who buys a t-shirt that exploits women in a factory in Bangladesh.
It is in the epilogue of the book, where the author resorts to meta-literature, where he gives the clues to the story and where the process of the legitimisation of contemporary art is described. Marcos, despite his lack of faith in art and despite being convinced of the banality and hypocrisy of the “art world”, ends up becoming a professional art critic and renowned university professor. The tale is in reality the story of a frustration, everyone’s frustration, of not being able to escape a logic that is assumed and accepted by the majority, and above all, a betrayal of the formula of Bartleby’s negative preference, I would prefer not to, with which the book ends, as really I would prefer not to, but…
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)