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09 August 2018
Extending Borders. An Interview with Niño de Elche

Virginia Lázaro Villa

Last February, Niño de Elche published his latest work under the title Antología del cante flamenco heterodoxo,

produced with Refree and Pedro G. Romero, that proposes conceiving flamenco as a place where gestures can be released rather than a place where they can be repeated. Like a way of bringing back an intensity, or invoking it again.

I would like to begin by asking you about the title of your latest work, and the connections established between these terms when they appear together. I am especially intrigued by the connection between the rite (as a practice that appears as a repetitive formula) and the original (which I think refers to a non-canonical state).

It’s an aesthetic and conceptual game. As you suggest, recomposing and taking the usual formula for entitling anthologies to the extreme, we may establish that the very concepts we thought were understood and accepted start to produce internal tensions. Such tensions are used to open up spaces of confrontation and questioning that could lead us to reconsider the reasons for all these concepts and their real and symbolic meanings, as well as what could be understood as mockery. The notions that come closest to what we understand as flamenco practice are undoubtedly those of rites and heterodoxy; if we move them to the world of reality, the other concepts are arguable.

The text that accompanies the record describes orthodoxy – the canon – as the normative space that defines the margins of correctness. Outside of this space we only find the other, i.e., heterodoxy. So we have the paradox that the existence of this other is what allows us to define something as an orthodoxy. Do you both work with what is excluded, or rather with the limits that define one thing and the other? I ask in the plural as the work has been produced by a team, which I suppose is also heterodox in a world dominated by solitary attitudes and great figures.

Orthodoxy, as Pedro G. Romero aptly notes in the introductory text, is a fiction and, I would add, a utopia. It’s so paradoxical that I’m not sure whether we can speak of orthodox space and heterodox space, for both logics – if indeed they did exist as absolute concepts – are combined and mutually dependent on one another. Somebody can be performing a presumably heterodox act and at the same time belong to a supposed orthodoxy. This entire phenomenon is usually brilliantly connected to flamenco in a very peculiar way. Due to the aforementioned paradox, very often the other – the incorrect – could be found in supposed orthodoxy because being a utopia or an idea outside of the bounds of reason and practice leads to its collapse. It also enables it to become heterodox not only due to the logic of its creation but also because it was made in the social and political context of the logics posed by orthodoxy or, in other words, the logic of those who defend that idea — the orthodox. Our intention wasn’t so much to write another story or create a narrative as a reaction, as to extend pre-existing history to create other ways of interpreting the story or stories on flamenco. Our non-linear gaze at the archive seems very simple yet it also helps us to realise the complexities of the past and, consequently, of our present. This is where we discover that positions and ideas like orthodoxy are simply unfeasible, hence the violent defence of  this position. I always like to work with a team of people that can broaden, modify or move my convictions, and this duo was a safe bet.

This work is an attempt to challenge imaginaries by denying the existence of the essence, the pure, the correct and by default, its negative. Is it a question of raising our voice against the defence of purity of forms, the guardians of myths, to reinvent or release the legacy they claim to preserve and defend? Consequently, how can we prevent alternative stories from becoming orthodoxy? Could this actually happen, or does flamenco offer a possibility of endless escape?

If we understand the heterodoxy of flamenco as something in continuous movement, perhaps there can be political escapism in it; it all depends on our attitudes in the face of concepts. Flamenco is an orthodoxy constructed from heterodox attitudes — this is its great paradox and explains why orthodoxy is a fiction. It’s only natural that it should be continuously degenerating in political, social and artistic terms.

So is flamenco, precisely because of its fundamental heterodoxy, a gaze with which we can liberate cultural production from these ways of acting, these mannerisms of academia, of doxy? And if so, how is it able to do so?

I’m convinced that flamenco, as a space that transcends the musical sphere, offers a series of tools, mechanisms and ways of doing that help pose other forms of logic over and above academia. Today the tragedy in what we consider to be the artistic world of flamenco is that social-democratic logic prevails in the various approaches to its practice, so very often we have to look at the boundaries instead of the essence of flamenco to find the most interesting proposals. I’m thinking of certain projects in rap, photography, psychedelia, the classic avant-garde or rock, among other aesthetic trends.

The record makes reference to the ‘religion’ of flamenco. Does this religion reflect the consensus on the meaning of flamenco? I suppose it is related to the staging of the work: the tailored suit, the image at the entrance to a church. Correct ways of worshipping.

Religion contains dissidence and, above all, iconoclasm. Luckily, classical – though not traditional – forms can in themselves produce the collapse of fanatical positions, and that’s the grandeur of flamenco. It doesn’t need to be unstructured or removed from its classical prism to be destroyed; it has a great content over and above the musical that can turn religious practice into something radically different. This only happens in a very few artistic expressions.

How do rites fit into this anthology? How can movements be generated from the field of ritual?

Paradoxically, fulfilling ritual to the letter.

The record has emerged from anachronism, as a collage of images of different moments in time. Two images generate a third, unexpected image. Reappearances from the past revive the present and allow us to transcend the mechanics of rite that stifle critical thought. Moreover, your work implies a queer and transgender gaze from political and social positions.

My decisions revolve around the idea that everything is much more interrelated than we think it is, which explains why I’m still immersed in so many presumably different projects. On the one hand, in order to obtain technical knowledge, and on the other to discover different ways of performing that turn out to be more alike than they seemed to be before we put them into practice. This is where my idea of collage comes from. This way of relating different elements is understood and practiced very well by Pedro G. Romero. His way of interconnecting stories from a non-linear gaze is truly ingenious, and I feel very identified with it. The queer, the political, the social … all these issues appear in one way or another, either as a result of my readings and practices or because they are implicit in the themes I address.

In this work we find continuous references to the historical avant-garde and to mechanical reproduction (as in Vicente Escudero or Val Del Omar), a period when flamenco as we know it today was being written or established thanks to the emergence of technological advances and recordings, leaving behind the changing flow of orality. Where exactly do you want us to look and how should we acknowledge this connection between flamenco and avant-garde?

The pieces you mention contain different assertions. We could say that besides referring to such important names in the development of flamenco, our intention was to establish other ways of doing that could fall into the category of heterodoxy. And also to suggest the idea that, without the conception of the machine, beyond what is material, the logic of flamenco as we know it today wouldn’t have emerged. As a result, the discourse of rural flamenco, family flamenco or cave flamenco is increasingly romantic, whereas ports, factories, taverns and cities become more decisive in the development of flamenco than the countryside, caves or family households.

Jondo is part of the work. I wanted to ask you about the relationship between jondo and a form of mysticism. If flamenco is something that reacts to an arcane fact, an object of faith that connects us to it, where does this work stand in relation to this mysticism? In other words, how would you describe the presence of jondo in this work?

I don’t think anything is more jondo than mysticism. In one way or other it’s pervasive. Like all artistic expressions, flamenco and flamenco performers as agents triggering this form of expression have been imbued by the weight of our contemporary history, in the development of which religions or mystical experiences have played a key role.

Could we say that flamenco, as we know it now, is a corpus of established rituals? Something that works in a similar fashion to mechanised rituals? How do you propose to create flamenco without this ritual corpus? By pursuing truth, even if there is no truth to be found. I ask because I think it’s something that we should bear very much in mind in Spain today, we need to think of ways of escaping doxies.

When we speak of the machine as logic we are also referring to what you relevantly pinpoint — the rite or mechanic ritual that leaves little margin for spontaneity or improvisation. The perfect machine made not by human beings but by cyborgs. Once again, we are breaking one of the imaginaries stipulated in relation to flamenco. As regards avoiding doxy … the paradox doesn’t lie so much in escaping from it in a dissident way, but in the fact that as a political strategy it is usually more interesting and less rash to appropriate it and thereby provoke its collapse. So criticism is usually more malicious and less dangerous with respect to our surroundings, including the legal system. Martyrs aren’t at all useful for social struggles.

Apparently, in Spain – as in Europe – we are witnessing a re-sacralisation of origins, of belonging, thanks to identity discourses that defend right-wing ideologies, and therefore all that is left is for us to desacralise these mythical spaces in society, and, as I was saying, to seek without wanting to find truth, without beating about the roots in order to avoid falling into the trap of identity and tradition. I think that we do find this challenging of identity and of the sense of belonging in this record, which recognises figures that do not belong to the pantheon of flamenco (Isidoro Valcárcel Medina or Shostakovich), making it quite clear that the sense of belonging isn’t a question of birth.

Your reflection is very similar to one of the discourses suggested by this anthology, this idea of pursuing without actually wanting to discover the truth or impose the result of this pursuit beyond broadening the field to be able to analyse history in a less linear way. It would also be interesting to speak of acting without a specific pursuit, of these more anarchic pursuits that precede us and help us do away with our prejudices when it comes to our innermost desires concerning identities, artistic encounters or the fact of rewriting history. Very often, creating discourses starting from official history is what leads these discourses to collapse and become more useful than we think.

Living in London, she is an artist and art critic and what she’s most interested in is iconoclasm and the destruction of things in general. She’s co-directed since 2015 the contemporary art magazine and platform Nosotros and for a while now has worked writing for different media and magazines, as well as doing a few other odd jobs that bring in the real money.


09 August 2018

Extending Borders. An Interview with Niño de Elche

20 February 2017

Darkroom. Screen-room

"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)