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07Élan d’Orphium is the alter ego of Pablo García Martínez. Born in Don Benito, Badajoz in 1992, his studies in Fine Arts and violin performance took him to Madrid. Once in the capital, the character drag Élan emerges as the product of a bizarre projection of the artist’s fears and fantasies; imbued by the dark atmosphere of the night clubs. Dangling beads, fantasy pearls, blushes and primary colours that outline cheeks and temples, punky doll hairpieces and lots and lots of latex. His cosmetics evoke the angular and artificial provocation of La Movida Madrileña rather than the filter-porcelain make-up seen today on social networks. Pablo’s drag is born out of necessity, an instinct for exploration fuelled by spontaneity and the kitsch aesthetics present in the subculture of the metropolis.
But it’s not all brutalism: his harlequin queer monstrosity – which gracefully bastardises a Mathew Barney with a José Pérez Ocaña transvestite as a mantilla-wearing devotee – is counterbalanced by a touch of childish innocence, typical of Japanese caricatures or the grotesque characters of the popular festivals of his homeland.
After COVID-19, the nightmare of anyone who questions cis-hetero-normativity became reality: Pablo had to return to his hometown. Élan’s sex-exile in the cosmopolitan night was transformed into the plains of the Extremaduran periphery, and suddenly questions began to orbit him about the roots and the chueca genealogies that lie dormant, buried at the level of official history. Have there been spaces of expression in Extremaduran pagan festivals for sex-gender ambiguity or anti-normative desire? It was then that the Asociación Cultural y Juvenil Sambrona de Alburquerque invited the artist to form part of its programme of Artistic Micro-Residencies version 2021: a space inaugurated in 2016 as a juncture for artists, critics and sexual dissidents within that territory.
Before long, Élan’s attention, together with his counterpart Sambrona, fell on a popular Campy tradition remembered with dread by the infant Pablo: the cabezudos of the patron saint’s festivities in September. Deep in the summer memory of little Pablo are those corporeal figures used by adults, performing carnival parades handing out sweets, carrying big round hollow heads representing fairy tale characters. The mere appearance of the big heads can produce a paradoxical reaction in children: the glycaemic euphoria of the sweets, parallel to the fright of encountering these festive beings, tall in stature for any prepubescent’s contrapposto point of view.
Sambrona facilitated the artist’s nourishing dialogues with the local community and their relationship with the popular festivities. They shared with the notorious alburquerqueño Baldomero Gemio, organiser of the parade of the cabezudos. From his testimony (and that of other safeguards) they were able to learn how in the past the parades were much rougher, when children threw stones and other blunt objects at the big-heads. Thus, Élan began to draw inspiration from these and other myths related to the perverse figures of the carnival, such as the abominable Carantoñas de Acehúche who come out during the festivities of San Sebastián or the fearsome Jarramplas de Piornal. Élan was to investigate the dissident women -cis and trans- of the area, who lent their testimony and their corporeality to the artist’s work, hiding behind the anonymity provided by the popular icon.
On 30 June 2021, La cabezada: sueño breve was premiered on the local television of Alburquerque. In this black and white short film, the result of Élan’s artistic residency, explorations of the unconscious and childhood fears of not fitting into the norm are reflected in two contrasting characters that are spun through a surreal story without a fixed narrative. On the one hand, there is the young girl, played with the same Snow White head used in the Alburquerque parades as a special loan for the film. From her behaviour we can understand that she represents fears and insecurities: the tension generated by trying to repress difference for fear of ostracism and hate crimes.
Secondly, Élan becomes a goat daimon. With latex platforms with stiletto heels, thick fur, a bare chest, cosmetics and a long, phallic rye hat, this character and his attitude evoke the grotesque ambiguity typical of Extremaduran expressions of local customs: emphasising a jovial and desirous character that calls for ancestry and for the future of those identities that do not fit within the gender binarism.
(Featured Imagen: Élan d’Orphium (Pablo García Martínez), La cabezada: sueño breve, short film, 14:48 min, 2021).
Élan d’Orphium: pagan festivities and anti-normative desire
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