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A Trip to Madrid, late February 2018
A. Hi. Do you know what? Every time I go to Madrid I feel like an amphibian on a journey across the desert: the cold and the sun make my skin and throat parched and dry. Perhaps I am an amphibian. This year ARCO has been quite normal, peaceful. Visiting the fair could be likened to wandering through a deconstructed landscape: sticks, stones, blocks of cement, minerals, plastic and organic material, stains produced by strange liquids, solid and viscous. Artistic practice as an attempt to organise and categorise the world in which we live starting from the materials and shapes that contain it. Or perhaps an attempt to imagine new worlds, whatever that may mean. Mysticism, popular culture and science fiction act as tools and strategies. Outside the fair, in the city, this desire to strike up a plastic, material and organic dialogue also resounds.
P. Hi, I’m a stone, or perhaps a rock. I’ve crossed millenary landscapes and have come this far. Today we can sit and talk — you talk to me about the future and I’ll tell you all about an imaginary world in which places don’t have names because they have no limits.
L. Hey, hello, I’m a liquid. I’m not a specific liquid but the idea of a liquid. Actually, right now I’m not even a liquid, I’ve dried up and become solid – like you – and so I can represent all liquids. I’m an indefinite colour, pale yellow, and a little sticky, as if I’d been spilt here a long time ago.
V. Mm, well, on the other hand I’m … I’m green. I represent the natural world, but I also represent the future, I represent all the places where you can project yourselves in order to become others. I represent hope; I represent life, organic life. I’m moss, I’m mucus and tree, I’m chroma, genes and fungus. I’m splendour, the jungle and transgenics. In short, I’m the trendy colour.
A. Amphibians are characterised by the fact that throughout their lives they metamorphose. They are also the first vertebrates who adapted to a semi-terrestrial life, the avant-garde of terrestrial life! One of the sections inside the fair is called ‘The Future’. Chus Martínez, one of the curators, tells us that the future isn’t what is yet to come but a proposal to imagine, starting from what we are, what we can do and where we can go. Any attempt to predict the future reveals the present in which we live. An avant-garde task, no doubt! An avant-garde that hopes to be transversal, trans-generational, trans-disciplinary and perhaps even transgender.
L. Everything is very trans, very post … don’t you think? It’s as if, deep down, we were unable to recognise the limits indicated by each verbal form: where does the past end and where does the present start? Such issues are also present in the exhibition entitled Adverbios temporales (Adverbs of Time) at Centro Centro. The title is a bit simple, but some of the works are delightful and mutually invade each other’s space. It’s all very liquid although perhaps not very fluid … Visitors navigate between works that sometimes want to merge into one single work, through worlds that are more or less virtual, more or less real. Grosse Fatigue is a fantastic video by Camille Henrot that presents, visually and textually, a possible subjective arrangement of the universe, a sort of encyclopaedia, a spillage of images to the rhythm of the spoken word that is highly seductive, in simultaneous bright pastel colours that combine with the colour of the nails we see on a hand arranging objects in front of the screen. This visualisation of objects harmonises with How Happy A Thing Can Be with which it establishes correspondences, despite their obvious differences. This is the piece by Cecil B. Evans, which is also a video, where certain things strike up a conversation and, in the end, a pair of scissors dances hypnotically in the centre of a deserted plot of land, mm. On the other hand, in Shana Moulton’s video installation Mindplace Thoughtstream, objects act as portals through which to access other worlds, on a journey that is at once interior and exterior, as if the ocean were inside our head and we could enter it by chanting a mantra. Would that be possible? Have you tried it? It could work! Regina de Miguel closes the exhibition like a breath of cold air with her film Decepción (Disappointment). This piece is not science fiction, but the result of a real journey to the Antarctica, to be specific to the island that gives its name to the piece — a name that resulted from a misunderstanding, a deception, but not a fiction. It makes me think of how the imagination always bears a direct relationship with a real, known, tangible, material element, thereby blurring the limits between the two. Icebergs, volcanoes, lava, ocean and scientists who try to find things where it would appear that only extremophile organisms and an abyssal present survive.
V. I, who am everywhere here and now, who point to tomorrow and am inside your heads, can tell you that there is a place where you can really see the colour of the future: green. This is why the Antarctic is black and white, because everything seems dead, whereas green combines very well with the exceptional general condition of the present, a combination of euphoria, exhaustion and hyper-stimulation. Although if you really want to usher in tomorrow, to usher in the possible, the post, the hyper … then you’ll have to go back to the chroma green of The Future exhibition.
P. A future without censorship? What will the precariousness of the future be like? Will we die in the future? Has a collector from the future come to buy the works by the artists exhibiting at the fair? We spoke once about paintings that sought to affect the future. I’m not too sure what we meant by that; I suppose it was related to the idea that art is always read in the present and is therefore always decontextualised. It is precisely this displacement that may teach us how to have a significant relationship with the world. But now, settled in this present that is so futuristic in our imagination and so backward in its attitudes, to navigate through the proposals of contemporary art in Madrid up until the end of the February can be like a dry slap in the face.
L. In whose face?
A. The idea of understanding the art world as an ecosystem has often been raised. The exhibition entitled Generaciones (Generations) held at La Casa Encendida contains a piece that made me think of you — Umbral (Threshold) by Serafín Álvarez, shaped like a giant rock.
P. Yes, I know, but it’s an artificial rock.
A. Yes, it’s artificial, but we all recognise a dark rock, as black as oil, as if it had just emerged from the entrails of the earth. This piece suggests understanding landscape as an entity in itself, and thus questions our relationship with the idea of alterity starting from research into the fields of science fiction and fantasy. We have to enter into the rock, which is a cave, to see the ‘heart’ of the piece — a video game created by the artist himself, a stroll through all these animated landscapes. Hence the cave-rock signals a limit in space. An inside and an outside. It delimits a body we form a part of when we enter the cave. When we form a part of this new cave-body we could think that our own body is an ecosystem — when we eat, or breathe, we come into contact with other organisms with whom we exchange bacteria, germs, forms, substances, states. This reveals the mutual connections between us and other organisms living inside us, forming a part of us, just as we give the shape and take care of them. Regulation and deregulation, censorship and freedom, beauty and ugliness, past and future, present and absent …
V. Mm … yes, of course. But alterity doesn’t always work. When future and censorship meet, for instance, an indigestion of sorts is produced, don’t you think?
A. Yes, the point is that the chief characteristic of an ecosystem is its complexity: the ecosystem we call art is made up of hyper-information, post-truth, hyper-connectivity and transdisciplinarity. So, even though we may travel to Madrid to see the latest trends, we also try and find the best drawn beers and traditional food specialities served in bars, like the famous sandwich of calamari (which, by the way, despite its appearance cut up into rings, is the most intelligent animal in the world!).
V. Okay, but even so, I still don’t quite understand what happened with the work dedicated to political prisoners, which was censored.
P. Well, I suppose it has to do with this very complexity, with the limited effects of this ecosystem, with the limits of reality and fiction: the political prisoners are real, they exist, but the work by Santiago Sierra is only art, do you know what I mean? At least that’s what his gallery has said.
V. Mm …. The truth is it’s hard to understand, it’s almost as if it existed in another dimension.
L. Yes, you’re right. If the two dimensions touched, for instance, if the king had contemplated the work with the political prisoners, there would have been a sort of short circuit, and some people did their best to ensure this didn’t happen, like censoring the work.
P. Talking of other dimensions, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) just closed an exhibition entitled Rosi Amor that was also kind of like a journey between the dimension of language and the material dimension. Did you see it?
L. After so much about the future, I find it strange that you should be talking to us about something of the past …
P. Perhaps it helps us understand this idea of complexity a bit better. David Bestué, the artist, strives to create poetry without words, and therefore tries to find the physical dimension of language. What David does is crush a series of old objects to give them new shapes. But they are only new objects in appearance as they are actually shaped from moulds of other old objects. David studies our relationship with cities and countries, and describes how to narrate history (past, present and future) from within, or from below, and in continuous transformation. This is not projected history, homogeneous and institutional, but the history of popular memory that is told from the belly of the city.
A. I like this idea. It’s fragile and less pompous than all that oppressive chroma-green future we were discussing earlier. In any event, when thinking of the future we should also consider it from the point of view of the rich and complex history growing under our feet and inside our bellies, in order to avoid crushing a cathedral to build a museum.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)