Antoni Socias · Teoría y práctica del Desierto
Texto para el libro/catálogo Teoría y práctica del Desierto (C.G.A.C Santiago de Compostela, 2016)
Antoni Socías. Theory and practice of the desert
La exposición Teoría y práctica del Desierto, no se plantea como una retrospectiva, sino como un recorrido por los procesos y las metodologías de trabajo que atraviesan la obra de Antoni Socias. La muestra se despliega a partir de cuatro capítulos o secciones: Perturbación, Ocultación, Desdoblamiento y Autorretrato, y a su vez estos capítulos se articulan desde conceptos como Ingravidez, Biodiversidad, Investigación, Azar, Teoria, Acción, Antropofagia…
La exposición se convierte así en un laberinto que debe ser reconstruido y reinterpretado por los espectadores. Aunque aparentemente parece un laberinto sin reglas, como ocurre en este catálogo la estructura es muy precisa y se asemeja a las pautas del orden geométrico, de los tratados que parten de definiciones, siguen con postulados, y llegan a proposiciones que se plantean como ejercicios o experimentos.
Con estas líneas mi intención es la de aportar algunas claves que permitan situar la obra de Antoni Socias desde sus diferentes sistemáticas, desde sus procesos de trabajo, en definitiva acercar a una manera de mirar que subraya lo perturbador, lo paradójico o lo contradictorio con el objetivo de despertar y compartir una mirada crítica.
La definición que mejor encaja para Antoni Socias es la de un artista fuera de formato y esta condición, en cierto modo, le sitúa también fuera de los circuitos habituales, con una obra cuestionadora, en ocasiones incómoda, siempre crítica con las convenciones. Su trabajo resulta muy difícil de encajar en cualquier etiqueta posible, ya que el desarrollo de su obra no ha seguido una evolución estilística sino más bien una constante y permanente revisión autocrítica que vacía de sentido cualquier idea de estilo, incluso elimina la posibilidad de un anti-estilo.
Lo más importante en Antoni Socias, lo que distingue su trabajo y subraya su originalidad, es la manera en la que las metodologías de trabajo se acercan a las estructuras de planteamientos científicos o al análisis filosófico, a procesos lúdicos o a reglas que estimulan el juego y la experimentación con el objetivo de mirar la realidad desde otras posibles perspectivas. Dentro de este párrafo podrías hacer mención a mi propia declaración de principios con respecto al estilo: Cierta comodidad histórica, una gran dosis de confusión y también las facilidades comerciales nos conducen a creer que el estilo de un artista es la repetición -perpetuada o estacional- de sus maneras visibles; la normalización de algunos patrones particulares que, en consecuencia, lo conducirá a diferenciarse del resto de creadores. Por el contrario, en Casa Socías el estilo ha tenido y continúa teniendo otro significado bien distinto. Se trata de un conjunto de procesos en apariencia diferentes, aunque bajo el paraguas de una línea argumental totalmente vinculada y coherente. No obstante, ten en cuenta que el párrafo aparece íntegro dentro de mi texto de presentación en este mismo libro. Solo te lo digo para que encajes tu propio comentario al respecto, si te parece bien.
En este sentido su obra se identifica y discurre con los propios procesos creativos, con una forma de entender la temporalidad ligada a la acción y a la producción, con una práctica que circula entre los objetos, los conceptos y la acción.
Su obra ha mantenido una fuerte carga conceptual, sobre todo como objetivo y como sentido interpretativo, incluso en los momentos en los que se ha centrado en una pintura figurativa. Desde esa perspectiva ha ido integrando y relacionando, paulatina y permanentemente, entre sí pintura, escultura, objetos encontrados y manipulados, instalación, fotografía y vídeo, pero también ha recurrido a la escritura para integrarla como parte decisiva y nuclear en algunos trabajos. En cierta manera la performance, que es entendida y reinterpretada a la vez como una actitud paradójica ante la realidad, como una forma de vida alternativa y una manera diferente de mirar, constituye un motor de ideas, una metodología para establecer procesos y hasta un modelo de perspectiva que permite recontextualizar el autorretrato y en general la función que debe cumplir la fotografía o el video. También la pintura es entendida como una acción, como un proceso.
Su trabajo incide en un cuestionamiento permanente de la obra, de su sentido y de sus significados, estableciendo relaciones de fricción entre forma y contenido.
La predilección por las paradojas y también por el absurdo que sutilmente se convierte en una larvada crítica social y política desde las pequeñas cosas, subraya una actitud muy enraizada en la vida o los aspectos corrientes de la vida, de ahí hay que entender la importancia de lo cotidiano en sus obras y como la vida privada, las personas que le rodean, la familia y los amigos, constituyen un espacio de intimidad, también pública y compartida, que aflora en las piezas, no tanto como elementos de autobiografía que se circunscriben al yo, sino como una forma natural de construir un contexto, de incidir en una normalidad (cotidiana) de colaboraciones cruzadas que siempre acaba siendo crítica y autocrítica.
Durante años ha trabajado en diferentes proyectos con el fotógrafo madrileño Luis Pérez Minguez (1950-2014) a quien le unía una especial amistad y una intensa afinidad en la mirada fotográfica. El último de estos proyectos se concretó en 2012 en las salas de San Martín del CAAM de las Palmas, a partir de un viaje “experimental y performático” de ambos artistas a la isla de Gran Canaria. El título Nada Nuevo 2, se refiere y conecta al proyecto del mismo título que recopila la experiencia visual (también performática, y en la que el autorretrato con máscaras desempeña un hilo conductor) que ambos realizaron en 1987 en un viaje recorriendo en coche los Estados Unidos, y que se materializó dos años después año en la exposición Resnou (“Nada nuevo” en catalán) en La Llotja de Palma de Mallorca.
El trabajo de interlocución y diálogo permanente con su hijo, también artista, Enric Socias, ha dado lugar a proyectos de trabajo y expositivos, como Socias2.
Más recientemente ha desarrollado una revisión crítica de la representación de África y lo africano, en paralelo y en colaboración con el artista catalán, de ascendencia gambiana, Caramo Fanta, materializada en el proyecto “Mi otro yo con algunas contradicciones”, que se expuso en 2011 en Es Baluard Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani de Palma de Mallorca.
La performance actúa como un catalizador encubierto. En sí misma no aparece como tal, no hay en su trabajo obras definidas como “performance”, pero incluso algunos trabajos pictóricos tienen algo de performance, como ocurre con la serie El n. 2 (2013-2016) en la que dos “cuadros / pinturas” idénticas son ejecutadas a la vez, pincelada a pincelada, con la intención de que no exista original y copia, (ligados indisolublemente por la primacía del original y la subalternidad de la copia) sino que sean dos originales exactamente idénticos, ejecutados simultáneamente, y que constituyan una misma obra: la obra es en sí misma el modo y el acto de ejecución, es el acto performativo de pintar y que el resultado dinamite y deconstruya la esencia misma de la pintura, que consiste principalmente la unicidad de un original. Ya en 1992 Antoni Socias plantea una “pintura copiada” (más propiamente “autocopiada”) para señalar cómo en las crisis del mercado del arte siempre triunfan las opciones conservadoras y tradicionalistas, y para ello apunta hacia su propia pintura de carácter pop e hiperrealista realizada unos años antes. Coincide este proyecto con la crisis económica que siguió a la Guerra del Golfo, afectando de manera muy dura al mercado del arte cuando con el 1992 y las Olimpíadas de Barcelona, parecía que en España se asentaba una cierta normalización europea, y el arte contemporáneo atravesaba unos años de expansión y de reconocimiento tanto social como cultural, desarrollando proyectos arriesgados ante un público interesado y ávido de experiencias estéticas. Las galerías dejan de vender y el gusto general, las preferencias del público se vuelve hacia los valores figurativos. Antoni Socias procede del siguiente modo: selecciona y copia de manera muy precisa pequeños fragmentos de una serie de cuadros de carácter pop, pero ejecutados con una técnica hiperrealista realizados por él a finales de los años setenta. El reencuadre que realiza el artista rompe cualquier posibilidad narrativa de la escena, el fragmento se convierte en una situación extraña o paradójica, pero queda la figuración que de ese modo se convierte en una herramienta y una mercancía en sí misma. Con cada uno de estos fragmentos organiza un díptico añadiendo una chapa metálica, como las que en muchos portales anuncian una actividad comercial o profesional, en la que reza: Hambre Directa 3º A. De este modo y con mucho humor el oficio de artista y de pintor parece ser definido como “hambre directa” y se anuncia mediante una propuesta figurativa en forma de muestra comercial.
En 1993 retoma una cierta idea de “copia”, que asocia a la figuración, a partir de imágenes extraídas de guías de carácter naturalista. Cabeza de hombre, cuerpo de cocodrilo se compone de 18 acuarelas de animales, reproducidos minuciosamente, en los que una fotografía que se relaciona de manera inquietante con el cuerpo del animal, oculta su cabeza y ocupando su lugar. Se trata de una pieza compleja, estrechamente vinculada también con las costumbres y hábitos económicos y sociales del momento, cuando los bancos ofrecían regalos a nuevos clientes que abrieran cuentas o depósitos, y las cristaleras exteriores de las oficinas bancarias se convertían en espacios muy parecidos a los escaparates de las tiendas, anunciando ofertas y regalos: las acuarelas de gran formato están enmarcadas, colgadas perpendicularmente con el canto contra la pared, de modo que puedan desplazarse como hojas de un libro abierto y todo ello se encuentra insertado en una instalación, en la que se anuncia que la adquisición de este conjunto de acuarelas lleva como regalo un set de maletas de piel de pecari y una bicicleta de montaña. La obra se expuso como instalación por primera vez en Barcelona en la Galería René Metras pero cuando los responsables de compras de la colección Testimoni de la Caixa se interesaron por la obra aseguraron a la galería que en cualquier caso no podrían aceptar los regalos, tomando al pie de la letra la “oferta”, y a pesar de las explicaciones de que se trataba de una instalación inseparable, no llegaron a adquirir la obra, quizás por literalidad o por incapacidad para comprender la ironía? En compensación por las molestias, la entidad bancaria compró a Socías un par de dibujos.
Algo semejante ocurrió más recientemente en una exposición en el Centre Pelaires de Palma con una pieza de la serie El n. 2, cuando un cliente manifestó que solo deseaba adquirir una pintura y no dos iguales. En realidad el coleccionista iba buscando una imagen y no había entendido que la obra era en sí misma un proceso.
En su obra, a través de todas estas anécdotas, se aprecia tanto el uso del humor y la utilización de lo paródico como formas muy singulares de una crítica institucional y de una muy personal crítica de las costumbres, como una confluencia (turbadora e incluso molesta) entre intenciones conceptuales y prácticas performáticas. Por otro lado, y en otro ámbito discursivo que nos conecta con la propia idea de Teoría del desierto como crítica institucional (y también gremial), las anécdotas por sí mismas ponen de relieve la precariedad intelectual que circula en el medio artístico y las limitaciones de un marco teórico que tiende por lo general a lo convencional.
Aunque Antoni Socias no ha desarrollado una obra conectada con lo que se suele entender como performance, una acción efímera y circunstancial que se realiza frente a una audiencia, este es un término que en este contexto asume el sentido de una acción en conexión con el propio proceso artístico y con cualquier posible resultado más allá de la propia acción. Es por ello que insistimos en que la performance es un elemento esencial, responde a una actitud y aparece en la obra de A. Socias implicado en los procesos y las metodologías de trabajo una veces como una acción que al modo de unas reglas de funcionamiento o de juego, determina el sentido de la obra final, como sería el caso de realizar dos pinturas idénticas a la vez en la serie El n. 2 o al destruir su archivo fotográfico y sus cuadros de la década de los años 80 para reconstruir nuevas obras que se vinculan a la vivencia del proceso y con la idea de antropofagia. (Si quieres, puedes incluir que, actualmente, está conformando nuevas imágenes fotográficas a partir de negativos antiguos, proporcionando una nueva vida y un nuevo valor a acciones que tuvieron lugares hace varias décadas. ) Otras veces, en cambio, constituye una dinámica de escenificación en la que participan lo satírico y lo irreverente, así como una poética del absurdo que ilumina la realidad de otro modo, planteando que es posible vivir lo cotidiano desde otra perspectiva, más inteligente, más auténtica, más imaginativa, en definitiva más placentera, con humor, como serían las fotografías y videos que pueden englobarse en Escenas Costumbristas.
Podemos afirmar que su perspectiva se sitúa en la crítica institucional pero la desarrolla, a su manera, al modo de un francotirador que sigue su propia agenda, utilizando metodologías paradójicas, camuflándose en un análisis del costumbrismo mental de lo cotidiano.
En este ámbito de interés crítico, Teoría del desierto es un intento de sistematización tanto visual como discursiva, pero la propia naturaleza del proyecto asume de nuevo una actitud proclive a la performance. En esta ocasión se trata de una performance que se basa, como punto de partida, en la escritura y sus referencias remiten a las formas del tratado filosófico, más específicamente a una cierta interpretación del estilo del Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus de Ludwig Wittgenstein, en la que cabe tanto lo paródico como una intención de objetivar desde categorías universales, una situación que está más conectada con una sociología del arte que describe un espacio “costumbrista”.
Teoría del desierto aparece dentro de su trabajo como una serie nuclear y por ello contribuye al título de esta exposición Teoría y práctica del desierto con la intención de subrayar la confluencia que se produce en su obra entre la reflexión y la acción, entre la escritura y la producción material y visual. En cierto modo la exposición se plantea como una especie de manual de instrucciones, de modelo para armar, como una caja de referencias y de resonancias que permiten al espectador trazar una visión-re-visión de la realidad desde la perspectiva del juego en fricción con el orden geométrico del pensamiento (brillante esto último.).
La escritura se corresponde en su obra con la necesidad de un orden geométrico que articule y organice los aspectos de producción material, procesual y de acción que tienen mucho que ver con condiciones de posibilidad de azar.
Inicialmente, la escritura se plantea como un plano narrativo, entre la ficción y la autobiografía, que conecta estrechamente con la obra de carácter visual. Esa es precisamente la base de 99 Cacahuetes y una madrina, donde relatos de fuerte tensión paradójica abordan situaciones de la vida cotidiana y se corresponden con una fotografía.
Más recientemente la Galería Rafael Ortiz de Sevilla desde su Editorial Los Sentidos Ediciones y dentro de la colección La cara oculta ha publicado La comodidad puede matar, textos diversos sobre arte en los que analiza implacablemente las contradicciones del medio artístico. Esta publicación mantiene una especial conexión con Teoría del desierto, constituyendo la vertiente narrativo-ensayística de la estructura teórica de orden geométrico. El libro, que se inserta en una colección de textos de artistas, invita al lector a establecer una relación lúdico-reflexiva con la lectura. En cada capítulo se invita a acompañar la lectura con una música identificada con un link de internet, el recorrido por las anécdotas del mundo social del arte explicitan una derrota teórica, la decepción, y una victoria de la acción. Necesito leer un algo, una frase, un párrafo que explicite que la contradicción es el verdadero motor de un arte en constante movimiento sincopado, como en la mecánica cuántica aplicada a la esencia de la materia, del micro-universo.
En estas confluencias de elementos aparentemente contrarios interviene decisivamente una metodología muy sistemática y minuciosa que desarrolla procesos de asociación, combinación y adición, en los que confluyen también como elementos contrarios interdependientes, el azar y la necesidad. A lo largo de los años 90, para explicar y concretar esta metodología de trabajo, va a utilizar el término y el concepto de acreción para poder precisar con más exactitud los procedimientos de acumulación y yuxtaposición de elementos. Acreción es según la definición del diccionario, crecimiento por adición, y es un término que se emplea habitualmente en geología. En el año 2000, trabajamos juntos en un proyecto de exposición titulado +acreción, en el que se subrayaba el desarrollo de las metodologías de acumulación con procesos de reciclaje y transformación, mediante la destrucción y reconstrucción de la propia obra, que establecía un sugerente paralelo con la idea de antropofagia.
La antropofagia, practicada como ritual sagrado por las culturas tupí sudamericanas, es convertida por el movimiento modernista brasileño liderado por Oswald de Andrade en los años 20 del siglo XX en una metáfora de configuración y formación cultural del país y fue utilizada por Paulo Herkenhoff en la XIV Bienal de São Paulo en 1998 como eje central del programa expositivo. En esta bienal la obra de Antoni Socias representa a España con una obra que encaja muy bien en presupuestos de auto-canibalismo, de “antropofagia” como metodología de trabajo. En su obra los conceptos de acreción y antropofagia se superponen como metáforas de procedimientos de trabajo basados en la acumulación y la adición, en la interconexión de obras entre sí, pero también en una práctica que trata como elementos o materiales a las obras anteriores, manipulándolas, troceándolas y recomponiéndolas para construir nuevas obras. En cierto modo hay una constante voluntad de actualizar y completar, de revisar y releer, de reinterpretar, pero muy lejos de un síndrome de perfeccionamiento. La propia obra, se constituye como un campo de trabajo, como un lugar de experimentación. Algunas piezas, sobre todo aquellas que quedaron en el estudio, pero también ha ocurrido con otras que se vendieron, han ido variando o alterándose en el tiempo, como si la propia obra fuera pidiendo una renovación o un crecimiento. Algo así ocurre con Montaña (1999) presentada originalmente como una escultura de piedra sin base, y que en esta exposición aparece como Montaña sentada, y reposa sobre una silla. Montaña existe, la tengo en el jardín, y Montaña Sentada también, son dos obras distintas. Puedes hablar, eso sí, de que el concepto “montaña” cambia, muta quizás, para mejorar su identidad, su genética geológica.
Entre los años 90 y los 2000, estos procesos de reciclaje de la propia obra, discurren en paralelo con procedimientos de ocultación, aflorando de manera ejemplar en algunas obras que abordamos a continuación.
2.034 Cuadrados (1994-1995), es un título tautológico para una obra que está formada por ocho paneles sobre los que se han distribuido de manera aleatoria exactamente 2.034 cuadrados de 10 x 10 cm. de lienzos pertenecientes a pinturas de principios de los años 80. El resultado es un fresco cromático en el que la pintura se convierte en algo muy parecido a un juego anti-combinatorio y a la vez a una ocultación. Ocurre algo parecido, aunque no de la misma forma en Emiliano (1994), que sigue el mismo principio compositivo, cuadrados de 10 x 10 cm. con una reordenación -en este caso- totalmente azarosa, pero en esta ocasión de los papeles de dibujos de academias de su etapa de formación en Barcelona. Se trata en esta ocasión de doce paneles de grandes dimensiones, superpuestos en dos líneas de seis que sugieren una lectura visual de texturas del carbón y el grafito sobre papeles de diferentes calidades, evocando al clima visual del primer cubismo, a la experimentación con el collage y la descomposición de formas.
Slides & Sheep. Second Life (1995-1998) emplea su archivo fotográfico como material en bruto para crear nuevas piezas, utilizando diapositivas montadas en marquitos para cubrir fotografías y dibujos. El título vuelve a ser tautológico porque uno de los paneles centrales del políptico (en esta obra el políptico está formado por unidades de diferentes tamaños) tiene como base la fotografía de un rebaño de ovejas que el espectador no puede ver, ni siquiera adivinar. Esta metodología de utilización de capas de ocultación es también una metáfora de como la multiplicación de la imagen genera una modalidad de ceguera. El archivo fotográfico se inhabilita para ocultar imágenes surgidas de ese mismo archivo.
Algo en paralelo, pero muy diferente, ocurre en Chabola (1991) donde una fotografía es ocultada mediante maderas claveteadas sobre ella, provenientes de su propio embalaje. El título también tiende a narrar (de manera irónicamente tautológica) una situación: una chabola es un refugio precario, maderas recortadas y reutilizadas para proteger la/una fotografía, precariedad real frente a resistencia conceptual.
Tanto la teoría como la práctica de la ocultación alcanza una precisa síntesis en Col·lecció de sis fotografies nocturnes (1998): se aprecian las fotografías pero su montaje, apiladas unas sobre otras, impide su correcta visualización, y el dispositivo de ocultación se convierte tanto en un mecanismo de ceguera como en un objeto lleno de sentido.
Ocultación, copia, repetición, duplicación, reciclaje, reutilización, constituyen hipótesis de trabajo, ideas que funcionan como puntos de partida, como caminos experimentales. Si con una forma geométrica hubiera que describir el proyecto de Antoni Socias quizás debería ser una espiral que tuviera la capacidad de volver hacia atrás y moverse hacia arriba y hacia abajo. Todo esto me lleva a que podrías trazar aquí, para finalizar, un paralelismo entre mi mundo y la idea de universo que planteó Einstein hace casi un siglo: un universo elástico, que se puede comprimir y doblar, en el que el espacio es, en realidad, materia encrespada… como la superficie del mar; un universo que se repliega sobre sí mismo y que tiene la posibilidad de buscar atajos, para ir de un pliegue a otro y romper la barrera “lógica” del tiempo, por medio de los “agujeros de gusano”.
The exhibition Theory and Practice of the Desert is not put forward as a retrospective. Instead, it is a journey through the work processes and methodologies that can be found in the work of Antoni Socías. The exhibition consists of four chapters or sections: Bewilderment, Concealment, Replication, and Self-portrait. These chapters, in turn, are arranged into concepts such as ingravity, biodiversity, research, chance, theory, action, anthropophagy, etc.
In this manner, the exhibition becomes a labyrinth that needs to be reconstructed and reinterpreted by the spectators. Although it could seem that it is a labyrinth without any rules, as is the case of this catalogue, the structure is very precise and more similar to geometric design guidelines, of treaties that arise out of definitions, continue with hypotheses, and end up as propositions that are put forward as exercises or experiments.
Through this text, my intention is to provide certain keys in order to situate the work of Antoni Socías, beginning with his obsessions, his methodologies and his work processes. To basically bring the reader closer to a way of seeing that highlights that which is disturbing, paradoxical, or contradictory, with the aim of raising their awareness and sharing a critical view.
The definition that best fits Antoni Socías is that of an out of format artist and this condition, in a way, also places him outside the usual circles, with a work that questions, that can on occasions cause discomfort, and that is always critical towards conventions. His work is very difficult to place under any possible type of label, for its development has not followed a stylistic evolution but a constant and permanent self-critical revision that empties it of any idea of style, to the extent of even eliminating the possibility of an anti-style.
What is most important about Antoni Socías, what distinguishes his work and underlines his originality is the way the work methodologies closely resemble scientific approach structures or philosophical analyses, ludic processes, or rules that stimulate playfulness and experimenting with the purpose of looking at reality from other possible perspectives.
Perhaps, to more precisely understand the internal structure of Antoni Socías’ way of acting and thinking, it is necessary to visit his web site
In this regard, his work is identified with its own creative processes, and develops parallel to them. The temporality is understood as being linked to the actions and to production, with a practise that focuses on objects, concepts, and action.
His work has preserved a strong conceptual content, especially as an objective and as an interpretative sense, even when he focuses on figurative painting. From that perspective, he has integrated and interrelated—in a gradual and permanent manner—painting, sculpture, found and manipulated objects, installations, photography, and video. But he has also turned to writing to integrate it as a decisive and central element in some of his works. In a way, performance, which is understood and reinterpreted simultaneously as a paradoxical attitude against reality, as an alternative way of life and as a different way of gazing, constitutes an engine of ideas, a methodology to establish processes and even as a model for perspective that makes it possible to recontextualize the self-portrait and in general the function that photography and video should carry out. Painting is also understood as an action, as a process.
His work puts the accent on a permanent questioning of the work, of its sense and meanings, establishing a relationship of friction between form and content.
His predilection for paradox and also for the absurd, that subtly becomes a latent social and political criticism from the point of view of lesser things, underlines an attitude that is quite deeply rooted in life or in life’s everyday aspects. This leads us to understand the importance of everyday things in his work, and how his personal life, the people around him, family, and friends, constitute an intimate space, which is also public and shared. This space can be seen in the pieces, not so much as autobiographical elements that are limited to the self, but as a natural way of building a context, of influencing an everyday normality of cross-collaborations; a space where the everyday normality always ends up being critical and self-critical. He spent years working on different projects with the photographer from Madrid, Luis Pérez-Mínguez (1950-2014), with whom he shared a special friendship and an intense affinity towards the photographic viewpoint. The last of their projects became a reality in 2012, in the rooms of San Martín del CAAM in Las Palmas, originating from an ‘experimental and performance-like’ journey by both artists to the island of Gran Canaria. The title Nada nuevo 2 (Nothing New 2) refers to the project with the same title that compiles the visual experience (also a performance experience, and where the self-portrait with masks acts as a common theme) which they carried out together in 1987 during a road trip across the United States and which materialised in the exhibition Resnou (‘Nothing New’ in Catalan) in La Llotja in Palma.
The work of interlocution and permanent dialogue with his son, the also artist Enric Socías, has given way to exhibit works such as Socías2.
He has recently developed a critical review of the representation of Africa and that which is African, parallel to and in collaboration with the Catalan artist of Gambian descent, Caramo Fanta, which materialised in the project Mi otro yo con algunas contradicciones (My Other Self with Certain Contradictions), shown in 2011 at the Es Baluard Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani in Palma, Majorca.
Performance acts as an undercover catalyst. It does not appear as such, for in his works there are none that can be defined as ‘performances,’ but even certain pictorial works have an element of performance, as is the case of the series El número 2 (Number 2, 2013-2016), where two identical ‘pictures/paintings’ are executed at the same time, stroke by stroke, with the intention of there being no original or copy (linked inextricably by the predominance of the original and the subordination of the copy). In fact, they are two originals that are absolutely identical, executed simultaneously and that constitute one same work: the work is in itself the manner and act of execution, it is the performance act of painting and the fact that the result blows up and deconstructs the very essence of painting, that primarily constitutes the uniqueness of an original. Back in 1992 Antoni Socías had already devised a ‘copied painting’ (‘self-copied’ would be the more appropriate term) to indicate how, during an art market recession, the conservative and traditionalist options are those that always succeed. To do so he points his finger at his own pop-style and hyperrealist painting made some years earlier. This project took place at the same time as the financial recession that followed the Gulf war and which hit the art market particularly hard, just when, thanks to the 1992 and the Barcelona Olympic Games, Spain seemed to be settling into a certain European normalisation and contemporary art was experiencing years of growth, reaping social and cultural acknowledgment as it developed risky projects for a public that showed interest and was avid for aesthetic experiences. Art galleries suddenly stopped selling and the general taste, the public preferences, turned towards figurative values. Antoni Socías progressed in the following way: he selected and copied in a very precise manner small fragments from a series of pop-style paintings that he had executed in the late sixties using a hyperrealist technique. The reframing that he used breaks any narrative possibility that the scene may have; the fragment becomes a strange or paradoxical situation but there is still the representation which as a result turns into both a tool and merchandise. He uses each of these fragments to make a diptych, adding a metal plate, like those that advertise some commercial or professional activity next to a building entrance, which reads: ‘Direct Hunger 3rd A.’ In this manner, using plenty of humour, the trade of artist and painter appears to be defined as ‘direct hunger’ and it is advertised as a figurative proposal in the format of a commercial exhibit.
In 1993 he goes back to a certain idea of ‘copy,’ which he associates with images taken from nature guide books. Cabeza de hombre, cuerpo de cocodrilo (Head of Man, Body of Crocodile) consists of 18 watercolours of animals, reproduced in great detail, where a photograph, which is disturbingly connected to the body of the animal, takes the place of its head concealing it. It is a complex piece that is closely linked with the customs and economic habits of the time, when banks offered gifts to new clients who opened accounts, and the windows of the bank offices turned into spaces that greatly resembled shop windows, advertising offers and gifts. The large-format watercolours are framed and hang perpendicular with the edge against the wall, in such a way that they can be turned like the pages of an open book, and the entire ensemble is inserted in an installation that announces that the purchase of the ensemble of watercolours comes with a free set of suitcases made of peccary skin and a mountain bike. The work was first exhibited as an installation in Barcelona at the René Metras gallery, but when the purchasing managers for the La Caixa Testimoni collection showed their interest in it, they informed the gallery that under no circumstance could they accept the gifts. They had literally understood the ‘offer’ and in spite of the explanations that it was an installation that could not be separated, they did not purchase the work, perhaps because of their literalness, or because of their failure to capture the irony. To compensate for the inconvenience the bank purchased two drawings from the artist.
Something similar happened more recently at an exhibition at the Centre Pelaires of Palma with a piece from the series El número 2, when a client stated he only wanted to purchase one painting, and not two identical ones. The collector was merely looking for an image and he did not understand that the work was in fact a process.
In his work, through these different anecdotes, we can see both the use of humour and paradox as quite a unique manner of making institutional criticism and of making a very personal criticism of customs, like a convergence (disturbing and even annoying) of conceptual intentions and performance-like practices. On the other hand, in another field of discourse that connects with the idea of Teoría del desierto (Theory of the Desert) as institutional criticism (which also functions as trade-union criticism), the anecdotes themselves highlight the intellectual insecurity that moves inside artistic circles and the limitations of a theoretical framework that in general leans towards that which is conventional.
Although Antoni Socías has not developed a work that is connected to that which is often understood as ‘performance’ (a fleeting and circumstantial action that is carried out before an audience) this is a term that in this context adopts the meaning of an action connected to the actual artistic process and with any possible result beyond the action itself. This is why we insist that performance is an essential element that responds to an attitude and appears in the work of Antoni Socías. It is involved in the processes and work methodologies, sometimes as an action, which, like rules of operation or of play, determines the meaning of the final work. This would be the case of making two identical paintings at the same time, as in the series El número 2, or of destroying his photographic archive and his paintings from the nineteen-eighties to rebuild new works that are linked to the experience of the process and to the idea of cannibalism. He is currently recovering old negatives that he did not use at the time and that today allow him to reinterpret, under a different gaze, the raw material of themes and actions from previous decades. In a way, the urge to revise and reorganise the past belongs to the core of his methodologies and processes. On other occasions, however, it constitutes a staging dynamic where the satirical and irreverent participate together with a poetry of the absurd that illuminates reality in a different manner, setting forth that it is possible to experience the everyday from a different perspective that is more intelligent, more authentic, more imaginative; in short more pleasant, with humour, as is the case of the photographs and videos that can be grouped under the title Escenas costumbristas (Costumbrist Scenes).
We can state that his perspective can be found within institutional criticism, but he develops it, in his own way, like a sniper who follows his own agenda, using paradoxical methodologies, camouflaging himself in an analysis of everyday life’s mental costumbrism.
In this field of critical interest, Teoría del desierto is an attempt at systematisation, both of vision and of discourse, but the very nature of the project once again adopts an attitude that is prone to performance. On this occasion it is a performance that begins with writing, and its references remit to the style of a philosophical treatise, more specifically to a certain reinterpretation of the style of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Here there is room for both the paradoxical as well as for a design to objectify (using universal categories) a situation that is closer to the sociology of art that describes a space that is ‘costumbrista.’
Teoría del desierto is featured within his work as a nuclear series, and this is why it is included in the title of this exhibition Teoría y práctica del desierto, with the purpose of underlining the convergence that takes place in his work between reflection and action, between writing and material and visual production. In a way, the exhibition is set forth as a type of instructions manual, for the setting-up of a model, like a box of references and reverberations that allows the spectator to draw a vision-re-vision of reality from the point of view of play, engaging in a frictional relationship with the geometric order of thought.
In his work, writing corresponds to the need for a geometric order that structures and organises the aspects of material production, process, and action that have plenty to do with conditions of chance possibility. Initially, writing was put forward as a narrative plane, halfway between fiction and autobiography, which is closely linked to the work of a visual nature. That is precisely the basis for 99 cacahuetes y una madrina (99 Peanuts and a Godmother), where stories with a strong paradoxical tension address everyday life situations and correspond to a photograph.
More recently, the Rafael Ortiz Gallery of Seville, through its publisher Los Sentidos Ediciones, and as part of the collection ‘La cara oculta’ (The Hidden Face) published La comodidad puede matar (Comfort Can Kill), a variety of texts on art where he relentlessly analyses the contradictions present in the art field. This publication has a special connection with Teoría del desierto, constituting the narrative-essay aspect of the theoretical structure of geometric order. The book, which is part of a collection of texts by artists, invites the reader to establish a playful-reflective relationship with the text. Each chapter invites the reader to accompany the reading with music that corresponds with an Internet link. A journey through the anecdotes of the social world of art that explicitly states a theoretical defeat, disenchantment, and a victory of action.
In this convergence of elements that are seemingly contradictory, a very systematic and painstaking methodology participates decisively, developing processes of association, combination and addition, where chance and necessity also converge as interdependent opposing elements. During the nineteen-nineties, to explain and specify this work methodology, he used the term and concept of ‘accretion’ in order to more precisely indicate the processes of accumulation and juxtaposition of elements. ‘Accretion’ is, according to the dictionary definition: ‘growth by addition,’ and it is a term that is commonly used in geology. In the year 2000 we worked together on an exhibition project titled +accretion, which underlined the development of accumulation methodologies with recycling and transformation processes through the destruction and reconstruction of the actual work, establishing a suggestive parallelism with the idea of cannibalism.
Anthropophagy, practiced as a sacred ritual by the South American Tupi cultures, was turned by the modernist Brazilian movement, led by Oswald de Andrade in the nineteen-twenties, into a metaphor of configuration and the country’s cultural heritage . It was used by Paulo Herkenhoff in the XIV Biennial of São Paulo in 1998 as the central axis for the exhibition programme. For that biennial, the work of Antoni Socías represented Spain with a work that fit in very well within presumptions of self-cannibalism, of ‘anthropophagy’ as a work methodology. In his work, the concepts of accretion and anthropophagy overlap as metaphors for work processes based on accumulation and addition, on the interconnection of works, but also as a practice that considers the previous works as elements or materials, manipulating them, breaking them down, and putting them back together to build new works. To a certain extent there is a constant will to update and complete, to revise and reread, to reinterpret, but without any proximity to a perfectionist syndrome. The work itself is structured as a work field, as a place for experimentation. Some pieces, especially those that were left in the studio (but this was also the case with other works that were sold), have varied or changed over time, as if the actual work was asking to be renewed or to grow. Others have developed genealogies, or they have mutated. Mountain (1999) was presented as a sculpture in stone without a base. In this exhibition, another piece is shown, also a sculpture in stone with the same type of silhouette and shape, titled Montaña sentada (Sitting Mountain), because it rests on a chair: that is how the concept of ‘mountain’ changes and mutates to improve its identity, its geological genetics…
Between the nineteen-nineties and the first decade of 2000, the recycling processes of the works take place parallel to the concealment processes, flourishing in an exemplary manner in some works that we will now address.
2034 cuadrados (2034 Squares, 1994-1995) is the tautological title of a work that consists of eight panels on which exactly 2,034 squares measuring 10 x 10 cm have been randomly distributed. They are fragments of canvasses belonging to paintings from the early 1980s. The result is a chromatic fresco where the painting turns into something that is very similar to an anti-combinatorial game and at the same time it is concealment. Something similar happens, though not in exactly the same way, in Emiliano (1994), which follows the same compositive principle: squares measuring 10 x 10 cm with a reorganisation that is completely random, but on this occasion the fragments come from drawings on paper done in academies during his educational stage in Barcelona. Here we are dealing with twelve large panels, placed in two rows of six, suggesting a visual reading of the multiple textures of the carbon and graphite on papers of different qualities, calling to mind the visual climate of early cubism, experimentation with collage and the breaking down of shapes.
In Slides & Sheep / Second Life (1978-1998) he uses his photographic archive as raw material to create new pieces using slides mounted on small frames to cover photographs and drawings. The title is once again tautological because one of the central panels of the polyptych (in this work the polyptych consists of different sized units) has as a basis the photograph of a herd of sheep that the spectator cannot see, nor even guess at. This methodology of using layers of concealment is also a metaphor of how the multiplication of an image generates a type of blindness. The photographic archive is disabled to conceal images originating from the same archive.
Something parallel, but quite different, takes place in Chabola (Shack, 1991) where a photograph is concealed by nailed pieces of wood taken from the painting’s own packaging. The title also tends to narrate (in an ironically tautological way) a situation: a shack is a precarious shelter: pieces of wood cut and reused to protect the/a photograph, real insecurity against conceptual resistance.
Both the theory and practice of concealment reach an exact synthesis in Colección de seis fotografías nocturnas (Collection of Six Nocturnal Photographs, 1998): here we see the photographs, but their set up (they are piled one on top of the other) prevents their proper viewing, and the concealment device becomes both a blindness mechanism and an object loaded with meaning.
Concealment, copy, repetition, duplication, recycling, and reuse constitute work hypotheses, ideas that work as starting points, as experimental paths. If one had to describe the project by Antoni Socías using only a geometric shape, perhaps it should be a spiral, because it has the ability of moving upwards and downwards. In a recent conversation Antoni Socías said in this regard: ‘There is a certain parallelism between my world and the idea of the universe put forward by Einstein almost a century ago: an elastic universe, one that can be compressed and folded, where space is in fact frizzy matter… like the surface of the sea; a universe that withdraws into itself and that is capable of finding shortcuts, going from one fold to another and breaking the “logical” barrier of time through “wormholes”.’
structures and pillars
For a period of time I refused —as a rule— to reveal certain keys to my work. I designed my own catalogues with the images of the works, sometimes even without references. I added a simple cover and that was that. Let everyone figure it out for themselves, I would think to myself, feeling a mixture of unease and resolution. The feeling that nobody could give a damn what my arguments were and how I managed from there on, was stronger than my need to communicate as an artist. Years of perspective have shown me not only that I was wrong, but that I was wrong to the bone. Contradiction? Not at all, because both my reasoning and my work as a whole function precisely within a social area that is culturally undefined: within the gap between two or more worlds, at the top of the cliff, in a no man’s land, at the edge. These are all situations where it is difficult to keep one’s balance and still be respectable.
So then I gave the negative angle a 180-degree turn and obstinately sought to place my work within a balanced context. In this new atmosphere of rapprochement, I had no qualms in inviting guests to enter ‘my home,’ to show them the kitchen where the raw materials were handled and cooked, the bed where my work lied down to rest and some meaningful events that took place within my ecosystem. However, not everything was going to be ease and hospitality regarding this seemingly favourable liturgy. During the process of approach and later consolidation of the symbology and methods, the interested parties had to swallow a lot of dense, dark matter, that is as uncomfortable as it is useful for keeping the fascination for the remote and the unexplained alive. Chekhov said ‘the task of an artist is not to solve problems, but to state the problem correctly.’ (If this statement is not sufficiently clear in the field of absolute creation, it is time to admit, once again, that we are confused and/or muddled).
Not long ago, a friend informed me of his need to find, together with the works of artists who interested him, many more signs of their emotional inclinations, of their reflections, of the motivations that led them to draw this or that conclusion… ‘What I don’t want —he said—, what I don’t like is when a work is explained to me. I don’t want its deepest secrets to be revealed to me, as happens so often these days, when everything has to be disclosed out of an irrepressible impulse suffered by a society that is sick with absurd need and dissatisfaction. On the other hand, I miss a certain degree of environmental support, and this is why I would like to know a lot more about the surroundings and the substratum that fuel creation.’
The journeys through my work and the directions they may take are, I believe, almost infinite due to the large amount of interdependence, relationships, symmetries, parallelisms, concomitances, self-influences, derivatives and parallel or tangential developments that take place among the different processes that I have generated over forty-five years. If I were made of sterner stuff, I could probably be boasting by now, because of the amount (and ‘quality’) of matters that I have managed to carry out successfully with clear —‘good’— results. (Of course, everything is relative, and consequently, debatable from any other point of view). I could even go as far as putting on a lively show for all of you by singing a prelude to myself, or an apologetic aria if necessary. And I could, at the same time, compulsively beat my chest with my fists like a gorilla, putting on an emotive public display of pride and power. But I can’t and I don’t want to, because my means are others.
I have reached the conclusion that all that wealth of contents, that lengthy catalogue that I have been putting together over the years, is nothing but a major trade-union complication, a fundamental problem when offering or showing my work —my compromise— to the middlemen professionals in the art world. But I’m sure of one thing: I do exactly what I must do at every moment. (After a successful commission on a corporate level, a famous gallery owner asked me to paint one hundred pieces similar to the ones we had just sold to an institution. ‘I’ll pay you in cash so you can buy yourself a nice house,’ he spat without beating about the bush. Gobsmacked, I warned him that I had to think it over. ‘Well… I don’t see what there is to think about in view of a proposal such as this,’ he replied. I insisted that I would give him an answer the next day. The following day, as soon as the gallery opened I went to his office, I let him stand up, and I stretched out my hand decisively, to give his a good shake. His face, which had suddenly lit up with the belief that we had reached an agreement, changed in the blink of an eye. I warned him: ‘No, XXL, it’s not that. I’ve come to say goodbye to you and this company. I think it’s time for each of us to go our own ways’). Clearly, it is much easier to support an artist with specific patterns than an artist such as myself, who is always nit-picking. The difference between holding firm —not forsaking certain principles— or letting one’s self be carried away by the surrounding circumstances, definitively makes a difference in an artist’s career. The true greatness of art with respect to other life disciplines lies precisely in that independence, in that freedom of action. Another quite different matter is knowing how to develop it to its full extent, and with the integrity it requires. While in other fields, the self-employed, the small business owners and the large businessmen are forced to change direction and even close down when adversity knocks on their door, in the art world we don’t tend to stop the machines even if the world is coming to an end.
The system that we have slowly been imposing on ourselves —some demanding an extra fee the hard way, even through extortion, forcing the situation without any scruples, while others let themselves be dragged along by whatever nonsense— involves a compulsive need for fast associations, for results that are easy to digest and transmit. Both on a personal level, and socially —probably to a greater degree— it is a fact that we do well when we resort to the obvious, to that which is the simplest. Therefore, associating an artist with a very specific way of doing things makes his dissemination visibly easier, as are the transactions that can be carried out with his work and with his image.
Here is a simple declaration of principles to position myself clearly in the midst of this conundrum:
A certain historical ease, a large dose of confusion and also commercial convenience lead us to believe that the style of an artist is the repetition —perpetuated or seasonal— of his visible style; the standardisation of certain specific patterns that, consequently, will lead him to distinguish himself from other artists. However, the style of Socías House has had and continues to have a very different meaning. It has to do with a set of processes that are seemingly different, but are sheltered by a storyline that is fully connected and coherent.
I would like to publicly, and for the first time in one same content, put forward the basic notions that my world consists of. The pillars that motivate both my work and my reflexive activity are specifically twelve. Four of them —bewilderment, concealment, replication and self-portrait— besides being ideological concepts in themselves, are at the same time processes in my daily practice that generate specific works and lines of work within their own conceptual scenario.
The intrinsic need to prepare a compact mixture of turbulence and stupefaction and adopt it as an underlying form of expression. I seek to communicate unease, anxiety, worry, discomfiture, volatility, discomfort, confusion, irony, wit, imbalance, confusion, and uncertainty. An internal revolt, no doubt, parallel to the evolution of a world that is as scandalous as it is fascinating, as far as its human side is concerned, which keeps me in a permanent state of alertness, shock, and stupefaction.
In my field it means to decontextualise proposals and objects from their original whereabouts —presumably—to give them fluidity when disassociating them from their atavism. In summary, I do not wish to offer spectators everything they want to see, hear and feel.
Ingravity perplexes me and I want it to perplex others. This is an effect that, initially, should be quite advantageous at all levels… because an art that is serious, reflexive, and sensible should always profess the faith of the unforeseeable and the abstract.
(Quantum mechanics. The principle of vagueness. The theory of incommensurability…).
Besides the plurality of live beings on Earth and of the cultural patterns that it consists of, biodiversity comprises a large variety of ecosystems, and the genetic differences of each species that permit the combination of a large number of forms of life, and whose mutual interactions with the rest of the environment support life on the planet.
The scientific concept of biodiversity is used almost exclusively in the field of biology. In spite of this, I have had no qualms in making it my own, drawing a clear parallelism with the wide variety of my creative proposals and their vocationally methodical interrelation. It is partly a metaphor, logically, and also figurative language, but with an aim that is highly intentional when explaining the true value of an inevitable multiplicity resulting from the most absolute promiscuity between the different processes that I handle.
I need to establish the supremacy of a work process over its results. And I know that at the same time I am putting my reputation at risk when I state in this same paragraph that both parties are equally significant when shaping a meaningful and solid ensemble: at this point, let’s stop playing the primitive conceptualism game. Research appears totally linked to biodiversity (the origin of species and their evolution, in the figurative sense) and it is the driving force that leads me, every now and then, by chance, or out of necessity, to change strategy and aims, as soon as a process has been clarified and there arise, parallel to it, new obligations and progress demands.
Over time I have been consolidating my support for research thanks to my parallel readings on scientific investigation. In this regard, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas S. Kuhn, 1962) has for years been my bedside book. I am extremely interested in paradigms and changes in paradigms; the competence between models and canons to be followed; strategy and changes in strategy; coherence and incoherence; the differences and common points between parascience, normal science, and revolutionary science, but above all in the significance of anomalies and in the changes of direction within processes, whether they are scientific or artistic.
Responsibility and ethics go hand in hand.
I would like to highlight the determining action of not sending out arbitrariness to the world in the form of artistic creations, without stopping to reflect for a moment on whether these proposals contain a general meaning that goes beyond that of one’s personal drift.
As a case in point, Desierto (Desert) is a responsible process that comprises five different art works on a common discourse of enormous and pondered dimensions. It will be developed extensively in the following pages. I can advance, however the introduction to Desierto: ‘The only worthy process, still to be faced openly, is to in the first place detect—and accept—our indecent personal condition; and the second decisive step is to imperatively undertake the spiritual and functional recovery of the desert that we have generated.’
Responsibility is to seek ‘beauty’ in the transparency of actions, besides the brilliant results that are offered by techniques with their magic and the media through broadcasting. Responsibility means helping out in the small everyday things; it means compromise, equanimity, honesty, justice; it personifies sharing with others everything that needs to be shared; it means consuming responsibly, not seeking conflict where there can be peace. And countless etceteras that our skin is composed of and that are not difficult to discover. It is a seemingly naïve and ingenuous matter from a bird’s eye view, but it is the true key to a hypothetical change in direction from the shady events that drag us towards an uncertain outcome.
According to Albert Camus, absurdity ‘always originates from a comparison between two or several terms that are disproportionate, antinomical or contradictory.’ Absurdity in itself does not exist; instead, it surfaces with the dissonance that we generate when trying to find meaning. The world is not absurd. What is absurd is the controversy between our voice and its inappropriate silence. A meaningless world turns us into absurd beings, and what pushes us to seek its meaning is our awareness of the abstract experience we have of it, wanting to signify it, to precisely give it a meaning. Consequently, the acceptance of the world just as it is, with all its contradictions and contingencies, makes absurdity disappear, not explicitly because there is meaning, but because we no longer need any.
My own approach to absurdity coexists completely linked to the concept of bewilderment.
The work process La importancia de los satélites (The Importance of Satellites) has led me to the maximum expression in this field: to paint or draw two identical pieces and, at the same time, execute two identical ‘originals’ that are simultaneously a clear example of absurdity provoked on purpose. ‘Absurd’ are also the processes Escenas costumbristas (Costumbrist Scenes) and Ocultaciones (Concealments), or the impositions of hands, like a therapy, within the macro-process En la confusión de las mentes (Amid a Confusion of the Minds), or the countless themes that I will reveal in their corresponding sections.
Positive denial, in this case, because there is a chronic need within me to build out of trouble and obstacles. Let’s not forget that denial is one of the most important characteristics of reasoning, because it allows us to be free. Freedom (intelligence + dignity) offers us the wonderful possibility of denial.
This fundamental pillar shelters and provides energy to all the others and has do to, specifically, with the fact that it never offers any ease in the creative field. Little explanation should be given —none if possible—in the work itself. Deprivation, both in art, as in life, is one of the keys that distinguish us and that lead us to reflect, to look inside ourselves and to figure out what the hell is going on around us.
On the banks of the Rhine I learned, about twenty-seven years ago, that what matters is not discovering what one must do, but the exact opposite. That speculative finding meant a radical change in my way of understanding art: I immediately deduced that the importance of a work lies not in what it can show us but in everything it denies us.
Denial is a good antidote for recovering from too much gregariousness. Descriptive denial. Controversial denial. Metalinguistic denial.
To conceal in order to show. Concealment is a pure act of preservation, direct correspondence with ecology, specifically with ‘mental ecology’, which refers back to my work Antes de nada, salvemos nuestras mentes (First of All, Let’s Save Our Minds).
Often, the object, the artistic proposal in itself is not as important as all that is hidden in the direct or indirect narrative of the storyline that it proposes. I am referring to the intention, the character, the poetry, the concept, the bewilderment of the proposal… And this is why, sometimes, it is better to cover parts of the work or the work itself, in order to express what is hidden behind that which we can see.
The precedents to my Ocultaciones (Concealments) go back to 1976, at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts. Alfons Sard, at the time a student and fellow graduate, developed a polychrome object painting in our second year’s Painting class with the title La familia de Carlos IV (The Family of Carlos IV). Once he had finished the work he locked it away in an impenetrable wooden box. That action perplexed me. So much so that ever since then the intention of concealment has become a constant in my work. Blessed influences!
There is a direct relationship between the Antropofagias (Cannibalisms) presented by me in the Spanish pavilion at the XXIV Biennial of São Paulo and a few Ocultaciones later executed through direct accumulation: Collage yaciente (Recumbent Collage), Colección de seis fotografías nocturnas (Collection of Six Nocturnal Photographs) or Grupo pictórico comprometido (Engaged Pictorial Group), among others.
Related to my self-demand of executing non-unique works, but double or triple ones, these are works with a number of elements that are seemingly in communion, or isolated, that help us to interpret the collaborative efficiency of the different pieces involved. They are works that express the importance of the different perspectives surrounding one same event or object.
Division refers me back to coexistence, to good neighbourliness, to non-central opinions, to anti-totemism. At the same time, it suggests compatibility, the coexistence of different circumstances that are a priori divergent, that come together in a positive way in one same work, set apart from preconceived hypotheses. From a positive angle, replication expresses a split, segmentation, a rift, a dichotomy and a derivation. To ‘divide’ here means sharing, delegating, cooperating, it symbolises the act of distributing, coinciding, accompanying or rationing.
In this work there is a use, in a certain way impertinent, of the concept of work of art, when promoting the almost systemic duplication of the art object, historically blessed as unique, as an original. I am referring to the achievement of a unitarian message with double proposals; to the poetics of replication; to the essential value of the concept of duplicity; to the actual bewilderment of the dual or multiple proposal.
And in the case at hand, I refer specifically to the unitarian message.
THE THEORETICAL DISCOURSE IN ITSELF
I may perhaps be formulating a tautology by including this in my set of twelve points, which is without a doubt, in itself, a theoretical discourse. I am aware of this… and I underline the need and the power of a good discourse prior to the work, of a timely discourse simultaneously to it, and another much more reflexive one, if possible, regarding the finished work.
I understand art as a permanent mental agitation. However, I do not wish to formulate a pompous intention to change its surroundings, our surroundings. What I am interested in is to approach the Big Lie that it puts forward and that, quite possibly, is contained in its heart after centuries of trade vices. In this regard, I would like to formulate a consistent personal discourse that distances me from a comfortable and generalist system.
Art’s Big Lie has basically two aspects. On the one hand, the ‘cunning lie,’ which on a personal level adopts the appearance of an assumed and conscious deceit, while in the field of public action, it is shown to us in a permanent state of persuasive integrity and uprightness. Conclusions: appearance, slyness, hypocrisy, pretence, simulation, affectation. On the other hand, we have the ‘ignorant lie’ that, on an individual level, represents the individual in a trance of indirect satisfaction, resulting from his success after a single victory. On a public level it shares the same figurative virtues as the ‘cunning lie,’ which in spite of being unconscious, continues to have a disastrous influence on the art field. Consequences that are visible: stupidity, ineptitude, ignorance, incompetence, lack of skill, inability, blunder; doubt; shortage, imperfection, carelessness, negligence and nullity.
Critical art is, in itself, always difficult, for it sails against the tide when proposing alternative ideas to those that are commonly in circulation, and because it speaks, above all, about everything that it usually keeps to himself.
CHANCE AND/OR NECESSITY
A rhyming disquisition with a tricky conclusion: what came first, the chicken or the egg?
I have made use of chance and I have used it as a major ally, like a provocative mystery. On the other side of the scales, necessity acts as a counterpoint, resulting from a detailed analysis of the circumstances that influence me —us— directly.
It is a pillar that is absolutely linked to research (not specifically scientific), as well as to the development of processes over time. It is very closely linked to Memoria de especie (Memory of the Species) (one of my work processes has the same title) a scientific concept that describes a number of processes in biology and psychology by virtue of which genetic material provides a memory on the history of an individual or species.
In scientific terms, the one who actually posed this issue in 1970 was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine (1965) Jacques L. Monod. I came across his book Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology, when I was nineteen. When giving a title to his work, Monod was inspired by Democritus: ‘Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.’ I immediately tried to adapt his theories to my art. Monod claims that the duty of scientists is to think openly to create, all together, an effective modern culture that is enriched not only by important technical knowledge, but also by ideas that are humanly meaningful. At the same time, I imagined that art should work in this regard and I am still subscribed to this hypothesis.
From his research, pure chance, absolute but blind freedom, the driving force behind evolution, and the main notion of modern biology, is no longer set forth as a hypothesis among other hypotheses. It is the only conceivable one, because it is the only one that is truly compatible with the facts that result from observation and experience. Monod is not an ordinary biologist. His work and thought go a lot further, because he examines the philosophical consequences of genetic biology. This scientific-cultural and ethical approach is, precisely, what set him apart from his contemporaries.
I am fascinated for different reasons by the assumption—direct or indirect—that Monod makes of modern scientific theories that develop from fields other than his own: ‘On the microscopic level there exists a source of even more radical uncertainty, embedded in the quantum structure of matter.’ For him, a mutation is ‘in itself a microscopic event, a quantum event, to which the principle of uncertainty consequently applies. An event which is, hence and by its very nature, essentially unpredictable.’ No doubt a contradiction, but only in part. The important thing here is to understand some of the most basic scientific notions from the last century. The Theory of Relativity establishes that the universe is orderly and predictable. Therefore, there is no room for chance. But the laws of quantum mechanics are governed by fluctuation and certain degrees of imprecision. The only possibility to diagnose something with full precision in the world of Quantum Mechanics is to predict all the possible solutions or events that could arise from an event. Albert Einstein, father of Relativity, rejected the ‘ambiguity’ in the Quantum Theory, stating that physics could not be handled by chance; that the laws of physics are always predictable and that the result of an experiment has to be something tangible and objective. One of his famous sayings is: ‘God doesn’t play dice.’ However, with the passing of time, Einstein’s aims focused on unifying the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics into one unified theory, the Theory of Everything, through which he attempted to establish laws that could govern the entire universe. Chance and/or necessity.
If one looks up ‘self-portrait’ in classic dictionaries, one sees that it is defined as a painting that a person does of oneself. It is one of the most profound analyses that an artist can make of himself and, through a direct deduction, of the human species. To make a self-portrait not only involves physically studying the face, but it also involves knowing oneself at the emotional level. Universally, the self-portrait has been associated with painting and to a lesser extent with sculpture, but since the creation of photography, genuine works of art have been executed using this specific medium. This has nothing to do, however, with the present-day selfie fever; that sort of silly modality that has trivialized the genre to such an extent that it borders on pathetic.
Alomar-0, Escenas costumbristas, Autorretrato (Self-Portrait), Mi otro yo con algunas contradicciones (My Other Self with Certain Contradictions), Desierto, Madre pintura (Mother Painting), Resnou or NothingNEW are some of my work processes that approach the self-portrait as a fundamental instrument of development.
Self-portrait as a measurement of my existence; as an extension of one’s own personality in the abstract; as a wake-up call against incoherence, nonsense, and stupidity.
I don’t exist; I’m an optical illusion… like the cold.
In the August heat
…I would like to express people’s personal need to grow as people or die. Our constant need to increase our enjoyment of the senses, or to remain silent forever. My personal dictionary calls this ‘accretion’ and it means to add, add, and add. It’s like the effect caused by a snowball as it rolls down a hill; it becomes bigger and bigger as it rolls down. This is a perfect example of practical illustration along this line of thinking.
I imagine the rebirth of the critical spirit outside of nostalgia, and I also speculate with the definitive banishment of stupidity. I would like to put the spotlight on the tangle of meaningless signifiers, the lack of meaning, the confusion that fills all those befuddled brains. I would love to not care at all about those countless trivial intellectual stances, in spite of the times we are living in, of the knowledge we possess and the pressing need for efficient and effective solutions. I need to publicly exhibit the colouring principle of blood. I need to give my opinion on ‘foods’ that are difficult to digest, on the sin of omission, or on the evolution of the concept of lichen. To silently recite poetry on our animal essence that cross-dresses as ‘hominidic.’ To discuss with whoever I need to about the ‘species memory’ and about the fact that for this type of shit you don’t need to rack your brains all that much or use such a large amount of technology. At the same time, I would like to whisper in your ears about my mother’s steady decline and the death of my friend —my brother— Rafael Alomar.
BEWILDERMENT, strictly speaking
Concocting a homogeneous mix of turbulence and astonishment and adopting it as an underlying form of expression that communicates anxiety, unease, bewilderment, effervescence, discomfort, confusion, irony, sharpness, imbalance, chaos and uncertainty.
COMFORT CAN KILL or FIRST OF ALL, LET’S SAVE OUR MINDS
Long before climate change became an irresponsible media trend, I realized that in order to preserve our surroundings, we need to start reviewing our own theoretical models, such as the one for personal behaviour: we must save our minds from the commercial and political vortex that is pulling our strings as if we were marionettes. Perhaps if we forget for a moment, with all due respect, about the Amazon jungle or polar ice cap melting, just to give two major examples of the overall negligence of this outdated regime that we are living under; a system with an unwavering determination to attain ‘comfort’ at all costs. Issues that affect the entire planet are quite difficult to address from a personal standpoint, especially when those who supposedly lead us seem to completely evade these issues. Obviously, things can’t continue as they are, and I took this opportunity to drawn a direct and accurate parallel with the art world.
Phase One (An Alternative to Traditional Urban Sculpture)
The art scene lost its audience a long time ago. Some, who look back even further, are certain that it never had one, although for the case at hand, it is ultimately all the same to us. Some of the crewmembers of this ship, who got their beginnings in failure, have tried to recover this lost audience by sacrificing a great many things. Some resort to the most basic of sketches, responding from a material solitude, and contribute willingly to the effort; others, in an attempt to simulate drastic changes in the background, cling to the convenient universe of magnetic supports, without managing to clearly display traditional resources. Among us all, the only thing we have readily achieved is to repeat ourselves, to proclaim our hopes in vain while contemplating illusions without illusion.
Artists who haven’t yet realised we are alone must have their heads in the clouds. In this context, ‘alone’ means giving the run-around to those of one’s own profession. It is a culture of endogamous practices. Consumers of the arts have definitively put a stop to our unsuccessful attempts. They have tired of the pendulous comings and goings that we have been subjecting them to, and they have abandoned us in the midst of masturbation. It is quite likely that more than one of our ex-patrons is currently jumping on the next bandwagon, imagining other possibilities, waiting for better times. They have left behind their dull idolatry and encouraging messages, and they have thrown their best intentions to the wind, from the most absolute speculative hardiness. A sorcerer, a genie, an annotator of unknown worlds, all past their expiry date. Art’s impotence, as we have understood it up to a minute ago, has been left waiting, since it has had to measure itself not according to the eternal dream that we constantly referred to but to the prevailing stupidity. In light of this sombre outlook, solutions had to be imposed.
In Mallorca, an island of much hustle and bustle, exchange and selling to the highest bidder, a procedure has been put into place to reactivate an awareness of the arts. Elementos ingrávidos (Weightless Elements) is an ambitious plan that is already off to a good start, thanks to the fact that both the local as well as the transient population have received it rather well, with great enthusiasm and optimism. With such a favourable outlook, some artists have decided to take a step forward, to be brave and let go of bad habits acquired as a result of the system’s rebuff. The initiative does not intend to anything more than to restore people’s lost confidence in the aesthetics of essential shapes. Demanding purists, however, should not be deceived: we are facing a plan of strict rational effectiveness that serves a good cause, and this should always be a good thing, provided we recover the time, illusion, and manners that were lost. All things related to the atavistic complexity of a conscientious and committed aesthetic will be left for later on or reserved for very special cases. Elementos ingrávidos is, despite the simplicity of its designs, a revolutionary way of creating and displaying the essence of art. Its therapeutic calling lies in the success of its great power to bring people together.
The method makes things easier when implemented on the artisan level, since the components of each of the processes scarcely alter its original aspect. Therefore, we anticipate a great many artists seeking direction will soon get on board with the new aesthetics. However, all is not rosy during this period of apprenticeship. No one can expect its technical development to be absolutely simplistic, nor can they expect preferential treatment. We believe that the project’s nascent success lies precisely in the way the results are presented. Thus, we are entering a place that will not have room for each and every artist and where not all pieces will be acceptable. A certain skill and open-minded approaches are needed for this to work, since dealing with stone figures is not easy, despite what it might seem at first. The first sites have demonstrated this. Extremely grateful, Elementos ingrávidos requires very little. A simple change of location or position, or a minor modification of its original state is more than enough to express all of the strength it possesses. Outside the context of its original location, placed in strategic areas of the city or in the well-trafficked suburbs, it offers the imagination limitless possibilities. The same thing happens when contemplating the flames of a fire, the waves of the sea, or even babies, who thoroughly and utterly absorb us. Their power of suggestion and relaxation seems endless to us. The main objective of this anti-gravity technique is to break the trend toward ancestral vices and create an enriching dynamic.
This is not a new concept, although to date, no one had ever attempted to put it so completely into practice. There is a vast gap today between the Mallorcan design and Leonardo’s hypotheses, to give a premonitory example. ‘Art is a mental thing,’ Leonardo claimed several centuries ago, while we continue to place more importance on his material pieces and less on his discourse. We didn’t even have enough perspective to appreciate perspective itself. Another researcher of remote possibilities, René Magritte, also tried fervently to make this happen, although he ultimately became trapped in the frame of the canvas itself. He did, however, manage to draw us into it and enjoy ourselves in a way we never had before, but once inside, we could not get out.
It is now possible to have ‘a beyond’ here and now. The force of levity, although still in its early stages, so predicts it. For now, we can affirm, with a certain degree of objectivity, that we have begun to practise clean sculpture. The first placement occurred some time ago. We transferred and situated a massive block weighing 300 tonnes as if we were dealing instead with a pea. Over the course of several months, the great greenish-blue hued rock remains unchanged in the same place. The theory of physics on which this great feat is based, and the calculations that specify it, seem to have laid the groundwork for continuity. Therefore, there is nothing to fear, only lots to enjoy. If the experiment continues on its upward trajectory, we will most certainly benefit in successive phases from other levitating matter. Let us imagine for a moment giant animals and vegetables, displayed for the reflexive contemplation of all. There is already a vast multidisciplinary group composed primarily of artists and scientists that is investigating and working on the second phase. If the implantation process goes as planned, we mustn’t discard the possibility that in coming years, artists may once again display their own creative work in public spaces. When this happens, their base and ground will, finally, be us ourselves.
Chr·st··n· is the graphic representation of a personal drama (the death of my friend, German artist Christiane Stals), fragmented into twenty-four scenes. It is the extrapolation of a particular method (self-portrait), which already yielded excellent results in Alomar-0, to a more general level. In this case, over the course of two-and-a-half years, I pressed the faces of different babies against a wide variety of surfaces. This was a sort of therapeutic method that helped me face some difficult and/or confusing situations. Through appointments scheduled by phone, I subtly convinced families to ‘offer up’ their children for a good cause. I encountered dozens of scenarios where the little boys and girls, sometimes willingly and at other times coaxed by their parents exuberance, were forced to deal with an experience that was, above all, unexpected. There were head butts, bangs, crying, tantrums, family feuds, but also a positive attitude. The funniest situations were when the children got to lick the wall… because with some of the more distracted and shy children we had to smear the wall with honey or jam, since otherwise it was not humanly possible to bring them up close to it.
An anti-costumbrist representation in which the twelve main characters of as many compositions are plastically forced to contemplate their own world from close quarters, to touch it practically nose-to-nose. In this action of gazes fixed on different settings, either natural or manipulated, we may find a creative testimony of their internal conflicts; of the confusion the new African generations suffer from, dramatically bewitched by the new models of colonisation, through mobile phones, satellite TV and the Internet.
In the beginning there was landscape. Then, little by little, figures started to appear. Until they managed to establish themselves in a definitive manner, for a long time the figures were in motion. Finally, they laid roots in certain places, made themselves strong and stuck their chest out. They modelled canons and patterns, showing an easy pride in their recently formed identity. In time, they began to feel envious of the canons and patterns of other groups of figures from neighbouring territories. And so, between them all, they invented the depiction of genres and raised borders to delimitate customs and traditions. Art germinated.
Travelling is not what it used to be. And neither is art. That said, some dynamic species are still evolving. Travelling: making the most of displacement, chance, need, silence. Extolling determination and raising the spirit above confusion. Disturbing. Indeed, nothing new.
We have been acting for nearly thirty years always playing the lead role in our joint projects. Our destination: figures, scenes and a la carte situations. Specific raw material. We could say that, above anything else, what we are is testers of situations. Specialising in plots. Expert tasters of contexts with aesthetic and/or philosophical droit du seigneur.
It would have been extremely easy to have interpreted the lived landscape axiomatically, praising its magnificence, its singularity, and all those boring sermons that a ‘classic’ consumer of images and messages wants to see and/or hear. We are all repositories of a landscape, past and present; we feel proud of: landscape grandeur. Thus, armed with the descriptive tricks we carry about with us in our saddlebags, we sense that the stylistic resources to pamper a hypothetical ‘local’ spectator would be almost unlimited. However, right now, that is not the mission we are working on… for we are neither tourists, nor advertisers nor sycophants. There are no clearance sales. Therefore, no ‘two for the price of one,’ and no ‘Week of the Canary Islands’ Landscape and Customs at El Corte Inglés’ promotion or anything of the kind. No offence intended. When we accepted the commission, we put forward a couple of basic prerequisites to undertake it with the maximum of guarantees: the whole of this work would (1) not offer comfortable answers or (2) pleasant parallels or tangents to the linear sphere. On the contrary, we would leave countless enigmas and suggestions slit wide open. We therefore discarded outright the recurrent postcard, the propagandistic confession, the recreation, the stylistic exercise or intellectual gymnastics. Handling the landscape of Gran Canaria as if it were an absolute abstraction so that, from the structural foundation, leaving crevices, dunes or specific crags aside, it could be extrapolated to any other place in any other latitude. Technically speaking, we have moved within a system that generates dramatic scenarios rather than images; atmospheres through which we may be able to simulate strict subjective options not exempt from intrinsic responsibility. A landscape acted out by us. A continuous customised cyclorama. An internal workshop open to the public. To cut a long story short, a higher, binding category we are interested in conveying incisively.
Antoni Socías and Luis Pérez-Mínguez, 2012
Highway to hunger
In the late seventies he produced his first pictorial works of a realist nature, in which dreams and a magical vision are interwoven with pop intentions and distortions. The series Hambre directa (Highway to Hunger) again employs fragments faithfully copied and cut out from the early hyperrealist works, though in obedience to a caustic outlook. These fragments make up small-format pictures and form diptychs with aluminium plates which augur some kind of economic crisis. Irony and black humour frame reflections on the art market and the value of figurative painting as merchandise that is simultaneously prized and scorned.
Excerpt from the text by Santiago Olmo published in the exhibition
catalogue España en la XXIV Bienal Internacional de São Paulo in 1998
A work process composed of eighteen diptych pieces, all with the same characteristics: they are paintings, an exact copy of fragments (details) of some of my paintings from the nineteen-seventies (from my collection and from public and private collections), combined with aluminium plates engraved with the slogan “Hambre Directa, 3rd A”.
In 1997, some of the pieces in this series were on display in Havana. They were removed the day after the inauguration by that country’s authorities, who claimed the artist demonstrated a lack of respect for the US embargo of Cuba. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I painted this series back then for personal reasons. I was tired of hearing in artistic/commercial circles that my painting would never be the same after I abandoned my realist style, so I decided to conduct this pictorial experiment. If people wanted me to paint that way, they would get what they wanted, but they would also have to get past the fact that they were copies and that these paintings would have to be accompanied by the business additive.
There is a certain Theory of the Costumbrista Scene in the background, as of yet undeveloped (perhaps it has nothing other to say than what the images express in themselves), which underlies the structure of this work. What the Escenas costumbristas (Costumbrist Scenes) do have is a somewhat insolent use of personages. They are portraits of conversations in a loud tone with family and friends… also with myself (self-portrait); a stranger, an outsider could never be a suitable model or a convincing figure within one of these scenes.
The Escenas costumbristas have no method; yet, at the same time, they are devotedly painstaking. They are high-spirited situations which usually come about at unpredictable moments, through a strange quirk of fate, when certain tacit and conceptual assumptions, enhanced by the spirited circumstances of the setting, solidify in my mind. From the family photograph to the deliberate confiscation of the world.
Characters meditating on madness
Characteristic of that initiatory period where some began to sense a disintegration of art at all levels. We drew a parallel between its decline and environmental disasters.
Silent reflections on the paroxysm of the vortex.
Projects dedicated to therapeutic introspection.
An evaluation of the actual degree of mediocrity, insufficiency, vulgarity, insignificance, pettiness and imperfection.
Approaches to body-to-body personal conduct; a probing of a collective option to fight.
And then They Say Sculpture Is Expensive
My relationship with the world of volumes has always been really special. I consider myself to be a sculptor, among many other trades, but I don’t want to take it up seriously for reasons which are as numerous as they are diverse. Nor do I wish to do so in the other disciplines I’m involved in, precisely because I have a panic attack every time the spectre of slavish professions appears before me; and most particularly when we’re talking about heavy subject matter. My real calling is an unbridled ‘mental workshop.’ (Paulo Herkenhoff wrote that for me). For that reason, and because chipping away at rocks and cutting up strips of metal is dirty, tiresome work, every time I feel the calling of stone, instead of holing up in my studio, which would be the logical thing to do, I hit the streets and set up any place that’s not home. On a work site, or at the foot of a carob tree, or on the lee side of a welcoming wall. I have to assume that until now, it has been entirely coincidental, although I could also attribute it to the ravings of my constantly fermenting mind; and as a final possibility, and one with which I don’t feel entirely comfortable, I admit that there could even be a smidgen of exhibitionism on my part in all this. Be that as it may, that summer I once again set up in plain sight of everyone, on a corner lot, about sixty yards away from my rented home. A setting which offered me the not-to-be-sniffed-at possibility of tapping into the electrical supply from my cousins’ house, as they lived barely twenty yards down the road from the vacant lot.
Every morning I would leave the house ready to take on those rocks, and correspondingly, the world. Dragging behind me my brand new cart, fashioned out of scrap wood and loaded with all the necessary devices, I would head of towards the makeshift workshop with the walking intention of setting up the daily stop. I would take advantage of that short stroll to go over ideas, and, in some cases, even to shape them: a scant sixty yards of controlled exaltation and joy, which were unleashed like a whirlwind, thanks to the liberating tension of the first blows with the hammer. (Because chipping away at rocks, my friends, for someone who has never tried it, is something remarkable, immense, intense, disproportionate, and extraordinarily difficult to explain in sensible words). On reaching the scrub land, I would spread my gear out on the ground, plug my grinder in and launch myself into my work. Some curious passers-by would come up to me to offer their impressions on how the pieces were coming on, while others would do so from the road, without daring to cross that boundary which demarcated intimacy.
During one of those endless working days, rapt in the frantic activity of my brand-new machinery, polishing one of the pieces, I forgot all about my loose clothing and events just overtook me. Eleven thousand revolutions per minute swept away everything within their reach: shirt, T-shirt, belt, trousers and underpants… as well as my very manhood. My sex organs ended up trapped inside the crushed folds of my clothing. Torment that turned into an eternity, and from which I had no idea how to escape. It was a quarter to three, and at that time the entire neighbourhood was doing what people normally do at lunchtime, so I was left to get out of that seemingly unsolvable predicament on my own. Owing to the constraints of the situation itself, I could hardly yell for help, either. I gathered my thoughts, saving all the energy I would need, and acted immediately. There was nothing else for it. Otherwise, I was bound to end up in an ambulance as well as in the gossip column of some local rag. Meanwhile, the machine continued to snake about with vicious savagery; twisting from side to side, it vibrated and hummed, and I couldn’t find any way to get hold of it. The power switch on the grinder was concealed amid the jumble of twisted fabrics, and there was no way to turn the bugger off. Then it occurred to me to go for the electrical socket, just two and a half yards away at ground level, to unplug the infernal device. But how could I crouch down with that maelstrom of evil intent writhing between my legs? Bending over would also mean exposing my belly to the onslaught, and would intensify, if possible, the suffering of my endangered tackle. I was seriously loosing control in terms of conserving my integrity. The minutes passed by until I had the idea of kicking the plug out, but the plug just didn’t want to play ball. And whatever I did to try and kick it out, the less the plug seemed to be up for it. But my perseverance finally paid off, out popped the plug and at last I could breath a sigh of relief.
Having halted the cyclone, I was fully aware of the disaster that could be waiting for me inside my fly. I dropped my trousers and to my horror discovered that a crazy mosaic, comprising a wide range of lesions, had occupied the entire extent of my reproductive geography and the surrounding regions. Far from wasting time taking stock of the gory details, driven psychologically and emotionally by the evidence, I had the disturbing vision of having gone on to swell the ranks of the cour des miracles. With a lump in my throat, transformed into a fledgling invalid, I swiftly pulled my trousers up and began to stumble towards my house with the idea of having a shower and clearing my head. Clean and relaxed, I would decide on what to do and where to go to learn about the extent of my injuries from a reliable source. On the way to the shower, I remembered that I was having a very special guest over for lunch that day, and he was on the point of arriving. (It was none other than Santiago Olmo who, as curator of the Spanish Pavilion for the 24th São Paulo Art Biennial, was coming round to draw up a plan of action with me, as I’d been chosen as the sole artist representing the legation). Things really were going from bad to worse, as the business I had with him was in danger of going belly up if my troubles were as serious as I originally thought they might be. On the one hand, I needed all the time I could spare to work out certain aspects of our forthcoming projects; and on the other, as was only logical, I couldn’t ignore the health problems that had assailed me. For obvious reasons, as soon as my guest turned up at the door, I had no choice but to let him in on my concerns. By deftly applying the basics of the art of human physiology, Santiago managed to calm me down, assuring me that the entire mess was merely superficial, but nothing important.
As it turned out, just as he said, that the inflammation died down after a few hours, and the lacerations miraculously cleared up just a few days after the accident. So, with no need for any specialist care, in a short time, each component part recovered its original appearance, regaining the pulse of their ancestral functions.
And there are still those who say sculpture is expensive!
The name for the 220’s comes from the measurement, in centimetres, of the longest side. They involve a process of recycling discarded photographs. It is about giving life to images that once had an essence of their own and which now are used as an effective source of raw material.
SURVIVORS IN CONFUSION
Metagenetic mutations characteristic of the Post-Confusion Period (from the macro-process En la confusion de las mentes [Amid a Confusion of the Minds]).
Characters representative of that expectant period when the most balanced were finally able to pull their heads out of the paste and say: ‘Here are my arguments to launch a new era.’
No rest now. Livers in hands. Hearts in explicit flight. Effervescent brains.
Materialist anti-globalisation. Austerity and anguish.
Portrait of the tangential generation that began the climb from hell to the surface. Hope and suffering.
MEMORY of the SPECIES
Over the course of two consecutive summers, I was working on this photo shoot, using various models, with the intention of turning it into a single piece, Memoria de especie (Memory of the Species), which would become part of the CRUDA process, composed of ten pictorial diptychs of the same format.
Memoria de especie has a very special meaning for me, since it is the first photographic image that I have thought was good and which, consequently, I have exhibited in public since my first eleven years in this field (1978-1987).
The power of images lies in the subconscious… or perhaps somewhere beyond that. Much to my surprise, twelve years later, in the year 2000, after this image was exhibited and published in various media, a Ballantine’s whiskey ad campaign came out using a photograph that is 100% inspired by my series Memoria de especie. Same position of the model, same scenery, same lighting, etc.
RAW, CRUDE.- Adj. (Lat. Crudum). Used to describe foods that are not cooked at all, as well as those that are not cooked thoroughly. / Used to describe very cold and harsh weather. / Used to describe foods that are difficult to digest. / Fam. Loud-mouthed, quarrelsome. / Used to describe unripe fruit. / That which has not been sufficiently prepared for use.
To gain an in-depth understanding of what Desierto (Desert) entails, we must first be firmly committed to drawing a clear dividing line between what some enthusiasts still call and appreciate as ‘art’ and its current antagonistic projection, the ‘world of art’—the exhaustive and incomprehensible by-product of speculative management, distorted creation and rhetorical communication, which has ended up taking control of the noble profession of sublime production. As it is precisely that division, that lucid frontier, which has been the driving force, the breeding ground and the ethical principle that gave rise to this entire work process.
Desierto comprises two well defined parts: on the one hand, the Theory of the Desert (http://antonisociasdesierto.blogspot.com.es/); and on the other, the Desert in images, virtually all of which is on display in this exhibition.
By analogy, the Theory of the Desert expounds an original essayistic comparison with the natural desert (ecosystem). To do so, it develops six chapters on the basis of a complex symbiosis of essential scopes, meanings, concepts and axioms which, step by step, conscientiously, and in an ironic tone, reveal a thesis which is nothing less than perturbing.
1. Essential Situation and Mirages
1.2 Great Pyramid
1.3 GreatCreationSystem (GCS)
1.4 Diffuse Material
1.7 Direct Creatio
1.9 Heavenly Voice
1.13 Great Precept
1.17 Uncle Scrooge’s Accounting Exercise
2.2 Winner and Positioned
2.8 Homo Extravaganter
2.10 Inhabitant of the Clearing
3. Soils and Recurring Landscape
3.1 Empty Territory
3.5 Small Temple
3.6 Market> 3.6a_Auction> 3.6b_Bazaar
3.7 Community Worker
3.8 Associate yourself!
4. Invariable Trends of the Sterile Discourse
4.1 Inherently-Polar Beauty
4.8 Random or Need
5. Persistent Droughts
5.1 International Sanhedrin
5.2 National Sanhedrin
5.3 Local Sanhedrin
5.6 G.G.P.P.I.: Great General Paste of
6. States of Eroded Matter
6.1 Highway to Hunger
6.2 Encasing of Mediocrity
6.6 Falsehood or Adultery
6.9 Behavioural Oasis
6.10 Armchair Cosmopolitanism
6.11 GreatLie > 3.11a_Astute > 3.11b_Ignorant
6.13 Incandescent Rhetoric
6.14 Blinding Pride
Little extra mental effort is required for it to soon become apparent that this daring compilation of specific criteria may—additionally—enable us to perform a much more extensive extrapolation. Many of the themes addressed here are clearly adaptable to any personal attitude or socialised activity, not just art.
Reconsidering our own actions—and acting accordingly, once the shortcomings of our individual behavioural system have been detected—will undoubtedly help to gradually regenerate the setting in which we find ourselves. Our now troubled relationship with others and our violent way of managing the world could be optimised in an obvious way. Nonetheless, even the most forgiving of forecasts promises nothing good beyond the immediate future. The paradox is being proven right: while we are dawdling with everything that is expendable, the countdown that started over three decades ago continues relentlessly, accelerating gradually towards the great impact.
what has happened to us?
This is a question that all couples ask themselves when things aren’t looking too rosy. That is, when the love affair that brought them together, apparently for the rest of their lives, has petered out. But there inevitably comes a moment when they ask what has happened to them, where all the passion has gone, that animal attraction that they couldn’t ignore. Time, they tell each other, sadly. Everyday life, boredom. Time and the monotonous repetition of every day, of every night. In the world of art, both repetition and minimalism define aesthetic trends, performance (action) too. Nonetheless, recently artists as well as gallery owners, collectors, critics and inhabitants of the world of art, have been systematically repeating the same question to me: What has happened to us? What has happened to that enthusiasm that once led us to travel halfway round the world to attend the inauguration of a biennial, of a fair, of an artist. What has happened with art, with critics, with fairs, with galleries, which no longer arouse passion in us, which no longer mobilise us, as now—let’s say it, once and for all—they bore us? Perhaps its a question of time, repetition, making the unexpected mundane. That’s possibly what it is. It may also be this crisis that arrived and has stayed with us, for ever, it seems, making it increasingly difficult for us to meet our expectations. Naturally it’s something which only happens to those who have been devoting themselves to art in any of its facets for many years, not to the younger ones, newcomers to the territory who are still enthusiastic about their own passion, still in love with so much beauty, with a blinding beauty which possibly only they are capable of seeing.
Things have changed, and it is in art galleries where perhaps this is most obvious, since they are no longer those places where things used to happen, where you could find artists, where we used to hang out. It may well be that we’ve all changed and now the market has come to the fore, and that is why the magazines have disappeared or have been reduced to the whim of a stubborn publisher or some capricious youngsters, a springboard for new curators, for old collectors. They are not the same things, and the critics and writers attempt to hide behind blogs and webs of questionable importance and improbable scope. The panorama has changed, and those who don’t have a strong economy have galleries which seem more like empty grocer’s stores with damp in the basement. Before, we used to know that truly important things could happen anywhere; now we know that the only important things happen far away, in luxury venues in New York, Zurich or London, in elegant offices where English is spoken. Those who were here before everything changed remember the enthusiasm, the passion. Those who arrived later know only the anxiety, this need to exist, to be somewhere. When the passion is lost, its imprint, its memory lingers on; the problem is when passion is replaced by efficacy, profitability and success. An evidently futile success.
Artists suffer this change hidden away in their studios, behind their work, work which not only are they probably never going to sell, but which quite possibly will never be exhibited in museums, or in places of a certain importance. They are denied not only the possibility of living off their work, but also their very existence as artists. They will end up like poets, with their manuscripts in a drawer. There isn’t enough space for so many artists, for so many painters (who is interested in a painter who hasn’t already made it, who doesn’t manoeuvre around the mainstream like a duck takes to water?); there is a need to select, and all selection entails exclusion. Works run aground like refugees from a destroyed country adrift in no-man’s waters, with nobody to look at them, or buy them, or write lines about them. What has happened to us to make nobody care about us? The institutions and the market, political and financial power, they’ve hoarded everything, and there is no longer any place for passion. Perhaps there no space for beauty either, or for intelligence. Another key question: what have we done wrong to end up like this?
Originally published in Exit Express, 14 November 2015.
The value of the
For Antoni Socias art is an action of the mental workshop. ‘My life is one more technique in the service of ideas, of the work’, the artist declares1.
Among the artist who experiment with art as an attitude, few manifest a presence as discreet as that of Socías. His work articulates antithetical operations, and not simply post-modern clichés such as the absence personal style. The artist selects the processes of contemporary culture —as the interdisciplinary of the expressive mediums, transculturation and the multiplicity of the real— which must be permanently used and reinvented. From that his work has been described as a labyrinth, whose changing territory includes geological layers of concept, irony, materiality, history, philosophy, time, phenomenology. Santiago Olmo’s text on Antoni Socías for the 24th São Paulo Biennial is an extraordinary example of how a productive dialogue among cultures can enrich the view about an artist and respect the differences.2. In this text Santiago Olmo, with erudition and from the perspective of antropofagia (antropophagy) and cannibalism as symbolic practice constructs the auto-phagic (self-cannibalistic) dimension of Antoni Socías. In works like Hambre directa (Highway to Hunger, 1992), the artist consumes his old hyperrealistic canvases, and on copying their fragments the artist devours and nourishes himself with his own history as an artist. The re-invention of the cannibal pattern by Socías could be compared to the work of Hélio Oiticica and Bruce Nauman. They are artists who explore ambivalence and, each one in his way, resolve mythical metaphor of violence (or it might be such and how the West interpreted cannibalism) in a transparent declaration of the concrete necessity of participating in values of the Other. Socías deprives his anthropophagic-cannibalism action of pathologies. Commenting on anthropophagy and his origins in an interview with Rosa Olivares, he affirms: ‘I could explain to the brazilians that I come from a land, Mallorca, which has been traditionally invaded by other cultures that have gone away and we have had to swallow it all and regenerate it. In fact we are the product of that entire conjunction of Romans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Arabs, English, and all the others that have come this way.’3
In the mental workshop of Socías, also ‘the work is its own process. Process reflects life,’ Olmo comments. Socías portrays himself, takes leftovers that he did not use in his studio, re-cycles his previous works. He evaluates the experience of the intellectual and material elaboration of the work, while not situating himself in front of the scene like Narcissus. He unleashes a phenomenology of the experience, but above al carefully selects and qualifies the subject. It is not to do with a transcendental I. The field is that of the artist’s experience and not that of a generic and indeterminate subject. Every auto-reference within his production is always a stage of investigation of the processes of constitution of language. It was already been said that the processes of autophagic is that of feeding on oneself to be able to serve knowledge. He knows that with respect to art, to critically evaluate its history signifies physically to consider his own art an operational paradigm, and he re-invent it. Appropriating himself of his own works, of his works and, at the same time, of documentary records he makes of them. What is at stake is not an auto-referential or shut of about himself. The need to investigate the several levels that constitute the social statute of art prevails.
Socías evaluates the adjusting of technical means and their differences for the construction of a language. In the series Enriquecidos (Enriched), the artist associates painting as a fragment that adheres to the body of photography and thus influences its code of reading. Perhaps the image might not the most important, rather the process of selection, its motivations and its experience, while, as already has been seen, is concentrated on the k of the artist at the afore-mentioned 24th São Paulo Biennial the changing and devouring relationship between photography and painting was also put in the foreground by Viet Gorner and discussed by Anette Lütgens in the text with the suggestive title of ‘Good enough to eat: on Richter, Polke and the artist’s self-pillage.’4 The phenomenology of lived experience by Socías is rooted in the idea of art as an attitude. And from that in his delicate description, he speaks of a more generalized experience. The phenomenology of experience is concentrated in the invention of language. Socías only operates on the level of his grammatology. Part of the anguish of Antoni Socías is to recognize the ambiguity of all forms of communication. Or in Heideggerian mode it would indicate the limits and would understand that language touches on the border of the inexpressible. The artist is a reader of Ludwig Wittgenstein, of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.5 His art is situated in a realm of questing the limit of residual significance of the visible. As in the illuminist reasoning a eulogy to blindness and to visual non-knowledge always ends in an affirmation of gaze.
PROCESSES AND MATERIALS
By the way in which his ‘mental workshop’ operates, the art of Socías is defined more as an art of experimental processes than as a development of a canonic method of artistic elaboration. His methodology includes processes of accretion,6 the action of precariousness, autophagy, direct hunger, density, accumulation, enrichment, time.
Under the optic of precariousness, in the 24th São Paulo Biennial, three artists were connected by their work with models of ‘precarious refuge.’ There was an ‘aesthetic of adversity’ linked to the favelas, huts, of Rio de Janeiro, of Tropicalia of Hélio Oiticica, the articulation of Michael Asher of an institutional criticism as a model of social solidarity and the work of Antoni Socías. The Spanish artist explores the limits of production of language confronted with extreme penury in the model of Chabola (Shack).7 The result is the construction of a precarious refuge for identity, through superposition of useful elements (crate) over the photographic image. In the mental workshop of Socías materials—the matter, the elements of art, in short—suffer a rigorous conceptual scrutiny for the comprehension of its possible contribution to the political architecture of the work. The symbolic pregnancy or the historical sense are evaluated.
On a first level, it strikes a phenomenology of a corporeity of the works of art, insofar as it is, appropriated by the artist. The logic Socías’ work leads to the physical (re)-organization of the world, but also leads us to the suspicion that it can be always a provisional art. Pieces of older works, cut out, leftovers and rejected materials—leathers, linoleum, photographs, labels, objects, etc.—accumulate, already dispossessed of their former identity or precisely because they could not integrate themselves into production. There exists a violence with history and an economic modesty that seem to live alongside these procedures in works such as One Hundred (1992-1993), From One Hundred to End (1993-1995), or Justificación derecha (Right Justification) (1998). The main ‘materials’ of the work of Socías might rightfully be the symbolic immaterial interchanges, the concept of art, the notions of time, tensions and antithetical concepts. Olmo observes that Socías operates with an entire universe of hot material in constant agitation. Telling his intense experience of observation of the world in the urban transit, the artist says: ‘Between one pavement and the other my time freezes.’8
In this poetic dimension, it occurred to the artist to take a stone and modify it, only a little insofar as it is a stone (different, for example, from the stone re-shaped into a bird by Max Ernst). This action of Socías i s like re-dimensioning time, accelerating it in its action over the body of stones that whirl in the water or are altered because of the wind. His work develops like a complex temporal horizon.
Time is the territory of the conceptual, political and physical re-totalization of the work of Antoni Socías. The mastery of the idea of experience determines attitudes, such as premeditation and repetition, which lose strategic importance in his mental workshop. The edition of an agenda (Agenda Alomar Cero) is transformed into the possibility of a diary, apparently confessional, through images, to later lose that individualistic dimension. An agenda organizes days and weeks productively, and so the presence of self-portraits goes beyond any idea of an intensely personal duration.
Antoni Socías corrupts the specific times of every technical medium, like painting or photography. Other temporalities govern his work: painting is cut out and photography covered over. Socías works with a network of operations of time of the language: de-construction, cutting, reconstruction, dis-signification, which can make for correlation with other dimensions of the time of an individual experience: duration, discontinuity, circularity, synchronicity and a- synchronicity; or social times: legends, collective memory, symbolic atavism and above all history (or histories). ‘If you die, all can be recomposed,’ the artist ends up saying.9
A ‘provisional’ art implies operations of language on the physical and concrete world of art, such as empirical ideas of re-appropriation, recycling, restructuration, destruction and reconstruction, re-totalization, re-ordering, among others. In turn, all that implicates the work in an inquiry whose objective is the transformation of its actual condition in past, and projecting it towards the future within a new order. Socías no longer promises a definitive art, but reserves the possibility of returning to it, in a critical and active way in process of self-construction. On a finished Socías work, now, there always seem a skimming of the possibility of an open time: to return to art itself when it was already a positive thing, and to establish a new cognition taking off from this point of view. It is his intention to act, as in Penelope’s dialogue with time, to create, de-create and re-create. Thus his work will be in potential situation of returning of the condition of becoming. Time is not a mere re-ordering of the past, but rather a re-signification of the present, like a species of ‘actualization’ of the present towards the future. Density and accumulation are two processes enunciated in this production of sense. Thus the re-appropriation would indicate a dialectical reasoning. It announces a new degree of politization of the constructive act of symbolic language. The work of Antoni Socías seems to be contaminated by the circumstances of ‘weak thinking,’ that fragility of thought in relation to the world and to society, with dialectic and difference, such as Gianni Vattimo and others have studied.10
Antoni Socías proposes a confrontation between life and history. It is not involved with facts, but rather with an inner history of sense in which the intentional existence of art finds an unstable refuge. On the other hand, on examining the immaterial plane of his process of constituting the language, it is then we can also perceive how the art of Socías, understood as a material re-organization of the world, does not avoid being considered as an economy.
After understanding the artistic attitude and the process of constituting the language of Antoni Socías, there arise other challenges. Socías situates himself in the category of artist who understand the necessary relationship of Language and formation of the value in the economic sense of the term. His artistic attitude is oriented by a consciousness of the praxis confronting the ideologies that mask the real.
The function of the knowledge of the work of art necessarily passes, for Socías, through philosophical investigation. On materially taking works of art or remains of his execution, the artistic is constituting a species of eschatology of the work of art, which is also connected to an economy of art. Forty seven + 1 (1996) is a work of 30 meters long that unfolds like the economic section of the mental workshop, in which are agglutinated the materials that nourish the creative process. It should not be understood as the final fate of things, to be raised to condition of art, on being re-used by the artist, as if this were supreme idea of materiality. The eschatological dimension in Socías’ creative process is overlapped with the notion that art becomes shapeless and takes on shape through its own process, as its own conceptual and material condition. Situating himself very close in the time/economy relationship, the Agenda Alomar Cero, in that part, in that part which is a diary; there would no longer be only the romantic psychological portrait of the artist, but kind of account book. Socías portrays himself with the notion of ‘artist insofar as producer of economy value.’ In the Agenda Alomar Cero, the artist or his face present themselves in multiple situations of adversity and uncomfortableness, confinement, compression, immersion, pressure, among others, as if it were a metaphoric diary of the mode in which work is appropriated in the process of production, which is implied in the administration of the body, in the manner of Michel Foucault’s Vigiler et punir. The soul-art administrates the instrument body of work.
If we already viewed the work as the precarious refuge of the language, this fact will mark the logic of the work and oblige the mention of the ethos of the art of Antoni Socías. Contrary to the known capitalist logic of minimalism (‘less is more’), his art patterns itself in a logic of scarcity. Socías, then, would be animated by a ‘will not to renounce anything and to integrate everything within the artistic global project’ as Olmo observes. The mental workshop of Socías is a mere factory of bits and pieces: the economy of the re-inscription. The artist works with residues of the product of his own work. He would not admit losses of areas or images belonging to the recycled works. It is in this way he reorganizes art, like a theater of reorganization of the world, 2034 cuadrados (2034 Squares, 1994-1995) and Emiliano (1974-1997). There is a territorial precision in these works that allows for the affirmation that in Socías’ work what accumulates is ‘sense’ in the process of densification of the ‘thickness’ of language. The logic of Socías’ work seems to unfold the logic of the fragment, the logic of subtraction, the logic of accumulation, the logic of density, the logic of intervention. The work Slides & Sheep / Second Life (1978-1998) has been constructed with slides belonging to the artist’s archives. The function of the slides seems to be that of hiding, as if that acted under the logic of the opacity, and to reveal works. They function as support for an structure serialized with little frames of slides, white, black and ash-colored.
The work assumes the dangerous approximation to the frontier of nothingness. It is in this latter and exiguous territory, where reserves the state of visual penury, in order to establish a penury of the look. Hi works, often, seems to cover, as we have already seen, a eulogy of blindness or an ontological knowledge of opacity, to seek the intelligible and intelligent extreme of the visual event.
Simply, the work of Antoni Socías, like that of Cildo Meireles does not operate in financial terms through the ‘denying account’ of minimalism (‘less is more’ is not the wish of the minimum, but of the maximum), contrarily, his work applies the economy of the essential. The manner of reducing the form, the serialization or the work with a grille remit more to an essentialism, with which minimalism seems to be incompatible, or a relationship with life, different from the minimalist diction. Or at its maximum point, it would belong to the category of those works ahich Cildo Meireles ironically calls ‘humilimominimalismo’11 to indicate their rejection of the power games of minimalism and the hegemonic history it has woven around itself. Socias’ work gathers together the physical and symbolic, economic and ethical operations. It relates to minimalism, as could also happen with Cildo Meireles. It would not have to do with a need for their respective works, but rather for a certain imperialist criticism, which expands into the post-Cold War period. The excessive impulse of minimalism, insofar as concerns the cultural strategy of the American hegemony, triumphs and disseminates in the institutional discourses of the nineties, after the imposition of the Pax Americana. Minimalism substitutes the old strategy of the liberal discourse of the affirmation of the individualism of Abstract Impressionism or its way of understanding the freedom of communication and consumption of Pop Art, which were the launching platforms during the Cold War period. Now, an art whose political content seems neutral or invisible corresponds to a cultural strategy of consolidation of the American hegemony in the cultural field, as the perfect expression of Pax Americana, an art visually clean and without ideology, as if an ideological confrontation on a grand scale might have purified the capitalism system of its most painful contradiction.
Antoni Socías wonders about the artist’s attitude, the language of art and the formation of the value: What is the added value through action of the artist? Socías operates on the micro-economic level, seeking understand the protocol of the production of the world of art, but propitiates a reference to the old tradition of the economy of accentuating the value of the signs and its function in the process of circulation of wealth. The article ‘Marx et l’inscription du travail’ of Goux establishes analogous relationships between writing/work, sense/value, denouncing ‘the complicity between logocentrism and the fetishism of money and of the commodity)12 (and of the art we would add). It is fundamental to cite the argument of Marx: ‘dans sa forme valeur, la marchandise ne conserve pas la moindre trace de sa valeur d’usage première ni du travail untile particulier qui lui a donné naissance’ (In its value form, merchandise does not conserve any vestige of its value of first use, not even from the useful work that originated it).13 It is in this field—to understand the protocol of the artist’s work—that Antoni Socías brings his doubts and questions.
The theory of the values of Antoni Socías’ work goes back to Marcel Duchamp14 and to Cildo Meireles.15 Duchamp paid his dentist with a drawing of a check worth $115, as an exchange for a ‘representation’ of the value. Here is shown what is abstracted in the exchange value: kinds and differences of work. In this transaction with his dentist Tzanck, Duchamp sets forth doubts: What is the protocol of all that—check or work of art? Cildo Meireles already added a label to this work Árvore do Dinheiro (Money Tree) to explain that the work has been using 100 bills of 1 cruzeiro each, and thats its worth os 2,000 cruzeiros. The operation crudely exposes the added value by the ‘art’ factor and exasperates the public. Getting it all together (money, price, symbolic value and real value), the artist affirms. Confronting the Marxist concepts of ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value,’ Meireles clarifies the operation of the imaginary constitution of the art object as a sign of excellence value. The artist exhibits the incongruities between value and price in the capitalist monetary system. Cildo brings down the monetary illusion of value as simulation of the exploitation of the force of work. Socías’ operation repeats a question (What artistic-financial operation is this: accumulation, capitalization, profits or savings, increment or value?). In the same measure that Jean-Joseph Goux has declared the parallel hegemony of the linguistic sense and the exchange value of the merchandise,16 Antoni Socías re-appropriates works of his own art, transforming his authorship to a zero degree creation, destroying it and re-composing it as a point of departure into another new work, as 2034 cuadrados (1994-1995) or Emiliano (1974-1997). Socías proposes new inquiries: in the end, what are the residues of the products here aggregated? How is the operation produced? How does it fit, in the face of the perturbing work of Socías, the statement of Jean-Joseph Goux ‘…the misrecognition of the use-value of signs amounts to nothing less than the occultation of their productive value.’17
On the temporal and material horizon of the work of Antoni Socías we glimpse that writing about it can lead to failure, of which the artist warns, on asserting that criticism is a very difficult activity, ‘because it disconnects an activity that cannot be expressed in words.’18 The instability of the senses, the transcience of existence, the mutability of the protocol, the non-permanence of the condition of a work of as such. Socías leads us to experience the paradox of seeking a conceptual stability in games of non-permanence and questing after what cannot be enunciated. ‘What cannot be talked about is better left unsaid’ Ludwig Wittgenstein warns in the prologue of Tractatus Logicus-Philosophicus. After citing Wittgenstein when he contemplates the ineffable, Antoni Socías calms down and states, ‘Art is much simpler than all that, than all is talked about it’. Perhaps that may be the great equivocation of the artist.
Originally published in the exhibition catalogue +Acreció
(Casal Solleric, Palma, Majorca, January 2000)
1 Rosa Olivares, ‘La mirada,’ interview with Antoni Socias, Lápiz, year XVII, no. 146, October 1998, pp. 29-43.
2 Santiago Olmo, ‘Cannibalism and Process,’ in España en la XXIV Bienal Internacional de São Paulo, Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Dirección General de Relaciones Culturales y Científicas, Madrid, 1998. [From here on this text will be cited as Santiago Olmo].
3 Antoni Socías interviewed by Rosa Olivares in ‘La mirada,’ op. cit., p. 41.
4 Annelle Lütgens, ‘Good Enough to Eat: On Richter, Polke and the Artist’s Self-Pillage,’ in Paulo Herkenhoff and Adriano Pedrosa (eds.), XXIV Bienal de São Paulo. Núcleo Histórico: Antropofagia e Historias de Canibalismos, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, 1998, p. 439.
5 The artist mentions the philosopher in his interview with Rosa Olivares (see note 1).
6 Action and effect of a body growing by addition of particles from outside. Distinguished from concretion in that it has no chemical origin. It can be caused by a migration of particles in colloidal state, by adhesion as a body rolling on a clayey base, or by juxtaposition, as in masses of snow or ice.
7 A photographic image is covered over by the material of its own wood-crate. At the same time it is impossible for us to recognize the image or its theme, we can, however, understand its photographic materiality, while its appearance is that of a hut or a shack.
8 Antoni Socías, ‘procesos. 8 13.Cac,’ in España en la XXIV Bienal Internacional de São Paulo, op. cit., p. 51.
9 Antoni Socías interviewed by Rosa Olivares in ‘La mirada,’ op. cit., p. 35.
10 Gianni Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovatti (eds.), Weak Thought, Suny Press, Albany, New York, 1990.
11 See also Paulo Herkenhoff, ‘Por que Cildo? Duchamp e Cildo e Duchamp,’ in Vitória Daniela Bousso (ed.), Por que Duchamp, Istituto Cultural Itaú, São Paulo, 1999, pp. 62-77.
12 Jean-Joseph Goux, ‘Marx and the Inscription of Labour,’ in The Tel Quel Reader, Routledge, London and New York, 1998, p. 57.
13 Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter I.
14 Thierry de Duve, ‘Marcel Duchamp, or the Phynancier of Modern Life,’ October, no. 52, 1990.
15 The ideas here expressed on Cildo Meireles were formerly discussed in my texts: ‘Arte é Money,’ Galeria Revista de Arte, no. 24, São Paulo, March-April 1991, pp. 60-67, and ‘A Labyrinthine Ghetto: The Work of Cildo Meireles,’ in Cildo Meireles, Phaidon Press, London, 1999, pp. 36-81.
16 Jean-Joseph Goux, op. cit., p. 52.
17 Ibidem, p. 51. And Goux continues: ‘Concealing the work or play of signs upon other sign. The functional value, the efficiency of signs in the production of meaning, the calculation, the purely combinatory instance, what we might call, with appropriate ambiguity, the fabric of the text (labour and structure, fabrication and fashioning), is effaced (or rather forgotten/repressed) beneath negotiable transparency (that of meaning).’
18 Antoni Socias interviewed by Rosa Olivares in “La mirada”, op. cit., p. 35.
The precedents to my Ocultaciones (Concealments) go back to 1976, at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts. Alfons Sard, at the time a student and fellow graduate, developed a polychrome object painting in our second year’s Painting class with the title La familia de Carlos IV (The Family of Carlos IV). Once he had finished the work he locked it away in an impenetrable wooden box. That action perplexed me. So much so that ever since then the intention of concealment has become a constant in my work.
Context for a Feast
In the last few decades the contemporary artistic scene has tended towards an unprecedented technical flexibility, which has facilitated the appearance of intermediate plastic territory based on the integration of a range of techniques. These fields have been generated by the need to express the multiplicity of reality by making each medium or technique more specific. That is, for each medium, stressing specificity of meaning and significance. This is fundamentally a matter of specialising each medium of expression, which shows a determination to relinquish nothing while integrating everything into an overarching artistic project. Photography as a documentary medium is indeed different from photography used as a sketch, and painting to develop forms is not the same as painting as description. Artists have developed vis-à-vis their work and the available media the attitude characteristic of an entomologist, analysing and assessing the consequences of each movement or artistic proposal. All this involves constant reflection by artists on their own work, an analysis and self-criticism with a view to demarcating and at the same time extending the sense of experimentation, of accumulated artistic experience and its links with everyday life. In short, artists express the intimate relationship between their work and the planes most closely linked to process—internal and existential processes and those involving theoretical discourse.
The resultant technical versatility is not a haphazard affair; on the contrary, it entails a striving for precision and control, the rules of which are the basis of the project’s overall coherence. The various media—some traditional like painting, others linked to the application of new technology such as video, along with photography, asserting itself as an artistic medium independent of its documentary function—are seen as indispensable tools for artistic projects not bound to any one technique or obliged to be technically coherent. It is the artist’s own attitude that has become the main gauge of the coherence and effectiveness of any artistic undertaking.
From this perspective, the coherence of existential and artistic intentions is to be found in existential and artistic attitudes.
Antoni Socías belongs to a generation of artists which, having been educated in precise, clearly defined media and techniques, have opted for a more interdisciplinary, cross-cultural and hybridised outlook. This approach has made the idea of process pivotal in their work as they elaborate projects in which the accumulation of images and objects, the recycling of materials and works, gives rise to a cannibalistic outlook on reality.
Other artists from the same generation, and above all artists that share this same sensibility, from different positions and due to a range of motives and concerns, include names such as Pep Duran, Perejaume, Carmen Calvo, Jaume Plensa, Jaume Barrera, Fernando Sinaga, Eugenio Cano, Jessica Stockholder, Jac Leirner, Eugenio Dittborn and many others, who also use accumulation and hybridisation to imbue their work with an unrelenting density of meaning, immersed in an idea of process.
Precedents for this sensibility should be sought in the work of those rare artists whose methods have followed courses of radical experimentation that resist integration into any clearly defined movement.
The work of Antoni Socías reveals unquestionable affinities and common wavelengths with artists as disparate as Richard Tuttle or Luis Gordillo. Luis Gordillo’s influence in Spain has been crucial in terms of his contribution both to painting and above all with respect to awareness of the artistic process. In the nineteen-seventies he introduced photography and photocopying into his work, applying the results to a pictorial perspective. Gordillo’s painting follows an essentially ‘gastric’ course, devouring and assimilating influences, cannibalistic in its sensibility and even in its thematic content, as in the approach to cycles such as ‘meanderings,’ labyrinths in the shape of canals and intestines which costume the painting. But the creative process during the execution of the work acquires a prominence unmatched among other artists: the picture emerges from the struggle of different forms to devour each other, which means that various paintings may both appear and disappear over a long, meditative process impassively witnesses, like an entomologist observing and analysing, the changes his own work progressively reveals to him. All these changes remain and are part of the work, but are concealed in the final version. Of all the possibilities one always predominates, but within the germs of its variations. Each picture grows and develops like a human life, wide open at the beginning, but with possibilities that diminish in number as growth proceeds.
Richard Tuttle on the other hand, has worked on the fragility of processes through collage, constructing objects and artifacts of ephemeral appearance which fall somewhere between painting, sculpture and installation. Processes in his work integrate objets trouvés and recycle leftovers and fragments.
The work of Antoni Socías is based on the creative process and its formal and theoretical convolutions, incorporating humour, irony and implacable self-criticism.
Since the late eighties, Antoni Socías has used the term ‘accretion’ to define his own methodology. The dictionary defines this term as a way of causing a particular body to grow by the addition of other elements. It is used in science to describe biological or physical growth processes, from which certain ‘cannibalistic’ characteristics are not excluded.
Processes in Socias’s work involve the use of collage, he appropriates and manipulates his own and other people’s objects and images, using materials from his living and working environment, and even his own works and the photographic archive documenting his artistic output as raw material for the generation of new works.
A work is its own process.
Socías’s works usually refer back to previous works, and a subtle link of dependency forms between them, revealing a long process of gestation.
When the complexity of these developments is viewed in perspective one sees exactly the meaning and significance progressively acquired by his new works; it is a bit like studying the requirements of a digestive process.
In the nineteen-seventies and part of the eighties Antoni Socías worked in the field of painting. In those years his reflective and analytical disposition led to experimental projects such as Silenci Bàsic (Basic Silence), a pictorial installation in a number of coves in Majorca where, in the company of a group of friends, he painted some of the most emblematic rocks of the landscape. The painting represented a progressive path towards silence in the face of nature, and from then on it became the terrain for an investigation in which the main tool was to be photography. One project crucial to this development was to be Resnou (NothingNew, 1989) undertaken in collaboration with the photographer Luís Pérez Mínguez on a journey that both made across the United States. The result was a huge photographic fresco, a journal of a surrealist journey made up of diptychs in which images of disparate but complementary meaning and significance were fitted together. Photography began to be integrated into painting, and painting into photography, stressing the idea of accretion. Parallel open cycles of ironic and humorous images emerged that contained a large dose of criticism, grouped under the incisive yet ambiguous title Escenas costumbristas (Costumbrist Scenes), which moreover refer back to Socias’s photographic work of the seventies.
The creative process explains the work, and perhaps because it constitutes one of the most substantial aspects of the work itself, it ends up integrated into and confused with it.
The creative process is thus a vital part of the perceptive climax which allows us to penetrate the intentions and attitudes contained within a work.
The creative process enables the artist to share the light and shade of the creative moment with the spectator. It enables us to speak about art, but also and above all about life, without a gulf of separation or dissociation forming between them. The creative process reflects life. And like life, a work accumulates imprints, leftovers, objects and memories. Forty Seven + 1 (1996), stretching over a length of 30 metres, is a kind of log of the materials which served to supply a creative process which served to supply a creative process which is at once the subject and the work.
This piece was prefigured by One Hundred (1998-1995), in which the artist offers a systematic daily record of materials and references spread over a series of one hundred identically-sized sheets of paper.
Media are mixed in the works of Antoni Socias because each idea has its own vehicle of expression. Thus various media providing the desired registers may be not only alternated and used simultaneously but also interwoven and integrated into a single work. Media range from painting, photography, objets trouvés, sculpture and installations… to the short story. As occurs for example in 99 cacahuetes y mi madrina (99 Peanuts and My Godmother, 1997), in which 99 images of this nut are accompanied by 99 stories, which describe processes of sensibility in everyday contexts. These stories bear the distinctive influence of Italo Calvino in terms of the perspective that characterises their outlook. Moreover, the stories reflect a viewpoint parallel to Escenas costumbristas, in a contrast in which they represent respectively the analysis and synthesis of an outlook which is both uninhibited and, above all, committed to humour.
No language competes which any other and no hierarchies are established; on the contrary, diversity complements itself.
The creative process reveals two antagonistic but ultimately reconciled principles: ordering chaos, and introducing chaos into order. For example, Justificación derecha (Right Hand Justification, 1998) orders the remains of the creative process, discarded materials left over from other works, as a text or a vast visual poem.
Chabola (Shack, 1989) is a piece that anticipates later process-centered methodologies: the photograph is partially covered by pieces of wood from its own packing crate that prevent the eye taking in the image and thereby ensure that the work is perceived as an object.
The temporal and unlimited aspect of accumulation in the creative process provides a great density of significance and meanings, defining the open nature of a work. Open essentially vis-à-vis itself.
Antoni Socías creates a plastic discourse wholly devoted to his own work by means of a cannibalistic and self-cannibalising procedure. Just as life absorbs, integrates and devours stimuli, perceptions, sensations and objects, his artistic process integrates all these materials plastically from a starting point of formal diversity. The creative process in his works takes on the body of another work via its remains and discarded fragments. It is a recycling of what is left over. But the finished work also becomes the material and metaphor for an unending process of relentless self-cannibalising. Like Saturn devouring his sons, Antoni Socías destroys paintings and photographs to recompose, on the basis of their fragments and leftovers, new works in a new order. This method gave rise to 2034 cuadrados (2034 Squares, 1994-1995), made up of 2034 squares measuring 10 x 10 cm taken from pictures executed over the ten previous years and restructured in 8 panels; and Emiliano (1997) consisting of 12 panels made out of fragments of exercises and charcoal drawings produced during his time at the Barcelona Academy of Fine Arts.
In Slides & Sheep / Second Life (1978-1998) slides from the artist’s personal archive (originals, duplicates and spares) conceal and reveal photos and works on paper which are a backdrop for a collage of white, black and grey slide frames. The fragments form a palimpsest.
Nothing escapes Antoni Socías’s compulsive voracity: destruction always entails construction and creation. A metaphor for the artist’s cannibalistic attitudes is offered by Maquinaria (Machinery, 1986), two ground-level sculptures representing great toothed mouths, open and ready to devour all that may fall into their jaws.
Antoni Socías’s ‘cannibalistic’ attitudes proceed on two levels, both closely related to the artistic process. On one hand, he cannibalises references from the outside world, from life (from his experience) and from contemporary culture, integrating procedures, techniques and media, along with materials, visual and theoretical perspectives and images, which are then voraciously devoured and recycled in a complex intestinal process. On the other hand, he sets out to cannibalise his own work, destroying it in order to recreate it in an unending process which is ultimately the key to his work: accumulation, density, recycling and self-cannibalising.
Some of these attitudes are described metaphorically and expressed in the form of irreverent aphorisms in the zany cartoon story El hombre que se comió a sí mismo, y lo que pasó dentro (The Man Who Ate Himself, and What Happened Inside) by the cartoonist Pere Joan, a long-standing friend of Antoni Socías. The story tells how a man sets out to systematically eat himself, piece by piece. First his fingers, then his toes, an arm, his legs… until he finally eats himself up. Scenes in which the character eats himself and simultaneously ponders on what is happening run parallel to events in his stomach as the various parts of his body arrive to be digested. His gastric juices reflect on the contradictions of having to break down and absorb parts of their own body, and the self-cannibal adds asides of a philosophical nature. Cannibalism, even as a metaphor, can represent a way of life, a way of learning.
‘Know yourself… eat yourself,’ says ‘the man who ate himself’ to his image in the mirror. Antoni Socías operates by devouring himself to construct and simultaneously dismantle his work, in order to carry to its logical conclusion an analysis which enables him to get to know more thoroughly the reality he experiences and to understand why it is precisely as it is. ‘We are what we eat,’ our self-cannibal character says once again, but inevitably we eat, we devour, what we become, that is one of the basic rules of the cannibalistic spirit. Socías turns upon himself with almost onanistic persistence, but he is not a nave-gazer. Quite the opposite: his objectives seem to lead to a breaking down of any self-worship and to an artist’s self-criticism and permanent dissatisfaction vis-à-vis his work. When a work turns on itself, on its past, on its process, it acquires a reflective density rich in significance and open to many possible readings. This form of self-cannibalising seems to contradict one of the first aphorisms of Oswald de Andrade’s Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibalistic Manifesto): ‘I am only interested in what is mine. The Law of man. The Law of the cannibal.’ However, Antoni Socías is equally interested in ‘what is mine’ and ‘what is not mine.’ Such a refined taste for devouring oneself entails having learnt to devour others, to voraciously devour reality.
Originally published in the exhibition catalogue
Antoni Socías. España en la XXIV Bienal Internacional de São Paulo in 1988.
CONCEALMENT: Drawings and Paintings
MIXED MEDIA FOR CONCEALMENT
Chabola (Shack) was initially conceived as a photographic piece. It is a portrait of a young monk Buddhist taken by the artist on a trip to Asia. Entitled Monje budista (Buddhist Monk), it was part of a three-pieces series which treated clichéd images from advertising, postcards or photographs for tourism. The obviousness of the image prompted Antoni Socías to use leftovers from the piece’s packing case to partially conceal the photograph: the face is fully covered while a few fragments of clothing remain visible. The uninformed spectator cannot guess the work’s ‘subject,’ but the photographic texture can be appreciated. The pieces of wood form a precarious shelter, a shack to cover identity. In this work ‘accretion’ is applied in a paradigmatic way and serves as a point of departure for accumulation, superposition and density, later to be reworked towards other objectives and contents.
Text by Santiago Olmo, published in the exhibition catalogue
Antoni Socías. España en la XXIV Bienal Internacional de São Paulo, 1998.
CONCEALMENT IN VOLUME
Laying on of Hands
My other self with certain contradictions >> Stemming, in this case, from the Confusion of the Minds)
Activities integrated into the macro-process titled En la confusión de las mentes (Amid a Confusion of the Minds) situated in a Quixotic period where, as a result of unease and frustration, the artist projected certain idealistic social projection procedures with the objective of addressing the reigning confusion. Good-natured therapeutic storylines for simple, confused and/or corrupted minds: an imposition of hands, acupuncture, poultices, bleeding, transfusions.
The fragment as method
Processes in Socías’s work involve the use of collage, he appropriates and manipulates his own and other people’s objects and images, using materials from his living and working environment, and even his own works and the photographic archive documenting his artistic output as raw material for the generation of new works.
Santiago Olmo, ‘Context for a Feast,’ in Antoni Socías,
España en la xxiv Bienal de São Paulo, 1998
Antoni Socías is an artist difficult to classify. Neither painter nor photographer, he has been deeply involved with both media since the nineteen-seventies. For Socías, the medium is not the message; rather the medium is deployed as process, the image being the result or trace of a wide range of heterodox practices taking us also beyond both of these media towards sculpture and installation. His work can be related to the international proposals of post-minimal art, process and installation from Bruce Nauman and Richard Tuttle to Eva Hesse. Of his contemporaries, his work may be likened to Perejaume and Ignasi Aballí, two Catalan artists who engage and deconstruct painting and its rhetoric.
Socías may also be related to the neo-conceptual tendencies starting in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, as he seeks out modes to question any kind of naive form of representation. But here the comparison stops, for he equally interrogates the tropes of avant-gardism and conceptualism, and clearly rejects any simplistic recycling of the past.
Looking back to the historical avant-gardes, some Spanish historians have posed the problem of a ‘false modernity’ or ‘false avant-gardism.’ Endlessly repeated and recycled gestures to the avant-garde legacy may result in a formulaic and vacuous form of pseudo-avant-gardism, this problem being even exaggerated with the so-called ‘neo-avant-gardes’ of the last thirty years.
So what is the authentic essence of the avant-garde? It was at once critical and self-critical. Most importantly it demolished all forms of naive representation, sought to destroy them and in their stead proposed the abolishment of the distinction and distance implicit in representation: abolishing the distinction between subject and object, representation and represented, figuration and abstraction, art and life. Artistic, or more correctly poetic, activity would be understood as a form of life, a tool in the practice of life. It would not have been distant, nor would it be a commodity.
Collage was an instrument in both the demolishing of the barriers between representation and model, subject and object, and the means to compose and construct a new form of poetic activity contiguous with, and indeed made out of, fragments of reality. The found object, similarly, could be deployed within the work of art meaning that reality fragments commingled with other elements more typically associated with art or painting or sculpture. In this way, a new and radical artistic practice was proposed in the past.
The poetic mode of practice similarly understood the importance of photography, not as the subject documenting an external and distinct reality, but as a means of collapsing the distance between the subject and the world.
These were the strategies principally of the surrealists led by the French poet André Breton, who, for example, sometimes deployed photography in his idiosyncratic narratives, not as instruments or illustrations reinforcing linear narratives, but as visual intrusions of a highly enigmatic nature into the flow of words with the aim of introducing a sense of the unusual and mysterious. In this way, with Breton, both image and text were destabilised. And so, too, did Max Ernst deploy language and collage in a similar manner in his celebrated ‘collage novels.’
Antoni Socías may be placed within the lineage of this authentic avant-garde and in opposition to the false reworking of avant-gardist tropes circulating in the art market, processes which have led to the increasing commodification of the art object as commercial speculation. By no means a marginal figure, Socías has had major solo exhibitions in a variety of important national and international contexts, including the prestigious Bienal de São Paulo (1998).
As a Majorcan artist, he of course was aware of the important model of Joan Miró, a figure of reference for any artist growing up on the island in the nineteen-seventies. Miró embodied a sense of poetic coherence, the need for constant renovation of his practice and a bold rejection of painting understood as an object of commercial speculation. This Miró summed up in his proclaimed desire ‘to murder painting,’ a position which led him to work in a wide variety of media and propose the fabrication of works of a high poetic value intended to be difficult or impossible to assimilate into the nascent art market of the nineteen-sixties and seventies. This took the extreme form of burning or slashing a number of his canvases. What was important for Miró was the poetic value of the work of art as a testament to the trajectory of the man. In this sense he observed that ‘art can die,’ its value being in its capacity to communicate poetry.
Socías is an artist who breaks down distinctions. He also works through problems of pictorial practice through series of works often revisited over several years. In this sense, there are no clear phases but groups of parallel activities, explorations, problems which he addresses over time. He has explored both figurative and abstract modes of presentation simultaneously. In the mid nineteen-eighties, he produced a series of figurative paintings executed in a painterly mode and presented in the exhibition Silenci bàsic (Barcelona, Palma, Madrid, 1985). But painting was not his only concern from the beginning, and he consequently confronts photography with painting. In both media, at least since the late nineteen-eighties, images are repeated or multiplied in variations (photographic diptychs and triptychs; the cut-out dot paintings with lines etc.), destablising their sense of uniqueness (Antoni Socías, Galería René Metras, Barcelona, 1989). In this sense all modes of representation come into question. Following this line Socías has also produced identical paintings, thereby challenging the uniqueness of the medium.
In his series Madre pintura [Mother Painting] (Madre pintura, Galería René Metras, Barcelona, 2002), Socías verges on addressing the problem of abstraction as an alternate form of representation. These images are produced through a controlled, but chance-derived process, which is then bracketed by the framing and presentation of the piece. Abstraction is presented as equally problematic as painterly realism through both the repetitive technique deployed to produce the image and the manner of framing which in some cases disrupts our relationship with the image, placing physical bars blocking our visual access to it. The framing mechanism at its extreme takes use towards something dimensional like sculpture or installation. Yet painting is both the problem and the solution. As Margaret Metras observed in 2002: ‘Mother Painting could in some way be considered a tribute to painting (the great mother of all this artist’s processes), the origin of a life devoted to art and the background of the plan concocted around it. In this sense, Mother Painting deals with this very subject, painting, although it doesn’t strive to find solutions in painting but from painting, using it as the raw material of a development that transcends metalinguistic discourse which, in principle, is foreseeable.’ Here Socías confronts painting in terms which recall certain works of Gerhard Richter, Juan Uslé or Luis Gordillo, though their respective confrontations are often made from within painting, while Socías seeks to go beyond painting. As with Miró, painting is challenged to transform into something else, an ever-changing form of hybrid practice akin to Nietzsche’s metaphor of the child building elaborate castles with stones only to overturn them, the structure being not permanence but an ephemeral trace of a poetic moment (Birth of Tragedy, 1872).
Socías also proposes to challenge our relationship with nature through a process involving collage and photography. For example, consider his series Cabeza de hombre, cuerpo de cocodrilo (Man’s Head, Cocodrile’s Body, 1992), where painting —in this case in the form of a detailed use of watercolour— is mixed with photography. Here a new taxonomy is proposed approximating the world of man with that of the living world of nature. Man is no longer the omniscient observer and classifier of nature, but another fragment within the natural world.
A general strategy in the work of Socías is the fragmenting and multiplication of images and presentation of images within framed grids. Here the unity of the image, whatever its nature, is challenged, as is the nature of the process of scientific classification. New orders, ever more indirect, are proposed. Earlier works are reproduced and fragmented and represented in a new manner as in Forty Seven + 1 and 2034 cuadrados (both 1994-1995). Such works can be understood under the concept of what Socías calls ‘accretions.’ Rachel Weiss explains this methodology in terms of the use of ‘the process of art as the process of thinking’ (Antoni Socias, Casal Solleric, Palma, Majorca, 1999).
Socías’s capacity to explore a wide range of materials, methods and techniques is not motivated by some naive view of the wonders of technology, a dangerous discourse so prevalent at the moment. Will apps and mobile handsets really solve all of humanities’ dilemmas, or are they new instruments of commercial domination and instruments of totalitarian control? Indeed, the problem of technology is not a new one. It is a problem of man and cannot be solved through technology (part of the problem), but through a science of man, that is, self-critical thinking and philosophy. Socías proposes a poetic method which retains a high degree of self-criticism, not as mere rational technique but as a means of addressing the human subject. His series TV Drawings (Galería Altair, Palma, Majorca, 2003), for example, present our relationship with technology as problematic, and they are a complex plea for the artist and spectator/reader to ‘salvar nuestras mentes’ (save our minds).
Increasingly, over recent years, Socías fragments not only the image borrowed from photography, but he fragments and recomposes all manner of his own images, fusing them with other images. In this sense, he cannibalises and re-cannibalises his own work. There is an anthropological turn in this work in which not only the external is assimilated into the subject, but the subject consumes itself, forming a new unity. As the surrealists had proposed to destroy the dualism of a problematic rationality (René Descartes), so they offered a new unity understood as a monad. Eating the object is a way of metaphorically incorporating it into the subject. The subject was a part of the world. Barriers were eradicated. Poetry was composed in the mouth. Language was not a question of a hated grammar, but of spontaneous speech. Language and eating are here situated in the mouth. This was a solution proposed by writers as varied as Tristan Tzara, Antonin Artaud and Michel Leiris, the latter a professional anthropologist. Similarly collage, ephemeral by its nature, composed a new and spontaneous form of communication in the world and offered a model for the generation of language.
As Santiago Olmo has noted (in an essay he wrote for the exhibition catalogue Antoni Socías. España en la xxiv Bienal Internacional de São Paulo, 1998), ‘Antoni Socías operates by devouring himself in order to construct and simultaneously dismantle his work, in order to carry to its logical conclusion an analysis which enables him to get to know more thoroughly the reality he experiences and to understand why it is precisely as it is.’ Indeed, Socías proposes a series of processes which are indirect, enigmatic, hidden, mysterious—all techniques to approach the world and engage the viewer as a part of the world, not as a mere observer of life. The object and the world are objects of desire, imbued with both erotic valence and gustatory desire. Again for Olmo, ‘When a work turns on itself, on its past, on its process, it acquires a reflective density rich in significance and open to many possible readings.’ The artwork is dense, complex and full of multiple meanings, to the point of being so full of meaning that only with time do we begin to engage with its reading. Importantly, Socias insists on the element of time, and the possibility of significance. His practice is at once positive (proposing the possibility of complex meaning) and negative (resisting simple readings), but it is active and visceral.
In his exhibition Mi otro yo con algunas contradicciones (Es Baluard, Palma, Majorca, 2011) Socias worked collaboratively with the African-Spanish artist Caramo Fanta. The result went beyond the summation of two bodies of work, but proposed a kind of fusion of artistic selves. And more, the exhibition proposed, through various strategies, the erasure of the distance of the photographer from the object/model. Following on the ideas of self-cannibalism, Socías and Fanta proposed a questioning of the isolated subject or self as constructed by rationality. Their radical interrogation of pictorial practice, instead proposed an intense fusion with the world, one based on disruption and paradox, techniques of destabilisation which propose life as the solution of the problem proposed by the Western convention of art.
The importance of satellites
(Replications, divisions and accumulation)
In its early stages, this work was baptized El número 2 (Number 2) because it essentially puts forward reasonable doubts regarding leadership. Because it creates uncertainty and generates mistrust on the figure of the genius and on brilliance, granting our atavistic dependency of the praised the status of disease. Because it places the action in the periphery and not in the centre. Because with determination, it describes our collective cervical pain after having spent an eternity with our necks twisted around towards the summit of the pyramid, from where the guidelines are issued, the milk flows, the canons are defined, and the measures are determined.
In La importancia de los satélites (The Importance of Satellites) there is a use that is as daring as it is shameless of the classic concept of artwork, by promoting the replication and the derivation of the art object, historically blessed as unique, whether it is a paragraph, a painting, and installation, a film, or a building. Outside the tangible results, my categorical intention is to grant an effective importance to all that its plot line structure entails, to the frame of the purposes. I put forward double and multiple pictorial objectives under the deontological shelter of a dense conceptual proposal of cohesion. We could deduce, therefore, that the poetry of division is the intrinsic—emotional—state of thought.
The value of the passing of time and its rhythmic consumption are an essential part of that creation process. And, in this new measurement of existence, I have tried to recover patient method painting as a projection and the legitimate testimony of renewed intimate pleasures. In this orbit, I research aesthetic and philosophical parallelisms, using ‘my other self’ as raw material to gradually discover the intensity of that which is lateral, the value of that which is adjacent, the convenience of that which borders, the category of that which is tangential, the greatness of that which is annex, or the prestige of all that which is attached. Similarly, I seek to delve into the reality of double personality, of double morality, of the double faces and of the dark side of the moon.
In the works of Antoni Socías there has always been a certain obsession with otherness and replication: in the duplication or multiplication of images as a viewing system (Ípticos [Iptychs, 1978-2012]), in the asymmetrical scale relationship between two photographs, two paintings, or two connected objects (Madre-Hija [Mother-Daughter, 1973-2011]), or in the repetition of fragments from two previous paintings as a permanent way of self-critical recycling (Hambre Directa [Highway to Hunger, 1991]).
El número 2 (Number 2), a series that focuses on painting, on the friction between the photographic image and pictorial representation, and on a reconsideration of figurative language from the absence of narration, poses a turn of the screw for something that had already been questioned in his work and related to duplication: the idea of the original and its conflicting relationship with a copy or double.
The questioning of the original in painting places its own character on hold, but perhaps it is not a feasible solution to establish a process for reproducibility or print editing in the (mechanical) photographic style.
The nature of the pictorial original is based on the fact that it is the result of a process, firstly, while the copy is the product of a process, secondly.
El número 2 poses two parallel and simultaneous processes. The identity of the two paintings tends towards exactness, brush stroke after brush stroke. The same brush stroke goes from one painting to another. The gesture, the colour, the light, or the forms tend to be the same and, almost at the same time, both paintings are the product of the same process.
Sometimes the features of the mediums change, but the sizes stay the same.
Original and copy dissolve into a replication that is necessary and unique with stereoscopic vision.
November, twenty twelve. Thursday the twenty-fifth, at four in the afternoon. An exhibition hall in Palma. A man of apparent standing walks in, accompanied by a small entourage who look like they are hanging on his every word to applaud his witticisms; in short, hangers-on. They walk a little further into the hall. Craning his neck, the would-be leader type turns his head through one hundred and eighty degrees and proclaims, with a degree of contempt, so as to ensure that his stance is crystal clear, even without paying attention to the objects on display: Figurative! Having said his piece, like a stage actor he draws a haughty gesture with his entire body and does an about turn. Murmuring among themselves, the retinue follow in his steps.
Iptychs is not a science, but it behaves as such, dealing with everything that is related to art works made in—or up of—parts: diptychs, triptychs, etc. As a general rule, they develop sets of dependent associations, twinned antagonisms, mother/daughter-style carnal dualities, modified repetitions and simulations in stereo (one main element plus two auxiliary ones at the sides, as in the formal mechanics of classical stereo systems). This kind of creative conception seeks to emphasize the need to associate images, to express in plastic terms that, in the developed vision of a drop-down folder, we can find the definitive solution to our reductionist traumas of the work of art.
When I was a child in the town where I was born, and where I only lived sporadically, I was told by my close relatives, over and over and with a certain degree of awe, that on our same street there lived a boy that was identical to me. I never doubted it, because they insisted on the matter so much during all those years. Just like me, he did not live right on Malferits street. He appeared and disappeared, spending days and short periods of time in the ground floor of number twelve. There was no way of making his stays and mine coincide, so I could never find out what that boy looked like, nor what his real relationship with the mentioned domicile was. Years later I happened to meet him on the opposite end of the island, when we both sported long hair and bushy beards. Although he looked quite similar, I was convinced that he was not my actual reproduction, nor was I his, contrary to what I had been led to believe both by my grandparents and my godmother.
It shares with Íptica (Iptychs) that it is a tangential superstructure for my entire work, but it differs from it in that it can be considered a work process in itself. We could say that it has a vocation of its own in the physical plane, outside of the philosophy that supports it.
Madre-Hija (Mother-Daughter): work process that began in 1973. It systematically reproduces the pattern of two pieces that share a space forming an asymmetrical diptych with two pictorial, sculptural or photographic elements—consanguineous—within one same work. Indeed, interdependence is the structural factor—the philosophy that supports the series, diluting the probable prominence of a hypothetical unique or central piece.
Share. Delegate. Cooperate. Distribute. Coincide. Accompany. Ration.
DIVISIONS ON VIDEO
DIVISIONS iN Volume
A conversation in SA CABANETA
santiago olmo and antoni socías
¿Dónde puede refugiarse un hombre que piensa de verdad, en este mundo presuntamente real, si no se defiende de la estupidez mediante el ejercicio constante del equívoco?
Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandra Quartet – Balthazar, 1958
To gain an in-depth understanding of Antoni Socías’ work, we also need to listen to his voice and hear how he situates his work, wherein we find a disturbing blend between art and life. What happens in personal, artistic or public experiences, in some manner also appears in his work, though in no way do we encounter the classic autobiographic tone: there is above all a performative sense of life which translates into art, and perhaps vice versa, too, as one thing and another are so intermingled that they become virtually indistinguishable. The narration of these vicissitudes occasionally emerges in projects such as 99 cacahuetes y una madrina (99 Peanuts and a Godmother, 1990-1995), in which each photograph corresponds to a story (even though they appeared in exhibitions as booklets for consultation, they were never published in a volume), and in Resnou (NothingNEW) (1989), where writing plays a fundamental role, as a sort of travelogue running in parallel to the images, without the latter illustrating it as such: between them, they simply form a whole. When, back in 2014, we started work on the project which would eventually give rise to this exhibition, his book La comodidad puede matar (Comfort Can Kill) was being published (in the La Cara Oculta collection from Los Sentidos Ediciones, the Rafael Ortiz Gallery in Seville’s publishing company, which specialises in the writings of plastic artists). This books includes 68 short stories on art and, to a certain degree, constitutes a narrative supplement to Teoría del desierto (Theory of the Desert), which is conceived more strictly as a critical manifesto, as a treatise structured into aphorisms, or as a philosophical-artistic poem on the system of art and the vices and perversions thereof. If Teoría del desierto maintains a certain allegorical, cryptic climate tending to describe from a technical-scientific perspective (or more strictly, philosophical, since in a certain way it alludes to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, on the structure of which it is inspired), La comodidad puede matar (Comfort Can Kill) is developed as a space of human comedy, of manners scenes which can and must be read with a musical accompaniment suggested by the artist-author at the end of each chapter. All of these texts have constituted a line parallel to the conversations we had while working on this exhibition in Madrid, in Santiago and, above all, in his studio in Sa Cabaneta on Mallorca. In these fragments of conversation we have left aside a number of important matters, such as a certain vision of Africa which has brought us together over these years and which, more recently, we have shared with Caramo Fanta. But this connection was the object of an exhibition which comes with its own publication and which almost constitutes a separate project: Mi otro yo con algunas contradicciones (My Other Self with Certain Contradictions), exhibited in the Es Baluard Museum, in Palma, Majorca, 2011.
Santiago Olmo- I’d like to start right at the beginning, addressing the initial stage of your training. What led you decide to become an artist?
Antoni Socías- When I started to realise that I wanted to be an artist, at my father’s suggestion I enrolled for a CEAC course in drawing and painting. The old man felt that I had to sign up for one of those correspondence courses, which were so popular at the end of the seventies. That was when I really started. I was thirteen, and my hand and brain started to work in a different way under the basic guidance I received from those people. Then I started studying biology, which I abandoned after a year, as I wasn’t paying attention. Nor did I study at home, and I devoted my free time and evenings to painting. I didn’t really know where to start. Nor was I particularly interested in artistic training, as in my teachers I had seen the frustration of yearning to be an artist and ending up as a mere art teacher. At that time, the degree you got in Fine Arts was that of art teacher, not like now. They basically trained you to give art classes in primary schools, high schools, or wherever, in academies… My father explained to me there is more to life than simply amassing knowledge and taking it in; the important thing is the setting in which you live and whom you associate with. He convinced me to go to an art academy. At that time, he was very ill and, taking advantage of one of the journeys he made every couple of months to see Doctor Vilardell in Barcelona, we toured the city, visiting academies, and I eventually enrolled in one, with a view to conscientiously preparing for my entry in the School of Fine Arts. To me it all seemed like a world drawn from the nineteenth century, nothing like what I was expecting, although it is also true that it was interweaved with the vibrant setting of the conceptual moment. Particularly through the students in the upper years, who already had one foot out of the school and who were looking into new forms of art. In short, a brutal upheaval. Ultimately, I learned much more in the school’s corridors and in the street, right in front of the school itself, than in class, despite also having learned lots of things.
SO- What was the atmosphere you experienced during that stage in the School of Fine Arts like? What was the artistic atmosphere that enveloped you in Barcelona like? And that of Majorca?
AS- The artistic atmosphere was directly related to the political setting. Most of us were activists in our own way, in addition to which there was always an ongoing artistic discussion. Politics and art were so intertwined that I found it hard to gauge where the boundaries between both worlds lay. We lived the last throes of Francoism… and we would meet as much to visit exhibitions as to bait the police, in addition to political awareness, for the pure pleasure of screwing with them making them really sweat. If they didn’t arrest you it was marvellous—a pure adrenalin rush. A cousin of mine showed us the marble trick: you’d throw them at their horses, when they came for us, and then all hell would be let loose.
SO- In any case, in Barcelona you lived with a group of friends, many of whom were from Majorca, weren’t they?
AS- Yeah. That’s right. And there were a few of us from the sphere of art: some, such as, Pere Joan moved towards the comic; others, such as Menéndez Rojas and Miquel Barceló, towards painting. I also had other friends from my studies in the Science Faculty in Palma de Mallorca, such as Francisco Riera, Basilio Baltasar and Vicente Mir. During the Fine Arts stage in Barcelona I kept close tabs on what was going on in Mallorca, since I would go back often, particularly in summer and at Christmas. Midway through the seventies, I joined Tomeu Cabot’s group, Taller Llunàtic, which published Neon de Suro, a compendium of monographs in the form of a newspaper, an artistic product on new trends and which transcended the boundaries of the island, reaching as far afield as Paris and New York. Actually, I got started in conceptual art with them, under their influence, which was truly drastic; they really were radical. Of course not all in the same sense or with the same intensity or dedication, as I would discover with the passing of time. Although for me, coming directly from painting, as I did, the Taller Llunàtic was an awakening of the first order. They introduced me to a revolutionary world, where I learned to re-package my painting and my drawing towards a universe of activism, of pure energy. During those years I also came into contact with other action groups, such as Grup Criada 74. A permanently non-conformist terrain, which had many offshoots. We travelled a lot, particularly to Catalonia, where there was more artistic vibrancy, thanks to its proximity to Europe. We participated in fairs of all kinds, we set up stands: it was a highly vibrant world and we lived it intensely. We used to work a lot.
SO- One of the most specific features of your work is probably the range of working methodologies and the way in which you move from certain registers to others, as well as the alternation of techniques. Your starting point is painting, but you couldn’t strictly be pigeon-holed as a painter.
AS- I am a painter; I trained as a painter, and I still consider myself to be a painter. For me, painting is… I don’t know… why kid ourselves, it’s my passion. At the level of both perceiving and feeling it on the basis of classical and modern works, and of practising and meditating on it. I have always been aware of that. Owing to a type of overriding need, over the years I have repeatedly had to return to painting, to convince myself that I have not lost my ability. I love painting; its like someone who has a love and knows that that love is life-long. I also fight against it; but above all, I fight with it and for it. A contradiction in itself, I know; and also a contradiction to be developed with assurances from the more contemporary world, which for the last forty or fifty years has been avoiding painting like the plague. Complete nonsense, but which for me works like a dream. I believe that you have to work with everything available to you, because the wider the spectrum, the richer the results can be. Not always, clearly, but by nature, the more you have, the more you can reject, and the more intense the internal debate will be. That’s basically how I see it. I am also aware that at times painting comes up short for me as… let’s say that my cultural baggage is growing and I need to move in other registers. I realised that at times I would try to mimic a photograph with a painting, and evidently that wasn’t what I should have been doing. Then I stopped and I said: ‘You’ve got to learn how to photograph the things you need and in the way you need them at each moment.’ On that basis, I chose the path of photography, but never in a professional sense. And when I was already working with it, I realised that photography was only a means, not an end in itself. I proceeded in the same way with volume, writing and video.
SO- Nonetheless, you have used photography since the outset, from very early in your career. It’s difficult to establish a moment when you started to work…
AS- I would set an initiatory moment in 1987. When I said to myself ‘you’re already working in photography!,’ it was with Memoria de especie (Memory of the Species), the first work I published seriously, the first work on which I could reflect, and the first which I exhibited publicly and launched around the world. I’d been working in photography as an amateur for around ten years. I trained during that period until, on the basis of that work, I felt that I had just mapped out a future course. Of course, it hasn’t been one-way traffic; it’s integrated with all the other paths of my overall career. During the same period, I also discovered that there were certain things in my painting that didn’t necessarily have to be painting, and that the essence thereof was volume. My notion of volume is more conceptual than physical or organic, in the sense of designing pieces to adorn roundabouts, squares, streets or interiors, which is, to a great extent, the purview of conventional sculpture. No, I don’t think about all that paraphernalia of staging; I think more about objects… as highly characteristic of my own everyday use; gadgets for exercising the possibilities of the mind. They are usually small or medium-sized objects that have more to do with the world of ideas than the world of volume per se. They are a prolongation of my conceptual feeling, of my way of viewing the world through shapes. The same is true with painting: I detected that some of the things I wanted to say needed to be expressed through writing. Then I set painting aside and I set myself the goal of learning how to write. I spent a few years studying, reading with a view to learning, examining how writers handle certain parameters and strategies, how they do it, how they can focus on the same thing from different perspectives, and then I started to engage in the mechanics of writing, with the aim of being able to channel certain types of energy within another developmental structure.
SO- Is that the work you are doing with 99 cacahuetes y una madrina, a project in which each photograph of a peanut corresponds to a story?
AS- Yes. I gradually channelled my learnings of writing into a specific work: a compendium of autobiographical short stories, based on humour, perturbation, negation, on the basis of many of the essential themes we touch on in this exhibition.
SO- I would like to digress again on this topic, which is the manner in which, within your methodologies, there appears a certain performative impulse, in the shape of a performance and that also appears through certain photographs from the late seventies and early eighties, a stage prior to that which you set as the moment when you started to do photography. I’m thinking about those images with a nun’s headdress and a beard, in underpants, they are like sporadic apparitions which I feel have a lot to do with…
AS- Yeah. But they’ve got much more to do with my positioning as an artist. They are self-portraits taken by a professional photographer, not by me; more specifically, a photographer with whom I’ve had a number of authorship problems owing to certain images. He was a very well positioned photographer, with a studio which, at the beginning of the eighties, was already performing well and on all levels, and to whom I dared to say that those negatives were mine. I told him that he’d merely pressed the button following the instructions that I had given him, because at the time I still didn’t possess the notions of photographic cuisine, or a professional photographic team in order to be able to take those self-portraits. I’m talking about the self-portrait as nun appearing on the cover of my first exhibition in the Sala Pelaires, and which stemmed from a childhood frustration of mine; and also about the self-portrait as a bullfighter, appearing in the same publication. As a bullfighter, yeah, because at the beginning of my career I had already begun to sense that the artist was a type of public figure who entered the bullring to confront the most varied situations that can come about in his trade. I also dressed up as a bullfighter to assert my more caricatural side, overacting as an artist, because I have never liked to see my colleagues portrayed in those quintessentially nineteenth-century poses of ‘me in my studio, me showing how I work and all that clap-trap: me, me and my little postures.’ To pose as a bullfighter, I took by inspiration from Camilo José Cela’s book Toreo de salón, with photos by Maspons and Ubiña. I worked with the photographer from Palma on different postures for a few days, before doing the session. Book in hand, we imitated postures and tried other new ones, but we always looked totally ridiculous, through ignorance I imagine. And the fact is, the poses had always been done and redone, and there was nothing left to invent. It was like a reaction of the self and the self as an artist, mediated by artists, all the others, who always tried to appear good-looking, with king-hell studios, with their wonderful gestural movements, with their kick-ass tools and materials, their… In short, matters of this type are all repeated on a daily basis and—to my way of thinking—will continue to be repeated for centuries to come. The fact remains that the great themes of Humanity are immutable.
SO- From here on, I understand that there is also that point of performance, or representation, of taking the situations to representation even in the absurd. For me, it has to do with performance and with a certain idea of the surreal, of contradictions, of the paradoxical, of the ludicrous.
AS- It’s been said many times about me, but I’m not aware of being a surrealist. What I do believe, however, is that the world around me is totally surreal. I’m simply here to capture what I find before me. How can they see me as a surrealist, having what I have before my eyes? Now that is surrealism, not my work. In short, absurd. For me, surrealism is the treatment of the absurd from a poetic perspective… and from many more points of view; an enriching treatment of the absurd. No, I don’t consider myself a surrealist. In fact, and by way of an example to illustrate this controversy, I remind you that above my thirteen Personajes meditando sobre la locura (Characters Meditating on Madness) I printed the phrase ‘Certified non-surrealist proposition’ And I did that deliberately, tired of hearing the same old dirge; and I underscored it strongly for the second time using a sign alphabet: ‘I swear by my balls, this is a certified non-surrealist proposition.’
SO- Not even as an influence?
AS- As an influence, yeah, of course. Magritte is… I’d even sleep with Magritte. But not with Dalí, I wouldn’t; I don’t trust Dalí too much. Magritte has been my spiritual guide for many years. Oscar Domínguez was too. They are artists who have been highly present throughout my life.
SO- Nonetheless, this aspect, let’s say, of the ludicrous, comes across strongly in your use of video, for example.
AS- But the influence on me from surrealism is through the essential need to assimilate a means or form of perturbation. Surrealism arose from a determined moment and was rapidly transformed into an opening towards mental activism, because it was out of control and beyond all known frameworks. A tectonic, structural moment, which shook everything to its foundations. ‘Fuck, how can they represent things like that?, I repeatedly asked myself when I discovered this marvellous world.’
SO- What I was mentioning to you about video. Video is probably the medium in which you have implemented that performative matter, but more from perspective. The perspective that there is in many of your videos is an extreme view of situations, of things, and it has a lot to do with a certain notion of new documentalism.
AS- Yeah. That’s true, because I like to tell things from start to finish. In general terms, video-art, understood as such, bores me; all those types of work—so common, by the way—whose aim, with their parsimony and circumspection, is to put the spectator to sleep. Even Bill Viola, whom I admire greatly, also bores me at times, perhaps owing to the excessive use of certain professional vices. His work from the early seventies interested me greatly. I learned a lot from him. In fact, he fascinated me. I don’t know why, but now I see those videos and they somehow seem outdated; they no longer fascinate me like they used to when I’d think: ‘That can’t possibly be true.’ In that sense, examples such as Reflecting Pool come to mind, where a guy jumps into a pond but doesn’t fall into the water, he doesn’t fall anywhere. That creative feeling drove my crazy, as it gave rise to an immense feeling of perturbation, which connected directly with the best surrealism. I associated it with situations from Man Ray and also from Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou.
SO- I would like to return to a matter concerning methodology, to gauge to what extent video is currently an essential aspect of your work.
AS- For many years, photography has been for me what drawing is for other artists: an outline, a sketch. The main thing is that, since I discovered photography, I’ve drawn very little. Photography was… Wham!: immediate. Photographic notes, reams of notes, lots of information: formation of line, of perception, of knowledge, of structures which the normal eye doesn’t see and which mine does… All of this can be captured instantaneously, made possible by simply pressing the button.
I started working in video on the basis of my relationship with Luis Pérez-Mínguez, through direct influence. From Luis I learnt how to record certain things which I wouldn’t have thought were important. Our first video together was Resnou (1987). The photograph is still a system for capturing data, along the lines of a note pad, as I was saying, although video prevails in this regard, as it can provide you with much more information than the still photo, owing to the movement of the camera and positional changes of the subjects being filmed.
SO- How did the relationship with Luis Pérez-Mínguez, which you kept up for so many years, come about?
AS- Our relationship got off in an unorthodox way in the library of the Ministry of Future during ARCO. I think it was back in 1982, during one of the first editions of the fair. It was when he had a large exhibition in the National Library in Madrid. And it was very curious, because I found him stealing his own books when I also had one in my hands, just about to shove it under my jacket too. I said to him: ‘Shit, it’s you!,’ and he said: ‘Yeah, it is.’ Plastically it was a beautiful situation, as he had couple of books in his hands, carrying them by the back cover, where you could see a printed photo of him with the same book in his hand, also showing the back cover. Thus creating that type of rush towards infinity of the action itself—real on one hand, and reproduced on the other. And it was just fantastic. From there we went to the cafeteria, and remained friends until he died a few years back.
SO- The first work you did together was Resnou1?
AS- The first work we did together wasn’t strictly speaking Resnou. One day I explained to him that I was going to do a project on still lifes on the road, and that’s when he and I started taking photographs together. The work was mine, but Luis helped me to position it with his own images, since he insisted on doing some of the photos for me, simply because he wanted to get involved in my work, but above all for the pleasure of pressing the button, which was what most loved to do in this world. It was the series Natures Mortes (Still Lifes) with animals killed on roads, which I started back in 1981, although with no specific objective.
Together, Luis and I created a world free of barriers, in which his camera was mine and mine was his, his models were mine and my models were his, and all that, together and thoroughly scrambled, ended up as a melange in which nobody ever know who had done what, although it didn’t really matter. At project level, I worked with him on the idea of Resnou, apart from many other manners themes which interested us more on a purely personal level than on an the expository plane. We were working in Murcia, in Valencia, in La Mancha, in lots of places, capturing images with a view to both of us learning from our new artistic life together.
That day in the Ministry of Culture Library, I began to discover clearly that Luis and I were the same… or almost the same. At least behind the lens, because we had been producing the same photos without having ever met each other. And when I say the same, I mean exactly that: the same. That is, I could have put my signature to his photos, and he could have put his to mine, and if we’d swapped them, nobody would have noticed, except for the models appearing in them. And, of course, we started chatting away, carrying on into the night. The doors closed on ARCO, and the following week he came to Mallorca with Socorro, his wife, and set up in our house, and never stopped coming. The kids started to grow up and they became friends. That is to say, our lives flowed along a natural course. Besides, Luis Pérez-Minguez has meant something very special for me: overcoming my timidity. He was the total opposite of me: he was the total extrovert, self-confidence its purest form, the lack of limits personified. It’s not the case that I’ve gone totally over to his side, I’m still quite a shy guy who weighs things up before doing them, but I learned a lot from his way of jumping fearlessly into the arena: he really helped me to shake off a good number of the vices inherent to my character.
Actually, Resnou is an apotheosis.
SO- How did that project come about?
AS- The project came about when Luis Pérez-Mínguez received a Fulbright Scholarship from the Hispanic-American Joint Committee; he decided to share it with me and we thought about crossing the US from coast to coast. Luis was never one to work with a guidebook, he always did whatever came up, without considering the implications or consequences, diving in head first, like a bull. He was a highly intuitive person, the exact opposite of me: before getting involved in something, I have to have things minimally prepared. Generally speaking, I never walk out into uncertain territory, or hardly ever. I like to have things thought out, worked out well in advance, and the possibilities thereof calculated. Spur-of-the-moment acts are not my type of thing. Perhaps, at a given moment, because I need them to express something specific, but not as a rule.
In the execution of the work an import role is played by chance, the eternal binomial between randomness and need. When we were just about to head off on the journey, at the last moment, in his house in Madrid and with the cases half packed, his five-year-old son, Manu, appeared with two carnival masks: two rubber masks, those you put right over your head. And he said to us: ‘Take these with you, take these… they’ll come in useful.’ I though for a moment and said aloud: ‘Clever lad.’ We heeded his advice and took the masks with us, although during the first fortnight in New York they remained at the bottom of the case. We initially arrived at Juan Ugalde and Patricia Gadea’s house but, as they had no room to put us up, we ended up in Juan Uslé and Vicky Civera’s place. From a creative perspective, New York didn’t really interest us too much. When looking through the viewfinder, everything we saw, we’d already seen before. We got a sense of being lost in time, of wanting to imitate a photo that had already been done, and done very well. So, one night, moving the cases from one pad to another and opening them to put in some things we’d bought, we came across Manuel’s masks and said to each other in unison: ‘That’s the subject matter.’ From then on, we started touring the country, with the masks appearing in absolutely everything.
SO- One a gorilla mask and the other a monster.
AS- Yeah: one was a gorilla mask and the other of a monster.
SO- You assigned each other one of the masks for the entire journey.
AS- Yeah. That’s right. At first I found it difficult, owing to my shyness, but I soon realised that behind the mask marvellous things were happening. People would approach you differently, you’d cheer them up and they’d laugh; a number of really unusual situations would arise. I recall one wonderful moment in the Marriot Hotel Chicago at breakfast. Basically they were all business people, and when we walked into the dining room with the masks on, everybody stopped what they were doing; they asked us over to their tables, we took photos with everybody; they all wanted to know who we were… It was really fascinating.
SO- How did you both consider the aim of this project? As a…?
AS- In no special way, really. We were always off on an adventure, so the thing sort of wove itself, day by day, until we realised that we were onto something important.
SO- In some way, those images from Resnou remind me in many cases of what you have labelled ‘costumbrist scenes.’ There is something linked to that extensive cycle which I feel runs through all your work…
AS- In fact, the manners scenes appeared two years later. I started to work on them and I imagine that they stemmed from Resnou. Everything was —is— overlaid. The first manners scene arose in 1989, when I was sharing a studio in Cologne with Pep Agut. At a certain point in time, I discovered that something which was a common, everyday situation could be transformed into the story of something striking. We were packing up all the work we had done during the winter, to come back to Spain, and we had to cram that heap of artistic merchandise into my Renault 5. It came to me clearly when we were loading the last package. ‘Pep, take your clothes off,’ I said to him. Without a word, he took them all off, I took mine off, and I said. ‘With this work of yours and this box, we’re gonna create a real scene.’ I set the camera up on the tripod and, hey presto, we had Remeros (Rowers). A few months later we had an argument about who the author of the photo was, the same or similar to what had happened with the photos of the nun taken for me by the photographer in Mallorca. He insisted on our publishing two large-format photos – one for him and one for me, because that image belonged to both of us.
With that photo, I discovered that another new world was opening up for me: one more. The Escenas costumbristas (Costumbrist Scenes) started to take shape haphazardly, with no preconceived plan. They arose from specific situations in which something very difficult to put into words appeared in the setting. On occasion, I have had a manners scene right under my nose, I haven’t had a camera and I have searched desperately for somebody to lend me one to get out of the jam. Such was the case with Madre-Hija (Mother-Daughter), in which Luis Pérez-Mínguez appears dressed as a ‘woman on the beach’ in a living room. I was in Madrid without my camera, and I said to Luis: ‘Lend me one of your cameras because I’ve just envisioned something very interesting right here.’ His mother had died and his siblings were sharing out her personal objects. I dressed Luis in a swimsuit that I had found in a trunk, I placed him in front of a full-length portrait of her, wearing an evening dress, and I snapped the shot.
SO- What do you mean specifically by ‘costumbrist scenes’ ?
AS- What do I mean by manners scenes? Well, manners scenes, through the history of art, represent conventional, everyday situations. It is, in a sense, a way of consolidating those clichés which make it possible to discover and represent types and typologies. The fact is that I work them in another way. Normally I have the models take their clothes off, or at least from the waist down. In each scene there is an entire set of details which don’t add up. I once did a manners scene in Banyalbufar (Majorca), more specifically, I did Los desposorios de los Arnolfini en Banyalbufar (The Marriage of the Arnolfini in Banyalbufar). Rosa and I recreated the space from one of Jan van Eyck’s pictorial settings; we reworked it in a highly rustic manner with photography, using what we had available in our country house, with a little mirror and little else. We even situated the dog in its place, replaced it with our cat. That is, the basic elements of the painting are there. Nonetheless, instead of appearing as a modern-day executive, dressed with a top-brand suit and an expensive watch, I took off my trousers and underpants, representing myself as a very humble artist.
SO- To me, the manners scenes in your work have always seemed like a sort of the documentalism of the world turned upside down, and inverted, a false documentalism or, at times, a sort of magic documentalism.
AS- On one hand, its a magic documentalism and, in the other, it is activistic documentalism, always rallying against a social situation of the repetition of outdated schemes.
SO- For example, in the Buceador extraviado (Lost Diver) scene, isn’t there also a hint of the metaphor of the contemporary artist’s personality, but which is at the same time a representation of contemporary man? And, curiously, the lost diver is Luis Pérez-Mínguez.
AS- Indeed. That’s right. That’s exactly what was going around in my head. Luis bore his handicap very well, with a good deal of humour. As soon as he reached the Mediterranean, he was a happy man. Every time he came to Mallorca, I’d go to pick him up at the airport, and as soon as he stepped off the plane, he’d ask me to take him to Cuidad Jardín beach, the one closest to the airport. I’d get him out of the car and help him to put his swimsuit on. As he couldn’t walk very well, it was my job to carry him to the water. At that moment Luis’s face beamed with the most beautiful smile of happiness you ever could hope to see; he was a man so full of life, and the water reaffirmed it for him. His eternal liberty became one with the waves in the sea. Logically, he had to be of my four diver models… because he was a man of the water, and lost, owing to my generic notion of contemporary artist.
SO- That union or fusion between art and life that we find in those projects in which Luis appears, along with other people in your setting… There is another manners scene with Pere Joan dressed as a Bantu chief…
AS- And with Joan Bufill, the Catalan journalist and for many years art critic at La Vanguardia, as a Bantu warrior…
SO- This union has always been a feature in your work, the way in which all the elements of your everyday life—and the people, too—appear in your pieces. Not as representations of themselves, but as…
AS- No, because they constitute the true material I have available to me to construct. I construct with what I have at hand. I will never tire of saying it; I don’t look any further if it is not strictly necessary. It is highly unlikely that I’m going to invent stories that I don’t control, which aren’t mine. I don’t work with the raw material that I have before me. If I don’t have anything, I work with nothing; and if I have something, I work with that something.
SO-In this sense, you’ve also been an artist who has made use of as materials for your work, of the remains disposed from the work process, or, as occurs in Slides & Sheep / Second Life, you use your own photographic archive, slides, as raw material, such as small plastic frames and film, incorporating everything into the work, the new work; earlier works have even been cut up and, in short, destroyed to give them a new lease of life.
AS- They have gone on to a better life, as other works. On a global level, it is a topic that has only been addressed from the perspective of recycling, of the environment, and for me its essentially a spiritual matter, as it has to do with reincarnation. That is a theme I’m currently working on and about which I’m reading a lot: life in another life. They are parallelisms which I establish between my work and contemporary psychiatric research. I have also worked other parallelisms, quantum theory, the memory of the species, incommensurability, the structure of scientific revolutions…
SO- Indeed, the entire body of work you exhibited in the 98 São Paulo biennial had to do as much with this notion of the use of the file as with the recycling of apparently useless waste, and all of this is a way of underscoring the intimate connection between art and life, a life that is banal, everyday, daily, routine…
AS- That precisely is a perfect example of art and life, but one that is very real; there is nothing make-believe or set-up in this initiative. As you know, I have had to work in advertising, design, all those types of things derived somewhat from creativity and also connected with commercial aspects. All the work that ended up on show in the São Paulo biennial arose when I started working at Camper, as head of communications.
And its really curious, because they took me on owing to my management skills, not my creativity. It seemed that I was going there for one thing, and suddenly I found myself immersed in another very different thing… One day, the boss, Lorenzo Fluxà, said to me: ‘I’ve been studying you over these last few months and I believe you’re a very rigorous type of guy, and I need you for this, so you can sort out our communications. We’ve got a good idea in our hands, but we need to know how to explain it well in order to be able to exploit it.’ Do you get what was going on, Santiago? The man tells me that he trusts me to put they in order; me, an artist, I go to Camper to put their house in order because they are even bigger hippies than I am.
Logically, life got very complicated and I was constantly snowed under. I didn’t have any time to devote to art. An endless stream of tests and materials were paraded before me; lots of designs were made, some of which were rejected and other which reached the market. I used the rejects. At that time, I took advantage of the weekends to teach my two eldest children, Enric and Llúcia, who were and thirteen, respectively, and I taught them to develop a methodology for montage and collage, with leftovers from some of my previous work, pieces with I felt needed to pass on to a better life, being reincarnated in others. The kids started to cut up my pictures and drawing into 10cm x 10cm squares, which they then began reassembling strictly or randomly, following careful colour patterns or combined randomly or in a programmed way. I also provided them with material from activity at Camper: leather samples, my own designs for stands in Japan, etc. Surplus material incorporated into the work and which ended up being works on the basis of how they were assigned. That is to say, I re-fashion my life on the basis of these pieces and I reconstruct myself in order to be able to move forward within that turmoil.
SO- Nonetheless, also around that time, you produced a work like Emiliano, which consisted in cutting up the…
AS- The drawings I did while at the School of Fine Art academy
SO- Exactly. Which is almost like a way of settling an account.
AS- Yes, of settling an account with the part I didn’t like of fine art; the canon, let’s say.
SO- Emiliano is also a character in one of your 99 cacahuetes… —stories somewhere between manners scene, fiction and essay— as well as being one of the porters at the school itself.
AS- Yes, at the school itself… and it tells a little about how the picaresque in art is. One of the types of picaresque in art. Then, with experience, I have broadened the scope of observation and I have encountered that very type of picaresque at all levels. That is, we are still in the Golden Age, the high point of the picaresque in Spain.
SO- Well, let’s say that on top of that, Emiliano was the character who used to do the drawings, wasn’t he?
AS- Not exactly. Emiliano is the character who would initially give the practical keys to my teacher, who was the one who did all the drawings at night, so that all his students would pass the School of Fine Arts admission test.
SO- The work at Camper was a job that has given rise to much debate and which also poses highly interesting questions from a formal perspective, such as the shoes themselves…
AS- The shoes we have included in the exhibition allow another digression regarding the connection between art and life. At Camper they suggested that I design a few collections and then incorporate my own work into the shoes. I incorporated my sculpture, I incorporated my paintings, my photographs and I devised a lithographic system for printing on leather so that my work would be reflected and disseminated around the world on small pieces of leather on the feet of people walking through the streets of Tokyo and New York. What’s more, I don’t know if you’re aware that I come from a family of shoemakers; my great-grandfather was a prominent shoemaker in Inca… and my uncle, Pepe Albaladejo, still is today, and a number of my cousins design shoes and accessories.
SO- Yes, it’s a highly unusual case, in fact, the shoes end up being the artistic works themselves, objects in a way… No one shoe is the same as another; there are always differences. There is also a way of dosing the colours in the the shoes themselves…
AS- Well, the colour aspect is imposed to a certain extent by current trends and by what the companies want to launch on a structural level in their shoe collections.
SO- Nonetheless, many of the images appear to have been designed specifically to be included on the toe-caps of shoes.
AS- It may seem that way, but that wasn’t the case. Because they were works that already existed. I don’t remember ever having created a work specifically for a shoe. Well, yes, there are actually one or two which I did, but generally they are readjustments of my works to the world of footwear.
SO- More recently in your work there has been a sort of return to painting, but it’s determined by a conceptual perspective. How do you arrive at this?
AS- I was answering you a little in this regard when you asked me before if I could consider myself as a painter, and I answered that I could, that there’s no problem there, because I have no prejudice towards painting as such, particularly towards painting used as a medium for transcending to other stages, referred to both in the representation and in the conscience. Of course I have reservations towards certain types of painting and towards certain types of painters, but that’s another question, and we’re not going to go their right now. I repeat: I consider myself a painter to the core; almost everything I do has to do with my perspective or arises from my pictorial perspective of the world. Including photography and video. Do I channel it through the conceptual pathway? Well, yes; it’s in my blood, they are my ways of acting in art.
You ask how I arrive at this. Well… in a natural way. I started working in conceptual art in the Taller Llunàtic and that circumstance I feel has left an indelible mark on me, because I entered a stage which I now consider irrevocable and, from that point on, all of my work has generated projects, texts, objects and ideas in relation to concepts and to the end result, the lifeblood of all commercial art. I consider my pictures to be very open and they open up an infinity of paths, precisely because I do not channel them from their conception towards a decisive and/or transcendental end. (the transcendence lies in the method.) On the contrary, I always work with a with a view to rendering the work of art understandable from highly different perspectives.
SO- In this extensive series of double paintings, El número 2 (Number 2) which comprise two paintings that are exactly the same and, what’s more, are painted at the same time; that is, simultaneously, stroke by stroke, each unit is identical, or practically identical, to the other one. Original and copy are the traditional keys to the market of painting. Doesn’t the notion of two originals entail a contradiction?
AS- Yes. It entails a fully fledged contradiction, although logically so if we use parameters that are conventional in relation to the manner of understanding and fostering art to address the matter. But within the approach to my work it doesn’t come about this way and, at the same time, it does too. What I mean by this this is that, with my original double works (El número 2), I seek to move about within a dual contradiction. Contradiction on top of contradiction… which becomes absurd, with regard to the impossible on the basis of the possible, and to the extent of the possible on the basis of the impossible.
I believe that in this pictorial process there is an impertinent use of the classical concept of the work of art, by encouraging the branching, the homologous division of the artistic object, enshrined historically as unique. Besides the tangible results, I’m interested in lending true importance to all that which entails the narrative framework of its internal structure; I’m interested in clearly underpinning the architecture of the aims. I consider dual pictorial objectives, or even triple in some cases, under the ethical umbrella of a dense conceptual proposal of cohesion through systematic duplication. Thus, we could deduce that the poetry of these twinnings is the —intrinsic— emotional state of thought.
My pictorial work is based on a relentless procedure, cooked over a low flame, as an antidote to the evils of haste and need. And one of so many reasons, perhaps the most important, why I return to painting every so often is this: I enjoy the passage of time through a prolonged execution. The value of the passage of time and the steady use thereof comprise an essential part within my processes. And, in this new measure of existence, I have once again recovered patient-method painting, as the projection and legitimate testimony of renewed intimate pleasures. I enjoy investigating parallelisms which are at the same time aesthetic and philosophical, employing my other self as a raw material, to gradually discover the intensity of the lateral, the value of the contiguous, the appropriateness of the borderline, the category of the tangential, the greatness of the annexed and the prestige of everything attached. In the same way, I like to examine the dual personality, the dual morality, twin faces and even the dark side of the moon.
SO- What relationship does the pictorial process of El número 2 have with that of Teoría del desierto?
AS- Absolutely all of my work processes are interrelated in one way or another. Two processes may have a close, highly direct relationship owing to the mere fact that they are simply successive in the temporal order of execution, or also owing to the complex fact of maintaining essential features in their family tree or in their shared DNA sequence.
The Teoría del desierto offers an extensive organisational chart of the world of art, through the deployment of concepts, strategies and typologies, as real as it is perverse and ironic. An organisational char which tells of the absurdity of a system which works sublime materials unceremoniously and totally randomly, with dirty hands and the mind focused basically on objectives as violent as speculation and rising through the ranks of the professional hierarchy. Whereas, El número 2 draws mainly on the very essence of the absurd, using simple representational themes (a landscape, a portrait, some feet walking, etc.), to create a certain poisoned poetry, based on the complexity of the structural proposition.
SO- How do you consider Teoría del desierto? What solutions does it provide?
AS- At the time, I considered it as a catharsis, and also as a shock treatment, to be able to put all the demons who stalk the profession, in which for good or for evil I have to operate, in their place. In any case, the world of art is so shrewd that it knows how to easily restructure any discordant proposal into useful sustenance. Notwithstanding, I know of people who have benefited from reading it – and from assuming it-, something which is not easy for everyone, and which has helped them to work out certain complexes with regard to the artistic medium. In any case, I am fully aware that it is no more than a therapy —a collapse— of good will for simple, confounded and/or corrupt mines, as may come about with the Imposiciones de manos (Laying on of Hands), themselves, within my extensive project En la confusión de las mentes (Amid a Confusion of the Minds).
SO- BWell, at the end of the day, that’s one of the ways of acting from art which makes it possible to subvert models, isn’t it?
AS- Look what lovely photos…
1 Resnou, means ‘nothing new’ in Catalan, and was the title of a photographic project made in 1987 on the basis of a journey on which the two artists crossed the United States, from coast to coast. The exhibition was presented in Sa Llotja de Palma in 1989. In 2012 in the San Martín space of the CAAM in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Antoni Socias and Luis Pérez-Mínguez presented Nada Nuevo 2 (Nothing New 2), a sort of visual review of the journey and of the territory.
Alomar-0 is the representation of a typical state of mental agitation before the most outrageous attitudes—individual or communal—that take place around me and, by extension, in any other latitude. They are situations that can range from the simplest to the most complex; from the popular to the elitist and technological; from individual and very specific acts to socialized performances that are hard to digest. In summary, the aesthetic materialization of constant perplexity regarding the future of the human condition.
An avant-garde four-line stanza against gregariousness, a discrepancy before the repetition of outdated arrangements and personal rebellion against the proliferation of obvious and/or clichéd messages.
At the command ‘I’m gobsmacked,’ camera handy (if available, and if not with a borrowed one) the moment of a squashed face before the passing or assistant public instantly takes place. ‘Gobsmacking’ occurs and continues to occur in places as disparate as trains, planes, ships, cinemas, theatres, health centres, restaurants, schools, streets and boulevards, banks and financial institutions, large retail outlets, churches, stadiums and playing courts; or even in front of a TV set.
Alomar-0 arises from the initiative of my friend—my brother—Rafael Alomar Company (10-04-1954 / 07-01-2013), when in 1990 he invited me to take part on his collection of individual artistic publications (ALOMAR). For that occasion I designed a publication in the form of a timeless agenda that collected the first part of this work process in images, as well as the Portuguese stylistic reiteration María Vinagre (constant self-portrait).
See § 3 divisions / 3C_systematised iptych
[Luis Pérez-Mínguez + Antoni Socías: Resnou is the synthesis of a long travel across the USA.]
L. and T. Facing the Precipice of Images. 52
Two birds on the point of departure: L. and T.
An Irish bar called McCarthy’s on the corner of 14th street and Seventh Avenue, New York. A Spring evening in Manhattan. Three friends, huge mirrors, dull, dirty, reflecting a few drunks, some tramps, the waiter’s back, the hidden side of the bottles. ‘We must begin.’
Going into the bar, L and T enter their own mirror image for the first time: the image of L, the image of T, red, green and white neon lights, the image of the three friends. A ghostly photo that doesn’t last: L and T reflected in the large mirror of McCarthy’s bar. ‘We must begin.’
A greasy and soiled side table, stools covered in red plastic. ‘We must begin.’
L looks at T, the cameras, wings resting on the table, glasses of whisky and beer. ‘We must begin.’ T looks at L. The floor crisscrossed with fake tiles: red black, red, black. ‘We must begin.’ L has stepped up to the invisible precipice of images. He ties up cameras, video, plastic wings, steel, cellophane, batteries. T looks at his surroundings, examining the terrain, landscape-bar. Seated, he gets ready. T slowly unfolds the wings, a deliberate gaze, the atmosphere hard and tense, bottles, red and black tiles, a large ventilator ‘out of order’. L moves quickly: ventilator blades flat out. On the surface T is clam, but inside propellers are beginning their slow rotations. ‘We must begin.’
L’s eye, tense, turns slowly around the axis of his body. Surveying, surveying himself in the mirror: an oasis of images. T’s eye turns quickly, searching, searching for himself in the eyes of the others, of the objects. L comes and goes, T seated, lets his gaze wander. ‘We must begin.’ More beer, more whisky. Turning in circles, L and T walk from one side over the crisscrossed red and black floor. The two of them come and go, eyes that meet in the thick and dirty atmosphere in McCarthy’s bar. ‘We must begin.’ Two birds, two flights of different speeds, one bar, a few friends. ‘We must begin.’
They turn in circles, coming, going, plastic wings, cellophane, steel, glass. ‘We must begin.’A small red light in the cameras. ‘We must begin.’ Green light. Everything surrounding us is the beginning, a blank page ready for the image. ‘We must begin,’ strike out. Birds gliding over a few drunks, a black asleep, a television, some vagabonds in McCarthy’s bar. The penumbra is propitious for robbing the images of life. Fix on fixing their own eyes, look looking at one another. ‘We must begin.’ McCarthy’s, a few friends, New York, the first piece in the jigsaw puzzle called USA. CLICK.
New York, November 1987
Text for the exhibition catalogue Resnou, Llonja, Palma, Majorca, 1989
My other SELF with CERTAIN contradictions
My Other Self
Twenty-two years since my first trip to Africa, and I hadn’t realised what I was on to. With no other aim than my own personal enjoyment and that of my family, for all those years I had stored up hundreds of good images and objects, too, until a series of concurring circumstances eventually forced me to make a fortunate decision. I would reconvert that whole intimate universe, turning it into a practicable artistic project. And I would exhibit it in public, not to conceitedly accredit the ‘adventures’ I had lived through, but to clarify, through irrefutable evidence, that there are—at least artistically speaking— other possible Africas, regardless of the unhealthy egos and social rhetoric established around the subject.
The undercurrent or exotic tendency of any artistic initiative may cut both ways, be a trap for the artist. Actually, on the level of creativity, this occurs too frequently both in literature and the plastic arts. In time, and in the warmth of convenience, as a rule contemporary authors have demanded increasingly less of themselves on the ethical plane. The customary path is to allow oneself to be abducted, in some cases, by the fascination of the extraordinary shapes, the exuberant colour and the not always indigenous captivating surroundings; and in others by that continuous drama, that tends towards Christian charity, and which does not always coincide with the authentic reality of a whole continent. Dragged in this way by the intrinsic potency of that enslaved beauty, seeking refuge in the social welfare of a recurring collection of stories, of a series of apparently immovable clichés, of an – ambiguously—humanitarian formulation and an aesthetical development which are easily plausible, they tend to delve into the vices of this kind of representation, as a remote haunt.
Not without certain doubts, after having weighed up the pros and cons, at the end of February 2010 I designed a strategy of accomplished facts for my second trip to Gambia, where I hoped to dot some i’s and cross some t’s. This, along with the fact that I already had a foothold there, thanks to my friendship with Caramo Fanta, a young Hispanic-Gambian artist, made my aspiration increasingly credible.
I was familiar with his paintings, but I knew nothing of his passion for photography. When I found myself one afternoon following the evolutions of some goats around a deserted tyre, Caramo came up to me and said, ‘Ever since I have known you, I have been paying close attention to your approach to photography. I envy your easy manner, your ways, the psychology you use to relate to people. Nine times out of ten, if I do the same, they shut the door in my face. Do you know what? I love taking photos too, although I take them with my mobile phone, because I don’t have a real camera.’ We sat down in the shade of a tree to talk about it, and he showed me part of his creative production on the screen of the phone. They were tiny photographs, of the kind an African camera is capable of producing in pixels, a small affair, but wonderful in their conception and above all, in their subsequent editorial development. Phone photography. I considered it a miracle that such good results could be obtained with so few resources. A question of talent, I told myself. Some of the images
gave the impression of being nineteenth-century daguerreotypes, albeit with a tremendously modern sheen. As I was viewing them, he told me, ‘I have a kind of Photoshop for cell phones. In low season—low tourism season—when there is no work, I sit in the shade of this mango tree and touch them up till I like them.’ At that moment I was invaded by a mixture of tenderness and exorbitant interest in finding out much more about this character and his potential as an artist. My mind opened up wide. I saw it absolutely clearly, and without thinking twice, point blank I exhorted him to collaborate on my African project, in spite of his lack of experience.
A month after our last meeting, the project requirements meant that Caramo received a camera and a computer to process his new work. The result of our collaboration is a broad range of convened fictions, spiced with certain essences of disturbance, where the white respectfully tries to hollow out a place for himself in the black and the black in the white, at the same time: ‘My other self with some contradictions.’
In spite of the difference in age, in knowledge, in geographical location and in so many things, I had immediately realised that between us, there was a universe to be shared. (Caramo Fanta Camara was born in Lleida in 1986 and studied at the Episcopal School of the same town until the age of fourteen. After the death of his father, he was forcibly moved to Gambia, along with his brother Kalifa, under the pretext of taking a ‘holiday’ and forgetting the drama. This is where I met him in the year 2009, in Bakau, when he had spent nine years removed against his will from his environment, from his friends, from what his life had been and continued to be, in spiritual terms). Because of his Spanish past, logically enough my friend has an innate predisposition towards European thinking and customs, which he has kept alive at all times like a sacred flame to clutch at, in order to survive the confusion.
After the initial shock, after my surprise proposal that he exhibit with me, I made a promise with no limitations to smooth out the way for his return to Spain. After a sleepless night, the next day Caramo assured me that he was truly willing to leave everything in order to learn, to be able to penetrate and deepen his knowledge of what he loves best: art.
Originally published in the exhibition catalogue Mi otro yo con algunas contradicciones, Es Baluard Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani, Majorca, 2011.
According to the dictionary of the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy), the word ‘self-portrait’ comes from ‘self’ and ‘portrait,’ and its definition is the following:
1. n. Portrait that one makes of oneself.
The succinct and precise principle that the RAE advocates is fulfilled strictly and above all in Casa Socías (Socías House), but behind it we can find many more possibilities for its development and treatment. Self-portrait, yes, but one executed four, six and even eight-handed. The important thing about the self-portrait does not lie in its strict execution according to ‘the norm,’ but in the fact that it is actually an initiation sketch. Provoking the scene that is going to take place, bringing its subsequent convenience into focus and choosing the essential from out of all that limbic iconography, which arises at a specific moment around the performance, will, at the end of the process, ideologically determine its identity as an artwork.
MUSIC FOR FAMILY SCENES
Unpublished project by Luis Pérez-Mínguez and Antoni Socías for the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Majorca
A space inside another space. 4 simultaneous screenings (Family Scenes / The Textures of Intimacy / The Sheltering Sky and the Sea of Surprises / Professional Corners). We project from an interior space—a metal structure with supports for the projectors—onto the walls of the space that contains it.
A set of photographs taken of our most loved photographs. Images that are seemingly conventional that become key art realities at the exact moment when they are re-photographed through a new gaze. And… why ‘second-hand’ images instead of original images? Precisely in order to preserve their intrinsic intimacy; to keep a certain distance between us and the spectators, because we seek to distance ourselves from them, leaving a door open to reflection on the difficulties of the artistic process.
Música para escenas familiares (Music for Family Scenes) was commissioned to Felipe Hernández, an established writer and musician in private. Antoni Socías designed the structure and the piece’s approach and Felipe composed it with his intrinsic wisdom. The petition was made in the following terms: ‘A background melody with a superimposed frenetic rhythm. The melody could be conducted by two instruments, a piano and a synthesizer that would produce sounds similar to those of an organ. The rhythm must increase slowly, as the same time as the melody, and its intensity should increase as the melody progresses. I imagine a rhythm based on a set of very muffled percussion sounds that are at the same time intense, penetrating, and surrounding. Throughout the composition, this rhythm must radically stop on several occasions so that the melody can emerge from the background, becoming the absolute queen of the piece, until the musical system that we had been listening to sets in again. (As if the melody was trying to tell the rhythm that it needs a break every so often). It is precisely during these moments that are empty of rhythm where I expect a series of strident notes to appear; notes that don’t always have to be the same ones, nor do they have to be made by the same sound or set of sounds. At the end of the composition we return to a state that is similar to the initial one, where the rhythm slowly comes to a stop and the melody takes over the entire ensemble, until both slowly die and we find ourselves in the most absolute nothingness.’