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Interview with José María Cano

 Author: Elena Cué

 

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José María Cano. Photo: Elena Cué 

 

Crossing the threshold into the London home of the musician, composer and visual artist José María Cano, one enters into a sensorial experience. I let the music floating from the second floor guide me to a room where his son Dani was immersed in playing the piano while José María sang Donizetti´s “Ah mes amis”. My presence in no way interrupted their symbiosis, and if anything I was lured into its flow. The scene brought me back to the heights of music José María had reached years ago with the band Mecano, and reminded me of the lyric drama of his opera Luna.
Passing by the many works of art that scattered around his home, part of a magnificent collection he has put together over the years, we went into his studio, where surrounded by his own works —his La Tauromaquia and portraits, lining the floor and walls— the artist invited me to begin my interview.


E.C.: You’ve just had an exhibition at the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing; 200 works gathered under the title Differences and Similarities between Reality and Truth. Tell me about that big show.

José María Cano: I was very pleased with it. Until then, museums had mainly exhibited my wax paintings concerned with economic issues, but that’s only half of my discourse. I felt that knowledge of my work had become lopsided; whereas this exhibition gave balance to its conceptual dichotomy. It’s not that my work has two distinct sides to it, but rather that I paint duality. 

E.C.: Is that why you chose this title for the exhibition?

José María Cano: Yes, that’s right. The show was a retrospective of fifteen years of my work. The title, which some people find misleading, is actually the leitmotif of my painting. To my mind, the juxtaposition of the real and the truthful shapes is what carves us out as human beings. My paintings, which on the surface seem to offer a varied materialization, always walk that rickety line. Like when I was a kid. Climbing up to where nobody climbs, to see the world from there. Following the sun, and then the moon, and then the sun again, and only stopping if there was no moon. There’s nothing more seductive to me than the moon in summer or the sun in winter. With eyes opened or shut. 

E.C.: Anyone listening to you would think that you live a very relaxed life, when clearly that’s not the case…

José María Cano: But they wouldn’t be completely wrong, in that I work by expression. More than work, I use the John and frame the result. Like Manzoni’s Artist’s shit cans. Even wax, which I like for my painting, is the excrement of bees. 

E.C.: It’s true that you move between two almost opposite worlds. On the one hand, there are your paintings on your divorce papers, newspapers or the economy, and on the other, you paintings of a more spiritual nature, such as your series of apostles or paintings about the moon. “Between the sky and the ground,” as your song said.

José María Cano: This borderline way of seeing life lets me paint works from both banks of the same river. On one shore I get my clothes dirty and on the other I wash them. Human beings are a mix of matter and spirit which in the past were in constant, grueling struggle with each other. That battle drove and gave meaning to civilization. Read the poem by Lope de Vega “¿Qué tengo yo, que mi amistad procuras?” (“What have I that my friendship you should seek?”). We’ve now solved the problem by excising from ourselves the spiritual part. Living like that may be easier, but it ain’t worth a dime. Plus, it’s not impossible, with age and a little self-deprecation, to harmonize these two worlds within our selves. But works of art are forced to essentialize. I move steadily from the spiritual to the material, like a mason who stacks layers of brick and mortar, and then wipes away the excess with a trowel.

 

 Jose Maria Cano WALL STREET 100 EN CHINA 

Wall Street 100 instalation. Beijing Museum. José María Cano. 

 

E.C.: Do you think this view fits in to the current discourse of contemporary art?

José María Cano: No. Today’s art demands provocation, politics, total uniformity or hollowness for it to be of interest to its zoilists and many beneficiaries which, incidentally, include me. My painting lacks these four characteristics. So I won´t deny that my path is a solitary one. Luckily, my gallery is for snipers. Guess that’s why its name is Riflemaker.

E.C.: Your last exhibition was during the Frieze Art Fair Week. Why do you think that your gallery chose to show your work in such a desired week?

José María Cano: You’d have to ask them, but Tot Taylor has said that he values the technique and beauty of my work, and that it is atemporal and without shame. I’m glad that’s what he thinks, because he definitely doesn’t have any either.

 

 Jose Maria Cano FAR SIDE 

Far side of the moon. Encaustic on canvas. José María Cano

 


E.C.: I saw the catalog. You exhibited paintings of the moon…

José María Cano: Small encaustic paintings. I was told that it was the most talked-about exhibition in the press during Frieze. For instance, it was chosen as the show-of-the-week by the magazine The Week. The gallery had to extend its hours, and the works were acquired by museums and important private collections. This couldn´t have happened at other galleries, not with such subtle work. My moons were very happy there.

E.C. (reciting a verse from a song written by Cano and performed by Mecano) Hijo de la Luna... Parece que la luna le persiguiese donde quiera que vaya [Child of the Moon… It seems that the moon follows you wherever you go].

José María Cano: That song began with “a fool he who doesn’t understand”. From the ground, the moon is symbolic in character. There being two universes, this one is symbolic. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the works of Torres García. The moon is a clear indication of the visual dimension of the universe, and of the spiritual dimension of man. It is the recipient of humanity in its entirety’s most beautiful gazes, both living and dead. Sometimes we forget that most of humanity is dead, but it is; in the craters of the moon’s hidden face, perhaps.

E.C.: First a musician and then a painter, and successful as both. Which of these two arts do you think best transmits feelings and thought?

José María Cano: They’re complementary realms. I think that lyrics compel the listener towards a specific feeling. The visual arts are an open proposal to the observer. I like to listen, but I like to touch just as much, and especially to see. To touch things that attract my attention. And to observe them in detail. My paintings have an obscene tactility and I love it when people touch them.

E.C.: You use different media such as oil, resin, encaustic and pigments mixed with different binders. Why do you choose these materials over others? 

José María Cano: I’m an alchemist in that “what I paint with” not only determines “how I paint” but also “what I paint” and consequently “what I feel”. The truth is that I paint with anything that lasts. The contrived search for originality is both the great discovery and the great evil of twentieth-century art. Fortunately, it seems like that whole antiquated debate, which is all it ended up being, is on its way out this century.

 

 Jose Maria Cano SAINT JAMES BOURNEGES 

Saint James Bourneges. Encaustic on canvas. José María Cano 

 

E.C.: How did your years studying architecture influence your knack for drawing and painting?

José María Cano: More influential were my school years, prior to University. I went to a Jesuit school. Mr. Paz, the school’s photographer and drawing teacher, encouraged me to attend the Hidalgo de Caviedes academy. Up until then, I hadn´t ever seen a nude woman, not even in a photograph. I swear. And we were almost all guys. Once a week, a model would come and unfurl her anatomy. Very “neoclassical —but really, just plump. There were several of them, all well fed. It revved up our drawing. The reddish light of the furnace lent the scene a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. So, in this mix of hormones and graphite, I learned to draw, happy as a clam. 

E.C.: Your close-up portraits strike me as very British, very School of London. Have you been influenced by your 25 years living in London?

José María Cano: I do see them as English, but going back further. To me, they are closer to Van Dyck than to Bacon, Auerbach or Freud. In fact, in their portraits, those painters showed a strong desire for originality that I don´t have. Quite the opposite. My portraits seek the timelessness of the upward gaze. Of spiritual questioning. Of physical peace. If there was something that I looked at as I worked on my apostles, it was the studies of male heads by Van Dyck, who lived in London but was Spanish, like me.

E.C.: You are very well versed in contemporary art and the social structure that supports it. What were your criteria in putting together your art collection?

José María Cano: I don´t consider myself an art collector. In fact, ever since I began painting professionally I stopped buying paintings by other artists. I like paintings as objects, and I like to live surrounded by them. But I don´t feel a sense of ownership towards them, nor much so for the works I paint.

E.C.: In your work, you focus on current affairs such as the defense of human rights, capitalism, prostitution... The titles of your shows at DOX Prague and PAN Naples were Welcome to capitalism and Arrivederci capitalism, respectively. Do you use your art as protest?

José María Cano: I’m not one to protest. Or complain. I began to paint as the leader of a movement with only follower —me— that I called materialismo matérico. That was the title of my exhibition at CAC Malaga. First I painted my divorce papers, and followed that with other works of a chrematistic nature. Figures of the financial world as they appeared in the Wall Street Journal, company financial statistics from the Financial Times, etc. But not as protest. I accepted these figures as the new beauty, ironically. And as an artist, as is customary, I felt compelled to pay tribute to such beauty by reproducing and magnifying it. 

 

 Jose Maria Cano LA MIRADA 

La Mirada. Encaustic on canvas. José María Cano

 

E.C.: You’ve made a series of bulls, a very Spanish theme. How important are your roots to you?

José María Cano: My series of bulls is actually called De providentia and addresses the relationship of man to his destiny. It´s the title of a letter from Seneca to his disciple Julius, in response to his question of why bad things can happen to good people. Seneca answers that this only appears to happen. That water and oil don’t mix and that these challenges are opportunities for the brave man to demonstrate his greatness. In my ring, the bull represents mankind and the bullfighter, destiny. The right way to face destiny is not to hook into it and lift it off its feet. It’s to bravely charge right at it. And patience, of course, because the bad thing about providence is that it’s fricking slow.

 

 Jose Maria Cano Elena Cue  

José María Cano. photo: Elena Cué

 

 

- Interview with José María Cano -                                    - Alejandra de Argos -

Interview with Neo Rauch

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Neo Rauch

Neo Rauch - Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London. Photo: Uwe Walter.

 

All that lies behind our thoughts ends up ruling our existence as silent forces. Those deepest, darkest places are not easy to penetrate, but if we are attentive to the signs we produce, we can decipher and understand a bit better what we are made of. The dreamlike imagery in the works of Neo Rauch (Leipzig, Germany, 1960) is laden with symbolism: the overlapping of apparently unconnected scenes, abrupt perspectives, a variety of subjects and pictorial techniques…

Neo Rauch was born barely a year before the raising of the Berlin Wall split his country in two and confined him to East Germany, circumstances that shaped his early years leading up to Reunification in 1989. As an artist, his education was rooted in modern German painting, in the tradition of the Leipzig School led by Arno Rink and Bernhard Heisig. Rausch creates his figurative works from a blend of influences and in an abstract-surrealist vein with traces of Socialist Realism. His works are in some of the most important museums around the world.

As I was admiring his recent works on a visit to the David Zwirner gallery in London, I noticed that the painter was present and resolved to ask him for an interview, which he accepted with a penetrating glance and few words.

 

Which artists from the Leipzig School were your models, and how did Socialist Realism influence your painting?

When I finished my studies, the idols of the Leipzig Academy were Max Beckmann, Lovis Corinth, Karl Hofer, Salvador Dalí and Otto Dix. This means that, as far as the parameters of figurative painting were concerned, the training we received was distanced from ideological precepts. In other words, in the 1980s, Socialist Realism had long stopped being a unifying concept. The generation of our professors had already succeeded in shedding that paradigm. Strong individualism took its place, whereas a critique of the social circumstances of the time was more or less veiled.

 

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Gallery Eigen+Art, Berlin/Leipzig and David Zwirner Gallery, New York/London. Photo: Uwe Walter, Berlin. VG Bildkunst

 

How was your work affected by the socio-political events that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the opening to the capitalist world? What were the most important changes in your life?

By that time, I had been able to seal off my artistic production from current political events, which could only filter in to my works –if at all– in homeopathic doses. When Werner Tübke was asked how he had experienced the arrival of the Red Army in 1945, he answered: “I was sitting in my garden painting wallflowers.” I was so busy at that time finding myself in my work that the major upheaval caused by political and social situation could only have been processed in my work as a very mild aftershock. The greatest change in my life came with the birth of my son in 1990. That’s when I crossed over into greater responsibility, but at the same time it offered me the chance to embrace child-play once again.

And all children dream of comics. One of the more disconcerting elements, as such, in the mixture of styles in your work is its references to comics. Why do you introduce these Pop symbols?

Comics provide figurative painters with a reservoir of raw materials of a very special kind. These reserved materials can be integrated as vivifying elements in the various successions of the “evolution of the classical image”. It is material that has not been worn out, that is innocent and above all that speaks to the child inside the painter, and keeps that child alive.

And the unconscious is another endless stream of raw material that has a strong presence in your compositions. Space and time lose their properties, making way for a dreamlike, otherworldly perception...

The unconscious is a never-ending source of imageries that seem to just be waiting to reveal themselves in my paintings. It’s an area where things are still all jumbled together and don´t have specific intentions, material that the painter is allowed to configure at will.

 

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Gallery Eigen+Art, Berlin/Leipzig and David Zwirner Gallery, New York/London. Photo: Uwe Walter, Berlin

 

Is painting then a way to bring order to your thinking? Do you feel a strong need to communicate?

When I paint, I don´t think, and instead I surrender myself completely to my feelings and to what the canvas demands of me. To me, this means bringing order, not to a mental space, but to the space of the unconscious. As a painter, I try to systematize the irrational, and to do that in painting after painting. This process is not easily reconciled with communication as it is most commonly understood.

And that leads to the disorder in your scenes and an obvious fondness for chaos. Do you understand the world you live in?

In my darkest moments, I feel like I might understand it. This means that its acting mechanisms come to light in an uncensored, open fashion. Thank God there are also moments of clarity, when lighter and apparently unrelated things swirl around me and awaken in me a fundamentally poetic spirit.

The absurd, the nonsensical, the mixture of sensations such as fear, the search for safety, melancholy, solitude... Like Calderon de la Barca said, “life is a dream, and dreams themselves are only dreams.”

I dream, therefore I am; or in the words of Hölderlin: “When we think we are beggars; when we dream, we are kings”.

 

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Gallery Eigen+Art, Berlin/Leipzig and David Zwirner Gallery, New York/London. Photo: Uwe Walter, Berlin

 

Some old masters are clearly present in your paintings. Can you tell me which ones have influenced you the most?

The most important influences are the ones I came into contact with after 1989, and on my first trips to Italy, where I experienced Giotto’s frescoes in Assisi as a kind of call to order, and Giotto seemed to guide me away from the confusion of semi-abstract doodles. Before him, there was Francis Bacon, an essential guide towards pictorial freedom and an enterprising spirit in terms of creativity beyond all academic restraint. Lastly, I should also mention Piero della Francesca, Tintoretto, Velazquez and Balthus.

I find many Old and New Testament symbolisms in your painting. How important is religion to you?

That is the main question. How do I see religion? Well, the symbols in my paintings are more likely extracted from the collective subconscious, or if you prefer, the Akasha –that ethereal undercurrent that links us all and carries everlasting images. Of course, both contain the pictorial materials of the sources you mentioned, even though I may not address them in a conscious manner. I would define myself as an atheist with occasional bursts of pantheism. As a painter, what matters to me is irrationality as a reservoir of inspiration. As someone living in the present times, however, and as a witness to the irrational events of religious origins that have taken place, I am determined to seek out my salvation in the ideals of the Enlightenment.

 

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Gallery Eigen+Art, Berlin/Leipzig and David Zwirner Gallery, New York/London. Photo: Uwe Walter, Berlin

 

 - Interview with Neo Rauch -                                    - Alejandra de Argos -

 

Interview with Ed Ruscha

 Author: Elena Cué

 

  Ed Ruscha Elena Cue 

Ed Ruscha. Photo: Elena Cué

 

Ed Ruscha (1937, Omaha, Nebraska) is one of the survivors of the American Pop Art, movement that  has maintained it's influence since it emerged in the mid s XX until now. His work articulates images and words, providing them with a multiplicity of meanings, prompting thinking. Through Ruscha we can travel by car along California landscapes: roads, buildings, and billboards, where images and texts are intertwined. His work has been exhibited in the best museums in the world, such as, among others, in the Whitney Museum in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris or in Spain in the Reina Sofia Museum.

Despite his nearly 80 years of age he retains all his charm and appeal, physically and intellectually. On the occasion of his last exhibition in the Gagosian Gallery of London, we talk about his work and career.

 

Your latest works are shown in this exhibition "Extremes and In-betweens". On the canvas, against a painted backdrop, a series of oversized words gradually fade out and their meaning goes from the universal to the specific, almost disappearing. 

You know, I think that this work comes from a book that I made in 1968 called Dutch Details. I was invited to the Netherlands to make a project. I wanted to make some pictures in this little northern town of Groningen in the Netherlands, so I took photographs and it was like a progression. I took pictures across a bridge one very wide picture and then I walked forward, took another picture, all the way across the canal to the window of someone’s home and inside the window were flowers in a vase. And somehow, that’s always stayed with me, so I think that these works come out of that spirit. I think that anything I do as an artist comes from something that I did years ago and so I’m just a variation on a theme. 

 

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Ed Ruscha, Galaxy, 2016. Photograph: Ed Ruscha/Courtesy Gagosian 

 

Then usually, your inspiration comes from your memory?

Yes, but also things that I see in the street and in life, I’m influenced by all these things. But it usually is somehow affected by things that I did many years ago. So when I was 18 years old, I maybe had the basis of what I do as an artist. And everything I do is just a little bit off of that.

 

Could you describe your pictorial evolutionary process, from a more emotional art like abstract expressionism to the more rational conceptual genre?

Yes, in some ways I feel like abstract art is everywhere and it’s quite an achievement. It’s a very modern step forward, the invention of abstraction. You know, 150 years ago people starting making abstract art. And it was a really important step to do art that is not figurative. And so abstract art affects everything that I do, and that most people do. You know, every artist wants to open the gates to heaven and I’m really no different. I’m influenced by almost everything I see: bad, good, in-between.

 

You have described yourself as an image-maker; could you tell me about that?

I love abstract expressionism. For me, unlike the artists who cultivate it, I’m better when I think of something in advance and then plan the painting out. I have a preconceived idea about what I want to do. So that’s my approach, and in many ways I don’t think like an abstract expressionist. I think like a person who plans the work out. 

 

So it is more conceptual than emotional?

Yes, but emotion can enter too. 

 

But mostly control…

Yes!

 

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 Ed Ruscha, Hollywood, 1968. © 2012 Edward J. Ruscha IV. All rights reserved. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Your landscapes of broad horizons, raking light, twilight mystery, dramatic sunsets, desolate places… I find enormous romanticism in the immensity of your landscapes, a sort of modern Caspar David Friedrich. Is there romanticism in your work? 

I don’t put romanticism in my works, but I hope that it’s already there. I love Caspar David Friedrich’s work. But you know, he was a very individual and impressive artist. It’s hard to describe him, but I see so much in his work. And not just the figure that’s standing looking out over the horizon but he did drawings and paintings of ice that was fractured; they look like geology. You know, his work is great.  

 

Yes, it beckons one to look beyond, towards a metaphysical dimension. Are you interested in what lies beyond the physical? 

I certainly don’t think of my work as being mystical or cosmic. It’s more simply my contact with the world as it is, so I don’t delve into mysticism. I know a lot of artists do; they believe in that. But I’m maybe not there. I’m more practical I guess, or visually sometimes I don’t know where I am with it, and I’ve been doing this for so long that I forget why I’m doing it! 

 

Your work is full of meaning...

Somehow my work took on the elements of words and English language, and somehow I got onto that because I studied printing and I wanted to be a sign painter. From there it went to printing, to books - I love books and I’ve made books for many years. So those elements are there, I can’t escape this. And I don’t want to escape it either, it means a lot to me. 

 

In some of your paintings these words or texts have contradictory meanings with the image. They convey irony, humor. What is your intention?

Well I don’t set out to make something that’s funny. Irony is another subject – I mean it’s just the basis for my thinking. It comes from all different directions. When I did these paintings here, I had to establish some kind of platform for my thinking and a lot of it had to do with color. I wanted to establish a color and I arrived at this raw umber. I like raw umber – it’s almost like a color that forgot it was a color. And so I thought, that’s the answer right there. To make a stage setting for these thoughts that are the progressions of thinking – you know, whether it’s time or whatever it is - it all just has to come together somehow. 

 

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 Ed Ruscha, Manana, 2009. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

 

What disturbs your mind? What drives you to paint? 

I think that everyday life is enough to produce the incentive to paint. It’s not necessarily the torture of unknown things that make me want to explain that. It’s like living in an isolated world and somehow working within that world with the limited tools that I have and so I just keep working. To explain it is difficult.

 

You do not appear to be one of those tormented artists…

Well a tormented artist might be somebody who is an artist one moment and then is not an artist and it’s a struggle. For me, the immediate struggle never really happened but there are all kinds of elements that enter into the making of art and it’s not all joy and flowers and sweetness, you know. But at the same time, it’s not all torture either, so I just see things that I want to make a picture of, and then I make pictures. 

 

Your photographic series of buildings, gas stations and swimming pools are presented as sequential documentation. Where does this passion for the artist books come from?

Probably from childhood and traveling, and things I see that are beyond childhood. When I was introduced to the real world, I was introduced to traveling and especially in the western United States. So I was driving a lot and traveling over the west and I began to see gas stations. And so my camera was a voice for me, and I wanted to somehow record this and make - not just photographs - but I was very curious about the concept of a book. It was very magical to me. Taking the book and starting out with thinking about a book that is empty and has no images, no writing, nothing. And then you take the book with its very clean, empty pages and somehow filter your thought into these empty pages and make a story or an idea, and develop it. And so books to me are like making art. 

 

One of your pictures downstairs is like an open book…

Yes, it drives me crazy. It comes up in a lot of my work of the last ten or fifteen years, this idea of opening up. And sometimes I don’t even know that I’m doing it, so it’s just very spontaneous and open. 

 

And, what is the relationship between your art and movie-making? 

I saw many movies as a child, and the old movies were on giant screens. There’s something really magical about that, it makes a big impression on my life. In many ways, it’s like looking at a painting - except the painting doesn’t move - and here you have something on the wall that is moving and also telling a story and giving you music! So in many ways, painting is to me very influenced by movies. And then movies began to open up, the format becoming wider and wider, until you have Panavision… panavistic. So I started making paintings that were very wide and skinny like this, and it’s like opening the horizon. Making it wider, giving you more. And somehow that had a lot to do with seeing movies.

 

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Ed Ruscha. "Standard Station", 1966

 

Your interest in architecture, and specifically in petrol stations is evident. What fascinates you so much about architecture? 

I can imagine when I first saw the gas stations. I loved the little house, and there’s always a roof overhang that come over the top of the gas station where cars are pulling in underneath to get gasoline and drive off. And this little house at the back was so comical. So gasoline stations gave me my first exciting introduction into the world of architecture. And I even had dreams of maybe living in one of those gas stations sometimes, where you had this little room in the back. Architecture was always reduced to that for me, so I have a very fundamental belief in the simplicity of architecture. 

 

You have experimented with all manner of materials, including organic substances such as food and drink, dynamite etc. You took part in the 35th Venice Biennale with Chocolate Room. How did this experimentation begin?

I saw that painting a picture was like putting maybe a skin onto a canvas, where it sits on the top of the canvas and I began to feel uneasy about that. I thought the idea maybe should be to stain something, where it goes down into the surface. I could see that organic materials and unconventional materials like axel grease or something – or if you take flowers and rub them into a canvas - all go down into the canvas, they don’t just sit on top. So making images out of something that is not paint made it very intriguing for me and interesting. I think it just offered another opportunity to do something. I was tired of painting on a surface. Now I’m back to painting a surface, you know! But in my work I have a lot of things that I can’t explain; I never liked airbrush art, but then I find myself doing airbrush art. And I never liked shaped canvases, but now I find myself doing it. 

 

 Ed Ruscha Habitacion chocolate 

 Ed Ruscha, Chocolate Room, 1970.

 

The external influence that the Californian landscape has, is evident in your work. However, where do you find your inspiration or the stimulus for your more conceptual work? 

It goes back to nature. There are many modern things that I appreciate, but then I also love going back in my mind and seeing. I like the desert a lot, just the emptiness of it and the drama of the desert and the cacti and the vegetation and the animals and the no people idea. I mean, I love emptiness. So that also has a big effect on everything I do as an artist. It’s nature and it’s also popular culture, so I’ve got a mix of those things. 

 

Speaking about the emptiness... why did you choose not to include people in your paintings? 

When I first met Andy Warhol, I gave him one of my books of gas stations and he looked through each page and he said, oh I love it, because there are no people in it… and I’d never thought of that. I didn’t realize. Well yes, you’re right; there are no people in there. I was stunned. So I have no compulsion to describe a figure with paint. And so I don’t.

 

What is the most frustrating aspect of your work and which is the most rewarding?   

I thought at one time that the thing I really want to have when I make a picture is the finished product. But then there’s also the getting there, the things you have to work through and the mistakes you make. Sometimes mistakes are very good. And if you turn a mistake into something that is positive, then that’s part of the end product. 

 

How do you feel when you look back at your own work, for instance, in a retrospective exhibition. Does the distance of time render them remote from who you are today? 

No, it’s actually very close. I mean, I think that things I did many years ago are very close to me today and that I’m not that far… maybe that means that I’ve not progressed very much! But when I started, I had no thought of ever making a vocation, making a living of my art. I had no concept that people would buy art and allow me to live off of it. And most of my friends were the same, you know. We did it for the glory of it, and to impress one another. The idea of making a living out of it was never there. And then the real world kicks in, and here we are! 

 

 Ed Ruscha Elena Cue entrevista  

 Ed Ruscha. Photo: Elena Cué

 

- Interview with Ed Ruscha -                                    - Página principal: Alejandra de Argos -

Interview with Adriana Varejão

 Author: Elena Cué

 

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Portrait of Adriana Varejão. Photo by: Matteo D’Eletto M3 Studio © Gagosian and the artist.

 

Adriana Varejão (Brazil, 1964) articulates the arts: painting, sculpture, photography or architecture with a contemporary baroque style. Beneath a complex conceptual process lie principles such as identity, assimilation, anthropology, the body… stemming from her deep-rooted historical and cultural heritage. The three centuries of Portuguese colonization are reflected in her works by way of mosaic tiles, water or flesh, with references made to the primitive history and the indigenous identity of her country; as well as in the excess, the monumentality, the dramatic esthetics displayed in her penchant for the baroque. An art full of symbolism, of the bends and folds so typical of the esthetics of the period. At the same time, bodies that are objectified and then desecrated. Destruction and annihilation in the colonization process, but also assimilation and the creation of new values, in step with nature. Sensuality and eroticism emerge as a clear oriental allusion to round off the work of this artist.  


She has just opened, for the first time in Rome, two large exhibits: the first, Adriana Varejão: Azulejão in the Gagosian Gallery, and the second, Transbarroco in the Villa Medici. These have been the initial focus point of our conversation on the sources of her artistic inspiration.

 

What authors have enriched your thought and your work? 

The Cuban writer Severo Sarduy has been very influential on my work, because he thought about the Baroque from a very dense perspective. There are two books that were important Written on the Body and The Baroque. As a Cuban, his perspective was distinct from the Europeans. Together with Jose Lezama Lima and Octavio Paz, his writing was very important in the beginning to help me build my intellectual framework. A bit later, in the nineties, I read the historian Sergio Buarque de Hollanda's book Visions of Paradise, and Gilberto Freyre's Casa Grande Senzala. With these two books, my perspective on history began to form in my work. In recent years, I have been working actively with the work of contemporary historians such as Carlo Ginzburg and Giovanni Levi and in Brasil with Lilia Moritz Schwartz, Antonio Risério, and anthropology Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.

Continuing with the Brazilian society, What do you think of the current artistic scenography in Brazil? 

I think that Brazil is a failed project as a country, socially, politically and economically. But in terms of its cultural identity, it is very potent because of the huge richness and variety of languages that is the result of miscegenation. It has so much to show to the rest of the world. 

When did you realize you would like to be an artist? And, how was this process? 

Decisions in life do not happen just like that. Every child begins by making art and experimenting. As they grow, some people then lose the ability and conform to other expectations. Let's just say that I became involved, inextricably, and it is a process of constant renewal, up until today.

 

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Installation view, Fondation Cartier, Paris. © Adriana Varejão. Photo by Vicente de Mello. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

 

In your series Tongue and incisions (walls with incisions through which entrails sprout out), the inorganic matter of the tiles is joined together with the organic matter of the viscera. Where does this need come from?

I wanted to combine the rational grid of the tiles with the erotic nature of meat, all simulated within the artificial and voluptuous language of the Baroque. The tiles are not tiles and the meat is not meat.

 

You convert the object into something transcendental when you add entrails, our most inner and private parts, only to later tear it up. What enigma hides behind these pieces?

It's to reveal a body behind the layers. When I am dealing with "history", I am dealing with history imprinted or inscribed on bodies, private, fluid, and individual -- which is very different from the official versions of world history.

 

That meat is like a violent explosion. Does it comprise any sort of love or sacrifice?

Yes. I am engaged with the history of art not reality. Painting meat and flesh belongs to a very, very old tradition in painting -- pintura de bodegon and the Baroque tradition that exposes the body through wounds, and for which the bleeding anatomical heart is the emblem. Think of Goya, Rembrandt, Gericault, Soutine, Bacon, and then, of course,  Paul Thek, who worked in three dimensions with his modernist "reliquaries."

 

There is an Eastern penchant that is reflected in references to the great Wave of Kanagawa, landscapes and eroticism... What sort of interest do you have in this culture?

I am dealing with parody, not with real history. And in doing so, I am addressing the migration of images, from Portugal to Brazil via Asia, which you can find, for example,  in the interior decoration of Baroque churches in Brazil.

Related to the Azueljao paintings, I also studied Chinese Song pottery of the eleventh century. I became deeply fascinated by its characteristic surface cracks and its attendant philosophy. It is in these cracks that Chinese writing actually originates. An entire aesthetic evolved from reading meaning into cracks, slowly becoming its own culture.

 

 Instituto Cultural Inhotim Pavillion  

Adriana Varejão, Panacea Phantastica, 2003 – 2008, at Inhotim, Brazil

 

Please tell me about your installation at Inhotim in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where all of the arts come together as a total work.

Much of my work is inspired by the traditional Portuguese azulejo, which were traditionally used to decorate architecture. My Inhotim project is a modern architectural cube that is penetrated by water, terraces, staircases. I made a container with an inner skin of tile paintings, sculptures that relate to architecture, and real tiles incorporated into built-in architectural furniture.

 

Thermal baths, pools, tiles and water. Once again, we see the organic and the inorganic in your iconography. Sometimes there are ripples of violence in your portrayal of water. In your work, what is the meaning of the connection between violence and water?

It is only fiction; the inference of violence gives some drama to these scenes. In the sauna paintings, I deal with very classical topics of painting -- paint, color, tone, perspective, and so on. They also reflect the erotic literature that I was reading at the time -- Georges Bataille and the Marquis de Sade. I gave these paintings titles like The Collector, The Seducer, and so on. There is an ambiguous atmosphere, a suspended narrative in these paintings. When I was working on them it was much more about painting than telling stories.

 

Some of your works display the prevalence of violence, the violation of limits, both sexual and in the form of the abuse of the body, sacrifice and death. What is behind this tendency for such extreme life situations?

To elaborate on what I said earlier, art is an experimental universe where everything can be played at the edge. That is the role of art. I explore violence in many forms in art, not in life. Just as de Sade attacked language not the body itself, acting symbolically. 

 

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Adriana Varejão’s series Polvo. Image courtesy of ICA Boston

 

In your series Polvo –a set of self portraits-, the central focus actually resides in the changes in your skin colour. What message are you conveying about the racial and cultural identity of Brazil?

This is about the mestizo identity of Brazil, which is nothing to do with the polar opposites of black or white, but with all the many shades and subtleties and variations in between.  Polvo is a paintbox where the names of the paints reveal that every definition is about language, like "Almost White." I started thinking about the idea of "flesh tone" and what it means in different cultures, but in the beginning I could only find a pink color in all of the oil-paint brands that I was collecting all over the world. So, I decide to develop a conceptual brand "Polvo", that reveals the complexity and variety of the subject. Color is a language subject.

 

And what is the relationship between identity and the portrayal of power and subjugation in your work?

I believe in miscegenation, not the dichotomy of master and slave. Brazil evolved as a country with a cultural (mestizo) identity that is so strong that it is impossible for any single identity to remain fixed, separate, and intact for more than one generation. 

 

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Portrait of © Adriana Varejão. Photo by Vicente de Mello. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

 

Adriana Varejão: “Azulejão” Until December 16, 2016

Gagosian Rome - Via Francesco Crispi 16, Rome

www.gagosian.com

 

 

- Interview with Adriana Varejão -                                    - Alejandra de Argos -

Interview with Francesco Clemente

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Francesco Clemente Elena Cue 

 

Launched to fame by the Italian Trans-avantgarde in the early 1980s, the work of Francesco Clemente (Naples, 1952) follows an undetermined, enigmatic style that is in constant transformation and flow. The turning point that marked his career was his mystical journey to India in the 1970s, where he found spiritual reconciliation. Clemente had the wise intuition to settle in New York, where he has developed the core of his work. Much of Clemente’s pictorial production is figurative, through portraits whose ghostly atmosphere reveals a transcendental vision. It is this fusion of cultural roots where East meets West that gives him his most personal touch.  


From his studio in New York we will be exploring his life and his work.

 

I would like to start asking you about your youthfulness. What was your experience in Italy, bearing in mind all the political unrest at the start of your career, with the terrorism with the Red Brigades, the social conflict…?

If you say 60s, we are talking about my teen years and what comes to mind is boredom. I’m very lucky, because I lived at a time when you could be immensely bored. I think that without boredom, you can’t get any new ideas in your head. From that, we entered the 70s. Yes, my generation is the last Marxist generation. Also, the seventies was the last decade that produced ideas, and some of those ideas are still valuable to me. I’m a big fan of Debord’s book, The Society of the Spectacle. There is a flag here in the studio that shows a quote from the book, which is a prophetic book.

 

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“Alba,” Francesco Clemente. Photo: Guggenheim Bilbao

 

And then, in the 70s you travelled with Boetti to Afghanistan and then to India….

I travelled to remote parts of Afghanistan with Boetti. We went all the way to Pamir, the crossroad between Pakistan, China and Russia. It’s the very tip of Afghanistan. It was an adventurous thing to do, but back then you could do that.

And you opened a studio in Madras. What were you searching for in India?

I felt that history had led me to a dead end. I didn’t see where I could go. So I decided that my work should draw from geography, rather than history. I didn’t know anything about India when I went there the first time.

What has interested you most of Hindu culture: the more sensual aspect with its chromatics, the corporeal aspect… or do you prefer the spiritual side? 

That’s a Western dilemma: spirit against body. But even in the West, in the alchemic tradition, they say you should spiritualize matter and materialize spirit. So I was looking for reconciliation.

You have also worked with Hindu artists, and I have seen you continue work with them. What do you get out of the joint creation process? 

Well, I believe that the most accurate description of our consciousness is continuity of discontinuity. So I indicate with my work the fact that we have a fragmented self and I’m interested in the gaps that separate all our different personas. Many of these ideas can be found in the contemporary traditions of the East. All of those traditions deal with this.

 

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Estudio de Francisco Clemente en Nueva York. Foto: Elena Cué

 

You were one of the main figures of the transavantgarde movement of the 1980s, when painting was upheld once again as a reaction to immaterial avant-garde. How do you remember this change?

Well I think those few years were a window of liberty and adventure, which didn’t last very long. Today, we are confronted with an international style that is in a way very neutral and very academic, if you want. So again, I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

What led you to subsequently split from this movement?

It wasn’t really a movement. I think, actually, that whole generation of artists lacked a proper theoretical background and no one really bothered with that. So there were a few labels, you know, the neo-expressionist, the transavantgarde… but all of these were only labels. It was more of a synchronicity of several people in different parts of the world going back to making art drawn from life and not from other art.

When you look at the paintings of that time, at the explosion of feelings and expression of desire, dreams and fantasy, do you recognise yourself?

I’m an empty chair... I don’t have a self to recognise.

What can you tell me about your collaboration with Basquiat and Warhol, two of the most representative artists of the New York scene of the 80s?

I think the reasons of the work are more important than the appearance of the work, so I’m very proud that we did these collaborations because they show that the intentions are stronger than the appearance. I mean on the surface, these three works are very different from one another, but somehow they are drawn together by all the things we didn’t like, rather than what we liked. I have fond memories because I personally liked both artists tremendously. I was very close to both of them. I miss them both. They could both be alive… it is still their time.

 

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Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat & Francesco Clemente photographed by Beth Phillips, 1984.

 

Is art enough to meet your spiritual need?

No, I pray every day. Art is a form of giving, not a form of receiving. You don’t receive from art… you give to art. But to give is also a need.

Which have been your main obsessions?

My obsessions are constantly renewing themselves. I move from one obsession to the next. But in my trade, obsession is not considered a disorder; it’s considered a necessity.

Most of your portraits are impenetrable. What do your faces speak of?

Eternal life, maybe.

And are you also impenetrable?

I’ve been told three times by very different people that I remind them of smoke. Is smoke impenetrable? I don’t know. Hard to catch, for sure.

There have been many changes throughout your artistic career, as well as in your techniques. What is the reason for so much movement, so much change?

It was my intention from the beginning to not anchor myself to a particular solution, or a particular style. At the same time, that is my strength because it means that everything I do is fresh, and my weakness because I am constantly beginning, which means that I never know what I am doing. Also, the goal of my work is to remind the viewer of the necessity to be fluid, to be in a constant state of transformation.

 

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“Scissors and Butterflies,” Francesco Clemente. Photo: Guggenheim Bilbao

 

Your paintings are very enigmatic. What do they mean to you?

My paintings are enigmatic, life is enigmatic. Everything is an enigma, everything is a mystery. There’s a beautiful quote in a de Chirico painting that says in Latin: Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est? (And what shall I love, if not the enigma?)

Do you discover something about yourself during the process of making your paintings?

The advantage of making something by hand is that you never make what you intend to make, so then you have to adapt to the circumstances. So in that sense, you have to be open all the time, and upset, which is a good lesson for life.

Do you recognise the state that you were in at the time of painting?

Yes, my paintings are tied to the changes in my life and they’re tied to a sense of synchronicity. I’m a believer in synchronicity. You know, the simplest example of synchronicity is when you think of someone and then you turn the corner and you see that person. I am very much in touch with that kind of resonance and symmetry in life, where things don’t happen on their own, they happen in clusters. They all bounce against each other. I’m a listener… I listen to the harmony of life and I translate that in my paintings.

 

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“Iniziazione, La Stanza della Madre / Initiation, Mother’s Room,” Francesco Clemente. Photo: Guggenheim Bilbao

 

Isn’t your painting a sonata of specters?

Yes, I definitely feel like a ghost a lot of the time. I wouldn’t want to feel too real.

You, who were born and trained in Italy, who has lived an intense experience in India and who now lives in New York, how do you relate with your identity? Who are you, from among these three strong identities?

The aim is to not be a prisoner of any of these identities. The space I really want to inhabit is the space in between all of these identities. From each place I want to remember and long for the other one. I don’t want to belong anywhere, really.

Do you need to find inspiration whilst travelling, or is it something you do not seek? Perhaps it is like Picasso said, that inspiration has to find you working?

One thing leads to another. The only obstacle in life is ourselves. If you remove yourself from the picture, there is really nothing you can do.

 

 Clemente Elena Cue 

 

 

 - Interview with Francesco Clemente -                                            -  Alejandra de Argos -

 

Interview with Lita Cabellut

 Author: Elena Cué

 

  Lita Cabellut Foto Elena Cue 

Lita Cabellut. Photo: Elena Cué


The art of Lita Cabellut (Barcelona, 1961) is pure feeling, like the haunting voice of flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla whom she so greatly admires. The colossal format of her paintings and subjects, whom she endows with great psychological potency, are the clamor of an artist who needs her voice to be heard. Her work exudes the wisdom of life that runs through her gypsy veins. She portrays souls with expressionist strokes that spring from forces underlying all thought. Their gaze is by turns defiant, nostalgic, beseeching, proud, sensual, wise… Every portrait tells stories: the stories of the artist, our own, and universal stories of the human condition. Gaze, gesture, and skin convey the scars of life’s wounds but also all its beauty. A constant dichotomy exists in her life and work: the formal and the wild, light and dark, reason and passion, but always there is beauty.


We begin our conversation in her studio and home in The Hague.


Elena Cué: You were abandoned by your mother just months after you were born, taken in by your grandmother and lived on the streets of Barcelona until you were adopted at age thirteen. You knew you wanted to be an artist at that age, when your adoptive family took you to the Museo del Prado for the first time. In your earlier life, before you began to paint, how did you channel your artist’s energy?


Lita Cabellut: Through fantasy, I think. You aren´t aware of what you are living or doing at the time. But what I do remember is that I was a ghost: I sold stars, for example. Now I think about it, and the artist was already present. Though of course, talent that isn´t developed doesn´t grow.


What do you think art is about?


It’s a way of conceiving, seeing and feeling about life. Art is much more than material. It is a great empathy for the world, for life. That is what art really is, because much of it is ethics, and fundamentalisms. It’s unavoidable: freedom and dictatorship at the same time, life and death. It’s so complicated and so simple at the same time. We always want to idealize art, isolate it, and make it individual.


Which it isn’t.


Which it isn’t, and that’s why art is suffering right now. We’re determined to isolate it and make it individualistic. Plato said that beauty was love materialized. I think that´s sort of it. Art absorbs, because it is a constant death and rebirth in the same day. You have to give it everything, and that’s why there’s a lot of risk in my work. The line between good and excellent is so fine, and that excellent has a risk. Not to be better, but to overcome what you don´t know. When we love and cherish what we don´t know, that´s when we start to understand what art is. Because art is ugliness as well, and it is beauty, and hardness. Art is velvet on the outside and bleach on the inside, because it burns you.

 

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Lita cabellut. Impulse. Courtesy of the artist's studio.


Why did you choose figurative painting as a means of expression and focus on portraiture?


It´s an obsession. In reality, my great passion has always been psychology. When I was a small child I was already aware that by studying people you could prevent calamities. I knew very well what my next three hours were going to be, what the situation might or might not be. And then that turned into a form of survival, and then a way of living. What interests me most are human beings, because humans are so complex, so beautiful and ugly at the same time, so much so that it is fascinating. So I began to pay attention to figurative artists, and then I switched over completely to Saura, Tàpies and abstract artists. And you can see it in my work. It’s a communion of figuration and abstraction.


What is the importance of abstraction to you?


Abstraction is very important to me. I went back to the museums, to study Velázquez, Goya... I realized that they were the great abstract artists, and that they used it as a means for illusion to give form to a figuration that did not exist. That´s when I began to see abstraction as interesting, from that philosophical point of view. The great masters use figuration as an illusion of something that doesn´t exist and that our brain finishes. For example, if you look closely at a clothing in Velázquez, with its cuffs and fabrics, it’s totally abstraction. It´s an illusion of what you are seeing. It is points of light, of matter, placed in such a chaotic and anarchical way that from a distance they form an image that forces you to see. So if the artist has the power to manipulate the eye of the person who is seeing, and takes the eye to another place where it would not normally see, that’s art. That seemed very interesting to me, and I began to use figuration much more. At first without faces, just bodies. Because I wanted to study position for people to see gesture.

 

 Lita Cabellut Foto ElenaCue 

Lita Cabellut. Photo: Elena Cué

 


How do you choose your subjects?


They´re models. But first is the theme. I always work by themes.


And how do these themes come up?


For example, the trilogy of doubt came to me one night when I was talking with a friend who told me that she was having a legal problem. And I thought, there is so much doubt in knowing who is right, and truth is so difficult to find. And suddenly the title came to me: the trilogy of doubt. It will be about power, impotence and ignorance. Because through ignorance, tremendous things are done.


And in what way are you in each one of these portraits?


All portraits are great self-portraits. They are a way to relive distant, hidden, present and latent emotions every time. Every portrait is me. In the trilogy of doubt, where there is the great dictator, a victim and an ignorant, I’m all three. When I paint, I am in the painting. It´s me. You know what happens? You can only paint or create what you know. Empathy happens because we recognize ourselves in something. We cannot feel something we don´t know. It´s impossible, just an illusion.


Is art a cure or a palliative?


It´s difficult for me to imagine life without art. It´s as if God had turned out the lights of the world. The sadness I feel at living without art is so deep that it makes me dizzy. Art has cured me a lot. I am a happy woman, so to speak, of course. But I am a woman who lives, and I love life, and my children, and I love who I am and what I am not. I see possibility in everything. I owe all that to the possibility of dying every day and being reborn: I’ve been able to do away with so many things that weren´t good for me, so many emotions, and give that form in these images.

 

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Lita Cabellut's studio. Photo: Elena Cué

 


Has art helped you forget or remember?


I’d say acknowledge. Provide a place. Listen, for example I painted monsters, images that were monstrous. I painted everything that frightened me and was still in my subconscious, and would suddenly appear like a capricious dog that sits in an unexpected spot. Feelings and images would come to me that I didn´t know what to do with. These days I don´t title my works, though I used to, because I wanted to identify them, I wanted to see all of those feelings. And it´s really interesting, because once you give those names and see them, they become very small. The more intelligent you are, the more fears you have. For children, who dream about that, it´s a kind of active intelligence. There is so much risk in the world, so many dangers, that intelligence needs to calculate those dangers in order to survive. It´s the law of the strong. I´ve always had many fears, like not being able to sleep with the lights off. Now I sleep with the lights off in the house, but not in the garden.


In other words, you’ve been getting rid of those demons through art, by giving them form and getting them out of your unconscious…


Exactly. I´ve been able to paint it all: ugliness, cruelty, tenderness, all of those elements… You have to think that you´re like an octopus, with tentacles that need to touch all kinds of emotions. If you are unlucky, some of those tentacles will be stunted, because they haven´t been able to recover or have not had the right space. I´ve been able to use them extensively in my own work. I´m certain that are has cured me. I have a foundation for children so there can be art. Because I´m absolutely sure that art goes much further than psychiatric methods. These are necessary as well, but art goes much further.


Art... and love?


I remember when I was small how difficult not feeling loved was. It was really tough. I’m a mother and I know what that is. No one can imagine how important the love of family is for so many things to grow. It´s true that tragedy, for artists, is like a box of jewels. You can´t paint suffering or pain if you haven´t lived it. It will always be an imitation, a caricature.

 

 Silence of the White 

Lita Cabellut. Silence of the white. Courtesy of the artist's studio

 


Do your paintings tell your story?


In reality, they are all my stories. For example, Impulse is a series about the ultimatum of female beauty. You see how I threw puddles of paint on those paintings; they are really violent attacks. Impulse is always an act of violence, but an act of violence is also an act of love. I´ve lived a lot of violence, I´ve seen a lot of female violence. For me, it´s also a way of dealing with this topic, and of letting it go. It´s not that I am trying, through my work, to better the world, but that I simply try to show the world that these aspects must be considered, must be seen, named and above all given a voice.


Everything about you is learning and overcoming.


That is what I always try for. Elena, in everything that is ugly, you have to find that spot of beauty. Because it´s there, it´s always there, in the most horrible things that happen to you. I always say: if you haven’t walked on the carpet of sorrows, you can´t kiss life. It´s important, so you can know what you love and what you don´t. Imagine getting to the end of life, at an old age, and regretting everything we haven´t done, because we didn´t want to get into trouble, we didn’t want to commit or suffer too much. Can you imagine that?


Courage, that great virtue.


Courage is an act of responsibility. It´s so important, it allows you to change things, to move forward. What frightens us most is to be responsible for our actions. If you are brave, it means you accept that things can go wrong. Do you know how beautiful it is to accept that things might go bad? That´s freedom. Courage is freedom.

 

 Lita Cabellut y Elena Cue 

 Lita Cabellut and Elena Cué during the interview. Photo: Elena Cué

 

- Interview with Lita Cabellut -                         - Página principal: Alejandra de Argos -

 

 

 

Interview with Jean-Luc Nancy: The West is no more

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Jean Luc Nancy foto aïcha liviana messina

Jean-Luc Nancy. Foto: Aïcha Messina

 

Jean-Luc Nancy (Bordeaux, 1940) is one of the foremost French thinkers of our time. For many years, he was Professor at the Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg. His Christian background, present in his beginnings, evolved with his discovery of Heidegger’s philosophy. Another decisive influence was his discovery of Structuralism and his contact with Derrida, which among other things served to strengthen his preference for the contemporary in his philosophical reflections. We began by talking about the challenges that philosophers face nowadays.

 

What would you say are the greatest challenges that philosophical thought faces today?

In philosophy, nothing is a given. No meaning can be considered obvious. For example, it isn’t possible to talk about “man”, “society” or “science” as if these words designate well-identified realities. The challenge is precisely not to latch on to any acquired identity. For a philosopher, nothing should be taken for granted. Preconceived and established meanings must be constantly reevaluated, and new possibilities opened. 

 

How can a philosopher teach a society to think this way when it is as anxious as ours is for answers and truths that it can cling to?

It is precisely this impatience that can be a trap. In one sense, impatience is right: there is no reason to wait, and the conditions for a decent life can be demanded at any time. On the other hand, there are obscure and complex questions to which emphatic or “radical” answers, as we like to say, can be dangerous. The recent Brexit is a good example: the vote has just taken place, and its supporters have already become nervous and begun to question it. Or Podemos, which started off very strong but has quickly lost strength instead of gaining it. Furthermore, the current complexity is the result of opposing “impatiences”: the one felt by those who are excluded and the impatience of those who fear exclusion (the middle class); the impatience of people seeking refuge and the impatience of those who fear being overrun by refugees; and the impatience of those who miss how things were in the past vis-à-vis those who want to accelerate the arrival of the future. 

At present it’s much more difficult to set a course than it was at the time of the workers’ struggles or the end of dictatorships. How did Franco’s dictatorship last so long when many people were against it? Because it was a time of societal transformation and transformation of the European economies, and in turn these transformed the conditions that would prepare the end of the dictatorship. Why are the European Socialisms and Communisms in crisis? Because their motors are too old. We have to find new ways for a new state of affairs in which techniques, powers and expectations have transformed slowly. And in fact, this is what needs to be made understood: a patience that is active rather than passive. An impatient patience and a patient impatience.

 

You have written often about terrorism, especially after the grave attacks in France. What is your opinion on this subject?

This terrorism is the combined effect of two forces: that of the change in Western dominance and of the assertion of Islam, which has seen its equilibrium destroyed by colonization and the end of the Ottoman Empire. This terrorism reveals an extreme situation created by the very strong contradiction between the Western model of development and wellbeing, and the reality of existence in countries that feel marginalized, and where the upper classes or casts preserve the enormous differences in terms of wealth and status.  

At the same time, the West is weak in its own strength. It doesn’t believe in its own civilization any more, it is preoccupied with its own technique and sees how capitalism grows without lessening differences in standards of living, while no Socialist economy has been able to last long (the Soviet economy was a State capitalism). In fact, there is no “West” anymore, and instead there are techno-economic poles of power whose visible heads are the United States of America and the Non-United States of Asia, but whose possessions and actions are found almost everywhere, and wherever there are resources to be exploited. Europe no longer has a consistency of its own, and it is subjected to this division of world powers.

And globalization...

Therefore globalization provokes explosions, tragedies and social and cultural collapses of all kinds. For five centuries we believed that utopias were achievable, and we have believed in their vanity. Now we have to think differently, and reflect on our place in the world. This will take a very long time… centuries, forcibly… But societies have always shown that they are able to overcome considerable challenges.

 

What are you referring to when you talk about the “surprise of liberty” Do you believe that we are free, or not?

Liberty is not a faculty we possess, or a right that we have at our disposal. Liberty resides in the fact that our existence is not programmed, and must find its own path. However, it has to do so as existence in a world that has conditions and limits. We are not free if that means “to be able to do what one wants” and “be independent of everything” because we depend on a lot of things, and most times our “will” consists only of propensities, hopes and yearnings that come from somewhere else. Understanding this and what that means is the beginning of liberation. And that is why liberty surprises us, because we discover that there is something other than what we thought was obvious.

For example: I become ill and cannot do my job, but I can see my state as an experience; the experience of not being in charge of all of my decisions, or of my preferences. Sometimes the ailing “give lessons” to those who are in good health.

 

Could you explain how suffering is an opportunity to broaden liberty?

That’s not what I am saying… and above all I’m not saying that it is an “opportunity”. Suffering is not a favorable occasion, it’s a reason to rebel, and especially to look for how to rebel, in the best of cases. In other words, to what end? Surely the aim is to not suffer more, but even that must be defined. For a long time, that goal was grounded in the word “Communism” or “Socialism”. But these concepts were never truly developed, except for in the Soviet form, and that form failed. 

 

Why did it fail?

That analysis has not been done yet, or not sufficiently. Instead of looking deeper into that question, communists are happy to just deplore the dirty capitalism that has supplanted any idea of a fair society with that of consumer freedom. They complain about injustice, but they don´t know where justice is found. For example, we often hear talk today about a universal minimum wage. It seems like a fair and good idea, but it is also a very dangerous idea that would contribute to keeping many people at that minimum. The truth is that nowadays, in order to invent, first we must think. And we must scream as well. Brexit was an outcry by those who have been treated with contempt by the ruling class in Europe. We have to listen to that outcry. But what should we understand from it? That is what remains to be seen.

 

In your book The Deconstruction of Christianity, you talk about religion in today’s world. Could you tell me a bit more about that?

It isn´t about breaking, or annihilating, but about taking apart or de-structuring an edifice to show what it is made of. Now, Christianity is not made of religion. It was made from a profound mutation of Mediterranean humanity when it needed to emerge from the Ancient World, a world of limits, a finite world, and what we could even call de-finition. Everywhere there were gods with precise functions, rules to comply with, models to imitate and fixed horizons. At some point, that all crumbled. Undoubtedly, with the Roman Empire we saw the first “globalization” – when there was a departure from closed territories and fixed conditions (such as “free man vs. slave”). So then a desire for the infinite, and the promise of infinity began. This attainment produced a change in civilization, culture and society gave rise to the great adventures of the modern world, with all of their risks. 

 

And with this deconstruction of Christianity, what specific conclusions have you come to?

The first conclusion is the most important: the profound transformation of the culture that occurred with the arrival of Christianity was the departure from religion as idolatry, as superstition, towards a cosmo-vision with an infinite horizon. The universal, the “whole” of Christian catholicity means, above all, the unlimited: no more idols, and instead an open infinity. So there is also energy for enterprise: we can and we must transform ourselves, and transform the world, infinitely. Christianity has materialized itself as humanism, as capitalism and as technical progress. This all becomes problematic and obscure, but we are always looking towards infinity. And religion as a collective point of reference has disappeared from the West.

The second conclusion is just the opposite: if Christianity took on the imposing religious form that it has had for centuries, it is because the certainties and references on which it is based are always desirable and highly desired. Then there are those who appropriate these references to construct meaning, as an instrument of power, an ideal of beauty or of the gratification of thought, and those who (and strangely, they are sometimes the same) seek representations, images and legends they can deliver themselves to. Atheism is unable to resolve many doubts. And that’s a shame, because religion as assurance is a lack of liberty, except for mystics and great spiritual men who have, on the other hand, helped many religions evolve as well.    

 

To end, let’s talk about art. In what ways do you think that the meaning of “contemporary art” is different from traditional art?

Traditional art was linked to the possibility of the representation of truth – a religious, political or heroic truth, or a truth of perception, sensation or feeling. The modern world sees truth as an infinite process of searching. There aren´t stable and accessible figures or forms anymore, not even in what art has been able to produces in terms of forms we call abstract or colors without precise forms (Rothko, Newman, Pollock). A whole culture is being invented where the very meaning of “art” is becoming more obscure, precisely because it is no longer about representing given truths.

 

What would it mean?

The meaning of “art” is, in a way, necessarily enigmatic and elusive, because it does not allow itself to be formulated by language. Think about music: with twelve-tone music, serial music, electronica, jazz, rock and mixes of tonal and atonal music, our panorama of sound has changed considerably (as has our visual landscape, but sound has a stronger sensual penetration; think of electrification, techno, rap, slam, etc.). We look for new sensibilities, and that has its risks, of course. We search for what sensibilities and what enigmas of the senses are becoming “ours”.

 

 8.11 par Daumard 2

Foto: Jean-Pierre Daumard

 

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