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Pleasure is Deeper than Pain

Contributor: Dr. Diego Sánchez Meca,
Lecturer in History of Contemporary Philosophy,
Universidad de Madrid (UNED), Spain

Diego Sanchez Meca small 

 

 

 

 

placer2

 

"Pleasure is even deeper than the pain.
The pain says: Pass!
But all joy wants eternity.
It wants deep, profound eternity! "

Nietzsche, Said by Zaratustra


With his face resting on the window, Alessandro looked at the Starry Night who aroused in him an inexplicable craving for remote and beautiful things. The orange trees and magnolias, still blooming, gave off strong aromas at that time. In the background the dark masses of straight olive and acacia trees marked the limit of Beccarisi Villa, the luxurious Sicilian villa of his friend Giulio where they would also spend that summer. Alessandro recalled his previous visit and finding that secret hidden corner at the end of the garden near the greenhouse, where one night he heard hugs and kisses in the dark as the moonlight created the illusion of fantastic figures fluttering behind the glass between whispered sweet words, interspersed with sighs and sudden silence.

As the fermentation of the fertile and burning ground, there he also experienced the mysterious sound of the eternally creative and destructive life, the grandeur and beauty of the pleasure of life that continued even when the lovers parted, his shadow touched hers as in an embrace under the deep blue sky of dawn, which began to dim the stars. The memory of that summer full of light had continued in his soul, more alive than in his tumultuous present.

 

bnr-piemonte-villa-beccaris 

 

"The experience of transience and incessant short living", Giulio had said at one point in the conversation over dinner.  "To know that we lose ourselves as the wind does, and we flow like the water of a river. The perception of this continuous flow, when you think about it, does it not raise an inevitable resignation and anguish? Time is the instrument of death, the last structure of a lost experience. How many things there are that we will never see or know! "

It seemed he wanted add something else, but he stopped.

"What then is the continuity?” Alessandro had immediately replied, "Is there any point in the thought of eternity (Ewigkeit)? Do you think there is no place or experience where the agitation of change is calmed and we pick up what we have lost?  I think it is not a mere illusion of the poet who says:

"I know one thing there isn´t. It's forgetfulness.
I know that eternity endures and burns
the precious and all I have lost
tonight, this moon and this afternoon ".

 

"However, what place could be that of permanence, even more, of eternity?" Alessandro continued thinking later on. "The days tend to become equal in the memory, although not all the same. And the most common life among men is that of a relentless nightmare, a stubborn routine with a dispensable story, a set time and the wait for obscurity to offer us one last dream without memory. Was Giulio right? Life is nothing but the desire of a dreamt destination longing to become real, a tale told by an idiot in which the protagonist awaits his end at any moment when everything would be about to begin. How to understand time as a mysterious cross over, in each moment, of change and eternity?

The afternoon was burning strangely in the clouds, as if behind them an ocean stirred into flames, a divine fire. Shaken by his own words and thoughts, he left the garden despite the intense heat and walked along a stretch crop towards the city. The grass between the vineyards was dotted with small flowers where above them yellow and white butterflies fluttered. The harvest in the fields was tall. Each stem was bent over the earth bearing fruit. Under the trees, sitting on the grass, a group of peasants rested a moment from the hard work of mowing and greeted him taking off their hats, as he passed by. Further, in the pool, some children were bathing across the sparkling waters, reddened by the sunset colors. They slid along rocking to the rhythm of the gentle breeze, and above the waters the shadows of palm trees also rocked, while on the other side there was a murmur of young voices and laughter. The still air was only occasionally interrupted by the lure of a bird.

"There are many things we will never know", he said to himself.  "Maybe that's why it is desirable to even forget what we know, and be content with seeing the world in silence."

He continued his walk absorbed by the landscape, moving from image to image through a tenuous game of ideas and rethinking that which troubled him:

"The certainty of the end encourages seeking solace in the pure present, satisfying the intense enjoyment of the pleasures in life. Thus, the wait has been enriched by the remembrance of the idealised past, reconstructed to suit our most beautiful dreams. In its absence time goes by without thinking. The human soul does not reveal its mysteries. When you ask it, it remains silent."

Without being able to unleash this reflection, again a dull breath disturbed the peace of his rest. He had reached the shore and saw, buried in mournful resignation, the area in which daylight no longer shimmered. The sun had set and it darkened over the city. Everything became quiet and peaceful in that cramped and hot afternoon, where the first indoor lights shone while a big white moon lurked in the sky. He crossed the fishermen neighborhood and as he walked past a tavern, he heard music, songs and the sound of a big party. He entered and went to the bar while the musicians played a light rhythm and a young woman prepared to dance. Her hair glistened with perfumed oils; her body radiated party excitement and the smile of her mouth revealed sensuality of laughter and kisses.

She was dancing barefoot and entranced, as if embracing invisible bodies that no one saw, as if to kiss lips that were parted and bent over hers lustfully, as if caresses were to be spilt all over her body and she would enjoy those invisible bodies in unusual raptures of her dance. Maybe she lifted her mouth towards precious and sweet fruits, and sipped hot wine when throwing back her head and her eyes full of desire edging her head high. And so she continued moving alienated, surrendered to the irresistible power that dominated her.

 

 hombre

 

When the music ended the girl stopped and stood in front of everyone. It was the most vivid expression of pleasure, a beautiful single flower that had just opened while a multitude of eyes looked drunk with wine and sin. And while Alessandro watched, he had an inspiration: Dancing! The relationship of life, whose substance is time, why not knowing what is called eternity is only understandable from the ancestral and Heraclitean ring symbol. The succession of things and worlds is nothing but a dance, the perimeter of a circumference, a wheel that rotates on its axis, a cycle that repeats forever.

"Only art instructs us about this mysterious relationship", he began to reason, "Art simulates stopping time, bringing together the gerund of living and seducing with a look of beauty. If faces go as dances, art sets our face and gives back the image of our own face. This transformation simulates the time in "eternity", and allows man to follow the old Apollonian advice: 'to know oneself'.  Our face, being familiar but unknown at the same time, looks at us from the mirror and shows us all of the strangeness in ourselves. It is only prudent to go with what is shown in the mirror and its indefinite multiplication of things."

When he gleefully recounted his discovery to Giulio, he was pensive and after a moment he said:

"Do not be naive Alessandro. But what power does the art have versus the obsolescence of reality and its spectral reflection. It does not answer the philosophical question that leads irresistibly to the connection of time weaving and unravelling. The life of man is the fate of a caged lion repeating its monotonous circular paths without knowing that there are meadows and mountains outside of its path."

"Indeed, Giulio, that's how it is", I replied.  But because of knowledge of such a hard fate it would be unbearable. That is why the Gods, pitiful upon us, grant us the grace of oblivion, the consolation of not knowing. What it is an unknown destination?  The children´s games of freedom. The novelty fits unpredictability as well as the consequent openness and incompleteness.


The destination is frozen time, and time is a corrosion of that destination. This will, therefore be hereinafter the motto of my life: "Convert the outrage of the years in music, in a rumour, in a symbol ".

Alessandro finally felt rejoice in solitude and calm, and watched for hours and hours for the vibrant sky to clear as he was dominated by inexplicable thoughts. His eyes were intoxicated with the bright colors of the branches on which the rays of sunshine poured. Silence welcomed his dreams in the lonely twilight hours that followed then when the night slipped into his room and stood before the window lost in the shadows. The air was again filled with the intense perfume of orange blossoms and roses protruding from the garden fence, as well as mingled with the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle that climbed hugging the tree trunks.

 

- Pleasure is deeper than pain -                                   - Alejandra de Argos -

Sorolla and the United States.

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 Sorolla

 

 

 "I wish I was not so excited,
because after an hour as today, I now feel undone,
exhausted, I cannot take more pleasure, I can´t resist like before ...
It is that painting, when he feels, is greater than all;
I said wrong: what is natural is beautiful "(Joaquín Sorolla)

 

Sometimes it happens. Some exhibitions like a hit of emotion. As with the deepest experiences of love: irrational.

And this time it happens to us. We leave the traffic of Recoletos, climbed the stairs of the old palace of Madrid, headquarters today of the rooms of the Mapfre Foundation: Sorolla and the United States.

Room 1. Dark and small inside: El Algarrobo welcomes us, as only he is illuminated. A medium format frame, landscape, far from the monumentality of Sorolla. We remember how to enter directly into the blue sea that reflects the sapphire blue Mediterranean, in the light of noon.  Bright blue, with its minimum stroke of a white spatula forming a wind sail, Sorolla's characteristics. It is the sea of Javea in 1898, with its soft pink coast in the background. The protagonist is an old carob tree nearby; the Eastern Mediterranean, with connotations of absence, which leads to the baby-boomers who, in the absence of chocolate, enjoyed sucking their sweetpods as a treat.

In its twisted trunk there are shadows of the Sorolla palette; short brushstrokes and ochre material, grey and black with contrasting blue-green fleshy leaves, with a prickly row of pears left behind, in the sun.  And that ends in a white washed wall with a white as hurtful as it is cheerful.

The shadow of carob is home to dozens of sheep and goats. The siesta. Dead spots and holes from the sun. The radiant light of that sea. We almost anticipate a fly buzzing, the rattle of sheep, a mixture of the smell of the sea with a herd and a tree, almost the exact temperature and warmth of this Levantine landscape that transports us with a myriad of sensations.

We approach to read the label of this picture. Under the title and date, provenance: Private collection, USA.

 

Sorolla: El algarrobo, 1898.

Sorolla: El Algarrobo, 1898.

 

We turn around to its companion picture: Port of Valencia, this time the Cincinnati Art Museum. Rarely have we seen such audacity in a painter to capture light on a basket or white hat. So much so that the elements, in this case the basket, or wide-brimmed hat, are nothing more than an excuse, a shield emanating light. It would seem that it forms with light. It's a classic scene in Sorolla: the active sea, the harbor, fishing. The boats, with children jumping into the water from them. We immediately think of many other targets: the ones of Zurbarán, more mystical and conventional, in their tablecloth fabrics or chasubles dense thread, also in the thick strokes of Rembrandt as light bulbs that light up the darkness. Even in Velázquez or in some Venetian painters of XVI. They have nothing to do with the message of these targets coming out of the sun, with light, warm air turning to shades that almost introduce scents: the vanilla wafer, summer, the coast, the west, to joy ...

What have these two pictures in common next to the other two -´Another Margarita !!´ and Los pimientos- hanging on the walls of the first room? Sorolla always felt a transnational painter. These four pictures show how before the arrival of the painter to the United States, for his major exhibitions of 1909 and 1911, some of his works already belonged to American collections. Port of Valencia or El Algorrobo were purchased through European dealers who acquired works in exhibitions in Paris, Munich, Berlin and London and are the preamble to what Blanca Pons-Sorolla, curator of the exhibition, comes to announce as the theme of this exhibition.

After the retrospective of Sorolla in the Prado Museum in 2009, it is now the Mapfre Foundation which brings us to the moment of triumph, in the middle of the fullness of his work. Sorolla in the United States. For this to be together, for the first time in Spain, a group of works, many never seen here, which were exposed by the painter in his American samples and purchased by collectors and museums in the United States.

 

Sorolla: Saliendo del baño, 1908.

Sorolla: Saliendo del baño, 1908.

 

Joaquín Sorolla was born in 1863 and died in 1923, 60 years and five months old. We must understand what the political and cultural context in which the painter´s life goes through to assess precisely the merit of his American triumph.

Sorolla's life covers the period of the Restoration and the parliamentary monarchy of Alfonso XIII. It is a stage of political stability in Spain, so it is also in the economic field. However, a deep rift divides the country: political Spain on one side and the royal Spain on the other. The field remains stuck in stagnation, while an oligarchic bourgeoisie consolidates. Both are faithfully portrayed by Sorolla.

Furthermore, the settlement of overseas empire occurs in 1898. The country is almost reduced to its present limits. This has a direct impact on the intellectual movement that leads to a controversy which arises both in the field of literature as in painting and other visual arts. That fracture divided Spain in what came to be called the black Spain (term coined by the book by Emile Verhaeren and Darío de Regoyos, 1899) faithful to a nation at the crossroads, anchored in its medieval and dark roots. A Spain guided by artists like Ignacio Zuloaga to Julio Romero de Torres, also by the great authors of 98, Unamuno, Valle-Inclán, Baroja ... Faced with this darkened Spain, a white and bright Spain shone, born with the joy of living in the present. Next to this Spain were other painters apart from Sorolla as Hermen Anglada-Camarasa or José Pinazo.

In the field of painting, which is the present one, it is curious to know that this controversy even affected the world of colours. In Sorolla, all of his energy is manifested in the power of the chromatic material, in full thick brushstrokes with thousands of combinations of tones which advanced the joy of life. While Zuloaga y Romero de Torres belonged to the current Unamuno who, in his denial of any substance sensuousness as art, rejected all the elements that confer greater physicality to a picture, by oil painting or colours. For him only grey would fit "because the grey tends to behave like a vampire of the colors, because when mixed with them it is in charge of sucking the  blood, the life strength, up until emptying themselves." It is in this context that, for example, imagine our Valencian painter, easel in hand, touring Spain, by painting on giant canvasses, full of strokes and patches of colour, noise and optimism to be hung in a Hispanic Society at farthest from noventayochista pessimism.


Sorolla: Baile en el Café Novedades de Sevilla, 1914.

Sorolla: Dancing in the Café Novedades of Sevilla, 1914



Nothing more out of this first room we finally start with the enormous Sad Inheritance! (1899). Sent to the Universal Exhibition in Paris with five other paintings, the jury awarded the Grand Prix Sorolla by all, but especially for this work here, within these walls, it seems drowned between a floor and a ceiling too close for her. We think it is the only sea painting of Sorolla where the beach is pure melancholy. It's not the bright and cheerful July or August light, nor the golden September; it is a cold light, like of early June. The sea, even the waves and sand, blue and white, seem to have been mixed far too much on the palette with a huge splash of priest's cassock bitumen color, which also makes his hard profile stand out. The rest, those emaciated young are the only bodies of children that Sorolla painted in the sea whose skin is not covered by this transparent, cheerful and slippery film that is the brightness of salt water and what makes it something like metallic fish reflections.


Sorolla here becomes austere, even in the amount of material used in the stroke: dispenses with all sensuality abuse thick patches of colour limiting to almost scraping with the spatula. Returning to those poor children head down with shaved hair and those who do not paint eyes, to the ephemeral misery in their time of joy. Plunging themselves into a water cooler than ever. In a sea that almost becomes the Atlantic.

Source of picture: Purchased in 1902 by J. Vidalin NewYork.

 

Sorolla: ¡Triste herencia!, 1899.

Sorolla: ¡Triste herencia!, 1899.

 

SOROLLA AND HISPANIC SOCIETY.

The ground floor of the exhibition is dedicated to the two great patrons of Sorolla in the United States: Archer Milton Huntington and Thomas Fortune Ryan.


Sorolla: Thomas Fortune Ryan, 1913.

Sorolla: Thomas Fortune Ryan, 1913.

 

 

Huntington founded the Hispanic Society in 1904 to promote Hispanic studies and bring the American public to the Spanish culture. Not only in relation to painting, but also with literature.

In 1909 he organised the first major exhibition of Sorolla in the United States, in the rooms of the Hispanic Society of New York. It was a resounding success, both in sales and assistants to the exhibition, as well as the support from a glowing review. This first exhibition later travelled to Buffalo and Boston where they were received with similar enthusiasm. Sorolla's second triumph  came two years later in 1911 in Chicago and St. Louis.

As a result, Huntington entrusts "the work of his life": fourteen panels to decorate the library of his headquarters in New York. Sorolla took only eight years to make this request: from 1912 to 1919. Shortly after completing the last canvas, and probably due to the superhuman effort he performed, he suffered a stroke and in 1923, three years after, he died.

When in 1926 the paintings were finally hung on the walls for which they were conceived, both in America and in Spain this fact went almost unnoticed, fading between the press and criticism so far from the overwhelming triumph of Sorolla a few years before.

What had changed over the eight years in which Sorolla had covered the Spanish geography even painting it in the wake of the success of the exhibitions of 1909 and 1911?

There are two facts that spun the sensitivity of the American and European companies. First of all, the First World War, but above all, a crucial event in the development of the fine arts: where in New York the Armory Show took place and made its way, blowing all the locks on all the doors, the avant-garde spirit.

Armory Show, English name of artistic exhibitions held in the armory of the 69 Regiment of the National Guard in New York, is the term that refers to the International Exhibition of Modern Art that took place between February 17 and March 15, 1913. This exhibition was a turning point for American art focusing it toward modernity and distancing the hitherto dominant academicism. It brought together some 1,300 pieces that roamed the development of contemporary art with representative works of Impressionism, Symbolism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism and Fauvism.

 

 

Exposición Internacional de Arte Moderno

 

Apart from the density of ideas that characterised this movement, there is one that sums it up well: the forefront is the prioritisation of the discourse on the figure.

The artists who moved around the 1900s, we would say between the last quarter of the nineteenth century until 1914, did so shuffling the dialectic between discourse and figure, looking for a communication between them. But from 1914, speech, meaning, sought independence from the matter that constituted the body: the soul tried to become independent of the body that gave life and consequently the fine arts wanted to separate from the material that it conformed. The basic idea of departing was replaced by the will of transcendence: of intangible meaning.

The center of this edgy hurricane was Marcel Duchamp and his obsession with getting away from plastic sensory.

In short, the ideas were interesting; painting now looked at the service of the mind and the antisense speech that led to the vanguard collided head-on with the painting of Sorolla, essentially sensory and sensual. Sorolla was obsolete.


It was not until the XXI century where the anti-vanguardismo shows its breadth when the figure and fame of Sorolla are returned to the place they deserve. There are 20 paintings in the collection of the Prado Museum.

 
VALENCIA BEACH, THE PORT, CHILDREN IN THE SUN, THE LANDSCAPES AND PORTRAITS OF CLOTILDE AND ELENA THAT FLOOD NEW YORK ...

 

Sorolla: Corriendo por la playa, 1908.

Sorolla: Running on the beach, 1908.

 

"The air was impregnated by miracle everywhere. People quoted the number of visitors and he continually had in his mouth the words" sun glare. "Never had anything like that happened in New York. The ohhh and ahh´s  misted floor tiles, cars jammed the street. Portrait orders poured in. Photographic reproductions were sold in unseen quantities. And through it all, there was our little creator. Sitting quietly, overwhelmed but not cocky, while I would translate the waves of enthusiasm from the press. "

(Letter from Archer Huntington to his mother , Arabella Duval Huntington New York, March 1909).

 

And yes, with this letter from his mother Huntington we understand part of the revolution that Sorolla created in New York in the beginning of the century, flooding it with the Mediterranean light, of the joy of this mysterious inland sea.

In a sort of time warp we imagine ourselves converted to American viewers, moving for the first time, stunned amongst the paintings of Sorolla.

How would we react seeing ourselves surrounded by scenes of sea and beach - girls with pink dresses and loose buns running hand in hand, jumping on their reflections that turned into torrents of colors and light. Persued by the naked body of a child, in a jump, after a blue and violet sea crossed by horizontal waves which look more like grins, with baby teeth and screams rather than foaming curls? Would we notice, in the winter across the Atlantic, how light brightens the colors to its fullest, irradiating them until they are put into our thick coats closed with buttons and filling them with a feeling of warmth and comfort which the paintings of Sorolla always give? Accompanying this canvas, Running on the beach (1908, bought by E. Huntington, in New York in the exhibition, 1909) a series of preparatory drawings on paper where the spirit of Sorolla already announced the use of charcoal and graphite sculpting the folds of the robes of the girls almost as if they were a korai of classical Greece, defining his arms, organising her hair, off the extensive patches of bright pastel white are those that breathe life into the figures and faces of girls.


 Sorolla: Niñas corriendo III. Estudio para Corriendo por la playa, 1908.

Sorolla: Girls running III. Study for Running on the beach, 1908.


"THIS ARTIST OF VALENCIA HAS FOUND HIS TREASURE IN BLUE WATER. BUT THE DOMAIN OF THE SEA HAS NOT BEEN ACHIEVED BY JOAQUÍN SOROLLA IN ONE AFTERNOON. HE IS SAID TO HAVE a BROKEN ARM DUE TO ROWING AND A SUNBURNT FACE"

(Juan Ramón Jiménez)



Much in the style of Sorolla , there is a lot of his personality: vital and passionate, just painting conceived as a vehicle for his feelings and his way of seeing things. The painting was his life and in that sense there was dissociation between life and work, between man and the artist. I felt things directly, away from the depths or paused reflections.

His life is lengthened as a stroke over his painting. He maintained a constant communication with the world that inhabited his paintings: with himself and the things he painted, with himself and the people whom he painted from Clotilde, his wife, to his sons and his models. He painted what he liked, especially the sea and its surroundings. Everything had to be cheerful, cool, loud, flooded with light. He painted everything with strength and vigor. He was a temperamental and emotional man and could not engage in something that did not attract him overwhelmingly. In cases where he should engage in a portrait commissioned corseted, the quality of his work was suffering. He moved away from all that gave him coldness. The sobriety of Castilla would frighten him. When painting Castilla he said: "I painted all day and I'm not happy with the work (...) I do not know what happened here (...) but it attracts severity (...) I am less encouraged to continue in Avila, the Castilian bothers me, it is too barbaric. "

And yet he was excited with Andalusia, with the partying and the bulls ...

Analyzing this position –vitality against intellectuality- we discover how art moved and fascinated him. And so we see how Sorolla never showed any interest in taverns; he stayed away from any art analysis as cubist art was, that developed alongside him. Between 1907 and 1914, Braque, Picasso and Gris convert still life into one of their favourite genres: they planned to reduce nature to simple geometric shapes. Nothing too far off from the paintings of Sorolla.

 

 

Sorolla: Bajo el toldo, 1910.

Sorolla: Under the awning,1910. 

 

The fundamental characteristic of his work is the search for the natural. It is true that in his paintings one can see traces of Naturalism, Impressionism, even Fauvism, but always in his way.

He shared many traits with Impressionism: the plenairismo, a clear palette, the tendency to sketch, the weakening of the issue in favor of the environment ... However, unlike his Impressionist colleagues, he did not come close to science in search of the decomposition of light and colour properties. That intellectual search Sorolla disliked and was devoted entirely to the pure emotion and what he saw as natural. "What for? If the normal eye sees colour together why, then separate it?".

"I AM HUNGRY TO PAINT(...) I SWALLOW, I OVERFLOW, IT IS CRAZINESS"
(Sorolla)

This exhibition also shows an overwhelming quality of Sorolla: the indefatigable worker, lucky beast unable to stop.

They are great rooms, also dark, small, crowded, certainly turned into Studioli or jewellery cabinets, in which the viewer enjoys the notes made by Sorolla, either on their small oil boards with landscapes and sketches, along with his drawings from the US hotels or the back of menus of Parisian restaurants.

 

Sorolla: Escena de café, 1911.

Sorolla: Coffee Scene, 1911.

 

"When do I paint? Always. I'm painting now, I look at it as I talk to you".

Sorolla  made more than two thousand small paintings throughout his life. They did not exceed 20 or 30 centimetres. The so-called "notes" or "color spots ". And he painted them for himself, for pleasure, like sketches or essays that conveys the artist's soul. They were a scanner of how the painter looked or felt. His most intimate and free side.

They were the immediacy of the look: one that looks and paints at the same time. Hunger of the painter for letting his hand, like a writer extends its pulsations in an outline of what he is seeing or feeling: out of necessity to vomit what explodes within him.

That uncontrollable lava which Sorolla advanced in his studies of nature, capturing snapshots, light changes, no matter if it were a piece of a wall and his limed white, the reflection of a tree in the water of a pond, the arms of children reduced to tiny strokes, alternating with touches of the spatula, to capture their jumps in the waves ... This custom of the notes, to paint for himself and the small format was already known from Goya and developed by painters who took their paints outdoors, whether it be Fortuny or Pinazo, Sargent or Boudin. It seemed that Fortuny had invented an ingenious box of notes that facilitated the convenience of outdoor studies. It was a box with two parts connected by hinges: the bottom to act as a palette and where colour tubes and brushes were kept; at the top, was the small board in a manner that when standing, could receive the painter´s creation.

These notes become especially interesting in the end, when freedom and the security itself is already full. They become evidence of the advancement of the technique and the search for light, while the shadows are forced to the limit and painting sharpens its modernity to remind us that Sorolla works at the time of the photography and passion for Japanese stamps.

"Now is when my hand listens completely to my retina and my feeling. Twenty years later!" said the painter at the end of his life.


 

En la dehesa

 

 

- Sorolla and the United States -                                  - Alejandra de Argos -

 

Interview with Subodh Gupta

 Author: Marta Gnyp

Indian superstar artist Subodh Gupta draws inspiration from Hindu mythology and Bollywood. His own life could also inspire a movie: a young boy from a large family growing up in one of India’s poorest regions, discovers a talent for drawing. He attends art school, moves to Delhi, works in theater productions and visual arts. He develops a hyper-realistic painting style where kitchen utensils serve as subjects, then goes on to create large installations and sculptures. Within a couple of years, he becomes an internationally acclaimed artist whose works are sought by famous collectors worldwide.

 

sgupta01-w500

Cocoon, 2009 brass and metal alloy, ø 183 cm courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich, © Subodh Gupta 

 

Marta Gnyp: The prophecies about our world as a global village seem to have come true. Thanks to new media, the Internet and the fast-pace of communication, we all seem to speak a similar language— even in the field of arts. Do you consider yourself an artist who works in the tradition of Western art? Is it inevitable that a good international artist has to relate to the Western art tradition?

Subodh Gupta: No. For me art has one language and it is not relevant to divide the artistic legacy and production into Western or non-Western. We all work in a similar way, from the visual and conceptual point of view. The art language is, however, not a common thing; it is something very secret and private. A good complicated movie or a good book can be understood easily by the attentive reader who knows how to read and interpret it. On the other hand, the artist is always rooted in his own tradition. This is the reason I use Indian objects and Hindu rituals. Jasper Johns could make the American flag the way in which he did it only because he was an American artist; it would carry a completely different meaning if a Chinese were to make it. 

 

sgupta02-w500

Incubate, 2010, 25 stainless steel eggs, 5 chandeliers, variable dimensions installation view Subodh Gupta.Take off your shoes and wash your hands, Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland, 2010, © Subodh Gupta courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, photo: Alan Dimmick 

 

MG: I read that getting to know the works of Marcel Duchamp was very important to you: you even recently remade one of his readymades which referred to L.H.O.O.Q., his Mona Lisa with a goatee Et tu, Duchamp? Do you consider the daily objects you use as a form of readymade? According to Duchamp, the readymade has to fulfill two criteria: it has to be visually neutral and not personal. I wonder whether these criteria apply to your work —firstly, because they are visually very attractive and secondly, because as I understand, they appeal to many Indians by calling up childhood memories. What is the function of these objects for you?

SG: I don’t believe that the ready-mades by Duchamp were not visually attractive to him. I respect Duchamp as a great artist and thinker and the Mona Lisa was a kind of homage to him, an expression of my admiration for his great artistic freedom in thinking. But my objects have a different character; I don’t care about the ready-made concept of Duchamp. I use what interests me, what is mine, what fits into my way of thinking and art making. Those simple kitchen utensils are a visual paradox of the shiny attractive appearance on the surface and the emptiness inside; they show in a very accessible way the extremities of our time: the nothingness and the exuberance, and on a concrete level, the lack of the most essential ingredient of our life—food and the striking accumulation of hollow expressions of any kind. 

MG: Does this partly explain why your work is so successful outside India as well?

SG: My themes are universal, although my references could be named the Indian village traditions, i.e. usage of cow dung and the importance of food. There is a combination of local and global languages. Everybody can read and understand in my art the paradoxes of our life. 

 

sgupta03-w500

Terminal, 2010 brass, thread, variable dimensions installation view Subodh Gupta. Take off your shoes and wash your hands,Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland, 2010, © Subodh Gupta courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, photo: Alan Dimmick 

 

MG: Have you been surprised with the enormous success of your works?

SG: Well, actually not. I am not surprised who I am. 

MG: At what moment did you first feel you were an artist?

SG: I have always felt I’m an artist, even from the very beginning when I started to draw and paint but didn’t know what art really meant. I didn’t know what was good and what was bad art. I have been experiencing this fantastic energy ever since, and I have always been a very self-confident person about what I’m doing. I like it when the challenge becomes bigger every time for me as an artist. 

MG: What is the status of the artist in your country?

SG: I spend the days mostly in my studio; I’m not a person who goes out very often. The artist is, in my opinion, a very normal person. The magic which is needed for my work can be found everywhere within the normal life of my friends, my studio, my surroundings, in common life. 

 

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Two Cows, 2003 – 2008, two bicycles, bronze and chrome, 42 × 73 × 18 cm © Subodh Gupta, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich 

 

MG: Speaking of your friends, the works of your generation of artists in India are so strong and omnipresent that one speaks about the Indian Renaissance. Why is it happening now? Is there an urge to express a new Indian identity through art, related to the country’s more powerful economic position in the world?

SG: No, I don’t believe in this statement. Artists from all generations have been important; I respect very much the modernists, to give you an example. Of course, the contemporary life—not only in India—is very complex. People have the desire to see more and want to be confronted with the new in a very fast way. I can sense two opposite dynamic powers in our time: one wants to bring us closer to each other and the one wants to divide us. Art has the power to bring us together. Seeing the recent developments from this perspective, art all over the world is becoming reshuffled; it is not only the Indian renaissance but the general increase of interest in arts. Look at the number of galleries, collectors and museums abroad. To the contrary, in India, we don’t have one single museum of contemporary art. Surprisingly enough, people abroad have other ideas about contemporary art in India. The fact is that in this huge country, we don’t have places to show today’s art. We have a long way to go. 

MG: It means that the position of the collector in your country is very important because they have the task of supporting the artist and making the art possible.

SG: We don’t have a lot of collectors in India. We cannot always count on the few collectors spread out all over the country; foreign collectors who love our art are more important. Most of the people in India who love contemporary art have no money to spend it on art. On the other side, the richest people operating in the global context have often no single artwork in their home, which is sad. Thank god art lovers from abroad give us the possibility to express ourselves and to grow. 

 

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Still Life, 2009, marble, wood table, 120 × 213.4 × 76.2 cm, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich, © Subodh Gupta 

 

MG: Your works are being sold mostly to foreign collectors?

SG: Yes, sporadically to the Indian collectors, but mostly abroad. 

MG: Speaking of buying and selling art, did earning huge amounts of money somehow influence your life?

SG: No, where I’m coming from and who I am doesn’t matter; principally, the artist has the right to live a good life. If we are lucky to succeed in our life, why not enjoy it? 

MG: Do you see a connection between your art and design and fashion? Do you see this crossing of disciplines as something typical for our time? If yes, does it bother you?

SG: Not at all. I love fashion and I love design. Merging of disciplines can be very fruitful. Look at what was happening during the Venice Biennale 2005, where architects, photographers, filmmakers, video artists, painters, and sculptors met in one platform. Fashion and design are very close to arts; they are definitely linked to each other. I respect them all. 

 

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Untitled, 2010, oil on canvas, 167.6 × 228.3 × 4 cm © Subodh Gupta, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich 

 

MG: Your wife Bharti Kher is also a successful artist. Both of your personal stories sound like a dreamy Bollywood movie: a British young artist of Indian origin traveling to India for the first time meets an Indian artist and falls in love—without even speaking a common language. Then she moves to India and now, you work and live together. Did you start to look differently at Indian culture through her eyes?

SG: Yes, we became very close and as a foreigner, she wanted to understand how the system works so she asked me many questions. However, you cannot change the way you see, you can only start thinking differently. You are who you are; you cannot change rituals, not in your country, not in any other place. But you can change your own thinking—only you yourself, nobody else can do it for you. If I’m looking bad, that’s me who is looking bad. If I’m looking good, that’s me who is looking good. The perspective of every individual changes over time, but your destiny does not. So my language definitely changed, but my heart didn’t. 

MG: Do you see your art changing in the near future?

SG: I always experiment. My theater background helps me to look from different angles. I am not planning anything beforehand, but you will see after a while that my art looks different. 

 

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Et tu, Duchamp?, 2009, black bronze, 114 × 88 × 59 cm, installation view Subodh Gupta. Common Man, Hauser & Wirth London, 2009, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, photo: Mike Bruce, © Subodh Gupta 

 

MG: What connect all your works together? What is for you the essence of your art?

SG: For me, art is about time. Art has the power to express feelings and ideas; it makes us understand what was not understandable. Duchamp is able to make us look and see differently: how much we owe the person of Duchamp, and how much to his work, we don’t know. Yet, the visual language is so powerful and so individual that without looking at the works of Duchamp, I couldn’t look into Duchamp as a person. So for me, as an artist, my artwork is me, but without my artwork, I am nobody. 

MG: What would be your dream project?

SG: I don’t know. I’m dreaming all the time. 

 

Subodh Gupta is represented by Hauser & Wirth in Zurich, London and New York.

- Interview with Subodh Gupta -                                  - Home: Alejandra de Argos -

Interview with Guillermo Kuitca.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

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The career of Guillermo Kuitca (Buenos Aires, 1961) began at nine-years-old when he entered the workshop Ahuva Szliowicz supported by his mother, Mary Kuitca, a psychoanalyst, but especially by his father, an accountant named Jaime Kuitca. From here, he left at 18-years-old, having turned into a precocious painter; he had his first solo exhibition at the age of 13 and taught painting classes. His interest in film, music, literature and architecture is present in his work. More importantly, his passion in theatre is present. He is the author, director and set designer. His work is included in the collections of major museums including the Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, Tate Gallery ... But the most interesting thing about Kuitca is that, thanks to him, future generations of Argentine artists have formed. In 1991 Kuitca created scholarships where they study and work in disciplines related to the visual arts.

Elena Cué: With a precocity like yours, what memories remain and who has made the greatest impression on you?

Guillermo Kuitca: Undoubtedly, the figure of my father has been very important in this case. He was very excited when I became an artist. His interventions were very subtle, but I remember when I went to buy the first fabrics, the first easel and first brushes, I always went with him, and I imagine it left a notable mark on me. Many years later when I was already a painter totally dedicated to this and absolutely committed, Dad told me that in his youth he had tried to paint. He was from a humble family, which meant having to steal the hairs from his father's shaving brush as well as cooking oil; luckily things I learned much later, because children are very sensitive to every little thing.

 

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E.C: His pictorial series have changed according to their own rhythm, but also the historical situations; this applies to "Nobody forgets anything" (1982) in pure conflict with the Falkland's war. For this series he locks himself in his studio using whatever material is at hand: doors, wood or fabric. It is a very intimate series but also a political and historical view of the world; depicting the bed as the central image, women and heartbreaking scenes over and over again. The bed is a symbol that has accompanied him in his work as the installation Untitled, 1992, using 52 mattresses painted with maps.

Why the eternal recurrence of this object in your work? Has your concept changed over time?

G.K: I saw the bed as a vehicle that I could use to move through human experience and through my work, as if the bed had wings or wheels, that is to say, the image has neither one nor the other, it is rectangular with legs but has the potential to move through time and space.

There is something very basic in the image that exists as a kind of heart in the works and I think that persists until, I think, 2013 with a big play called "Double Eclipse". This had a number of beds and it is as if there was something from that first experience, from that bed in 1981-1982 that is maintained. Of course my views on this subject are changing, extracting excessive forms of conceptual links: psychological, political, or sentimental things. How to turn the bed into a rectangle as if it were a plan of where life happens instead of the demarcation of a house, of human experience, like taking it to the most essential point possible. But that concept I would say almost survives along those in which is the human experience, birth, death, sex, sleep, illness, reading ... this stunning cluster of intimacies that occur. From the most sublime to the most banal. So I would say that more than the evolution of the concept, it was like taking adhesions that had stuck through time. The bed as pictorial representation is almost like a perfect equation that produces a very simple representation as an absolute inclusion, taking advantage of the huge space.

 

Mariana Grinberg-Kuitca

 

E.C: Psychoanalysis has been present in his life from an early age. His mother and a childhood influenced by therapy sessions have contributed to this, which meetings he went to reluctantly. If the origin of art lies within the subconscious, hidden deep in our personality, this reality finds a way to manifest symbolically, says Freud, through dreams; also by spontaneous writing or scribbles where aesthetics and morals of our consciousness are not involved. Both are used in his works. His "Diaries" series are paintings made on canvas where he scribbles, draws, notes and paints over months of his daily life. These involuntary diaries and oniric aesthetics in many of his works, where the figures live in half-empty spaces with disproportionate scale, surreal disjointed scenes, leave an unsettling impression.

 

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The most intimate, the product of pure thought, emerges in your paintings. Does painting facilitate knowing oneself? How do you feel about displaying these in public?

G.K: Interesting paradox ... because while I like your version, for me, and I guess that for many artists it does not rule out a process of self-knowledge. Without doubt, there is an inner expression brought into play and that is how it becomes accessible. It is also true that for me, the power of the artwork exists in the privacy that is created between the work and the viewer. Therefore, the work is not what is between the viewer and myself, that is, the access to me personally. But I think the strongest aesthetic experience is the relationship created between the work and who looks upon it; therefore I tend to disappear from the scene. I think that trying to look at the work while wondering about the artist, what is its truth, what is its secret etc., is probably losing the richest artistic experience, in generating a particular privacy. That, in general, the painting produces this kind of miracle, which is what I see, what happens to me. Sometimes nothing happens, it's almost like an experience of love; like a secret between the work and I, the individual looking.

Of course it is entirely lawful and I accept all kinds of visions and do not think some are more legitimate than others. However, I believe it is richer to ask oneself whether the artist who made this work is hidden, or vice versa, whether they are revealed in these details. On the other hand, everything is automatic work, for example, on the tables in my Diaries, rather than subconscious. It is automatic work, it is a kind of restless hand which marks things. It is not a test. In that sense, I like it when you think of the environment as rarefied as they are in dreams. But it is also true that there are many more dreams than dream interpretations, and Freudian psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic techniques in something that is already more than 100 years old. This is not to do with the dream, but interpreting the dream. In that sense, one can dream without interpretation and I think the public who visit visual arts, the trained and untrained, either from exhaustion or disinterest, even including the fortunate, have abandoned the permanent temptation to try and interpret the artist or the work.

I think there are thousands of possible entries to a work and perhaps only one of them is interpretation. In my case, I was born in a family where psychoanalysis was very conventional, it was not uncommon. In a city where many people were analyzed, psychoanalysis did not appear as something exceptional; I only saw it as a peculiarity with pros and cons. As you say, I could have been analyzed myself, I was in a situation where the guys here in Buenos Aires in the modernity of the 60s, were sent to the analyst when they sneezed instead of going to the doctor to take an aspirin, everything was considered to be psychosomatic, there was a kind of total abuse of therapy. And no guy liked to have their head messed with. Sometimes, with the access that the public have, the critics are surprising because it is believed that the work conceals oneself and actually substitutes in a way that if you were aware of it, you could probably not do it.

 

Kuitca Arsenale Installation View 23

 

E.C: His work has developed over time with varying central motifs: the first works with distorted figures, quilted beds covered with maps, architectural and city plans, newspapers, maps, the empty luggage carousels at the airport, unclaimed suitcases as representations of the orphan, are examples of what have interested him at various moments.

What is the relationship between the choice of your motifs and your obsessions? Up to what point is art a channel for them?

G.K: I think there should be a very direct line, of course, the work itself is already very obsessive but probably thinking about it is decoded at that time. I sometimes look at my works from the past, and I understand what was in my head at the time of making it. At the time of doing it, I didn't necessarily consider my obsessions, because the process itself is very demanding and absorbing and it is perhaps all that is needed to make a work. I am in dialogue with the painting, in a kind of battle and sometimes this bypasses a reflection of where my head actually is. Anyway, at the time, I am also looking at what connects all of these, and what themes are being projected. When you mentioned all the topics that have been present in my work, there is a huge body of work that has the theatre existing between these sequences of beds, cities, the maps and after, the leap to the luggage carousel. The theatre was a very important issue; somehow I had to make it rotate from the view of the stage to the view of the audience, as a permanent exchange. When the first luggage carousel appeared, it appeared as a backdrop, like a stage platform, almost as if it had nothing to do with with the representation. Of course I was interested in the unclaimed luggage, desolation, but the first luggage carousel was a response to the stage area. Then, as the works acted as signposts, the best one can do is not to resist but to continue on that path.

E.C: So it is only possible to notice these obsessions in retrospect...

G.K: The work is more intuitive. I don't know if I'm a good observer of my work. Of course, I investigate and submit my work to all types of analysis; the cruelest possible. But when I do that, there is an intuitive element that I do not want to lose. If I constantly ask myself what I am going to do then I lose the purity, arbitrariness, intuition and nonsense that are very important moments, in which the work opens up to the other, the viewer. If not, it is always a self-reflection. For me it is essential to concentrate and not to ignore what the work asks me.

 

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E.C: What is art to you? Do you think art should also have a utilitarian purpose that is intrinsic to our time? Or is it closer to what Schopenhauer said, when describing art as a drug that temporarily eases the suffering produced by our continuous chain of needs and desires, against our will?

G.K: Obviously Schopenhauer's time is not ours, but if art were a drug or balm, as Derrida said the drug is both a cure and a poison, that will become his own utility. In this fragmented world, art in its most sublime expression does not produce experiences that can soothe or solve all our frustrations. In this sense, I do not think that it is ever one hundred percent effective for the human soul, and I do not think that utility is the barrier that makes this impossible.

When we speak about art, I do not know how we do it; as exchange value, as decoration, as thought, as a vehicle of ideas, of all kinds of information, which would not be so negative. It seems that in the world we live in today, we have no chance to convert a single object into something (beyond money) in which we condense a sense of neither profit nor absolute compensation. Art has helped those of us who are close to it, to live, of course. It has broadened our horizons, it has made us a better people to a certain point, or not, but it has helped us to live when we have suffered and suffered and gone through everything that has happened around the world. It is very difficult to give an answer. I think art is still that experience which happens between the work and the viewer, and I think that it withholds some closed meaning. But not because it hasn't been revealed. There are writers who manage to describe their experiences with art, but there is some privacy which is like the heart of art. There is privacy, like a measure of art in which its meaning is enclosed. I don't know if one day we will have access to it, or whether it makes sense to do so.

 

Guillermo Kuitca. Afghanistan 1990. Mixed media on mattress 67 x 118 x 4-34 in. Daros-Latinamerica Collection Zurich

 

E.C: You once said that you live with enthusiasm but also with despair. Could you tell us, what is your dream now? What have you despaired over?

G.K: Regarding my hopes, I have never created as many projects as I have this year; something that has taken me away from my studio. I guess my dream is to return to and lock myself in my studio and concentrate on my work. Hopelessness has to do with this, at least in recent years when I have felt that things are never resolved, and with the disappointments of those who govern us or the accumulations of power. I fear more the power of accumulation than that of money. Although it is almost the same, it is not exactly the same. That always leaves a bitter taste about the life that I live, and I cannot complain because I am a very privileged person but I cannot be carefree. The hopes always come on a more personal level, starting with this or that project, or for the people around us. When we speak about hopes and dreams, we are reduced to the smaller, personal scale, and when we speak about despair we speak of the world, of hunger ... It's curious how we shrink our hopes to a small scale and how they are exaggerated with despair. In times of crisis, the artist has to play a role that connects disappointment to hope. 

E.C: I discovered that you are preparing an artist book with MoMA, could you tell us something about it?

G.K: I am very surprised that you know this. While I was waiting for you, I was working on it. I am developing some ideas, there is something beautiful about this project which is the freedom of the material formatting, images, size, absolute freedom. It is an ideal situation but sometimes people need to recognise the limits in order to know where to go. With the publisher of this project we began to discuss and have ideas. I have always been fascinated by artists' books. I'm not sure yet how it will be. My work is, generally, horizontal and I do not like horizontal books, I like vertical books. I struggle with the format in catalogues. It is a bit like painting. Lately, I have been painting murals and working in the corners of the rooms which fascinate me. It's a little bit like a game between the corners and the separations in what I'm thinking about right now.

Guillermo it has been a pleasure, I have learned a lot about art in this conversation.

 

 

 

- Interview with Guillermo Kuitca by Elena Cue -                                  - Home: Alejandra de Argos -

Jason deCaires Taylor and the sublime. Cancun.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

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Underwater sculptures. 

The sublime is something that moves up profoundly, that lifts us. There is no sublimation without passion. This experience full of beauty, exalts the viewer to unusual levels of aesthetic or moral shock. The MUSA (Underwater Museum of Art) is submerged off the coast of Cancun, Mexico and is the largest museum under the sea, with over 500 sculptures done by Jason Taylor deCaires. It's one of those experiences that raises us by its greatness.

Jason DeCaires Taylor (1974) is an English sculptor, with over 18 years of experience as a diver. He has received awards for his underwater photographs, which capture how his sculptures become something organic, living a continuous transformation by the effects of ocean.

 

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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor

 

The microorganisms that inhabit the oceans, colonize the surfaces of these sculptures creating coral reefs. The sculptures are formed using a special cement mixture, sand and micro quartz concrete, producing a neutral Ph which helps these microorganisms colonize its surface, enriching his work and helping to sustain the environment. The creation of coral serves as breeding and nursery grounds for many species that form the ecosystem. In this case, aesthetics and utility come together in this sublime composition, as these sculptures are the ideal substrate for coral to grow on and eventually create a reef that sustains a richer marine biomass and foster the reproduction of the species.

 

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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor. Silent Evolution

 

Enmanuel Kant, in his essay "Observations of the feeling of the beautiful and the sublime", linked the feeling of the sublime with the idea of infinity, that which impresses us by the grandeur of the embodiments to which it leads (the mathematically sublime). To admire the composition of more than 500 life-size sculptures, each with its own personal face, as it was done thousands of years ago with The warriors of Xian, is a grand experience. The dynamically sublime would be all that shows its immeasurable power, as are the wonders of nature. The unlimited, mysterious, awesome, beautiful, majestic, magnificent and terrifying nature of the sea, enhances this effect on the disturbing sculptures. Therefore, the relationship developed between our understanding and our imagination, causes in us a sublime feeling towards what we observe.

 

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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor. Silent Evolution

 

What makes these artworks singular is the interaction between man and nature in a living creative process. For Aristotle, nature (natural) and art (artificial) had nothing in common, they are two different realities, since the laws that govern them are totally different. Therefore, is fascinating to be able to make these two realities merge into a whole. The man-made artificial work of art, undergoes a constant metamorphosis leading to something natural until the primal is hidden.

 

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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor 


Jason DeCaires Taylor creates this synthesis between man and nature, art and science, where sculptures, with the sea as a metaphor for infinity are individualized as Apollonian forms immersed in the ebb and flow of the Dionysian.

 

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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor. Reclamation.

 

 

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 Photos: Jason deCaires Taylor 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jason deCaires Taylor's official page: www.underwatersculpture.com 

 

- Jason deCaires Taylor and the sublime. Cancun. -                                  - Alejandra de Argos -

 



Interview with Maurizio Cattelan by Elena Cué

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Maurizio Cattelan

 

Maurizio Cattelan was born in Padua, Italy in 1960. Internationally, he is considered as the most relevant Italian artist in the contemporary art world. As a self-taught artist, his career began in 1989 with a black and white photograph titled Family Syntax; a framed self-portrait in which he appears forming a heart with his hands over his naked chest. He has previously collaborated with a gallery in Milan working on furniture design. 

 

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Elena Cué: Your work is anarchic, irreverent, absurd and provocative to the extreme. It is often a dramatic satirical representation. One could say he is post-Dada who questions all established values; religious authority, our society, materialism and contemporary art itself. His attitude towards established authority, and thus towards its political and religious representatives comes from his school days. His work is cast as a dark comedy so that each individual may develop their own interpretation.

 

Do you approach your own existence with the same sense of humor?

Maurizio Cattelan: I think humor and irony include tragedy in itself, as if they were two sides of the same coin. In both cases, laughter is a Trojan horse to enter into direct contact with the unconscious, strike the imagination and trigger visceral reactions. If humor of certain works was enough to pull of anger, fear and amazement out of everyone, the psychoanalysts would be in disgrace ... shame is not enough.

Elena Cué: It is difficult to create a concise profile of Maurizio Catellan. How would you define yourself?

 

Maurizio Cattelan: I think that the world needs to find a provocateur or a scapegoat, from time to time. I just found myself in an odd place in a fancy moment. No matter what they say, I still think to be the most boring person I know.… I would fall asleep trying to define myself!

 

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Elena Cué: The artist's work is simultaneously highly considered, as well as being an extension of what lies latently within their subconscious. This pure kind of thought; dark and impossible to decipher, becomes very symbolic if it reaches the surface through the creative process.

Has art helped you know yourself better? What do you get out of it?

 

Maurizio Cattelan: You should ask it my psychoanalyst, if only I had one. Probably I never needed one because my job was a kind of therapy: every work I made was a part of me I got rid of while creating it. Happiness is  not about gaining something, it’s more about getting rid of the darkness you accumulate. Apparently, since I retired the treatment is over: I’m not sure it worked, but in the meanwhile I produced a lot of crap! 

 

 

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Elena Cué: You've said you don't consider yourself a conceptual artist, that you don't think.

Is that another joke?

Maurizio Cattelan: I feel I’ve never started being an artist, maybe that’s why it was so easy to decide to retire...I constantly question myself and everything I do, this helped not to take myself too seriously. And  I’m not very fond of categories, I find words are terribly dangerous, as they seems to be as definitive as tombstones. This could maybe explain why my works are always “untitled”: it is like writing a joke on my own grave.

 

 

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Elena Cué: Meaning and materialization are two fundamental criteria to define a work of art, the subsequent interpretation that each spectator brings to the work can be added as a third criteria (Arthur C. Danto). Given that the materialization of your work is carried out by others, in this case by Daniel Druet, a master in artisan modeling who has created many figures such as Pope John Paul II, Hitler, model Stephanie Seymour and Kennedy.

What importance do you give to the meaning and subsequent interpretation by the viewers?

Maurizio Cattelan: I never asked myself the question in this way, I just searched for images that, in the flood of useless information from which we are overwhelmed everyday, would stir an instictive reaction, from the stomach. Returning to the issue of humor, I think it can be a great way to bring to the surface anger, but without violence. Since the first moment of conception my sculptures were born as images and in that form they continue living in the media. As long as it is a powerful image at first glance, it’ll work.

 

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Elena Cue: Your fondness for using images of iconic personalities holds huge power of communication. Pope John Paul II dying with a suffering expression after being struck by a meteorite in Nona Hora. The image of John Kennedy lying in a coffin with his bare feet in Now. Or Hitler in a smaller than natural size, kneeling in prayer in Him are, for better or worse, all examples of demystification to which you submit personalities who have been political or religious icons for masses of people. You appropriate their power and use it as a weapon at the service of your will.

What do you look for with such provocation and potential irritation that may result in a large proportion of viewers?

Maurizio Cattelan: To me it’s like when you are telling a joke, but no one would laugh: most of the times, provocation lies in the eye of the beholder. I believe there’s nothing wrong with showing people’s vulnerable side, moreover if they’re icons. It might help blur some lines but I don’t think it undermines their status. Quite the contrary, it reinforces their position as well as the belief that they are powerful or sacred icons.

 

Maurizio Cattelan bibibidoo

 

Elena Cue: A very significant work is Bidibidobidiboo, in which your alter-ego is represented by an anxious squirrel in the kitchen where you spent your childhood. It commits suicide with a revolver dropped by its feet. The fact that the name of the exhibition comes from the magical words used by Cinderella to transform her miserable life into a fairy tale add an additional twist to an already surreal situation.

In Untitled 2004, you hung some children figures from a tree with a noose around their necks in Milan. The work lasted less than 24 hours because of the controversy and the anger it raised, which led to such high media coverage that it transformed the work into an iconic piece.

Do you use art as catharsis? Do you think that to affect emotionally, one has to surprise or shock?

Maurizio Cattelan: Someone once said that our heads are round so that our thoughts can fly in any direction: there’s no specific way of interpreting a work, its shape is round such as our heads. People can find a personal path, serious or funny, emotional or shocking, every way is walkable.

 

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Elena Cué: Sarah Cosulich, the director of the Contemporary Art Fair Artisima has invited you to be a part of the 2014 edition of One Torino. The event will be held at the Palazzo Cavour, and it will open its doors on November the 6th. After abandoning your career as an artist, you will be in charge of commissioning this fair along with the two other young commissioners Marta Papini and Myiram Ben Salah. The name of the exhibition is Shit and Die and it is taken from the installation created in 1984 by Bruce Nauman: One Hundred Live and Die, that included multi-coloured neon phrases on 100 tragic and mundane possibilities to live and die. Shit and Die is one of them. This short declaration encompasses the existentialist worries of the author.

Could you elaborate on the meaning of this exhibition given its bleak name?

Maurizio Cattelan: We thought the combination of declarative ease and uncompromising toughness delves heavily into the universal human experience without imposing a neither fixed or stable meaning. Echoing the title, and echoing the path of life itself, the exhibition is a purposeless journey, simultaneously sad and hopeful, tough and absurd, silly and tragic, slight and profound. In the end, I would synthesize it like this: if you wake up and you’re not in pain, you know you’re dead. 

 

Autorized translation of article, also published by the author in ABC

 

- Interview with Maurizio Cattelan by Elena Cue -                                  - Home: Alejandra de Argos -

Interview with Cai Guo-Qiang

 Author: Elena Cué

 

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 Cai Guo-Qiang observing one of the sculptures in the Patio during the exhibition I Want to Believe at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, 2009

 

One morning in May we arrived at the appartment that Cai shares with Hong Hong Wu, his wife, and their two daughters in New York's Soho district. As he was refurbishing his work studio at the time, we were lucky enough to see his home transformed into a kind of workshop, complete with some of his works lying around on furniture and on the floor. We enjoyed an unforgettable leisurely lunch with the Cai family and some friends, which gave us a great opportunity to observe the artist in his natural habitat: his rhythm, his look, his profound love of music and above all, his way of communicating.

Cai Guo-Qiang can be described as one of the world’s most recognized Chinese artists. He was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China, a city known for its cultural openness and religious diversity, due in no small part to its coastal location. He moved to New York in 1995, where he began producing, social- and cultural-themed works, but it wasn’t until the end of that decade, coinciding with the sudden breakthrough of Chinese art in the rest of the world due to broader Chinese reform and change within the country, that his work began to be exhibited in the US.

His decision to relocate from East to West has also instilled in him a greater interest in bringing the two cultures closer together. He is passionate about Taoist cosmology, and thus finds himself in a permanent state of profound movement and change. As a conceptual artist, his work recovers cultural memory —via installations, ephemeral ‘explosion events’ and drawings made with gunpowder— in order to tackle ideological issues and historical conflicts with a poetic aesthetic approach. His hometown and cultural roots are always present in his work, evoking an eternal return to a world of nature and spirituality, and a conduit between the world of the visible and the invisible. A recurring theme underpinning Cai’s art is in fact the desire to unite these two worlds; his artworks skillfully and playfully juggle space and time, tradition and contemporaneity, blurring the existing social and cultural limits of any culture, ripping one out of its context and placing it in another to create a new global whole.

 

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Cai Guo-Qiang in front of Odyssey, the permanent installation at the The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2010. Photograph by I-Hua Lee, courtesy of Cai Studio

 

Youth

His youth coincided with a time of great upheaval and radicalization in China, the decade between 1966 and 1976 (the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution).

Elena Cué: How has the spiritual influence of that kind of upbringing–growing up in an era where the Chinese Communist Party was undergoing a process of ideological affirmation– affected the artist you are today?

Cai Guo-Qiang: The political movements during the Cultural Revolution employed tactics that motivated large crowds. Having witnessed and even taken part in some of the parades during that period, I later applied the same strategies to my art practice. For instance, I often work with large groups of volunteers from local communities to realize my artworks. My goals may be different from the political leaders’, and the ways in which I work with large groups of people may also be different, but it is evident that I am influenced by these experiences from my youth. People of my generation were taught [by Chairman Mao], “to rebel is justified”, and we were told to disregard figures of authority. As a contemporary artist, this gave me the courage to step away from tradition, explore new mediums and new ways of working, and to transform traditional iconographies with my own visual language.

  

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Shining and Solitude, 2010. Gunpowder on paper, vulcanic rock, and 9,000 litres of mescal. From artist's own collection. View of the installation at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, UNAM, Mexico City, 2010. Photograph by Diego Berruecos, courtesy of MUAC

 

Cai studied stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, and he tried his hand at cinema by participating in two martial arts films. He also dabbled in violin and theatre, and has a wonderful voice that I personally have had the pleasure of hearing. His father, a traditional painter and calligrapher, would paint landscapes on matchboxes, and was a great influence on the artist. “A small space can easily be filled with the corners of the earth”.

E.C: How have all these experiences shaped the person you are today?

C.G.Q: At the Shanghai Theater Academy, the training I received in stage design was different from the art academies at the time. I learned many different approaches to come up with creative ideas: from working freely with different materials, to studying spatial compositions, and these help me create diverse forms of art. The collaborative team spirit and the performance aspect, the emphasis on dramatic effects, the focus on audience interaction or participation in theater, and the temporal nature in artistic expression—all helped shape characteristics of my work.

 

2009 Reflection 0381 002h

Refection–A gift from Iwaki, 2004. Remains of a shipwreck and porcelain piece. Size of the boat: 5 x 5.5 x 15 m. Faurschou Collection. View of the installation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, 2009. Photograph by I-Hua Lee, courtesy C

 

E.C:  In 2008 the Guggenheim Museum organized your retrospective Cai Guo-Qiang: Quiero Creer (I Want to Believe), this exhibition was presented in New York, Beijing and Bilbao, and featured works spanning over two decades of your art production. What does Cai Guo-Qiang want to believe in?

C.G.Q: I Want to Believe is a comprehensive examination of my early works, many of which express a deep-seated curiosity towards the universe and the unseen worlds around us. The exhibition title therefore encompasses all these possibilities, whether they are extraterrestrials, principles of feng shui and Chinese medicine, or metaphysical forces and worlds not visible to the human eye. It expresses an attitude and a sense of anticipation.

 

   2009 HeadOn 1237 Bilbao 004h

Head On, 2006. 99 life-size wolf models and glass wall. Wolves: muslin, resin and skins, various sizes. Deutsche Bank Collection. View of the installation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, 2009. Photograph ©FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa, 2009 (Erika Barahona-Ede)

   

A critical view of mass ideologies is present in Cai’s work, a famous example of which can be seen in the piece Head On, where 99 life-size wolves form a large suspended arch before crashing head-first into a glass wall. The work references the legacy of Nazism on contemporary Germany and that of the Cold War, evidencing the impossibility of learning from our own mistakes (the wolves return to the beginning, starting the cycle once again).

Even works such as Head On, with their solid conceptual baggage, or when dealing with more violent or disturbing subjects, Cai’s works achieve an elegant aesthetic expression: there is harmony in their design and beauty in their form. The artist’s own philosophy is always expressed in an aesthetically pleasing, poetic form.

E.C:  What meaning do you ascribe to the Plautus’ phrase “Man is man’s wolf”, popularized by philosopher Thomas Hobbes?

C.G.Q: Growing up, I saw how figurative paintings depicting human subjects—either political leaders or soldiers at war—were used as tools for propaganda, and have thus avoided portraying people in my work. To tell stories, I often use animals as a metaphor for human behaviour. Animals are more natural, more spontaneously expressive than humans, and they can be more easily integrated into exhibition spaces and themes.

 

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Bringing to Venice what Marco Polo Forgot, 1995. Installation which includes a wooden fishing boat from Quanzhou, Chinese herbs, ginseng (100 kg) and other works by the artist. Commissioned by the 46th Venice Biennale. From the Museo Navale di Venezia's collection and private collections. View of the arrival of the boat in Venice. Photo by Yamamoto Tadasu, courtesy of Cai Studio

 

In 1995, at the 46th Venice Biennale, Cai presented Bringing to Venice what Marco Polo Forgot.

E.C:  With your 1995 installation for the Venice Biennale, what did you bring to Venice that Marco Polo had forgotten?

C.G.Q: The year 1995 marked the 700th anniversary of Marco Polo's return to Venice from China after a maritime journey that began in Quanzhou, my hometown, so I decided to make a joke about Marco Polo. He brought back many stories of the East to the West, but he did not tell the West about Eastern thought and philosophy, so I sought to remedy this oversight by bringing Chinese herbal medicine from the East to the West. I brought an old-fashioned fishing boat brought from Quanzhou, and navigated it along Venice's Grand Canal from Piazza San Marco to Palazzo Giustinian Lolin.

The boat docked outside the palazzo, and functioned as a seating area where visitors could savor the medicinal tonics and potions offered inside. Within the palazzo, a modern vending machine was installed on one wall to dispense five varieties of bottled herbal tonics for 10,000 lira each. These drinks were formulated according to the ancient Chinese principle of “five elements,” wherein the five elements of natural phenomena (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) correspond to five tastes (bitter, sweet, sour, spicy, salty) and five organs of the human body (liver, heart, spleen, lung, kidney). The prescriptions posted on one wall enabled participants to select remedies suitable to their needs.

Available along the opposite wall were traditional ginseng soup and ginseng liquor, each contained in a large earthen jar. Visitors used bamboo ladles to pour these potions—formulated to enhance bodily qi, or energy—into porcelain cups.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Venice Biennale, 100 kilo sacks of ginseng were displayed on a handcart placed near the ginseng service. I applied the idea of healing a living organism and its energy flows to the city and its canals. Inside the entrance of the palazzo, I hung a plastic curtain that was filled with canal water and covered with common acupuncture meridian charts, and symbolically pierced it with acupuncture needles. 

 

  2013 Heritage A3724 008

Legacy, 2013. 99 life-size animal reproductions, water, sand, dripping mechanism, various sizes. Collection of Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. View of the installation at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2013. Photography by Queensland Art Gallery ׀ Gallery of Modern Art

 

In 1966, in the first days of the Cultural Revolution, the People’s Liberation Army decided to create a portrait on the mountainside by carving it out in the rock — what Cai describes as his first contact with Land Art. This relationship between man and nature is very present in Cai’s work, something he reflects on in his latest exhibition, Falling Back to Earth, his first solo exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Queensland, Australia.

 

E.C:  Does this fall back to Earth symbolize a need to return back to your roots, to nature?

C.G.Q: The title of the exhibition Falling Back to Earth conjures a sense of yearning for the spirit expressed in Chinese literati paintings of earlier times, when people lived humbly and in harmony with nature, an ideal that stands in opposition to the way in which people interact with nature now.

 

 2014 TheNinthWave A3876 WYC Event 008

The Ninth Wave, 2014. The installation includes 99 life-size animal reproductions, wooden fishing boat, white flag, electric fan. Size of the boat: 17x 4.55 x 5.8 m. From artist's own collection. Commissioned by the Power Station of Art, Shanghai. View of The Ninth Wave navigating across the Huangpu River near Bund, Shanghai, 2014. Photography by Wen-You Cai, courtesy of Cai Studio

 

The ecological and environmental crisis that China is suffering is at the heart of his latest exhibition, The Ninth Wave. It is also the first solo exhibition of a living artist at the Shanghai Power Station of Art. In it, an apocalyptic Noah's Ark - a fishing boat full of dying artificial animals - navigates the Huangpu River as a symbol of the dangerous present-day situation. It is also a recognition of the need to return to nautre and to our spiritual roots.

E.C: Do you believe that Art should serve a moral, social, political, or cultural end... Or should art be the act of expressing our unguarded passion?

C.Q.G: There are many types of artists, and there are no hard and fast rules on how artists should act and behave. Otherwise art will turn into history and become static, rather than constantly improving and changing with the times.

  

2008 Footprints 1840 004h

History's footprints: Fireworks project for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing, 2008. The display took place in Beijing on August 8, 2008. Commissioned by The International Olympic Committee and The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad.

Photograph by Hiro Ihara, courtesy of Cai Studio 

  

He lived in Japan between 1986 and 1995, where he got to know and use gunpowder as a tool for art, and which eventually became the art form for which he is globally known. Gunpowder has become an artistic creative source that defines his identity as an artist; this powerful material has been used by the artist as transformative energy to create drawings and ‘explosion events’.

His work includes a number of dichotomies: a mixture of traditional symbols — acupuncture, dragons, powder — and contemporary ones (time), a merging of East and West (space), and the contrast between yin and yang, destruction and creation (opposing forces).

 

E.C: Your interest in time and space, opposite forces and cosmology are evident in your work. What is your guiding philosophy in life? 

C.G.Q: In the I Ching, or the Book of Changes, “I” means “change”, and this is important. There are also two doctrines I embrace in Daoist philosophy: “no law is the law”, and “leveraging others’ power to exert your own strength”. In Confucianism, tolerance is a value that has taught me not to exclude others, and to learn from and work with people of different cultures; it enables me to find new possibilities in art. These underlying principles are the most valuable lessons I have learned from Eastern philosophy, and they are more important to me than superficial symbols (such as dragons), or even gunpowder as a choice of artistic medium.

 

 2009 TreeWithYellowBlossoms 1946-001-w

Tree with Yellow Blossoms. Photo by I-Hua Lee, courtesy Cai Studio

 

Authorized copy to Alejandra de Argos of article originally published by ABC 

 

- Interview with Cai Guo-Qiang -                                                                         - Home: Alejandra de Argos -

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