GETTING READY FOR THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD... WITH ART

Halloween party has become an international celebration where pumpkins, witches and skulls are part of our daily lives. We all know that on this day the end of summer is commemorated and, since ancient times, it has been celebrated as the last night of excesses before giving way to the sobriety and severity of winter. This is so in the Celtic tradition, a pagan holiday that in Galicia was always known as Samaín and has been celebrated since time immemorial. The influence of Christianity came to redefine many of these festivals to give them meaning in line with Catholic postulates, and from there was born All Saints Day or Day of the Dead, widely celebrated throughout the world. In fact, the word Halloween itself is an evolution of “All Hallow’s Eve”, which means “Eve of All Dead” But, why is this date celebrated in so many places in the world for different cultural traditions?

Gustav Klimt, “Morte e Vita”, 1905 (vía wikipedia)

For many, certain days of the year give rise to an accumulation of energies that open portals to new dimensions. The night of October 31st is one of those dates, and in many beliefs, there is the conviction that there is a union between the world of the living and that of the dead. This connection would allow bidirectional circulation between these realities and coexistence through multisensory experiences. For this reason, death is so present on Halloween and there is said that the dead come back to life at midnight today. We want to prepare for this celebration by taking a tour of the references to death, skulls and the world of darkness that some artists have made throughout their career.

Marina Abramovic, “Nude with the Skeleton”, 2002/2013 (vía moma.org)

Beyond the more traditional and classical painting, which often represents death to capture some relevant historical event, usually related to armed confrontations or connected with mythological accounts, and also beyond the moralistic resource of medieval representations of death as the great social class equaliser, the truth is that the use of elements related to the end of life is used numerous times as a benchmark of contrast, as opposed to values ​​associated with joy, energy or youth. We can say that even today, the authors reflect on the fear that this vital moment can be, or ironise, as it was done in the fifteenth century, on an inevitable fact to which we are all committed regardless of our position or status. Others, on the other hand, deal with this issue as a way to approach a painful stage, a kind of mourning that, through art, becomes therapeutic.

Damien Hirst, “For the Love of God”, 2007 (vía wikipedia)

Among the authors who use these resources as an ingredient to ironise the excesses of our society, we must include Damien Hirst, with his famous "For the Love of God", a piece that represents a human skull covered with 8,601 diamonds. To do this, Hirst made a titanium cast of a real skull from the 18th century and left the original denture. This 2007 piece was a revolution for the art world and was finally sold for 50 million pounds.

Maurizio Cattelan, “Bidibidobidiboo”, 2012, cortesía de Collezione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (vía 20minutos.es).

Other artists like Cattelan propose works such as "Bidibidobidiboo", in which a suicide squirrel appears in a miniature stage, with a gun at his feet. According to the author, this piece represents the end of innocence and adolescent anguish that is lived in transitional stages, when it is difficult to adapt.

Okuda San Miguel

Grey Skull, 2018

17-ink hand-printed by Inkvisible Prints on 220 g pink fabriano paper

70 x 50cm

Death is also a reference to propose a contrast of elements with other positive values of our life. As a reminder and reflection on the resilience of the human being, some artists incorporate motifs such as skulls in their works in order to extol our spirit of overcoming and highlight the positive aspects that life can bring us, something that sometimes only comes to be appreciated taking awareness of the negative aspects. This is the case with Okuda, for example, who repeatedly uses his already iconic skull in many contexts.

Michael Zavros, “Phoebe is Dead/McQueen”, 2010 (vía skullsproject.wordpress.com)

We could put in this category some of the most famous pieces of Marina Abramovic, such as "Nude with skeleton", in which the artist proposes a serene dance with a skeleton in an open contrast between life and death.

In this same line, we find the work of other authors who dare to represent death as a way to face certain fears, such as the loss of a loved one, and this allows us to verify the fortune and happiness present.

Ron Mueck, “Dead Dad”, 1996 (vía qmayor.com)

Annie Leibovitz, “Susan Sontag”, 2004 (vía tembusu.nus.edu.sg)

Likewise, there are artists who address this issue from the desire to overcome some personal traumas and give way to a grieving process in which the pain is confronted directly instead of avoiding it. This is the case of Ron Mueck, who has come to represent his deceased father to face the sadness of his absence. This author's work always surprises with its great impact and the hyperrealism of its execution. For this particular piece, he came to use his father's real hair.

On the other hand, the photographer Annie Leibovitz made an extensive report of the death of her partner, Susan Sontag, something that helped her to go through this long and sentimental process.

 

Fernando Gómez de la Cuesta is an art critic at ABC Cultural, an independent exhibition curator, a researcher and a teacher. He has a Degree in Law from the UB and in History of Art from the UIB. Member of the ACCAIB and Territorial President of the IAC. He is critical of ABC Cultural and is part of the publication Ministerio de la Verdad of the Sublime. He has been a resident curator at the Casal Solleric in Palma with different exhibition cycles (2010-3), Director of the PalmaPhoto photography festival (2013-5), he has curated CRIdA (artists' residence of the Palma City Council from 2011 to 2012), the 1st Festival of Contemporary Art of Saltillo (Coahuila, Mexico, 2015) and the Contemporary Art Fair MARTE de Castellón (2018).

He is currently preparing several exhibition projects for the CGAC of Santiago de Compostela, Cabildo de Lanzarote, Centro Párraga de Murcia and La Regenta of Las Palmas. He has curated multiple individuals and collective exhibitions in spaces such as, among others, TEA Tenerife, MUCA Rome of Mexico, Niemeyer Centre of Avilés, Kunst Haus Wien, Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation in Mallorca, Cervantes Institute in Prague, Es Baluard of Palma, Michael Horbach Stiftung of Colonia, Las Cigarreras of Alicante, Hilvaria Studios of Tilburg, Espai Rambleta of Valencia, MUU Helsinki or CEART Fuenlabrada, with the participation of artists such as Carlos Aires, Ana Laura Aláez, Irene de Andrés, Verónica R. Frías, Jorge García, Martín y Sicilia, Rosell Meseguer, Guillermo Mora, Santiago Morilla, PSJM, Avelino Sala, Amparo Sard, José Luís Serzo, Javier Vallhonrat or Simon Zabell, to name a few.

 

How did you receive this proposal from Art Madrid?

With great enthusiasm. For professionals who work from peripheral locations, in my case from a town in Mallorca called Artà, we find it very difficult to access the programs and projects that are developed in the capital. It is always a pleasure (and a responsibility) to have the opportunity to curate a proposal in Madrid, much more if you do it for a prestigious structure, as consolidated and organised, as is the international contemporary art fair Art Madrid.

 

How did you tackle this curatorship?

The truth is that since I received the invitation from Alberto Cornejo and his team I have enjoyed absolute freedom and total support to develop the idea I had in mind. Curating a section of a fair is a kind of special curatorship, you should never lose sight of where, how and why one is taking care of the selection and content of a proposal, and a contemporary art fair is a context marked by very powerful limits: one of them is the payroll of galleries that apply and the artists who present themselves; another, that all have as their first objective the sale of work. Starting from these initial conditions, I had a lot of interest in investigating something that has to do with the market as a legitimising institution within the professional developments of the current art world, also about fashions, trends, currents and about those resistant artists who decide to take paths away from them. I wanted to raise awareness about that dichotomy that already occurred between the great official salons and those creators who subverted the state of the matter from their participation in them or generating new alternative devices such as independent or des refusés salons.

 

What do you think is the role of One Project within Art Madrid?

One Project is a project that precedes me and has a foundational basis and a broad development over time. Both Carlos Delgado Mayordomo and Nerea Ubieto (colleagues who have previously curated this program) have done a great job. One Project must serve the fair to introduce new artists and new galleries, but at any cost, it must fulfil that function, no doubt, but it must do so by establishing a forum for reflection and debate, a place to put the prism on some concrete aspect of contemporary creation to be able to analyze it with a certain depth. One Project is a section that must have that plus of research, of calm, effort and rigour, to try to give another type of depth and visibility to the work of artists and gallery projects within a fair of art.

 

How do you expect the public will live the format used in this idea of ​​debate-conflict?

The title of the proposal, “Salvajes. La cage aux fauves”, already puts us on the track. Our idea, apparently contradictory, is to generate that friction based on a peculiar symbiosis, in which we have counted on artists who walk the path of creation through a path that is autonomous, personal and, sometimes, in conflict with the usual, with the recurrent, with the trend, with fashion... Artists who paint and sculpt with effort as a form of resistance and who do so in an epidermal, superfluous and vertiginous era, where hardly anyone pays attention to anything. Artists who believe from expressiveness, impulse or iconoclasm, from a passionate and vehement, visceral, desacralising or irreverent perspective. We hope that the public lives it with the same interest and the same intensity we aimed when building this story. For this, we have counted on Virginia Rivas, Roberto López, Julio Anaya Cabanding, Pichiavo, Santiago Palenzuela, Juan Carlos Batista, Andrés Planas, Alona Harpaz and Nicolàs Laìz Placeres, who are represented by DDR Art Gallery, Plastic Murs, Kaplan Projects, MA arte contemporary and the Agency of Cultural Transits.

 

What role do you think fairs play in the Spanish art market and how would you frame Art Madrid?

This and other fairs fulfil a fundamental mission when activating the sector. I believe in the fair as a dynamic agent and as a node of that network of activity that is deployed throughout the national territory, and I believe in its importance for the creation of new collectors. In my opinion, collecting, the private initiative in general, is one of the keys that can make a sector like ours become a professional economic fabric where the participating agents can live from their work, preventing it from remaining this circus of juggling games where they stay in an almost permanent precariousness. For that, basic education, a lot of pedagogy and a lot of intermediation are needed. We must increase the affection and sensitivity towards culture in general, and towards contemporary art in particular. Art Madrid undertakes this mission in a brave way, with an evolution that consolidates edition after edition. The permanence and growth of its complementary programs, where One Project is framed, demonstrates this.

 

And what do you think is the place of contemporary Spanish art within the international artistic paradigm?

Unfortunately, far from where the quality of the agents that compose it should place it. We suffer from a main problem that affects basic structures and acts as an obstacle very difficult to overcome. In many cases, we still do not charge decent fees for our work, without respecting our elementary rights, our creations and authorship, from this preliminary situation it is difficult to project an international professional career, in addition, the market and private investment are very restricted. The institutional sphere that, as in other contexts, should be our fundamental support, is still marked by political interference. In Spain, there is an excessive dependence on the public realm in what refers, above all, to contemporary art and that makes us have some political interlocutors completely unaware of what we do. These people manage the spaces and budgets that we use since precariousness but, in reality, they have motivations that are far from ours. Contemporary creation moves in terms and interests very different from those of the political pace. We need long-term plans and professional criteria to decide and develop them, while the ruling class still wants to control the contents of cultural institutions so that they become spokespersons for the ideology of the party in power. Meanwhile, we, the palace jesters, endow them with “controlled cultural offer”: they see us as necessary (and needy) programmers who go through (almost) all the hoops because of that hardship situation. A situation imposed by the rulers that manage to dissociate us as a sector, causing us to accept works that do not comply with the deontology that, in social networks and other forums, we all defend (but that we do not always apply).

 

We know that the cultural sector maintains its almost inherent precariousness even though we are experiencing an extraordinary period of artistic hatching. Artists reinvent themselves and strive to continue creating. Do you think there has also been an evolution in public perception when approaching contemporary art? What can art fairs do in this approach to the general public?

The processes in contemporary creation always have to do with the society that welcomes them and the changes it experiences. The public (but also the artists), while having access to more media and information, appear overwhelmed by this same excess. We all have a concentration defect, it is harder for us to pay attention, time, effort, depth, especially when our role is that of the public. As we have said before, there is only one solution, an answer that, after so much repetition, is becoming harmless, empty of content: we need education, establish pedagogies and intermediations that generate a critical and cultured mass, that makes us evolve towards a society interested in current creation.

 

The work of a curator is primarily to generate discourse and content around creation to raise issues open to society. Many contemporary artists have reoriented their lines of work towards more reflective projects where the discourse has a priority charge in the work. How is this tension channelled between the reflexive impulse of contemporary creation and the pressing lack of time and the super information that the individual lives in the society of our time?

That situation can be a stimulus. Artists are intellectuals sensitive to everything around them. However, in most cases, this lack of time, basically the result of our professional precariousness, and that over information, ends up being more a problem than a means or motivation. There are many artistic careers that are buried under this precariousness of excess.

 

What do you think are the common lines that young artists are developing in the process of growth?

The truth is that there are multiple differentiated lines of research, many of them very stimulating. In line with the last questions of our conversation, I can tell you that I am interested, among other topics, in those artists who are referring to their own work, to the creator's own professional performance, to their economic, social and work situation, to the consideration of themselves and their work. A self-reference that is becoming a very accurate, tragic, ironic expression of the situation of culture in general and of the visual arts in particular. On this, I am preparing a project entitled “The sterile works” that will be presented next year at La Regenta of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with the participation of artists such as Verónica Ruth Frías, Cristina Garrido, Cyro García, Núria Güell, Nauzet Mayor, Adrián Martínez, Eugenio Merino, Rosell Meseguer, PSJM, Avelino Sala, Amparo Sard, Pelayo Varela and Marcelo Viquez.