· Alberto Martin and Enrique Marty. A conversation (2019)



Alberto Martín: I'd like to go through some concepts that revolve around your work and that are at risk of being common places. When talking to an artist, what attracts me the most is to trace certain elements that are not always expressed, possible affiliations or veiled affinities; but above all to rethink some concepts that, precisely for being excessively obvious, become common places.

There is a first issue that interests me particularly: the relationship of your work with humour. I would like to revisit the difference that Donald Kuspit established between irony and humour. I like humour in your work, more than irony. I mean, I prefer something a little more mundane, such as humour, or even the comic aspect of your work, although many times it comes to be expressed through a mixture between the tragic and the comic. That is the most important point for me, the role of humour in your work.

Enrique Marty: I think the separation between irony and humour is spot-on. Irony inevitably leads us to the concept of the Shadow, the archetype that Jung defines to describe the unconscious aspect of the personality, characterized by traits and attitudes that the Conscious Self does not recognize as its own –but let’s not enter such a shaky ground too soon.

Humour is certainly important and the type of humour that interests me the most is surreal humour, an unexpected and ridiculous final outcome, because it projects the viewer out of the concept of reality. It breaks the membrane of the real.

And this is evident in pieces such as I’m in a Very Delicate Moment (2012), in which we have the trousers-down thing where there should have been a pedestal. It is a comedy gag: the policeman who is about to tell Charlot to clear off but then his trousers fall down; no one has any authority with their trousers down. It's like sliding on a banana peel or the pie in the face. I am interested in their lack of logical sense and the ridicule suffered by the characters. Ridicule is important, philosophically speaking.

AM: Yes, this is very noticeable also in the works where you place family photos in inverted commas. The fact of painting on them, of defacing them... or what you do with the members of your own family: I believe that they have all been transformed into a permanent comic strip.

But I am interested in a perspective on humour that often, especially in the last period of your oeuvre, I have connected with Samuel Beckett, whose sense of the absurd is not usually mentioned in relation to your work. Lately, I also find myself very much attracted by the strongly theatrical intention in your work. I think that your show’s staging, your installations, have much to do with theatre.

I remember the characters you presented for several years at ARCO; they could well have been characters of the fair itself, sitting there with a neutral expression –an expression the viewer embeds with meaning– and who are trapped in a reality that we cannot really pinpoint.

They never fail to take me back to Beckett, to characters such as the ones in Waiting for Godot (1955). A type of comicality or humour that also has to do with Buster Keaton’s blankness.

EM: I endorse theatricality in visual arts, these pieces are characters who appear not to know very well what they are doing there. It is a kind of how did I get here and how do I get out.

I use a lot this kind of being here of the sculpture as it appears in Creep, the 1992 Radiohead song: "What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here. I am a creep…" surrounded by all these completely normal people. I did a piece that is a direct allusion to it. It is called I Want a Perfect Body, I Want a Perfect Soul (2007), using a verse of the song, a kind of portrait of the composer Thom Yorke, who seems to regard himself as someone who is out of place everywhere. Like Beckett’s characters: out of place, waiting for something that never happens in a really distressing atmosphere.

AM: Even to end up saying that it doesn’t matter if something happens, right? What do they have to remember for? It's like when two Beckett's characters are talking and one says "I don't remember that very well, but actually what do I need to remember? If nothing is happening to us…" When we visited your exhibition in La Gran, I was reminded of this by your comment on the difficulty of taking the pieces up to the gallery space. It is that feeling of: "How did they get here and what they are they doing here?" The titles that you have given to the pieces also refer us to this, it is a kind of a no-way-out point.

EM: I have just remembered a sentence that is repeated in Waiting for Godot, in which the characters ask every once in a while, "’Hey, what are we doing here?’ ‘Waiting for Godot.’ ‘Ah! Yes, of course’". The play goes on and after a while back they ask it again.

About the theatrical sense, I have physically introduced this in my scenic designs for theatre productions, in which the sculptures are characters, actors in the play itself. There is a direct link to Beckett and Tadeusz Kantor’s concepts.

We have sculptures that are also actors, as much as the actors themselves –all directed by Kantor from the stage in real time– and we have the director as an actor too. With the passing of Kantor there can no longer be more theatrical performances of his work. However, they are still possible in sculptural format and I still see The Dead Class (1975) as a theatre play.

I am very interested in this relationship with the theatre. In fact, you may have noticed that I always speak of the spectator...

AM: I think this aspect of the relationship you are able to establish with theatre, by which you build a specific dramaturgy within the exhibition space almost in the same way as you would in a theatrical space, is very significant. Returning to the works that you presented in La Gran, I have noticed that gesture has acquired great importance.

Establishing a degree of difference between posture and gesture, I had linked your work more to the former, as in the works that you showed at the DA2: Friedrich and Michel in Hell (2011). It seemed to me that in them the study of posture and the analysis of the way in which they occupy space were more prominent: posture as a more coded position. Gesture, however, seems to me a more internal work about the figure itself, about this feeling of affect, about the fact that something is changing or that something is about to trigger change. Especially in the group sculpture I’m in a Very Delicate Moment but also in I won’t do Something so Naive (2012). I think that gesture, in the way you are working with it now, tends to build figures more like characters than as archetypes and this seems to me a profound change.

EM: I perceive it in an intense way when I look at the pieces in my atelier. The spectator usually sees the works in a place where I have positioned them in some specific way, playing with the space, creating a dramaturgy through theatre sets conceived for the empty box of the stage where the characters are placed. But when the pieces are in the atelier, in the laboratory where they are made, surrounded by other pieces or next to crates and other materials or simply wrapped up in plastic, the experience is different. Sometimes I go to my atelier just to walk among the pieces, trying to distance myself from them, imagining that I am a non-related spectator.

In the exhibition at the DA2 I was confronted with works that I had not seen for a long time. They were suddenly out of the crates and even though it was pretty clear to me where I was going to place them, many times I faced them as a spectator and thought it was an interesting sensation. Indeed, I was able to find a re-reading for many of them, because although the exhibition was conceived as a retrospective, in the end I made quite a few new pieces. So, although within the category of a retrospective, it was more like a dialogue between old and new pieces.

AM: I am interested in the topic of gesture because it leads us to your work by way of feelings, which, in general, have been restrained in your work, notably those related to the family. It seems to me that this letting the feeling flow by way of affection is interesting and I believe this happens because of the use of gesture.

Now the pieces do not only occupy the space, but also inhabit it, and, besides, they establish a new relationship with the spectator –partly since, as I understand it, you have increased a little the scale, matching it or even tending to increase it with respect to him/her. However, at the same time, this trend towards a greater monumentality fills them with a feeling that, from my point of view, has to do also with some very human weakness and, in its relationship with the viewer, stays away from other subject matters that appeared in your work before, as abjection or the grotesque. This does seem to me to be an important, and in its own way, risky change.

EM: Working with scale has always been important. At the beginning I worked with a scaled-down perspective, so that the piece had a relationship of hatred/fear towards the spectator. In this type of scale the viewer tends to exert a kind of dominance. So, I decided to start to gradually reverse it and see what happened if the piece was confronting the viewer in a challenging way, or at least if they were facing each other as equals. For example, in the series Art is Dangerous (2009-2013), it was the first time I used human measures. These are pieces with which the viewer has to be cautious. They demand that you keep a certain distance because the knives are really very sharp; but at the same time you have to come closer to see the tattoos. They represent a real, physical danger.

Then, there are pieces in which, paradoxically, I work on the idea of anti-monumentality such as I’m in a Very Delicate Moment or I won’t do Something so Naive, which have a strong physical presence that makes the spectator feel somehow prevented against them.

AM: Now that you mention anti-monumentality; I imagine that you put it in relation to the sculptural referent. There you go in-depth with the duality that I think you describe and which gives a hint to nearly all who approach your work: Nietzsche and the Apollonian and the Dionysian, in this case in reference to a certain classical canon and to sculpture.

Personally, the two elements that I find more interesting now are the relationship between the Apollonian and the Dionysian and this kind of bringing the bodies down to the level of the mundane. I think the latter is the most important, i.e., not working so much with high concepts but with the materiality of the mundane. I think that it is from there from where this idea of the collapse of the body to which you always point out through the skin, the hairs, certain abrasions and other elements should be interpreted.

It is not just the monumentality or the reference to the beautiful, but also the fact of placing the body at ground level. I do not think that, in this sense, your work can be summarized so much as a contrast between what is beautiful and what is not beautiful, a dichotomy that, in my opinion, is exhausted in itself, but rather as an idea of toxicity, which is what I call "to bring down the bodies", as if we were witnessing a controlled physical collapse.

EM: I have given the works ambiguous titles that do not include any reference to the works of Classical Greece on which I base myself. I have not used a title like Castor and Pollux Revisited but I’m in a Very Delicate Moment or I won’t do Something so Naive.

Another of the pieces related to this line of work that I showed in the Lázaro Galdiano Museum and later displayed in Belgium is the one referring to Zeus/Poseidon, entitled Disqualified/Absence/Europe (2014). In the case of Rape of Europe (2014), I have indeed used the literalness of the name because it seems to me that, with this air of monumentality –a sharp-cut, Mussolinian kind of style–, this tribute to Europe goes without saying. And also Greece, as the cradle of Western culture, with its concept of perfection of body and mind.

If we look at the bodies of I’m in a Very Delicate Moment, we see that they are clearly Apollonian in their form, the problem is in the skin, in the surface itself; and therein we find something wrong. It seems fascinating to me that classicism has always been understood as White, in capital letters: classical statues have always been understood as white, marble, stone. Nothing further from the truth, since they were polychrome, with very bright, flat colours.

AM: And you go to the other extreme; in other words, we have either white or secretions, body residues... –all these things that came into fashion at some point. However it is here where I see a certain control on your part that stops the works from drifting into shapelessness, on the one hand, or into abjection, on the other: you work directly on the body, but creating signs that suggest that something is wrong. Something I understand as a crisis. There is not even need to resort to the paradigms of civilization, no need to go that far from my point of view. It is directly the body, it is your life, what happens to you, the ugliness. And you are facing it. For this reason, I find it interesting that the hair is there, like the spots on the skin are there, like certain physical features are there.

EM: If someone asks me about it, I answer, but there is no clear reference to it, there are no labels or even a title. I use the body, the skin, as a symbolic element. 

I consider it very important: texture... I also express my personal obsessions in my work. As an anecdote, one day a small group of people, among which there were both psychoanalysts and philosophers, visited my atelier and there was a very interesting repartee. I loved to see how they digressed about my works –and some of them about me– each one in their field. But then I have met doctors who have literally diagnosed some of my works: the diseases of some of the sculptures. In fact some doctors have bought my work because they were intrigued by the disease itself. I find it fascinating that a doctor diagnoses a sculpture.

AM: I see… That is because they have a true disease and they must be diagnosed, mustn't they?

I remember something you told me about I’m in a Very Delicate Moment. You said that you were convinced that the model liked himself. Re-reading a little Nietzsche's books when preparing for this conversation or reading them for the first time in some cases –because I'm not a great reader of Nietzsche, like you, as you yourself state– I found something that I liked. I can read it to you, it is not very long, because it caught my attention in relation to what you said that one likes him/herself and I believe that this is one of the symptoms of our society you are alluding to. I am talking not only of the cult of the body but, beyond that, of the reference to how we see ourselves. Let me read it to you, it is from The Wanderer and his Shadow (1879):

“Knowledge of how to Surprise Oneself. He who would see himself as he is, must know how to surprise himself, torch in hand. For with the mind it is as with the body: whoever is accustomed to look at himself in the glass forgets is ugliness, and only recognises it again by means of the portrait painter. Yet he even grows used to the picture and forgets his ugliness all over again. Herein we see the universal law that man cannot endure unalterable ugliness, unless for a moment.  He forgets or denies it in all cases. The moralists must reckon upon that "moment" for bringing forward their truths.”

I found this idea of us humans not being able to bear the relentlessly ugly very interesting: the temporarily ugly or those things that by nature lead to a certain ugliness, such as disease or old age, we can assume, but not otherwise. I think this idea of looking at your reflection in the mirror and not being able to endure its ugliness and the appeal to morality are elements that come into play in your work. I am putting together two elements here. On the one hand, the idea that what the spectator faces when seeing certain bodily symptoms is something that he identifies as that which he cannot bear, such as ugliness or deterioration. And, on the other, at the same time, what this has to do with everyone's morality, which probably is more perverse or unsupportive than we can imagine.

EM: There are many issues here: to begin with, the mirror as a philosophical and physical element seems very dangerous to me, it is like a loaded gun. Then, the inability to cope with one’s ugliness or, the opposite case, that of Narcissus, who looks at his own reflection in the water and is numbed by his own beauty and drowns. The concept of reflection opens the door to something as formidable as the double. Castor and Pollux are identical twins, although they have different fathers.

In psychoanalysis, reflection –a concept I consider extremely disturbing– is central. There are esoteric texts that state that when you see your own double you are going to die immediately, since to be confronted with one’s reflection is intolerable.

AM: The theme of the shadow could be further developed, too: to confront the Shadow or either the Shadow breaking free and taking a life of its own.

EM: Actually, as Schopenhauer says and then Nietzsche takes up, the only way to get rid of the suffering of the Shadow that hunts you is art. Nietzsche speaks mainly about Wagner: first with veneration and afterwards with a furious hatred. Art as a lifeline that Nietzsche takes up of Schopenhauer and suddenly abandons rejecting that salvation.

I often work with the concept of the double: I’m in a Very Delicate Moment is an obvious example. In other pieces such as Four Brains (2009) or I can’t Stand with This (2011), I have worked with the figure of my own double as a way of representing the Shadow. The ambiguity of representation is essential because we are talking of my own interpretation of the work as a hieroglyph, as a symbol that has no meaning in itself.

Thus, a snake in Western civilization can mean evil, but in the East it is the opposite. Zarathustra is always accompanied by a snake and an eagle; I wonder if it was written exclusively for Westerners.

AM: I do not really see your work in the field of symbolism, in my opinion it is much more immediate. I like the idea of the double because let's just say that you sometimes either split the characters into two or multiply them. Sometimes as in I’m in a Very Delicate Moment you present a confrontation between the two copies of one figure appealing to duality, but in other cases I think that you play with an imaginary or fictitious mirror that is the one the spectator himself creates with the presence of the characters.

But what interested me most in this issue was the idea of ugliness. In other words, who says what is ugly and what is not, what is attractive and what is not. Here is where I do see a strong connection with Nietzsche, to whom you make a reference: the issue of morality is vital and it is there where I like the presence and the role played by ugliness, by body decay or by the symptoms that manifest themselves on the body. I think it is a critical element in your work. Just like when you distort other elements or referents through the use of painting.

I had noted down a few dichotomies: if disease appears, then a reference to health appears; if you show beauty, there is also deformity; if the cult to the body appears, so does the truth of the body. At the end of the day, the human body secrets fluids, spots appear on the skin, etc.; it is the idealization versus the mundane; but I would go even further: the technological versus the manual. And I think that here there is a clear connection with your work. I also like the flaws, which I think are intimately related to what you are narrating. Multiple dichotomies appear.

EM: When we talk about On the Genealogy of Morality (1887) we are actually talking about a Catholic morality, by which we are influenced, whether we like it or not. Darwin removed God from the formula before Nietzsche. God is not necessary; man is basically an evolved animal. When Nietzsche says "God is dead" he isn't talking about the same God as Darwin. He is eliminating the moral values of the equation, not God. In fact I do not believe that Nietzsche was interested in that Catholic Creator God at all. Namely, when we are reading a book where Nietzsche talks about the Superman it is a case of mistranslation. In the German term, Übermensch, Über- means beyond, not super-. The Übermensch is the man who has freed himself from a morality that constrains him, and who, by freeing himself goes beyond the normal man. This is the beyond-man, the man that is beyond good and evil. The man who is trapped by morality is a nefarious being. Instead, the man who is liberated from morality, from that God, is free and therefore nature cannot help but just follow his will.

In terms of the perception of things, the viewer identifies with the work and feels it speaks to him/her directly. Sometimes talking to a spectator in front of a work in an exhibition, he or she has described it to me in a totally different way to how it really is, even physically. It is as if I described this yellow-striped cup as blue and hemispherical-shaped. It’s fascinating for me, it is as if they were speaking in front of a mirror.

In DA2, at the back of the main room, there was an installation –Untitled (2014)– with a distorting mirror onto which a video of my parents’ operation of cataracts was projected. I was playing with this distorted vision, but I wanted to play a triple game. At the front of the room I had placed Study of my Shadow (2014), which is made up of a projection of my profile created by a spotlight casting my shadow on a piece of wood. The silhouette of this first shadow was cut and then used to cast another shadow on the wall by directing a spotlight on that silhouette. I tried to replicate the effect produced by a mirror reflection. The mirror is a curved mirror, so it is no longer useful because it distorts the reflection: it is by definition a corrupted object that has lost its sense; like a spoon with a hole in the middle of its bowl. The projection of my parents’ cataract operation follows a Freudian strategy. Human beings must overcome parental authority, that eye that sees it all, transformed here into the moralistic God. In the piece: these two eyes with their vision clouded by cataracts that are being repaired, rebuilt, but with the image of the operation distorted in a game of mirrors, giving rise to speculation. It is as if my own head was spinning. In a way, I have tried to reproduce my own system of thought.

It may seem chaotic, but that happens because I do not understand pieces as definitive works of art. I understand every work as a process that involves a number of steps and that can then be seen as a whole. A work may be final, but I can modify it at any given time, or turn it into another piece. Or destroy it.

AM: Another interesting topic that you mentioned when talking about the distorting mirror is that, when faced with a sculpture, as when faced with a portrait, one generally tends to develop certain processes of identification. And only if, so to speak, some kind of disruption or interruption in this process of identification takes places, the feeling of strangeness appears. Certain actions one takes, as well as the intervention of the space, break this process of identification, either by looking into the figure’s eyes, or by seeing the face of someone else...

This has always been said for example in relation to the photographic portrait: it is based on what one believes to be seeing of someone, which develops some level of identification. Through certain disruptions, some of your pieces trigger a process of apprehension in the viewer which upsets this dynamic of recognition or identification. It is a bit similar to the distorting mirror effect.

There is always this operation of seeing oneself reflected in, although I think that you've also appealed to those presences that are there and are somewhat self-sufficient: all this tradition of puppets, automats, etc. that have their own freedom. I was thinking of the concepts of the other or the strange-cum-familiar where we have also that confrontation with our own securities, claims or scale of values. That is why I was referring to morality, by which this interruption in the process of identification makes us question what we are trying to project ourselves onto and, above all, what kind of conclusions we are coming to about what we see.

In general, it is not about generating rejection –which is easy– but about generating this sort of apprehension process and, therefore, of alienation. This I what I meant when I was talking about morality: you make people see that we are trapped in our own securities or at least that we are sheltered from the things that we fear.

EM: Let me tell you about a funny phenomenon that I have observed: when I make a portrait of someone, I start by making a mould, then I paint him or her –in short, I reproduce this person. Well, a high percentage of the people portrayed do not recognize themselves, while, on the other hand, the rest of the people does recognize them.

There is a very clear example at the La Gran exhibition: the person who had served as a model for the anti-hero in I won’t do Something so Naive had come to the opening. While all the rest of the people recognized him immediately, he did not recognize himself. The thought process is extremely clear, but the inability to recognize oneself when everybody else can is nonetheless fascinating.

AM: In this sense there is this term –which I found, by the way, in a critique about your show in La Gran–, which is the term hyper-realism… I had also thought about it, but I had in mind at least two adjectives to add to it, which were the terms flawed and histrionic. I preferred the latter, a definition of your work as histrionic hyper-realism which also brings us back in part to the topic of humour.

By that I mean to incorporate enough elements so that what hyper-realism generates, which is a confusion with reality –trivialising the issue, obviously–, becomes flawed. You do it like that intentionally, not as an exaggeration, but as something flawed –which I believe to be two different things. But I like the adjective histrionic for your work, too.

EM: The referents of hyper-realism such as it is understood by definition are Antonio López or Duane Hanson. To begin with, I find the concept of reality is very confusing. Reality is one of the most abstract terms of all. I always put it in quotation marks because it seems to me a Manichean term: this is real, this is not real... What is reality? There is no reality, everyone has one and even that reality is false. What is hyper-realism? Is it to reproduce a landscape so painstakingly that it is confused for a photograph? Is the real photograph hyper-realistic? Is the photo real? Is the landscape real?

AM: Indeed, you use photography frequently. Using photography so much, an indexical medium by nature, certainly has to lead to a confrontation with the real; although the same also happens with sculpture somehow, since the cast, the impression, is often used as a metaphor for the photographic medium. The fact that you often start the creation process from a cast, which you then work, is a procedure which is close to something that brings you nearer to the real thing, like an impression. But you add something to the exact impression of the real; something that transforms it into something else.

Then, when you say that someone who you have used as a model in one of your works does not recognize himself or herself, that possibly happens because you are operating on a record that is more or less accurate, right?

EM: When I paint a picture, I use a photograph as the basis of the process. And when I do a sculpture I don’t model it, they are based on a cast because I want to reproduce a similar process. I.e., this I am showing is part of something real, of the cast that photography is or of the impression that the cast is. It is, so to speak, my proof of authenticity. A sort of this is here. From each painting I have done I can show you the photography on which it is based. It is true that I later modify it but each painting is based on a photograph and each sculpture comes from a cast. It is a process that helps me to have something guarding my back in a way.

As for hyper-realism, I do not believe that reality is what is represented in a realistic picture. Realistic things are identified with issues such as people sitting around a table or a cow grazing... That’s the way reality is represented, but what kind of reality is that? It is a very slippery ground. I want someone to come and measure and weight reality for me!

Reality does not exist, it is a filter. Each one sees their own reality and if I change mine and show it to you, with very little effort I can turn a completely normal moment into a chaos. That’s how the mechanism of the surrounding reality works.

For the series Christmas in Toledo (1998-2000), I spent years simply documenting my family’s Christmas in Toledo. The series may seem like a nightmare, something claustrophobic and histrionic. Was my Christmas in Toledo a nightmare? Let’s leave it in doubt. We are talking about perception only.

AM: What you are doing is probably to distance yourself from a qualifying term that may affect you, such as the term hyper-realism, and submit it to criticism in your own or particular way.

EM: I could endorse it –if hyper-realism didn't have these connotations– with more truth than Antonio López, because what I represent is more true than what he represents. If there is one thing I am sure of is that reality is not only the surface of things.

AM: The interesting question here is how one measures the degree of distortion, the degree of exacerbation of something till it gets to the point you are looking for. I mean, you make a cast and one of the effects that it generates –an important one in relation to the interpellation to the viewer– is the spitting-image similarity that it has with the real person: the scale, the hair, the tears… well, a whole series of details. The key issue is to decide at what level you take distortion to get the required effect.

And I think that this is where very interesting elements appear in your work, such as certain imperfections that are clearly visible in the figure and that distance it from the model from which you depart or that may take us to a point of exaggeration –although I prefer the term exacerbation, hence the mention of the histrionic. That is to say, how can you measure how far should you go with it, because we already know that through the distortion of reality one can show the other side of truth.

EM: My opinion is that reality is histrionic and the world is grotesque and absurd, it makes no sense. This is why I think Artaud is so important. Artaud wanted to fuck the viewer over through repetitions, annoying noise or inappropriate scenic elements; because nonsense is what most resembles reality. I would almost substitute the word reality by the word absurd.

I live in a sort of chaos and thanks to that I live in peace, since, as someone said, there is no error in chaos, and absurdity is the only thing that puts some order in this. Well, from a more down-to-earth perspective, you go out to the street and you come across pure nonsense, pure histrionics and true ludicrousness. Just looking around –let alone watching TV–, analysing general human behaviour… It does not have any ontological sense. This is critical for me, something I want to work with. 

AM: I wonder, when you incorporate these elements, when you start to paint the skin, where is the limit, how do you know where to stop, how far to go. I am convinced that it is a calculated distortion, so, how do you identify this threshold near which you should move so that this situation you are working with takes place?

I can see very clearly where you want to take your work globally: the idea of the absurdity, of the grotesque, of the histrionic –which I think is a less tradition-laden term less than grotesque. But I am really interested in this: how do you establish this threshold, how far can one go in the highlighting of that nonsense, of the histrionics present in the life around us.

EM: For example, I confess that body hair horrifies me, so for a long time I have been putting hair on the sculptures, I have even made some that are completely covered by hair, as if they were one of those wolf children that turn up from time to time. The same happens to me with pustules.

But what horrifies you, attracts you at the same time. You can't stop looking at it. I am almost more fascinated by something that horrifies me than by something I like. There is a common mistake many people make: to think that I work with what I like while it is rather the opposite.

AM: I think it is a great tradition, that deformity always attracts us, as a symbol of the opposite. Fairs, the elephant man, the bearded woman… to refer to something that you have mentioned.

EM: There is this fascination with dreadful things. Otherwise, why would people queue in front of Museums of Horrors or watch documentaries about Auschwitz? The fascination with evil and horror makes people say that something horrifies them and, at the same time, that they cannot stop watching it again and again. I wonder why.

AM: One only needs to see the promptness with which every tragedy is recorded with a mobile phone.

EM: Or the spectator of an accident, who is simply looking...

AM: This fascination plays a double role: an internal one, of self-examination and discovery of your own obsessions or fixations, as well as the courage you have to show them; and another aspect, which is how you incorporate them to your work.

EM: People tell me that I work a lot, but I have the feeling of doing nothing. It is funny. It's like being seated at a table writing your thoughts, it is something that comes out on its own. Basically my work is a way to rid myself of morality. I'd rather be a complete man than a good man! I am opposed to concepts such as forgiveness and sacrifice.

AM: You have already touched almost all subjects in your work on the family. In those pieces there is an all-inclusive list of everything that one might think of in relation to what we have been talking about. However, in regard to the spectators, you play at the same time with their fears, but also with their fascinations, which, ultimately, according to your approach, are the same, are equivalent.

EM: The mask of the Greek actor, that laughs or is sad, is the mask everybody carries. It may happen that if you get rid of that mask, as shown in the video Birth of Tragedy (2007), what we discover underneath is that your own face is another mask identical to the previous one.

AM: You give a twist to the theme of the mask with the mask of Nietzsche in the watercolours from Please, don’t Hit the Horse! (2008), which were also exhibited in La Gran.

EM: People disguised as Nietzsche, playing to be...

AM: ...a thinker. Because thinkers have a prominent role. You mentioned Foucault earlier.

EM: I like to turn them into archetypal characters, to make them physically recognizable.

AM: Are not these, precisely, the characters able to look around and therefore cause an interruption in the genealogy of which you spoke before? I mean, could these characters be those supermen?

EM: Big question…

AM: They are recognized a little as such... in the art world they are used, as Deleuze was used, or many others...

EM: They somehow adopt a physical aspect that becomes archetypical; you can draw most of them with four lines. Foucault, Schopenhauer with his hairdo, Heidegger, Nietzsche with that moustache... I have used that joke which actually is a very serious one: any animal or thing to which you add a huge moustache and thick eyebrows becomes Nietzsche.

AM: Like some dogs that clearly resemble Nietzsche... And which role do they play when we see them in that attitude, like Beckett characters, locked up, waiting?

EM: They give the impression of being characters in a play, dressed and characterized, in order to be easily recognized. With only a few lines they have to differentiate themselves from one another clearly; on a stage you cannot confuse a character with another.

Nietzsche used his moustache as the whiskers of a cat and said that it was essential in his work and in his life.

AM: But I think that, at the same time you do this game of reduction to the archetype, there is also a kind of indication. Here there is an ambiguity present.

EM: There we have the second part, how philosophy invades art in a significant way, almost more than vice versa, even considering aesthetics. I like to take it more lightly somehow, in a time when art is full of quotations from Foucault, Derrida or Benjamin, I like to use the character himself and not his quotes. 

AM: But they do have a certain tragic presence in some of the proposals that you made in the DA2.

EM: Tragic and comic... that encounter between Nietzsche and Artaud...

AM: It has a tragic density.

EM: That’s because tragedy and comedy are in the end only one thing. And here we go back to the beginning of our conversation. I see everything with a touch of humour: reality is pure humour –in quotation marks–, it’s a great joke, pure nonsense; it is therefore an absurdist humour.

AM: Among many other things, you are also reviewing or making a comment about art. For this purpose you use a reference to Marcel Duchamp with some literalness or rework certain formats, something with which you started very soon, as in the example of the family album. It is as if there were some elements that are incorporated gradually with which you create a critical, acid, commentary to art in general.

EM: Yes. In line with this, the other day a psychoanalyst, after seeing one of the pieces related to Duchamp, the Revealed Outdoor Scene (2014), told me "you are the skeleton, you identify with it, with possession, with death" and as he was saying that, someone else asked, "but these skeletons, what relationship do they have with these women, are they being raped, what is happening?". I don't know, ask Duchamp, I replied. I'm not giving answers about the work of Duchamp, but asking more questions about his work.

AM: Playing on its own ambiguity.

EM: Exactly. I think that each work is an enigma in itself. The worst one can have are answers. An answer is similar to reality in a way, it is a very abstract term, I don't see it clear at all; answers seem suspicious to me. Someone looking for answers seems suspicious to me. The important thing is to seek questions; a question takes you to an answer that should not be pronounced, the answer must come from the unconscious and it should not be formulated with words, because then it is useless, since it leads to more questions, opening an endless road. That is why I work better with images and symbols than with words.

Going back to what Schopenhauer was saying about art being the only way to escape suffering. I understand it in a way, but deep down I do not share that idea as such, because the idea of suffering is romantic, moralist and Catholic, and must therefore be push aside as part of that morality I want to liberate myself of. And of so many others, as I said before, forgiveness... no one can convince me that someone in history has forgiven something. Forgiveness is a fallacy. This extremely Catholic idea of "I forgive but not forget". It is such a moralist contradiction in terms...

AM: You still haven’t answered my question…

EM: About the role of art... What I was saying about Schopenhauer, art is a cornerstone in my life, practically the most important thing... but a certain kind of art, which takes you to the limit. I do not understand aesthetic, decorative art, and there is a lot of purely decorative art considered contemporary.

At this point someone could ask me, to what extent when I go to see Palazzo Vecchio in Florence am I not watching simple decorative art? Well, in truth I am not. The Palace is a symbol, created as an encoded itinerary for the visitor and those paintings that seem to be ornamental represent a position in power far beyond mere decoration, or the baroque churches in Rome, real installations/battering rams of the Counter-Reformation.

AM: What you do with this is to recognize the importance of context. It will inevitably affect you if you use it as self-reflection. It is clear that some projects make you go over this, such as the project of the Lázaro Galdiano.

EM: Context and space, seen as containers, are fundamental. I have the feeling that the pieces are in a state of slumber in the atelier and when they arrive at the museum they are activated, lit up. I don't understand how you can bypass space, how can there be artists and curators that obviate the space in which they exhibit their works.

My works –and I know that this may sound strange– have a connection with minimalism in what regards the occupation of the exhibition space.

When Carl Andre says: "my works mean nothing", it is true. It may be that they do not mean nothing fundamentally, that they are pure formalism, but I am interested in the conjunction of their projection in the space because, by that, he is giving their container a meaning, and that is already political or philosophical; i.e. however much he wants to deprive them from meaning, the fact of placing the pieces is already introducing a dialogue and all that space becomes a sculpture.

AM: For example, in your case, they are connected by the way you place and distribute those houses in the exhibition at DA2 of Salamanca (2014), the way you fill a space with the sequential or temporary line created by a storyboard which is a frame to frame display of a video in Duel (2006-2007), or the repetition of ten or twelve characters exactly distributed in a row. Some of your strategies in relation to the occupation of the space could also be found here.

EM: You’ve made me think of pieces that follow a strategy close to Nauman’s –whom I admire in many ways– such as Random Scene (2014), where six human figures are distributed in a sort of semicircle. They wear costumes in a white-to-black colour gradient –or vice versa. All are apparently identical, but in reality no two are alike. They actually have a very human characteristic. I wanted to do something in relation to the anti-humanism on which Foucault worked, especially at the beginning, when he departed from Nietzsche. I think that its order and so exhaustive character collides frontally with its title and this interests me.

In Fifteen Fathers (2010) or in Fear and Megalomania in Fifteen Different States (2010) I paint my father or make a self-portrait in fifteen states that represent the polarity of the transition from fear, represented as Apollonian Catholic moralism, to megalomania, represented as Dionysian paganism.

I want my work to have different levels of reading, like the layers of an onion. One of the works which I regard as one of the seminal pieces of the last years is The Simpsons, which uses that formula.

AM: What attracts you from The Simpsons is its cameos, which resemble the ones you introduce in your works.

The heart of the matter is to ask the right questions and to determine how to deal with the mysteries. When you make this reference to the narrative, it is as if you were in a way applying the imagination of a child when faced with a conundrum: starting to disassemble, reassemble, to recompose… reflecting about an idea over and over... I think it may be in this way how humour probably appears. Can the question be answered or not? Or why should we answer it? The formulation of the questions is as important as the attitude or position towards the enigmas and I think it is there where you incorporate that sense of rebellion.

The Simpsons essentially functions as a humorous comment on everything that surrounds us; I don’t care whether it is morality, family, work, or all those codes of values that may be in force. One of the ways to respond to that is reacting as a child would. And here it would be relevant, perhaps, to mention Morale du joujou  (1853) by Baudelaire.

EM: I have basically kept on doing the same thing as when I was a child and, as a game, I did installations/performances at home. I called them machines. All were based on the paradoxical uselessness of the object I created. All were very rudimentary: frames of wood, wires, tapes, cardboard, etc. creating a mechanism that, when someone opened the door at one end of the house, caused a vase to fall at the other end. This was the machine of chaos.

On another occasion I made a sort of altar with an idol –a God– in the living room. I closed that room with a padlock and hid the key, which led to not little consternation in my family. I was fascinated by the idea of that kind of God which was there, in that locked room, and which no one could see. I was wondering, if nobody looks at it, does it still exist? The audience of all this were only my parents, it was made for them, to see their reaction. Today I am still doing the same thing but widening the spectrum.

Ultimately, the world is a tragicomedy, shrouded by acts of gravity and importance. The election of a new Pope or to buy oneself a Ferrari... the characters in a school courtyard: the bully, the outcast, those who vie for the basketball court, etc. all of them are too reminiscent of international politics.

AM: I would say that what one does is to crack and expose the codes, those that can work there. Or at least it is like watching a theatre play, with a series of characters, each one with their own role.

EM:  The family is like a theatre.

AM: That is to say, that everything operates as a microcosm where you can observe which elements are reproduced, which elements are mimetic in relation to others...

EM: When in Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) by Luigi Pirandello, six characters are waiting for someone else to write them, is a defining moment in which the acupuncture needle is put in the right nerve to make it clear that in reality every act is waiting for someone to write it, for someone to play it, for someone to give it a sense.

When something is written or played or painted in any way is when it is given some sense, i.e., everybody seeks a demiurge or something that gives sense to their acts; that is the reason why these supporting crutches are being looked for: to find a sense for something that does not have it. That support point is ideology, belief, religion... because one feels that with no points of support there is an enormous vacuum, an abyss.

It is very difficult to withstand without that morality, true heroism is the Leap into the Void (1960) by Yves Klein.

I am fascinated when I meet someone who really believes in an ideology, in a political party or in UFOs. There are times, in moments of weakness, when it makes me feel slightly envious.

AM: It is as if, in your inner self, you faced uncertainty in absolute terms. The question is that uncertainty is probably a form of question, it has no answer.

EM: What answer can you give to uncertainty? It is the dichotomy between weak thought and strong thought –this weak thought posed by the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo, which as a philosophical idea is actually very recent. Weak thought is often misunderstood. It means to somehow let yourself flow; it consist really in avoiding the strong thought that ideology represents, to get rid of it.

Weak Thought would be more related to Postmodernism and this idea of chaos which, on the other hand, entails a risk. Ideally, we should have a strong thought to be really able to maintain a weak thought.

Once installed on uncertainty, free of morality and support points, I think that the hero, the real hero, is not the one who runs to be the first to assault a bastion and is the first to die. The hero is a suspicious and probably self-centred character who seeks to be remembered and honoured. Many perverse ideologies play with the figure of the hero, of the martyr, in order to utilize their peoples.

In Nietzsche, I have found someone who supports the most basic pieces of my own thought system.

AM: Yes, yes, that’s crystal clear.

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