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· Carolina Antón and Enrique Marty. Personal interview (2019)

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Personal interview I. Salamanca, 6th April 2019


Carolina Antón: Family brings with it a number of basic self-imposed rules. That is, links created through legal ties, economic or religious rights and obligations that often create discomfort, leading to a sense that seems to be the opposite of the feeling of “there is nothing like family”.

When, on more than one occasion, you have been asked why you are interested in working with your family, you have answered that it is because you focus on your closest environment and the fact that, as it is such a universal symbol, everyone can identify with it because we all have one. How did you start working with the family? -

Enrique Marty: Working with the family came very naturally. It started very early, in 1994 or 1995, shortly after leaving college.

At one point I experienced a kind of emptiness; I felt that what I was doing was getting me nowhere. I am one of these people who believes that the best way to think is to work, that is, to think while you are working. But I had stopped working, I simply went to the studio and sat down; the hours passed, I did nothing and then left. It took me a long time to paint each picture. I was trapped in a process in which I was painting, removing the paint and re-painting; it was a process that was very similar to how I felt at that time. So, at a certain point in that period of emptiness, I proposed to a friend that we start painting pictures together, with the only condition that he would destroy what I had been painting, that we would follow this procedure. I had the feeling that I had to break with everything. I needed to have more freedom because I was indulging too much in the process and was completely stuck. That experiment did me a lot of good, because it meant losing respect for what I was painting. The fact that someone was going to come and ruin my work, and that then I would paint over his work, and then he would delete mine again, and so on, freed me up.

From then on, I began to think about trying a faster process, in a pictorial process that was closer to photography. That's where the work based on Polaroid photography came from. I decided to do fast painting, which was the opposite of what I had been doing; I needed to work compulsively and quickly. I worked based on Polaroid photography because it is considered the cheapest kind of photography, the one that gives you less quality, producing random blurs and colours. I said to myself: “What happens if I lower the pictorial domain, which has so much tradition and so much history, to the mere activity of copying Polaroid snaps?” Likewise, I decided that I wouldn't spend more than one day to do a painting and, in the end, even that time was reduced, and sometimes I was painting six or seven works simultaneously. Several of the paintings in the exhibition “The Family” (2000), in the Reina Sofía, have been painted this way. I reflected: “What is Polaroid photography? You use the Polaroid camera to take a photo once a year, at the grandfather's or the child's birthday, and then you leave it lying around and the film turns yellow”. Then I decided to work with my family, as a symbol of what is closest to me.

I must also say that my family is very peculiar, not only my parents, but also the rest. My family stories range from the disappearance of an uncle of mine, who we don't know whether he's dead or alive, to a murder, when one of my cousins recently killed his wife.

At that time I was still living halfway between my parents' house and my then girlfriend's place. She spent a lot of time in London, so I would come and go to London and when I was in Spain I lived at my parents’. I virtually knew more about the artists in England, especially in London, and the galleries in London, than the ones in Spain. That was the moment when Damien Hirst emerged, the time of the Young British Artists, so I witnessed the beginning of that scene. For example, I was at the opening of the Saatchi.

And in relation to parents... Mine in particular have a terrible, sadomasochistic relationship, and living with them also allowed me to study what was going on. It's the idea of the house as a laboratory, as a testing ground.

C.A.: In that sense, your family has been part of your work, although I know that you have done many more things that are not family-related. Do you consider family to be the backbone of your work?

E.M.: It's part of it, it's not the backbone. In a way I am still working with my family, but it is not so central now. My mother is very old and she is a punk; she really has an unbridled imagination and she is an exhausting character. She reminds me a lot of Dali when he was old; she even looks like him physically, with those eyes and the things she says.

I understand my work as a tree. If you go to my website, you will see that the part of the work is organised in the shape of a tree trunk. It has two columns and as you click on it, more branches open up until, in the end, if you spread it all out, a tree would appear. The central trunk is all those ideas and subjects that I am interested in thinking and working on. The family is one of them; I always see it as a symbol of both the microcosm and the macrocosm. In fact, what happens in a family is a perfect symbol of what happens elsewhere, even in international politics.

C.A.: In the catalogue of Espacio Uno (at the Reina Sofia Museum) for the exhibition “The Family”, Rafael Doctor states that a family entity is “that nightmare of an existence predefined by others” (Doctor Roncero, 2001). Hence, the family implies a tension, a tension that is evident in your work. What tensions are you addressing?

E.M.: Family is something that is given to you. Later on, you form another family, and that second one you choose. I only have one brother; my family is small. Initially, when you are a child, you find yourself faced with a family that you have not chosen and you have to accept, whether you like it or not. Then you have a family you have chosen that, in turn, comes with another one that you haven't chosen. So you have a non-chosen family again, the in-laws, which actually replaces the first one. As an adult you usually have a closer relationship with that second family, but it comes with its burdens, its trials and tribulations and there is always a lot of tension. If there is tension in normal personal relationships, or in work relationships, imagine in family relationships...

I consider the family to be the cluster of human relationships where the highest level of stress can be reached. This is due to the high number of power and economic games involved. Sometimes they can be terrible, such as when there is an inheritance at stake — with people fighting and killing each other — or, in extreme cases, people who change their whole lives to receive an inheritance.

C.A.: Your series of portraits based of your own family album have been described in many ways: unconventional album, unmerciful representation (“Web rtve. es metropolis”, 2014), family grotesques, pitiless simulations (Doctor Roncero, 2001), the highlighting of the uncanny and absurd of the human condition, or the narrow strip where the normal and the monstrous coexist (Carpio, 2001). How and why do you get to this point in your artistic representation?

E.M.: Everything is related to the formation of our personality. When you're a child, your whole personality is shaped, that's why I attach so much importance to childhood, and I've come to realise that it all depends on your point of view. You can perceive things in one way or another. In other words, events seem to change in an almost magical way depending on the eyes of the beholder.

I have always been very interested in psychology and psychiatry; I have read a lot about it. Personality is formed at about the age of six, and it's a burden that you're always going to have to carry on your back. Freud talks about it. You are always going to be the same as when you were six. You are going to evolve in certain aspects, but your personality is already formed. Yes, you can change it, but you have to be aware of it, you have to do a deep work to change those parts of your personality acquired as a child.  

When you are born, your brain is like a record that has no grooves. Until you're six years old you'll be making those grooves, which can later be removed, but it's difficult. That's where I focus my study of the period of childhood, in this moment of construction of reality. Construction of so-called reality, since this is a word that can lead to many confusions. I show reality from a personal, distorted point of view in order to try and show it how it is perceived.

In the Reina Sofía installation, my aim was to make the visitor feel that what he was seeing when he stood in the middle of the room was the same as how a person thinks. That is to say, one has images and thoughts, and those images and thoughts are produced in the same way as when I make an installation of this type, covering the walls completely. You can follow a train of thoughts, because maybe you notice a sequence, and then, suddenly, that sequence changes. That character that appears in that first sequence seeps into the other and a new sequence emerges, but then maybe we see a group of different images and that leads you to something else. 

Thought when it's out of control is like that. You are thinking about one thing, that thing leads you to another and that leads you to another, and so on. This installation aims to be that brutal amalgamation of thoughts that sometimes fills your head in which memories, projections of the future, present ideas are mixed. The thoughts of that one day when something disturbing has happened that are then projected and interfere with your thoughts of the future.

That is what I want to express. I admit that the psychological attack on the viewer is hard, but I believe that art should be like that. The worst thing that can happen is indifference.

I have now moved on to reproduce and work on this line of thought in animation films, especially in All Your World is Pointless (2020/2013), a movie divided into episodes in which all sorts of things happen. This is the core of my work right now.

In the installation at the Reina Sofía there was a main installation, made up of these four hundred paintings, and, in an adjacent room, a second part consisting of several more paintings leaning against the wall. In this other room there was also a doctored family album, which I reproduced exactly, but altering my image to make it look as if I had been battered. And then there was a sculpture installation featuring my mother eight or ten times. A kind of nightmare, because, in reality, the family environment can sometimes be a nightmare.

C.A.: Mira Bernabeu, the other case study in my thesis, and you, both from the same generation, work on the family unit. According to Rafael Doctor's statements: “The uncanny in the family is wide and it curiously hides in the very naturalness of everyday behaviour” (Doctor Roncero, 2001). It is from this starting point that Doctor established parallels with your installation “The Family” and the diptych Retrato de familia (1998) by Bernabeu. Do you think there are shared aspects in these projects in which both of you expose your family to the public eye?

E.M.: It's not easy to answer that because I don't even know Mira personally, and I only know that part of his work. 

C.A.: He described these tensions reflected also through photography, in his 1996 diptych, in which one part was apparently a family group photo on a stage while in the other part of the diptych they were all depicted as cannibals, in bloody underwear. A certain tension can be sensed, but in my opinion, it is more evident in your work.

E.M.: I have been documenting peak moments for years, such as the series I have of Christmas in Toledo (2000/1998). In it we can see my uncles and aunts, my parents, that house in Toledo, and certain rituals of my parents are shown, such as having breakfast in bed. It is a totally reliable documentation but it has been subjected to a filter, to a necessary dramatisation. However, it responds exactly to the way I saw these situations. It is totally grotesque, in a Carnival kind of way. That is why I am so interested in artists who show life as a carnival, such as Ensor, or Solana. Life as an uncanny carnival.

C.A.: In the catalogue for the exhibition “The Family”, reference was also made to the magical and the grotesque via games, such as when you showed your family members wearing dentures, pig masks or as wolf children. We see them in the series “Fantasmagoria” (1998/1994) and, according to Doctor, they are part of everything “that we fail to rationalise about our environment and that happens beyond our routine understanding” (Doctor Roncero, 2001). There is a clear relationship with the theatre of the absurd, which I would like you to speak about. Why did you choose to use these costumes, and what would be the common thread running through these series?

E.M.: It all comes from the interest I have in artists who show the absurd. One of my favourite writers is Antonin Artaud. I find him fascinating as a person too, because he let himself be carried away by madness. If you hear Artaud's recorded voice, it seems that he is possessed; it is a voice very similar to that of the devil in The Exorcist. In his theatre of the absurd and of cruelty, he developed a way of performing plays that was aimed at plunging the audience into a state of real tension. He considered that plays should be as disturbing as possible for the spectator, for instance through emitting annoying noises, or repetitive, monotonous sentences. I find this very interesting, because I believe that an artist must have total commitment, and his is an extremely courageous position. In fact, another committed figure that fascinates me is Nietzsche; I am as focused on Nietzsche as if he were a member of my family.

As far as my family is concerned, the members of my family have now been replaced by me. I'm working a lot on my own image, practicing a kind of self-portrait in which I show a lot of myself while hiding at the same time. In the exhibition “All Your World is Pointless” (2019), at the Belgian gallery Deweer, I showed three sculptures that represent me three times as a child: as a cowboy, as a child king and as a ventriloquist puppet.

Personality is a construct. Anyone who walks down the street is playing a role. I believe that authenticity is a fallacy. Your personality has been created when you were a child and you are dragging it along; it has been shaped by what you have lived through, either in your family, or with your school friends.

Speaking of specific pieces, there is an animation video for which I have borrowed the title from Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (2007). It's a diptych, and on one side there is my father with a mask, asking me: “But if this is animation, why am I wearing this mask?”, and me telling him: “It's a Venetian mask”. Then he replies: “Ah, right!”, and I don't give him any further explanation. It's very nihilistic, because he's like, “Ah, okay, okay”, in a loop, over and over again. Then, on the other side, my mother appears with a mask of the Joker, the icon of laughter, of the man who smiles for no reason, of the sinister smile. My mother takes off her mask, but underneath she has the same face, a histrionic laugh; underneath the mask is the same thing again. It is the game of masks, an issue on which philosophy has worked a lot.

I think it is a huge mistake when in current movies, the superheroes take off their masks so the actor can be seen, because right now superheroes are our modern mythology. Superhero stories will be read and considered in the future in the same way we read mythology now. The heroes, the demigods, the gods who have super powers, etc.

A person is capable of doing things while wearing a mask that perhaps they would not be able to do without it. If you gave a person total anonymity, he might become a monster. If that person finds himself in a situation where he is not going to be critised, or repressed, or judged by anyone and where his actions are not going to have any consequences, maybe he will let himself go, kill someone and eat them. Something like that could certainly happen. Many of the dictators who have enjoyed absolute power deep down were dedicated to sadism, to committing mass murders, to getting rid of people... Usually those who were closest to them. These types of drives tend to be released when there is no fear of backlash.

My work helps me to reflect philosophically on all kinds of issues. In the end, I'm talking about the whole.

C.A.: For example, what is the point of the pig masks?

E.M.: The pig has been an iconic animal for me since I was a child. I love to eat it, it's delicious!, and, besides, it's a strange animal. It has many connotations. Having my mother and my aunts wear a pig mask felt like an undescribable moment, because there is also an element of test involved. I'm not painting this from memory, to arrive at a picture in which my mother or my aunt is wearing a pig mask, first there is a photo. So, before that, I took my mother or my aunt and asked them: “Can you put on this pig mask?”. The situations that I create are not staged scenes, I work as events unfold. It's just a twist, I haven't set up a scene or been talking to them for hours previously. The guidelines are simple: “Put on this pig mask. Put it on, put it on, come on” and that's when something happens and, at a certain moment, you take the photograph. Besides, when I took the Polaroid photos I was not looking for a meaning, I decided to paint all the photos so that it was not something planned. If a photo came out bad, blurred or out of focus, I had to paint that one too.

C.A.: Do you no longer use Polaroid?

E.M.: I don't use it now, but maybe I'll take it up again. The process was always the same: taking Polaroid photos, wherever I was, and then organising them. Besides, it was an entirely manual process, I didn't use projections nor did I enlarge them for tracing, I just painted with the photo in my hand.

C.A.: When you talked about the masks, you also mentioned the dentures. Is it something similar?

E.M.: There is a part of exploration of the body itself. I collected dental casts from my dentist for years, then exhibited them at MUSAC. Now I have just been given a lot of foot moulds. These body measurements help me to inquire about it.

C.A.: What would be the common thread in these series of the masks, the costumes and the dentures?

E.M.: Everything gets organised on its own, it doesn't require any conscious effort on my part. My work is very close to my life, there is no difference between them. In the end one has the feeling of having been doing the same thing all along. Looking back, when I was a child, I used to seize the opportunity of being alone at home to build what I called machines, which I later realised were installations.

C.A.: How old were you then?

E.M.: Between ten and thirteen years old, approximately. Before I was ten, I didn't dare stay home alone, I was terribly afraid of everything. Suddenly fear was gone, and horror films became my favourite ones. Salamanca had a lot of influence on that fear, because it's a city with many old monuments, many dark corners, with monsters represented on stones, capitals, our two cathedrals (one cathedral within the other); such an environment is very mysterious to you as a child and that's also important.

As for the machines, one of them was a time machine. Everything was very rudimentary: an interweaving of wires, strings, wood, pulleys — stuff that occupied the whole house, from the corridor to the living room. Everything was arranged in such a way that, after it was assembled, I could not go back. In the end I just ended up next to a vase. I sat in front of the vase until, at some point, my father or mother came from many metres away, opened the door and the vase fell down. I was experiencing the effect of an event that I had caused, something that fascinated me as a child.  Besides, it was random, I sat there and didn't really know when it was going to happen and if it was going to work.

On another occasion I created a worship machine, a kind of altar with an idol inside a room, which I then padlocked and threw away the key. The key question was how fascinating it was to have a holy shrine in a room that no one could enter; it was the unknown, the god, the unexplored. The lock had to be broken to get in. At some other time, I decided to explore a more pictorial style and painted a fresco of a biblical scene in my parents' room.

With another of the machines I ventured into the realm of performance. I convinced my mother to climb up a ladder, with a candle in each hand and a cone on her head. My intention was to create an absurd, totally ridiculous carnival situation, organised in such a way that my father would see it when he came into the room.

C.A.: Regarding masks, in some of your statements you explain their importance as protection on the one hand and as a means of concealment on the other. Which are your inspirations on the subject of masks?

E.M.: One is Rubens; and the Baroque in general is a period that interests me very much, because it is pure mask, pure carnival. Rubens represents the world as he wishes and, we could almost say, from a divine point of view. And everyone is disguised in his works. I think I can say that he is my favourite artist. But there is also Goya, whom I put on the same level. And Velázquez, although for other reasons, such as how he represented the palpable, because of his mastery. There is also David Lynch, with whom I connect completely, and dark music, which has influenced not only my work, but also my way of thinking and dressing.

C.A.: And which are your philosophical influences?

E.M.: At home I have a kind of altar with busts featuring Socrates, Plato, Nietzsche and Marcus Aurelius. The latter was a philosopher who became an emperor and is considered one of the five good emperors. Marcus Aurelius is perhaps the greatest representative of Stoic philosophy and, being an emperor, living stoically is doubly commendable.

C.A.: Your artistic project is associated with the sinister. In your interviews you always talk about Freud's unheimlich, which you refer to in your work. From Freud, what relationship do you establish with other possible references?

E.M.: The unheimlich is translated into English as the uncanny, and in the Spanish philosophical sphere it has been agreed to translate it as “lo siniestro”. If you are not aware of that, the terminology can lead you to confusion, because “siniestro” in Spanish usually refers to Dracula's castle, spider webs or darkness, and it is not that at all. That meaning I’m interested in would be more like the English translation of unheimlich: the uncanny, i.e., strange and disturbing things that happen when nothing strange and disturbing should happen. If you go into a cave that leads to a castle, about which there is a legend that people disappear, where everything is very dark and there are monsters... that would not be the philosophical meaning of unheimlich; because you are in a predictable environment both in terms of logos and pathos. Generally, unheimlich is the disturbing, strange, unexpected experience that takes place in a familiar setting, which can be the home and which, when it occurs, produces a catharsis.

Michelangelo Buonarroti is closely linked to catharsis. He is the ideal model of an artist, working in all disciplines and, in addition, being a stoic. He only lived for his art and, despite being a multimillionaire, he did not believe in luxury. His theory of Terribilitá consisted in making works that overwhelmed the viewer. Many bishops in Michelangelo's time wanted to remove his painting The Last Judgement (1537-1541) because it was too frightening. The catharsis leads to the overcoming of this feeling of awe. In overcoming it you have grown; you have left one step behind.

Also Nietzsche spoke of this. Catharsis comes from the Greek philosophers. And hence, his famous phrase: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger”. You have gone through an event that has made you stronger, has made you wiser. Catharsis brings peace of mind, quiet joy and the wisdom of having gone through something difficult. I practice it too, that's why I like to confront and subject the viewer to experiences that can be shocking. Sometimes they are experiences of rejection, and other times they are experiences in which the viewer projects themselves.

On the other hand, there is Jung and all his shadow theory. Jung was a pseudo-disciple of Freud, and they had a disagreement, because Freud wanted to relate everything to the idea of sexual repression, which according to him was the basis of everything, while Jung reached much wider grounds, with a stress on the territory of the shadow. For me Jung is more influential than Freud.

I'm talking about these philosophical concepts because they are important in my work. With regard to the shadow, a subject I have done a lot of work on, the most important of which is Study of my Shadow (2014), a silhouette of me casting a giant shadow. In a rough summary, the shadow is that part of us that we repress. It is that negative part that we do not want to see in ourselves and therefore project onto others. This mirror theory is always relevant, because we are always projecting, twenty-four hours a day. According to Jung, all our actions are the result of a projection we make of our unconscious into what surrounds us and are reactions to that projection. He proposes that we get along with our shadow, become aware of it and ally ourselves with it in order to free ourselves.

In my work I deal with images from a philosophical point of view. Our subconscious mind, which is the one I want to attack, works with images and does not understand words. I am continuously reflecting on all these concepts that I am mentioning in a certain disorder.

C.A.: Going back to Freud, have you grown up with him since childhood?

E.M.: Pretty much, yes. Also, in relation to Freud is Dali, a figure I find particularly interesting — although I think that as an artist, he is much more important than it seems. Dali was deeply interested in psychoanalysis and decided to visit Freud. He paid him a visit in which the psychoanalyst did not listen to him, because he was studying him, not talking to him. It was then that Freud said: “I have never known a clearer example of Spaniard. What a fanatic!”. In the end you find connections everywhere.

C.A.: In the show “The Family”, Rafael Doctor mentions several references, from The Family of Charles IV by Francisco de Goya to Twin Peaks: Fire Walks with Me (1994) by David Lynch. All of them are equivalents that Doctor established with the exhibition project. He also mentioned The Simpson (1989), What have I done to deserve this? (1984) by Pedro Almodóvar or Ray's Laugh (1996) by Richard Billingham. What parallels are there between the Twin Peaks filmography and “The Family”?

E.M.: The film Fire Walks with Me is the prequel to the show Twin Peaks. It tells what happened before, the last seven days of Laura Palmer's life. It is a family drama taken to the extreme. Laura Palmer is the archetypical girl of the American dream: a blonde, blue-eyed cheerleader. She is the most popular girl, but at the same time she is a prostitute at night, takes tons of drugs, and lives in a den among criminals and strange people. To make matters worse, her father is possessed by a demonic spirit that rapes her every night. She knows that something is raping her, but there is a moment when she is aware that this something is her father. It is really hell within a family environment. It is a mask beneath another mask. Therefore, the similarities are obvious.

C.A.: Doctor calls the portrait of The Family of Charles IV (1800-1801), by Francisco de Goya, “the first great contemporary family portrait” (Doctor Roncero, 2001). According to him, Goya shattered the idealisation of the Judaeo-Christian notion of family in a single painting, and he states that from then on families are different. I know that he is one of your models, an artist with whom you feel strongly connected. What aspects of Goya's work have influenced yours?

E.M.: He' s great. To talk about it I have to go back to my childhood, because in the end everything comes from there.

The first art book I had was by Rubens; my brother bought it for me when I was six or seven. Then my parents purchased the whole collection, which featured a different artist every fortnight. The last one was Goya and it came out in two volumes. The second art book I had was about the series “Los Caprichos”, which were a shock to me. I thought it was a magnificent work, those eighty engravings, with all that social criticism, where Goya mixed monsters, witches, very ominous scenes, covens, etc. The impression was so strong that I got really sick, I spent one night vomiting and, in addition, to give the moment an even more epic touch, during the night a summer thunderstorm broke out. It was like a Byronic poem.

That was my first significant contact with Goya, although I already knew him; and then it became a real obsession. Goya had everything; he was a photographer of his society, he represented what was going on in it.

I am also fascinated by his scenes of witchcraft and the very fascination he had. The exhibition “Reinterpreted I” (2014) that I did at the Museo Lázaro Galdiano in Madrid was a dialogue with the museum’s collection. Everything revolved around Goya's Witches' Sabbath (1798), which I had to replace. The painting was removed because it was going to an exhibition in Boston, and that's when I painted my version of the Witches' Sabbath (with the family of Lázaro Galdiano, which occupied the position of Goya's Witches' Sabbath (during all that time. If I had been told as a child that this painting, which was one of my favourites by Goya, and which completely mesmerised me, was going to be taken down from the museum where it was and they were going to put up my own version, I wouldn't have believed it. It was like an installation/performance, replacing the painting and, moreover, I was going to be able to hold Goya's original painting in my hands. I felt it was like touching the sanctum sanctorum. 

I recently went to the Prado Museum and I spent an hour and a half in front of Goya's painting The Last Communion of St Joseph of Calasanz (1819). In this painting Saint Joseph of Calasanz looks almost dead, looking at the spectator while a priest gives him his last communion. There was something about it that fascinated me, something that prevented me from moving away from the painting, so I stayed there until I discovered it: it has to do with certain structures that repeat themselves, creating the shape of the body of the priest who is giving him his last communion. The priest is somewhat huddled down because the saint is on his knees and has a bit of a hump. This creates an absolutely captivating interplay of forms, with a descending line of light coming from the miracle, from God, illuminating the saint. Above all, when you discover that the saint is actually looking at you, at the viewer, you say, there it is. In reality, they are actors performing the scene for you, because it is very strange that a dying saint, who is taking his last communion, instead of being aware of what he is doing, is looking at the viewer. And that's when Goya really gets a hold of you; it's like a trap.

C.A.: Rafael Doctor drew other comparisons, such as with with Pedro Almodóvar’s film What have I done to deserve this, with The Simpson and with John Waters' Pecker film.

E.M.: Just as I love The Simpsons, and also John Waters, I don't like Almodóvar at all. I did like Almodóvar’s first films, but now I haven't seen any for a long time because they don't interest me in the least.

C.A.: In the same catalogue, Doctor describes “the shame and embarrassment towards one's family” (Doctor Roncero, 2001), exemplified by Matt Groening's The Simpson, Richard Billingham's Ray's a Laugh and John Waters' Pecker. He is talking about the disregard for modesty characteristic of today's society in the contemporary art scene, that shamelessness that vanishes when our private life is made public. What is privacy for you?

E.M.: For me privacy is very important. Although I appear to show everything, I'm actually a very reserved person. When I’m at home, I shut the windows; I don't like to be seen. My book is called Observer, Observed (2017) because there is always someone watching; it is related to privacy. You observe something, someone observes you observing that something... there is always a further level of observation.

I pour my heart and soul into my work. What I tell comes from the most intimate part of me, and yet it is a construction.

C.A.: Paula Sibilia, in her book La intimidad como espectáculo (2008), stated: “The more everyday life is fictionalised and aesthetised through media devices, the more avidly one seeks an authentic, true experience that is not staged. One seeks what is really real” (Sibilia, 2016). I understand your artistic projects as manipulated realities and, therefore, fictionalised within a mise-en-scène. Do you think that your work, in which you build on your family album, moves away from that much-demanded reality that Paula Sibilia talks about?

E.M.: I totally agree with what you say about manipulating reality. Also, it has a certain shamanic component. By manipulating your environment, you are creating a new reality, and that is what shamanism is based upon. Sometimes you get to the point of manipulating it completely, a point where you really influence what is happening and what is going to happen. Art, at least mine, doesn't provide answers; it focuses more on questions. Good questions already have the answer in them; it's implicit.

C.A.: The viewer is used to seeing the answer.

E.M.: Of course. Often, at openings, which is when I am present at an exhibition, I am asked lots of questions. And, well, I can give an explanation, but ambiguity is also very important. If I say “This is so”, the person who asks me accepts my interpretation, while theirs may be perfectly valid, because when they look at the work, they are projecting themselves. I am interested in a work that has infinite readings.

C.A.: Paula Sibilia spoke about how much culture has changed since the end of the 20th century in comparison with the previous century, when art sought to copy reality, and how then the opposite happened. Nowadays reality has lost so much legitimacy that the spectator doubts in front of those images, which have lost the democratic acceptance they had. Is there an attempt to spectacularize that image that can be real?

E.M.: There is something very tricky in what you have mentioned, and that is the concept of reality. This is a very complicated concept; to believe that what we see in a photo is real is too much of a stretch.

One of the guidelines I set myself when I was painting from Polaroid photographs was to reproduce them by hand, because what is happening behind them is a mystery. The image of a photograph is awaiting your interpretation, but there is never a reality behind it.

I mean, in a deep sense, when you look at a radiator, you see a radiator, but you don't really see it, it's your mind that interprets that image as a radiator. It is particles and atoms that are vibrating and forming a radiator. If we get to the bottom of this, the ancient mystics were actually right when they said that the world is the “veil of Maya”, an illusion, something that doesn’t exist. This is a great cosmic theatre, which is only pure fiction, because nothing is real.

C.A.: We are also very used to the conventions of film language. Although what we see is only appearance or a fusion of atoms, we forget what is behind it.

E.M.: That is also a learned language. A series of specific tribes were tested by putting them through a totally conventional film. We are talking about people who have never seen moving images, not even photographs. And they didn't understand anything, neither the narrative nor the plot. The narrative language of cinema is a learned language that we understand because we have seen many films and have already internalized that type of narrative. But if we didn't have that basis, we wouldn't understand anything that happens in a film.

C.A.: That's why when Paula Sibilia talked about the twist, she meant that, used to this kind of film language, audiences need a bit of spectacle.

E.M.: A monumental twist in that sense is social media, which have become a huge spectacle. I am not on any of them, although I have them all. My collaborators upload the images, I don't even have the password to see them to avoid the temptation to log in. I use them as artwork, as a reflection on the social media themselves. We are doing series on Instagram, and the last one is a huge series of selfies. They are absurd selfies with some crazy editing, in which I always appear taking a selfie in different contexts. For example, I'm drinking a rum and coke at the Louvre without looking at the works, or I'm taking a selfie in front of Michelangelo's David (1501-1504), completely covering the sculpture and allowing only the head to be seen from behind.

C.A.: Sibylia says exactly that, that what sells today is the spectacle of the self. There is a voyeur audience interested in learning about other people's lives. Sibilia also said that the cover of Time magazine in 2006 was a mirror in which the viewer was the protagonist, the personality of the year. So for a while people were uploading their lives, their family photos of daily life, celebrations, etc. In a way, it was a reflection of the triumph of amateurism in the 21st century.

E.M.: At some point social media have caught up with me; they are mindlessly devoted to doing the same thing I've been doing for years. I have been compulsively showing my life and my family in a distorted and filtered way.

And on social media these are not filters of the “there are certain images I won’t upload” type, but purely aesthetic filters, to get rid of wrinkles, to give you abs. Right now, there isn't a landscape where there isn't someone taking a photo to upload it to Instagram. It's an issue that I address in my selfies, specifically those people who use a masterpiece simply as a background for their face. It's something that repels and fascinates me, the fact that you go to the extreme of using a work of art as a backdrop for your photo.

C.A.: Doctor talks about the latent Oedipus and the problems with the cutting of a yet unhealed umbilical cord in reference to the piece Superwoman (1995/2008), the portrait of your mother that shows the viewer this phenomenon. And, on the other hand, she is the main character in the pieces based on your family album. How much reality is there in this argument around Oedipus in this exhibition project?

E.M.: My mother is the typical figure of the castrating mother, as it is known in Freud's psychoanalysis. She is the mother whose main task is to metaphorically castrate the male members of her family, to thwart their entire emotional maturity. This piece was one of the first I made of my mother, with her red gown and my dick cut off on her lap. If you see the sculpture in person, you can see it very clearly. There are many people who call her the mother with the dick, because in a way she has taken it away from me and put it on herself. She's one of those mothers with a strong personality, she's a kind of Bernarda Alba. She would fit perfectly into the play.

At the same time, I've depicted her as a devil or a saint, because she can be either an amazing or a horrendous person. And now that she is very old, the two personalities are mixed up, so to speak. She herself admits that she loves to destroy people.

What happens in my case is that, as a result of working so much on my environment, my personality, and on psychology, psychiatry, philosophy or art, I have come to develop a very strong armour. Now I know how to handle my mother; nothing she tells me can affect me. Let's say she tried to castrate me but she didn't succeed. I got away.

C.A.: But the truth is that she has always been extremely receptive to your work.

E.M.: It's one of the questions I'm always asked. On the one hand, it's because my work and everyday life are very close. Many times she hasn't even noticed that I was working, and she has always had a very powerful histrionic talent, she loves to act. On the other hand, my mother is such a tease… She is an extremely complex character, very interesting, difficult and fascinating. Everyone who knows her is immediately attracted by her magnetic personality. That's why she reminds me so much of Dali. She has a very complicated personality in all respects.

C.A.: In the interview A conversation with Enrique Marty by Javier Panera, which took place in 2003, he asked you about your father's increased participation in your projects and you told him how he agreed to be part of them and how you ended up asking him to make a series of videos where you gave him total freedom to do what he wanted. His choices ranged from playing a monster, telling jokes, doing magic, to stealing a car. You said then that those videos had a lot of meaning you could not list at that time, could you list them now?

E.M.: The relationship with my father has improved over time. Our best times were the last few years, when we really got along very well.

In the mid-90s I had a very heated argument with him because he didn't like the way I represented him. He said I was doing it in a grotesque way. After the argument, he demanded that I destroy the paintings and not paint him again, or represent him in any way. After a few years in which I focused only on my mother and, to a lesser extent, on my nephews, my father fell ill with a very severe pneumonia and almost died. Now, while still in the hospital, when he recovered, he told me: “Take some photos of me”, which totally contradicted what he had said before. From that moment on, he started working with me again. That series, the hospital series, I named “Amnesia” (1997), because it is as if he had been reborn, and when he came back to life again, he had forgotten about the promise that I was never going to represent him again in any way. He even asked me directly to do so.

Shortly after that, he told me that he didn't mind if I painted him again on the condition that he could choose a few things. So I said to him: “Okay, then, I'll suggest these three or four topics”; and he answered: “Well, I want to appear doing magic tricks”, and that's where the video of Wizard Father comes from (2003/2011).

In Wizard Father, I gave him a magic tricks box, but I didn't let him practice. So, since he started to do them without any preparation, they all went wrong. In the video he is talking non-stop, doing the tricks, and I added a soundtrack of laughter and applause. Another of the videos is that of Monster Father (2003/2011), which is when he dresses up as a monster. A third one is my father stealing a car from a friend of his, which was part of a joke.

The fact that, once again, my father was telling jokes and, my mother was not laughing at all, but instead made a face of despair, and said: “Why don’t you shut up, man, you're not funny at all”, summed up their relationship perfectly. And my position as an observer behind the camera was very intense.

C.A.: You said that all those videos had meanings too long to list, and the question is whether you could list them now.

E.M.: The video Wizard Father represents the father who, in some way, wants to envelop you in certain magic tricks, but when he starts to do them, they are all thwarted and, as he has not practiced them, they all go wrong. As for the video of stealing the car, the inspiration came from the fact that my father was a military man, a very upright person who couldn't break the law, who, on top of everything, was being recorded. The question is, to what extent, if they put a camera in front of you, are you prepared to do things that you would never do in your normal life? In another video, my father is shooting in the middle of the countryside. It is part of a diptych, which I made later, with my mother shooting at home. Then I turned the two videos into a cartoon film.

In the end, after working on them, I came to find that symbolism. This kind of reality is made up of symbolic elements. It's a kind of performance, in which, without looking for it, you find a very powerful and sometimes overwhelming symbolism.

C.A.: In Actions in my Parents’ House (2001), they lived together for a month with their doubles and you said that it was hard for them to live with them for so long. Could you describe that coexistence in more detail?

E.M.: This work is related to those installations I used to make as a child, which I wanted to continue as an artist when I grew up. I made some statues of them and changed the proportions: my mother's is slightly larger and my father's is smaller. The question of proportions was what obsessed my father most. At that time, he talked about how my mother had already managed to make him smaller; he even brought home a psychologist friend of his to psychoanalyse the whole situation. My mother was also fed up, mainly because her statue was sitting in a place where she used to sit, in a marginal chair behind my father. It was similar to the position of a psychoanalyst when he sits behind the patient, who sees him from behind, and I found all that very interesting. From then on, she chose to sit where my mother's sculpture was. Besides, I think she preferred to sit on my father's back because it was a position of greater domination.

C.A.: Although not everything in your artistic project is family, the theme appears very often and in a variety of forms in your oeuvre. It is a distinctive feature of your work which, in my opinion, many identify with you. Your family album has extended over time by adapting various forms, exhibitions such as “Present will be memory” (2018), “My Life, from Heaven to Hell” (2009), “Wolves at the Door” (2004) or “The Family” (2000). Could you speak about the meanings of each of these in the exhibition spaces in which you have shown them?

E.M.: All these exhibitions are based on the same concept, but then there is a lot of thought about how to present it on site. If the space is different, I stage it in a different way. Also, I have incorporated the painting on the wall which, unlike the pictures, when the exhibition ends you don't take down and carry with you. I call them ghosts because the painting will remain on the wall, but then a worker will come and paint over it with white and another exhibition will be set up.

The video Monster Father at MUSAC was shown in a kind of model of a cinema that was part of a larger installation. Then, on the façade of the Castile and León Parliament, it was a gigantic projection facing the street, so it could be seen from a distance. It is a different way of playing with space. For me that is also very important. I always take into account the space where the works are going to be exhibited, and I like to turn it into another work. Instead of going against the space, I go with the space. I try to make the exhibition a whole, because that way the psychological connection is greater.

“My Life, from Heaven to Hell” is made up of pieces taken from “The Family”, but the installation title “Wolves at the Door” was something else entirely. It was a much bigger installation, which occupied four floors. The title “Wolves at the Door” represents the idea of the threat that is waiting behind the door. That is, I'm at home, I'm safe, but if I open the door the wolves will attack me. It is inspired by an English phrase: The wolves are at the door. There is danger outside, but what happens if the wolves are at the door? The interior is no longer a comfortable and convenient space, but rather something strange is happening in it too, so you cannot be saved.

C.A.: The Shining (1980)

E.M.: The Shining!

C.A.: The exhibition Aim at the brood! (2006) at the Deweer Gallery in Otegem, Belgium, could be seen as a mental universe, a collection of thoughts and images, an archive of memories and mental captures through which life among friends and family is documented, and in which the sculptures distortedly complete this family group. What is the meaning of the sculptures in this installation?

E.M.: They are three-dimensional extensions of what the viewer sees in two dimensions.

C.A.: Of what happens on the walls?

E.M.: Yes. I like to bring characters or elements out of the walls so that they are close to the viewer, share their own space, to make them feel less sheltered.

C.A.: In his text for Aim at the brood (2006), Dries Verstraete describes Spanish customs, which differ greatly from Belgian ones. He highlights our greater adaptability to death, with statements such as “Spanish culture deals more directly with cruelty, and accepts life and death in a healthier way than northern cultures” (Marty, E.; Verstraete, 2007). These are Spanish peculiarities he highlights based on the vitalism and tormented nature of your works. Do you think that your work is deeply rooted in Spanish culture? Do you consider death to be present, even if you do not deal directly with it?

E.M.: I think so. I agree with everything. Obviously, death is present. In fact, I've spent virtually two years in a row working on vanitas.

More than feeling Latino, I feel European; I connect much more with that current of thought. At the same time, I feel one hundred percent heir to Spanish culture. I think that in Spain there is a big error of perception; in fact, we are more related to the European than to the Latino culture. As for my connection with Spanish culture, I consider myself a direct heir of Velázquez and Goya. I am dealing with the same tradition. I am taking up the baton from Goya, because I represent things that are happening today and I give my own opinion.

C.A.: The work Father Ape Squatting (2002) forms part of the exhibition “An Incident in the Burrow” (2003), which was held at the Espacio Mínimo gallery in Madrid, and in which different versions of your father were shown. From the video in which he does magic tricks, to the two installations where he appears in bed. One, in which we see Father Ape Squatting, and the other, with his face torn apart and his body broken down into organs or shapeless pieces of flesh (Marty, n.d.). What was your approach to this project in this setting? Is it related to the metaphorical Freudian figure of “killing the father”?

E.M.: Absolutely.

C.A.: How did you arrange the setting?

E.M.: In the first room there was a triptych representing a guy disguised as an angel, with wings, covered with blood, and naked, who is bathing, removing the blood and some parts of his body.

In the second room there was this bed with the dismembered body and several photographs of several places where some words had been written with a blood-stained finger, with a shower that sweeps them away. Everything was about blood and the inside of the body. Then there was an installation for which I reproduced the family album of my parents in watercolour and pencil.

C.A.: Estrella de Diego wrote the text Family Portrait which was published in the catalogue “III Bienal Iberoamericana de Lima” in 2002. It referred to the psychoanalytic expression of killing one's father or mother, which according to her you managed to capture effectively through your works. She interpreted it as a psychological liberation on your part (De Diego, 2002). A year later you talked about this in an interview with Javier Panera, when you stated that there is a necessary therapeutic distance in the treatment of drama in your work (Marty, Panera Cuevas, & University of Salamanca, 2004). Could you tell me about the way this position of distance is used?

E.M.: I don't know if I totally agree with Javier Panera that it is a therapeutic distance. There is a position of distance. I am safe because I mentally position myself as someone who looks at a virus through a microscope. I think he is referring to that separation that stems from the fact that I am creating a parallel world, in which I appear as if I were above it, as if I were a puppeteer. On the other hand, there is more involvement than it seems. There is a distance in my approach, which I try to overcome through the works in order to reach and produce catharsis.

C.A.: In the interview with Javier Panera you called your sculptures “dolls”, a term which you have later replaced by “sculptures”. I have the impression that with that qualifier you were trying to trivialise them. Why did you call these sculptures dolls?

E.M.: Yes, I wanted to make light of them, to avoid the sculptural work that seeks to define volumes. In a way, by reproducing Polaroid photographs, I was fleeing from the pictorial. At a certain point I considered that period to be over, and moved on to things I can now call sculptures.

C.A.: In the work Pregnant with Ghosts (2005) there is a sculpture of your father in his underwear with a prominent belly. On your website you show it as an independent work. What did you plan to do with it?

E.M.: When I made it, I was already thinking about the installation. It's my father, pregnant. It is called Pregnant with Ghosts or Embarazado de fantasmas. I showed it in an installation in France, at the Carré Dárt Museum. My father's sculpture was placed with its back to a wall, about two metres away from it. It was as if my father was attracting that wall. He is also painted on the wall, over and over again, forming an ascendent spiral, until he disappears. He used to talk about his ghosts, certain things that tormented him, but, at the same time, he always remained the same, with the same stance. In a way he thought: the ghosts that torment me are inside me, and nothing bad is happening because I'm just imagining them.  

C.A.: Your work is characterised by excess, by a baroque style that permeates your installations. It is reflected in an excess in figurative reproduction, an excess that becomes intoxicating, flooding the mind with information. How would you describe that great stage in which your mental universe is immersed?

E.M.: I can sum this up a little by talking about Rubens. I am very interested in the Baroque because it is an enormous celebration of the world. An extremely bloody, dramatic and death-filled celebration. If you look at Rubens' mythological paintings, you see that there are dismemberments, butchered saints or tortured christs on the cross. On the other hand, everything is very false. In many baroque churches what looks like marble is not, the surface is painted to look like marble. If you scratch a little, the really ominous is behind the façade. In Rubens there is the whole cosmogony and that is why I am interested in the Baroque, because it allows me to work about everything.

C.A.: In the exhibition “The Family” you showed a family album which was different to the usual one, together with a pile of large paintings arranged to be touched and looked at by the viewers. Here we are also talking about the demystification of painting, of that untouchable and sacred halo you destroy by taking some of the paintings down from the wall and leaving them piled up on the floor, totally accessible to the viewer. Was this a way of talking about excess? Why this interest in downplaying the importance of the works?

E.M.: Very interesting question. My intention was, actually, to escape. At that time, exhibition design was based on a wall, a painting, the magnification of the work and huge, very empty spaces. With that gesture, I was talking about the opposite, about massification, by turning correctly painted paintings into elements that you looked at within a gigantic environment. It is not so much the demystification, althouth it seemed important to me at the time. The fact of leaving the works on the floor was like saying: “They haven't all fit, so let's leave them here so that the public can see and touch them”. But that actually backfired. It gave us problems, to Rafa [Doctor] and me. Rafa was a very important piece in the setting up of the exhibition and the idea of filling it all came from both of us. Because of an issue as spurious as insurance, it couldn't be done, because in the end those who are in charge of a museum are the security people along with the insurance people. It was a constant internal fight that hardly anyone was aware of.

C.A.: But does this also happen outside Spain?

E.M.: Yes, and much more radically. At first, when they told me that the person in charge was the security person, I didn't believe it. Then it became clear to me. The head of security has maximum power. If he wants to, he can close the exhibition and not even the director of the museum can open it. Nobody is above that decision. At an exhibition in The Hague, a security chief forced me to shift four sculptures because he felt like it, claiming that they were blocking the fire exit. Which was a complete lie.

C.A.: There is an evident baroque style in your paintings. On some occasions it seems to border on obsession, as in the piece Duel (2006/2007), made up of 1249 watercolours on paper, which are the frames of a painted film that you then animate on the screen. In Duel we see your parents depicted in the gun-point challenge that Omar Pascual described as the almost mechanical use and abuse of the pre-modern craft resources of Art (Pascual, 2010). For you, reproducing photography by hand is a stance, a conceptual fact. How do you approach this concept?

E.M.: By the way, afterwards I beat the record with the film A Fork in the Brain (2013), which are six thousand and a bit.

As you have said, painting all the frames in a film is a stance, a conceptual act. It is no longer sequences or series, but the action of painting all the images in movement. The installation of A Fork in the Brain is a portrait of Luis, whose title comes from a sentence he said, “that talking to his mother was like being poked in the brain with a fork”. To install all these watercolours, we had to cover the walls of several rooms, from the floor to the ceiling. They practically became an optical piece. On the one hand, there was the total immersion in the work experienced by the viewer, and on the other, the fact that the film was seen on a screen the exact size of the paintings. The only time I exhibited it, due to the difficulty of finding a space where it fits, was in the DA2 Museum in Salamanca.

The conceptual event is to take the act of painting, that concept of the unique painting of the masterpiece, to the painting of more than six thousand images. There are so many images that I had the feeling that I was always painting the same one, because the movements from one to the other are minimal. Besides, the whole film is Luis at a fair, and it has many details. It is an authentic portrait of him, with that weight he has, the slowness with which he moves and which characterises him, because he also speaks extremely slowly. Luis has created that shield of fat around him to put an obstacle between him and the world. Everything moves quickly, there are many colours, there is a lot of sound and he moves very, very slowly.

C.A.: In your interview with Javier Panera, you stated that “fear is essential, it is the engine that drives the world; then there is also pain, rage, hate” (Marty et al., 2004), which, on the other hand, are feelings inherent to our Spanish culture. The reason why outside our country we have been branded with the label of the grotesque, of Black Spain or of fanaticism. Historically, in Spain, in relation to the rest of Europe and well into the Enlightenment, the period of the cult of death was extended: funeral rites continued to be marked by a strong baroque style despite living in the Enlightenment period. Why such a strong presence in your work of Black Spain?

E.M.: There is this international idea that Spain is a happy country, that there is a lot of partying, and we are all happy and friendly people. I have the completely opposite idea. For me, Spanish people are dark, sinister, tortured, bloody and, at the slightest provocation, engage in a fight in the streets. The Spanish heritage is fire and blood, we can't help it. I think that fits in very well with the baroque style which, at the end of the day, represents strangeness. The name Baroque comes from a dark, defective, strange thing, but at the same time one of great beauty. Every Spaniard who has lived in Spain is unable to free himself from that influence, because it exists, because it is there, and you have absorbed it since you were a child. And I am Spanish. I think that's the only reason.

C.A.: In 2006, Isabel Tejeda interviewed you on the occasion of your exhibition at Sala Verónicas, in which you said you saw your work as Dionysian, as a celebration of life, despite the fact that people insisted that you talked about death. How do you approach this way of seeing life in your projects?

E.M.: Dionysian in a Nietzschean sense, distinguising between Dionysian and Apollonian, and where contradiction is key. I consider it an important philosophical concept, because not everything is black and white, not everything is yes or no, not everything is good or bad, everything is relative. The Dionysian is a celebration of life, but of death as well; let's say it's a celebration. The Apollonian is more ordered, but also more mournful, more grey, more structured, more linear. That's why I think the contradiction is very important.

C.A.: Censorship is commonplace because we live in an increasingly conservative country. You have experienced such censorship up close with your work. Do you think your work is more highly valued outside? Could you tell me about the censorship of your work and what it has meant for your creative process?

E.M.: I have suffered dozens of acts of censorship. Even the censorship of an installation when it was already set up.

I think that the public outside Spain is more interested in going deeper, in asking themselves more questions. In general, there is a greater interest in culture. For example, in a country like Italy, the average Italian's knowledge of art is much greater than the average Spaniard's knowledge of art, not only of contemporary art, which is commendable, but also of classical art.

C.A.: In this country, even by the educational system itself, art and culture are not considered interesting, and that is an important handicap.

E.M.: No, they' re not considered interesting. Then there are things I don't agree with, such as the idea that the left in Spain is always better for the cultural field. Sometimes there have been right-wing politicians with great interest in culture. The person is more important than the ideology. On the other hand, I have always known how not to be the typical state-subsidised artist. I have not lived off any state or government. I have done everything on my own.

C.A.: There are only a few artists in Spain who live exclusively from their art.

E.M.: Possibly, because the market in Spain is small. Artists can't be waiting for the Reina Sofía to buy them works or for the galleries that live off institutional purchases to buy them at ARCO.

C.A.: In the interview with Pablo Lag you spoke of preferring interviews to critical texts because they have a theatrical touch which, on the other hand, is another of the subjects I deal with in my thesis. You always attach importance to dramaturgy and, in a way, when you work on your artistic projects you play the role of author and director, you are the one who designs their staging. What parallels are there between theatre and your artistic projects?

E.M.: Regarding the concept of interview or dialogue, it's the genre I prefer as a reader. When I'm going to read a text, I like the concept of dialogue better. In the book Enrique Marty. Observer, observed, there is a forty-page dialogue with Alberto Martín.

As to scenography, I distinguish between the scenographies I make for operas and for theatre. I have only worked with two stage directors, in opera with José Carlos Plaza and, in theatre with Angélica Liddell.

In opera you have to be faithful to the work. When I think about the work, I think that I'm going to do an updated stage design. That is to say, if I'm doing a set design for a piece by Mozart, I'm not going to create a set design like the ones at his time. What I do is update it with symbolic elements. To do this, I study the music, the written part, Mozart's environment, why he was commissioned to do this work, why he did it and what he wanted to say, until I almost become Mozart and it comes out all by itself. In addition, I work very closely with the director José Carlos. However, one is always bound by a work, a music, a plot — which in all operas is very similar in the end.

With respect to the theatre, it's different, because with Angélica Liddell what I've done so far are a kind of non-human actors, in the line of Tadeusz Kantor, and author who fascinates me. In the play Dead Dog at the Dry Cleaner's (2007), at the National Drama Centre, there were several non-human actors and in Cursed Be the Man (2011), for the Avignon Festival, there was a certain moment when the actors set up a very high tower of Chinese acrobats. Throughout the play they are on the ground and there comes a moment when this tower of bloody Chinese acrobats is assembled. They have been shot with a machine gun and, despite being seriously injured, they continue to build the tower.

C.A.: Stefanie Müller, in “Premiere” (2010), talked to you about portraits in your work, and you said: “I think that the faces and gestures really say a lot about people, about what they are thinking and what they are doing; you just have to look closely. This is what I want to show in the sculptures and also in my paintings and drawings” (Müller, Stefanie; Marty, 2010). Your work includes portraiture and is strongly linked to it. How important is it in artistic projects related to your family?

E.M.: Sculptures are never “nobody”, they are always someone real. They are real people, and that's why I use a mould, and often their own clothes and hair. So it becomes a kind of fetish. Sometimes I resist calling them sculptures because they have a shamanic character.

As to the quotation of Müller, it was in connection with the installation of 80 Fanatics (2008) which I showed in the Kunsthalle in Mannheim, and which are all me.

A key element is their gazes. I try, I want and I strive for them to truly seem living people, because otherwise there is no relationship with the spectator. There is less of a connection between an iron cube and a spectator than there is with a figure like this, with which one can identify. It is a process very much like working with photographs. Even if there is a process of retouching afterwards, you can be sure that the person is the one I took a mould of.

C.A.: And when those people see themselves?

E.M.: Usually there are strong reactions and sometimes rejection. A very common phenomenon is that the person does not recognise himself or herself, while everyone else around them does.

C.A.: Because you have brought out the side that they don't want to see?

E.M.: Many times I have brought out the side that they do not want to see, that they do not want to recognise, and I, like a real bastard, put it in front of them.

C.A.: In the interview with Pablo Lag you were thinking of developing your own web page and that it would not be a simple storehouse of images of the works but something more. Will the web have a more descriptive or more metaphorical nuance?

E.M.: At that time I was thinking about it, but now it has been done for some time. Obviously, the web is very important because it is the space where I organise all my work and, literally, one can travel through it. We are using an old computer program, which is now in disuse, so the web is not like any of the ones we usually see. We have one computer devoted just to the website, because other computers don't support it. I want to keep that timeless, slightly dated feel.

C.A.: On the web, do the titles of the works in turn lead to more works?

E.M.: The titles are very important and yes, they do organize the series. There are works that have an individual title, and works that simply have the title of the series. Within some series there are sub-series that have their own title.

C.A.: Is the Lonely Stalker exhibition (2017) in Belgium related to the film Stalker or to the Internet spies that go by this name?

E.M.: It is related to both, but the word and the concept existed long before the Internet. The former stalker was a spy in person.

The word stalker has a double meaning, it can be a prowler or a stalker. The play is influenced by the film by Andrei Tarkovski, who is one of my favourite directors. In other words, the title Stalker is related, on the one hand, to the film, but also to the concept. The installation consists of several groups of houses of different sizes, within which something happens. They are only illuminated from the inside, although outside there are some lights that cast shadows. The viewer becomes a stalker and, in order to see what is happening inside the houses, has to look through the windows. Here I emphasize and reinforce the role of the visitor of the show, which is to be a stalker. You are going to a museum to stalk, to look at what is happening there. You are marauding, you are watching, you are actively watching.

The concept of the gaze is fascinating. If we give it another twist, the observer is being watched by someone else. There is always another one looking behind and that's where the concept of the stalker comes from.

I find the comfortable position of the art visitor at an opening very annoying; it is a passive position that is now overkill. In the same way that I am offering everything of myself to the spectator, I also demand that he makes an effort, that he gives me something. I do get it from many and I am satisfied, because I am told that many people come back to see my exhibitions again and again. That's perfect because at that moment there is a dialogue, a connection between them and me. Sometimes, as in this case, I make it difficult for them. I want to put them in that situation so that they even feel a little ashamed of how they are prowling around and of being perceived as a marauder. They are stalkers looking out of the windows of some houses to see what is going on inside, to see the mini installations inside, which can only be accessed by peeping. It's a game with the viewer, which I always keep very much in mind. I believe that art should not ignore them. When I do my work, I never think about a particular viewer, but I do think about the fact that someone is going to see it.


The artist's mother died on 4 February 2020, but was still alive when the interview took place.






Personal interview II. Videoconference 1st May 2019

(questions remaining from the previous interview)


Carolina Antón: When I asked you in Salamanca’s interview why you chose costumes such as pig masks and dentures, in reference to the theatre of the absurd, you answered:

I think it is a huge mistake when in current movies, the superheroes take off their masks so the actor can be seen, because right now superheroes are our modern mythology. Superhero stories will be read and considered in the future in the same way we read mythology now. The heroes, the demigods, the gods who have super powers, etc.

Based on this statement, could you elaborate on the answer you gave me about the mask?

Enrique Marty: Well, to begin with, superheroes have gone from paper to the screen. I think right now there is a generation that cannot even imagine that these characters have been drawn in the past, but that understands them as film characters. On the other hand, there used to be some superheroes whose identities were secret and remained unknown to the public, while now they go with their face uncovered. Why? Because when an actor is hired, he is paid a lot of money, and cannot appear permanently in a mask; he has to be shown on screen for a long time. There is a comic book character by author Alan Moore who was also made into a film, V for Vendetta (2006), whose identity is never known. I think he is the perfect example of that kind of superhero or avenger whose face is never seen. Moore explains that V is no longer a person, that he is not even a human being, but just an idea. You can kill a person, but not an idea. That is why it is completely depersonalised, and doesn't exist under that mask. It is like Bruce Wayne and Batman. Actually, Bruce Wayne doesn't exist, he is Batman's disguise. In the comics it is clear that he is Batman and that when Bruce Wayne appears, he is Batman in disguise. His real personality is Batman.

I am very interested in carnivals and everything related to masks, because behind them people depersonalize themselves. To what extent does a simple mask, by covering your identity, cause to let out those latent unconscious drives and lead you to commit horrendous acts? As I told you, I am convinced that many people, under that anonymity, simply because they are wearing a mask, would let out their perverse inner self.

In Greek tragedy, archetypes were often portrayed simply by covering actors with a mask. In theatre, in the Italian or French Comedy, the characters are also archetypes. A character like Harlequin or Polichinella — who is more or less the same in the French and Italian comedies — is an archetypal character who appears again and again in different stories, always as the same character, because under that character he is depersonalized. He is masked because he is disguised as Harlequin, who is actually a clown. The very fact of being a clown allows him the luxury of telling the nobility and the powerful the truth to their face. The jesters were the only ones who took the liberty of telling the king that he was fat or that he had a very big nose. People laughed, but no one else could tell him something like that. The jester could do it because he was a clown. 

Clowns have always seemed to me to be a very interesting figure with a rather terrifying side. In fact, the clown has become a staple of horror films. There are a lot of films in which the murdering monster is a clown. I am now working on episode six of the film All Your World is Pointless (2013/2020), which, in fact, is based on clowns.

C.A.: As for today's superheroes, and your thinking that the disappearance of the mask is a mistake, is it because it puts an end to all the old magic and concealment and, moreover, because it destroys freedom, disinhibition? Did you mean that it was a mistake in that sense?

E.M.: Of course, the purpose of the costumes of the super-heroic characters is to hide their identity. Otherwise why do they wear them? If they take off their mask every five minutes, it doesn't make sense.

During Franco's regime, carnivals were forbidden. Carnivals are significant because they were a pagan festival, a kind of madness related to the time immediately after, which is Easter, a time of recollection. People said to themselves: “Is Easter coming? Well, then I will first let off some steam, do what I want, and then regret it later”. It was also forbidden to cover one's face. You couldn't wear a face cover in public; and I think that law still stands. So, the carnivals, just by hiding your identity, allowed you to do anything.

C.A.: In your interview with Javier Panera in 2003, you talked about the therapeutic distance of humour and irony in your work. Could you tell me about irony?

E.M.: The point of view is crucial in my work. It is determined by your environment and your experiences, which leave an impression on you and lead you down one path or another. When it came to dealing with the subject of my parents, who had a difficult relationship, I had no other resource than humour, which is why I used it a lot. Humour is therapeutic; it is putting a barrier in front of what's disturbing you.

C.A.: In Enrique Marty: Observer, observed (2017), Paloma Pájaro mentioned amateurism in relation to your installation Someone Who Had the Best of Intentions Released the Snakes (2015): “The idols of the installation in the Patio Herreriano, [...], challengingly displayed the rawness of the poor material with which they were made, as well as the singularities of their amateur workmanship” (Pájaro, P., 2017, p.12) Does the work on your family have that amateurish workmanship?

E.M.: I think amateurism is important. Those works were done in a different context to the current one. The world has changed a lot, especially the world of images. In the past there was nothing like social networks and if there was, it was something for a minority. Taking a camera out into the street was a conscious act. Now everyone has a camera on them, photo and video camera. And you can even share the photo instantly so that it can be seen anywhere in the world. What I wanted to do with my work was a kind of allusion to amateurism. When the boom in digital photography became widespread, I stopped working in that line and now I'm focusing on another one. In a way, this digital trend, the world and time have caught up with me. As I told you, the kind of works I had been doing are now arriving en masse, like a brutal wave that has swept everything away.

At the time I was trying to work in the most amateurish mode that existed, which was Polaroid photography. I was very interested in it because it provides you with an immediate copy. For me they are incredibly beautiful, too, even if they have low definition. My intention was to transform Polaroid photographs, which represented total amateurism, into paintings. I aimed to bring the pictorial tradition of some thirty thousand years to that accumulation of family pictures which is a family album by producing objectively well painted paintings in series. I aimed to bring the amateur field to the field of art; to make a change of scale, to take the low to the high, the great art that we can say that is the painting.

Fashions in art are more and more fleeting. For instance, at the end of the years 1990-2000 the fashionable discourses were those of “the other”, of “public and private space”, of which even PhD theses were made, and also the theme of “the journey”. Then came the photography boom, in the mid-2000s I think, and you saw photography everywhere. It was like the great medium that had come to save art, and once again it was proclaimed that painting had died. This was already said at the end of the 18th century when photography was invented. And then, just recently, at the Brussels art fair, basically all the galleries were showing was painting and sculpture. So now things are back to normal, you find photography, but you find it balanced, or much less so than then. It's a problem to pay too much attention to these fashions.

C.A.: I find the title Someone Who Had the Best of Intentions Released the Snakes (2016) very interesting. Why this title?

E.M.: It alludes to a very controversial idea. Its meaning is similar to the phrase “Hell is full of good intentions”: to what extent do you not do more evil by trying to do good? Even if you want to do good, you are forcing someone to accept your help, someone who perhaps does not need it at all. To what extent is it not better simply to do nothing or to let things happen? To what extent is an action good? There are some creeds, religions, that tell you: “You have to do what you consider right”; or just philosophies, outside religion, that say: “You have to do what you consider right, but then disregard the result”. It may be that what happens next is a catastrophe. Imagine, a very simple example, you are walking down a road and you see something lying on a curve of a road, some sort of planks with rusty iron nails, and you say to yourself: “I'm going to remove it because someone might get hurt by this” and you remove it. The thing is that those planks were actually a warning sign that someone had put there to mark it is a dangerous bend, and the first car comes along, has no way to know it and crashes. You think: “I have removed it because I am afraid someone will get hurt by a rusty nail”, but you have caused a car to crash. So how much good have you done?

C.A.: And what do you mean when you say that underlying this installation was the plan of the Turinese neighbourhood where Nietzsche lost his mind?

E.M.: That whole installation, although it seems totally chaotic, follows a rather strict layout. I rebuilt house by house the neighbourhood where Nietzsche lived and where he eventually embraced the horse. It was arranged within the museum space and, despite the fact that the viewer did not see this internal layout, it gave the installation a powerful structure. People perceived it as a structure, not so much threatening as ancestral, telluric.

About the title, I like to put titles like that in imitation of the flamboyant language of Nietzsche. This is how he writes, with those kinds of metaphors. That's why I wrote the sentence Someone Who Had the Best of Intentions Released the Snakes. That line could have been signed by Nietzsche.

C.A.: Nietzsche was immersed in a Catholic circle, but he broke with it.

E.M.: Aleister Crowley, who is a figure that interests me very much, had a similar story. He was the son of an ultra-Catholic family and lived in Victorian society. His way of behaving, of fighting against everything established, came precisely from there, from that extremely castrating childhood, so lacking in experiences or thoughts. The only book he had as a child was the bible, which explains why he got into the world of magic and the occult.

C.A.: Failed Paintings (2017) are canvases that are wrinkled and presented in this manner. Is that meant to make failure evident?

E.M.: Yes, it is as simple as that. In Failed Paintings I was reflecting on the concept of doing something wrong, of something breaking down. I was interested in the idea of showing crumpled paintings, paintings that have been destroyed, that have broken for whatever reason. On the other hand, I am also very interested in the concept of contradiction, in the contradiction in exhibiting something broken, because basically if you have a broken painting you don't show it. In this case it was an installation made up entirely of that type of paintings.

C.A.: It is even beautiful to see that wrinkled canvas carefully placed on the wall. It doesn't look like a failure. It appears next to a sculpture that represent a kind of alien, isn't it?

E.M.: Yes, it's an alien. I am interested in the whole world of mystery, of the occult sciences, of magic, but I look at it from a sociological point of view. I am very interested in reading about and discovering people who have seen UFOs, who have been abducted and who have seen ghosts. These are fractures of reality that contain very interesting symbolic elements. Most of these encounters are a total riot, hearing the stories makes you burst into laughter.

C.A.: Have you been with people who say they see UFOs?

E.M.: Yes, of course I have. And with people who say they are vampires. There are many theories as to why people see aliens, or bedroom visitors, or why they have such absurd forms.

C.A.: Are they people with mental problems or schizophrenia?

E.M.: I think it is more related to a part of the brain that stays asleep while you are physically awake; then dreams are intermingled with wakefulness.

C.A.: People with schizophrenia sometimes hear voices.

E.M.: Yes, of course, precisely. I am very interested in the subject of how there have been apparitions and people who have experienced things such as the abduction of their babies by the fairies who leave changelings in their place, or encountered things that appear floating in the sky, events that are already reflected in the Bible. Jung wrote a book about UFOs entitled The Book of Things Seen in the Heavens (1958), and he attributes it to the collective unconscious. We all have an individual and a collective unconscious, and UFOs are projections of that collective unconscious.

The alien in my work was a reference to these characters. There are people who simply invent them out of a desire for fame, or to make fun of others or to attract attention. But there are other people who are willing to be publicly discredited to tell that something has happened to them, an encounter with aliens or whatever, and they continue to maintain this over the years.   

It is something that has always happened. Some anthropologists have studied how apparitions change form over time. What was it that appeared to a Greek man? A satyr, a nymph, a god... There are even writings by people who say that the god Pan appeared to them in the middle of a forest. What was it that appeared to a medieval man? Virgin Mary, saints or demons. What was it that appeared to an 18th century man? Fairies, gnomes and goblins. What is it that appears to them now? Aliens, because technology is here and the collective unconscious transforms those apparitions into something technological; they are archetypes. As Jung says, the key lies in the archetypes.

C.A.: Could you pick out specific works by Goya, Rubens or Artaud that are important to you?

E.M.: I am going to select a work by Goya that is now surrounded by controversy because it is supposedly not by him — but for me it is one hundred percent his. I am talking about The Colossus (1808-1812). Also, the series of engravings of “Los Caprichos” (1797-1799) and The Last Communion of Saint Joseph of Calasanz (1819), which I have recently rediscovered.

C.A.: What about Rubens?

E.M.: Among my favourites, I am particularly fond of The Creation of the Milky Way (1636-1638). It is Hercules suckling on Juno's breast; he squeezes it and the Milky Way is created. But I will also mention The Lance Thrust (1620), which is in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Koninklijk, in Antwerp. It represents the centurion thrusting his lance into Christ’s side at the crucifixition. For me it is a summary of the Baroque: it is stormy; it is violent; it is extremely well painted; it is terrifying, dramatic; and its size is huge.

C.A.: You have a sculpture of Heliogabalus (2014).

E.M.: Yes, I have some works depicting him. I find Artaud's approach very interesting. What happens when a person who despises power, hierarchies, comes to power? Well, that is what the play describes. Besides, he is a historical character.

C.A.: The repeated representation of your mother in the “Superwoman” series runs from 1995 to 2008. We can see her performing various actions in it and, then, Lararium (1995/2018) is like the crowning touch for that superwoman you pay homage to. Would Lararium be a kind of tribute?

E.M.: Lararium is a compilation of most of the busts and heads I have in the storage room. I am making a collection of heads, as if they were those death masks on display in museums; I have many wax and plaster heads.

It is called Lararium because there are a lot of people who have passed through my life: a lot of family members, a lot of friends, and a few of those people have died. What I have is their face, their head, their mask, somehow a shadow of them. The Lararium was the family altar of the Romans. Let's say it was the family god, which was an ancient ancestor. It is a kind of reference to that representation of family and friends, of people I have had a relationship with throughout my life.

C.A.: To Pablo Lag, the work Ghosts (2002) was reminiscent of other pieces that were not specifically ghosts, such as Family Portrait (2009) or Vanished Children (2008), which have a certain ghostly aura. What dimension did these pieces acquire?

E.M.: Ghosts are characters that fascinate me. You are sitting here at a table and suddenly a transparent being that is a reflection of the past shows up. And, as it is a reflection of the past, it is a kind of photograph. I have always found that relationship with photography. When you see old photographs, from the beginning of the century, all those people have already died, they are ghosts; right now, what is left of them is a photograph. That's why I am so captivated by Rafael Doctor's collection. He has one of the largest collections of old photographs in, I would say, Europe.

C.A.: Was Ghosts inspired by those photographs by Rafael Doctor?

E.M.: Yes. The concept originated in Buenos Aires, where he was curating an AECI exhibition, and when talking about whether we could do something in situ, the idea of painting on the walls came up. He was buying photographs all over Buenos Aires, going around all the photography markets.

C.A.: The city’s dead?

E.M.: Yes. We based ourselves on those black and white photographs that are like ghosts. They often have these sad and ancestral gestures. Don't you think that in old photos people always seem to be sad?

C.A.: Very serious.

E.M.: Yes, it was probably because they had to be in front of the camera for a long time. 

C.A.: They even had easels for their necks.

E.M.: So that is why they sometimes have these sad gestures… Well, as I was saying, I painted several figures drawn from those photographs on the walls. It worked very well and I continued to do the same in several museums. I did it in the MOMA in New York, in the Patio Herreriano in Valladolid, in some galleries in Valencia, in the Casa de América in Madrid and many other spaces.

The Casa de América exhibition was also curated by Rafael Doctor. At Casa de América supposedly there were “real ghosts”; in fact, the people who worked there said they had seen them, and the event even appeared on the news. In this case the project was almost performative. For a week, when everyone left and the only people remaining in the building were the security guards, I stayed at night painting ghosts.

There were several ghosts painted on the walls: from a very sinister child, through other ghosts floating in the corridors, to a spiral of ghosts, similar to Pregnant with Ghosts (2005), with my pregnant father. In that week that I was staying at night painting, I didn't see any ghost at all. There was no mysterious noise, no shadow, nothing. I didn't see anything at all, while other people go there and see ghosts everywhere. Anyway, in the end the installation worked very well.

C.A.: In Stalker (2015) the viewer wanders around the houses. You talked about them spying on people who are celebrating Christmas inside their homes, with the contradiction that the scenes do not correspond to their concept of Christmas. What relationship do you establish with Christmas in this piece?

E.M.: When I exhibited it, the piece had this name, Stalker. It was at the Antonio Pérez Foundation in Cuenca, and the period in which it was shown coincided with Christmas. Not only that, but the installation was almost exclusively lit by Christmas lights, which created an infernal atmosphere. In the end it produces a very disturbing sensation of blinking and almost of psychosis. Instead of looking like you were coming into a Christmas atmosphere, it seemed like you were entering hell.

C.A.: Did you make these houses inspired by your aunts and uncles’ houses?

E.M.: Yes, it's the subject of The Three Houses. There is a text called The Three Houses (2010) that you might find interesting; it is on my website [enriquemarty.com]. There I explain it very clearly.

C.A.: The master builder ignored the plans.

E.M.: It was an astonishing experience for me and it has been very important in the rest of my work. As you grow up, noticing that a house is getting smaller and smaller is strange. You don't fit in the house. At a certain point you grow up, but the house doesn't.

C.A.: Are there any rooms in those houses where you don't fit?

E.M.: I wouldn’t fit in any of the rooms downstairs. There are three houses: one is the one I just mentioned, another one is spiral-shaped and the last one is the scarecrow one.

C.A.: Based on these houses, you have a piece called A House May Be A Little Weapon ( (2010.) Is there a model made from that?

E.M.: Yes, they are the models of the houses. The models of the houses are made according to the same system by which they were made, without plans, based only on a description. Once on the field, the builders improvised and made some crazy houses.

Next to the houses there is a representation of me at four different ages: you can see how, at first, I am standing and then, as I grow up and become taller, I am forced to bend down because the ceilings are so low that I don’t fit anymore.

The concept of how one outgrows a house interests me. You realise that a space that has to be habitable is not really habitable, because it is a miniature.

C.A.: You have stated that you destroyed all your work from the first year of university until 1995; however, you saved some paintings you did as a child and teenager which later formed part of the Stalker installation. What do these paintings mean to you?

E.M.: Just as the paintings from my university years had no meaning for me and I had no problem destroying them, except for a few I missed, the paintings I did as a child contain an element I like: that I didn't want to find anything new, they were pure learning. I simply based myself on what I saw. If I had a new book by Rubens, I would paint some mythological picture; if I was fascinated by how Sorolla painted light, I would paint a couple of Sorollas. Of those paintings I could say that they are kitsch, but they are not. Those paintings I can own, while I cannot stand those from my university period. They are unpretentious, they are just about enjoying painting and learning.

C.A.: And you put them inside these houses of the Stalker installation, as part of your past, of your growth?

E.M.: Yes, and also as if they were the house’s decoration. These kinds of paintings that you find in parents’ houses.

C.A.: You also put sculptures in the houses.

E.M.: Yes, I consider them as mini installations placed inside each of those houses. When you peep through the window or door, what you see is an installation taking place in a very reduced area. The viewer is the stalker, he is lurking, he is prowling around. What he has to do is to invade the installation, he has to spy on it through a hole. So here there is also the idea of the hole you have to peep through, like in Duchamp's installation Étant donnés (1946-1966), in which you have to look through a hole.

C.A.: You told me broadly about your immersion in the world of opera and theatre. For you, what is the relationship between opera, theatre and art?

E.M.: I have only worked with two stage directors: José Carlos Plaza and Angélica Liddell. I also have a very good friendship with Jan Fabre, but we have not worked together in the theatre. With José Carlos Plaza I have worked mainly in opera and with Angélica Liddell in theatre.

In opera you have a libretto, a score and a work that you have to follow. It's very different to when you're doing your own thing. I am working in my studio and I do what I want. In an opera you are bound by the story, the libretto, the score and the music. In my stage designs, I am not at all in favour of introducing elements just for the sake of it. Work with director José Carlos Plaza is always very harmonious, he likes to work in conjunction with the creative team, which is also almost always the same. He works with the same costume designer, who is Pedro Moreno, and with the lighting and set designer Paco Leal. The work is based on regular meetings, in which we put all our ideas together and progress is gradually made on all fronts. As a set designer, I try to put myself in the shoes of the musician who created this work, and I try to make a scenography he could be proud of and embrace. From a contemporary point of view and in order for it to work with the music, you have to bear in mind one problem: that you are combining a contemporary scenography with music composed three or four hundred years ago. You have to make them match, make them fit. That is the biggest challenge. In the end you realise that any work, whatever the medium, whether it is music or visual art, if it is good, if it is great, it is eternal, it doesn't feel old. Mozart doesn't sound old; Bach doesn't sound old. It doesn't sound rusty or stiff, it sounds rabidly modern, because it has that power that a great work of art exudes.

For instance, we did The Passion According to St John (2001), which was quite a challenge because it is an oratorio, it is not meant to be performed. It was the first time it was done and the result was very interesting.

C.A.: And in the theatre?

E.M.: In the theatre I have worked with Angelica several times, but there is a first play of which we could say that we authored together. It was called And Your Best Bloody Sangría (2003) and we premiered it at the Pradillo Theatre in Madrid. Subsequently we have made some collaborations where what I have contributed are culptural pieces, as for example in Dead Dog at the Dry Cleaner’s (2007), or in Cursed Be the Man (2011), which are works in the line of Tadeusz Kantor, sculptures that also functioned as actors.

C.A.: That Chinese tower you talked to me about?

E.M.: The tower of the Chinese people who, even though they have been shot at and are bleeding, keep their balance and keep smiling. There are also the reproductions of the actors of Dead Dog at the Dry Cleaner’s, which were totally vile and wretched characters, first as statues and then as mere skins. But they did not represent this physically, it was the sculptures that represented this vileness through scabs and sores.

C.A.: Did the opera and the theatre come to you?

E.M.: Yes.

C.A.: Both directors knew your work and said, this fits in perfectly with what I'm looking for.

E.M.: Yes, actually, that is how it happened. You have described it perfectly.

C.A.: The “Communion” series (1996) consists of two sculptures, a woman with a Pinocchio nose and your nephew with a bloody face. Why do you call them “communion”? On the other hand, we have “Communion 3” (1998), a series of paintings. Did you make it at the same time as “Phantasmagoria I”? If so, why do you separate these works into two different series?

E.M.: They are not only those, there are more. “Communion” is a long series. There are several pieces that fall under that title, in which I play with the different meanings of the word communion. Initially, it had the familiar meaning of the First Communion. This series began when I documented and made a number of works around the first communions of my two nephews, which took place more or less consecutively. I did a project in which I would give them my “catechism”, which consisted in shooting several videos with them, taking pictures of them, etc. I considered this to be catechism because it was like preparing for communion. Then I documented the ceremonies themselves and painted pictures based on those photographs. In Roman Catholic circles, the first communion is one of the great family events. It is the communion of belonging to something or someone’s circle, it is like publicly declaring that you belong in communion to the whole Catholic congregation and at the same time it is a communion with God.

Shortly before that, a book by a psychiatrist who had conducted therapy sessions with people who claimed to have seen aliens had been published (so here we are back to the aliens). What interested me most from that book was how psychiatric sessions were conducted with these types of people, who truly believe that they have been abducted by aliens. At about the same time another book came out, Communion (1987), by Whitley Strieber, the cover of which is the face of an alien. It was giving people nightmares. Strieber was convinced that he had been abducted by aliens several times, and had a strange communion relationship with them that he could not explain. Thus, from his experiences, he talks about communion, about what it is like to feel connected to something you don't understand. And this is how I drew the parallel between the alien sighting and the first communion.

The series was shown at the Espacio Mínimo gallery in Murcia under the title "Communion" (1998). The exhibition was based on those sessions of catechism and communion that I had with my nephews. The exhibition flyer featured an image that recreated the cover of Whitley Strieber's book, of that alien who was now my nephew disguised with a kind of false head, a set of false rotten teeth, made-up eyes, in that scene of communion.

C.A.: What does that thing covering your nephew's bloody eyes have to do, for example, with the girdle or the blue dress of the lady he is with?

E.M.: It is the communion. If you have a very strong communion with someone or something, you come to want to transform yourself into that person. Let's say that it's like those people who, driven by an immense admiration for their idol, undergo aesthetic operations to gradually become like him or her and end up becoming a kind of double. When you want to look like someone, you want to somehow possess him or her, and you want to dress like this person. At the same time, the work is a reflection on identity, on what makes you belong to a group or to adopt a belief.

C.A.: Why do they appear with a Pinocchio's nose and covered with blood, like Jesus Christ on the cross?

E.M.: I use stigmata and blood a lot. I like Pinocchio's nose because it is a symbol of lies and at the same time it is a phallic symbol. Blood is a symbolic element that I use very often. Generally, when blood appears it is because something is not right. Blood should not be seen; it should be inside the body. When it is outside, it is because something disturbing has happened. I am interested in the element of blood in order to create that disturbance, to produce what we said before: the unheimlich, the unexpected that happens in a home environment. If you see blood in war it is normal, it is not disturbing, you expect it. But if you see blood in your living room, then it is worrying, it means that something has happened. It is an element that should not be there; its very existence causes unrest and is almost out of place anywhere you do not expect it.

I am very interested in the stigmata because of what they represent; they are an extremely cruel symbol of sanctity. It is that notion that you must suffer in order to be holy; that you must suffer badly, you must bleed, beat up on yourself and be punished. It is a very ancestral morality, deeply rooted in Spanish thinking, which has this kind of unhappiness. 

C.A.: Why did you choose that sculpture and those paintings? Was it to creates a contrast between what is culturally associated with a Catholic communion and another type of communion?

E.M.: I believe that oppositions are essential. It is important to produce an impact, an emotional shock in the viewer. In a way you have to play with them psychologically, you have to captivate them. They are like koans — very short Japanese poems that gradually lead you towards something and, in the end, introduce a kind of contradiction that somehow breaks your reality. It's very interesting how the Japanese break that reality, what Zen calls the satori, which is to transcend your own limitations. It could be related to Nietzsche's Übermensch or Overman (traditionally and wrongly translated as the superman), the man who goes beyond. 

The teaching of a Zen master is a philosophy, he does not use words but facts. Suppose that the master does not say anything to the disciple for years and that, at a certain point, the disciple is totally desperate. Why? Well, because perhaps all the master has told him is to sweep the stairs, in other words, a useless gesture that ends up driving him to despair. It is only then that the master stands in front of him and simply claps his hands. That single clap, without further ado, produces an awakening, because he has prepared him psychologically, without words, and he only needs something unremarkable to transform him.

C.A.: In the work Sunbath (2007), we see your father as a tourist sunbathing in a sort of recreation of a beach inside a winery. It is a work that has been exhibited three times, once in 2008 and once in 2012 and in 2020. What is the reason for this re-installation?

E.M.: I started off from a specific commission to do an installation at Domaine Pommery — a champagne manufacturer — which has a very important art collection and organises an exhibition every two years. They do it in the champagne cellars, in their immense and labyrinthine cellars, where it is very cold, very dark and there are thousands of corridors.

They offered me a space that was like a huge domed vault. I decided to turn the space upside down and transformed it into a beach. It was a very dark, very cold place and I turned it into a warm place, with tons of beach sand, a sunshade and a radio with bossa nova music. I portrayed my father as if he had fallen asleep and some children had put sand on top of him. Only his feet, his belly, his hands and his bust showed. This work reminds me of my childhood, those times when I went to the beach and the game we played was to cover my father with sand. For the installation, a kind of jetty was built with wooden planks so that people could walk on it and not on the sand of the beach. In addition, several very powerful spotlights were installed, which provided a lot of heat to recreate a sunny climate. My goal was to create the shock of arriving at some winery, going down to a depth of about thirty metres, and finding sunshine again and a beach with summer music. I like to play with the viewer, with contrasts. Perhaps it is sunny outside, but when the visitors walk into the cellar, they expect to find darkness and cold, and yet they find an artificial sun on a beach.

This piece was bought by the Domaine Pommery and a few years later they exhibited it in a space they have for permanent installations.

C.A.: Was the sculpture My Mother, One Second Before Awakening (1999) part of the installation “The Family” (2000) at Espacio Uno in the Reina Sofia Museum, or was it only in “Pay Attenti(on) please” (2001), in the Museo d'Arte Nuoro in Sardegna?

E.M.: Well, I have shown it three times. Once at the Reina Sofia, once in Valencia, and once in “Pay Attenti(on) please” at the Museo d'Arte Nuoro. The installation is a chaotic, nightmarish space, totally decrepit, full of furniture and rubbish.

C.A.: Did you create the room we see?

E.M.: Yes, before I arrived it was an empty space. The sculpture is my mother's face, up to her neck, and then it's a man's body, which has a basin underneath, and seems to be about to wash his balls with it. It is also a reference to the phallic mother, who is actually also a castrating mother, coupled with her obsession with order and cleanliness. That is why it is called My Mother, One Second Before Awakening (1999); it is as if she is having a terrible nightmare from which she wakes up in shock.

C.A.: The “Pintura Mutante” exhibition project (2006), at the MARCO Museum in Vigo, deals with other works that are not in the installation of The Family, but which are also part of your family album. How do you make these selections of paintings? And does sculpture work here as a viewer?

E.M.: I made a frieze of paintings that completely filled the space. I selected the works almost at random and, indeed, the sculpture acts as a viewer. From time to time I like to add that kind of sculptures because I want the viewer to see themselves reflected in them, to feel invaded, because I think it generates a stronger psychological connection.

C.A.: The work My Father in the Cradle (1998/2010) was concerned with the cycle of life, in which old age and birth — the weakness of the body, absolute dependence on others — are two interconnected stages. Is this work related to Amnesia (1997), does it come from those moments when your father is most vulnerable?

E.M.: I hadn't thought about it in a conscious way, but obviously that is where it starts, because in my life everything is connected. What you said about the craddle piece is true and, with regard to Amnesia, yes, the fact that my father was so vulnerable when he recovered from this pneumonia is what made him say: “Come on, take pictures of me”. As I told you in our previous interview, my father and I had had a heated argument because he didn't like the way I was portraying him in my works and had forbidden me to do it from then on. And suddenly, he had completely forgotten what he had said to me before.

C.A.: In the exhibition “A piel de cama” (2010; the title is a play on the words skin and bedside), at the Sala Parpalló in Valencia, the work My Father in the Cradle has the peculiarity that the cradle moves when the viewer approaches it. Why this variation?

E.M.: Because of that psychological connection with the spectator that I told you about earlier. This piece had already been shown a couple of times in Spain and I felt like giving it a twist. I reworked it completely. I added some motion-detecting photocells and an engine so that the bed would move along with the viewer. But I did not only add this element, I also repainted the face, hardened the clothes with colour paint — that is, they were no longer soft clothes with the texture of clothes, I painted them so that they would become rigid. I wanted to increase the feeling of distress through the unsettling element of a work reacting to your presence. Besides, the fact that you find an old person in a cot is in itself strange. I like to break the viewer's sense of security.

C.A.: Humour is a device you have used on many occasions to keep your distance, and you have said that you find dramas funny. In the project for the book Ghosts (2002), was humour present?

E.M.: What you say about dramas and tragedies making me laugh is very true. When I go to the cinema to see a dramatic film, it makes me laugh my head off. I just don't buy it. Dramas and tragedies seem to me to be totally out of proportion, they are sentimental pornography. I think it is a very tricky genre. And it is very easy. I can make a movie, write the plot of a drama in seconds and bring the viewer to tears.

For me, Lars Von Trier, with the film Dancing in the Dark (2000), contributed one of the most important reflections on the dramatic genre. In the movie, he gradually and heavily increased the amount of drama in a way that I understood as comedy. In fact, I laughed a lot. I also remember seeing a film called The Hours (2003), which was very dramatic, with Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf by getting a fake rubber nose. He looked like Joaquín Reyes disguised as Nicole Kidman disguised as Virginia Woolf. Suddenly, I looked around and everyone was crying, while I was laughing, thinking: “What a wonderful comedy!”

C.A.: On the other hand, you have talked about the similarities with public figures the viewer finds in some of your sculptures, such as in the sculpture Uncle Balta (2003), which resembles George Bush. The title seemed invisible to the people and they only saw Bush. Is that why you re-titled the sculpture My Father as George (2007)?

E.M.: There were actually two different sculptures. About Uncle Balta, there was a very interesting duality because my uncle Balta had some resemblance to George Bush. I simply portrayed my uncle Balta. For me he was my uncle, but for the rest of the people who didn't know him he was George Bush. So, to what extent does affinity depend on our own conditioning? The second sculpture is my father as George Clooney. It is very small in scale, so making it was like making a small George Clooney. I simply put hair on it, a suit and, with a few changes, it turned out to resemble him. My father didn't look anything like Clooney, but with those slight changes he ended up looking like him. The piece is a reflection on people's physique, which is based on five or ten types, and we all fit into one of them. There are not so many differences between us; with very few modifications you can become very much like someone else, because we are not really that different from each other.

My three uncles from Toledo, Baltasar, Mariano and Paco, bought three plots of land to build their three houses for the summer holidays, and used the same building contractor. I did not hear any more about it until they were finished, and the formal moment arrived to go to Toledo and see them.

Baltasar’s two-storey house in Cedillo del Condado, an arid little village north of Toledo, did not seem from a distance to be anything out of the ordinary. Of the three, this was the only one that had been designed by an architect. I was about twelve, and of normal height, but even so, as we approached, I had the feeling that the front door on the ground floor was very small. And so it was: I had to stoop to enter. Inside was a large hall, a kitchen, three bedrooms, a living room with a fireplace, a storeroom and a bathroom. A normal layout. But there was something disturbing about it, which my childish timidity prevented me from mentioning, something that none of the grown-ups seemed to care about. The ceiling was very low, so much so that in some places I had to walk carefully so as not to bump my head. Even my parents and my uncles, who moved around the rooms with ease, had to stoop to go from one room to another. The lintels of the doors were lower. Even so, the only one who seemed a bit surprised was my father, who was taller than the others.

At that time I did not yet hit the ceiling. But as the years passed, that floor of the house gradually got too small for me, smaller and smaller. The time came when I had to hunch my shoulders in order to stand up. I can recall the exact distance from floor to ceiling by a very simple formula: it was the same height as my shoulder. I could remain standing by leaning my head forwards and pressing the back of my neck and my shoulders against the ceiling. In that extraordinary house, my head was surplus to requirements. True to form, my uncles never mentioned the fact that they had to dodge the lights while walking around. One day, as I left the living room, stooping appropriately, I heard my aunt say to my mother in a very worried voice:  “Paula, that boy’s getting a hump.”

The upper floor was very different. It was about four metres high.

This vast scale was not an experimental excess on the architect’s part. The key to the mystery was the builder, who was used to building without plans and was apparently incapable of understanding them. Ground plans, elevations and cross sections were all Greek to him. So he built a wall where my uncle told him he wanted a wall, and he put a window where my uncle asked him for a window. At one point he suggested to him that since there was going to be an upper floor, it was not a good idea to make the lower one very high. The builder stood my uncle against the wall, measured his height, added a few inches, and marked it. And so, being convinced that there couldn’t be anyone taller than him, venerated as he was in the family like a household god, my uncle Baltasar, who was about five feet five inches tall, asked the builder to put the ceiling at the height of the mark.

They made the upper floor twice as high on account of a typical Toledan reaction: to compensate.

We immediately went on to Lominchar, another little village in the area ten minutes away by car, along a dusty road, to see my other two uncles’ houses. Bearing in mind that the same builder had put them up, I was rubbing my hands with glee at the prospect of further marvels.

My uncle Mariano’s house, which only had one floor, was very large and square. The front door opened onto a long corridor with several rooms off it, all of them bedrooms. The corridor turned to the right, and further on there were more bedrooms. Right again, and yet more bedrooms. It was rather like a hotel: corridors with doors leading to very similar rooms, with two beds, a bedside table, a wardrobe… The corridor, which grew shorter with each turn, ended at a door that led to a bathroom. The house had been built in a shape similar to a spiral, laid out like a labyrinth of rooms with a bathroom at the centre. With no kitchen or sitting room, which were not necessary, according to Mariano. With great pride my uncle kept repeating that there were a lot of people in the family, and like this they could all come and visit at the same time. It was very difficult to imagine the real ground plan of the house, which seemed to me to contain a tremendous telluric mystery.

My uncle encouraged me to bathe in the swimming pool. I went up to take a look and saw that there were only a few inches of water in it, which didn’t even come close to reaching the steps. My uncle urged me again and again to dive off the board. I told him very seriously, overcoming my timidity this time for reasons of survival, that I preferred to wait until the swimming pool was filled, because I might fracture my skull if I dived in. But he, very surprised at this, assured me that there were thousands of millions of tons of water in it. The swimming pool was well over half full, but it was so deep that they had not managed to fill it any more than that. So it looked as though it was almost empty, and you had to fall several metres to reach the surface. Maybe I wouldn’t have fractured my skull on the bottom, but I would certainly never have been able to get out of that well. My uncle Mariano explained to me that as there were a lot of people in the family they needed a big swimming pool. And that he had decided to make it very deep, instead of very long, to save space.

The third house, my uncle Paco’s, was very conventional; there really wasn’t anything special about it, either outside or inside. I felt a bit disappointed and surprised that everything was so normal, in view of the precedents. My uncle came up and asked me, with a smiling expression that revealed his hidden intentions, whether I liked the table in the lounge. I replied that I did, and with great pride and satisfaction he told me that he had made it himself. He also asked me whether I liked the chairs, I answered him that they looked wonderful to me, and he smiled again and told me that he had built them as well. And so he went round the items in the house one by one, the rest of the furniture, the sinks, the cutlery, the plates… he had made them all. He had even baked all the bricks for the house, and had bought a manual in weekly instalments that included with each issue a part for a television set, which he had built and got working. Curtains, tiles, bars for the windows, the chimney, everything had been made by him. And then he personally supervised the workers, telling them where every little item needed to go, until he achieved a perfect result. This, which I later took to be a exercise in alchemy, like a magician making all his magic equipment himself, seemed fascinating to me.  My uncle Paco had the reputation of being a dreamer and of telling extraordinary stories, but I believed him. All this time I have believed that my uncle really did build everything with his own hands; why not?

There is something more, something very important. My uncle Paco asked me whether I had seen the scarecrow he had made. I hurried out, but he stopped me. Before I saw it, he wanted to tell me that the scarecrow was an identical reproduction of himself, down to the smallest detail. And he added, very happily, that the reproduction was so perfect and so realistic that his wife had mistaken them for each other several times, and his brother had been speaking to it for a while before he noticed that it was not the real one.

I returned many, many times to these three houses. My uncles passed away, and now they have been sold or are standing empty. These houses, in which the scenes of many of my pictures are set, have been a very important source of inspiration to me. More than many museums, artists and books that keep going over and over something I had within my grasp: conceptual architecture for daily use, a true living museum.

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