When I decided to organise an exhibition that would gather the work of artists who have based their creation mainly on video, I was at first hesitating about how to deal with issues related to video. After all, I am a visual artist who is engaged with multidisciplinary and transverse production as the central axis of my work and not an expert on the media. But then I realised that video can be dealt with in the same way as any other artistic language: painting, sculpture or photography just to name a few. Because, all in all, we are talking about art.
When we refer to video we basically denote a visual sensation. Then, we may later include other aspects connected with the rest of the senses: hearing, touching, tasting and even smelling, but we all generally agree that, concerning this matter, the eye is the king.
The title of this exhibition, El dedo en el ojo (cinco aproximaciones canarias contemporáneas (The Finger in The Eye (five contemporary aapproaches from the canary islands))- focuses on this part of the body through which sensations emerge1, and on the finger as the traditional indicator that points at a person, an object or idea.
There is a vital rhythm accompanying us around this exhibition like a muted rumour. It covers everything and links the themes, conferring a reddish nuance on them which is almost impossible missing at the end. What I mean is blood.
Whether there is or not blood is the question. Without it, there is no sensation and this is reached by means of the colour that light creates. This vital aspect, in contrast to the concept of idea, or rather the relation to one another involved in the creation of image, is what I intend to depict in the following lines, as someone who pulls a loose thread and undoes what others have woven.
An artist´s central issue, whatever resource he or she is working with, is to observe nature, to reach a deep understanding about it; about the object´s inner functioning and its relationship with others, although the artist does not perceive directly all the relationships, but feels them2.
Everything contains a logic, or let us rather say a harmony. Regardless of whether or not a scene tells something, I mean the narrative component, it has a guiding thread. Regardless of whether or not an object is moving, it has a rhythm.
There is a purely artistic link that does not tell any story. It merely represents its own movement and makes an apparently random set of elements coagulate into one single flow3.
It is not enough to just look at nature as if we already knew it because we would fall into preconceived images, into clichés, and a cliché is a dead body we try to keep spectators away from by putting a finger in their eyes. It is quite the opposite of what the artists taking part in this exhibition are aiming for. With their work, they make clear that performing a video is about creating -similar to painting-. That does not mean to copy the object slavishly, but to catch the harmony of plentiful relationships; it means to transfer them to a spectrum of our own and develop them according to a new and original logic4v.
The central theme which gives the title to this essay, The Blood and The Idea, seems to confront sensation, which is connected to the nervous system, and abstraction, which belongs to the mid. The sensation has nothing to do with sentimentalism, which also goes through the mind. For artists, the sensation is the basis of everything and it is a task for them to organize their own ones by means of a logic. Sensation is transmitted directly. It alters the body: so many paralysis, hyperaesthesia, swellings and somatizations caused by over sensation…
The sensation has a side facing the subject (the nervous system, the vital movement, “instinct”, “temperament”) and the other one is turned to the object (the “fact”, the place, the event).
Actually, it does not really have sides. It is both aspects indivisibly linked: “being-in-the-world”. (…) After all, the body itself creates and receives it; it is object and subject at the same time. When I am the spectator I do not feel the sensation unless I enter the work, reaching the unit of feeling and felt. The sensation does not belong to the free and incorporeal game between light and colour (impressions). Quite the opposite, sensations are in the body, albeit the body of an apple. Colour is in the body, sensation is in the body and not up in the air. What is represented is the sensation5.
Despite all the above said, we should not disregard the brain´s function as the artist is endowed with two things: eye and brain. He needs to organize his perceptions, to have a logic about sensation. Obviously this cannot be set in motion without the brain.
Blood is a synonym of life and the artists taking part in this exhibition express, by the way they look, their longing to apprehend it. As long as the heart beats, there is life. As long as blood flows, there is life. Same may say that sensation belongs to the nervous system, but artists say it actually belongs to the circulatory system, to the heart. You feel when you experience. To perceive is to be open to the outside and go back again to one´s inside. It is systole, diastole and, in this sense, it is like love.
Rilke stated that when showing your love for something, instead of painting “I love this thing”, you´d better paint “here it is”, so each one can see if I have loved it6.
To look at things as if you look at them for the first time. That is how every artist should look at them and how we want our spectators to do it: with attention and amazement, with a demanding consciousness, willing to grab the meaning, the wish to understand them; understand their way of being, which is expressed through their features.
It could be said that the artists´ work for this exhibition is Kantian because the thing comes to life as it is being understood. Its own meaning is formed through their eyes and there is no other way to understand it but to look at it. Kant´s Refutation of Idealism makes clear that the inner perception cannot be without the external perception. Thus, “I feel (I perceive here and now) therefore I am” would come before “I think (abstract and universal) therefore I am”.But we should not interpret this as if the meaning of something is behind its appearance. Instead as if the meaning lives in it, just like the soul lives in the body7.
To look with a transparent, unprejudiced and willing vision, one that vests and divests, confer the status of “being”. A patient, deep, intense, determined and communicative vision settles down and lives within its object. One that changes for ever those who are looking and the thing looked at. One that becomes him or herself. The vampire glance that sucks the blood and gives new life. Very much the opposite of a vision that prejudges, that almost does not deserve to be called vision. This one does not look because it already knows what it is going to see, always built upon an idea prior to its existence.
The cliché is death but objects hold live. Reality differs from our created fictions because inside it, the meaning invests and penetrates the matter deeply7.
This takes us to the second key point of an artist: to materialize.
To materialise is like performing a miracle. Traditionally miracles consist in the transmutation and transfiguration of the matter. We could include in the first group those miracles dealing with transforming water into wine, or wine into blood; a sick person into a healthy one or death people into people alive. The second one would include all kind of apparitions.
Christianism claims that miracles are performed by God and the Holly Saints. So did ancient methodology believe: that the gods worked the miracles. This is the reason why artists, in their dual role as creator and person who transforms the matter, are often accused –fairly or not- of being god-like.
Performing miracles is very much like magic: now it is here, now it is vanished; there is something where there was nothing (the classical trick of the rabbit and the hat), or one coming out and then three more. In miracles there are no tricks, they are in magic.
Yet everything seems to be so real. When dealing with this means, the question is that it seems to be real, but it is not. A videoed face is not flesh, it is light. Therefore, rather than a miracle, it looks more like magic; it needs a trick.
With the term “to materialise” we can interpret “to embody”, to create body, to create things, to give presence. When I look at the glowing skin of one of Yapci Ramos´ portraits it does not make me think of a face. It is just there, he is just presenting it to me -with its thin and soft surface and its porous inside- just the specific way how faces are shaped9.
In videos, like in movies, the past and the present are integrated, but not in a chronological way. Let us use as an example Pedro Déniz´s work Hurdle (haikus): we have the time when the images in motion that are part of his video installation were taken (a time gone by, full of emotive issues for its author, presented as fragments). We also have the time when he selected the images, worked with them and decided to set them in that peculiar way. And finally, we have the time when the work is exhibited and viewed by spectators: a present consisting of and indissolubly being all those times together.
The most characteristic trick of modern films is editing, which is performed basically by succession, repetition and juxtaposition of images. Pedro Déniz, apart from confronting two couples of videos, inserts other tridimensional and two-dimensional elements that, together with sound, give his work the dramatic intensity that pierces it. We would talk here about a triple production: one with videos and sound, another one with these elements and barbed wire that blocks the view and finally the previous set with mutant words (regarding form and meaning). This tripled game makes his work be a rich unit.
In the cases of Cayetana H. Cuyás´ Historia de la Historia (History About History) and David Pantaleón´s Nacionalismo, this resource is used in a different way. In the first case, she uses short film format to create a personal narrative that goes from the origins of humanity and finishes in our time and deals with the question of self-representation and representation of women and men´s image in such a way that we could connect it more to a cinematographic usage.
In the second case, David Pantaleón exceeds the line his public is used to with previous work such as El becerro pintado (The Painted Young Bull) 2017, A lo oscuro más seguro (Safer In The Darkness) 2013, or La pasión de Judas (Juda´s Passion) 2014, and ventures into an almost unknown territory for him: the video-installation. From his homeland´s chest (The Canary Islands) the proper images emerge and are assembled in such a fashion that I consider the most literal unintentional approach to the duality which gives name to this essay.
I said before that a filmed face is not flesh and I say now that if you scratch a screen, blood is not going to flow out; that is pure literature. But I also believe that things are alive, and furthermore, that art is alive; it has its own life different from ours.
In order to capture it, to represent the essence of things, we should not forget the importance of the synesthesia sensation. We can clearly recognize it, for instance in Yapci Ramos´ I don´t Mind II where he seems to put eyes in all the senses similar to Flaubert when he speaks about the old woman who cries as it was raining10.
The quality of the colour in the object of our interest involves all the answers to the questions formulated by the rest of the senses. One thing wouldn´t have this colour if it did not have the same form, these tactile features, this sound, this smell.
And there is still one more thing: air… A way of breathing, a breathing experience. The air that circulates through the objects also gives life, in the same way as blood flows through the works of the exhibition.
Can a voice, which is the result of the vibration of the vocal cords on contact with gas, and a black screen put us in a place that is not the one being described (another video, this one with images , seen thousands of kilometres away) and of course neither is the room where we witness, rather bewildered, this experiment?
Gabriel Hernández´s Parts of Some Quintet (the title refers, among other things, to the quintet of work that is part of the exhibition), intends to put us to a place that is not here nor there, a middle point, rare, unusual, an elusive place just like the air springing up from his pharynx and links words and things11.
We could only reach this place once we have overcome the stupor that his piece causes. Most probably, many among the public think, or even will dare to utter: “Well… one more conceptual artist trying to fool us!” The few who dare to really look, will realise that the piece is not made up of only the black screen and the sound, but also of text explaining as well as of minimal interventions spreading all over the room and showing in a subtle way the interplay of spaces and of signifiers and signified that he proposes.
Is this work actually a video? I would say it is a wider situation where the video is used as a tool by its witty author who likes to play. And this is really an advantage because the ludic aspect is also a great part of art. After all, as the German philosopher claimed: “a person will only be a complete one by playing”12.
Neither of them – game and art- would occur without the blood and the idea.
Esther Aldaz Brunetto
1 About the anesthesia that this sense has these days, would suit to consult “Eye on the Finger”, A Marta Mantecón´s text for this publication.
2 Aphorism XXXVII in “Le Dimanche avec Paul Cézanne” from Leo Larguier.
3 Gilles Deleuze in “Francis Bacon: The Logi of Sensation” Arena Libros, Madrid 2005.
4 Aphorisms XLII and XLI in “Le Dimanche avec Paul Cézanne” from Leo Larguier.
5 Parts taken from Gilles Deleuze in “Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation” Arena Libros, Madrid 2005, Chapter 6 “Paint and Sensation”.
6 Rainer Maria Rilke “Letters on Cézanne” Barcelona, Paidós, 1993.
7 Maurice Merleau – ponty, “Perception Phenomenology”. Chapter 3. The Thing and the Natural World. B) The thing or the real: the unity the thing, beyond all its properties is that unique accent found in each of them, that unique way of existing of which they are a second expression. (…) That is why we say that in perception the thing is “personally” given to us or “in flesh and blood”. Before the other, the thing performs this miracle of the expression: an interior which is revealed to the exterior, a signification that descends to the world and exists in it, and that we cannot fully comprehend unless by searching it with the look…
10 Gustave Flaubert “The Legend of Saint-Julian the Hospitaller”. In Three Tales: A Simple Heart; The Legend of Saint-Julian the Hospitaller; Herodias”. Valdemar Spanish edition. Madrid 2000.
11 Diana Padrón, text written for this publication: “Toward the Light. A Eulogy to Blindness”, says that place is “our imagination”.
12 Friedric Schiller “Kalias: Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man”. Anthropos, Barcelona, 1990.