enrique marty

 

 

Pablo Lag: Why have you chosen an interview rather than a critical text to appear in this publication?

Enrique Marty: Simply because, as a reader, I find interviews very interesting. It’s a supple, organic genre with an element of theatre: two characters on stage talking in the dark, lit only by a spotlight from above.

 

P.L.: Most of the sculptures included in the installation contain blows, wounds or blood. Although there is nothing unbearably agonising, it’s an intense, slow-acting kind of pain. To some extent, physical pain is the way to externalise internal suffering.

E.M.: There are many people who are immaculately dressed and have just come out of the gym and yet feel deeply wounded.

 

P.L.: Of course, but I mean pain or suffering so enormous that it is contained and is released very slowly, and manifested outwardly.

E.M.: A particular mental process can lead you to a sick image. I always give the example of the film Profondo Rosso, by Dario Argento (1975), when the medium explains that people’s thoughts are left floating in the places where they were generated, like spiders’ webs, and that she moves among the thoughts, which stick to her. So a very intense thought can be seen. That is what I want to convey with these pieces.

 

P.L.: Your work has occasionally been described as hyperrealist sculpture. When I read this definition for the first time, I do not remember being surprised by it, but there is something in it that does not fit, if only because of the size of the pieces.

E.M.: What am I am interested in is the fact that there is something real in these sculptures. Besides, although they come originally from moulds, they do not work until I paint them. My intention is at the opposite pole from hyperrealism. Another issue is that the sculptures seem to be alive, but they are certainly not hyperrealist.

 

P.L.: Then we could say that they are not “alive” until you paint them.

E.M.: The most important part of the process is the painting that covers them. You’ve seen my sculptures in my studio unpainted, and you’ve seen for yourself that they are just a blank surface. And this painting is actually a means that I use to develop another aspect, a kind of concept. My work exists in order to discover it.

P.L.: So you’re not trying to offer solutions in your work, but to generate questions and arguments instead.

 

P.L.: It is striking how prominent a part the Church of the Veronicas played in your 2006 exhibition, and how you have completely negated the space at the Antonio Pérez Foundation (FAP) and activated a new space.

E.M.: I used the space of the Convent of the Veronicas, turning it into part of the work. That installation only makes sense there. In the FAP I play with the time of year, Christmas, and with the inside-outside relationship, as if the viewers were walking down the street surrounded by the Christmas atmosphere and on entering the room found themselves in another recreation.

 

P.L.: It’s like a symbol of outer space, a corridor within a corridor, or a gallery within a gallery…

E.M.: That’s what I did at the Espacio Mínimo Gallery, and it created a certain amount of scandal because it seemed so cryptic. I made a 60% copy of the real space of the gallery, inside the gallery. Before reaching this the viewers had to pass along a road that disorientated them, a kind of city suburb, to arrive back at the door of the (reduced-scale) gallery, and enter an exhibition of painting inside the reproduction. And they wondered: what was that? What was the role of this exhibition within the exhibition? Which was the real one?

In this space in Cuenca, the viewer will have to walk and look inside the houses, where something is happening. The visitors will become prowlers who spend their time spying on people celebrating Christmas in their homes, but they may have a surprise in store, because perhaps the scenes do not correspond with their idea of Christmas. And here we come to the archetype of Christmas.

 

P.L.: Regarding the choice of Las Pieles (The Skins) and other pieces included in the exhibition at the Antonio Perez Foundation Museum, which you created for the play Perro muerto en tintorería (Dead Dog at a Dry Cleaners), I would like to ask you about your work as a stage designer. Although stage designs are not an exhibition, they have features in common; instead of a curator there is a director who imposes his ideas. I imagine that there is a dialogue, not so much about the work of this director as about your work, and finally, there is a series of actors-performers.

E.M.: The theatre and the visual arts have more in common than appears at first sight. I do see a difference. As you say, in the theatre there is a director who is sometimes the author, and to a certain extent you have to enter his mind to work. Conversely, when assembling a project in a museum, you are the author and the director. It is your project, your work and your discourse.

 

P.L.: Theatricality, ritual, the joy of Christmas and the trivialization of religious celebrations. The fact is that basically, Christmas is a religious holiday that comes from pagan festivals.

E.M.: This is one of my favourite subjects. I do not think that there is a single original Christian festivity or celebration. They are all ancestral festivals that coincide with the solstices, equinoxes, celebrations of abundance, etc. They are part of the ancient worship of a solar God, a tradition that comes from Egypt.

 

P.L.: Without entering into personal judgments, the family is a concept inherent to your work. You have regularly portrayed your nephews, but hardly ever your brother. The Antonio Pérez Foundation is an exception, since you appear beside him in one of the paintings you did in your childhood, which you are showing for the first time. It seems that if something does not pass your “artistic filter”, it does not exist or is not real.

E.M.: I’ve spent several years exploring what a family is: a group of people that is given to you. You’re born, you grow up, and they’re always there. Why do people say that we are nothing without our family? Who is responsible for promoting that idea? I can’t complain about my family, I have analysed it humorously and also rigorously.

My brother has practically never appeared in my work, only twice, but I’ve worked with my nephews many times. It is true that my brother is reluctant to collaborate with me, but other people were reluctant too and I persuaded them. With him I don’t insist; I don’t know why, to be honest.

 

P.L.: When they enter the show from the street and act as voyeurs, visitors will be expecting to find a family Christmas scene…

E.M.: This installation has a lot to do with my uncles’ houses, and therefore with the family, but this is only a reference for me, and there are always different layers of reading. Playing with this is also very important to me. I focus my lens on something totally personal and private, and then suddenly, I open the diaphragm and refocus on something specific and general, but only seemingly. This explanation can be confusing and it is essential that it should be.

 

P.L.: But in fact the public does not experience it as something alien and private; they feel it as something universal.

E.M.: That’s just the point, that’s exactly what interests me. For example, in my sculptures I sometimes play with likenesses. I did a cast of my uncle, which I thought looked a bit like George Bush, and I called it Tío Balta (Uncle Balta). Everyone saw Bush, and even the title of the piece seemed to be invisible. Obviously a figure like this is so iconic that becomes a symbol. This double meaning of the work is what interests me. I still saw my uncle in it, but I was the only one who did. Other people saw Bush. Although it is the same work, it has two different meanings. A portrait of my uncle, and a portrait of Bush. I know it’s simple, but the more I think about it, the more fascinated I am by how fragile an interpretation or a conclusion can be.

 

P.L.: You’ve often spoken to me about the houses that your three uncles had built, with unusual, almost bizarre, dimensions and layout, when you were a child, and that had such an influence on you. This makes me think about the dimensions of your sculptures and installations, spaces that mutate, sculptures on a reduced scale… and now you are working out how to make them huge. Why not stick to life size?

E.M.: That story about my uncles’ houses is a key factor in my work, because it made me realise that the way we observe things depends entirely on a given set of conventions. If you twist that “reality” a little you can receive a shock, a blow to your consciousness. That triad of houses was a symbol to me; it made me reconsider “reality” and it would never change again. The installation I am showing at the FAP is related to those houses, directly and almost literally.

 

P.L.: You said yourself that the houses at the FAP are a child’s schematic view.

E.M.: My vision from childhood is very much associated with those houses. One of them, the most fascinating in my opinion, gradually became too small for me with the passage of time, as I grew up, but too small in terms of its height, which doesn’t usually tend to happen. To be out of proportion in a place, while others feel totally in proportion in that same place, is a very intense experience. Anyway, on the outside my uncles’ houses are like that archetypal idea of a house, rectangular, gable roof, etc. The best thing is that there is nothing special about them on the outside. I remember going out at night in the winter for the sheer pleasure of looking at the house covered with Christmas lights for hours.

Another interesting aspect of this topic is the creation of architectural space. I love the fact that by putting a wall on a site, you’re modifying the previous space; even if it’s a paper wall, it still produces a change in the place. We have a great ability to affect things with the slightest effort. I am now making sculptures on a human scale, but for a particular series, and with a precise meaning.

 

P.L.: You’re accustomed to people referring to your sculptures as “dolls”. I have heard it myself many times. It is as is by making this comment they were trying to put them in another category. This term brings them closer to the viewer. You don’t get to feel affectionate towards a sculpture, but you do with a doll.

E.M.: Yes, although I never refer to the pieces as dolls, many people do. I think this is due to that anti-heroic feeling I try to give the pieces; in general, sculpture still means something archetypal, heroic. Since ancient times we have been presented with sculptures representing gods, kings, distinguished figures, and so on, even in modern times. Henry Moore makes grandiose, apocalyptic sculptures. Think of minimalism as well, those pieces that have the same monolithic qualities as Greek statues, and the way they are installed and displayed, with the highest significance, surrounded by honours.

 

P.L.: I find it curious to talk or hear people talking about minimalism; it is true that everything has a similar formal tone, but conceptually one set of artists has nothing to do with the other.

E.M.: Thinking about it carefully, I mean minimalism from the aesthetic point of view. Other artists in pop art make heroic sculptures on trivial subjects, but that doesn’t mean they cease to be heroic. I think people call my sculptures “dolls” because they don’t want to identify them with sculptures; they don’t know what they are, and perhaps the first word that comes to their mind is “doll”.

 

P.L.: The hero also evolves; he is working less and less to support the system.

E.M.: For example?

 

P.L.: Superman in the 1950s was the superhero who embodied an example of morality and American conduct. But today’s heroes are violent, rude and self-centred.

E.M.: Supposedly Superman has a high degree of moral values because he is an alien. Even the comics speculate on his dual personality. The figure of the hero is fascinating and pathetic at the same time.

 

P.L.: Coming back to the sculptures, I can’t help thinking that you are projecting yourself onto what is represented, onto your friends, your family, us. They include natural hair, they are dressed in the model’s clothes, and so on. When devout believers go to church to see an image, what they see is not a wooden carving, it is the actual Virgin herself. What do your sculptural works have in common with religious or sacred items?

E.M.: Any work of art has a religious meaning. The earliest forms of art in the caves had it. There is currently a certain aversion to speaking about the religious or the sacred, and obviously I am not referring to religion either, but there is a fundamental difference between decorative art, which to me is not art, and everything else.

 

P.L.: These works play different roles, like actors in a play or a film. You transform your father into George Clooney, or in Madrid you display public figures such as Esperanza Aguirre and Ruiz Gallardón, who obviously did not offer to make a cast.

E.M.: I transform them more and more into actors, because it is true that the sculptures are yourselves and the dramaturgy requires that you play a role. It is interesting to think, as you said before, that they might be a projection of me onto you; many people have told me that all the sculptures look a bit like me, or that there is a lot of me in them. And this is true.

 

P.L.: When you adopt or project the roles of your sculptures, we seem to be faced with a multiple personality syndrome.

E.M.: I won’t deny that there is a bit of that. Our personality is a mask, and this mask can be mutable. I find it fascinating when people defend their “personality”. Personality does not exist, nor does identity. This is where the concept of the mask comes in.

 

P.L.: What is the meaning of wearing a mask? I am thinking about your Wicker Man piece.

E.M.: In the Wicker Man polyptych I take wearing a mask to imply a release, depending on the context. Personality is a mask, but sometimes we are not satisfied with the person we believe ourselves to be, and that is why people wear masks on top of other masks. Many people might say that it is liberating. Masks and disguises ought to be prescribed by psychiatrists.

 

P.L.: Sometimes, when we speak, you address my other self. Can you tell me how many “selves” we have?

E.M.: Everyone changes every second, so each representation may reflect just one of those seconds, vertices or sides. It is the concept of multiplicity. I understand all my work, in whatever format or medium, as the production of objects which I am going to use, aesthetically and conceptually, to represent an idea, a story or a drama in the broadest sense.

 

P.L.: Turning to another topic, the sublime is present in the Baroque period, although it is typical of the Romantic period. To what extent is this notion of the sublime that appears in the eighteenth century present in your work?

E.M.: It depends on what approach to the word “sublime” we adopt. We must distinguish clearly between the sublime and the beautiful, and then yes, I am interested. This distinction has been made ever since the Greeks created the term. In other words, the sublime can be beautiful, but it does not necessarily have to be so. It interests me as something breathtaking that produces catharsis; in this sense it is similar to Freud’s term unheimlich: the sinister, which is always confused with the sordid, but is actually “disturbing”. In The Beautiful and Sublime Kant asserts that the beautiful tends towards drowsiness, towards catching you in a lazy, contemplative state, whereas the sublime is unrelated to pleasure and can even cause a certain degree of pain, but a healing pain.

 

P.L.: Tu padre en una cuna (Your Father in a Cradle) is one of the pieces that are exhibited in the installation La sombra (The shadow). We were speaking of the sublime; in this case it is the turn of the grotesque.

E.M.: The grotesque is closely linked to the sublime. We operate in the field of ideas, and for me everything is an idea. The world that surrounds us is subjective and definitions are just a convention. I must confess that what seem to me grotesque topics, in the most vulgar sense of the word, are supposedly “serious”: politics, religion, sports.

Displaying a grotesque depiction of society is an act of justice.

 

P.L.: I am of the opinion that there are an infinite number of similarities between an old man and a baby.

E.M.: The older people are, the closer they are to childhood. It is a well-known phenomenon, a very powerful archetype that I was very interested in working on.

 

P.L.: To what extent were you recreating Freaks in your exhibition “Flaschengeist, La Caseta del Alemán” (Flaschengeist, The German’s Sideshow) at the Contemporary Art Museum of Castile (MUSAC)? In every circus or fairground there were one or two “freaks”, but this is not the case either in the film or in your exhibition, where there are dozens of them. I take it you did not want to represent a funfair as we conventionally understand it, and you turn this happy place into something quite different. You have done something similar in the exhibition La Sombra (The Shadow) at the FAP.

E.M.: There is a connection between the two, but they are also independent. I often go to fairs and always go on the ghost train. To me the fair is a symbol of the world, of the little theatre of the world. Underneath the carousel there is dust and cobwebs. A fair is supposed to be a place created for fun, but I don’t think anybody can help feeling a certain amount of anguish when they are there. I like going to see them putting up the attractions, and even before they put them up, I am thinking of how, from that moment, a kind of distorted city with flashing lights will spring up. In the following days the carnies appear, putting everything up quickly, and on that esplanade in the outskirts that whole strange deformed world is now to be found. In a few days everything is taken down and there’s nothing left, they have gone without a trace.

 

P.L.: Do you get a bit uneasy visiting fairs?

E.M.: One of my most memorable rides on the ghost train was two or three years ago. The fair had not yet been officially opened and there were still a couple of days to go before it would be, but some attractions were already in operation, including the ghost train. So I bought a ticket and sat in the little train, and even after travelling round for quite a while nothing had happened, except that occasionally a light shone onto a blank wall. A little while later, a guy in a chequered shirt and shorts came lethargically round a corner going: Buuuuh!!… They hadn’t finished putting it up yet and hadn’t put the figures in position and this man had not even bothered to put on his costume. It was fantastic, a ride through empty corridors and an attempt to scare me, which reminded me of my own work, the dark, empty corridors I made at MUSAC.

However, this lack of scariness was much more disturbing than the figures that you usually find on the ghost train, because it felt as if that something really horrible might appear, and what better metaphor for imaginary fears, neurosis, anxiety… All this was crowned by the anticlimax of the fake scare from the man in the chequered shirt. In the end, there is no reason to be afraid, either on the ghost train or anywhere else.

 

P.L.: Do you really think there is no reason to be afraid anywhere? If not, why should there be any reason to be happy, for example?

E.M.: Precisely because there is no reason to be afraid, there is a reason to be happy. I work a lot on fear, I have been thinking about it for years. I’ve asked myself many questions. Some will say that fear is useful for getting out of certain situations, but I mean something broader, Fear with a capital F.

 

P.L.: La Sombra (The Shadow) is the title of the exhibition at the FAP. This concept draws together many aspects, such as fear, contradiction, fanaticism… Nietzsche reveals all this in one of the chapters of Thus Spake Zarathustra. “Is Zarathustra allowed to be afraid of his shadow?”

E.M.: Actually, what I would like to speak about here is fear. The superman is someone without fear, but what is fear? Has anyone seen it, weighed it or measured it? Everything about Nietzsche was crazy, which is why I like him so much.

 

P.L.: Your paintings have been characterised by agile, rapid and very intense brushwork. But lately you have been working in a very meticulous way, taking care over each brushstroke. This issue can be extrapolated to the rest of your work.

E.M.: It is true that this is the case in some of my works, but not in all. I work in different styles, adapting each one to the process. I always have several series underway and each is produced differently. The truth is that it is a process of a wide-ranging exploration in which the questions have yet to be answered.

 

P.L.: Focusing on those works you are doing in a detailed manner, that meticulousness and that new time of creation that you have adopted are not really necessary.

E.M.: To achieve that result the meticulousness is necessary. It is important, it is part of the process, and to me the process is the most important thing.

 

P.L.: In your work, painting is the element that articulates everything, both in sculpture and in installations, and more than ever at the moment in video pieces.

E.M.: Painting could be regarded as a central axis which makes sense of everything else. In the video pieces, especially, I am working with the idea of a series. I have always worked by organizing artworks as a whole in series.

 

P.L.: Series in the history of classical art tend towards narrativity or repetition, but this is not always true in your case.

E.M.: It is not always true in my case, but they do involve repetition. For example, in the animated films: to me, this is a paradigm of working in series, where there is repetition and narrativity. And if we look at the watercolours one by one, we find that sometimes they look the same, since there is hardly any difference between one and another. Also in the sculptural groups the same figure is repeated over and over again. There is a narrative in my work, in the sense of a suggestion of a narrative. The viewer believes there is a narrative, but the problem arises when we understand narrative as having a single meaning, governed by particular rules that we all accept. Whenever I talk about this I give an example: there have been experiments done showing conventional films to isolated tribes who have never seen any cinema. The result is that they do not understand anything; they are not able to follow the story, because that story is nothing more than a succession of images without meaning for them. The language of film changes; you only need to compare a film from the 1930s with one from the present. Shots are shorter now. The public has a short attention span and we constantly have to capture their attention. The same thing happens in any media, they are languages that have to be learned. I am very interested in working with this: subverting the “approved” system of narration, twisting it, playing with its elements, and creating another out of them. If you use an open language, the viewers are most probably free enough to create their own story. It’s the same in diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs; to me, a video made up of thousands of watercolours implies the possible use of all the images that form a sequence. Let me explain: if you think about the polyptychs in the series “El intruso” (The Intruder), what I offer the viewer are a number of images selected from a sequence, whether there are 4, 8 or 16…In the video pieces, what I want is to paint all the images between one movement and another.

 

P.L.: You would like your publications to have a similar appearance, or even to turn them into a series. This inevitably makes me think that you understand your work as a whole. You also produce ephemeral works, though they are perfectly well documented; somehow you make everything lasting and transcendent.

E.M.: When someone tells me that I work a lot and that I must have produced a great many works, I always answer that I only have one work. I can’t think in terms of works, in the plural. If I were to collect together everything I’ve done in a single project, it would seem like a single work. This is what gave me the idea about catalogues, of not making catalogues, but books: a kind of encyclopaedia that could be read as a sort of literary complete works.

 

P.L.: Considering your work as a whole and your wish to unify your publications, have you thought about creating a website?

E.M.: I have been thinking for some time about how to make a website that makes sense, not as a repository of images of works, but as something else. I even have a project I am working on which is already well advanced, but I can’t say anything about it for now. It makes sense if you know nothing about it in advance.

 

P.L.: A photograph is not necessarily more faithful to reality than a painting. Nor is a painting any more worthy than a photograph. I mention this because of your interest in turning amateur photographs into worthy paintings.

E.M.: As icons, or even as archetypes, paintings have connotations of another kind. As symbols they are very powerful. I use painting as a conceptual element, a tool. And I use it consciously as such. Until Abstract Informalism, and perhaps earlier, in Impressionism, painting was conceptual, and from then on there has been a period in which is painting is seen in this way: painting as painting. Painting doesn’t interest me all that much in itself, but it does interest me as a tool. The important thing is to twist media and squeeze the juice out of them.

 

P.L.: You paint all the movements that your camera records, but there is always something that is lost between one frame and another, albeit fleetingly. Why do you want to paint every one of these movements, which in any case is completely impossible?

E.M.: There is something performative in this process. There is even something performative in the fact that I am the one that paints all the watercolours, instead of having a team of collaborators. It is true that there are moments or images that escape us, but this would be a step further. To explain with an example, if we think of the polyptych Superwoman Crossing Herself, we see my mother painted in oils on a panel in six images. In the complete sequence each of the movements involved in crossing oneself is reproduced. On the one hand, she is doing a performance in front of my camera, and on the other, I am documenting that performance and then turning the Polaroid photos into paintings: in other words, handmade photographs.

 

P.L.: And how is an action documented in six oil paintings?

E.M.: Usually, when an action is performed, all that is left afterwards is the documentation, which is usually cold and in black and white, to eliminate any trace of lyricism. On this point I want to subvert the language of documentation by producing it in paintings, since to me a photograph is just as objective or subjective as a painting. And the next step is not to confine myself to those six images, but to make a documentation video in paint. All these images together create the video.

 

P.L.: To take a photo and “transfer” it into painting is not negative. Artists of the Renaissance were already doing it in a primitive way, and later, so did the Romantics and the Impressionists. Initially you used a Polaroid camera; are you still using it or do you only use your digital camera now?

E.M.: I do not use Polaroid photographs any more for the simple reason that the film is not easy to find, and for my way of working I need to take a lot of photographs, so I use a digital camera. Yes indeed, there is nothing wrong with taking photographs; it is a fundamental part of my work. I keep files of thousands and thousands of photos. I think they are different processes. To take a picture and then reproduce it by hand is, in my opinion, to perform a conceptual act, to take a position. With the advent of PhotoShop, there are photos that have retouched to such an extent that they are paintings in themselves. That would be the subject of another discussion.

As you rightly point out, this is a process that has been widely used since ancient times. Vermeer used it, and not in a rudimentary way, but on a very advanced level, creating a projection onto the canvas. This is what the Camera Obscura is about: the possibility of working with a direct projection of the picture onto the canvas.

When the painters of the nineteenth-century died, the files of photographs that they used as models for paintings were found in their studios: Delacroix, Degas… This only adds to their value. They managed to be ahead of their time, in a visionary way.

There is a German book on a very interesting exhibition, Mit Kamera, Pinsel und Spritzpistole, which shows the evolution of the use of the camera by painters: the camera in a broad sense.

I sincerely believe that photography is an older invention than is believed, and that for many years, people have even known how to fix images. Even the Holy Turin shroud is like a photograph of a late Gothic statue.

 

P.L.: In the last few years you’ve concentrated mainly on installations and have left photography aside…

E.M.: As exhibition work it’s true that I haven’t shown any for some time, but I take photos constantly, though perhaps I use them more as an instrument. Behind each installation there are elements of photography, painting, drawing… and the thing is that installation strikes me as a very appealing format.

P.L.: In an old article you said that you were “trying to slap the viewer in the face”. How far has that changed now?

E.M.: I don’t think it’s changed much. Slapping the viewers in the face strikes me as very important, especially to force them to make an effort. I offer viewers several levels of reading, so they can select the one that suits them best, but I do demand that they make an effort. I give something to the viewers and the viewers must give me all their attention. I am very keen to work on this aspect: to subvert the “approved” narrative system, twist it, play with its elements, and create another system out of them. If I use an open form of language, the viewers will very probably have sufficient freedom to make their own story.

 

P.L.: Analysing your work over the years, I get the feeling that the viewer tends to turn into a voyeur, or even a stalker, in an increasingly intense way. Sometimes there is no exchange of glances between the work and the audience, as for example when looking through the window at family scenes that are a long way from the traditional concept of the family.

E.M.: If you take a walk around the city and you are aware of others, you will encounter lots of stealthy looks; people have a tendency towards voyeurism. Something that fascinates me is watching someone who’s watching.

 

P.L.: Even in your installations, for example the one in Korea, Ghost’s Spirit, the actual sculptures that make up the show are looking at the exhibition, and in another context an unfanatical fanatic watches the crowds heading toward the red light (though in this case it is an action and not an exhibition that they are looking at).

E.M.: That’s true; you never know whether they are on display there, or whether they are also looking at the other works and at you. I even play with making my pieces look at the viewer. I consider myself a voyeur, in the sense that I have a great interest in observing the behaviour of people watching. The gaze can be very invasive. Haven’t you had that strange feeling when someone has been standing staring at you without caring that you notice them? And even so they still continue watching you, as if you were an object at their disposal. I have examined a multitude of observers, and all of them seem fascinated, morbidly fascinated, by someone that suddenly crosses their path. Spying from windows is something everyone does, and I even recall a case that happened some time ago of a woman who complained to the police about a man who was naked in his own home with the window open; if she really found it so annoying, she could easily just not have looked. I think there are many hidden traumas behind the gaze and voyeurism.

 

P.L.: Continuing with the subject of the gaze, do you remember that time in El Cañavate (Cuenca)? We arrived there and the village seemed deserted, there was absolutely no one in the streets, but if you looked closely you could see that the villagers were spying on us from their windows, and although we were the intruders they were the ones spying on us.

E.M.: Yes, everything seemed to have the flavour of the most emblematic elements of horror films. Two guys turn up, there’s no one around, but you sense that the people in the village are spying on them…

 

P.L.: Are you trying to reproduce the military or religious lifeblood of the people in the installation…?

E.M.: This question gives me a very good excuse to come back to the subject of how the viewers construct their own story. You yourself are constructing it at the moment.

 

P.L.: It seems that you always move between opposites; inside/outside, public/private, normal-paranormal, everyday-extraordinary…

E.M.: Yes, indeed, when you stop to think about it everything seems to be articulated in terms of duality. However, the point that has really interests me most is the membrane that separates the two worlds. Walking the tightrope between opposites only can be done in the world of magic, or art. It is a special state in which anything is possible.

 

P.L.: What interests you about dualities is the boundary between one term and another (or the membrane, as you indicate). Is this related to what Marcel Duchamp called the infra-thin?

E.M.: Yes, in the case of Duchamp there is also an enormous duality; let’s not forget that although a flicker was important, it was also important to exhibit a urinal in a museum. Perhaps this is where ephemeral installations fit in pretty well: mural paintings that disappear when the exhibition is over, for example; at that moment, when they are between two thin layers of white paint, hidden, they are still there but resting; it is a painting that is there but that nobody is looking at.

 

P.L.: This puts you closer to Isidoro Valcárcel Medina than to Duchamp. I suppose this is because there is also a lot of Duchamp in Valcárcel. However, following the example of the urinal, I see a connection with you when you consciously decide to place your sculptures on a plinth, as with The Couratordeus.

E.M.: When a sculpture of mine is on a plinth, it is something totally premeditated; in the case you have cited, for example, it is playing with the fact that they are a rock band and they are posing on stage.

 

P.L.: I know that you have become increasingly interested in Nietzsche and the self-serving and distorted use that the Nazis made of his writings. You have also reflected on many occasions on the Third Reich in your work and the symbols they used.

E.M.: I am very interested in symbols in general and also in the people who use them, especially hermetic symbolism. It is fascinating because each of the symbols used has so many meanings, sometimes completely opposed to each other, which opens the way for language in narrative form to be something learned, a virus which, as Borrougs says, conditions our minds, our way of thinking and our point of view. It is a kind of hypnosis.

 

P.L.: The Nazis undoubtedly made Nietzsche’s thought one of the mainstays of their ideology. What else do you find interesting about him?

E.M.: Leaving aside his thought, which I think is very important, I am interested in his physical appearance (to which he himself attached great importance) and his duality, his extreme contradiction at times; a contradiction which is essential to his thought. I remember that phrase from the film Crash, when the tattoo artist tells one of the characters that if he doesn’t stop moving the tattoo will come out blurred, and he gives her a masterly reply, that that tattoo is a prophecy, and prophecies are unclear and confusing. This is crucial; the most important assertions must be blurred and confusing, contradictory, because we operate in a field in which there is no room for Manichaeism, thinking that something is either like this or like that. Some people make me laugh when they say: “This is how it is and that’s all there is to it.” Everything is mutable and mysterious. And this is how it is and that’s all there is to it!

 

P.L.: The exhibition Black in Black, at the Oktogon, is notably cryptic: the paintings embedded in the “altarpiece” are all black, which is unusual in your work, and it draws on a vast quantity of symbols and references from totalitarian regimes, all arranged in an octagon.

E.M.: The exhibition was in Dresden. This city was bombed to complete destruction by the allies after Germany had surrendered, and this is something that is very little known abroad. I wanted to talk about it. It is important that a prophecy, as we said before, should be blurred and confusing. And it is also important that our language should be sufficiently open to avoid degenerating into ridiculous pamphleteering. At the opening of this exhibition I was asked again and again about the meaning of the different elements of the installation; each person felt attracted by different aspects. I answered that they should understand it as if they had found a sketchbook belonging to someone they don’t know, hidden at the bottom of a drawer.

 

P.L.: And that’s what it was: your sketchbook. I am not speaking of a book, but a way of pouring out your thoughts.

E.M.: Exactly.

 

P.L.: You’ve always quoted Don’t Look Now, by Nicolas Roeg (1973), The Key, by Tinto Brass, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, by Lynch, and you usually point to Rubens, the Baroque and Nietzsche as your references, but on the other hand YouTube and Google are the media you draw on to assemble information. How are your references and the information you use interrelated? To what extent do you mind if viewers fail to receive and internalise these references?

E.M.: What I aim to do is to create a platform for my own thinking. To filter the world that I perceive, analyse it and then drop it again. It’s like writing a book based on the documentation that I’ve collected over years in libraries. I must confess that I tend to perceive what is around me with a certain distance, as if it were a film. This is not a cold gaze, quite the contrary; it allows me to enjoy much of my environment, to feel it as something exciting. To play a continuous game with “reality”. The thing is that “reality” is a word that I always put in inverted commas. I think it is a misleading word, too monolithic and arrogant, since in any case “reality” refers to one thing, and to me there are many realities.

 

P.L.: And what are the different realities that exist when you look?

E.M.: Sometimes I like to observe people who are visiting museums, how they relate to the works, their attention… Here we have another twist: the viewer looks at the work, I watch the viewer and the security guard watches me and the other person in the room. This is another very interesting element in the liturgy of visiting museums: the security guard has to spend a long time surrounded by the same works, for as long as the exhibition lasts, and the time he spends in that room would become something monolithic if the visitors were not there. They are the only thing that changes, the thing that moves in that room, and his guard duty gives him the perfect excuse to look at people openly. I assume that there is also someone looking at this guard, and if not, there should be.

 

P.L.: You always put the word “reality” in inverted commas, but your works are sometimes derived from videos or photographs that you take with your camera. From the actual choice of shot, to the choice of whether to record a scene or an object, everything is subjective. So what “reality” is there in your work?

E.M.: I work on the basis of observation, perception of my environment. Can I say that this is real? It is only a perception, and if my organs of perception were different, I would perceive a different environment. Sometimes everything changes simply because you are in a worse or better mood. What I try to express through my work is that you have to be attentive and question everything. One of the crucial points is the multiplicity of levels of reading, the layers we mentioned earlier.

 

P.L.: You produce a lot of work. Do you discard a lot as well?

E.M.: It depends what one means by discarding. I take all my work as an experiment, and a failed experiment is also part of the process. One must not forget that art is a process of investigation; I sometimes feel like a scientist in a laboratory, a valid process in itself. It is true that I have destroyed all the work I produced from my first year at college until 1995, but I saved the pictures that I painted as a child and as a teenager, and many of them are actually being exhibited inside the houses at the Antonio Pérez Foundation Museum, many of them for the first time. It is fundamental to me that my work should be a process and I try to provoke questions rather than answers, because I don’t believe in answers.

 

P.L.: Why was your training at the University of Salamanca so traumatic? What do you think about the rest of your training?

E.M.: It wasn’t all that traumatic. After finishing my course I did some workshops, which is something that didn’t exist at the University of Salamanca, in order to work with artists, to learn their language… And I had a real need to connect with art, although art has always been part of my life.

 

P.L.: You’ve made your interest in art history clear on many occasions. For this reason I want to ask you what influence different trends, styles, categories and so on have had on your work and your thinking.

E.M.: I find it crucial to have sufficient background knowledge. Firstly for personal enjoyment: I really enjoy talking about art, looking at art, reading about art, and secondly, this allows me to construct a rich discourse. Since childhood I have been going to museums of “classic” and contemporary art, but also to the cinema and the theatre.

 

P.L.: You have told me countless times that as a child and an adolescent you used to go to museums. Do you remember anything from that time?

E.M.: My visits to museums as a child have assumed a mythic status in my mind. At that time we used to spend a lot of time in Getafe. On many occasions I begged my father to take me to the Prado Museum. Finally, one Monday at Christmas we took the bus from Getafe to Madrid, which left us at Atocha, and entered the famous Diamante bar. There was a black object in my Coca-Cola, a kind of very unpleasant mass of hair, which my father took to be a cockroach. It seemed to me like a strange sign, a cockroach in my Coca-Cola before going to the Prado. I swear that going to the Museum was like entering the Santa Sanctorum to me, I was very nervous, and finding that thing (I am not sure that it was a cockroach, the truth is that it looked like something even worse), destroyed all the harmony that I was feeling. As we approached the Museum, my father pointed out to me that that one of the gardeners who was cutting the grass was just working on one square metre and forgetting the rest; I think he could see how anxious I was. We got to the door at half past ten. It was not open, so after waiting for a while, we had to return to Getafe.

At Easter we tried again. My uncles’ house in Getafe had no heating and they used to give me a hot water bottle, and the night before we were going to the Museum it burst, and the bed was soaked. I had just seen the La Colmena (The Beehive) on television and I thought the film chimed in very well with the hot water bottle bursting in my bed.

The next day, even from a distance, I could see that it didn’t seem to be open; it was Monday. We returned to Getafe. I had the feeling that I would never get to go to the Prado. My desire to go there was unbearable; it was driving me crazy.

In summer we tried once again. It was very hot and my mother made me wear shorts. I deeply hated them but I had to wear them. Going to the Prado wearing shorts seemed insulting to me, I thought it would sully the Museum, and I would almost have preferred it not to be open. While we were walking along the Paseo del Prado, I found a bracelet in my pocket that a girl I knew had given to me. I was really very worried about the shorts. I thought I looked like an idiot dressed like that. As we approached the Velázquez door, there was a long queue of people; it was open. And I was in shorts! When we entered, the first thing I saw was the classical statue of Jupiter and a huge picture by Zurbarán.

That first visit was marked by the shame of turning up dressed like that. It made such an impression on me that I was ill. I spent the bus journey home vomiting and I had to spend the rest of the day in bed.

Feeling sick was something that happened to me as a child at certain moments, at the Prado, looking at Goya’s Caprices in a book, at The Burial of the Count of Orgaz…

I was very obsessive and fetishistic about pictures. I liked to touch them (at that time, with fewer visitors and fewer guards, it was much easier to do this) and I made a list of the ones I had touched; it was like touching something divine.

Sometimes I asked my father to turn round so I could be the only person in the world who was looking at that particular picture at that moment.

 

P.L.: The first time I visited your studio you were finishing a commission for a collector, and the piece was a body in a state of decomposition with some worms, lying on the floor. I had come from seeing an exhibition of the Chapman brothers and I remarked to you on the formal similarity (although it was actually minimal), and I came to the conclusion that the point in common was Goya, to which you retorted: “Yes, but Goya is mine.”

E.M.: It’s not the first time that someone has mentioned them to me in relation to my work, and I like their work, but you’re right that the only possible point we have in common is Goya, whom I regard as my artistic father, and not as a distant acquaintance.

 

P.L.: When you told me about your experiences in your uncles’ houses as a child I remembered the case of Louise Bourgeois. Do you think this sort of influence or trauma can mark an artist’s career from beginning to end?

E.M.: Of course her trauma was a real one, finding her father having an affair with the nurse… But I know people who have had the same thing happen to them and were not traumatised at all. In general, artists tend to be obsessive people, and you can save yourself hours of therapy and medication just by working it out in your art, and if the art is also good, as in the case of Bourgeois, all the better. Many people ask me about my traumas, about what truth there is in certain stories, and I always give an evasive answer, but I must confess to you that many people also tell me that I always give evasive answers.

 

P.L.: You’ve suffered censorship on many occasions. What made you want to paint Madeleine McCann, the British girl who disappeared?

E.M.: I’ve had to live with censorship so much that I’m used to it by now, and I take it as part of the creative process. I have never made a fuss or become militant about it. Censorship is pathetic; there is a double standard that I sometimes deliberately push to see how far it can go. And so far it has not disappointed me. You can see pictures of dead children in the newspaper, and nobody minds, but if you see them in an exhibition, then it’s another matter.

On the Madeleine McCann case I can tell you that it was just an attempt by the newspaper The Sun to create a sensational story. At an exhibition in Barcelona, at the Llucià Homs Gallery, there were three or four paintings in which this girl appeared, and the journalists from The Sun called me to do an interview; I explained to them that it was a conceptual project based on images taken at random from the Internet, and then they published an article saying that I was the worst person in the universe for wanting to take advantage of the misfortune of the McCann family. For a week I gave four interviews a day to various media in Europe, and I explained the project to them again and again, but they published whatever they felt like.

 

P.L.: And did anyone report what you told them?

E.M.: Only one journalist wrote a serious, objective analysis. So after a while I stopped giving interviews, because in any case they had written the article in advance. This experience was very interesting for me, and it taught me how sensationalism works.

 

P.L.: From your latest projects, such as Fanáticos (Fanatics) and Miedo y megalomanía en quince estados diferentes (Fear and Megalomania in Fifteen Different States), we can see that you are increasingly interested in agglomerations, social masses, where there is a process of change from the beginning to the end of the group. Why are you, a single individual, the one that forms a group of people? How much of a self-portrait is it?

E.M.: It is like that for several reasons. On the one hand I have chosen my face, contradictory though it may seem, to give it an element of anonymity. If I had chosen the face of a member of my family, a friend or anyone else, the viewer might think that I am referring to that person in particular, and that is not the case. By putting myself to the fore, I take on that role.

 

P.L.: And the other reason?

E.M.: The other reason is closely related to the previous one, or is a consequence of it, and it is about me investigating these states in myself. The piece, created for the Hareng Saur exhibition (which explores the relationship between Ensor and contemporary art) at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Ghent (SMAK), is closely related to the temptations of St Anthony, and reflects the fear and the megalomania affecting most people, which mutually reinforce and alternate with each other. I am convinced that these are two fundamental states in many people.

I am fascinated by how people tend to group together. An independent person is immediately suspect. If you don’t belong to groups, alliances, parties or religions, you’re dangerous. Spain is a country that tends towards Manichaeism: either you’re with me or you’re against me. Obviously someone who is reading this may think that those who believe themselves to be independent, such as myself, also belong to a movement, that of independent people.

In my work, from a formal point of view, I always use cold, descriptive titles, such as Quince padres en orden decreciente de mayor a menor y de negro a blanco (Fifteen Fathers in Descending Order from Largest to Smallest and from Black to White) or 60 fanáticos (60 fanatics), and this is because I play with them as if they were objects, thinking for example of Carl Andre. Arranging them in rows, squares… as if they were metal cubes instead of figurative sculptures. I approach my work from a conceptual and descriptive point of view, by creating stories, and these two terms are not at all contradictory.

 

P.L.: This year you took part in an exhibition that was a homage to Buñuel’s film El Ángel Exterminador (The Exterminating Angel). Presumably you have retained something from that experience, since Macrocefálico, a piece that you are exhibiting for the first time at the FAP on top of a column, is a reflection of Simon Stylites.

E.M.: My admiration for Buñuel goes back a long way. I have series of paintings based on Viridiana and The Exterminating Angel, done in the late nineties. St Simon was a key figure in the mythology of Buñuel, Lorca and Dalí. Mainly in Lorca and Buñuel, really. They found his action extremely poetic and surreal. Many artists have done performances on very similar lines. I think St Simon gives an interesting twist to the idea of isolation from the world that is characteristic of the hermit, who normally retired to a cave or a deep forest. St Simon withdrew from the world, but by rising above it. He climbed up on top of a column at a place of passage, so that everyone could see him. He turned his ascesis into a great spectacle. It’s like saying “look at me!”. It’s a very beautiful image and one that we can use as a powerful symbol.

 

P.L.: If we go back over your work over a period of years, it is almost like an illustration of the Golden Legend, where saints and their martyrdoms are common.

E.M.: Bear in mind that this book influenced all the religious painting we know, and religious painting is a fundamental part of the history of art. Moreover, it is a decidedly sadomasochistic book, worthy of comparison with the Marquis de Sade. It is a compendium of tortures that go beyond exaggeration. I am convinced that this book has been read with morbid rather than religious interest. It makes me laugh when I hear that my work is perverse or bloodthirsty… You only have to visit a museum to realise the path that art has followed throughout its history.

 

P.L.: Regarding your work as a director in your video pieces, what methodology of work do you use: are you strict or do you give actors freedom to improvise?

E.M.: The process varies depending on the project, but the point in common is that the people who appear in the videos are playing themselves, and I try to represent them in one way or another. They never know in advance what they are going to do, because I only tell them a moment before starting work. I have never used actors.

 

P.L.: And those in Cera (Wax) are not actors either?

E.M.: All the people you see are friends and people close to me, and all of them are playing themselves. Nor do I use “models” in the classic sense of the term.  When someone appears in one of my pieces it is because that piece makes sense with that person. For example, I did the video of Luis at the fair with him because it made sense with him. I didn’t first have the idea of someone wandering around fairs in distress and hitting the machine, and then call him in to perform it; it was the other way round. If he had said he didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t have created the video. The three parts of Cera (Wax) are autobiographical, although I do not appear in it at all.

 

P.L.: Cera is a project that begins as a trilogy, and there is someone playing your part, which contradicts the idea that each person is playing him or herself. Each of them has a different rhythm; they are sexual and violent. Moreover there is a symbolism in them that refers directly to you.

E.M.: They are three states of a mental process. I tried to tell a story from the point of view of the subconscious. This works in a fascinating way. It only understands encrypted language, the language of symbols. With the passage of time I find new readings in this trilogy. For me it is a learning process. And it’s strange, because the people who appear in the films recognised themselves, and there are even those who regard the films as a kind of analysis of their personality.

 

P.L.: Death is present in your work as part of life, which connects you once again with Buñuel, who wanted to experience death as the last part of life, and not just to fall asleep and die. It is curious how the idea of death changes depending on the culture and the period. What part does death play in your work?

E.M.: I can tell you that I have no answer, just a lot of questions. I deal with this subject in my work from several points of view: humour, horror, drama, documentary… All points of view are valid for addressing any issue. I care about how people approach the subject of death. For example, some time ago the brother of a friend of mine died. After the burial, the family returned home, but the mother was deeply worried because they had left her son there and she was obsessed with the idea that he would be in a dark, cold, lonely place that night. She felt that they had abandoned her son.

 

P.L.: It’s like going to visit a dead person in a cemetery. I’ve never seen the point of it.

E.M.: No. In Montparnasse Cemetery, in Paris, people go on pilgrimages to visit the tombs of illustrious or simply famous characters. At least in the catacombs of the Capuchins in Palermo the celebrities aren’t buried; they are standing there, almost welcoming you.

 

P.L.: El Loco, a work exhibited at the PS1, or the exhibition El hotel Médula, in Mexico, are clear examples of your need to deal with madness, or the path to that madness, in your discourse.

E.M.: I would like someone to explain to me what being sane means. Madness fascinates me, just as almost any human behaviour fascinates me. I devote enormous attention to observing what is around me, and everything around me is in a test-tube, and in my work I shake it and then put it back in the rack.

 

P.L.: I understand, broadly speaking, that what you are really interested in is how we perceive things.

E.M.: As human beings we perceive the world through the sense organs we have, which enable us to distinguish a particular view of it. If we had other organs, the world would be totally different for us. To put it simply, if our eyes were structured differently, we would see in a different way.

 

P.L.: Some people have defined your work as “freaky”. I imagine this adjective annoys you, since it is a superficial way of describing your work.

E.M.: Yes, there is something in this that annoys me very much, because the word “freaky”, which has sometimes been applied to me, denies the seriousness and rigour of my work.

 

P.L.: You create stage sets and scripts, you direct, you do performances, and the sculptures in your installations perform. Are your forays into the world of theatre going to proliferate?

E.M.: I don’t rule it out. Apart from the stage designs, I did a play years ago with Angélica Liddell. It was a crazy piece that almost brought the house down, and I’m not speaking metaphorically. The play was called Y tu mejor sangría and it was put on at the Teatro Pradillo in Madrid. When we arrived on the second day we found that the whole ceiling had fallen down over the stalls. It was probably due to the sound volume and to the twenty minutes that were spent savagely beating the wall as part of the play. If it had happened with the audience there, they would undoubtedly have been crushed. We wanted to leave all the debris where it was, but they begged us to clear it away. The play was put on for the next few days without a roof. It was an interesting experiment. The first performance lasted for six hours, and we gradually reduced it to fifty minutes.

 

P.L.: The idea of ghosts originated in a series of photographs from Rafael Doctor’s collection, but from those first drawings you did, inspired by the photographs, they have become increasingly prominent: they have moved from the paper onto the wall, where they appear and disappear between layers of paint or hide behind mirrors. On the other hand, although they are not actual ghosts, I remember your series on missing children, Vanished Children, and the individualised family portraits, Family Portrait, that form a single piece.

E.M.: The first time I did them was following a suggestion from Rafael Doctor, in Buenos Aires, at the Spanish International Cooperation Agency (AECI), and I used his collection of old photographs. Rafael Doctor has a collection of thousands of old photographs compiled over a period of years from all over the world. Many of them also have a phantasmagorical air, because most of the people who appear in them are already dead, and besides, they are private photos now in the hands of other people.

The second occasion was in the Palacio de Linares, in Madrid, which is now the Casa de América, where I was busy at night for a week painting on the walls. And the legend of the ghosts that inhabit that palace is well known. Since then I have been developing this project more and more in relation to sculptures. The ghosts are more like visible thoughts now.

 

P.L.: You also have an interest in hidden secrets, paintings you conceal in places that are inaccessible or difficult to find…

E.M.: Let me confess a secret vice of mine. I like painting on the walls of hotel rooms. I do it in places that are out of sight, but someone will probably find it and wonder what it is, who did it and why. It’s part of my private performances, which I tend to put on regularly, especially in hotels. And not only by painting. Once, in Turin, I hid an edition of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo underneath the Bible on the bedside table in my room. I wonder what happened when someone found it.

 

P.L.: In Miedo y megalomanía en quince estados diferentes  (Fear and Megalomania in Fifteen Different States) your face appears, so as to give the piece a certain anonymity, and this can also be applied to Fanáticos (Fanatics), but how do you explain it in the case of Anneliese Michel? And also these paintings created from real documentation are full of significant hints and allusions, such as a picture by Van Eyck,  a St George and the Dragon, an Ecce Homo or Nietzsche’s Pied Cow.

E.M.: These works belong to the series on fanaticism. The girl was totally fanatical, and so were her parents, and the priests who did the exorcism almost killed her. It was pure religious fanaticism, only forty years ago in Europe. Replacing her face with mine was part of the strategy of linking together all these series on fanaticism. Here the twist is greater, almost to the point of slipping a gear, but as someone said, excess makes everything more profound.

 

P.L.: In the Barbería Altamira (Altamira Barbershop) project (at the Altamira Gallery) you transported us to a B movie set, with the contrast between absolute sobriety and just the right elements of scenery.

E.M.: Exactly. This installation was done on the occasion of the Gijón Film Festival. Gijón is a comfortable, clean city. It feels very safe, and everyone knows each other. I asked a friend who lived in New York to go to Brooklyn and take photographs of the typical barbershops in the area at night. I used this documentation as the basis for recreating the general appearance of the installation. We asked them not to turn on the street lights and we installed a pair of smoke machines to create a continuous fog.

 

P.L.: But people couldn’t enter the barbershop space…

E.M.: Even the gallery was closed all that time, since the installation was really out of doors. The idea was to recreate an archetype. The entire street was the installation. A film noir set, a dangerous street in a nice city. The viewers had to enter that street, and a powerful red light shining from the barbershop drew them towards it. Once they were there they could see that schematic representation of the barbershop through the front window, and the whole thing looked like a kind of torture chamber, it really looked as though something very strange was going on inside. A notice on the door said that it was temporarily closed, but you could hear noises and unidentifiable voices inside.

 

P.L.: The spectator can’t go in, and feels that the normal has become threatening.

E.M.: Yes, during the day there was another notice saying that the barbershop was not open at that time and that it was serving its customers in another genuine barbershop located in another street 100 metres away. We made an agreement with that other barbershop to shave all the passers-by who turned up there. The exhibition was part of the official programme of the film festival and all the “authorities” came to the opening. They arrived at the door of the barbershop and there was no-one there to receive them. I don’t know what happened because I wasn’t there either.

 

P.L.: There’s an element of the unreal space about it; it feels as though time is standing still in the barbershop. Your work often seems suspended in time. And besides, traditional barbershops no longer exist.

E.M.: This was the idea, to recreate the archetype.

 

P.L.: In Art is Dangerous, what is striking is that the sculptures are tattooed/painted all over, and the tattoos are a reference to duality, they oppose and complement each other, just as the sculptures themselves do, in a way. These tattoos tell a story.

E.M.: Yes, I’m doing a series on this. They will be portraits, each sculpture will have the name of the person it represents, and each one will be tattooed in the style of one of the mafias that use tattoos as a way to distinguish themselves from others. It is also important that all of them will be armed with knives and swords… real ones, and very sharp. If viewers want to get up close to see the tattoos in detail, they will have to pay very careful attention to these weapons. This is also a reference to looking at art with the proper care and attention. In some cases, people have even been known to break pieces at openings by not paying attention. It has happened to me several times. People have broken pieces of mine in exhibitions by not taking care, or even on purpose. These pieces are really dangerous, and if someone tries to approach them with the wrong intentions, they are going to defend themselves.

 

P.L.: It’s not the first time you’ve done a project with tattoos; you’ve put some of your drawings in tattoo parlours, and you paint tattoos on yourself and other people at openings…

E.M.: I love tattoos, but I haven’t got any myself. I like to see them on other people. I don’t have any because what I like is to change. Sometimes I draw one on my body, and then you can rub it out and draw another. A tattoo is always there and it’s very difficult to erase it. And also I’m interested in the process of adapting them to the space of the body, especially those that play with the shape of the body where they are located. But I also like tattoos being used with their original meaning, as a mark, a representation of power. A sign that marks you, with no turning back.

 

P.L.: And they are tattoos from the Japanese Yakuza, a highly organised mafia in which tattoos are a mark of rank. There is a very important procedural, meticulous side to Japanese tattoos; it’s not just a matter of doing the tattoo, but also of how it’s done.

E.M.: Yakuza tattoos are fascinating. Originally, someone who was tattooed in Japan was a criminal. It was a way of becoming and of marking yourself as being someone outside society. Irrevocably.

 

P.L.: There is an exhibition structure that is repeated, “characters” against a wall with images (painting) sprouting out of their heads, linked together, invading the walls of the space, but they do not explicitly contain a narrative.

E.M.: I have my own idea about this, but it’s just my idea. This character’s thoughts are so obsessive, so repetitive and intoxicating, that they permeate the walls like ghosts, and people who are there are able to see them. Imagine that you can see someone’s thoughts, and perhaps those thoughts are the same over and over again: me, me, me, me, me, me. There are a lot of people who are obsessed with themselves; this is something that I work on quite a lot. I think that everyone’s mental tendency is self-obsession and you have to take care to be aware of this trap.

 

P.L.: In the Premiere exhibition at the Kunsthalle Mannheim, the Fanáticos are not only in the centre of the room; on the contrary, painting invades the space with more fanatics who link their bodies together like snakes, and the rats, in turn, walk over those painted bodies, which at the same time form a whole in the shape of a spiral. The circle is closed; they are fanatics of their own thoughts.

E.M.: Yes, I like to identify the spiral with the snake, although it has a multiplicity of symbolic meanings. The snake has many meanings, and very contradictory ones. Let me just mention two examples. To the Western, Catholic World it is negative, since it is the symbol of sin, and for East it is the symbol of growth, of the ascension of energy.

 

P.L.: In Fanáticos there is one that is acting as the audience, observing that crowd approaching the place of worship in a line. He is outside the safety of the group.

E.M.: It is self-obsessive thought. In my opinion, fanaticism comes directly from a lack of confidence in oneself. If you’re not at ease, if you’re insecure, it’s very easy to want to join the crowd so that the crowd can make you feel safe. Many people are obsessed with themselves and this is very dangerous, because it becomes a huge limitation in your life. Most of these thoughts tend to turn into self-criticism and suffering, but they are still self-obsessive. Spain especially is a country of fanatics. People generally love talking about themselves, even in negative terms. I have just done a piece that refers to this: Miedo y megalomanía en quince estados diferentes (Fear and Megalomania in Fifteen Different States).

 

P.L.: This piece was designed for the collective exhibition on James Ensor, as we said earlier, but it is also influenced by Nietzsche’s thought, by fear and, above all, by megalomania.

E.M.: I did it to be shown at the Ensor exhibition but I had already had it in mind for a long time. Even when I was making Fanáticos, I was meditating on doing this piece first, or at the same time, or instead. And I agree, it is a piece very much in the style of Nietzsche.

The Fanáticos remind me of lemmings, willing to jump into a ravine just because the one in front is prepared to do so. But in Miedo y megalomanía en quince estados diferentes  they are completely stuck in their two primary states. Fear leads to fanaticism, fanaticism to megalomania, and so on.

 

P.L.: Religious fanaticism, political fanaticism: are there really any differences between types of fanaticism? Aren’t we all a bit fanatical?

E.M.: Yes, all of us. And I’m also referring to a general fanaticism, which encompasses everything you’ve mentioned.

 

P.L.: In Quince padres en orden decreciente de mayor a menor y de negro a blanco,  it may seem at first sight that there is only one figure, but when you move a little you discover that it is followed by another fourteen in decreasing order of size and with the colour fading from black to white, dressed in suits and wearing coloured socks. Almost all of your pieces, whether dressed or naked, have socks on, which gives them a certain pathetic quality.

E.M.: That’s because I find it pathetic to be wearing socks without shoes on. They’re useful garments but rather sad, almost melodramatic. One feels defenceless like that, surrounded by people wearing shoes.

 

P.L.: It’s better to be completely naked than naked with socks on.

E.M.: Of course. Recently I saw a fashion show. It was the presentation of a collection of socks for women. The models were all completely naked apart from the socks. I would have never used that strategy to sell my collection.

 

P.L.: On the one hand, the fading colour and the proportionate reduction in size create a correlation with an academic exercise. But on the other, there is a repetition of concepts inherent to your work, such as lining up in a row, seriality or uniforms, with a suit instead of a military uniform.

E.M.: The layout of the piece refers to several issues. On the one hand, the title is extremely descriptive; it tells us exclusively what we can see, as if it were the title of a minimalist piece. On the other hand, what we can see, once we’ve passed the line, is also narrative, although nothing is happening. One can ask oneself: is it a row of people? And yet it is the same person… Then the next question arises: are they that same person at different moments in time?

The fading colour and the decreasing size seem like an academic exercise, but then the row appears, as in the series of fanatics. And the thing is that if ten people stand in a row in front of a wall, after a while another ten will join them. It is the attraction of queues.

 

P.L.: In Miedo y megalomanía en quince estados diferentes the number 15 is repeated. Although they were exhibited as a group at SMAK, you also tried putting them in a row in your studio, where one could see a progression, an evolution. You have said that they were inspired by the temptations of St Anthony, and since it was an exhibition devoted to Ensor I imagine they were inspired in turn by the works he painted on this subject. It is also striking that one of them is in the middle of the group not paying attention to what the others are doing.

E.M.: That one would be St Anthony. Supposedly St Anthony was in his cave praying and every day the temptations came to torment him. Ensor did a lot of work on this, portraying himself in the position of St Anthony. The basic problem behind it all is fear.

 

P.L.: In the case of Luis, exhibited at the Kunsthalle Mannheim, he is a life-size figure, and you exhibit him among a load of sculptures of women, without a plinth, so he looks closer, he doesn’t look like a sculpture (or rather, a statue); he is at a level much closer to the viewer.

E.M.: Luis is another way of reflecting on the same subject-matter, fanaticism, but on this occasion it is condensed into one person. I’m doing a complete series of pieces around Luis.

 

P.L.: There is a fantastic photograph of a teacher with some children looking adoringly at Luis. How do you transfer the fanaticism of a group of people to a single individual, as in the case of Luis?

E.M.: Luis is one of them, but his body is enough by itself to deal with whatever he’s faced with. He is big enough to contain anything you like.

 

P.L.: And what about the watercolour of the figure of Luis carrying a load of bones?

E.M.: That watercolour is called Saco de Huesos (Sack of Bones). It also refers to the famous English expression that says “everyone has a skeleton in the cupboard”. Luis pretends to be always immobile, immutable, but as he admits, he suffers greatly within. The sculpture also has something Christ-like about it; in a text from the catalogue of the Kunsthalle Mannheim, Thomas Wagner speaks of him in those terms, and I like that very much.

 

P.L.: In Palermo your exhibition actually took place not in the rooms of the Museum but in the corridors, like the permanent installation at the Troubleyn Laboratorium, or the boiler room at PS1, although that is a proper exhibition space.

E.M.: The idea of exhibiting pieces in places outside exhibition spaces came up with the Fantasmas (Ghosts) series. In many cases the paintings were done in passages, corridors, etc. In any case, I do them in the exhibition rooms now, ever since they started to be directly related to the sculptures. In the exhibition at PS1 in New York, however, where everything revolved around madness, the paintings on the wall were separate from the sculpture; they were more like a route map, a series of signposts that led you on a labyrinthine journey to the installation of the sculpture. A mental and physical journey.

 

P.L.: And in the case of Palermo?

E.M.: In Palermo I arrived with the idea of painting something different; the sculpture was floating in the middle of the corridor, and I thought of completely filling the walls with dismembered bodies falling; I had two assistants to help me with this and we were working for several days. My whole stay in Palermo was very strange. I had been at a Gothic Festival the day before catching the plane. I had painted my fingernails black to go to the Festival and when I got to Palermo I still had black nails. I took two biodraminas and was completely drowsy when I arrived. I went and had dinner at a restaurant, ordered the same dish twice and fell asleep for an hour almost on top of the food. Then I told my assistants that I wanted to interview an exorcist because I was preparing some works on fanaticism.

I got an interview with Father Matteo Lagrua, a 100-year-old exorcist priest, took several photos of him and painted his portrait. On the penultimate day the curator told me that he would have preferred it if the mural had been painted just by me. He suggested we should erase the whole work and I should start again on my own. We did so, and I must admit that the second version was better than the first. Simpler, just individual bodies floating; it worked better. Later on, a restorer from a museum that had lent work for the exhibition came, and we were talking, and she asked me what I had been doing all day; I told her that I had been painting and had visited an exorcist, and she explained to me that she would never do such a thing, because she’d be afraid to, to which I jokingly replied that I wasn’t afraid because I was satanic. She left, and didn’t speak to me again. This made me think afterwards about how people interpret things. There are beliefs, very deep thoughts in people that unleash something very powerful in them. I made a joke with that woman and she thought I was the devil incarnate. Beliefs can be very strong and one-directional.

 

P.L.: In Watercolour you were working with watercolours, not only from a conventional point of view, but also as part of the installation, along with the sculptures of children and the animated video Duel. We have already talked about the case of Madeleine McCann. We often see starving children in the media, like Nephew, but we are not used to seeing images of violence, because they are not broadcast. And when you show them openly, then you get adverse reactions because they think you like that sort of thing.

E.M.: There is an exhibition in Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (TEA: Tenerife Art Space) at the moment about child abuse. They asked me for some pieces; one of them is a polyptych that has caused the room where it is located to be closed to the public. Before the opening they took judges, the police, etc., who were responsible for such cases to see the exhibition. In the gallery they asked a judge to give a ruling on whether or not an offence had been committed. The judge gave an inconclusive ruling and the child protection prosecutor threatened to take us to court if it was exhibited. All this, to my mind, demonstrates the double standard that exists in this area. How can someone think that I like children being tortured? It seems that nobody has bothered to work out that I am making a critique of it, and a very effective one, moreover.

 

P.L.: The Viewer Stalker is the title of the book. Stalker has some very negative connotations, it is not a mere prowler, it goes further than that; it has something criminal about it, something close to harassment. Leaving aside the criminal aspect, is your attitude to the world like that of a stalker, observing without being seen?

E.M.: Yes, but then I put it in a cocktail shaker and spew it out. I add that bit of dramatic art needed for it to be exhibited in public.

 

P.L.: If you don’t want to call it “violent” (not just physically), let’s say that your work is very uncomfortable or slow to digest, even deceptive, perhaps more so when the works are in a series than when each one is shown individually.

E.M.: My work is like a mirror in which viewers can see themselves reflected and onto which they can pour out everything they carry inside. If I sometimes show certain realities, it’s because they are there, but that does not mean that I like them. If I show violence, does that mean I am a violent person? That’s absurd. I am always challenging the viewer, but it’s a mental challenge.


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· Pablo Lag, interview with Enrique Marty

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Published in catalog "STALKER", Antonio Pérez Foundation, Cuenca, Spain. 2010.

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