In: Rubén Martín de Lucas
February 26, 2017
Between the 22 and 26 of February, Madrid is the place to be for those who love contemporary art. There are at least five different art fairs taking place simultaneously, plus many other art-related events that make this one of the most exciting weeks of the year. The only downside of it is that it is virtually impossible to see everything, and so this year we have chosen to visit Art Madrid, the second biggest art fair in the Spanish capital.
In its 12th edition, Art Madrid maintains its multidisciplinary character and puts the emphasis on the quality of the artworks exhibited, as well as on the international appeal of the 43 galleries selected. These are mainly Spanish, but there is also a good number of them that come from all over the world, including Portugal, China, Latvia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Italy or Lebano.
This year the focus is also on the individual work of emerging and mid-career Spanish and Latin American artists. Next to the General Program, the ONE PROJECT Program -curated by Carlos Delgado Mayordomo- presents eight solo-show projects that reflect on the concepts of territory, displacement and identity.
In addition to this, the relationship between art and technology shapes the fair’s Parallel Program of activities, which includes talks, round tables, workshops and other actions. We attended the last event of the series, the presentation of “FILE_GENESIS”, a multimedia project by artist and founder of Harddiskmuseum Solimán López that revolves around the meaning of the image in the digital era, showing how necessary it is to generate a conversation about the ways in which technology affects the art world.
However, painting and sculpture, from the mid-twentieth century to the present, still predominated at Art Madrid this year. Here are some of the highlights from this edition.
Espacio Olvera (Sevilla)
The booth of this Sevillian gallery was one of the first to catch my attention. Selected as a ONE PROJECT, Espacio Olvera showed the work of Mariajosé Gallardo, a fascinating combination of symbolism and a very realistic depiction of plants and animals, painted over golden surfaces that give shape to very powerful artworks. It’s a pity the small space of the booth did not provide enough room for visitors to really appreciate the works.
Galería BAT Alberto Cornejo (Madrid)
Galería BAT presented a really interesting mix of artists working in different media, including bright paintings on an unusual support like methacrylate by Pablo Lambertos. I was particularly drawn to José Ramón Lozano’s oversized celebrity portraits and Byeonghee Bae’s curious series of wooden sculptures entitled Citizens above of building. A few works from the series El Jardín de Fukuoka by Rubén Martín de Lucas -who we recently interviewed– were also present at the gallery’s booth, but he was also one of the best represented artists at the fair thanks to having been selected for the ONE PROJECT program, which allowed him to show the latest developments of his investigation regarding borders and the behaviors of the human population.
3 Punts (Barcelona)
Another gallery with a wide selection of artists was 3 Punts. In this case I particularly liked the intersections between the diverse approaches to sculpture of artists Alejandro Monge, who cracks the perfectly innocent appearance of regular objects to criticize different aspects of society; Gerard Mas, whose wooden figures seem to have a life of their own; and Samuel Salcedo, especially his hyper-realistic, sinister little humans made of resin.
Marc Calzada (Barcelona)
Also from Barcelona, Marc Calzada brought something different to Art Madrid: the work of modern Spanish masters like Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Saura, Miquel Barceló, or Joan Miró. The gallery’s selection of works encapsulated some of the best exponents of Spanish art from the twentieth-century, and included rare items such as a doodle by Miró on a torn piece of cardboad.
Galeria Kreisler (Madrid)
The work of Madrid-based multidisciplinary artist Okuda San Miguel, shown by Galeria Kreisler, stood out as one of the most visually compelling in this edition of Art Madrid. Combining elements of Urban Art and Pop Surrealism, San Miguel has created a very personal, rainbow-colored universe using a huge range of techniques, including mural painting (check out how he transformed a 100-year-old church into a skate park). One of his most interesting works at the fair was ‘Mom’s Bird’ (2016), made of wool on canvas.
Yiri Arts (Taiwan)
The booth of Yiri Arts, a gallery from Taipei, was one of my favourites this year. It featured pieces by four artists, two Spanish (Mónica Subidé and Núria Farré) and two Taiwanese (Chen Yun and Wang Guan-Jhen). Their figurative paintings and small-scale sculptures were among the subtlest and most captivating in the whole fair, and they left me hoping to see more from this gallery in the next edition of Art Madrid.
Art Madrid ’17, Galería de Cristal, CentroCentro Cibeles, 22 – 26 February, 2017.
October 28, 2016
I catch up with Rubén –who now works as a solo artist— after a particularly busy summer to talk about one of his most recent projects, Stupid Borders, which deals with the absurd human need to possess the land.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?
It was a visceral decision.
At 16, before I started studying engineering, I used to paint graffiti in the outskirts of Madrid. During my studies I continued painting murals, developing the artistic side of it, and when I was finishing my degree I projected myself into the future, and two things happened. If I thought of myself as an engineer, my guts clenched and I could see a heavy darkness. If I thought of myself as an artist, I could perceive light and I felt free of any tension. So after university I backpacked in India for four months, and when I came back I realised that uncertainty was going to be constantly in my life. That uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do or where I’ll be tomorrow, has won me over.
How were your beginnings in Boa Mistura?
Simply wonderful, like everything we have done together until now when, due to my personal circumstances, I have decided to step aside to see my children grow up. The beginnings were full of innocence and fun. Then came years of learning and growing, and the project developed like the forging of iron, through fire and hard work, full of difficult and wonderful moments, and always with a dash of good humour.
How was working in such a multidisciplinary team?
Before a studio or a company, Boa Mistura was a group of good friends, and that has enabled its powerful growth. We worked very close together and learned a lot from each other. Except for girlfriends and underwear, we shared everything with each other. There is something very beautiful in sharing an idea, shaping it together, and feeling as if it was yours even if came from somebody else. A dissolution of individual ego takes place in favour of the group and the common good, and that is precious.
How has this collective, urban experience affected your individual work?
The collective experience made me grow both as a person and as an artist.
What I love about urban art is its capacity to reach a really wide audience, to go beyond the limits that museums, galleries and the conventional art circuits impose. It’s necessary to forget the idea of art as lifeless objects contained in museums and to start thinking about it as a process, like that vital attitude so necessary for everyone in every aspect of life.
In your statement you mention that your work revolves around the concept of “associated behavior”. What does this concept entail?
Landscape and what I call “associated behavior” –that behavior and bonds that connect you to a certain place— are at the centre of my work. In Seaside Holidays I focus on holiday landscapes in the Mediterranean coast and on the collective and mimetic behavior that leads people to massively go to those places. In Stupid Borders I study frontiers, the concept of limit and our attitudes towards an Earth that transcends us in age but that we strangely feel the need to possess.
How did you come up with your project Stupid Borders?
It emerged from an invitation by AP Gallery to create a project ad hoc for their space. This gallery has a line of work linked to the landscape and an exceptional location near the mountains of Ayllón (Segovia, Spain). It was just the right time for me to begin developing actions on the landscape and to do more conceptual work. In my notebook I drew a line across a lake. I imagined a lane rope dividing that lake in two, crossing it from side to side. Under that I wrote Stupid Borders. That’s where the project was born.
What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
The beginning, when there’s just an idea. There’s a special magic when a project is just a sketch in a notebook. At that point I feel a great intellectual pleasure because I imagine all its possibilities and the thousands of shapes that it could adopt. That moment really captivates me. Then there’s a phase of refining it, when you filter and polish, and then comes production to make it real. This last phase is interesting because there are still surprises and problems to overcome, and it counts on one’s previous experience, which is very enriching. Once the piece (or project) is finished, it loses interest to me, as if that idea was already dead. Although it’s precisely then when the idea is passed onto –or revives in— another person.
In Stupid Borders, the documentation that you produce while you work is also exhibited and becomes essential in order to understand your project. Do you think that the educational element is often left aside in contemporary art?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for others. The only thing I can say is that for me that educational element is essential. My work is very conceptually and philosophically charged, and it’s important that the public can get to know that part. My aim is to make us reflect on our behavior and on our way of inhabiting the Earth.
How do you choose the spaces where you create your Minimal Republics?
My Minimal Republics are set in places where normally no one would live or establish a micro-state. The first three are located in the middle of a rye field, in a fallow land, and the last one floating in a reservoir. Absurd places for absurd nations.
I believe you want Stupid Borders to become a life-long project. Was this decision motivated by the problematic situation of borders nowadays?
Indeed. We perceive borders as real entities. We fight for them. We stop those who want to use their freedom of movement. We believe that a piece of land can be ours… we even believe that the Earth belongs to us, when we’ve been here for barely an instant.
The day we come to realise that we belong to the Earth, and not the other way around, we will start behaving differently. It is essential to understand this. I think that’s where Stupid Borders plays an important role as a means for critical reflection. That’s why I have decided to continue creating Minimal Republics until the time comes when either borders or I cease to exist.
Which other plans do you have in mind for the future?
I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which will never see the light. There’s a project entitled Overcrowded where I talk about overpopulation as the main problem we face as a species. Another one, Descanso Visual (Visual Rest), where silence is considered an alternative to our hyper stimulated and noisy society. And also Topographies, which explores how moulds or models –words, preconceptions, physical laws, and other representations of reality— confuse us and lead us away from reality itself.
But my true plans for the future include becoming more of a hippy, seeing my children grow up next to my wife, getting away from the city to live closer to the earth, building a house with my own hands, growing my own tomatoes, writing a book, traveling, learning to surf, becoming more humble each day and enjoying each moment, because the future and the past are not easy to live in.
Stupid Borders opens October 28 at Palacio Quintanar in Segovia (Spain).
March 3, 2016
Last week was Art Week in Madrid. Although the main event this year was the celebration of the 35 anniversary of ARCO, Spain’s biggest and most famous contemporary art fair, there were so many interesting alternatives (ArtMadrid, JustMad, Room Art Fair, Drawing Room, We Are Fair! and Casa Leibniz) that it was tough to choose among them.
I usually find regular commercial fairs quite overwhelming, with their endless corridors and lack of space between stands. So, this year I decided to visit those that promised a different experience: Room Art Fair and Casa Leibniz.
Both of them took place inside splendid nineteenth-century buildings located opposite each other in the lively district of Chueca. I was able to visit them in the same day, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the works exhibited and the radically different concepts behind them.
Room Art Fair put the emphasis on the active role given to the spectator. Each gallery or curatorial project occupied one of the 36 rooms of the Petit Palace Santa Bárbara Hotel, where visitors could find the works of emerging artists from all over Europe, as well as those of the three winners of the New Curators Project.
One of these was Texturas Sonoras (Sound Textures), curated by María Castellanos, which consisted on a site specific interactive installation by artist Alberto Valverde. Inside a dark room, a luminescent structure projected onto the ceiling and bed developed in response to the sounds produced by the visitors’ presence. I was mesmerised by the changing patterns that were created by a spectrum of frequencies that our brain ignores, and it was great to talk to both artist and curator about the different environments in which they had recorded ambient sounds resulting in incredibly colourful and intricate images.
Photography also had an important presence in many of the rooms. I was particularly drawn to a series titled I called her Lisa-Marie by young French photographer Clémentine Schneidermann, represented by Galerie Huit Arles. Schneidermann explores the legend of Elvis through images of his fans and doubles taken during an annual festival held in his honour in a small town in South Wales, which she combines with photographs of the King’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, blurring the lines between document and fiction in the viewer’s mind.
Another project involving photography that I found particularly interesting was the one presented by Març Rabal and Kiko Navarro at Galería Artara. Both artists work around the theme of boxing through the lens of gender: Rabal uses collage to create subtle but powerful images in which she merges the bodies and attributes of ballet dancers and male boxers, while Navarro’s black and white photographs situate the viewer inside the world of female boxing, where the contrast between the masculine and the feminine is brought to the surface.
Perhaps one of the rooms in which the works exhibited were better integrated in the space was the one occupied by Mad is Mad, a local gallery located minutes away from the fair.
Assaf Iglesias and Frédérique Bangerter’s fine drawings and Berta López’s carefully arranged objects and embroidered messages occupy every corner of the room as if they were meant to be there. The dark grey tiles in the bathroom seem particularly fitting for the subtle colours and enigmatic forms in Iglesias’ works.
Although the constant flood of people entering and exiting the rooms was a bit stressful and made the experience feel a bit like speed dating, I was very impressed by the way artists transformed the space and made it their own.
Walking along the corridors and peeking through open doors accentuated the embarrassing yet exciting feeling of invading people’s privacy over and over. To me, the most interesting aspect about Room Art Fair was the intimate atmosphere created inside the small hotel rooms, which facilitated the interaction between the artists and the general public.
Visiting Casa Leibniz was a completely different experience. In its second edition, this small art fair coordinated by Sara G. Arjona brought together 13 galleries and 23 Spanish artists whose works were displayed in the high-ceilinged rooms of the Santa Bárbara palace.
The main purpose was to “create an inhabitable space to enjoy, understand and talk about new art”. It felt more like an exhibition than a commercial art fair, which made it easier to connect to the space and the works selected. These were accompanied by a group of 8 panels with texts by contemporary Spanish writers and philosophers, including Félix de Azúa and Chantal Maillard, which were purposely difficult to skim through. Visitors could decide whether or not to stop for a few minutes to read them, but they were meant to be as important as the artworks.
From the moment I entered the building, its nineteenth-century architecture and cracking wooden floors made me slow down and forget about the noisy street outside. The experience resembled that of slowly turning the pages of a carefully illustrated book. The rooms were almost empty, giving visitors the chance to move around the artworks and observe them from different perspectives, while the open windows served as blank pages where one could pause and breathe before moving to the next object.
Some of the projects seemed to fit this unique environment particularly well. This was the case with Julio Falagán’s Way Of Escape, an installation composed of several pieces of old landscape paintings. Falagán uses the old to construct a hopeful view of the present, which is nevertheless fragmented and held together by visible threads. He is interested in the sky as the last remaining free space, owned by no one in a world full of borders and restrictions.
Falagán’s work was not the only one to deal with territorial frontiers. Rubén Martín de Lucas’s Minimal Republics, for instance, dealt with the artificial and ephemeral nature of our borders. The artist intervened in three different landscapes and drew three temporary spaces that he inhabited for 24 hours. These experiences were shown through a video installation whose strange power of attraction kept me glued to the screen for a good ten minutes.
Ignacio Canales Aracil’s Ver a través made visitors literally see the space around them through the fragility of time and nature. It is easy to get trapped in the delicate web of pressed flowers that he uses to create his sculptures, which he has exhibited in several countries including the UK and Australia.
In the same room I was drawn to Gloria Martín’s figurative paintings. They were part of her project Réplica, through which the artist establishes links between her hometown, Seville, and Brussels, where she has been working recently. Her images transport us to a different realm where artistic objects from different provenience and cultures can coexist, which was precisely the aim of Casa Leibniz: to create a different time.
The longer I stayed inside the Santa Bárbara palace, the more it felt like a refuge from the outside world. Those lucky enough not to be in a hurry could enjoy the incredible experience of letting go of time to give each work and piece of literature the attention it deserved.