EN VANO
[IN VAIN]
Solo Project at Sala Miserachs, La Virreina Centre de la Imatge. From June 15th 'til September 30th, 2018.

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This project questions two certainties that have framed interpretations of art, knowledge and images: clarity versus opacity, transparency versus hermeticism, light versus the blackout. The blind presents its full disruptive potential here: it is an element for looking through, yet it also poses a dilemma in which we find ourselves obliged to translate or to decode, or to assume our position even as we acquire it.

In The Castle (1926), Kafka bequeathed us an image through which we can ‘observe’ how the symbolic architecture of power is erected, its endless rooms, the difficult bureaucratic and social terrain, those absurdities that dim lucidity or, in contrast, illuminate the most violent abstractions.

In keeping with this logic of the normalisation of the absurd, Leslie Kaplan in Excess—The Factory (1982) and Alain Robbe-Grillet in Jealousy (1957) analysed the alienating component in every hierarchical system, be it the capitalist mode of production or the administering of feelings.

Mar Arza (Castelló de la Plana, Spain, 1976) continues in the wake of these writers, exploring the other side of categorisations, as well as certain mechanics polarised between clarifying and muddying, between standardising and imposing. The work of the artist can no longer be framed in an intangible terrain. Similarly, aesthetic contemplation is no longer the personal epiphany it once was. When we speak of images, we are also alluding—above all we are referring—to public uses that they permit or which they push us towards; when we entreat people to see, we are setting in motion a series of collective and ideological operations, the taking of a position.

In Vain problematises a certain dialectics that has in the past influenced the interpretation of art, knowledge and images, the extremes of which are clarity versus opaqueness, transparency versus hermeticism, and light versus the blackout. However, there are many disruptive paths, occlusions, diagonals and flickerings. The blind presents its full disruptive potential here: it is an element for looking through, yet it also poses a dilemma in which there is little we can do, in which we find ourselves obliged to translate or to decode. A vantage point and a cloister, a refuge and a prison, are not both ‘excesses’ the danger of the visible, the fears and impossibilities of reading, the temptation to keep quiet or the need to speak?

Curated by Valentín Roma.


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The project proposes an ironic response to the impossibility of seeing and elucidating the mechanisms of power that subdue individuals in general, and artists in particular, to a social gear with hardly any options for dissent.

It rests on three pillars: the equation of artistic work with industrial work that can be produced mechanically and systematically; the artist-labourer, predetermined from an administration that does not understand at all its particularities or its function beyond the economic one; and finally, the exercise of power as an arbitrary practice, which conditions the development of the critical and attentive gaze.

As a result, the final installation was composed of a triad of closely related elements. Firstly, a meticulous latticework that reproduced the doorway, made up of cut-out pages in which the text left a groove through which to glimpse the opposite side of the room. Next, a display case containing documents from the tax office and the metaphorical response given to its requirements. Finally, a second display case in the background, which housed a symbolic object representative of power in the shadow, with a mechanism that prevented its correct viewing by means of motion sensors.

At the entrance there was a monumental latticework that guarded the entrance to the enclosure and sifted the light inside. This latticework was conceived through the repetition of manual work. On each die-cut page the text was missing except for a few selected words. The remaining fragment of text could be read, which had continuity in the adjoining pages. In this way, a poetic lace was composed that could be read in multiple directions.

The repetitive work to the point of exhaustion, brought the artwork closer to the alienating environment of an assembly line, described by Leslie Kaplan in The Excess - The Factory. At the same time she placed at the centre the question of the added value that this work brings to these conditions. In the text derived from each page, a meta-narrative could be read about the very functionality and meaning of the artistic work, which is somehow answered in the title. Everything is in vain. Even though it is necessary for whoever does it. It is a praise to the laborious and meticulous work as a spring of beauty, even in the midst of the feeling of incomprehension.

Once we had crossed the threshold of the lattice, we entered the room. The lattice sifts out the light from the outside. It lets you see without being seen, it lets you read without being read. Alluding to the mechanisms that Alain Robbe-Grillet sets in motion in La Jalousie, the multiple layers are exposed that very faintly reveal a plot that revolves around the desire to control the gaze.







The triad continues in a showcase that contains a frustrated dialogue, a perpetual misunderstanding between disparate languages: bureaucracy and art. It shows the incomprehension of the public administration with respect to artistic activity in its multiple facets and difficulties. The letter, received in the first person, asks for a "clear and detailed explanation of the activity" that I carry out. The answer cannot be other than to answer with the very same work, with the same passion and irrationality with which every artistic project is approached. The answer condenses the amalgamation of the remains of the labour accumulated in the feverish process of building the latticework. The remains piled up during the day, the spoils of time spent in a raving rush that consumes (the artists), remain there resting on the tax office document.

The activity that many artists carry out cannot be admitted in the practical eyes of some administrative officials. Nor can it perhaps be fully explained in the eyes of anyone who seeks immediate financial gain. The demand of the tax office asking me about my activity contrasts with the lack of clarity in answering my questions about the criteria I should apply in my VAT return. The demand for transparency is one-way. The powers-that-be observe without wanting to be observed, without being held accountable. Just as Kafka masterfully relates in The Castle, or Alain Robbe-Grillet creates the atmosphere of intrigue and suspicion in La Jalousie. Or finally Leslie Kaplan exposes in The Excess - The Factory, where she creates a devastating atmosphere towards the all-pervading workplace. These three readings significantly determined the atmosphere of bewilderment, misunderstanding, astonishment and mystery unfolded in the installation.