Celia Montolio. Museo da Alfandega. Oporto.
Libro monográfico “Madrid – New York. Trabajos recientes. Exposición Museo da Alfândega, Oporto. Enero 2008.
ON THE LIMIT, AND BEYOND
“The artist is the one who arrest the spectacle
in which most men take part without really seeing it
and who makes it visible”
(Maurice Merlau-Ponty, “Cézanne´s Doubt”)
“…Wherever.I happened to be, I looked at the threshold”
… by simply stopping or slowing one´s pace, ”
the threshold is created”. ”
(Peter Handke, Aber ich lebe nur von den Zwischenraümen)
I The expanse of some territories is their possibility of containing all times and all places: as we pass by, the possible becomes the real. From the boubt which delineates the fine frontier between certainty and falsehood (“Truth is a dream, unless my dream, unless my dream is true,” says Santayana) arises a region whose once-empty spaces are now filled by a range of creative fields –science, philosophy, visual arts and literature. To peel away beliefs until one reaches a core of certainty is the starting point (as in fairy tales) for redefining the relationship between reality and fiction, dodging the direction of the sign when it seeks to indicate a single meaning. Beyond the looking glass, Alice follows a new path where the sequence of cause and effect alters its usual logic; beyond, the past must be left behind if one seeks to know the laws of a new and infinite logic.
As children, we were oblivious to the past when we crossed the threshold into the world of stories. On those journeys, doing and believing were one and the same, and we drew the map of the landscape while we traveled. No single tower was tall enough for us to take in the entire expanse of an ever-changing land: each glimpse was a step forward, and each step shattered compasses and buried maps. This was how the unknown became familiar, and chance became necessary; perhaps “the dream of and ideal language, a language wich says everything simultaneously, begins with the memory of that state with no memories”, says John Berger. There was no boundary between being an observer and being the main character. Ideal, limit, goal: to recover the instant when feelings had no name.
Later, years pass and the threshold becomes narrower. We grow nostalgic remembering how simple it was to pass from linear time to once –upon-a-time. “Memory, peak of the abyss”: Blanchot´s metaphor allows us to envisage the artist´s work as a constant attempt to build bridges over the nostalgia of a lost immediacy (also Proust: the work of art as “the only means of recovening time past”). When memory is both the desire and the limit of a work, nostalgia may establish codes of transgression for removing the layers hidden by habit. The private desire of inmediacy sets a time in which the artist travels against that other time that stops things and turns them mute. He reaches a region where it is no longer possible to give names.
Since Mallamé, words open the world endlessly; they cannot grasp it. At most, they may be metaphors, hints, blurred reflections moving the artist to create in the empty space where things take infinite flight. Naming is futile when it seeks to constrain. Words flirt with artworks, intercepting them but never reaching their core.
The work of José Manuel Ciria inhabits these fissures. It does not prolong an essential silence nor does it aim at enclosing silence within voice. The first encounter with his painting produces a muffled noise, an implosion; it crashes into a realm of opaque noises where memory distrusts verbs and nouns as a way of reproducing first impressions (agains, as we were very young). It way well be that today´s visual arts (now that no absolute word remains) are facing a final break following the one that separated signs from things. A step forward is needed where references are reestablished within the domain of signs, turning them into valid crossroads of presences, peaks of an abyss in whose depth we way find the inmediate presence of things.
Cria´s work arises from this “perhaps”. It is a stark incursion into a terrain where doubt is the trigger for a process of constantly shifting positions. Intuition (the painter´s the onlooker´s) reflects a conscious will to surrender to this never-ending repositioning. Paradoxically, the will to let oneself go provides a clever strategy of control, as if the broken conscience of adulthood needed to play a bouble game in order to recover ist lost unity. A desire for re-encounter follows loss: the divided conscience watches itself while it seeks and dares to possess, as did Rimbaud after returning from his journey to the underworld, to “all possible landscapes. “Or Proust, who sought, in the space between sleep and wakefulness, to find all the rooms where he once had been and all the rooms he would dwell in the future. One way of approaching Ciria´s works is to force uncertainty to returm, to unravel its thread untill it takes us to a point in time where, as in semi-wakefulness, any stage setting is possible. The stories we find in slumber arise from another kind of certainty: something will finally return. While we wait, all directions in time and in space meet.
“…That in the chain of memory into which we are forged the first links should be the strongest, as if they, just they, were the most real reality. It seemed almost impossible, nay more, it seemed almost inadmissible that our last-attained, our most real reality could limit itself thus to becoming a mere recollective image!” (Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil). The painting of José Manuel Ciria is rooted in this non-conformity. It multiplies the narrations our desire writes when it wants to recover something which we know to be lost. An exact intuition moves us to turn the surfaces of his paintings into thresholds of our own memory. But, we must be careful: beyond, nothing is what it seems to be, and expectations die when they insist on indicating the way.
II Why this, and not something else? This most ancient of questions, when related to José Manuel Ciria´s painting, branches off in two distinct directions. It relates, at its most general level, to the status quo of painting today. Despite the lingering voices auguring its death, painting continues to trust its own potential for making sense of the perplexity which arose from the divorce between signs and the world. The question also goes to the core of Ciria´s work wich chooses to emphasize materials rather than taking the roundabout route of metaphor. To ask “why?” of a painting by Ciria releases a whole series of reflections on the ability of painting today to invoke ist own historical obsessions, without subscribing to one-way sequences of intentions. Appropriation and complicity with contemporary abstract trends are here replaced by a diffraction where materials are radical presences, pointing towards (but never enveloping) the direction of cross purposes which painting has always confronted.
Ciria´s work (and this is how he affirms today´s need for painting) inhabits intertices, it creates thresolds. It maintains a state of alert in a world increasingly involved in putting its own dissoluttion on display in a homogeneous image. Within order, chance creates discontinuities on the shallower surfaces of the world. Any activity with historical connotations has a certain mirror –like quality (and in this sense it is predictable). In this painter´s work, however, the mirror undercuts historical associations between intentions and results, thus negating many of the links that traditionally allowed a sure connection of signs to a stable origin. Approaching materials as a starting point, Ciria separates cause ans effect, concept and its visual expression, altering the usual path of our expectations of painting as an expression of a point in time within a linear idea of progress.
All this allows us to consider Ciria´s work an ethical choice for abstraction. The mere act of looking may very well describe experience anew, giving a new sense to perception and favoring a series of habits embedded in a personal stance towards our surroundings. This alternative starts from a threshold built on the zero degree which abstraction, as a banner of modernims, has sought in its constant tendency towards self-annihilation. In the apocalyptic myth of its death, painting shut away meaning in an essentialist realm which, from Malevich to abstract expressionism and minimalism, captured meaning in archetypical spaces of truth. Later, once the historical process of meaning was considered to have been achieved, its absence was mourned. But let´s consider that painting today can begin at a threshold that rescues the sign from dissolving into something which is conceived as being more real than the sign; that immediacy may be both the beginning and the point of return for distant realms (again, an ethical stance); and also that the real is incorporated as a way of confronting the split reality of today´s world. Amid the murmur, suddenly, a muffled noise emerges. Ciria´s strategy returns painting to a space where the confrontation between form and material is thrust into the open, unfolding in a process whereby interpretarion is cut away until the work rejects any sort of linguistic closure (defying the language of cause and effect). Painting in an area whose limits expand between interpretation and its rejection, the painter seems to invoke Gadamer´s words: “… the flight of birds, oracles, dreams, pictorial images, enigmatic writings. In all these cases there are two sides to interpretation: first, a pointing in certain direction that itself requires interpretation, but also at the same time a certain holding back on the part of what is to be shown in this way”.
This taulology of form and content is not a mystic attempt to unite opposites. Instead, it reveals that the artwork demonstrates a certain kind of reality. “A certain kind of reality”: a point of view, a glance which impels painting, as Robert Ryman once said, towards the essential task of “widening our ways of looking”. Ciria´s painting shifts positions constantly, in a dispaly of infinite rhetorical stands. However impossible it may be to grasp them all simultaneously, together they refer to a reality containing all points of view. In this seesaw movement, each artwork is “the best of all possible ones”, and this kind of visual melioration comes from stopping for an instant a potentially infinite process. No a priori “must” can be found, buy only the random halting of forms when one surprises them in the process of undressing. Or are they dressing?
An intriguing ambiguity emerges in stopping a process that clings to both extremes that set it off: Reaching total nudity, or dressing to excess. Do sensations advance towards words, or do words retrace their steps in order to recover sensations? Ciria´s painting entirely lacks neutrality: each work lives in an instant of sensations, where opposites clash, aligning what are conventionally viewed as opposing categories. Ambiguity is here a product of an extreme eloquence in the material quality of painting. It is expressed as tension, doubt, paradoxical lack of a compass (it was shattered when the journey began). The spectrum is widened: it may be that order and chance, ultimately, are no more than points of view, interpretations of a reality whose free play blurs these differences.
The support Ciria chooses for painting suggests from the very beginning that the territory itself is displaced: plastic canvas functions in his work as a means of prolonging the world into the prictorial space (but, at the same time, including the latter within the world). We no longer feel secure –not even the support is an ultimate place for stability. The choice of plastic canvas subjects painting to other laws of a terrain which imposes its own discontinuities. There is also an act of reintroducing such an historically charged element as oil painting into a contemporary space, creating a collage of epochs-juxtaposed materials blend an infinity of strata on one single level. This is the reason why, however significant the gesturing element may be in Ciria´s painting, it does not convey a subjective stance which gives it tis objetive reason ofr being, Rather, spontaneous expression detaches itself from the artist´s gesture (symptom, confession or mirror) in order to suggest the brittle nature of its field of action. The very foundations define a fragile landscape of encounters and disencounters; it restrains the spontaneity of each gesture it receives. Never strictly an abrupt pose or a continuation of ther author, gesture unleashes in Ciria´s painting a struggle between randomness and the inevitable demands that plastic canvas exerts on everything which falls on it: footstep, ashes, oil, pencil.
This essential instability is the starting point where categories (order, chance, gesture, structure, determination, freedom) interfere with one another –closure is forbidden.What supports what? In sum, nothing, specific, unless we consider the field of forces expanding between the various elements. Neither order nor chance is absolute- the random summons of the support under cut the gesture´s freedom, lines never define structured surfaces. Realm of possibility, terrain of paradoxes: necessity –geometry- cancles out its own condition of necessity, suggesting its partial and changin nature.It becomes vulnerable.
Nothing exists in these paintings as a result of something apart, but rather all arises from the negations and polarities wich relate it to something else within the same painting. The support is an object among objects, a gesture among gestures (the gesture of choosing this fragment of the world, and not another). It is no more than these, and, in the same manner as both gestures and objects, it contains a seed announcing its possible dissolution.
The tense spaces of Ciria´s paintings keep the sense of abstraction within a radically specific realm, allowing chance to filter through their inevitable fissures. They contain the true timing of things as much as they incarnate the cancelled time resulting from a clash of opposites. At this juncture, the realm of painting –withim its contradictory nature- is exposed to closure. It claims closure as a necessary challenge, distant and, perhaps, dispensable. Varmish puts an end to the struggle between one time and another by imposing a third time, which can neither be measured nor grasped through intuition: the instant when change attempts to be a concept. What first seemed to be a gesture (level of intuition, time of consciousness: duration) blends with what we considered to be order (structure, lines, geometry: measurable time). Ciria surprises the process while it is exclaiming that it still contains infinite possible modifications, and reflects a time which perhaps is the most essential of all, and a limit: the one which expresses our tendency to remain, to be, to refuse running off into a timeless realm (in permanence there is always a possibility of dissollution). To put order into chaos, or to let order, vulnerable and time-specific, contain the germ of its possible breakage? Within this ongoing battle between gesture and the formal sanction of an objective geometrical order, full dissolution is the main risk. The risk of completely negating sense also provides a fundamental impulse to seek another place –private, inmediate- where sense can be found. Ciria´s work resumes the contemporary problem of locating meaning by blending two aspects: time and a stance in which painting (visual ethics) takes perception as tis starting point fot building thresholds.
The journey always begins with a pause at the threshold, pressing the jambs and listening to the dullish sound our body would make if we let it go. At the threshold, boubt is the great certainty we need in order to live in semi-slumber. One always has the alternative of letting go while controlling the drift (as when feelings and words meet at the point that divides memory from desire). Born of perplexity, Ciria´s painting contains the possible landscapes for reencounter.
III Thoreau once asked if one could conceive of any greater miracle than looking through another´s eyes. In the shared region of communication, of speaking the same language, the boudt arises whether one can move out of oneself and show that one is sharing someone else´s vision. Communication: setting rules, creating a method to display a language? Is an endless translation at the root of language?.
Seeting and working come together in Ciria, who does not reproduce the level of dialogue from the ethics of consensus, but rather from transgression. Time, we said before, is not one-sided; rules diverge and turn upon themselves, creating junctures of possibilities (thus denying their nature as reliable rules). This is how these paintings first porvoke us. The map to travel around each painting (to cross each threshold) is drawn when change (becoming) is captured as an instant. Before, the only possibility for sharing a language is each painting´s will to turn essential tensions into something specific. At the begining of Hesiod´s Theogony, the Muses can express falsehood as truth, and also what is true as false. The play of truth and falsehood overlaps various strata, and both ways of talking blend in the third dominion defined by Ciria´s work. The absence of rules for translation and repetition is again a sign of chance, and it obstructs a method that could join means to ends. This is why meaning, tension and process are three aspects of the same thing.
Ciria´s work occupies an immanent sphere that cannot be extrinsically governed. The rule (map, compass foreseen time) emerges in the encounter of order and chance, similar to an organism eternally taking the shape of feeling and concept –but choosing neither as its ultimate form. His painting borrows from chaos, taking those facets which turn infinite movement into diagrammatic features. Even though each opposite element has a complete name in the language that applies to foreseeable events, these paintings reach a point where everything trespasses everything else´s borders and looses its name (just as the lines on the surface are dented with marks and the apparently spontaneous sketches are atopped by lines).
Seeting and working come together in Ciria, who does not reproduce the level of dialogue from the ethics of consensus, but rather from transgression.Time, we said before, is not one-sided; rules diverge and turn upon themselves, creating junctures of possibilities (thus denying their nature as reliable rules). This is how these paintings first provoke us. The map to travel around each painting (to cross each threshold) is drawn when change (becoming) is captured as an instatn. Before, the only possibility for sharing a language is each painting´s will to turn essential tensions into something specific. At the begining of Hesiod´s Theogony, the Muses can express falsehood as truth, and also what is true as false. The play of truth and falsehood overlaps various strata, and both ways of talking blend in the third dominion defined by Ciria´s work. The absence of rules for translation and repetition is again a sign of chance, and it obstructs a method that could join means to ends. This is why meaning, tension and process are three aspects of the same thing.
Ciria´s work occupies an immanent sphere that cannot be extrinsically governed. The rule (map, compass, foreseen time) emerges in the encounter of order and chance, similar to an organism eternally taking the shape of feeling and concept –but choosing neither as its ultimate form. His painting borrows from chaos, taking those facets which turn infinite movement into diagrammatic features. Even though each opposite element has a complete name in the language that applies to foreseeable events, these paintings reach a point where everything trepasses everything else´s borders and looses its name (just as the lines on the surface are dented with marks and the apparently spontaneous sketches are stopped by lines).
His paintings are thus a meeting point for primordial sensations and shared discourses. The question regarding their “why” acquires specially intriguing connotations because it does not seek the terms of an agreement. This is why the potentially transgressive quality of the struggle between solidly tactile textures, colors and geometry joins public and private languages, various worlds. More than suggesting that the concept sets the limits of its own necessity, it forces it to lay a direct claim on what, for Romanticism, could be considered the distant and yet inmediate presene of the sublime. In the fissure between concept and matter (Threatening to take flight), Ciria´s work restores meaning to painting through its material nature. Here, the absence of a limit (of a why, the ultimate measure) is not a tragic fate. Lyotard recovers the sublime for our times: “… it rules in a supreme fashion over the question of arts today… it follows the path through which thought can get in touch with the clouds of thoughts or, in other words, with the fundamental way in which Being “gives” itself (and does not) in the mood we call modernity”.
Art, we said, may be seen as a territory where a bridge can be built for reaching a place of origin. But it is also a game where the rules fall into place to create common grounds of encounter. These rules convey the certainty that communication is easily broken; no roots link them together from the outside. How will we know, when facing a painting whose logic denies foresight, what rules to obey? “Only through art can we exit from ourselves, know what another sees of that universe which is not the same as ours”, says Deleuze (Proust and signs). What rules are shaped in the spaces crossing these painting so that we can meet someone else´s glance? There is no reference to a tidy, timeless realm -–he radical temporality of meaning dwells in signs containing their own laws. It is at the meeting point of structures and expanding forms where one must search for the rules that delienate each apinting as a space for games. The word “game” suggests movement, a swinging between two or more extremes, but never stopping at either. And it favors a new definition of what me may consider to be progress in art. “If there is progress in art, it is because art can only live by creating new precepts and effects through roundabout expression, dividing lines, changes in levels and scales” (Deleuze and Guattari, What is philosophy?).
Reason, here, meanders across realms that assault and provoke it so that it sets rules for itself, never subjecting its actions to other ends. Structures intermingle with pigments (affect and, in turn, are affected) and forms intrude as distant hints of a more fundamental order (that of disorder). A space for independence arises, ofr freedon in the classical sense of a choice made while creation is in process. Ciria does not refer to the public language of opinion, habits or sanctioned beliefs but to an earlier one –an attitude, a will to recreate and transgress.
Perhaps Ciria´s painting stands precisely in a territory where we are what we most are –a coming together of moments and spaces, an endless attempt to coexist with the tension that sustains us. A coming together of all possible orders and chaos.