José M. de Francisco Guinea. Lonja del Pescado. Alicante
Catálogo exposición “Teatro del Minotauro” itinerante organizada por el Consorcio de Museos de la Comunidad Valenciana y la Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo.
Lonja del Pescado, Alicante.
Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca.
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Ibiza.
Museo de la Ciudad, Valencia. Febrero 2003.
BODIES OF PAINTING OR PURE MORPHOLOGY
José María de Francisco Guinea
Tactile synthesis of sound, painting is also silence:
the silence of nature
that beats in authentic art
Gabino-Alejandro Carriedo. Los lados del cubo, 1973.
The systematisation of pictorial activity within the coordinates of the continuous evolution of a part automatic, part analytical abstraction marks the artistic practice of José Manuel Ciria within the scenario of contemporary painting, further clearing the road first trod in Spain by Joan Miró and Antoni Tàpies and later by Barceló and José Manuel Broto, and where Ciria is one of the staunchest explorers. “Although many people consider (painting) to be an outdated practice and although at this stage of the game it is hard to contribute anything “new”, in the personal sphere, however, I firmly believe that it is still possible to say something and to raise several questions”, he declares.
Between Painting and Photography Cuerpos de Pintura (Bodies of Painting), a series of seven photographs taken in 2002 and presented now by Ciria, implies a step forward, a new manner of conceiving and bringing forth his work, securing an expanded, non-reductive principle, as Guillermo Solana remarked in his comments on the Odaliscas (Odalisques) series of large photographs, the immediate forerunner of the works being discussed here and,, together with which Bodies of Painting contributes to the complex problematic implied in the hybridisation between painting and photography nowadays.
The challenging and clearly experimental nature of these works relates concepts such as abstraction by means of figurative reference, representation and pure plasticity, or process and visuality, activated by means of the dialectic established by Ciria through the concept of putting the finishing touches to his paintings using photographic and digital resources. In Bodies of Painting Ciria plays an intricate rhetorical game, showing human nudes conceived as informal abstract blots, offering a specific representation of the human body in positions and interrelations aspiring to pure areferential visuality and, finally, implying a processual or performative exercise induced by photography and its scenic mechanisms, but with the objective of the two-dimensional flatness of painting itself. While Odalisques was the result of a practice related to action and the kind of body art most approaching the pictorial, with references to the anthropometry of Yves Klein or the strict pictorial form of Arnulf Rainer’s Body Paintings, carried out from 1973 – 1975 ( “we could essentially say that my art is situated in an intermediate point between representation and pure visuality. All I am really interested in is the physical expression of the body”, said Rainer in 1973) – in this series of photographs, Bodies of Painting, José Manuel Ciria achieves an extraordinary synthesis and adaptation between conceptualisation and procedure, painting and photography, in an interchange of codes and languages, approaching unmasked painting.
Between the “internal distance” and the “second shutter” Prior to this series, we could probably say that Ciria had never acted so coldly and so calculatingly. On a large television set with large surfaces of flat colours on the floor and platforms of varying heights, the artist places his nudes in millimetrically-calculated positions. The camera, situated at the zenith of the scene, only shoots when the composition exactly meets Ciria’s criteria. The immediate reference to this can be found in his compartmentalised paintings, from 1999-2000 under the general title of Compartimentaciones (Compartmentalisations), and in which blots of powerful volume, enormous energy and scarce chromatic variation flow in relation to their supporting geometry. Thus, the Bodies of Painting are set out in different directions and relations as regards the backgrounds: the forced foreshortenings of the standing or kneeling figures dismember the reality to which they refer, undoing their own corporality in an informal mass, while the horizontal, vertical or diagonal encounters between the bodies defy pre-established spatial conventions and introduce an anamorphosis that reminds us of Georg Baselitz’s strategy of converting the inversion of the figurative motif into pure painting. “When one stops racking one’s brains and inventing motifs, but still wants to paint pictures, the most immediate possibility is the inversion of the motif. The hierarchy in accordance with which the sky is up and the ground is down is simply a convention, an agreement to which we have all become accustomed, but in which we do not necessarily have to believe. A painting, for me, is an autonomous, autarchic element. It does not matter whether you see it on the wall or have it in your head”, says Baselitz. Ciria goes one further, converting the figurative motif into pure auto-referential abstraction, translating his idea of painting through photography, without touching a drop of pigment, working objectively, analytically, and introducing into the image itself an internal distance that removes it from itself, to resolve itself as an extremely new case of abstract photography, making use of the character and essence of photography which, as José Jiménez has said, “does not merely mean using an analogical or digital machine. Photography implies a synthesis, a hybridisation of the machine with the human spirit, with the individual who acts through the camera. This gives it a strongly performative, pragmatic character. … This is why photography is an abstraction. It cuts the vital, existential flow, and converts the event into an abstraction… Photography requires an “internal distance”, the introduction of a separation, a cut-off, as regards the event or the object, both in time and in space”.
However, there is more to it than this. These nude bodies, flattened in the flashlight, trapped in an unreal instant proceeding from reality itself, absorbed in hieratic positions, with no possibility of movement or gravity, floating in a schematic and coldly dissected pictorial plane hold a further surprise. This inevitable and strange distance is the consequence of the digital manipulation of the photographs by the artist, of what José Luis Brea called the “second shutter”. “The specific potentiality of the technical means used – the computer as a second shutter, as a device for the post-production of the captured image – and its capacity to untangle the allegorical technique of recomposition and collage, hiding the “seams”, the fissures of vanguardist dissonance, results in the effective reconstruction of a pictorial space, unthinkable in the pictorial field itself”. As a matter of fact, Ciria could, on the one hand, have digitally sewn together the pictorial intervals created by the compartments of the discourse of these Bodies of Painting, a possibility for those for whom, like Ciria, the principle of collage is dominated by the general articulation of their artistic practice. However, he preferred to accomplish the work through non-visual staging or simulation. In this regard, Ciria uses the computer in a negative sense. This works look like photomontages but are, in fact, pure reality, the reality of the non-virtual photographical plane, of a great canvas/stage, flattened and converted into a picture, the conventional space of painting, of an expanded form of painting. And in a negative sense also, because the use of the digital resource, of the “second shutter”, involves using the computer to eliminate the shadows projected by the bodies onto the backgrounds. This gives the sensation of virtuality, of the simulated unreality of the bodies, converted into painting by death, as the absence of shadow in these bodies eliminates all possibility of life, rendering them soulless, spiritless, stripped of their vital flow, deprived of the ability to emanate any sign of life.
Between the Melody of Water and Pure Morphology The deletion to which Ciria subjects his figures, his bodies, once human and now revived in painting, leaves dry stains, without fluids, runnels, spatters or drops, without the melody of water, regarding which the great German ethno-museologist, Marius Schneider , referring to the beliefs of the Agni tribe in Central Africa, once said, “The spirit of a living man is a shadow that changes place and size according to the position of the body as regards the sunlight. This spirit can also be an image that emerges from the water singing sadly, when one sits close to the river. Once it is visible in this world, the human soul appears in daylight as a shadow, and is perceived in water as the sound image of the body. This is why the sound image of water, which is a diffuse self-vision of the soul, always sings an otherworld melody. The melody of water is the acoustic analogy of the visual form (shadow) of the soul projected onto the earth”. These pictures are dryly silent because they do not sing an otherworld melody; they are plunged into their own abyss, their own material, flesh made paint. However, silence is impossible. The most radical deletion carried out by any artist to date was probably by John Cage in his piece 4´3´´. No instruments are specified and, for the time indicated by the title, the musicians do not play a single note, leaving to chance any sounds made by their getting on stage tuning their instruments and, 4 minutes and 33 second later, leaving, including the sounds made by the spectators and the context in which said musical piece is interpreted, Cage concludes, “When most people listen to a piece of music, they think that they are not doing; they are being done to. From now on, this is not true, and we must make people realise that they are the ones who are doing, not having something done to them. All we do is put them in the situation of listeners in a dialogue with nature”. Preoccupied by the nature of silence, Cage relates in his work Silence how in 1951 he entered an anechoic chamber and instead of hearing silence, he heard two sounds, one high and one low. When he asked the sound engineer where these sounds came from, the engineer explained that the first came from his own nervous system in action and the second from the blood in his circulatory system. Thus, silence for Cage was simply pure morphology and, likewise, these isolated bodies, dispossessed of all human possibility, of all water melody, all animation other than the revitalisation of the painting by its author, these Bodies of Painting leave behind them the faint sound of their own drying, slow and crackling, in their silence, in their pure morphology, in that of nature, as Carriedo said, that palpitates in authentic art.