This is the first time that “Re-interpreted” is being displayed in two venues. What will be seen in each and how do they complement each other?
Actually, although Rafael Doctor has expressed his interest in the project, very similar to what he proposed in the Reinterpreted program, Museum of Passions has not been included among his proposals. However, this is once again a reinterpretation of the Lazaro Galdiano collection. In fact, what I am doing there is re-reading some of his works, with an intervention in each of his rooms through photographs from my series on La Salpêtrière or the last book I am preparing called Cristos y anticristos, about iconoclasm in the Civil War. In the case of the Chapel of the Architects, of the Royal Congregation of Architects in the Church of San Sebastian, the work of Ventura Rodríguez, what we do is a reading of its architectural space, in the shape of a Greek cross, situating a body, the parts of that body through the images of laSalpêtrière in her arms, while in the centre, where the heart would be, there is a replica of the sculpture of the woman of Lot of Lazarus, who is a dead woman, turned into a stone of salt. All this connects with the Salpêtrière psychiatric hospital, whose translation into English is “salt of stone”.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg: were you looking for a space for the project or did these spaces ask you for this project?
The spaces gave me the project, although the project already existed as such in my head. If you notice, what I do is use previous “moments” of my career and see how they establish a relationship with the new environments.
It’s funny because I had you as a photographer, with good exhibitions and quite a few awards for this work behind you, and the press release, and you defined yourself as an “imager”. Hence, the sculpture “Lot’s wife” cannot be considered as an occurrence…
At the same time I have been developing a work as an imager that has been overlapping with that of a photographer. And I think that only now they are beginning to unify. That makes me very happy, because suddenly it seems that things add up. As an author, I also feel more like myself. I wasn’t aware at the time, when I was commissioned a devotional sculpture, where that would lead. That commission led to another, and that other one led to another… That ended up becoming my way of life, in fact, I live off those sculptures. But at the same time, this leads to a lot of conceptual issues in contemporary art, such as imagery and iconoclasm, subjects that interest me and that have been with me for a long time, always present in the History of Art, sometimes associated with religious culture, with different religions… In Spain, the imagery tradition is amazing and, from a conceptual point of view, it served as a basis for the personal work of many artists.
Is this image of Lot one of your most ambitious projects to date?
Everything revolves around it in the project, and, in fact, it is intended as the central piece of the exhibition, since we are reinterpreting a collection of classical art, in which the museum has the mission of preserving a legacy. I thought it was appropriate to talk about looking at the past. And there is that whole biblical passage about Lot’s wife, who, in doing so, when looking at the past, is petrified. I thought it was appropriate to consider what kind of look we should take at the past so that it does not become a kind of cage that does not allow us to move forward. In the Lazarus, the idea works as a museum, and in the chapel, where a similar sculpture enters, because we are situated in a space of sacred art, which can lead us to talk about the images produced by the Church.
Let us say then, that his look at the past is not nostalgic.
Not at all. I drink a lot from the past, I think it is fundamental, but this must always be a springboard to the future.
But, as you rightly say, the reflection is posed in a museum, whose mission is to protect a legacy, like the Church
Since the museum also has that facet of giving entrance to contemporary artists, this allows the classical collection to coexist with more current messages, which reactivates its own.
The project allows him to recover images from his two previous sets, “Revelations” and “Aurelia inmortal”, and, at the same time, to present some of his new photobook, “Cristos y anticristos”, without this being a retrospective. What do all these series have in common and what makes this possible?
There are themes that are present there and that are coming out in what I am doing. One of them is that of “fossilization” which involves not only sculpture but all art, even photography, which in the end involves freezing an image in silver salts. This question, which is recurrent in my work, is present in immortal Aurelia, who studies how a civilisation has to die in order to be immortal: only by destroying the human being do you make it immortal and, therefore, transhuman. These post-humanist questions are also present in this quotation. The casts that enter the rooms of the Lazarus also freeze moments and have a point of “mortuary” that interests me. Likewise, there is the question of imagination, extremely present in what I do, treating the image as something very powerful, which is what imagery pursues, capable of transformation. In other words, why do we give certain images a certain power that they do not naturally possess? Why do we break up images? Deep down, you affirm what you destroy with such acts. In a museum like this, where a large part of the collection is religious, it makes sense and serves to generate a tour of the museum.
The Lazaro Galdiano collection and the Salpêtrière archive are contemporary. What do you discover when you put them together, a very religious archive and another, more scientific one?
It is curious, because the reason that originates them is very different. La Salpêtrière’s belongs to that very enlightened colonialist period in which a taxonomy of all things is made and recorded in order to reach knowledge and, if necessary, reveal the causes of madness. What Lazaro Galdiano’s reflected was tradition, also under the personal vision of his collector. But what is interesting is to discover how the repetition of poses occurs when it comes to tackling similar themes. And in plants such as the upper one, whose furniture has embroidery or silverware pieces, you can find perhaps 40 similar objects, in a desire to generate an archive of certain forms and their representation.
In a way, the project also refers, even if in a veiled way, to the iconoclastic controversies lived throughout History, which is almost the theme of his new photobook.
This is a very personal project. What I have tried to do is to read the Civil War by disconnecting it from ideologies and, therefore, from the sides, which is almost impossible…
That’s why it’s likely to be an absolutely failed project. But I was interested in using a gospel of the time, from 1930, a very cheap pocket edition, in which I insert sheets with photographs of the war, which gives rise to a story that works as a kind of illustrated gospel in which the whole story of St. Matthew is shelled out from those images. I am realizing as I speak that the final result is similar to what happens in Revélations, since it gives rise to a kind of journey, of passion and death, of glory, with bodies in lightness. My intention is to see things outside of ideologies. This means that you find Christs and antichrists everywhere, where war itself becomes a great antichrist. My intention is to find humanity beyond ideology.
Does your understanding of photography somehow call it into question as a true document?
What interests me about the photograph is its immediate character. To be in front of a light-producing footprint that burns a surface. As a process, this is something I apply to sculptures, since I work with natural moulds with which I compose other fictions. And, as you mount the photographs, which you decide how to present them, you are also generating another fiction, you load the inks into a point of view. I’m interested in the material, in having all this very close to me. In the case of the chapel, the photograph even takes on a sculptural dimension, not only because of its monumentality, but also because of how it occupies the architectural spaces.
It has a monumental character because we are in front of a nine meter mural, images with an organic and strange point, that look like a brain and that rise just where the head of the imaginary body that we compose in that space is located. And the whole dome, which is wonderful, full of cassettes with flowers in the ornamentation that Ventura Rodríguez makes, suddenly has its parallel in the cellular motifs that I propose, images made with an electronic microscope of a flower petal. The coincidence was very interesting. There is thus a parallelism between the macrocosm of the dome and the microcosm of that whole cellular structure, both of which are invisible, in a church, which is also usually a door to the “invisible”.
This great scenography is another door that shows in a metaphorical way the invisible, those things to which our vision does not have access. All this connects with Val del Omar, whose doctoral thesis I wrote, who spoke of “mechanics”, or mysticism that is shown through mechanics, through technology.
The desire to make the invisible visible is also a constant in his work.
It is the great pretension of the imagery, because it does not make sense to show what is already seen, it supposes to be developing a useless work. And, in my opinion, it was the pretension of all Spanish realism. That is why I am seduced by these situations of altered states or limits, in which questions are expressed that are normally difficult to discover.
The project also has many ramifications: a symposium, concerts, book presentations…
In the end we’ve been adding up. José Delgado Periñán, who works in the studio, is an artist and musician, proposed me to make an immersive music program, so that we will put a circular battery of speakers in the chapel. We have up to five concerts scheduled. On the other hand, one of the sponsors of the project is the Francisco de Vitoria University, which asked me to participate in the symposium they hold every two years on spirituality and contemporary art. Finally, there are the books, Christ and Antichrists, which we want to be launched before the end of the exhibition, and the catalogue of the exhibition, which will include documentation of the work of both venues.
Javier Viver. “Museum of Passions”. Lazaro Galdiano Museum. Madrid. C/ Serrano, 122. Since February 5th. Architects’ Chapel (Church of San Sebastián). C/ Atocha, 39. From 13th February.
Expanded text of the one published in ABC Cultural on February 1, 2020. Number 1.410