Repetition & perforation of the theme

Álvaro de los Ángeles

(From the catalogue Sweet Illness, published in València by the Diputació de València, Sala Parpalló, 2009)

 

Certain works are presented like a perforation of the theme they hold implicit in themselves. Work here is used to refer to the continual production of objects and actions with an aesthetic intention and attitude and which feed on their existence and consumption in the cultural industry where they are temporarily located, that is, within their contemporaneity. When I say they appear like a perforation of the theme, what I am striving to do, albeit from a rather distant stance, is establish a debate about whether contemporary art is functional or not. That is to say, why is it made, who is it made for, how much production is necessary to obtain feedback, who consumes it and finally who can purchase it, although the importance of this fact is only relative here.

 This beginning attempts to broach a series of issues that are still transcendent for art today, taking into account that the important discussions brought up at other times and in other circumstances are still perfectly valid on every new occasion. They never disappear altogether and still reveal themselves as not being exactly identical to the way they were to begin with, but as though in their renewed presence they assumed the previous characteristics at the same time as our updated gazes. It is still necessary to see contemporary art, that more and more hybrid praxis contaminated by many cross references, as a debate and challenge about the representation of reality. Even as a plausible approach to real experiences and, therefore, as a confirmation of the intrinsic difficulty involved in creating it.

Perforating the theme is a recurrent resource of contemporary art and perhaps for that reason requires further explanation. Because of repetition, taking place either as a cause or as a consequence of the production it stems from, the theme ends up being perforated, pierced, turned into an ulterior message. The percussion effect on the theme is generated on it and by using it, and is a means and an end at the same time; it also occurs in the possibility that each new use will make a slightly greater impact on the surface, altering and modifying it a little. The continued use of the theme may end up turning into abuse, the realisation that the principal exploration is subordinated to the demand for the external, the cultural industry that it cannot ignore, the market that it somehow depends on. And, finally, it may fan the flames of the debate about the function of its existence, the need for its presence and its perdurability.

 So it is easy to understand that perforating the theme can end up being the conceptual pretext the artist holds onto when a series of impositions is determined by the environment. Matters like discursive coherence, conceptual exploration, progression in time, updating of praxis and adaptation of the theme to the present moment, control of the influence of short-lived, passing trends, etc. are some of the intrinsic obstacles that have complicated artistic creation. But it also happens that because of the determination the author puts into the theme he is developing in the work it can only keep existing and remain present as a repetition of his person, of himself. Not, strictly speaking, in a narcissistic sense, but rather as a prolongation of the practice reflected in himself, with a pragmatic and renewed sense of using the model and the inexhaustible possibility of his presence. Or also as an urge to bear witness to an identity created and maintained on the precision of tiny, almost imperceptible changes. In this sort of case where the theme is subordinated, interfered with, constructed, derived… from and through the artist’s personal experience, there emerges an interminable reciprocal flux of information and contents that go from personal experience to the work and vice versa.

 The influence of matters taken from the artist’s personal life in his work is obvious. In certain cases, just the opposite occurs: the work resulting from the creative process fashions the artist’s vital experience, blending them both in a sort of fructiferous encounter. In cases like these, the secondary elements, all those details that generate and partake of this encounter, are likely to appear and reappear for no apparent reason; a continuous sequence of reciprocal experiences, an endless flux similar to desire that can never be filled or emptied, for it would cease to be desire and process. These two-way and exchange practices find in artistic representation exactly what they needed to bring a series of emotions and experiences before the public eye, to address an audience that may or may not be willing to respond sympathetically.

 From what I have said so far and from the viewpoint from which I have said it, it seems clear that Moisés Mahiques’ work does not draw on the transforming pursuit of functional art; nor does he seem to want to collect any materials other than those that are absolutely necessary to develop his theme. That is, his work does not derive from or cannot be analysed according to the theoretical hypotheses defended, for example, by Walter Benjamin in “The Artist as Producer”1 or the conceptual continuation put into words decades later by Hal Foster in “The Artist as Ethnographer”2, to mention two paradigmatic texts about a way of making and understanding contemporary art as a function or utility, that is, as an intervention on a public space for social purposes and contrary to the aestheticising intentions of the powers that be. In this way, he does not follow Hal Foster’s ideas about certain practices we could describe as activist, collective, associationist and participative, then established in society and widespread at the present time, technified to provide absolute accessibility to information and generating heretofore unsuspected social networks. The paintings and drawings of Moisés Mahiques do not deviate from his personal themes, related with the author’s own interests, even when they take on the appearance of murals or graphic insertions in public spaces.

 However, in the series made until now there are elements that involve a repetition in his ideas and, in a way, a personal call to recognise different individualities within the collective, which relate him with proposals created for the public space. The repeated presence of male characters offers at first glance a double reading: on the one hand, it directly addresses the question of representation of gender in first-person narration; on the other, it challenges masculinity precisely because of the way the appearance and existence of the characters is treated. That is, the contours, the lines that delimit the figures, transparent and hollow, overlap to generate a hodgepodge of represented gestures, halted movements, poses shown as layers of information that exist insofar as they are part of a process of suspending movement, that is to say, in this case congealing the experience of the gesture. At the same time as they show the action, they bring it to a standstill. The emptied bodies can refer to or wish to be seen here as a similitude of the Body without Organs (BwO) defined by Deleuze and Guattari in this way: “The BwO: it is already operative from the moment the body is sick and tired of the organs and wants to get rid of them, or it loses them.Or also, as regards the dematerialisation of the subject: “Where psychoanalysis says, ‘Stop, recover your Self’, it should say ‘Let’s go further still; we have not yet found out BwO, we have not destroyed our self enough.’4 Despite the abstraction arising from a concept “that can only be occupied or peopled by intensities”, that “is not a scene, a place or even a support where something might happen” […], that “brings about intensities, produces and distributes them in a spatium that is in turn intensive, unextensive” […], that “is neither space nor in space, it is matter that will occupy space to a greater or lesser degree, to the degree that responds to the intensities produced 5, despite this, another definition softens the blow and throws light on it by stating, “BwO is what remains when everything else has been eliminated.6

 This elimination of everything ends upshowing the Body without Organs as an outline that contains nothing but the sensitive lines of a transparent body that remains only as the trace of an action, in turn challenged by another line that is the trace of another action and thus terminably and limitedly up to a point where superposition is an organism that vibrates, that reveals and conceals itself proportionally. Could we find here a sui generisimage of the intensities proposed by Deleuze and Guattari? Or is it just another rhetorical turn of the screw about finding reasons to justify the unjustifiable or to interpret what defies interpretation?

 If that were so and this definition proposed by the two theoreticians can apply to what Moisés Mahiques wishes to express with his work, it would be so except for one important issue, we know not how crucial: in his artistic work there does exist a space, that of representation; and the place cohabits with a scene in which objects stand out, and they are, usually and at least in part, solid, present, corporeal, and involve concrete symbologies. The big debate of representation in art is whether it illustrates ideas, using the expression “throw light” as a synonym of knowledge, or whether it illustrates them in the sense that repeats what is expressed and understood by other means, in this case and in general, theoretical means.

 In any case, the artist is not the (only) one responsible for the interpretations perpetrated against his work, and this debate reproduces more the paradoxical aspect of the rhetoric of the interpretative texts, occupied with the doubts of someone who tries to find chinks and makes room to understand himself first with his art; then, to show himself as an understood being or a being who understands himself and therefore as a possible model of understanding for others, in the last place. And this is so because visual art is a language in itself and, at the same time, a reflection contaminated by other fields that are summoned for their presence and encompass from personal experience to philosophical texts, establishing intermediate stopovers in history, sociology, aesthetic theory, psychoanalysis, politics or cultural studies, to give but a few examples of that melting-pot in a continuous process of hybridisation, pursuit and assumption of novelties.

 Nevertheless, the artist is not unaware of his surroundings, nor does he ignore the expectations and the influence his work can exert in a media-oriented context, always on the lookout for change and stimulus. The concept of making a project, an exhibition or a series of works public already implies a breakaway from what has been done before that can as easily spoil the artistic action by making it banal as, on the contrary, turn it into an example of reference and convert it into a generalisation. The ensuing work enters the ambit of the public and the space of debate, where criticism and commentary are as valid as the acceptance of the public or the surplus value of the market.

We have mentioned above that Moisés Mahiques expresses repetition through his themes and therefore through his works. But in what sense? Can this repetition and, as a result, the perforation of the theme be related with the idea of repetition as developed by Gilles Deleuze? In the artist’s three major series, Sex Happening Location, Disaster Happening Location and Violence Happening Location, he represents continuities from one to another and the exploration of a single space which, represented in different ways, revolves around itself, around the male human figure and the environment, a little more variable. The titles also maintain a single structure that defines the series as an exploration of continuity and coherence. The contrast between the hollow figures and the solidity of elements in relation with the series in question addresses the dichotomy of the perishable and the unchangeable, between thesubject and the objects.

 Gilles Deleuze counterposes the ideas of generality and repetition, understanding the former to be “like a generality of the particular”, and repetition to be “the universality of the singular”7. After this opposition, Gilles Deleuze speaks “from the viewpoint of conduct and the viewpoint of the law” and adds “a third opposition, the viewpoint of the concept or representation8”. And after this opposition, two forms of repetition are dealt with: “the first […] is repetition of the Same, which is explained by the identity of the concept or the representation; the second is the one that comprehends the difference, and it comprehends itself in the otherness of the Idea. […] One resides in exactness, the criterion of the other is authenticity. […] These two differences are linked; the former only develops its consequences in the latter.9

The notions of repetition and difference are related later and “we find ourselves faced with two issues. The first resides in knowing what is the concept of difference […] that requires an Idea of its own, as a singularity of the Idea. The second resides in knowing what is the essence of repetition, which is not reduced to a difference without a concept […] but which in turn manifests singularity as the power of the Idea.10

Therefore, concludes Deleuze, “The encounter of the two notions, difference and repetition, can no longer be established from the outset, but must appear thanks to interferences and crossings between these two lines, a current in the essence of repetition, and the other, to the idea of difference.11

There is no desire to abuse the rhetoric of interpretation beyond what any aesthetic analysis implies in itself, to relate at any cost these complex, polyhedral concepts with varying depths and always different, with the notion of repetition deliberately let fall in M. Mahiques’ oeuvre. They are probably not identical or interchangeable discourses, but the sobriety of the attempts contained in the paintings and drawings in these series address the paradox of repetition defined by Deleuze as “a form of behaviour, albeit related to something unique or singular, which has no similarity or equivalent. And perhaps this repetition as an external conduct is apparently an echo of the most secret vibration, of a deeper and interior repetition in the singular that encourages it.12” An approach to a way of doing and expressing oneself that if, as I said above, it did not draw on characteristic components of an instrumental, functional sort of art or one made to be analysed from political viewpoints, does end up in the politicised public ambit, although it may have got there by other means, and culminates with the matter of identity as a generality of particular similarities: speaking from the self for a group made up of a qualified number of individuals, regardless of the number they represent.

In a text13written before Deleuze’s analysis that represents Theatrum Philosophicum, Michel Foucault writes that, “thinking intensity […] is not an insignificant revolution in philosophy.[…] It is a question of breaking free to think and love what, in our universe, is commonly known since Nietzsche; non submissive differences and repetitions with no origin that arouse our old dormant volcano; that have made literature explode, since Mallarmé; that have cracked and multiplied the space of painting (Rothko’s divisions, Noland’s furrows, Warhol’s modified repetitions), […] that announce all the historic ruptures of our world. A possibility given in order to see differences today, to see today as as a difference of differences.” A forty-year-old truism that has been continually put into practice in that time in every sphere and that in contemporary art takes on a prophetic dimension of unequivocal results. Seeing today as a difference of differencescan in no case exclude seeing oneself as a difference and thence as different as regards others. In this process, no doubt in constant transformation, different tools of ours and others’, created by us and borrowed from the outside, make it possible to see and construct ourselves, in some cases, as individuals. Contemporary art is the field of culture where these characteristics, far from being a problem of lack of adaptation, are seen as advantages for the affirmation of the work.

The Foucaultian words that analyse Gilles Deleuze’s thinking have an analogy with the ideas developed in his concept “technologies of the self”. These technologies are one of the four developed by Michel Foucault and those that “permit individuals to make, by themselves or with the help of others, a certain number of operations about their body and their soul, thoughts, conduct or any way of being, thus obtaining a transformation of themselves in order to achieve a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom or immortality.14 This definition shows the possibility of reconstructing the individual in view of the imposition of the origin, the inertia of customs or the burden of certain educational or religious postulates, for example.

The overlapping of figures in Moisés Mahiques’ paintings and drawings seems to conform, by trial and approximation, to the machine of the hollowed outlines, the machinelike bodies with no organs except genitals. These are generated as something added, more a reference in space –by drawing a line or a parable in movement– than actual sexual organs. The vacillating lines become the synthesis of a passage around the representation space and at the same time an accumulation of the trace of the actual passage. The sinuous outline of the figures, their extreme sketchiness, where the thickness of the stroke increases the closer it gets to the spectator’s position, imitates the phases of the movement. That is why they are a prelude of a hypothetical animation about to be put into practice, where the traces perdure and remain as accumulated noise instead of moving forward and leaving only the erased marks, another sort of noise, such as William Kentridge puts in his animated films or also, but in the public space, Blu, the mural and graffiti artist, includes in his works, where the forms and characters are created by anthropophagy. The drawing is therefore something that does not go forwards in one direction but is the record of a series of movements and gestures issued to last, elegantly recontextualised, in the simulated space of the immaculate canvas or paper.

 On the other hand, an intimate link is established between the line and hollowness of the bodies and the opacity and daub of the objects that give the series their names. A conjunction of symbolic elements personalises their thematic universe: the pale pink bedspread and sofa that delimit the play- (or battle-) ground where desire emerges and sexual intercourse takes place and time. The rubbish bins, perfectly recognisable in their sophisticated post-domestic aesthetic; skips filled with rubble, transparent like ghosts, with many objects peeping over the edges; the yellow traffic lines on the also vanished asphalt of the streets, the details of crashed cars, with wrecked bodies, where a pale headlight or intermittent red brake light can barely be seen. The items of clothing from the brawls and fights, white underpants against a white background, some other dark garments and balaclava helmets, either with their textile drawn or photographed, presented as a collage. In these cases, the drawing that shows the visible parts of the face: eyebrows, eyes… has the typical solidity of objects. The portrait of the subject becomes an object, a symbolic tool.

 The relationship established between both phases, the symbolic one of the objects in repose and the recording of the movements in tension, succeeds in unifying the apparent solidity of the space with the motional instability typical of time. Moisés Mahiques’ work is located in the acclimatable habitat of personal relationships and the de-territorialised land of objects; each one calls out for attention that can only be provided when both hemispheres cohabit in precise equilibrium. It could also be defined in this way: when the personal generated and grown in the private space goes out to meet the collective in the public space of exchanges and permanent hazards. Vibrations and throbs put together, presented in the social ambit, permuted in the personal ambit and culminated in the private ambit. The theory of relationships with the closeness and implementation of inexhaustible, shared, expandable intensities. A sweet sickness with indestructible symptoms.

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1 Presented as a lecture in April 1934 at the Institute for Fascism Studies in Paris. Spanish text in Discursos interrumpidos I. Taurus, Madrid 1972. Translation by Jesús Aguirre.

2 Foster, Hal: El retorno de lo real. La vanguardia a finales de siglo. Akal, « Arte contemporáneo», Madrid 2001.

3 Deleuze, Gilles – Guattari, Félix: “¿Cómo hacerse un cuerpo sin órganos?”, in Mil mesetas. Capitalismo y esquizofrenia. Pre-Textos, Valencia 1988/2000, p. 156.

4 Ibid., p. 157.

5 Ibid., p. 158.

6 Ibid., p. 157.

7 Deleuze, Gilles: Repetición y diferencia, Anagrama, Barcelona 1972/99, p. 51. As we pointed out at the beginning of this edition, with Michel Foucault’s text Theatrum Philosophicum as a prologue, Deleuze’s short text represents the introduction of the general book with the same title.

8 Ibid., p. 71.

9 Ibid., pp. 97-100.

10 Ibid., p. 105.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., p. 50.

13 The title of the text is “Ariadne hanged herself”. It was first published in Le Nouvel Observateur, no. 229, in 1969. All the references to this text are taken from the French translation by Milton Tornamira and published in Archipiélago, no 17: “Gilles Deleuze, pensar, crear, resistir”, Barcelona, autumn 1994, pp. 83-7.

14 Foucault, Michel, Tecnologías del yo y otros textos afines, Paidós – ICE de la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, «Pensamiento Contemporáneo», 7, Barcelona 1990, p. 48. It includes “Introducción: La cuestión del método”, by Miguel Morey, where he expounds magnificently both the essence, evolution and reclassification of his philosophy and the origin of this text and the variations undergone in its final transcription.