WE ARE LIVING IN THE BEST OF TIMES, WE ARE STARTING TO BUILD PARADISE

By irony of fate, the last Venice Art Biennale that was able to be held (the one in 2021 has been moved to 2022, and we’ll see), the one curated by the German Ralph Rugoff, was titled ‘May you live in extraordinary times’. We don’t know if it was a kind of prophecy or a curse, the fact is that since its closure humanity has been immersed in a pandemic that has put us in check and pushed us to the limit of our possibilities. Human beings, once again, have felt vulnerable and finite.

But this is not the norm. As a general rule, men and women believe we are little gods above good and evil, superior beings who colonise this world (and those we may find in outer space), subjecting to our whim everything around us, animal, vegetable or mineral, which we use to satisfy our needs regardless of the consequences.

The exhibition ‘We are living in the best of times. We are beginning to build Paradise’, by the German artist of Ukrainian origin Aljoscha (Glukhov, 1974), at the Palacio de Santoña in Madrid this September, should be read in a double sense, in no way contradictory, but rather seamlessly blending and complementing each other. On the one hand, it means underlining with his works (a kind of organism that colonises space in the case of the sculptures, that generates maps of new realities in the case of the paintings), the remains of a fundamentally anthropocentric past that we must assume is already an archaeological remainder because it does not make us advance towards progress in an effective and constructive way, but which is manifested in the tinsel and riches of the strength of the capitalist and bourgeois society of an era that we now contemplate as ruins or museum material. Nevertheless, and in parallel, this author’s proposal has a positive, hopeful halo, emphasising our possibility of salvation, insofar as it confirms the capacity for change and the proximity of that “paradise” that has been promised to all generations and which, perhaps for the first time, can be achieved without anyone being hurt. Aljoscha’s connection with the “animist” and “bioism” currents applied to art plays a major role in this.

These tendencies describe that the role of plastic creation is not so much to copy nature as to implement itself as a tool to generate new nature, new life. Aljoscha gives the example of music, where this possibility has been assumed for centuries: In the field of music, its professionals are divided between performers, those who are born to faithfully reproduce and sometimes perfect the performance of the masters, but without contributing a single new note to the score; and composers, those who expand the sound repertoire of mankind. In the artistic field, the last century has given rise to important attempts which, however, have remained just that. Such as abstraction, with painters who, from Rothko to Barnet Newman, proposed to escape from this world from the two-dimensional but generating atmospheres anchored in the known.

The Bioism defended by Aljoscha is a new way of approaching aesthetics which, moreover, does not seek to “interpret reality”, but rather sets itself the challenge of generating new realities. It has its roots in biology, in that it seeks to generate living organisms, and emphasises the idea that life is not a closed object, but a process in which we must all participate, which includes an ethical dimension in her work. This strips art of any concrete objective, of any message – which, in his opinion, turns it into propaganda – and gives it the category of a great mystery that provokes untranslatable sensations… like music. Anything that brings it closer to a certain interest of art in explaining something would relate it directly to an algorithm, easily translatable and, by the same token, predictable.

Aljoscha has also arrived at all these considerations over time, in a passage through stages in which he obviously devoted himself to traditional genres (landscape, portraiture), but which did not satisfy him. It was then that he generated his own artistic “Manifesto”, which gave art a practical sense of “birth” and which emphasised the qualifier “creative” in that, literally, it “creates”. One of its most provocative sentences is the one that determines that, in the future, galleries will be large biological farms, and museums, by the same token, enormous zoos. Because whatever we imagine in our heads is an artistic process, the step prior to making something real, something authentic. It is with this mentality that we must enter the rooms of the Palacio de Santoña.

“An explicit reflection and perfect artistic expression of the dominant artistic strata of the past”, as the chronicles of the time define it, the Palacio de Santoña, the current headquarters of the Official Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services of Madrid, is a building with “solera”, which in the 19th century Juan Manuel de Manzanedo y González, Marquis of Manzanedo and Duke of San- toña, gave it the name by which we know it. With a troubled history, it has undergone various alterations over the centuries and was once the home of José Canalejas, President of the Government, from which it emerged on the day he was assassinated by an anarchist sympathiser in the Puerta del Sol.

From its façade, the work of the Baroque master Pedro Ribera, to the staircase of honour in the foyer and its last room, the building still recalls the economic glories and political deeds that its various owners had no qualms about capturing with sumptuous decoration. Aljoscha’s project here, which is also the first itinerant one outside the headquarters of the Mallorcan gallery LA BIBI by Marc Biblioni and Miquel Campins, breathes soul into the German’s works (in reality, they always had it), so that they colonise their spaces by placing all that anthropocentric past and baroque ostentation in the foreground, so that the result leads us to question the concept of progress that emerges from the History of Humanity.

Because the Bioism defended by our protagonist is not only aesthetic. An example: the absence of straight lines in his proposals, because in reality they do not exist in Nature. In the case of the horizon, this is an assumed cultural convention, millions of water molecules, unstable and in movement, which give us the sensation of their presence. Or the use of the colour pink, a common thread throughout the palace, a colour used by the artist because he considers it to be “the most beautiful colour we can perceive in the known world, as our senses allow us to understand it”. As I said, it also challenges ethics, and a new ethics that assumes the equality of human beings with respect to other creatures on the planet and, by the same token, reminds us that we are not gods with power over the rest, and that our authority to regulate the future of the group of living forms to which we also belong is self-imposed.

This is not the first time that Aljoscha has tackled the spaces of such a building. He has already done so, for example, in the Museum Schloss Benrath, in Düsseldorf in 2017, to which we can add his entry, that same year, in the Church of Santa Rita, in Rome, environments in both cases sacralised by the patina of History. In the Palacio de Santoña (and with this I am making a spoiler) the piece that gives its name to the whole proposal will rest above our heads in the skylight of the courtyard, but it will not be until almost the end of the tour that we notice it. On the contrary, the artist has created a whole scenography throughout the rooms that invites us to focus our attention on other details. As in the entrance portal, where we are struck by the Carrara marble of the staircase or the two lions by Carlo Niccoli that guard it; or the Allegory of the triumph of Spain, on the ceiling, a work by the former director of the Prado Museum Francisco Sans y Cabot, which is accompanied by others referring to the colonies of the last Spanish empire in the 19th century. Around them, Aljoscha places his, as he calls them, “objects”. As is the case with the most beautiful piece in the room, the sculpture La Virtud defensora de la Inocencia frente al Vicio, by the aforementioned Niccoli, which, when taken for its proposals of an almost organic nature (and in many cases made by endowing the pictorial with three-dimensionality, layer upon layer), operates as if it were an organism that engulfs another, occupying the place that really corresponds to it.

The same operation will be repeated in the Vestibule and in the Renaissance Hall (with its decoration with busts of Michelangelo, among others), and it will be more emotional in the perfect oval generated by the two corridors of the main floor and which forms the so-called Cabinet or Boudoir, with the artist’s pieces replacing the objects that naturally rest in their niches.

In the Oriental Room, the eye will inevitably be drawn to the table, where a construction wheelbarrow rests upside down, alluding to the building’s industrial past, facing an ancient figure of a Hindu deity, Hanuman, who exemplifies the human need to seek answers to all that we do not understand. However, those deities that we have bestowed upon ourselves, bearers of superpowers that stimulate our imagination, tend to penalise our “deviant” behaviour. Aljoscha thus urges us to think about whether we are as free as we think we are, whether we are not programmed to fulfil a specific function in society, which is also a system that we need and from which we cannot escape, but which punishes behaviour that breaks the rules. Our “scientific” mentality, likewise, rewards progressive and productive progress and penalises failure, relapses, hesitations or mutations, without being aware that we ourselves are the result of millions of them. And made up as we are of millions of subatomic particles, we are “changing” with every passing second. Likewise, the questioning of the idea that human beings are like little gods with a licence to decide on everything else is something that this proposal highlights.

A large-scale piece awaits us in Gala’s Dining Room, which also perfectly illustrates another of its author’s conclusions. As he explains, when we are unable to understand something because it escapes our understanding, we naturally give it the appearance of a living organism and attribute anthropomorphic properties to it. The sculpture that rests in the centre of this room could well be an alien or a large carnivorous plant, close to which is a sphere that we will surely relate to its egg. The instability and flexibility of its materials give movement to the whole. Our imagination does the rest…

Aljoscha likes to “provoke” us with sizes. But in her way of proceeding, the large object is often an enlarged model of the microcosm, and the small ones, gigantic creatures in a realm that moves in the macro. These immense figures, in fact, are born from the accumulation of pigments, so that in reality they acquire their form from the meeting of small structures, in the same way that our tissues are born from the symbiosis of millions of cells, which together form organs, which when coupled together generate systems, which when structured give rise to human beings, which when organised form societies…

In this walk through the Palace, the most pictorial Aljoscha is condensed in the last rooms, such as the Gala Dining Room, the corridor where the portraits of great personalities linked to the institution hang and the Louis XV Room, where his drawings born in the Malaga town of Frigiliana, where he has a second studio, are also displayed, and which he never relates to sketches, as all sketches imply “imperfection”, ideas conceived that have not yet been fully developed.

The presentation in Madrid of our protagonist continues in Espacio Sin Título, at Cano Estudio, with the proposal ¿Puedo dar de comer a los monos de Gibraltar (Can I feed the monkeys of Gibraltar?). The title, which may seem to us to be a witticism (as does the proliferation of bananas in some of the works scattered around the gallery) refers to the artist’s ethical commitment. Because, as accustomed as we are to the presence of these creatures on the Rock, we are not aware that it is the only redoubt of their species living in the wild in Europe. Feeding them helps to ensure their survival, but, on the other hand, it again implies subjugation of animals that do not live in captivity. The message was repeated and amplified that of the Santoña Palace: we are no longer the ones who regulate everything, but we are part of a group of living creatures, albeit with the capacity to create new ones. These works of art are proof of this.

“The intention is that when visiting both exhibitions, the viewer asks himself questions, asks himself what he can do for the world. That already puts you in a different place,” Aljoscha says. The artist is clear that the most important thing human beings can do in life is to discover themselves: “The world is full of wonders, but few people ask themselves about them. And if we look at history, our laws are not designed to make us happy or to make us live long, but to make us feel free to be productive and thus lead society as a whole to a successful destiny that perpetuates our domination of the planet. Realising this is already a step forward. This exhibition is a starting point.

Location

Palacio de Santoña – Calle Príncipe 28, Madrid

Dates

06/09/2021 – 12/09/2021

Gallery Hours

Tues–Sat: 11am-7pm

Artists

Aljoscha

Curator

Javier Díaz-Guardiola

WE ARE LIVING IN THE BEST OF TIMES, WE ARE STARTING TO BUILD PARADISE

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WE ARE LIVING IN THE BEST OF TIMES, WE ARE STARTING TO BUILD PARADISE








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