If a work is too legible it is not art, it is propaganda, Andrés Serrano argued in relation to the visual reflection of his ambiguous religious feeling, blasphemous for some and beautiful for others, because it is this breadth of readability that bothers, especially when one appeals to the purity of the impure or, rather, when the latter term is emptied of all meaning.
Fernando Bayona also observes the world through the flesh, while his mind functions as a alembic that distills the corporeal until extracting its quintessence. He dissects reality with a magnifying glass and then makes his own, adapted to his dreams (or nightmares).
He has practiced a personal hermeneutics of cultivated written literature, oral tradition, children’s tales and Christian dogma to interrogate human instincts and our longing for transcendence, about how they are and have been used to submit and intimidate. By refering to the mythical space of the fable, to the cyclical time of myth, he allegorizes eternal theaters of cruelty.
To this effect he constructs complex scenographies that later photographs, in which the light is an actant, sculpts the bodies and manages the drama. Constructed photographs that condense a story in a frame,and at the same time compose a larger story.
Q- Everything said doesn’t seem to fit with your last series, Paragraph 175, a turning point in your work: iconographic and compositional baroque giving way to minimalist asepsis, visual document replaces the staged parabola, the body is revealed as absence. But you keep dealing with little explored issues of the social stigma that truncates lives.
That’s right, in this new and extensive photographic series I delve into issues and methods never seen before in my production. Although in fact it is not so strange to me as one could think. In spite of using natural light or the own of the photographed space, I still maintain the same typology of framing. In fact they are very similar to the scenographies that I built in my studio, although lacking of the artifice that usually appears in my works.
I keep the body as epicenter of the series, which although it is absent here and is replaced by the imaginary of the spectator, remains the protagonist twice over: by the absolute lack of its presence, and because the series analyzes the unknown program of Nazi medical research destined to find a cure against homosexuality, and by extension, the experimentation that was carried out with the bodies of a large group of homosexual prisoners.
In short, and as you points out, I don’t let aside the issues in which I have always been interested, and social stigma is one of vital importance in my production. I have always positioned myself in defense of the most disadvantaged groups, and in this case an historical claim for the LGBT rights.
Q- In these photographs of the plants where the Nazis carried out these experiments each architectural element acts as a correlate of the enclosed, degraded, exterm inated body. Switches (cell, with its double meaning), bars, flake off walls, pipes, crematorium, white tile tables …, along with the disheartening symmetry of structures and corridors … As if the metonymic language of Robert Gober and the Becher documentary would have met.
This project documents the exact facilities where these clinical trials were conducted to find a cure or vaccine for this so-called “disease”, located in the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen (Oranienburg, 20 km from Berlin), Ravensbrück Population of Fürstenberg, 120 km north of Berlin and near the border with Poland) and Buchenwald (a mere 5 km from Weimar), all in present-day Germany. The series focuses mainly on this last location, and in particular in the experiments realized by the doctor Carl Peter Vaernet.
When I started this series I decided that I had to completely disconnect myself from what I had done until now aesthetically. I wanted to use an aseptic gaze and lacking in victimism or sentimentality. I understood that the cold, analytical and distant look, very close to the Düsseldorf school, was the key. I resolved that the images would be luminous, that practically there wouldn’t be hard shadows, and that the digital treatment should have a very strong desaturation, as when old images begin to fade over time, a metaphor of the perishable nature of our memory.
Q- Coming back to your previous series, if there is something that have in common is the sexuality as driving force of relationships, or love in a society that forces us to practice a play of disguises, to brutalize the instincts: in The life of the other; in your apocryphal version of Jesus life, born of a prostitute, leader of a rock band that falls in love with Juan Bautista after getting initiated in eros with Mary the Magdalene; in the purgatory of Dante converted into a hive of cells inhabited by sinners who pay tribute to the Lord with their sperm; in your particular freaks parade…
Sexuality is ever present in some way in all my series, even is the excuse on which many of them are based. Love, understood as a key concept of human behavior, but more as affective correspondence and completely disconnected from Platonian pretensions, or as a self destructive element that leads us into the darkest and most violent of human actions. I perceive it as the driving force that moves the world; either through affective relationships or as the need to find sexual complementarity.
Q- From the Michelangelo’s-like to the teratological body, from transactional object to absent body, or even distilled as body fluid, as pure abstraction. Through your work we have seen it transfigured drastically. What will be its next transformation?
I must admit that my first photographic series were too influenced by the classic concept of male beauty. I let myself be carried away by the smooth skin and muscles that constituted these well-built bodies. Over the years my attention has focused more on feelings, on the psychology of the characters, and I have gradually left the physical fullness to explore other ages of the human being.
The new series in which I am working are deepening again in the architecture as a continent of feelings, of events that take place in nocturnal and mysterious spaces. One of the series already has a name, Black Days, and I go deep into the mind of characters where the body no longer has the protagonism of previous series. In it I try to capture the hidden face of this success-oriented society in which we live to analyze the failure.
Because from my perspective we all live in continuous frustration. No one has achieved their goals in life. Our existence resembles little or nothing to what we imagined when we were little. Even those figures who we consider to be successful have lost great things along the way, which they can hardly recover. I focus on the second choices of life of these characters, existences in many cases unwanted, caused by misfortune, accident or bad decisions.
Q- You took reality to recreate it in the studio as a fiction, or you took the parable to extrapolate it to the contemporary time, now you take uncomfortable episodes of history for documentary purposes, parking the fable once and for all? How far will this research take you?
I don’t think I will ever give up the fable, even though I may treat it differently. I guess I’m getting older and failing to believe in fairy tales. In this new puberty I am more likely to explore what my characters think and feel, trying to obviate their surface, although it is true that I succumb again and again to the flesh. In fact, fables or stories have always interested me because they allow me to speak of the darkest and most perverse of human beings, disguising of beauty and innocence socially uncomfortable themes.
The current research will take me back to the starting point, which is none other than sculpture. It is making me rethink my work from the beginning, the codes I have used and the photographic technique. In fact I never studied photography, rather it was a chance encounter, and to tell the truth, it is not something that interests me too much. I recognize that it is a great medium that serves me to materialize more quickly and accurately the projects that I have in mind, but I’m not obsessed with method itself. So much so that, I have no camera.
My training was always as a sculptor, and I think it is the consequence of the way I illuminate or build my scenographies. Paragraph 175 is allowing me to explore again the expressive possibilities of this medium, and I don’t think I miss the opportunity to use it in future exhibitions in Berlin and Miami as a support for photographic images.
The exhibition Paragraph175 can be seen in Kir Royal gallery, Madrid, until 17/12/2016