She subverts official versions of reality, understands other means of inhabite the city, celebrates anniversaries of women artists missing from art books, she prefers ephemeral interventions in street than museographic embalming of experience…, we could say that Diana Larrea always has felt attracted by the other side of the moon.
This is the title of an ongoing group exhibition curated by Tomás Ruiz-Rivas, and refers to the alternative history of recent artistic practices that has been shown in basements, subterranean passages and abandoned factories in Madrid, between 1980s and 1990s, transformed into exhibition spaces of short but intense life. In one of them (Space F), Diana Larrea presented Sistema de ventilación (2000), where she arranged replicas of ventilation tubes of the place, thus blurring the boundaries between content and continent, art and space.
In the photograph exhibited in CentroCentro, as a document of site-intervention and piece of art by itself, we see her dressed in white, as a hostess from future, multiplied in four Dianas auscultating tubes and walls.
Q- Aspects that will be recurrent in your projects converge in this work, as site-specific preeminence and the search for a kind of mirror effect or correspondence between interior-exterior, top-bottom. In The harmony of the spheres (photography), Espiral Mudéjar (public art) and Electrocosmos (installation, Espai 13, Fundació Miró) you proposed metaphysical correspondences between earth and sky, telluric energy and constellations, spherical bollards and stars … Does an alchemical sense underlying these proposals?
I have been interested in the archetype of the alchemist since very young, especially when it is compared with the figure of the creator. The processes of artistic production and its different phases can be understood as an analogy of the symbolic process of alchemy, where the production of “gold” was sought as a symbol of enlightenment. That capacity to produce catharsis, transmutating something mundane and tangible into a kind of valuable “spiritual” energy, interests me as an exercise of personal or collective regeneration. I think that art, as a creative and communicative act, can have that same power of metamorphosis and magnetism, both on a mystical and on a everyday level.
Q- In your first urban actions playful celebration and festive alteration of order prevailed. But even then (Public Case 2001), you appropriated power tactics by changing their meaning: the intruders forcing passers-by to avoid them seemed to parody petrified security guards and other intimidating arms of the law. Later you appropriated propagandistic forms and languages to give voice to the people, like the imitation of municipal signs. Can we still see them in Madrid streets?
Within the group of urban interventions carried out between 2010 and 2013, in which I appropriated different types of municipal signage in order to subvert them, the first one was Calles distinguidas. This proposal took place in Lavapiés, and consisted of producing and installing plates similar to those of tiles that City Council uses to denominate center city streets. There are still three of the five that I installed in 2010, and with them I wanted to propose a closer connection with the reality of the neighborhood.
In the case of Vox populi (2012), which I made in collaboration with the artist Andrés Senra, was a specific intervention conceived for the San Antón market floor (Chueca), concurring with our presentation of Plaza Solución project (2011) in Espacio Trapezio, from which was a kind of second part. In both works, Andrés Senra and I took two municipal decorative elements, that is, two commemorative mechanisms used by the authorities, to reproduce several slogans extracted from the banners exhibited in 15M social movement during the Acampada Sol, in Madrid.
The objective was to reflect the civic demands of the moment, seeing the eruption of so many peaceful mass protests by citizens in our country who are still calling for an improvement of the democratic system. Both proposals raised the question of who has the right to choose the events worthy of remaining in our collective memory.
Q- You are making albums of women artists that have existed throughout history but that were more or less consigned to footnotes. Is the facebook album format going to be their last assignment?
This initiative emerged in a completely casual and unpremeditated way, after attending the performance of María Gimeno Queridas viejas, where she reviewed the Gombrich manual, entitled The History of Art. María performed this action at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Complutense University, as a conference or talk where she included in each chapter of the book, using a knife, women artistas absent from the androcentric canon of western art history.
Continuing along the same line of Maria in her performance, in May of 2017, I decided to publish daily a brief presentation of an artist woman in my personal profile of the social network. We can call this project On a day like today, because that is the common header with which I start each post, and soon I will try to give a more permanent format on the network, although Facebook will remain the broadcast medium. It is an exercise that was born as a personal need to rebuild my own self-esteem as an artist, but with the surprise that a lot of people have been identified with it and I am receiving a very satisfactory feedback.
Be aware that creative women have not been an exception in the history of art, as they have always made us believe, and discover the work of hundreds of women that have been ignored, hidden, makes you suddenly begin to understand so many situations that we have suffered and continue to suffer artists in our careers, especially from a certain age. And it is not a personal problem but a collective one, as evidenced by the tremendous interest and support that this type of initiative is receiving, which is far from being isolated.
Q- In other projects, such as Oasis, La extraña vida de las aguas muertas…, you contrast reality and utopia, idyllic past and sad present. Or in Let’s fall in love, even with black humor, you claim the love strength against the seduction of the abyss. Does utopia keeps us alive or deaden awareness?
Talking about utopia is complex, because I actually think these are “ideal” theories that work perfectly as postulates, but when they are put into practice fail, not for being poorly formulated, but because the human being is complex and abnormal, and unable to forget his own ego.
Regarding that matter, I would like to mention one of my last works, a proposal entitled Viva la USSR, 1937, which I made for the group exhibition 100 años de la Revolución de Octubre. Visiones desde el arte actual, curated by Emilio Gallego and that was inaugurated in Octubre Centre de Cultura Contemporània, Valencia. It is an appropriation of a historical act that took place in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The Association of Friends of the Soviet Union held a tribute in Madrid on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the October Bolshevik Revolution. My proposal is a photomontage in which I propose a similar public intervention in the same location. With it, I wanted to rescue an event from the past to transfer it to the current context, in such a way that it acquired a different meaning. Today, 80 years later, this image leads us to question whether a project of this nature obtained official consent.
Q- Another type of appropriations would be inspired in film icons: birds invading the facade of a building (Hitchcock), the statue of liberty buried in the sand (recreation of the last scene of Planet of the Apes on a Mallorcan beach) … fiction and myth leaking into reality to make us reflect on fears and threats?
One of the main interests that has supported my creative work has been a willingness to analyze the cult of the artistic object and the way in which we end up mythologizing certain cult products. I have always been interested in reflecting on the concept of “aura”, about the transcendence that have some aesthetic and historical models and that is projected beyond the realm to which they belong, getting involved in the social life of the individual. The power of this iconography, so expressive and immediate, is that represents our most intimate desires and manages to give us an awareness of our existence sometimes much more intense than that provided by our own experience of reality.
Q- And from replica to remake, when you played the rol of Madeleine in Vertigo (photos taken in the original locations), Jean Senberg in À bout de souffle recreating faithfully a scene from the film in Paseo Recoletos… You were less literal when you represented the character of Blade Runner, Rachael. Did you merge with the character in a more intimate way, perhaps recalling aspects of your own biography?
In all these projects that you mention, where I embody mythical characters extracted from the collective visual imaginary, there is an appropriation exercise where I transform myself into an idealized image of a woman-object in front of a camera. However, at the same time, since I am also the author of these works, I place myself in the position traditionally assigned to the masculine gaze, which see and compose that image. In this way, I was both the active creative subject and the object of desire. Being myself who interpreted both roles, I think that they were able to distort the meanings. These works share similarities with some photographic series by Cindy Sherman, where she portrayed herself interpreting different female stereotypes.
Q- As for the drawings, you mix aesthetics that make great art and cheap reproduction (society portraits), graphic humor and goyesque calcography (Equus asinus, historical prints), refinement of Japanese shunga and contemporary porn… collide. This last series, Oriental Cabinet, is interesting not only for raising the versatility of the limits of what in each cultural circle is considered good form, limits between art and pornography, the taboo that forces clandestine collecting … What issues did you want to bring up?
I made for 10 years this large group of drawings series that you have listed. I always referred to emblematic works of art history, offering a manipulation and appropriation of some Western artistic icons, to reflect on the aura that surrounds some plastic fabrications.
The last work you mention, Oriental Cabinet (2007), was inspired by the almost marginal tradition of art collecting centered on explicit sexual representations. Starting from this source, I approached these drawings bearing in mind the Japanese erotic engravings of the 18th century. For this reason, in my drawings you can see many graphic details and original Japanese designs, as well as symbols, headdresses and calligraphic characters from Japan. At the time of executing this drawings collection, my effort focused on a technical treatment of delicate, precise and subtle style, to establish a strong contrast between the represented, socially assumed as obscene, and the refined way of representing it. Personally, I do not have prejudices on this subject and consider violence, insults or authoritarianism much more offensive.
Interviewed by Anna Adell