What took its name from a historic battle, the balaclava, a garment that later shrouded in secrecy the heroes of the resistance, and so many movements that fought and continue fighting against the abuse of power, but it also camouflages the identity of bank robbers or rapists, also wrestling attire, has ended up playing a function so little epic as that of sunscreen on the crowded Chinese beaches.
The paintings of María Carbonell lead us to reflect on the pilgrimage of symbols: an Asian face covered with a “facekini” among other paintings that show naked torsos painted with protest slogans, or night flashes in which are juxtaposed in unusual way scenes of camping and police persecutions to Femen activists…
Her work leads us to think about the emptying of the iconic meaning, about the stereotyped repetition of the same gestures, but, above all, what Carbonell proposes is to overcome the visual ennui by means of the stripping of the image, the incursion into its deeper layers, decoding them, rescuing the sediment they leave in the passage of time.
1. Maria, in “State of disorder” series you brought together archive images and internet images, journalistic snapshots and visual documents related to eugenic practices, lobotomies … What these medical crimes and historic insurrections have in common?
In these paintings I started to work on issues as illness, pain, violence… They have as their main subject the human figure, in most cases. We live in an era saturated with images, and this overload of visual information prevents us from having a direct contact with the real facts. When we see images related to the war in Syria, the refugee crisis, xenophobic violence or gender violence, the impact they cause on the viewer is inversely proportional to the speed with which they are reproduced, causing a saturation that collapses our ability to discern and interpret. My idea was to create images that explored the fascination and the abyss between beauty and horror in order to provoke in the viewer some kind of emotion.
In this series there are works dealing with eugenic practices such as Lebensborn, lobotomies such as Stadium 1,2,3 or Howard Dully, and mental disorders such as Untitled. I was interested in showing visually strong images that provoke in the spectator a certain sensation of discomfort, restlessness or astonishment, in order not to remain impassive before the work.
Another aspect to be noted of these works is the pictorial research. Just before starting with this series, I found myself in a moment in which I needed to go beyond the image. This led me to break with my previous work process and to look for another type of images as inspiration source. So, I started working with images taken from the internet that provided me with another type of reading and led me to experiment in the same work with different materials, oils, sprays or enamels. For me, it is very important that there is a balance between the conceptual part and the formal process (painting technique) of the work.
2. This idea of a fragmentary archive or iconographic puzzle run through the paintings series included in “Looking for paradise”. Would the violated body and a frustrated desire be the underlying issues?
Yes, in a sense. Looking for paradise is a project where the phenomenon of migration is examined as survival forms through painting, highlighting the violence that is generated as a cause of displacement or as a consequence of the same act.
All works refer to a violence on the body. The pieces The Protest and Untitled refer to an action carried out in the north of Greece by 7 refugees, mostly from Iran, who sewed their lips in protest after the closure of borders between Greece and Macedonia. In Looking for paradise you can see bandaged hands as a result of the blades on the border fences, Nobody will speak of us when we are dead refers to the idea of loss, to death.
They are pieces that seek to generate a dialogue that makes us reflect on a phenomenon that is far from being temporary and that pushes hundreds of thousands of people to risk their own life as the only way to face the future. The migrant is faced with a violence to flee from, a violence that is generated during the migration process, and a violence that has been generated in the place of destination even before his arrival.
In these pieces, the “iconographic puzzle” is also more evident, where fragments of images without obvious relationship to each other are gathered in the same work, so it does not have an immediate reading and to the estrangement that the image produces is enhanced.
3. Already in “Fake” series, you wanted to disconcert the viewer by sense collisions and conflicting emotions, for example showing in the same image a birthday celebration and the idea of death. Only by taking it out of context and interrupting visual expectations, can an image stop being a simulacrum and burst into reality, says Didi-Huberman. Is it like that for you?
Indeed, I think that the more we try to approach the real through the image, the farther we go. In my work more and more I have been moving away from a type of painting that tries to apprehend the reality we see.
The painting does not return you, in any case, a fragment of reality, the painting shows an illusion of reality, a deception that becomes an appearance of the real. That is why I like to play with opposite elements or scenarios taken out of context and combine them in the same image, thus creating a new reality, a fake that, as Didi-Huberman points out, paradoxically is closer to reality.
Fake was the first project with which I started working using images that were outside of certain established logic, out of context, with the purpose of making the viewer question what he was seeing.
In this case, they were images that combined opposing elements like a girl holding a knife or a woman playing with a paper boat. The idea was to combine figures and objects without apparent relation in order to create images that put the viewer in a position to judge what he was seeing. That distancing from the real led me at the same time to become more interested in the creative process of the work, towards a painting where the referent is no longer so important, where I move further away from the image, which has led me to investigate more about the painterly matter itself.
4. It seems as if only with night vision cameras could that underlying reality be apprehended in all things, which gives your images a dense patina with fluorescent mottled, diffuse textures …
In my opinion, the real thing is in all those nuances that occur in the work during the pictorial process, including all the mistakes that are leaving marks and creating textures on the canvas. Without that, a painting becomes meaningless; it becomes only an image, it does not transcend or go beyond itself.
A work has to invite the viewer to approach it, raising questions for reflexion. In the studio, that process of pictorial research, the sum of successes and errors is what makes me enjoy.
5. You have participated in the latest edition of ARCO, invited by Javier Díaz Guardiola to the ABC Cultural stand. How was your experience in “Mano sobre mano”? Are you currently preparing an exhibition?
It was an incredible experience. It was the first time I participated in ARCO and doing it twice with Mano sobre mano and with T20 was extraordinary. Both Josep Tornero and I were especially excited to participate in this project, we have been sharing the studio for 13 years but until now we had not done any piece together, so we really wanted to see what came out of that. It was a challenge because in our studio each one has its own space, so we have not experienced until now that physical proximity required to work for four hands. We proposed to choose the same image and work it from the pictorial languages of each one. And although each one of us worked individually, the work turned out to be a mirror, like a conversation between the two images with many points in common. The image we chose was not by chance, we wanted to claim a greater visibility of women in the art world. Greater parity in fairs, galleries, museums and other cultural spaces.
I am currently working on a project that revolves around protest actions using the naked body as a claim element. The action of nude bodies has been present in different protests for different reasons, using nudity as a tool for social and political action, but also with an aesthetic and poetic content. At the same time, it seems to me necessary to work with this issue now that we see a lack of freedom and very little tolerance on social networks and from some museums that are censoring works of art in which female nudes appear or any kind of erotic representation. I find it very curious how we are able to censor images related to the human body naked but not others related to acts of violence carried out by human beings.
Interviewed by Anna Adell