The wisdom of Homo Sapiens is questionable. The more knowledge, the less understanding. It would have been more appropriate to call the species Homo Spiritualis, said the anthropologist amazed by the rock art of the cave of Chauvet. But, as the title of Werner Herzog’s documentary reads, those ancestral dreams were forgotten. But, as it says in the title of Werner Herzog’s documentary, those ancestral dreams were forgotten. We neither understand the propitiatory meaning of these magical symbols nor are we already capable of establishing such basic and at the same time so complex relations with the natural and cosmic environment.
Our ability to invent stories and daydream has been unbroken, but it is no longer encouraged by spiritual yearnings. Nature has been denatured and our “natural” habitat is artificial. But, on an emotional level, are we not closer to prehistoric men and women than to artificial intelligence?
Paloma Pájaro has reflected on artificial paradises and our “capacity to be unhappy”, an artist who with her painting poses enigmas about the evolution and involution of our species.
1. In “Lo bajo por oposición a lo alto” (2016) you combine fossils with minerals, mice, crows … The crows holding in their beak gold nuggets … suggest me alchemical themes, death, regeneration, metamorphosis … You call them “liturgical instruments of propitiation” … What do they propitiate?
In effect, Anna, all these elements operate as symbols, universal archetypes that need to be intellectually reconstructed, which demand to be interpreted. Symbols promote knowledge and art, as metaphoric-symbolic language, has the ability to return the human being to an initial and primitive state, a tragic state from which to build new fictions, metaphors free of social control that, however, there will be to annihilate and rebuild again and again. For this reason, I defend that we can not approach Art -or to Philosophy- expecting to find explanations of the world, some sort of existential satisfaction or banal entertainment strategies. Art is a complex reality, a part of the world that needs to be explained, that demands methodical interpretations and firmly grounded from a rational and critical point of view. Art teaches nothing to anyone but requires an extraordinary variety of prior knowledge -religion, philosophy, theology, law, philology- and, just as it is not enough to read to interpret Quevedo’s El Buscón, it is not enough to see or have the ability to feel emotions to interpret an installation of Enrique Marty or a film by Ingmar Bergman. On the contrary, Art is a challenge to human intelligence – both the author and the receiver – and is here to provoke and test our rational and critical competencies, our total will of knowledge and our abilities to make ourselves compatible with reality.
2. The baroque is very present in your iconography: vanitas, cherubim and seraphim, floral garlands as mystical elements… In “Today is the day to be real” (2016) you try to redirect Baroque spirituality into more introspective areas. Tell us about this journey undertaken by the Goya child, guided by Zarathustra.
I recognize that I am passionate about the historical Baroque, the way in which they knew how to reconcile an exquisite spirituality with a precise, rigorous and scientific rationality, contrary to what is usually expressed. In the last months, I have been interested in baroque as an adjective formulation or qualifier, in a way of being that is almost totalizing in the Hispanic world and that I identify almost instinctively with the state of childhood. This is a subject in which I still have to deepen but I think that is not so much the child’s own character but his features that essentially operate in the baroque impulse: venting, immaturity, fear, drive, excess, play, symbols, the imagination, the scream, the aggression, the monster, the metamorphosis… It is very tempting to identify the Baroque with the tragic state referred to by Nietzsche: that “becoming a child and abandoning the shame” that his Zarathustra declaimed. But such identification would only be valid if we accepted the rationality of the child as a singular form of human reason and not as an imperfect or deformed stage of adult rationality.
3. In “Zoosofías” (2018), a series that will soon be exhibited in La Gran Art Gallery, the strong tenebrist contrasts continue to prevail: the fire is burning from a dark magma. The sheep represented in one of the paintings, confronted with birds in the other, could pose allegories about “herd behavior” in front of the free soul that symbolizes the bird?
Rather, it is the opposite: I personally consider that the idea of human freedom can only be defined within a certain socio-political framework, that is, within a certain restrictive normative ambit. In this sense, I find it very difficult to defend any type of autology – from the Greek autos = by itself -, since its uncritical use often leads to confined concepts, to extremely problematic ideas such as self-learning, self-determination, self-consciousness or the author’s own idea. Reason is a human faculty capable of interpreting reality in shared terms, always based on common, collective, consensual experiences. It could be argued, therefore, that no one can think in isolation in the same way that no one can manage self-knowledge or self-determination.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article trying to justify the impossibility of speaking about an autonomy of the artist. This idea seems to impugn the image of romantic author inherited from modernity and has reached our days doubly reinforced: most of us accept the idea that the contemporary artist is not determined by external forces – magical, religious or political – and that he is free to take his own decisions through the exercise of his will and his own effort. On the other hand, we tend to believe that the artist – and the intellectual, seen from a broader perspective – is an individual endowed with a particular critical conscience and, therefore, with a credible speech. I am interested in questioning this lax mentality and therefore I try to dismantle the idea of author as a free and liberating subject, as well as the image of art as an autonomous, dissident and emancipated manifestation of what is politically correct. Neither art nor artists are autonomous because the “autos” is a conceptual fantasy.
But going back to the “Zoosofias” project that you mentioned at the beginning, what I am interested in highlighting is the fact that the survival of human-animal life is co-dependent and non-autonomous of non-human animal life and that once the level of technological and demographic complexity of our contemporary societies is reached, this ecological relationship becomes a direct confrontation and extremely violent. All the images of fire that appear in this series of paintings refer to current or historical war conflicts: detonations of sixteenth-century galleons, minefields of World War II, oil wells burned in Iraq, etc. When moving these explosions to the painted panel, however, I have made disappear its material cause: we only see the mass of threatening fire, the inquisitive behavior of the groups of animals and the wings of Dürer burned. I am interested in highlighting that the cause of conflicts is never single or absolute and that the animal figure almost always functions in my work as a transcript of the human.
However, contrary to the alleged interpretative autonomy of the receiver – widely validated by Postmodernism – I must warn that this project does not arise as a plea against war or the monetary interests of certain groups of human beings; it is not a proclamation in favor of the rights of animals or a complaint on the excesses of capitalism or other forms of social power. “Zoosofias” should rather be seen as a support to rethink the human from its deep contradictions and dangers, renouncing – as far as possible – sterile idealisms or moral posturing. Although it sounds overly solemn and emphatic, I must admit that “Zoosofías” has become a difficult personal challenge that is forcing me to reevaluate the dominant position of Homo sapiens beyond my own private opinions, moral preferences and futile subjectivisms.
4. When we look portrait series, from those figures of dramatized expressions next to summer architecture, or those of people taking beach balls as if they were clairvoyant balls, to the most recent ones with totemic animals (“Pray Time” 2014), it seems as if there had been a progressive reconciliation of the portrayed person with himself, is that correct?
There is a quote from Antonin Artaud that haunts me for years. It says: “The human face is an empty force (…) I have at times gathered next to the human heads objects, trees or animals because I haven’t yet ascertained the limits within which the body of the human ego can stop”. Artaud’s statement, concentrated here in a few words, influence ethically and aesthetically a large part of my work. I do not believe that there is an inner self that we can call genuine, a metaphysical nature that defines our personal essence and that can be discovered behind the Veil of Maya. Rather, I think that we are all in a continuous process of construction, destruction and change and that this transformation can only take place in a confrontation with the world, in the assumption of a dialectic to others that not always are kind. Today I have the certainty that we are not self-determined but co-determined by those objects, trees and animals that Artaud indicated.
Interviewed by Anna Adell
Next Paloma Pájaro’s exhibition
La Gran Art Gallery+Editions, Valladolid