Failed sculptures, false monuments, fallen idols, fanatics and misfits, big feet and delirious brains. Enrique Marty expresses over and over again the “sense of failure” (Sense of failure was the title of one of his latest shows), the absurdity and the misunderstanding that, far from jamming the gears of the world, lubricates them. But not all is lost.
If there is one thing the Salamancan artist believes in, it is catharsis — that fear and laughter can reconcile us with our demons. To this end, his artistic DJ mixer combines philosophers, B movies, psychoanalysis and artists like Ensor and Goya, who dared to analyse in depth the human farce, the social masquerade. And, most importantly, on track one he records a dramaturgy performed by his parents and friends, because the uncanny is nothing more than the reverse of the familiar.
Around every profound spirit a mask is growing continually, owing to the constantly false, namely shallow, interpretation of every word, every step, every sign of life he gives, said he who suffered from one of the most terrible cases of misunderstandings in history. “Whatever is profound loves masks”, and Marty loves Nietzsche despite showing him syphilitic or religiose, as a woman or as a possessed man, making him renounce his misogyny and his song to life. It is the German philosopher’s spirit of continuous self-contradiction, the successive masks that shaped his persona (ergo, mask) along the years, what interests an artist who explores ambivalence as the inherent property of every symbol.
From a Polaroid to a watercolour, from a watercolour to an animated film, from paper to sculpture and installation… to then return to the wall but in the form of a mural painting or as a mental emanation… The constant exchange between languages enhances the conceptual richness of Marty’s projects.
1. Due to the raw texture of their skin, your oil-painted rubber sculptures have a sickly look that, taking into account your admiration for Artaud and his Theatre of Cruelty, reminds me of his description of the plague as a metaphor for the underground chaos that emerges from within in the form of blemishes and blisters and can no longer be hidden, corroding the psychic through the physical, and thereby corroding the social order.
The world is sick and society is deformed and grotesque, and I am working on the idea of making this evident. I have always had the feeling that body and mind are the same thing and that they show and relate to the environment in the same way. A piece I made a few years ago speaks directly about it, Dura Mater, the membrane covering the brain and the spinal cord that connects our thoughts and our physical response through neurons. In Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem, a character who hates his father deeply transforms this hatred into TB. He himself explains that he cannot bear to have inside himself the blood he has inherited from his father. I want to work on this, on a dream house, a house that is perfect and clean, but where dirt is hidden under the rug and there are rotting skeletons in the closet.
2. You have been creating a personal liturgy with which you narrate the twilight of Western civilization: the Europe that was abducted by Zeus is transformed into an apocalyptic horseman, the heroic Dioscuri go through “a delicate moment”, a crow has gouged out an eye of the Artemision Bronze of Poseidon… Faced with Western decadence, Artaud dreamed of returning to a mythical origin he found in ancestral rites. Nietzsche, for his part, went to pre-Socratic Greece in search of his cultural ideal. But to what model can we turn today?
My feeling is that today’s general models are pathetic. In all ages, man has had a sense of Apocalypse, of end times and of degeneration. Rubens wrote in his letters that he had had to live in the worst time in history. Well before that, Greek philosophers complained that youth was spoiled and that society was rotten. I have personally always kept this in mind to safeguard myself from these thoughts. Ironically, however, I cannot get rid of them. So at least at the present time I think it is very important to look at those individuals who question the very foundations of the world.
At the moment I am very focused on analysing how Baroque artists saw the world. They lived in an incredibly troubled and dangerous time and managed to develop a production in which deep pessimism is coupled with a superficial layer of grandeur and celebration. A lucid, critical and symbolic pessimism not conducive to defeat, but quite the opposite. They also looked back on Classical Greece, of course. And it’s time to take up the torch. I have undertaken that task, to demolish the world, to break it down and then to spit it out again in the hope that in its fall, by doing a somersault in the air, it will recompose itself through a sudden and absurd Deus ex Machina.
3. In a very fine article, María Zambrano compared the figure of the philosopher with that of the clown: the pantomime of the latter (“his failed gesture of trying to catch something” or “his hesitant comings and goings”) mimics the act of thinking. The philosopher, in distancing himself mentally from his immediate surroundings, stumbles upon what is close at hand. We are moved by this struggle between the freedom to think and the nothingness that is thought. You have often represented the philosophers you love most buffoonishly; did you do it to make them more human, more vulnerable? To make their conflicts a reflection of ours?
Philosophers are terrifying beings, the same as clowns. Only very recently, I fell to the ground as a result of my slipping in the street and a friend of mine who saw it told me that I was not ready to live in the world. This led me to think that the best way to live in this world is possibly in a clumsy way, embracing stupidity, because the world is stupid and grotesque. Look at Nietzsche, Artaud, Schopenhauer… They look like fictional characters, they have physical features that make them very easily recognisable. It is as if they had been put there forcibly, as discordant elements, as a virus.
Nowadays, we are beset by the formidable problem of political correctness, which is a cruel and devious form of censorship because it is a censorship that does not come from overt dictatorial power, but from supposedly good feelings. This leaves very little room for critical thinking, which is essential.
4. A gallery within a gallery, a street transformed into a film set, the simulacrum within the simulacrum… These are resources that you have used during your career. Maybe as a reference to “the world as representation” and the fact that we are mere extras? Could it be that, as we read in The Birth of Tragedy, our awareness of our significance is barely different from that which a group of warriors painted on canvas have of the battle depicted in it?
In other words, existence is only justified if it is an aesthetic phenomenon. In a single sentence, Nietzsche manages to bring to light the discredit of reality. Aesthetics, as a philosophical branch, is now under attack at universities. Perhaps it has to do with its liberating, dangerous and unsettling nature. The avant-gardes used the unsettling as a very important element. As did the surrealists, who located it in uneasy slumber. Dada took it to the realms of the absurd. Were they inventing something? Not much, I think, they just captured something that the great artists of all times had already felt and used, and this is that perception and reality are one and the same.
5. The container and the thing contained usually go together in your projects. Entering one of your exhibitions means entering a mental space, sometimes labyrinthine, often full of shadows. Whether they are fairground stalls (La caseta del alemán, 2005, MUSAC) or Christmas-lit homes (Stalker), what emerges are ghosts, transfigured memories, obsessions, the uncanny… That which is part of us but which we project onto the other… Can we make peace with our shadow, as Jung intended?
That is our true task. I want my works to have mirror-like meaning so that the spectator can project himself/herself onto them and carry out his/her part of the work. In the end, when we are in the exhibition space, we find ourselves on a container that contains another and so on and so forth. Perhaps to infinity, perhaps not. There may come a time when there is nothing left and then we will have discovered the great mystery. It fascinates me to think that everything is contained within something, in an endless loop.
It has nothing to do with living in pain. You can enjoy the world that surrounds you. You can live enamoured of forms and facts, but at the same time be at peace with the blurred and dark side. As an artist I have a responsibility, and it is to confront the viewer with himself. To get him out of his comfortable place, out of his familiar surroundings, and make him walk on a more dangerous but much more fascinating side. The very fact of being an artist is in itself a definitive act, one which involves the acceptance of a number of things. You can’t waste time once you assume them.
Interviewed by Anna Adell Translators: Teresa Martín/Jo Adams