The best utopias are those that fail because even the best of wishes has a double burden, beneficial and harmful, of unpredictable consequences. Fredric Jameson exemplifies it with the novel by Ursula LeGuin The Lathe of Heaven, where the desire to stop overpopulation condemns the humanity to extermination.
Without recourse to science fiction, history of humankind is replete with perversions of collectivist ideals and neo-fascist distortions of the sense of belonging.
By pointing out the ambiguity of the utopian impulse Fredric Jameson does not intend to reject it, on the contrary: there is no alternative to utopia (he explains in Archeologies of the future) when the dystopia of the free market sweeps away social advances, ecological measures and, in short, everything that stands in its way.
Avelino Sala often suggests through his projects that double layer of utopia, which turns into dystopia when it is formalized. For this he draws on the ambivalence of slogans and symbols, being emptied of all meaning, or showing the substitution of facts for their effects, the turning of politics into illusionism.
When you use sports metaphors, when the playful becomes a repressive instrument (bats and baseball gloves displaying names of business magnates, hockey sticks engraved with titles of dystopian novels…), it reminds me a dystopia film of the 70’s, Rollerball: a global corporation keeps the people obsessed with an atrocious sport. Oligarchy behind the throne, sublimated violence, international branding with the excuse of sport … everything is already here …
Exactly, everything is here. In these last years, those pieces that you mention and the exhibitions that I have prepared, I speak of that, that the reality, the present, the western context where we develop our lives is a dystopian medium per se, a place where we have already been reached by that future. Then I go to another dystopia, Soylent green, based on the novel Make room, make room! by Harry Harrison, where there were too many people in the world, and then the dead volunteers fed the population. All this was due to an ecological catastrophe, but the oligarchy ate vegetables and fruits while the common people ate “themselves”. We see that almost all these plots are close to reality. Fate is already upon us, the news are not encouraging, everything can get worse. We face the ecological disaster, the political outrage, the differences between the first world and the rest, the recrudescence of the extreme right, the populism, making us relive other times. We will end up living Strange Days.
Q- The golden and glossy surface of those objects give them a ghostly sensation, like the trail of an extinct star, like the ghost of Europe. They also remind us the densityless surfaces of this hyperreal world in which we live, where everything is map and nothing is territory anymore (referring to another of your works).
The truth is that this idea of a common space, such as the European Union, is a great swindle. The only thing that unifies countries is the economy, and nothing else. The EU policies on border issues are a complete disaster … On the other hand, Steve Bannon, adviser to Donald Trump, one of the greatest defenders of the extreme right, has long been traveling around Europe. Bannon wants to launch a political party of the European extreme right for the next elections, gathering all the groups of each country … I am interested in working with symbols (money, flags…) because through them you can deconstruct those ideas of nation, or supra-nation, and turn it around, revealing the dark side.
Q- Book censorship is common to many dystopian novels. In Rollerball it is not explicitly forbidden to read, but when the protagonist wants to investigate something he realizes that the books have migrated to a computer brain and the secrecy prevails. The terrifying is that repression exists almost imperceptibly. Your barricades of books point at the risk of losing this last bastion of resistance: our mind. Although you use the shielding to talk about both the resistance and the opacity of power.
A few years ago we ended up burning one of those barricades in Matadero Madrid. We alluded to those banning of books, to the purge of freedom and also to the worker’s resistance setting up roadblocks with burning tires. Well, these pieces in most cases have different layers of reading, like an onion. Sometimes these different layers can be even meanings that we could understand as opposites. Shielding is an artistic exercise that can lead to diverse interpretations simply changing the point of view. In 2015, we presented in ADN platform a Turtle (anti-riot shield), that was another ambiguous piece: the State as something impenetrable, transparent but immovable. We know that the State is neither one thing nor the other. A repressive object such as a riot shield has in itself an overwhelming symbolic load.
The otherness (to put oneself in the place of others) is basic in my projects: the work is only the beginning of a narration, and each one must contribute their experience to complete it.
Q- The manipulation of history from above has been also a constant theme in your work, wether revealing the imposition of certain symbols in the public space (The enemy is inside, shoot over us), claiming the construction of an alternative memory that collects the liberating potential of a subversive gesture (Archaeological Museum of Revolt). Rethinking the past is the only way to avoid being dragged into a predefined future.
The memory of what has happened and what is happening is part of my discourse. From the historical memory (Franco regime and the 1934 revolution in Asturias as the latest workers’ revolt) that directly affected my family, in various episodes, some of them historically documented, until the memory of our time. This museum of a current archeology (something absurd, contradictory in terms) causes two types of readings. On the one hand, it elevates some stones to the category of art by including them in a “museum”. Those modest stones collected in demonstrations are just that, stones. On the other hand, the possibility to rereading the history from not official perspectives, from other narratives. Because perhaps in order to ensure different memories there have to be gestures that, as you say, are subversive.
Q- We have seen your most vandal side (tuning riot shields), your most poetic side (using fragile materials as feathers), your most romantic facet when you get that the laborer craft serve his own cause (straw balaclavas made in the same Ecuadorian factory that Panama hats, or the Anarchy made of Carrara marble). In your curatorships (you are going to co-curate Marte Fair 2018) do you value those qualities to select a project? combative spirit, utopian thought, etc?
Of course, I appreciate in other artists their interests in what I’m also working toward. So, it is logic that I am interested in the work of people like PSJM, Eugenio Merino, Nuria Guell, Nicolas Laiz, Luna Bengoechea, Alan Carrasco… and many others that I could name. They have in common to understand art as a tool to talk about our society from very different perspectives, but they all have in common a combative and at the same time poetic tone.
P- Silence is suspicious. In “The truth is corrupted with the silence” (2017) you compared politics with magic tricks. In your last video, finalist in Loop Discover 2018, the silence is more ambiguous: with a title that honors John Cage (4,33, minutes of silence of minutes of silence), you edited fragments of television minutes of silence (in the Congress, on a football field…) Is not there something cynical in those formalisms of solidarity against terrorism? Do they involve “a change of mind, turning around”, as Cage said about knowing how to listen to silence?
Lately, I’m approaching to the work of artists fascinate me, using the titles of their pieces as part of mine, as for example in these video composed of television minutes of silence, taking reference from John Cage. What interests me is that deceptive symbolism about remaining silent, the minutes of silence in public events, sports activities etc. The other day, watching a game, I found the speaker’s phrase memorable: just before the minute he said: “let’s listen to the minute of silence”. At the end of the day, the best reflection I heard was made by a guy commenting on a football match, it’s curious.
Interviewed by Anna Adell