To slash Velazquez’s Mirror Venus, “spit” on Hegel, decapitate Michelangelo’s Moses or “desecrate” Emperor Claudius’s statue are gestures (some real, others symbolic) synchronized in a single iconoclastic movement against the patriarchal patrimony.
The suffragette (Mary Richardson) who attacked the ideal Beauty, the writer (Carla Lozi) who spat against the Hegelian understanding of history as a dialectic struggle between masters and slaves (in which women, lacking conscience, does not reach even to be a slave), the destruction with a hammer (Cristina Lucas) of a replica of Moses as patriarch of the Abrahamic religions (religions whose phallogocentrism continues to shape the social system), and the ambiguous “cleanliness” of a Roman emperor’s sculpture in the Archaeological Museum of Naples (Eulàlia Valldosera), they share the will not so much to destroy cultural symbols as to resignify them, to reshape them even if it is with a knife.
Violence makes the body move when the voice is gagged. Richardson’s act was just one of many acts of women demanding their right to vote and expressing their anger against the imprisonment of women. The wounds on the body of Velazquez’s Venus didn’t heal and even today many commentators and historians continue to misrepresent the reasons for that action by calling it puritanical or prudish attitude. The truth is that iconoclasm is the counterpart of fetishism and idolatry that the profaner gesture outrages and reveals.
According to legend, when Michelangelo finished his colossal Moses, said: “Talk!”. Given the silence of the marble, he hit it in a knee. Cristina Lucas decided to complete the work of the irascible Buonarroti, and called Talk! (2008) to her action. Her statue’s replica did not speak either, but after beheading it she sat on the prophet’s lap and felt relaxed.
With this action, Lucas kills the Father, according to the Freudian metaphor; in this case, because Moses is the progenitor of the three monotheistic religions that have most denigrated the woman and justified her guilty or martyr status, sinful or saint, just a womb or a weeping woman, one being for the others rather than “a being for oneself”.
This last aspect, to exist for others, brings us to the video piece by Eulàlia Valldosera that, since the title, Mutual Dependency (2009), raises in some way the vicious circle of power relations. Liuba, a domestic employee of Ukrainian origin, awaits the departure of the last visitors of the Archaeological Museum of Naples to stay alone with Emperor Claudius.
The seated statue with a serene appearance, like that of Moses with his Tables of the Law, receives a biased light filtering through a large window. As it gets dark, the shadows accentuate the ambiguity of the young woman’s gesture polishing the marble skin. She entertains himself with his chamois on the toes, on the smooth abdomen, the calf … She caresses the wide neck, traces the cracks with a subtle touch. She places her hand on the giant’s, closed on a roll of parchment with its laws and edicts.
With this sensual game in a latent state, the subaltern figure transgresses certain limits, while at the same time demonstrating the sexual tensions that nourish power relations.
Claudio does not speak either, but Liuba does. In the second part of the video we will know that she does the housework for the Valldosera’s gallerist, who has made this work possible. An immigrant without valid papers, an artist without a contract and a gallerist are three chess pieces in “mutual dependence”.
In Hegel’s philosophy of history, manual labor ends up freeing the slave and invalidating the master power. In reality, the dialectical turn usually does not happen. Although, concerning Hegel, the true emancipation only happens with a work of spiritual nature. Art is one of the ways.
Valldosera and Lucas break free from heteronormative dependencies, each in her own way. Eulàlia’s work has been turning towards a “mystic activist”, as she calls it, a “psychic archeology” that in the Thyssen Museum has led her to discover hidden interpretations under the thick patina of time.
We refer to the action (The invisible others) that she performed last week circulating among the paintings of the Thyssen collection with her eyes closed: Cranach, Ghirlandaio, Klee, Mondrian … By privileging the tactile, the haptic sense, in the perception of some paintings whose interpretation the sense of sight seems to have already exhausted, Valldosera undermines formalist and intellectual readings to intuitively access the mind of each artist at the moment of creation, in which she often discovers a healing breath that radiates beyond its historic moment.
Patriarcado, Cristina Lucas and Eulàlia Valldosera
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
until 31th March 2019