Federico Guzmán: somos mortales, es verdad…

Federico Guzmán
Conversación con Martín Carrasco

Federico Guzmán

Federico Guzmán

“Somos mortales, es verdad, pero hay sistemas, leyes, ideologías y muros que limitan nuestro potencial de trascender” — Federico Guzmán.

Federico Guzmán (Sevilla, 1964) es un artista visual analítico, poético y de la imaginación… Un creador “expansivo” y culto, con una obra diversa que escapa de clasificaciones evidentes. Guzmán conjuga el trabajo individual con el colectivo, actuando en territorios como la cultura libre, los derechos humanos y la ecología. En su estética, conciencia y responsabilidad social van de la mano, sin duda su mejor forma de servir al mundo.

—Contemplando La canción del tomaco, tu “fantástica” exposición que podemos disfrutar en el MEIAC, me ratifico en la idea sobre la capacidad transformadora que nace de lo naif.

Albert Einstein explicaba que “La mente intuitiva es un don sagrado y la mente racional es un fiel sirviente. Hemos creado una sociedad que honra al sirviente y ha olvidado el don”. Efectivamente la civilización occidental vive una paranoia racionalista que cree que todo puede ser controlado, y para ello ha de ser conceptualizado, separado, alineado y explicado. Es ese ego dominante al que Enric Corbera llama “el tonto del culo” que tenemos en la cabeza. Desde esa perspectiva lo naif se reduce a infantilismo. Yo defiendo la mirada limpia de nuestro niño interior, nuestra capacidad de aprender jugando con los demás y la confianza de seguir nuestro propio impulso guiados por un corazón abierto. Si eres capaz de transformar tu perspectiva del mundo tienes el poder de transformarlo todo.

—Un corazón abierto –el tuyo- que nos regala La canción del tomaco…

El tomaco es una planta fantástica que se hizo realidad. Este injerto de tomate y tabaco saltó a la fama en un memorable capítulo de Los Simpsons. En la fábula Homer Simpson se hace agricultor y de manera accidental descubre el tomaco, un híbrido mutante de tomate y tabaco. Todo el que lo prueba se vuelve peligrosamente adicto. El tomaco es una droga poderosa. Justo cuando Homer está a punto de ganar cien millones de dólares con la venta del tomaco, unos aterradores animales adictos destruyen sus planes.

—Y entonces, a partir de ahí, se inicia el viaje de esta planta espiritual…

Sí, es un viaje de la ficción a la realidad, he copiado este invento para cultivarlo en nuestra tierra. El tomate y el tabaco pertenecen a la misma familia de plantas, las solanáceas, lo que permite su injerto y crianza en una sola mata. Aprendiendo su cultura lo he criado con cuidado en tierras de Andalucía, Extremadura y Colombia desde 2005. Después el poeta Michel Hubert me propuso colaborar en un proyecto con la Fundación Ortega Muñoz. A través de ella entramos en contacto con el naturalista Joaquín Araújo para cultivar tomaco en su finca extremeña de Las Villuercas e iniciar un diálogo que nos ha llevado del arte a la ecología y del huerto familiar al planeta Tierra.

—¿Y “más allá” del tomaco?

Siguiendo la llamada de esta mata he aprendido que el tomate y el tabaco son plantas originarias de Abya Yala, “la tierra en plena madurez”, como la gente Kuna ha llamado ancestralmente al continente americano, donde se han cultivado desde hace milenios. Uniendo sus tallos y compartiendo su clorofila, las frutas de tomate crecen en raíces de tabaco, y funden sus nombres, mitos y genealogías. El tomate, sustancioso alimento, es el cuerpo; y el tabaco, planta sagrada y alucinógeno chamánico es el espíritu. El alimento del tomate y la medicina del tabaco coexisten discurriendo por su savia. La alianza del tomaco propone señas de un camino de sabiduría. El ser humano es una hebra del tejido de la vida y nuestro pensamiento siempre busca su par. Nuestro orden cósmico es un pari-verso, regido por la proporcionalidad, la reciprocidad y la complementariedad. La relación entre dos sólo es posible en el diálogo y el consenso, y este diálogo debe buscar la equidad para el equilibrio dinámico que es la vida misma.

—Tras La canción del tomaco hay una reflexión sobre las plantas…

Desde el comienzo de la humanidad hemos sobrevivido con las propiedades nutritivas y medicinales de las plantas. Dicen que el número de especies vegetales en la Tierra se estima en 400.000, muchas de ellas desconocidas para los humanos. Mientras sólo una fracción ha sido identificada y categorizada por los botánicos occidentales, podemos afirmar que muchas plantas desconocidas en Occidente son conocidas por los pueblos indígenas que conviven con ellas en su entorno natural. Todos estos pueblos ancestrales insisten en que su conocimiento de las medicinas vegetales proviene directamente de las mismas plantas y no de la experimentación por ensayo y error. Lo que es menos conocido es que muchas de estas enseñanzas de las plantas están en la base de descubrimientos modernos tanto en medicina como en alimentación.

—… y más de una crítica.

Michel Hubert, comisario de este proyecto, plantea el injerto del tomaco como una intervención técnica en el mundo natural que por su carácter tradicional significa una crítica a la manipulación tecnológica de la ingeniería genética de hoy en día, al tiempo que un elogio del saber ancestral del horticultor y el jardinero. Sin embargo mi crítica se dirige específicamente al carácter mercantilista de la biotecnología, donde el beneficio económico es el factor que determina cómo y hacia dónde se orienta la investigación. Su objetivo es la industria farmacéutica y la agroindustria. También, cuando hablamos de biotecnología hablamos de patentes y de la privatización de unos bienes comunes como el patrimonio genético de las especies vegetales y animales. Los acuerdos comerciales internacionales están en camino de que un puñado de multinacionales sean propietarias de los principales elementos de la vida del planeta, comercializándolos de la forma y bajo el precio que quieran, habiéndolos sustraído arbitrariamente del saber tradicional y del común.

—En tu universo creativo hablas de los “hombres-plantas”…

El oficio del arte me ha puesto en el camino de las plantas. Avanzando en el camino, poco a poco, me he encontrado con “gente-planta”. Antiguamente no era tan raro que la gente se convirtiera en planta. Los antiguos sanadores vegetales conocían estas historias. Los viejos médicos sabían que este árbol era una niña, que esa flor había sido un niño. Esas cosas son verdad y su misterio todavía nos encanta. Dibujar plantas me conecta con la esencia de la vida. Creciendo como artista he pintado plantas de pequeñas a grandes. He dibujado semillas y hojas, plantado verduras y pintado árboles, he comido frutas y fumado flores. He dejado que las plantas dibujen a través de mí aquello que no sé pensar. Dibujando me he dejado llevar y, en un momento mágico, figura y fondo se han intercambiado. He comprendido que no creamos el arte sino que es el arte el que nos crea a nosotros.

—En la exposición una planta antropomórfica abraza a una mata de tomates. Es un vientre femenino, un útero donde la fruta fantástica ha germinado en los ovarios, y las ramas de tomate son las trompas de Falopio. En ese dibujo está Colombia y está el trópico, el mestizaje de América y África, lo futurista y lo ancestral, la vanguardia y lo popular, me interesa porque todo eso es nuestra identidad, una mezcla creativa de todo lo que crece en un sustrato de culturas olvidadas y despreciadas. Hay que revivir valores geográficos, económicos, sociales, políticos, religiosos, artísticos, lingüísticos, científicos soterrados física o mentalmente, o fosilizados en museos como un mudo testimonio del pasado, listos para saltar pletóricos de ideas y vivencias si los tocamos con inteligencia y amor.

—Una vez más la mente intuitiva, la “inteligencia del corazón”…

En todas las culturas existe una tradición de percepción directa de la naturaleza a través de la inteligencia del corazón. Esta inteligencia es un flujo de conciencia, entendimiento e intuición que experimentamos cuando la mente y las emociones se alinean en coherencia con el corazón. El corazón es, de hecho, un cerebro en toda regla. La percepción centrada en el corazón puede ser extraordinariamente precisa y detallada en su capacidad para recoger información, tal como afirman los sabedores tradicionales e indígenas. Los chamanes que he conocido en Colombia y en España se distinguen por su elocuencia, su humildad y su sabiduría. Don Antonio Jacanamijoy, un venerable taita del Putumayo, explicaba cómo algunas personas se acercaban al conocimiento de las plantas para ahuyentar el infortunio o curarse una dolencia. Decía que estas personas venían a la planta siguiendo una llamada. Que no era uno el que decidía buscar la planta para curarse sino que era la planta misma la que lo llama a uno. Y que se debe prestar atención para distinguir esa voz, que nos llama en sueños desde el mundo natural.

—Por último, el espíritu del tabaco habla de algún modo de una sociedad enferma…

Sí, elaborando el tomaco también me he interesado por su toxicidad. Me he preguntado por los peligros de un camino al conocimiento del veneno y por la aún más peligrosa ignorancia; y por las peligrosas tentaciones de las adicciones, donde uno no se ha de dejar llevar por los cantos de sirena de la autodestrucción. El veneno o pharmakon (griego: veneno, o rey), la droga, es a un tiempo embriagante y sanador, medicina y brujería, reactivo químico y color de artista. Es también nuestro aliado, y nos habla. El espíritu del tabaco habla de una sociedad enferma, consumida por las adicciones que para sí misma ha creado. A veces somos como la palabra navajo “chindi”: “fantasmas hambrientos”. Cuando Carl Jung visitó a los indios pueblos en los años veinte, el caballero indígena con el que conversaba dijo: “Vosotros los blancos sois como saltamontes hambrientos. Nunca os asentáis. Llegáis, devoráis y os desplazáis a otro campo. Nosotros lo tenemos todo aquí, hemos llegado. Vosotros estáis siempre desasosegados”. ¿Está nuestra existencia tan atascada en su propio embrutecimiento que ha eliminado la capacidad de oír a la voz del mundo natural?

in Trazos

Los paisajes de Marià Manent

Marià Manent

Marià Manent
Conversación con José Muñoz Millanes
Abril, 2013

En una nota introductoria a la antología Poetas catalanes contemporáneos (1968) de José Agustín Goytisolo Marià Manent se declaraba poeta “contemplativo”. A diferencia de los poetas “activos”, que pretenden dar testimonio de la sociedad y transformarla, los poetas “contemplativos”, según él, se inclinan a hacer justicia, emocionados, a la belleza y el misterio de la realidad. En la obra de Manent se advierte un sobrio, pero intenso, patetismo inspirado por “lo más profundo e inmutable de la condición misma del hombre” sobre el fondo de una naturaleza omnipresente.

En la primera fase de su poesía (de 1918 a 1931, aproximadamente) este escenario natural se localiza en la comarca costera del Maresme, en Premià de Mar y sus cercanías, alrededor de la casa familiar. El paisaje aparece delicadamente estilizado por influencia de lecturas y modelos culturales. Por aquellos años Manent frecuentaba la poesía de Francis Jammes y, como él, ofrece en sus versos un mundo rural y provinciano, sencillo y veraz al mismo tiempo, afín al del modernismo tardío de Lugones y Juan Ramón Jiménez. Pero, además, el Maresme es un paisaje típicamente mediterráneo que se ajusta a los ideales de claridad y equilibrio del Noucentisme en que Manent se formó (suaves colinas, viñas y bosquecillos de pinos sobre el horizonte del mar). Allí, en noches donde el ruiseñor canta y la luna brilla en los naranjos del huerto, o en domingos de mayo con las acacias en flor empapadas de lluvia, se desarrolla una historia de amor no correspondido. En los años de la guerra y de la posguerra las calles de Premià y la casa familiar y su huerto volverán a aparecer con un tono elegíaco semejante al de la poesía de Espriu, inspirada por las sombras de los antepasados en un pueblo próximo (Arenys de Mar) Marià Manent, más que un simple contemplador, es un observador minucioso de la naturaleza. En su poesía, al misterio de la vida humana corresponde el misterio de una naturaleza de una “complejidad insondable”. Poco a poco Manent se volvió muy sensible a una pululación de rasgos físicos diminutos, aparentemente insignificantes y casi imperceptibles: manchas, arabescos, marcas. Leonardo da Vinci ya había llamado la atención sobre la fecundidad de estos detalles naturales (o “signaturas”) que inspiran insólitas imágenes, al establecer relaciones al margen de la “unidad vigilante” de la forma. Por eso Manent se sintió muy afín a pintores, no abstractos, sino con un cierto grado de informalismo material (Van Gogh, los fauves, los artistas orientales o Tàpies), llegando a escribir ensayos sobre ellos, reunidos en el volumen Notícies d´art.

El desarrollo de esta visión microscópica coincidió con los años de la Guerra Civil y fue favorecido por la escritura de un diario (El vel de Maia), una práctica que requiere una atención redoblada y asidua.

Durante la guerra Manent, por razones profesionales, iba regularmente a Barcelona desde una casa de campo (Mas Rosquelles). La casa está situada en el macizo del Montseny, no lejos de Viladrau, y pertenecía a la familia del poeta Jaume Bofill i Mates (conocido con el pseudónimo de “Guerau de Liost”) y del escritor y traductor Jaume Bofill i Ferro. Este último era íntimo amigo de Manent y en aquellos “tiempos difíciles” lo hospedó en ella con su familia.

Mas Rosquelles es una masía o casa de campo palaciega, también llamada Ca l´Herbolari por haber sido habitada por un famoso botánico. El arquitecto modernista Puig i Cadafalch la había restaurado con toques neogóticos y el mismo Guerau de Liost había diseñado su refinada decoración. Estaba rodeada de un parque con tilos y cedros, frente a un bosquecillo de abetos. En los años 20 y 30 del siglo XX pasaban allí temporadas escritores como Carles Riba y Paulina Crusat, que terminaría residiendo en Sevilla. La casa, sus habitantes y alrededores inspiraron a Josep Carner un bellísimo poema, “Recança”, incluido en Auques i ventalls.

En la cultura catalana el paisaje del Montseny tiene unas resonancias que van más allá de lo físico: se trata de una montaña que, no lejos del mundo mediterráneo, lo complementa, al presentar rasgos nórdicos, casi germánicos. Guerau de Liost en 1908 le dedicó todo un libro de poemas, La muntanya d´ametistes, donde plantea el dilema noucentista de una naturaleza salvaje frente a otra estilizada.

En los años de la Guerra Civil y, en contraste con la atmósfera trágica de Barcelona, Manent afina su atención a la naturaleza con un trato físico, más que puramente contemplativo. Pasea por los senderos del Montseny con la minuciosidad de un cartógrafo, localizando molinos, arroyos, alquerías, riscos. Herboriza, recoge muestras de minerales, observa las aves y describe sus cantos. Visita otras masías señoriales, como la del Noguer, donde trabaja en el salvamento de los archivos de Cataluña. Observa las costumbres de los campesinos. Y, sobre todo, sigue los cambios del tiempo con la exactitud de un meteorólogo y su huella en los matices del paisaje con la delicadeza de un poeta oriental o romántico inglés. Hasta que, hacia el final de la guerra, los ecos de la batalla del Ebro hacen estremecerse este marco idílico.

En la posguerra predomina otro paisaje en los diarios y en la poesía de Marià Manent. Ahora va a pasar los veranos y vacaciones en Mas Segimon, la alquería y finca de la familia de su mujer, cerca de L´Aleixar. Es un paisaje del Campo de Tarragona, de fuertes colores, muy apreciado por el pintor de “manchas” Joaquim Mir: un paisaje más meridional y áspero, con barrancos, y ladridos de zorras lejanas y resoplidos del jabalí emboscado en los matorrales. Los perfumes de las plantas aromáticas embriagan en la sequedad ambiente y entre las piedras polvorientas de un bancal la vidiella o clemátide extiende su prodigioso velo de encaje blanco. Y las hojas doradas de los avellanos, atravesadas por el tibio sol de otoño, cuelgan sobre el agua fresca de la pila de un manantial.

En sus últimos años Manent escribía unos brevísimos poemas epigramáticos a la manera de los de los líricos chinos que él tradujo a través del inglés. En uno de ellos aparece el paisaje de Suiza, país donde visitaba a una hija (Manent había trabajado esporádicamente como traductor de un organismo internacional en Ginebra, donde el pavo real de un parque le inspiró “Amb un orgull de seda”). El lenguaje de “Maig a Suïssa” tiene la difícil sencillez de las obras tardías conseguidas. Los colores son atrevidos, fauves: hay unas flores color de sangre y el ternerillo que se acerca al poeta “es medio blanco / y medio color de chocolate”, casi como un helado de dos sabores.

Mateusz Herczka

Laboratory to ascertain plausibility of Jim’s basement floor anecdote

This work is a reflection on species’ survival strategies and the way life forms cope with environmental stress, approaching these issues through the symbolic analysis of the behavior of a species of small fish commonly known as killifish. This small and insignificant fish belonging to the Rivulus punctatus family inhabits humid areas of the Southern United States, Cuba, etc. but has been introduced by man into extensive areas of Central and South America, the Iberian Peninsula, and Australia, due to its ostensible capacity to destroy the eggs and larvae of the mosquito which carries malaria.

The killifish jumps from puddle to puddle to survive. When water disappears, this famous devourer of mosquito larvae dies, but its eggs survive until the next rainfall. One of this small creature’s most famous survival methods is the jump which it constantly executes from one puddle to the next in its search for the main fountain of all life: water.

There is an extensive human network associated with the killifish and looking out for its survival, which is under threat.

Associations of those concerned about the killifish study its different habitats and behaviors and carry out the task of classifying the animal’s endless variations in form and color. These individuals, a kind of “bio-hackers,” dedicate much of their free time to studying and protecting killifish, exchanging information and specimens at relatively low-key exhibitions and meetings, and even sending eggs by mail!

It is without any doubt an effective social network. By focusing on a species overlooked in the sophisticated world of upscale fishkeeping, they bring to the field a holistic concern which is especially opportune during the times we are now living.

In this work (stemming from a project contracted by the Fundación Ortega Muñoz) the complexity of this fascinating universe of symbiotic responsibility is presented in a symbolic fashion.

Hamish Fulton

The Road. Short Walks through the Iberian Peninsula. 1979-2008
Duration: April 25th – May 30th, 2008

Produced by Ortega Muñoz Foundation, The Road. Short Routes through the Iberian Peninsula 1979 – 2008 is the result of a direct commission, and can be considered as a retrospective approach to Hamish Fulton’s work in Spain. In a reference to a very specific activity, which gives it a special character (his walks through our peninsula), it shows the keys to his work and thought: his images tightly bound to landscape, his constant vision of the remaining path, his descriptive and brief texts which acquire a poetic sense, the presence of symbolic elements…

In order to realise the project, the British artist visited Extremadura from January 12th to February 1st, 2008. In this period he visited regional places such as Jerez de los Caballeros, Alburquerque, Guadalupe, Trujillo, Madroñera, Garciaz, Cañamero and Jaraíz de la Vera, Guadiana river. This was documented in the publication Río Luna Río [River Moon River]: A circular, 21-day walk around Extremadura, from and to Gaudiana River in Badajoz via Guadalupe, barefoot, counting forty-nine steps on a stone road, during January’s full mooned night, Spain eighth year of the twenty-first century. “Highlighting nature,” says Hamish Fulton “is nowadays a political act of capital importance.” As a student during the sixties of the prestigious St. Martins School of Art in London, where he met artists like Richard Long, the aim of making art upon the experience of walking has been defining and building itself in Fulton’s work since the beginning of the seventies, generating a variant of conceptual art concentrated in landscape and paving the way to one of the most innovating currents in art of the late 20th century. This “walking artist”, as he defines himself, has walked more than 24 countries and thousands of miles. His work, exhibited and gathered in some of the most important museums in the world, is a memory and a witness of a privileged relation with nature.

Mateusz Herczka

A conversation with Antonio Cerveira Pinto

Mateusz Herczka moving a killifish for a fish tank. Photo: MH (detalle).

Mateusz Herczka moving a killifish for a fish tank. Photo: MH (detalle).

July, 2009

The infiltration of culture

Mateusz Herczka is a Polish-born European artist currently living in Stockholm. His work has been influenced by many years spent learning in the United States and by a long creative experience in Holland, where he has done most of this work. This brief interview was held on the occasion of his production of the work commissioned by the Ortega Muñoz Foundation: Laboratory to ascertain plausibility of Jim’s basement floor anecdote, or Lab JBF.

ACP — How did you arrive at such a long title?

Mateusz Herczka (MH) — Well, I think it was inspired by the long titles of scientific papers! The idea behind this project, so to speak, is somewhat like typical scientific research. There are many stories about the behavior of a species of fish generically known as killifish, which to date have yet to be verified experimentally. These small fish supposedly live in extreme conditions – in small ponds which then dry up -, which forces killifish to move from one pond to the next, until they die, leaving their eggs behind to wait for the rains to return. Nobody has ever verified this theory, so we don’t know whether it’s true or just an old wives’ tale. There are thousands of collectors around the world who keep this species who defend the hypothesis that killifish jump from pond to pond in order to survive. The fact that these fish often escape from aquariums without leaving behind any trace is, according to them, proof that they must jump to survive. The problem is that this has yet to be seen…

ACP — But with so many fish keepers around the world taking care of hundreds of thousands of killifish, how can there not be any proof?

MH — Well, the purpose of those who keep killifish isn’t to test the acrobatic prowess of these diminutive fish, which they take as a given, but to ensure the survival of this threatened species and to study its specific behavior. In fact, its acrobatic skills are somewhat of a myth, as is the belief, especially in Africa, that they come with the rains, that is, that they literally rain!!!

ACP—  I’d like to know how the killifish’s survival skills were discovered.

MH-—  Well, there’s even an anecdote being spread by email on internet about the killifish’s remarkable ability to move along the ground, jumping from pond to pond. The setting for this story is the basement of the Canadian Killifish Association’s founder, the now famous Jim. He has a bunch of aquariums in his basement full of various killifish species and families. One day a friend of his was visiting and as he was looking at the aquariums and talking to Jim, he noticed that one of them was empty. Puzzled, he asked Jim about the empty tank, to which Jim replied:

“What’s the aquarium label say?” The friend replied, “Rivulus punctatus”, and Jim said, “Well shucks! That’s another one that got away”.

Upon returning to the basement a bit later, the friend noticed that there were a couple of fish on the floor, swimming in a small puddle of water that was dripping from a large water recirculation system, of the type used to supply aquariums. “What kind are they?” asked Jim. “Rivulus…”, the friend answered. “Then leave them there”, said Jim, crossing his fingers.

Six months later the friend went back to the basement. Out of curiosity, he looked at the floor in the direction of the corner where he had seen the killifish on his last visit. The two Rivulus were still there, in the puddle, but they had doubled or tripled in size to a length of seven centimeters. Their bodies were almost half out of the water. What’s more, they were surrounded by about forty offspring! The friend told Jim, “there’s a bunch of fish downstairs!” “Yeah, I know”, Jim replied. “They like the floor more than my aquariums”.

The fact is that these movements, these jumps, are a near certainty, but there’s no empirical evidence for them.

ACP— Hence the idea to study this myth in the context of artistic “research”.

MH— Exactly. So I designed a system of aquariums intended to facilitate the jumps of Rivulus Punctatus and other killifish species. In preparing this work in my studio, I set up a motion capture device to record the movements and the expected jumps of the killifish. In one of the scenarios, two adjacent transparent aquariums allow the fish to see where they’re going. In another arrangement, I hid the adjacent aquarium from sight to see whether the Rivulus would still jump or not. In both cases the killifish acted out of a survival instinct, jumping out of its aquarium – the first time, toward another aquarium in sight; and the second, into the void! I think it’s the first time that anyone’s gotten visual proof that killifish, and the Rivulus species in particular, can jump to a height of up to ten times their length. And they do so regularly in an effort to stay alive. This way they ensure the evolutionary continuance of the species.

ACP— But, from this standpoint, what degree of involvement, or responsibility, do you think can be attributed to the eco-philosophical activism of killifish lovers for its survival?

MH—  I was in fact interested in studying their involvement as part of this work: to expose the almost symbiotic relationship in recent decades between these seemingly insignificant fish and people. Due to their tendency to feed on mosquito eggs and larvae, they’ve been used since the early 20th century to combat the spread of malaria in some parts of the world. The results have been contradictory, since the introduction of killifish in new habitats has resulted in the decimation of some fish species, since killifish, in particular Rivulus Punctatus, are highly aggressive. At any rate, this biological warfare experiment has allowed the killifish, now threatened by extreme drought and by climate change in general, to successfully engage in a new survival strategy: the cultural infiltration of the human species! The worldwide network of killifish fans has, in a way, thrown an unexpected lifeline to many species that are threatened by climate change and by the damage that mankind has inflicted on the vast majority of the Earth’s ecosystems.

László Krasznahorkai

A conversation with Antonio Sáez

April 2009

Regarding Al norte la montaña, al sur el lago, al oeste el camino, al este el río [The mountain to the north, the lake to the south, the road to the west, the river to the east]: Oriental culture plays a very important role in your book, maybe even more than the concept of space. What is your experience with this culture?

In Japan, I found a culture that has become classic, and spoke out in an ideal way, although that culture is already dead nowadays. However, I didn’t notice that death. Beauty wipes off the question over if it exists in a living or dead space. We only have a culture in the guise of museum, in its widest sense, whereas in Japan we were constantly stumbling upon it, in a dish, in a garden, in somebody’s movements on the street. It is about a meeting, and this meeting hurts us, and that has aesthetic consequences. The words a European person can use to write about that preserve that pain.

Which is the importance of aesthetics in that context?

In my work there doesn’t exist such a compact culture or cultural structure. My encounter with Japanese culture amazed me, because it became clear that they don’t limit themselves to aestheticise life, which they also do, but they do something else: they keep the original plenitude of aesthetic manifestations and thus create an aesthetic existence which includes the sacred. And in that existence, all features of human space that are affected by Japanese culture of the imperial age are also sacred.

Reading your book produces, at times, the final feeling of silence, of arriving to an unfathomable place for the reader, where words run the risk of being too many. From this perspective, to which extent do the ideas of “paradise” and “silence” look alike, from your point of view? Do they keep any relation?

It is true that words become unnecessary in paradise, so it is clear that I don’t have a place in paradise. I can only attain what a man–and his readers–can attain with words, or with the utmost effort he makes with words. The language I use demands silence and sound at the same time. Perhaps the silence that sometimes took control over you was your own silence, the one you perceived while reading my book, a silence allowing for thinking, or in better words, for abandoning oneself to thought or to an unusual feeling. In other words, this book gives you the opportunity to abandon yourself to what is to come.

For a Spanish-speaking reader, it is difficult to read this novel and not remind Borges, though in a nuanced way, without all the literary background of that author, who doesn’t appear with that intensity in the novel. Has it been a conscious reference in this book?

There is no book written from Borges that isn’t imbued in his spirit to a higher or lower extent; or otherwise it wouldn’t be worth writing it. Borges is always present.

Another underlying subject in the book is the concept of “tradition”, and the possible differences of that concept in the Oriental and Occidental worlds. Can you go further in that idea?

Europe has been articulated against tradition, whereas Far East culture, and especially Japan’s, has been expressed according to that tradition. However, we have to use this word in two senses: in Europe tradition is a burden that crushes new movements, whereas in Japan tradition implies the enduring keeping and practice on and infinite beauty.

Melancolía de la resistencia [The Melancholy of Resistens] has something of Kafka and Beckett. What is the function of the diagnosis of power that is developed in the novel? And what is the role of irony?

In this book, power doesn’t bear the elements related to the trascendental meaning of power; it only refers to human being’s limited will, with which they pretend to dominate their context. Irony is the natural state of the spirit in the face of that stupid aggression that any kind of dictatorship is. In the novel, the presence of irony also points to what extent that power, the desire for it and its consecution is pathetic, limited and hopeless, particularly if it is compared with the infinite force going well beyond all what human beings imagine as regards land.

After your visit to Extremadura, how does your vision of this land fit into your works’s “worldview”? What social or cultural aspects have called your attention?

First of all, the fact that Extremadura remained intact for so long, its nature’s freedom, had a great impact on me. I observed the fact of the historic disappearance of misery, and I was logically glad that it had disappeared, but at the same time, I was overcome with a blurred feeling of anguish, when I asked myself how would the population keep its current dignity. I still could discover all what is for me human value in some sentence, in a gaze, in the inhabitants’ relation with culture of yesteryear. At the same time, I noticed a common worry when talking to people, the worry of “what is in store for us in this world which, though lacking moral instances, works as if it were perfectly greased, but in a devilish way”. That is exactly what worries the characters in my works.

You told us you were coming to Extremadura with the aim of building (or rebuilding) an idea that came up with an Internet search, where you found a text about the extermination of the last Extremaduran wolf. This subject unites a contemporary and, we could argue, eco-literary perspective with the underlying resistance to Extremaduran rural world. Can you tell us something about the symbolic meaning of this idea and the text?

That’s correct, before travelling to Extremadura I found a text, or rather a piece of news, saying that Extremadura had get rid of the last wolf. I wasn’t looking for cheap or romantic symbols, but a historic way by which I could express my shock. Because wherever I went in Extremadura, I was shocked. I was shocked by the idea of that dry and scorching air that makes life impossible for long months. I was impressed by the past of that human attitude, with which the inhabitants responded and keep responding to the fact that life had barely offered, and barely offers, natural resources. Accordingly, the text I’ve written about the base of my visit doesn’t meander into the factual world of reality, for I’m not a journalist. Extremadura gave the land for writing. Its air, its atmosphere. The same happened with the story I knew here, which was elaborated by me, passing through the sieve of my imagination and became a literary work. I can’t say anything about the symbolical and allegorical meaning, because it allows for no translation, explanation or conceptual development of what it means. It is symbolic in order to irradiate, with the eternal force inherent to all symbols, knowledge of the land, of man: about his defeat and grandeur.

Hamish Fulton

A conversation with Miguel Fernández-Cid

April 2008

Hamish Fulton: “I am an artist who walks, not a walker who makes art.”

The Road. Short routes through the Iberian Peninsula, 1979-2008 is the descriptive name of Hamish Fulton’s exhibition (London 1946), organised by Ortega Muñoz Foundation and presented at MEIAC, and showing an excellent insight of his vital and aesthetic philosophy, as well as his intense relation with Spain.

Hamish Fulton defines himself as a “walking artist”, and confesses he needs the physical experience of walking: “If I were a painter, I would go into my atelier and paint pictures. Then, art collectors would be able to buy those pictures, knowing they could have some commercial value if they so wished. In that sense, I consider that a painter is a person who commits to his activity. In the case of my own art, I see it as divided in two different parts: first, the experience of walking, and in the second place the production of and artistic result. Art derived from walking has a potential of being varied. For example, when I walk in a group, I consider the other walkers as both participants and observers. In other words, walkers are participating and seeing the walk as a work of art. I have been walking and making art about walking for the last forty years. When I was a young artist, I took the firm decision of linking walking and art. I address the walks with an artist’s perspective, that’s why I call myself a walking artist. Walking has the possibility of touching many aspects in one’s life: relaxation, exercise, meditation, health, brain oxygenation, transport, sport, pacific demonstrations, art and much more”.

By watching him at the beginning of one of his walks, the attention is drawn to his ascetics, which is functional in the case of his luggage, but also ideological and conceptual in his attitude. His walks are a means of inner conversation. He always walks watching “the optical triangle of a straight route disappearing in infinity”. The texts going with his images draw our attention in the clarity of the separation between his attitude towards a walk (“The road ahead”) and the physical certainty (“The land below the feet”). He appears rigorously abiding to some “rules” imposed from the beginning: “As a contemporary artist, my rule was to walk the route at once, not in parts, and never by bike. These clear rules keep the essence of walking”.

In the books documenting short walks, he usually includes self-interviews. In one of them, he shoots the key question: “Why walk? Walking is the answer”. I ask him to go deeper. “Why walk? Walking is the answer means, to me, that walking is not a theory, walking is not an artistic material; walking is an experience, an artistic way on its own right. After walking several days, I have the impression that I can think more clearly, questions arise and I mentally struggle to answer them. Walking through paths leaves time for analysing and philosophising, walking through mountains requires more relaxed but alert physical attention. In some walks I take a brief and light book that may allow for contemplation at night, in the tent, such as phrases by the Chinese Taoist Lao-Tzu. Current politicians in Beijing should have read the following words by Lao-Tzu, instead of taking repressive measures against the Tibetans: If anyone desires to take the Empire in hand and govern it, I see that he will not succeed. The Empire is a divine utensil that may not be roughly handled. He who meddles with it, mars. He who holds it by force, loses it.”

These books usually open and close with images of mineral water labels, from the water he consumes in his walks. “I make collages with mineral water labels that I pull out of the plastic bottles of water that I drink in my walks. A serious dehydration may lead to spoiling a walk. Indirectly, these collages with water labels are a comment on the selling of water, and the elimination of plastic containers. Water is a subject of capital importance… the wars on water. Some time ago in our history, water was for free: now, due to the demand and the climate change, we have to pay for it. We pay for a magic substance that cannot be produced in factories by human beings. While part of the not consumed water ends up in the sewage, in other parts of the world there are people dying of thirst and desperately needing clean water. Water inspires me as an artist; it can arrive at many places. I consider that walking and words share that independent characteristic of water. Words can be translated from one language to another, be seen in many kinds of material, or simply be heard”.

He walks routes and paths, never highways, and vindicates his walks as a political act in a world dominated by cars. His reasons are different from the pilgrim’s, who warned him he was walking the wrong sense when he walked The Road to Santiago in the inverse sense. “I have walked through Spanish routes and highways. Our world has been built for cars, and from time to time a small rural path becomes a speedy and dangerous highway. Those who have planned the highways have forgotten to give legal alternatives for walkers, so you can only step back or break the law and go on. As regards current pilgrimages, I am for them, not against them. I don’t hold a catholic faith, and I can’t obey rules that would link me to Rome’s pope. As a contemporary artist, my attitude is inclusive; I accept all categories of walking, I get informed on them. I see the artistic walk as something that contributes in a creative way to the spectrum of traditional walks. As you were mentioning before, I have done the Road to Santiago in the opposite sense. I have also witnessed the positive energies this pilgrimage may generate. My religion is nature: clouds, wind, rain, darkness, starlight, the sun, the moon, birds, stones, lizards, rivers… the sea and the mountains”.

And what about Kavafis’ idea, that it was not important to get to the final destination (Itaca) but to experience the trip?

“As a walking artist I like savouring the trip, in its sense of transition, and at the same time to experience the satisfaction of walking all the road, till the chosen destination. To feel that euphoric state, quiet, standing at the end of a walk from coast to coast, looking at the sea. My photographs of empty highways may hold some relation with this. I took them all at different times of specific trips, but the also convey the idea of going nowhere. I took them all as a walker, not as a driver”.

His name is frequently linked to Richard Long, with whom he made his first projects, when students of the prestigious St. Martins School of Art in London, and with whom he travelled the Iberian Peninsula from coast to coast twice, in 1989 and 1990. However, Fulton observes the landscape, he does not modify it (“All texts and photographs in the walk are the artist’s work. None of the stone buildings are his”, warns a note preceding the images of a catalogue). He is also related to Land artists, but, as the artist suggests when he remembers one of his “commercial climbs”, “out of the world of art”, climbing the Denali in Alaska: “Mi private reason to reach the Delani’s peak was to make a comment on Land Art. As far as I know, no North American contemporary artist has seen this lake in Art History. Contrary to a work of Land Art, arriving at the top of the Denali only leaves temporal prints on the snow; but carbon prints cannot be hidden under layers of snow”. I ask him to comment on what makes his work something specific: “What makes my work something specific? My work is said to be hard to understand! That might be true, but I have never tried to make deliberately difficult art. Quoting Lao-Tzu: Difficult and easy mutually become reality. I am an artist who walks, not a walker making art. I am committed to walking”.

Two books have been edited by reason of this exhibition, which are closer to the artist’s idea of a book than to a catalogue. In Río Luna Río  [River Moon River], he remembers his walk in Extremadura, through the Via de la Plata, in 2008; in El camino  [The Road] there is a look on his short walks around the Peninsula. In one of the texts in the latter, Fulton is quite eloquent when describing his relation with Spain: “In 2001, when I was beginning to think once more of doing walks in Spain, I had to ask myself, Why Spain? The answer is crystal clear. Spanish people (I think) in the post-Franco period are (still) in a good mood. Sometimes I feel that entire countries have individual personalities. Spain: good mood. United States: authoritarians. China: not assuming responsibilities. They are simple but repetitive answers. Furthermore, Why Spain? In practical terms, Spain is for me the country where I personally felt most comfortable (informs an eye-witness) to walk routes. Walk like a car. Eat like a dog”.

It is tempting to interpret Fulton’s projects in a symbolic key. I suggest him to talk about how came up the idea of walking, following a spiral pattern, from Finisterre, the end of the world for the Romans, to Toledo, the city where Christians, Muslims and Jews coexisted. He does not hesitate: “In my 2005 walk from Finisterre to Toledo it wasn’t about the spiral shape. I designed the route on the basis of the directions of five coast-to-coast walks in Spain and Portugal that I made between 1989 and 2004. The supposed spiral shape reflects the walk’s five directions, East, South, West, North and East again, to finally arrive at the centre of the country. When an artist paints a spiral, he can control scale, colour and texture. When I walk, I set myself in a world I do not control, where many associations, conditions and coincidences may happen or be discovered. One might argue that my short walk links Roman influence to the coexistence of the three cultures. Even though, for me it was more about stopping at the end in Toledo, knowing I was being surrounded by a 1,552-mile walk”.