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On “Untitled”, the new plastic series by Antoni Miró

Wences Rambla

After the series “Vivace”, in which Miró had been working intensely until around two years ago, the artist continues on his plastic artistic adventure, which is the equivalent of saying that he continues on his personal adventure, given that, as we have pointed out on previous occasions, his way of looking at reality and of living it through painting, are intertwined to the point that are virtually inextricable.

As we all more than aware, the world seems to have changed since last year as a result of what happened in New York on 11 September. But, in any case, has the world not been changing, in countless twists and turns, in the wake of other no less fatal dates? Like another day in September, also beginning with “1”, when Poland was invaded and, as a direct consequence of the Blitzkrieg, in less than one month passed into the history of oppression and the annals of manslaughter, before being shortly afterwards overtaken by functional extermination camps. Or how about the day when a German industrialist excused himself to the German government because the crematorium ovens designed by his company were not sufficiently efficient, given that they incinerated less body per hour than initially forecast. Or, what could be said about the first lynching of a black man in North America in the modern era? Or, more recently, about the withdrawal of the world’s most powerful country from the Kyoto Agreement which attempted to put a brake on the carbon dioxide emissions largely responsible for the greenhouse effect and the devastating floods in many areas of the earth and which are threatening to become even more disastrous in the next twenty or thirty years? We could go on and on, adding to this chain of dates which is proving to be as long as it is horrifying, and just as appalling as the events following the “deliberated” decisions taken by so-called leaders, quickly turning into yet more historical milestones in shamelessness and barbarity. Something that nobody but us human beings are able to project and develop with quite such standards of efficiency and refinement.

Anyway, it is time to get back to the point. And the point is that, for some time now in our recent lives, we are witnesses to a kind of witch hunt persecuting the so-called culprits (and I am not suggesting that there are none; on the contrary, there are many but not the ones they try to make out). In the meantime, they think, why not take the opportunity of this historical occasion to put the masses of immigrants in their “rightful” place, all these moors arriving in little boats, these ignorant Latinos, all these greasy, miserable, strange, criminal and dangerous people. One would have to ask oneself just for who are they dangerous? Who would really choose this form of “easy life” survival? And all that without forgetting the conflicts eternally appeased with promises of a fairer redistribution of wealth, signed in the sacrosanct tranquillity of comfortable offices, in front of television cameras, and advertised urbi et orbe, only to be immediately violated, renegotiated, on and on in saecula saecholorum, in front of the disbelief of those with little to hope for.

The situation has certainly changed. And it has done so, to a large extent, because of our inability - or lack of willingness- to resolve conflicts. And it has also changed, creating a profound disruption in the face of such colossal audacity, thanks to the eruption of “uncontrolled control”, for revolution and power are no longer issues restricted to great ideologists, nor do they consist of brandishing the deterrent of incontestable atomic power, nor other delicacies such as the “spectacular” anti-missile shields to protect certain ceilings, while tire rest of the world can go to hell. Apparently that is no longer the case. The situation has changed diabolically because in this global era, and very particularly (if there is another one) of the globalisation of universal poverty, anything is possible. From the man, woman or child turned into a walking bomb, to economically insignificant people, to the more dejected of societies (and, naturally, this is from the ethnocentric viewpoint of Western, white man, this clean-cut man whose deodorant always keep him dry), they all seem to be preparing, to our outrage, a cheap form of checkmate. The human walking-bomb or bargain bin biological bomb are the atomic bombs of the dispossessed of the earth,. How different everything is! Anything is possible now. From the two monolithic blocks of the cold war, we have now moved on to the hegemonic power of the Ussacks, and from there to the blind obeisance if one wants to be aligned with the “goodies”. However, we are all to b lame, and I would dare say that we -proper, studious, wise (in what?) Westerners, unable to take on board other ways of thinking, other habits, other ways of understanding and looking at reality- are even guiltier. We vacuously go on and on about multiculturality, miscegenation, hybridisation, developing a vocabulary full of positive omens and intentions that we metamorphose, not only in political and social languages, but also in the artistic one, with all sorts of lucubration, when most of the time the real purpose is to disarm, silence, vampirise, absorb or aggregate these “poor” people onto the side of the “goodies”. That is, to control those who think differently and who could possibly cause trouble for us. That is the origin of the emergence of different and no less subtle strategies of osmosis aimed at integrating, like so many other times in the past, all those “others”, those different to our system and to turn them into our images, provided of course that they remain subservient at our feet.

In any case, there is no reason to get alarmed because I have no intention to keep on this track. I am not trying to come up with a draft manifesto on the political sociology of the moment. Nor any sort of provocateur pamphlet, although I must admit and stand by the vehemence with which I opened this text. What I am trying to say is that thoughts similar to those are what I detect in the paintings, drawings and collages by the artist, the object of this analysis. That is, I just want to say that, as I have very often had the occasion to ascertain, Miró, following the humanist ideal “homo sum, humani a me alienum puto” attributed to the playwright and freed slave Publius Terentius, does not consider anything real to be alien to him. As a human being and as an artist, Antoni Miró looks, observes, sees things and events pass in front of his eyes but does not feel unattached to them. On the contrary, he feels and experiences them in his own way, acknow ledges them, and returns them to us transformed into images. Obviously, he does not return them to us in writing, but, given his condition as a visual artist, through a set of images acting as testimony. I do not know if they are accurate reflections of what has happened, of what happens, and who could ever be certain about that, but surely as reminders of the way or keys to reflect on it. And he carries it out by configuring and building his own universe. It is his own in his personal approach (poiesis), inasmuch as it involves the filter of his gaze which subjectively tends to objectify what he sees and, humanely speaking, dislikes.

And even if he goes beyond the appearance of things and, contrary to what some could think, does not allow himself to be influenced by culture and society, or at least not entirely so, characterised by the imposition of an increasingly uniform way o f seeing, that is, of considering things, of what is politically correct, that does not urge him to embark on a whimsical and subjectivist discourse, although - I would insist on this fact- it is a subjectively personal one. Miró does not relinquish the context in which he lives, neither, evidently, the world where all those acts, events, approaches and unredeemable stances occur... which he conveys according to his peculiar téchne mimetiké or grafiké in his paintings, engravings, or sculptures. No, it isn’t that; or it is not only that. Antoni Miró scrutinises the reality of the events and when he changes -here is one of the keys of his artistic form of referring to things- the relation between himself as percipient subject, the object (themes) of his works, and the “execution” in them of the plastic reversion of those events for the spectators, it opens up the possibility for a different presentation, more in tune with the order proposed by the painter, without severing the connection with that persistent and acknowledgeable reality of the events happening in front of our eyes; that we know, more or less in depth, but we do not invent like television, press, radio. That iconic order, that we may understand or translate by composition, syntax, articulation of the elements configuring -or making sentient- his “text”, has travelled along a path full of alterations, modifications, precisions, until arriving to our present moment, in which he offers it to us.

And at this moment in time, with his new series with which the artist seems to be journeying further towards his inner self, very deep into his soul -which is the same as acknowledging how deep are the feelings that the external world trigger in him- we see, in the first place, a series of paintings with suggestive titles where he talks, as in a series of links, of the chain of events directly or indirectly related to the fatal date of September-11. Thus, Manhattan Survivor is the visual starting point of his current journey, highlighting the thread starting out from that urban spark and detonation, with its enormous media repercussion (and which was undoubtedly very useful in bringing to the surface a number of disasters, excesses, unfair situations... as modern as they are hidden or concealed), the current that enervates, energises, exasperates people, the characters and ordinary individuals of this increasingly connected society.

But if Manhattan Survivor reveals the confusion of those ordinary characters, who have not yet entirely taken on board what has happened, covered by dust as in some sort of macro-Ash Wednesday, another acrylic on canvas, entitled Manhattan Triptych depicts the scene as if it were the poster for an action film, the frames of the key sequence of the event: one single shot divided by an internal juxtaposition of painted edges, not by the addition of physically divided supports (that is, following an illusory cutting line), the three type-images as three moments of the singular and terrible firework display which the spectacular impact-demolition-fall of the Twin Towers was turned into. That impression which for those who were watching the news on that day, when they somewhat disbelievingly saw the terrorist event, thought that they were seeing yet another report about an action film while thinking “the things they can do nowadays with special effects”.

But, as I explained above, this event carries with it a whole series of threads which Miró wires together and intertwines. Thus, in Grècia al British, he depicts a familiar view of fat or bald tourists, ecstatic in front of the wonders of Ancient Greece looted by modernity. Recalling Lessing, when in the debate about pictura ut poiesis he spoke of the spatial nature of the pictorial fact in contrast with the temporal nature of poetry (that bodies are the object specific to painting, whilst actions are the specific object of poetry, given that the signs used by the latter are able to express successive objects), when we see in the painting by Miró those tourists enthralled by the Greek sculptural group on exhibit at the museum, we may well conclude that Lessing was not entirely right. For, confronted by those broken figures, static in their fragmented objectivity, in their mutilated corporeity, offering themselves to the eyes of the beholders as bodies spatially frozen and temporally fixed, I cannot but ask myself would that iconic fixation not be intentionally pointing at the spectator, mentally transporting him or her -provided he or she holds a truly aesthetic approach- to another place, or better still, to another time: to the days of plundering, of the dominance of the powerful and intelligent over the poor and ignorant? There is, therefore, no doubt that this work contains an evident allusion to the parameter of time. In it, the concept exceeds the corporal, frozen and fixed on the pictorial image, successively transporting us through the twists and turns of a memory scattered with decidedly unedifying events.

And from that space-time vision (and I ask Lessing’s forgiveness for daring to question him), the artist transports us to that of the inhabitants of Palestine. Thus, in Intransigència we are confronted with the figures of a Jew and a Palestinian, angrily shouting and fighting as in the metaphor of an unstoppable, merciless and cruel event, one that in fact never does stop. And from here to the vision of the line of prisoners of Palestins a Betlem -the typical line of arrested men, with their wrists tied with red plastic tape and walking against a fading grey background, as if in a misty day in the Bosphorus, with a sign reading “Be’er Sheva”- there is just one step. A trajectory in which the fading backgrounds, the blurred faces, are repeated... like the dusty landscape of the wounded city, or the puzzled survivors from New York: faces with veiled features, like those of the visitors in the British Museum.

And that is the reason why we could also emphasise the evolution in the visual vocabulary of the painter traceable in his recent visual discourse. Thus, the clearly defined profiles and outlines of the past, still visible in his bicycles -like in his recent Вісі-presa- as well as the linear play of the geometric drawing which articulates the different compositional elements in Fossar de les Moreres, without forgetting a certain surreal play in the addition of figured or material elements in some of his works (in this sense, it is worth underlining the cloud of matches like rain pouring down over the city in Manhattan Explosion, sticking into the ground and leaving a red stain of paint: a stain made by the paintbrush as if in a collage; a blood stain by the metaphorical meaning imposed by the situation), our artist evolves towards a configuration of partly blurred elements -especially to be seen in the features of the characters’ faces- and partly explicit in certain areas, depending on the chromatic treatment, sometimes matte, sometimes not, phantasmagorically emphasising colour in some compositions - like in the purple Nazarene of the mouths-arches of the Coliseum- while dynamising the outlines and features in others, among the blurring typical of a photographic multi-exposure and the linee-forza of some futurist paintings, as it can be seen in Grup en moviment.

And this is when he does not opt for showing a peculiar compositional syntax through the play he makes between planes and different figured elements, and the type of chromatic resolution employed, as shown in certain works, such as Piazza di Spagna, where he combines three planes in the depiction of that well-known and much visited place: one with a white background (distant white, the milky white of the dust of the disaster, the fading white of distant memories?), another one working as a foreground showing a fragment of the “view” as if it were the typical snapshot taken by a tourist in that famous place; and the intermediate “real” plane –obviously virtual in painting- in which the above-mentioned “photo” is inserted, or from where it comes out, turned by that pictorial highlighting in what we could regard as the thesis of the work which the rendered subject matter carries with it.

It is therefore possible to ascertain that, even if the message -to fall back on an overused term in our postmodern times, but which everybody understands when hearing it- has a specific weight in Miró’s body of work, the “how” of that message, that is, the way in which he visually expresses it, is anything but overlooked. On the contrary, Miró continues making efforts in his search for new paths to channel his contents, but we should not expect large sea changes, but gradual safe alterations which, nonetheless, we have to know how to look for. On too many occasions, the trees of the concept do not allow us to see the exuberance of the forest, and other times, the magnificence of the latter hides the issue underlying the bark of the former. But I think both are there to be seen. They are hidden only for those who do not want to see them.

And to finish, by closing the text in a circular way, I will dare to appropriate a long and recent reflection by John Berger as my own, when he reminds us that everybody everywhere asks themselves the same questions: Where are we? What are we living through? What have we lost? How can we go on without a moderately feasible vision of future? Why have we lost all vision of what the duration of one life means? To which, the British critic continues, rich experts answer: globalisation. Postmodernism. The revolution in communications. Economic liberalism. These terms are, however, tautological and evasive. How is it that to the anguished question of “where are we?” the experts can barely manage to answer “nowhere!” Would it not be better, Berger concludes, to see and admit that we are living through the most tyrannical chaos which the world has ever