“I want to address the ways in which the aesthetics of these images equated war to beauty. Through these means, war was made palatable to the audience. Furthermore, war was proposed as a sublime event that could not be questioned.”
—Erlea Maneros Zabala, artist
A common feature in the artworks of Iñaki Garmendia (b. 1972, Ordizia, Gipuzkoa, Spain), Erlea Maneros Zabala (b. 1977, Bilbao, Spain), and Xabier Salaberria (b. 1969, Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain) is that they question subjective perceptions by generating new contexts that change the connotation and significance of what is seen at first sight.
Garmendia’s work Blow After Blow (Kolpez kolpe) (2003) is a video that shows the result of a performance made for the Taipei Biennial in 2002–03. Garmendia asked a Taiwanese hard-core music group to perform hits by Zarama and Kortatu, two Basque Radical Rock groups. The title refers to a song on the album published by Kortatu in 1987. In this performance, Garmendia tried to transfer local-specific cultural content to a different cultural system. In the video we can see how Garmendia tries to communicate the significance of the music to the Taiwanese musicians. Most of them cannot understand the meaning of the songs and just answer adopting postures and gestures typical of rock or punk music. Music is interpreted as a youth expression beyond language; the approach to music is not Basque language or literal or local contents, but the typical body language of rock.
In the work November 1st, 2001, Los Angeles Times and New York Times (2005-13), Erlea Maneros Zabala uses the history of painting to reinterpret images produced by media. In this case, an image of war is transformed into an object of consumption. This work is based on four press photographs of the first bombing of Afghanistan immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She translates these images into nineteenth-century romantic paintings, mixing the subject of war with the romantic notion of the sublime. Relating to the work, the artist says: "Following the start of the American invasion of Afghanistan, the American press published a series of photographs ‘illustrating’ the event. Many of these images—with human casualties and destruction omitted—looked like 19th century landscape paintings. By using this form, painting, I want to address the ways in which the aesthetics of these images equated war to beauty. Through these means, war was made palatable to the audience. Furthermore, war was proposed as a sublime event that could not be questioned."
In Debacle (2009), Salaberria examines abstract forms of Constructivistsculpture, focusing his attention on the bases and plinths used in the fourth São Paulo Biennial in 1957 to present the sculptures of Jorge Oteiza (b. 1908, Orio, Gipuzkoa, Spain; d. 2003, Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain). Salaberria transforms the typical plinths of the ‘50s, where Oteiza’s sculptures were placed, into a work of art by removing their function. According to Salaberria, any artistic proposal is, in essence, an operation of design where an itinerary is indicated to organize a certain way of looking and moving. There is no exhibition without space (floor, roof, walls, stands, and panels) and the display becomes a device that offers context: without being anything itself, it bestows an artistic character on objects that the objects themselves are unable to claim. The pedestals of Debacle (2009) are not scattered over the gallery creating a route, but assembled as modular units in a structure. Its matrix structure contains, however, all the possible designs of an exhibition. Within this context we can think about the geometrical units in the game Tetris that, even when fitted into a rectilinear structure which disappears into an undifferentiated totality, continue to be present.
1. Maneros Zabala, Erlea. Bricks to a house/Figures to a picture: North American Press Imaginary 2001–2004. May 6–June 19, 2011. http://stiftelsen314.com/Archive2011.htm
3. Beshty, Walead. “The Discrete Tastes of the Bourgeoise: Erlea Maneros’ Temporal Painting.” Catalogue essay for exhibition Meanwhile, in another place... (2004), p. 111.
5. Jorge Oteiza y el Propósito experimental. http://www.museoreinasofia.es/sites/default/files/salas/informacion/407.pdf
6. Artium. Basque Museum-Centre of Contemporary Art. Gure Artea XX Awards. Press Release. October 25, 2009
At the museum, you can see the whole video; in class, you can watch part of the video at http://vimeo.com/11706455
What can you see? What kind of music can you hear? What kind of music do you like? Why? What kind of message does that type of music transmit? Is your favorite music related to a specific way of dressing or behaving? Explain.
What do you know about punk, Radical Rock, or hard-core music? What kind of messages do they transmit?
Explain the way of dressing, behaving, or thinking to which punk music is related.
For five days, the Taiwanese group La petit nurse performed themes of Basque Radical Rock groups of the 1980s. Search for information about this Taiwanese group. What kind of music do they usually play? Why do you think Garmendia wants to translate Basque Radical Rock to another culture?
Describe what you see. Which adjectives would you choose to describe the images?
Imagine you go for a walk through this landscape. How would you feel? Explain what your emotions would be.
Maneros Zabala deals with the Afghanistan war and the way it is presented by media in United States. What do you know about this war?
What kinds of images have you seen on television or newspapers about war? Describe them and discuss how past events were broadcasted and how they are nowadays.
Describe the elements you see in this artwork.
How are the pedestals placed?
Salaberria assembles the pedestals. Try to draw different combinations of assemblage on the blackboard and discuss which combinations are more interesting to you and why. What kind of artworks could be placed on these pedestals if they are scattered? Trace a line on the board to indicate the different paths that could be created from each assemblage. Which of the itineraries would you prefer to observe the artwork? Why?
What do artists usually use the display of an exhibition for?
Do you think the display of an exhibition could be seen as a work of art? Discuss the possibility. In which way can the display transform the meaning of an artwork?
1. “Iñaki Garmendia in ARCO 2011.” Feb. 18, 2011. http://www.diariovasco.com/v/20110218/tolosa-goierri/inaki-garmendia-arco-20110218.html
Search for information about punk music in different parts of the world (for example, Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Iggy Pop in the U.S. or the Sex Pistols and The Clash in the U.K.). Compare the Basque Radical Rock music with other groups. What differences or similarities can you find between them?
- Activity linked to the work of Erlea Maneros Zabala, November 1st, 2001, Los Angeles Times and New York Times (2005-13)
Find photographs of past wars and contemporary armed conflicts in newspapers and online. Thinking about Maneros Zabala’s reflection, select the pictures that fit her theory (for example, attractive views from an air attack) and distribute them among students without explaining what kinds of pictures they are. After observing them, ask students for an adjective to describe the photographs and check if they can guess where the picture takes place. Compare past and present events and talk about the aesthetic differences of the pictures, how new technologies have changed both war and journalism, and how it supports or interferes with our perception of war.
Search for Oteiza’s Malevich Units at:
Print Oteiza’s Malevich Units and stick them on the blackboard. Ask your students to draw pedestals for sculptures on the blackboard just under each photocopy. When you finish, discuss your designs. How can the display of a work of art change our perception of it?
Think about the possibility of transforming the plinths into a work of art. To do so, remove the photocopies from the board, leaving the drawings of the pedestals alone. Encourage students to think of them as if they were sculptures. How would you define them? Make up a title for an imagined exhibition of these new sculptures.
Connotation: An association or idea suggested by a word, name, or phrase.
Constructivist sculpture: Socially committed sculpture based on geometrical vocabulary that attempts to link art with industry and technology and the ideals of a classless society through the production of socially useful objects.
Display: An arrangement of something to be exhibited.
Performance: An artistic action in front of spectators that combines theatrical elements, music, and visual arts.
Sublime: Something that inspires deep veneration, awe, or uplifting emotion because of its beauty, nobility, grandeur, or immensity.