viernes, 10 de agosto de 2012

Instalación "I saw it in Bologna", de Juan Muñoz

Hace ya varios años, cuando aun iba a la universidad, realice un trabajo sobre la instalación I saw it in Bologna de Juan Muñoz, que se encuentra expuesta en el Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Navegando ayer por mi ordenador, encontré una versión reducida y en inglés de ese trabajo y me hizo mucha gracia releerlo. Os presento aquí esa pequeña versión en inglés que espero que os guste!!


Autor: Juan Muñoz Torregrosa(Madrid 1953-Santa Eulalia 2001).
Título: I saw it in Bologna (lo vi en Bologna).
Datación: 1991.
Material / técnica / formato:instalación de bronce y acero.
Tamaño: 320 x 722 x 123 cm.
Colección: obra perteneciente al Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

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The artist behind this installation is Juan Muñoz, a sculptor from Madrid born in 1953 into a large family. He started to become interested in art when he was fourteen years old and Santiago Amon, an art critic, was hired to be his personal tutor. He decided to pursue a professional career in art in the 1970s. At the beginning of the decade he started a degree in architecture at the Polytechnic University in Madrid but he gave it up when he saw that cultural activity in Spain was being stifled by the dictator Franco. As soon as he was conscious of the intense cultural repression, he decided to leave Spain. His first destination was London, where he studied for five years, and he continued his education in United States, where he studied sculpture and prints.

During these years he dedicated his time to learning and observing. As he said “I would walk though the streets scanning every image. I would go endlessly to shows and libraries. (…) I travelled a lot and produced very little”. These years were just an educational period. It was in 1982 when he returned to a democratic Spain, opened his own studio and started to work. At this moment, he became a storyteller: more than just a simple artist, he was a storyteller that wanted to tell others about his thoughts. But instead of being a traditional storyteller that uses words, he rejected them because he didn’t want the audience’s ability to understand to be conditioned by language. For that reason, he preferred to concentrate on sculpture, a visual art form that enables universal communication.

The eighties was a period of intense creativity during which Muñoz created a personal language that nobody was able to classify as a particular artistic trend. But why this individualization? During Franco´s dictatorship which ended in the mid-seventies, the artistic world in Spain had been frozen and nobody had created anything special because of the cultural repression. In the 1980s the regime was no longer in power but it had left traces of desolation. Muñoz found this desolation when he arrived in Spain. Besides, he didn’t feel comfortable with the new solutions that had been created for other Spanish artists at that time so he decided to create a personal style. But this does not mean that he closed his eyes to international art: he was interested in artists like Francesco Borromini, Giorgio De Chirico, Jasper Johns, Richard Serra or Robert Smithson. He explained: “when I came back to the very isolated landscape of Spain (…), when nothing was happening there, I was able to construct my own images in solitude. And to relate back to the international art world.

An example of his observation of the international art scene is the installation I saw it in Bologna, created in 1991, in which Muñoz shows us his interest in the cultural tradition of Italy. Italy was considered the place where Classicism had developed, a style that formed the basis of the Western art. Throughout the history of art, Italy has been considered a symbol of tradition and its art was a cultural model for a great number of artists who travelled to this country to finish their training. But at the beginning of the 20th century this model began to lose its popularity: the artists wanted to create a newstyle far away from the past. A lot of creators have worked on new styles since then but Muñoz, with this installation, wanted to remember the artistic tradition of Italy. And he remembers it using some elements of Classicism: on the one hand, he used the figurative language that had been rejected by a lot of artists and gave it new life; on the other hand, he used an architectural element that is commonly used in Italian buildings, the portico with columns. However, Muñoz also introduced a groundbreaking element in his installation: even though he was using two elements that connect the work with pure Classicism, he gave them the conceptual meanings of isolation and absence. 

The use of the portico, an architectural element, as a plastic component is not surprising in itself. In fact, Muñoz had studied architecture and he had always been interested in Italian Baroque Architecture. Even when he decided to work in the world of sculpture, he was obsessed with the issue of the space. This obsession is present in a lot of his creations where Muñoz introduces his figures in spaces that are theatre stages. However every space is created in a different way:  in his first installations (like I saw it in Bologna, for example) the spaces are artificial and have been created using elements made by the artist (floors, arcades, banisters or balconies); in his later installations, called conversation pieces, Muñoz introduced the figures in real spaces. In any case, the visitor could break the barrier between the real world and the world of sculpture: anyone could enter the space of the sculpture and be closer to the object. I saw it in Bologna is an example of how this barrier is lost because the artificial space seems to be real. And in this case the portico seems to be more real than the architectural elements of other installations because of its location within the museum: it is installed in a corridor with columns that looks onto one side of the courtyard.



However, one must be slightly cautious. In spite of the lack of physical barriers, there will always be a mental line between the two worlds (the world of the creator and the world of the creations). In the case of I saw it in Bologna the columns are aligned with the intention of warning us: the visitor can break the physical barrier but they have to be aware of the fact that they are entering the space of the sculpture, space that is not their property.

This idea of broken barriers that continue to exist could be linked to the Berlin wall. This wall had been separating families, countries and the same city for years and the two sides of Europe had developed differently until 1991. When the wall fell down in that year, the two “Europes” were so different that a symbolic frontier continued to exist: in Berlin, anyone could go from the west to the east without any problems (and without a passport) but they could also see the differences between the two parts. And this installation inspires the same feeling: the physical wall has disappeared but the symbolic frontier is there and the spectator is aware of this when he arrives in a world with a different language.

It is clear that the space of I saw it in Bologna creates a contradictory game of proximity and distance. But the space is not the only element that wants to play this game. The figure also seems to include an element of contradiction. This figure is a man with a human body but his body is not an exact copy of a real one: it is a mixture of anthropomorphic and anti-natural characteristics. This mixture creates a strange feeling in the spectator: they feel close to a figure that is similar to them but, at the same time, they are aware of something different between them.

What are the anti-natural characteristics of the figure? The answer to this question is simple: the sphere (replacement of the legs), the eyes and the height. Firstly, Muñoz decided to replace the legs with a semi-spherical base that gives the figure a sensation of instability: the figure wants to walk but cannot.  Secondly, it is smaller than a real human, but why? Muñoz said in an interview: “I don´t think it is possible to do things of your same size: they have to be bigger or smaller. I do them smaller because it gives me the sensation of creating a bigger distance, physical and conceptually, between spectator and object”.

Finally, the eyes and the mouth are very general features, without any outstanding characteristics. Therefore, the spectator cannot individualize the figure: Muñoz wanted to present the idea of a human being so that the spectator would be able to see all men condensed into one figure and not a specific individual. That is the reason why the spectator is able to link the reflections that Muñoz presents in this work with all human beings, even himself, and not only withone man (a neighbour).

Out of all the features of the face, the eyes deserve special attention because they are holes: the figure appears to be blind. Muñoz said in an interview that he has always considered statues to be blind. And in this case the blindness is part of the work for two reasons. The first one is a general reason that affects all statues in art history: the artist’s inability to adequately depict the glance in three dimensions. Even the French artists of the 18th century that were able to create perfect irises were not able to achieve the perfect gaze and eyes that could look upon the outside world. This inability to create real eyes is the reason why Muñoz didn’t perfect this part of the face: why try to sculpt real eyes if it is known that artists cannot create them? Muñoz is aware of his artistic limitations and preferred to spend his time working on other parts of the sculpture that could be done well.

The second reason is relevant to this particular installation: it seems that Muñoz wanted to compare the blindness of the figure with his own ability to see. The figure doesn’t see the world because he doesn’t have visual organs but the artist can see the world and he wants to present here a part of it.

Muñoz presents his ability to see in the title: I saw it in Bologna is a tribute to his visual memory. This title shows us that the image Muñoz presents here is an image that he saw in Italy and he wanted to recover it from his mind. The spectator, whose ability to see is as good as that of the artist, is able to see the memory and he became anauthentic voyeur that has entered the mind of another person.

Apart from this, why is the blindness of the figure so important? Because this inability affects the attitude of the man who is represented: the figure cannot look outside himself so he appears to be lost in thought, he is concentrating on his inner feelings. Therefore, this is a sculpture that automatically excludes the outside world, including the spectator. Although the spectator may stand in front of the figure, the visitor feels transparent because the sculpture doesn’t look at him and doesn’t feel his presence.  


This attitude of being closed within oneself represents one of the most common problems in today’s society: the lack of communication between people. This lack of communication is visible when the spectator stops in front of the installation and starts to ask questions that the sculpture doesn’t answer. The sculpture doesn’t want to talk. Even if the installation allows people to enter its space, it will not tell the people what is happening inside. The figure doesn’t help with its gestures. For that reason, this creation becomes a poem about the problems of human communication: man finds it difficult to express his opinions because he thinks that the people are not going to understand him so he doesn’t want to speak more about his inner feelings. Even if he tells others his problems, they will not listen to him. The statue is indifferent to the things that happen around it because it is tired of shouting its problems and doesn’t feel helped by others. The statue has decided not to speak: the figure knows that the visitors of the museum will pass nearby and they will not stop, they will continue about their way without listening to what the installation wants to say. But the figure doesn’t want to listen either... If the people don’t listen to him, why should the figure listen to the problems of others?

This lack of communication could be justified by stress and lack of free time because of our long working hours... however here, Muñoz presents a figure that is not at all busy. And he is not occupied because he cannot go anywhere, he will be forever in the same place. The lack of communication is not only a problem for people who work; it is also a problem for people with a lot of free time. Even if we have enough time to speak, we don’t do it because we are used to silence.

This problem of lack of communication is presented in more of Muñoz’s creations. After I saw it in Bologna and throughout the nineties, Muñoz decided to create some works called conversation pieces. In these creations, Muñoz connected the lonely figures of his first creations to one another and formed groups: the figures, that had been alone for so many years, could now enjoy the company of more people. However, the figures are only connected physically because they cannot speak. They don’t care about the group; they are just worried about themselves. This indifference is seen in some images: some figures try to tell others of their pain but their mouths do not create any sound and, for that reasons, they arenot listened to.

The absence of sound is another one of Muñoz’s obsessions. This absence is called silence and it is very much present in all of this artist’s creations, even in the installation we are talking about. The spectator cannot hear sounds for two reasons: on the one hand, the figure of I saw it in Bologna can not produce sounds because of its material body (it is made of bronze); on the other hand, the figure does not pronounce sounds because its mouth is closed. Muñoz said once: “I would like to introduce murmuring sculptures for when the museum is empty. They would talk throughout the entire night and would stop once the doors were open”.  But we are not the only ones who don’t hear sounds. The sculpture seems to be deaf: we could shout but the figure will not hear and they will not move their faces.

The lack of communication and the absence of sounds have two consequences that are presented in I saw it in Bologna: loneliness and madness. Firstly, the feeling of loneliness is something that is common nowadays. And human beings don’t need to be alone to feel it. In fact, man is used to being around people everyday but right now he is lonelier than ever: human beings have got used to going to places where there are crowds (concerts, cinema, markets…) but they feel alone because they are not able to speak about their problems. And this loneliness seems to be very present in the figure of this installation. But it is not known if the figure has chosen this loneliness of his own free will: is he a solitary man that walks alone through the corridors of the museum because others don’t want to hear him? Or is he a monk who wants to be alone?

Secondly, there is madness. The figure, that seems to be a monk walking through the portico of a monastery, could also be a madman walking down the corridor of a mental hospital. And this madness seems to be present because of two elements: the cap and the attitude of indifference. On the one hand, the cap is a cone that appears to be made of paper. On the other hand, the figure appears to be elsewhere in thought like a madman.

As I said at the beginning, Juan Muñoz was a real storyteller

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