Text for the presentation of the book “Idoia Montón” in Alegría gallery
Por Luis Salaberria.
Up to a few minutes ago I wasn’t sure if Idoia Montón actually existed. Some friends had mentioned having seen her, and I believe everything my friends tell me. If Pablo Llorca tells me he’s seen Bigfoot while on trip to Panticosa, I believe him. I know Idoia’s work, I’ve seen it in exhibitions and catalogues, but her work doesn’t confirm her existence. It could be Javier Penafiel who does the work. And the thing that makes me doubt her existence most is that I have actually met her, but so much time has passed that my mind could be playing tricks on me….
It was in 1991. We were taking part in the exhibition One Hundred Years of Contemporary Art organised by Juana de Aizpuru. We, along with Ana Laura Aláez and Diego Figari. represented the young promising artists from the gallery. I recall that a few months before, Juana had called to arrange to meet me and had asked Diego to go along with me. On the way up the stairs to the gallery I suggested that Diego pretend to be me, but after thinking of the difficulties implied in upholding this calibre of deceit for a whole year, we desisted. Perhaps Idoia and Ana Laura toyed with the same idea with more courage. Perhaps the person here beside me now is not Idoia at all, but Ana Laura.
I remember her works as at once simple and complex, like embryos of sculptures in formation but already complete. I remember Idoia having an air of magic to her, as though i’d just been introduced to someone from the dark woods in the depts of a mythical Basque Country .
I saw her work again in an exhibition curated by Pablo Llorca called The inner Scar . It was in 1998 and she was showing works from 1992. I remember one painting in particular White on White which pierced my eyes like the scene in Luis Buñuel´s Un perro andaluz. These deliciously awkward and profoundly romantic paintings depict princesses, giants, dwarfs, fairies and wolves in castles, palaces and snowy steeps. Everything made sense. Idoia was showing us her reality, her house and her friends. In fact , if you look closely at the painting The Banquet (1992) she, the host, appears depicted as a Valkyrie.
In 2006 I saw the works that she exhibited in Icónica in Patio Herreriano in Valladolid. Commissioned again by Pablo, the exhibition showed how a series of artists worked with “reality”. Idoia showed 20 paintings from 1995 on, which were realist depictions of day to day life in her domestic surroundings. At first I was disappointed, having expected to be roused in the same way I had been with the works in The inner Scar, but I soon began to perceive that the images in these paintings were just as real, or just as unreal. Idoia appears self-portrayed over and over again, reflected in mirrors, in the glass of the window, in the television set..she is multiple. Always wearing a checked bathrobe..just as in the painting The Banquet where she appeared as a princess or sorceress, here the bathrobe is like her magic cape. Her dog Sisógenes
appears in many paintings as a protector God, always asleep, keeping vigil in his sleep. In 2001 she would paint Sísogenes in Majesty, and my suspicions are confirmed, Bilbao is illuminated by dragonflies and fluorescent jellyfish, her bedroom is her palace and the sockets, the television, the boxes, paintbrushes and other objects represented are her magic tools. This transition from representing the “real” in the works shown in Icónica and “lo fantástico” to the works from 1992 is best understood when we consider the works The city of Gregor the beatle, Site y Young Child of the Sewer from 1993. Here we find animales that are familiar but out of proportion with the general composition which inhabit a space which could be real and similar to Idoia’s studio in Bilbao. Realism starts to contaminate the symbolic, or the symbolic is impregnating everything with its drool.
Looking through her recently edited book I discovered more works. In 2005 she continues painting the objects in her room, as if she were locked in, like a “hikikimori”. Sometimes she paints exteriors but they seem dreamed up, always at night time. She doesn’t allow us see her face yet she continues painting herself. Saint Theresa said that God is found amongst the pots and pans, Idoia is searching for something similar amongst the objects she paints. Albert Camus said thinking is to see anew. Idoia paints to look, trying to comprehend. There is something mystical in these works, in these vanities which speak to us of death, and they do so twofold because they are baroque still lives and they are pop. I’m enthused by an untitled painting which shows a Cola Cao container used as a vase for some flower cuttings. On the left there’s a computer keyboard connecting her with the outside world, and on the left too are books which symbolise reflection, the path to the inner self. And in the middle the Cola can container, an object which is is codified in our brains, in our collective consciousness as representative of homely, familiar, stable and comforting, but here it holds a few fragile flowers that will be dead in a few hours. That’s why they’ve been painted, to stop them withering.
Another remarkable painting is The seven windows of my Room , a sort of Idoia Montón version of Las Meninas . Again we see her reflected in a mirror, with brush and palette and a tatty almanac with a Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the dead on the cover , and we see the face of a child who looks at us from a computer screen. As well as some books there is a fantastical coloured crucifix that we see in other paintings and amongst other things, amongst other windows, a sweatshirt hanging on the back of a chair catches our eye with a print representing a diabolic face, of gothic character typical in rock aesthetic. Symbology and naturalism in a serene, reflexive, unpretentious painting.
To finish I’d like to talk about the recent works. At first they left me perplexed, as they should. Myself and Pablo LLorca saw them together in the basement of Galeria Algeria in Madrid and we came to the conclusion that if we didn’t quiet understand the works at that moment , that we soon would, and being works of Idoia we would like them. When I left the exhibition I began thinking about them, perceiving them. They have something pre-war about them , recalling works of the avant-Guard before the Great War which this year “celebrates” it’s 100 year anniversary. It’s as though Idoia had been to the trenches and flown in a bombing, and dazed would fight against the trauma, capturing it in her paintings. They are like works from the past which predict the agony. The lemur, holder of weapons or the stork shedding blood seem to signal targets for death, aerial views and city plans of future ruins. And there’s something of El Greco, that potent image of the grey spectre that rises from the drains in the work Anunciación en La Virgen del Carmén.
Seeing you again after such a long time, I’m still unsure whether you’re real or not. But with this text as an excuse, I took the opportunity to look over your work again and yes they do seem real, and they speak to me of you. They’ve helped me know you. I hope we don’t let another 23 years pass before we see each other again, and if it happens so , I will like to know what you’ve done in all that time.
Idoia Montòn’s Public
Every day I’m more and more confident of being a better public, by which I mean belonging more to the common, participating more in the events that happen on the earth’s crust and in what happens between us, between animals, autistic things and other subjects. And quantity, our quantity, will do this, do anything with me as its public asset. But now I’m going to talk in particular about the experience of being Idoia Montón’s public.
Idoia and I have shared antagonisms, politics, intersexuality, drawings, anti-programs, characteristics and caricatures, generation and distraction, the adversarial role, the incorruptible constituent and above all the collage uprising.
I’ll explain myself quickly: we’ve shared time though maybe not coincided because of age and its contexts. And I’ll narrow that time down now, from a visit to Arteleku in San Sebastian to another visit to the Kasa de la Muntanya in Barcelona, early in the second decade of the two thousands. And in four sub points I’ll talk about my visits to Juana de Aizpuru and Buades in the nineties of the 20th century and to Halfhouse and EART in the second decade of the 21stcentury.Time enough.
All this transience may make you dizzy, but that’s what this is about; the painstaking enjoyment of vertigo. No one’s saying that vertigo is synonymous with velocity. It lags a lot, it’s unresolvable, and it’s repetitive. It’s a bit of everything, like the experience of being Idoia Montón’s public.
In late twentieth century Donostia, some young artists met up in Arteleku, in workshops given by Angel Bados for example, who I’d visit for pleasure and never as an artist. I’d enjoy his sculpture exercises; those generous speculations of literally deconstructed things as though they were pretexts. But it was only a moment, a moment of wonders that then crystallized into the formalism of product, or style almost. It was a very peculiar thing to see these works in the context of the Basque conflict, in the seemingly aseptically surfaced Donostia. It made an interesting case study, but that’s another topic to come, yet to come.
If by this time the financial casino had disfigured nearly everything in the art institution, still to come were hypermediacy, new historiography normatives, author-cynicism, political nominalism and its abuse of the image of the subaltern, or the cultural neocolonialism of the “aznarzapateado” delirious governing of Aznar and Zapatero and their unsustainable architectures.
In that era in Donostia I saw some collages by Idoia, which I would later see again in Madrid in the exhibition -100 at Juana de Aizpuru Gallery, a group show by four artists whose collective ages would add up to less than 100. The show was a loyal reflection of the time. Two Basque sculptors and two Madrid based painters whose ages seemed irreconcilable with the times. The perverse irony, weak chromatic and bitter plasticity of the painters was a place for egolactancias, for the narcissism of strong though somewhat suffering subjects, for killer hedonism, like a night in a fairytale where the terror of the adult thrives on bourgeois insomnia. One painting by Luis Salaberría portrays a delirious, bittersweet character of about 20 inches high. A friend of mine has it in their house and each time I see it I feel that it’s different, that it continues to mirror me well. With the sculptors nevertheless, there was an assertive distancing in a world beyond narcissism or perhaps the bio-opposite, in such a way that, subconsciously or not, the exhibition worked as a reflective antropomania. Out of all of their work, it was Ana Laura’s that best subscribed to the subsequent hegemony and its market, having to deal with the horrors of Arco’s immediate responses, the pettiness of acquisition policies, banks spending their small change, a frantic world that ended up seizing 90 % of the production of this generation in a heavy handed splurge. Diego died in the same way he thought: radically. Luis draws outside many things, painlessly at that. Idoia went about deeply radicalising her separation politically.
Later I saw a very coherent evolution; some of Idoia’s paintings in Buades, in a very different group show to -100. It was interesting to see how Miquel Cereceda curated a sort of discomfort in this exhibition, anticipating what would later become the evils of the archive and the increasingly cynical mediation by the institution when we thought we’d reached the limits of disappointment. Idoia showed some paintings whose context was as politicized as it was magical. For me they were a nice surprise but for many they were too distant from her deconstructions. I understood the opposite: these paintings were strict in their materiality but there was a lot of narrative assembled in them. Like everything I’ve seen since then by Idoia, they were unlike any formal or nominal illustrative political exercise, they were precise, in context. But it was not easy for everyone to assimilate this, and even less to contemplate it coming from painting after years of retina bashing by the material dandyism of the expressionisms and informalisms of all those laddish artists. Years later, I had the opportunity to talk to Pablo Llorca about this and about why Idoia Montón interested us both. I was slow to understand how and why urban plots, the wasteland, exclusion zones and the subjects Idoia worked with subscribe to the demolition of selfism that Idoia proposed as a polyphonic tale. As for the intense work in the paintings, there is a very precise play with subheadings that I’ve only seen in a few works of literature. Idoia abandoned her speculative work in sculpture, even though it was fruitful in every respect and which years later we have seen successfully developed by artists like Thea Djorjadze. In a conversation with Idoia in the squat in the mountains, as she was collecting together piles of drawings, we discussed the problem of non- represented voices in the squat’s assemblies. It was then I understood that Idoia Montón’s reason for choosing painting and drawing was to focus on this question, not to back away from her preferred realities, i.e. to deny speculative mediations not out of a weird essentialism but out of an open empathy with her immediate context, with all its difficulties and controversies, giving it her all and not shying away from intelligent illustration, denying the pacified abstraction of reality (the essence of artistic activity, submerged or not), saying to it: Don’t count on me. At dinners at the squat, in an abuse of ingenuity she has obviously enjoyed almost passionately, Idoia has taken out work to show in drips and drabs. It was magical (in the best sense of the word), to see how people who shared their lives with Idoia appeared in the work. Perhaps (and in times of crisis definitely), the conservative revolution of those years; the brutal expropriation of the public in our communities and the loss of civil rights, have been the most decisive results of the long process of false economy and social delusion that we’ve experienced since the transition. In this the art institution has been hyper-realistic: A modern casino.
To see myself as the public in front of Idoia’s work in its criticality was almost a cure considering the dominant speculative narrative; the nightmare of the pink world and the cement world and of artist’s-mediators and their product-moralism no longer weighed on me. Thank you Idoia.
Idoia has also been involved by making posters for collectives, participating in processes of assembly or attending my workshop The Oral Museum of the Revolution in which she kept an eccentric distance, reminding me of other moments in art when the worker of images was recognizable (or unrecognizable) through their common practices, as they were intrinsic to one another.
The work of Idoia Montón helps me interact with the proliferation of presents which our cognition has become, It effectively isolates me from the full screen communicability of capitalism in its phase of financial genocide, it leads me to an unstable area where I can refrain from immediacy: that great behavioural standard.
And so, a painting by Idoia inhabits my current abode, a painting of a frog at the end of a tunnel. The frog is almost a panther to me, he’d be the frog Panther; number one enemy of the Pink Panther´s dandyism, in my own little joke, but that panther frog works by my side.
Through Idoia’s work I have understood several other things: to ignore dandyism as insufficient though not from a moral frame. There’s also the act of making the narcissistic Cassandra figure impossible or adding difficulties to the type of character that makes predictions based on the inevitable.
The most recent collages by Idoia Montón are a good Atlas: honest and generous. Of late, she has chosen a format and a way of marking the surface, the product of a strong anger but seeped in the moment of the experience, i.e. they are slow to the root. Sometimes there are delays Idoia’s narrative that are of such intensity that I ought to photograph them to take them away to some other time and, starting with the details, look at them again. The play with zoom in recent collages is exciting, they are anti-screen, free from projections about this or that reality, inclusive in the extreme; they have almost everything, and from that comes emotion.