THE REAL, THE SYMBOLIC AND THE METALINGUISTIC
By Amanda Cuesta
Rosa Queralt undertook the task of organizing and analyzing the work of Idoia Montón in the precise and resolute style that was her hallmark in a collection of texts which serves as an indispensable order for me to approach Idoia’s work in all its depths. The material was published in a previous monograph (1) of her painting and covered her trajectory up until the year 2013.
This current publication has the humble task of taking up where the other left off and presents the recent years of the artist’s production.
Idoia Montón’s work is an ongoing inquiry into the expressivity of painting when it interacts with the realities which contextualize the artist’s workspace, studio and living space. Artistic practice is always a way of looking at and understanding the world, and painting is a script that has its own particular codes and laws.
Idoia Montón’s creative process spurns form a free flow of forms, finding ideas and expressive elements through small formal experiments that have the potential to develop into works of greater complexity. This publication begins with a selection of these preliminary work; exquisite laboratory creations which anticipate what follows.
The shapes, the chromatic range, the assembly techniques and the collage in these pieces lay the groundwork for what will become more complex as we turn the pages; A world where sublimated or grotesque abstract representations and regurgitations meet with a fascination for beauty, which despite it all, contains life. Here, somehow, lies the key to Idoia Montón’s gaze; inhabiting the threshold where a tear in the clean forms of representation allows it to breathe and heal, as it becomes the seed for expression, making way for order and an understanding of things.
In these small formats, full of simple and lucid ideas, Idoia Montón experiments with the possibilities that collage has to offer; a technique suited to quick thinking, establishing immediate and direct connections that give looseness to her painting and allow her to advance formally. The expressive qualities of the assembled materials themselves, which she learned during her formative years in sculpture, would be irreproducible in any other way. In these experimental exercises we see elements that were not present in previous works and that mark an expressive leap; for example the direct incorporation of photographs of the city or fragments of classical works. The use of both of these resources is recurrent in the most important works of her production in the last five years.
In manipulating reproductions of paintings from art history she is able to incorporate the reference and allow it to move pictorially. Here, it’s not exclusively about a mechanism of appropriation, that postmodern gesture of taking a classic reference and transferring it to a new context, but rather the incorporation of an element through collage and the possibility of altering it through stroke and gesture, making it an expressive surface level tool, at a purely pictorial level. Although, of course, conceptual dialogue with the past is activated, full of equivalences and transformations in a metalinguistic layer that gives depth to the scene. Something formally and conceptually similar occurs in her use of urban photographs as a mechanism to represent what is happening to us and around us.
There is a poetical resonance to the titles that Rosa Queralt dedicated to some of the chapters of the previous monograph: «From flatness emerges a renewed notion of space. Representing reality through fragments. Art and life merge into one entity. Portrait as a form of discourse, language and system of signs. The term realism carries plural meanings. The studio still lifes as an exercise in introspection».
There’s a lot is happening in the small formats that Idoia Montón produces from 2014 on. Formal developments, such as those I have already mentioned, but also with regard to the portrait as a system of signs. She incorporates new typologies that are more abstract, generic and complex, They are applied methodically never abandoning realism as a framework for multiple readings. At some point in this process of following the painting´s lead, monstrous faces begin to appear that will end up playing a substantial role in the paintings about war. These portraits as a system of signs, detached from real characters, reach the symbolism of the archetypal, as in Puber or in The Rape of the Sabine Women III
War; the horror of a civilization capable of destruction on a massive scale with the sole intention of hoarding resources and attaining power and glory. This is just a personal reading, but the series on war is a decisive and extremely complex point in the artist’s career. It is comprised of three works in which we see a concentration of the prior formal experimentation to centre on the representation of a theme that arises from the civilizational conflict (2) but that goes further, branching into new series, with surprising interconnected results.
The works in question are Primitive accumulation (linked thematically to The Witch Hunt), The spears and finally The Truce. The three works were part of Idoia Montón’s solo exhibition in La Escocesa, a production centre of Barcelona and for which Javier Peñafiel wrote a text that we have included in this publication highlighting the importance of these works.
In our conversations about The Truce, which in my view is the most important work of this period, Idoia Montón addressed her version of Velazquez’s classic work. Although the reference to The Surrender of Breda is obvious, when I look at this work I somehow always think of Goya, the painter who represented horror and madness like no other. Whereas Velázquez gave an idealized rendition, in line with the Baroque propaganda agenda of the Spanish Royal Court, Idoia Montón depicts the truce as a pause in the horror, an army of ghosts surrounding the military personage. Velázquez’s painting serves her as a structure on which to project a cosmogeny, a map of the world. It also serves to speak of history, of its promises and cynicisms in a play of opposites and equals. Her contortion of these historical references allows her to be led by perceptual changes that occur randomly but are likewise driven by rage and letting the paint guide her and mark the way. Thus it drives her to depict something new, to signal an ideological change. Dealing with the theme of war with extreme concentration, the artist uses the baroque, a style which was established not just on beauty but as an instrument of exaltation and propaganda, to turn it on its head and reflect her own values, a geopolitical criticism of the 21st century, a criticism of the violence present in the moral demise of the capitalist system. The dynamics of inequality that even in privileged urban areas of European cities are undermining and crushing lives, or at the other extreme, the context of explicit war such as that of Syria where the wound opens exponentially. The subject, she explained, just arose by itself, and, although as a painter she doesn’t deal with the political analysis she does have a committed outlook on what happens around her and is affected by it enough for reality to encroach upon her, something that has always been part of her work. There is a sensation of perplexity experienced by the average person when confronted with images of the bombardment of Syria, destruction shown in real-time, and faced with which nobody does anything. From this point, painting works as a form of autonomous thinking, a non-rational construct but enlightening nonetheless.
At the centre of Truce there’s a subtle element which seems to be almost contrary to the painting itself and which is a glimpse of what’s to come; the portrayal of the animal/feminine, a relationship found in many other works like Site the work which closes the publication. But more so in the diptych of an underground scene at the Plaza de las Glorias in Barcelona, which follows the War series. An underground inhabited by fantastical dragons is revealed, latent forces of nature, which are a total counterpoint to what’s going on above them on the surface. This is a junction which was destined from its outset to be the new nerve centre of the city, but its continuous transformation has been marked by failure, in the throes of endless monumental constructions, to this day it serves as no more than a bottomless pit for public funds. Ironically it’s called The square of Catalan Glories or national Glories. In this nighttime painting, a female character is positioned alongside a dragon. There is a clear reference to the world of comic (3) in this motif, another of the major influences in the work of Idoia Montón, as well as a certain mythical symbolism of primitive matriarchal societies(4), where the dragon is united with the princess when they were one in the same thing. The complexity of the iconography in these works, the mix of real and symbolic, the contemporary and the mythical, and the crash of opposing ideas, which reflect each other are a real shock to the system. When I first saw both of these paintings it felt like a grand summary of everything, a visionary image of what happens in the undergrowth in these times we live in.
The next works of dark and desolate urban landscapes in construction, transited by night, where painting becomes an abstract texture, evoke a quotidian experience of the ongoing crisis we suffer and that is not spoken about officially. These are concrete psycho-geographies of capitalism in its sinister twilight years where beauty nonetheless seeps through, no matter how many layers of cement they pile on. Again painting opens the threshold of vision. In The Labour Force, the world of the working class is depicted, its strength hemmed in by the recession and by demonizing (5) propaganda.
But a movement is produced in these metaphysical spaces in painting, where what was made invisible emerges and reveals an image at the back of the cave-like in the cave drawings where the rocks reveal everything. Here we are, we are the labour force, making sure everything gets done, made submissive by The Witch Hunt, where, as with the paintings of Glorias we have a diptych where oppositions are at play again, the opposing image is depicted at the other extreme, in the roots, in the underground, at the depth of the cave. What underlies the cutbacks and the demonizing of “the labour force” is the same capitalist seminal extractive logic that starts with a change of order, the primitive accumulation of capital that Silvi Federici so well describes in Caliban and the Witch, a staple on both our bookshelves. Both paintings are a temporal vortex between the origin and decadence of the capitalist system.
A split between what’s real and symbolic is frequently produced, as though they were two separate things. But representation, especially pictorial representation, is an effective instrument which feeds off both camps, because a process of distilling is in operation, directly from reality and what we think and feel about it. These basic laws of writing apply to everything that is an attempt to talk about truth.
I like the presence of reality in Idoia Montón’s work: the recession, the war, and the critique of capitalism in general. But I am more interested in how she sublimates reality showing the capacity of art to turn the real into representation.
It’s not easy to generate an iconography of one’s own, a symbolic repertoire which offers a way of seeing through painting. There are some elements which stand out for example: movement, the animalistic, the tentacular, soft forms and dark cavities. These are all elements which refer to a primal latency and which connect with the somehow reconciliatory idea that life and beauty always shine through, emanating from the rubbish tip in spite of everything.
In the last series brought together in this publication, this becomes evident in the form of organic abandoned totemic cities. The colour scheme has radically changed, launching us into another universe closer to science fiction, imagining possible futures where life might continue to flourish. It’s understandable; when a system is about to fall into decadence (6) and collapse, then it’s time to think about an alternative future. As Donna Haraway (7) says visual metaphors are applicable to other fields, they are
This permanent searching for a new starting point, the renouncing of styles or set formulas is possibly what most appeals to me in the work of Idoia Montón.
Both Twilight and2666 (8)represent an apparent radical shift in style, however, there is an extreme coherence which ties this diptych to the war, extractive urbanism, the labour force and the witch hunt and that is that they approach the question of gender in futuristic code. Everything is interconnected and it transmits more than the artist’s intentions. Recession, war, tentacles, cavities and fade to blacks are merely articulated mechanisms whose dialogue activates our reading of the quotidian and its relationship to our ancestral atavistic memory from far back and to our primitive animal condition.
In The Two Sisters Mountain Pass, the two mountains that mark the geographical border between the plains and the Basque country melt into an urban intersection, an entrance point to Barcelona. This painting tackles the notion of a pass, the doorway or threshold, and what happens when you cross a border. It’s a great colophon for the publication; Idoia inhabits this threshold, but not with an aim to cross it. In a recent conversation, she commented that she was in search of the most subtle, most abstract existential free beauty. This declaration of intentions highlights the importance of freedom in her painting, emancipated from the neo-academics and conceptual formalisms that today impose themselves on the market. Undoing established notions is one of the cornerstones of art, or, like the surrealists did, for example, inventing mechanisms so new ideas can emerge. We can be too quick to write off the artistic Avant guard and their revolutionary ambitions, when we should consider the important role they played in making a clearing in the language of devious protocol and impostures from the previous century, making way for a cleaner, freer path. Everything, every door, every reference point, and every expressive resource is of value to us to help us think better.
1. QUERALT, ROSA: Idoia Montón, Eremuak, 2014
2. MUMFORD, LEWIS: El mito de la máquina. Técnica y evolución
humana, Pepitas de calabaza, 2017
3. CORBEN, RICHARD: www.2warpstoneptune.com/2015/02/18/
4. GRAVES, ROBERT: La Diosa Blanca, Alianza editorial, 2014
5. JONES, OWEN: Chavs, la demonización de la clase obrera, Capitán
6. TIQQUN: http://tiqqunim.blogspot.com.es/p/primer.html
7. HARAWAY, DONNA: Como una hoja, Contintametienes, 2018
8. BOLAÑO, ROBERTO: 2666, Alfaguara, 2018)