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  MAR DE FONDO ('GROUNDSWELL')

Curator: Rosa Martínez
Roman Theater, Sagunto. Spain 1998
   
Ghada Amer
Teresa Cebrián
Victoria Civera
Ayse Erkmen
Irit Hemmo
Gülsün Karamustafa
Jenny Marketou
Carmen Navarrete
Shirin Neshat
Eulália Valldosera
María Zárraga
'The Mediterranean has a tragic solar sense which is different from that of fog. On certain evenings in the sea or at the foot of mountains, night falls over the perfect curve of a small bay and an anxious plenitude then rises from the silent waters. In such places one can see how, if the Greeks felt despair, it always arose through beauty and through the oppressiveness inherent in beauty It is in the midst of that golden misfortune that tragedy reaches its climax. In contrast, the despair of our times feeds on ugliness and convulsions. For this reason, Europe would be wretched, if pain could ever be so.'
ALBERT CAMUS, The Exile of Helen.

In seamen's parlance, mar de fondo ('grounds-well') refers to the deep rumblings of the ocean, caused by storms at sea, that reach the coast, where the clear skies may belie the rough sea. A grounds-well contains hidden tremors and carries to the coast echoes of battles and the thrust of whirlpools originating in its deepest abysses.
In art terminology, a painting with mar de fondo ('a seascape background') has figures
set against undulating blue surfaces. Seascapes call to mind distances conducive to
daydreaming, arousing a thirst for travel, a sense of the infinite, a yearning for other possible worlds, recollections of disasters or Utopias of well-being.
With its powerful evocative force, the sea provides one of the most fascinating images,
and one of those most often used in poetry The sea is a metaphor for freedom. It is also the cradle of the gods, the dwelling-place of monsters, a repository of mystery and a symbol of the tempestuous darkness of the unconscious. It is also the garbage tip for the uncontrolled dumping of industrial waste, a source of riches exploited indiscriminately, an unpredictable immensity where accidents happen, battles are won or lost (whether commercial, political or amorous) and the resting place of sunken treasure.
In terms of symbolic density the Mediterranean has a special place among the oceans.
Its mythologies are studded with wonders and tragedies, On its coastlines, the Greek
philosophers intuited some of the most accurate accounts of the origins and meaning of the world. Three continents converge on its waters, where different languages and religions coexist, and traditions and fanaticisms mingle. Moreover, its climate, habitability and dimensions form a congenial nature related to its geographical features.
The Mediterranean is one of the determining factors in this meeting of eleven artists at
the exhibition Mar de fondo. This title refers to the psycho-geography in which these women were born who, driven by various winds and immense yearnings, have flown to other latitudes, seen other places and are now rethinking their past and their present, viewed through eyes charged with wisdom, their voices modulated by both experience and the energy which creates the need to say something new. Well aware of their twofold peripheral status -as women and Mediterraneans- these artists, with their doubts, their wavering, and yet with unflinching self-assurance, are exploring the new becomings of the world and, through art, contributing to the emergence of new realities.
They are not the only ones who feel frustrated and jaded by a self-seeking art, closed in on itself, exclusive and excluding, essentially formalistic and supposedly universal. There is increasingly greater political awareness that culture is generated in the social sphere and that it affects the most recondite aspects of the individual. We now know that the personal is profoundly political - even our sexual identity is the result of models imposed by dominant ideologies.
Criticism of modernist dogmas, post-colonial reflection and the struggle of marginalised groups -homosexuals, feminists, immigrants and so on- have engendered an unshakeable desire to do away with hierarchies in the arts, to permeate museum walls and bring art into the social arena, and to give credence to peripheral voices as harbingers of discourses that undermine the absolutist pretensions of the West's hegemonic vision. That is why new artistic proposals flourish in their deconstruction and reinterpretation of history, in guestioning the powers that set up a sexual division between the public and private spheres, in studying the relationship between the human body and architecture, or in the analysis of the meaning of monuments in an urban context, in order to punctuate the message to be deciphered that is the street. In the struggle for an egalitarian space and in upholding alternative modes of thought, the world is today waging many battles that are reshaping living contexts.
For women, performing in the public arena is hazardous in that it involves the lack of
confidence associated with one unversed in something. They are nevertheless stimulated by the challenge of imbuing their place of performance with new meaning and of conguering new modes of expression. They are thereby also defying the 'Law of the Father', which has traditionally excluded them from the language and therefore the power to operate on models of symbolic representation.
From an awareness that 'the politics of space is always sexual', as Beatriz Colomina puts it, the proposals staged in the vicinity of the Roman theatre at Sagunto are enormously valuable. The artists have accepted the difficulties entailed by working in the open air, without the protection afforded by the closed space of a gallery or 'their own room'. They have explored new political and creative possibilities by offering their proposals in a place which agglutinates both the long historical memory of its Roman theatre and the controversy surrounding restoration work on the monument and its aesthetic mismatch with the town as a whole.
Ayse Erkmen's idea of using different models to create brash hairstyles becomes bitingly critical of the monument concept. The latter, apart from being transposed to woman through the male-chauvinist discourse, particularly when it involves sculptural forms, is a stage metaphor for the power to acquire prominence in the urban fabric by creating protruding volumes which become signs punctuating space and dominating the meaning of places.

Her images, printed on handbills, have been handed out at hairdressing salons in Sagunto. Her installation in spaces associated with everyday use arouses reflection on the artifice and construction of beauty, as well as on the body's capacity for playfulness and invention in relation to the urban context and sexual projections.
Irit Hemmo's performance in the streets of Sagunto -carrying a sculpture of a castrated
heifer- could be interpreted as a critical reconstruction of religious processions, as parodying worship of the Golden Calf, and as an appraisal of the power of the street as an arena for flaunting cultural symbols and sexual experiences. This performance, previously staged in Tel Aviv and Istanbul, acquires new connotations in Spain, where the bull is regarded as a symbol of virility and heifers are chased through the streets at popular festivals.
Inspired by the philosophy of situationist drifts, Jenny Marketou has also taken the street as a setting for constructing memory and for random encounters which orientate people's lives. After interviewing citizens of Puerto de Sagunto, Jenny pieces together a plan of the town using fragments of their recollections, punctuated not by the street layout but by recall of its aromas and the customs of its people. She thereby connects up the pulse of past and present, and builds up a poetics of flux and of the town's 'invisible climates'. The resulting map is thus defined by the intensity of experiences and the dynamics of memory. Her frontiers are flexible and act as time frames that can be redefined according to her interviewees' varying perceptions or recollections. The street vendor's cart she installs with some of the items associated with those recollections becomes a fleeting, nomadic monument standing in stark contrast to the gandiloquent Roman theatre.
For Vicky Civera, who was born in Sagunto itself, being able to install her sculptures in
the theatre precinct is a way of coming to grips with her origins and reflecting on the limits of representation. By installing a transparent mould of her head on a platform coated with lawn placed in an old cistern, she relates body to place, and alludes to the prospects generated by return and reencounter. Her 'Red Guardian', set in a large shrine niche at the entrance to the stage, becomes a metaphor for a type of surveillance far removed from the authoritarian severity of traditional guards. The reeds shaping his body which let the air pass through, and the velvet also used in the figure, stand for flexibility and delicateness, while three figures with a bronze base allude to a firmness which is neither compact nor turned in on itself.
Ghada Amer's floral offering, set on one of the theatre terraces, re-creates the abstract strips of a composition reminiscent of Frank Stella's early paintings, Here, her yardstick is the rigidity of the paradigms in Western art. However, she uses plants and their organic growth -which excludes them from patterns of linear geometry- to explore the tension involved in submitting to a civilising order which imposes standards of beauty and many lines of repression. Her use of cacti, with their well-known phallic connotations, and flowers, likewise understood as a sexual metaphor, reminds us that both sexes are victims of the imposition of the dominant models of thought.

From one of the side vaults of the theatre, Teresa Cebrian has suspended four cages
containing the four elements: air, fire, water and earth. While fragments of the last three are trapped inside the cages, the more ethereal air is that of Sagunto itself. Harkings ofpre- Socratic philosophy are here combined with allusions to mediaeval torture and prisons, prompting reflection on a host of existential spheres. From ecological disasters to the loss of our poetic capacity for relating to the primaeval, the delicateness of these four elements of the universe has been used to rekindle nostalgia for freedom without coercion.
Dependence between the sexes and the difficulties women encounter when attempting to forge their own future are approached by Maria Zarraga in her disturbing photographic projections. Her use of plasticine for shoes or as a second skin which peels off from one's body alludes to pain and the need to break free of imposed habits, as well as to the frailty of the props we use to bolster our identity The images she shows at Sagunto feature a woman whose body is totally enveloped in and hidden by her long tresses, which become waves of sensuality. They also draw attention to the inordinacy of feminine hysteria, and to a desire to disclose one's true self, free of imposed symbols.
Gulsun Karamustafa explores the Mediterranean as a sea supporting the coexistence of a multitude of sexes. She links the transvestite passion for signs with the decoration on balconies, architectural elements which open onto both the exterior and interior and
connect the public and private spheres, the visible and the invisible. In the context of the sexual use of signs, the figure of the transvestite epitomises a desire to transform oneself, be it merely to become an icon, an essence -the 'female essence'- or the stereotype triumphant. The transvestite becomes a spectacle, as evinced in pop videos of Freddie Mercury or Bulent Ersoy one of Istanbul's most fascinating transexual. In his videogram, I Want to Break Free, Mercury appears dressed as a housewife, having succumbed to domestic chores as a token of love. Bulent Ersoy in one of his latest videos, assumes the role of a mother, taking the desire to be a 'woman' to the extreme of overcoming the fixation on the inordinacy of sexual attributes.
In her analysis of the division of power on the basis of gender, Carmen Navarrete reflects on ways of murdering a woman, whether in history, in tragedy or in a present-day context. Regarded as man's property woman deserves punishment if she disobeys patriarchal designs. The idea of murdering her ranges from literal killing to the symbolic: her death can be achieved not only with the use of a knife, poison or weapons, but by excluding her from discourse, curtailing her power and submitting her to a phallocentnc order which imposes just one model of sexual pleasure. Disciplinary orders that annul femininity are part of a patriarchal, totalitarian ideology that admits only submissive, docile women and induces hysteria as a badly channelled form of rebellion.
The alienation of women and their submission to dominant religious and cultural systems in Islamic societies is examined by Shirin Neshat. Women become guardians of a revolution which dictates that their body must remain concealed under a chador, which they may only let go of to pick up a firearm. In Iran, the use of the veil is associated with urban culture, while in rural areas and in situations in which a woman's hands are required for work, they do not cover their body completely. In a videogram entitled Anchorage, Shirin shows only the naked face, hands and feet of a woman, while the rest of her body vanishes into the darkness. The gestures of praying, shooting and dancing to Sufi music reveal how religion, military power and Sufi philosophy take hold of a woman's body and shape her movements.
The ways in which disease, sex, love and loss shape our psychosomatic identity are painstakingly reconstructed in the work ofEulalia Valldosera. She makes use of new technologies to produce installations in which various objects, spotlights and photographic or video projections are arranged so as to create a ghoulish atmosphere. Emotions from her childhood, or the pain associated with disease and physical or psychological imbalance, are relived in the spaces where the artist presents her work. For her Sagunto project, Eulalia Valldosera re-created the projections she had presented at Munster in 1997, in which a woman's shadow leaps between two light-filled areas. For health reasons, the artist will not be able to display her project, but her work still advocates a need to venture into the archetypes of the unconscious, singling her out as one of the most sensitive explorers of the
darknesses we are peopled by The echoes of ideological and existential unrest emanating from the work of all these artists are related to currents of transformation emerging from the social sphere, with their spin-offs in philosophy and science. Mathematical precision, in a Euclidean view of the world, which describes movement as joining points in space, and the clear correlation between weight and distance in Newton's laws of gravity are now being questioned by the relativity of the so-called 'nomadic sciences', including meteorology and fluid mechanics, particularly with regard to the movements of the sea. The forces of matter do not describe prefectly predictable, linear movements in Cartesian space. They generate turbulence, spiral motion and movements that cannot easily be encompassed by geometrical models.
In similar fashion, with unpredictable movements, all these women have approached their development and sought their place in the discourse of art and other social fields. Like winged Nikes, they poise to capture the fleeting moment. In their guise as Greek winged victories, they are better placed to interpret the disarray we live in and create flexible models for new existential fields. In this respect, the groundswell is a metaphor for the new conceptual, existential and aesthetic storms and shifts to come, prompted by the entry of women into the art scene and other social spheres. In these new spheres, art cannot be geared solely to a search for beauty Hence, Helen ceases to be the passive object of Paris' desire and the cause of strife between Greeks and Trojans. Instead, she becomes the symbol of a newfound beauty without paradigm or standards; a changing beauty engendered by the resoluteness and seeking of Helen herself.

ROSA MARTINEZ