'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
In art terminology, a painting with mar de fondo ('a seascape background')
set against undulating blue surfaces. Seascapes call to mind distances
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
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,
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
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
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
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.