JS: I would like to begin by describing a parody of the monkey Chita from Tarzán made by Joaquín Reyes, which can easily be found on YouTube. The comedian appears in character in a quite realistic chimpanzee costume, and quickly begins telling her story as a film actress, then is surprised and infuriated to discover that the black and white in which she’s been seeing all of her life is, in reality, in color. The sketch concludes with Chita painting a point in the center of a canvas, saying: Wonderful! Do you see it? Laugh at Barceló! Don’t touch it! A part of your monkey brain tells you, ‘Don’t touch it!’ and another tells you, “Yesss! Why not? Do another!’ Then she immediately paints a point above it and becomes enraged, destroying the canvas: Bad! Bad! Why did you touch it if it was good?
Apart from the humanization of the animal, there are a couple of elements in this parody that I believe give us something to speak about and that are concerned with different approximations of your work and my own. One part is the use of color as a foreign language, but mainly there is something that I find very curious in your practice. Maybe I am mistaken, but it seems to me that in your process there is a very effective tool that might normally be considered an irreparable error, which is not respecting the moment in which one feels that a work is finished, and then going two or three steps further. It could be a generational thing, but the capacity for restraint is something very venerated in the art world and you all do the precise opposite of that.
ASMA: We like the idea of animalizing the human more than humanizing the animal. It’s possible that a monkey would be offended by seeing this video, hahaha. We don’t identify with this parody of the monkey Chita; we often do a second bad brushstroke and then move on to a third.
We were surprised that you mentioned “tool” because we hadn’t seen it like that before. When we overload pieces it has more to do with our ideological sense than an aesthetic one. We are grateful that there is a contrast and an “impurity” in the work, which overruns our fears and individual limitations more than they should; it’s as if we materialize our collaboration. Ultimately, we find beauty in our ugly decisions. In your drawings, we can see that you have more control, in contrast with the ceramic work, where the process is volatile and an accident becomes more central. It feels good to be able to see those two facets of your work coexisting in the same space.
We’re glad to have met you in person and been able to see three new pieces that you brought to the gallery, which narrated the story of the fishes you had as a child. It made us get to know you better very quickly and additionally see the material delicacy of your work. Do you live with any animals now? We have a kitten and we’ve noticed that a lot of our pieces have her hair hidden in them, and at this point we’re considering including it in the physical descriptions.
JS: In my case, I’ve tried lately to turn subjective resources –such as deciding how to decide exactly when the work is finished–into significantly conscious tools, at times almost mechanical. I increasingly apply restrictions and rules, yet they don’t always bring about a limiting of elements, yet instead an addition; and I dared to ask you that question because in the cases in which that has happened, I have found a resonance with what your group does.
These restrictions serve as a counterweight to my slow and controlled manner of working. If you add to this the narrative content that I normally use, it brings me to a field that would seem to have more to do with comics and illustration. I have never read comics, for example; it’s a world that I don’t enter and to which I don’t belong. Now I understand that that disoriented place, between different areas, that contemporary art commonly looks at from above, is not a bad place to work from. This in some ways also has to do with the use of color that I mentioned at the beginning, and with a conscious resistance to not use it (as of right now). It seems silly, but I know that if I apply it to my drawings, it would set me very close to painting, where I believe the opposite happens. What is narrative, fictional, erotic, autobiographic, and so on, is more than integrated in that language.
I understand the fact that you all don’t feel identified with the video that I sent you, despite that inaccuracy, it still seems to me a good representation of the artist and contains something about insolence that I myself like to have sometimes. Responding to your question, currently the only animals that live with me are in my head, hehe. I really like that you say that you had the chance to get to know me better through the fish tanks that I showed you that day. For me, each one of those is inseparable from my life and the moment in which I cared for those fish.
I would like to ask you if avoiding work with themes or elements of reality could be a restriction that you all have, like those that I mentioned earlier.
ASMA: We don’t feel that as a restriction in our work because our conception of what is “real” is very open; we think that it’s interwoven with the imagination and we use elements of both to emphasize this interrelation. Sometimes we have worked with certain rules that condition the final form of pieces, like when we are invited to collaborate in some project with a certain direction. Normally we don’t place a methodology in front of our practice because they are not a constant.
We really like a drawing of yours of an ear with many different earrings and when we met you we saw that you also wear earrings. Is that your ear in the drawing? We liked it because it captures a very common scene that never stops feeling complex, fantastic and psychological. On the other hand, we haven’t known each other for very long and we know very little about yourself outside of art, and we’re curious to know if you are a fan of anything specific. Tell us everything! The audience wants to know.
JS: The idea for that drawing was exploring a self-portrait in what we could call a significantly classic style, figuratively, representing my image. The particularity was that I wanted its central part to be my ear. I don’t wear all of those earrings at once, but at some point I’ve had on the majority of them. That accumulation of earrings and symbols is an exaggeration of how my ear looks, and you could say that it’s also an exaggeration of my personality. Another important thing that isn’t visible in that specific drawing but is in the series that it belongs to is that it’s my ear while I’m having sex with my partner.
In my life, I’ve had two hobbies and I’ve maintained neither. My tastes are very erratic and I get bored of things quickly. One was having fishes during my childhood and adolescence, I eventually had six or seven big tanks in my room for years. My best friends also had fishes, so my activities and conversations during that period were mainly about that topic. I remember the first time that my parents let me go out onto the street alone was to go visit an aquarium far away that was run by a guy in Celaya—where I grew up—who supposedly knew more about fishes than anyone. When I was eleven we moved to the city where my father was originally from in Spain, and there I began to tag and do graffiti with my classmates, and that occupied me for years. I was crazy about hip hop, for example, and I collected everything to do with Public Enemy. Once I was in my twenties, I gave away all of my music collection, something that I regret a lot.
ASMA: It’s interesting to think about the exaggeration of personality and how it manifests when externalized in some way. We can see how that is in a work of ours that we feel is an exaggeration of our personalities with the hope that they are our personalities meeting. As teens we were interested independently in metal and role-playing games. We feel that was one of the most distinct forms that we had an early approach towards an imaginary of medieval fantasy that we liked, but at the time it amuses us.
Sometimes we imagine that the pieces by each artist have their own music or song. It intrigues us to know how our friends hear their own work. Although we wish that they contain a more contemporary sound, when our pieces seem like old objects, we joke that they are like a song from Mago de Oz. Right now we’re interested in drag race, and we see how in some way this idea of the expansion of the personality appears reflected through creative expressions, and we very much admire the capacity to liberate oneself from self-made limitations by means of vulnerability.
JS: I also have a little bit of Mago de Oz that’s asking to be heard.
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Images by RAMIRO CHAVES. Courtesy of LABOR and PEANA