If the disturbing nature of contemporary society is connected to fear, violence and that strange feeling of insecurity inherent in the fiercest capitalism, it appears that this represents the landing place of a global crisis, not only affecting our status as citizens, but also our attitude towards politics, in relation to that ancient promise of happiness associated with well-being. Reality is also confused with the uprooting typical of entropy, when it becomes inevitable to accept the fact that everything can happen when we least expect it. This cancellation of historic memory, which narrates the daily flowing of time through the instruments of mass media communication, produces the surprising sensation of cruising on a surface where the boundary between artistic and political, optimistic and pessimistic is blurred, and the only space for artistic creation is situated in between the ineffective and what only art can allow. It is then convenient to remind ourselves that the word “modern” for the Latin world, as suggested by Fredric Jameson, didn’t mean anything but “now”, a fact that brings us to the impossibility of giving an effective power to art when it tries to narrate the world in which it was generated.
Avelino Sala’s artistic path is punctuated by a number of ideas that aesthetically describe this particular kind of modernity. Initially, his work presented the mortal nature of the subject, through the realisation of transparent dogs, a type of work that already undermined the idea of sculpture made with heavy materials. Soon afterwards, his work moved to evoke the same absence of gravity typical of ideals, through the imperturbable permanence of ideas and with a clear reference to the global emptiness of contemporary societies. Following this line of demarcation, similar to a silhouette, Avelino Sala brought his work towards a monumental space, making performances and videos which overturn the same values they are proposing, knowing that, as a title of his recent projects says, “the enemy is on the inside, shoot at us” (El enemigo está dentro, disparad sobre nosotros, 2009).
The work of this Spanish artist also developed through the creation of a magazine, a space of reflection on contemporary art and culture. Its evocative name, Sublime, retrieves one of the most significant contributions to aesthetics since ancient Greece, and also points to the post-romantic influence in Avelino Sala’s work. Among his interests is the ability to recover an historic memory for contemporary societies through a symbolic dimension, when what appears is expectation, drama, resistance, anxiety. The work, generating from a personal point of view, never falls into the kind of radical subjectivity that would have made it into a mere self-referred narration about intimacy.
On the contrary, Avelino Sala has tried to chart a course, between the spectacular side of contemporary society and reflection on the symbolic value of art, identifiable within culture’s own limits. These are places where the presence of mortality and memory blend with iconoclasm, without stop to observe the new through the lens of memory, renewing itself in the transition from past to future. The symbology connected to monuments used by the artist in his latest projects recounts exactly this turnaround. It’s an observing ghost presence, grown in the bosom of capitalistic nihilism, identifiable with the importance of symbols in urban monuments and the perpetual return to them in order to understand if they’re still able to tell us something. An escape from the past is probably the intent of many expressions of contemporary art, but in Avelino Sala’s work it’s possible to find a different interpretation of memory related to history, a fact that becomes evident in his recent works for the Havana Biennal and the one he realized with the bursary of the Real Academia de España in Rome, based on the political image of the city. In Patria o Morte (2010) Avelino Sala reinterprets a fundamental premise of twentieth century’s politics, used both by left and right regimes. The sentence “patria o morte” [our country or death] is a citation from Fidel Castro, but it is also very representative of the manipulation operated by the mechanism of authority, connected to ideals such as heroism and survival. With this logic the sentence was chosen by various South American armies, when what was at stake was actually their freedom and liberty of choice. The sentence also becomes a catchphrase and, remembering Elias Canetti, it has to be considered that the use of the slogan belongs to a rhetorical wit that is nothing more than the “scream of the dead” who helped fight the enemy. Avelino Sala also managed to demonstrate his interest in curating, as co-director of the Commission project, presenting important Spanish artists and creating video documents focused on current affairs. The project Alegorías de la migración (2010) brought together Spanish and Mexican artists, inviting them to reflect and interpret phenomena relevant to the global political landscape, such as immigration. The central topic of the ambitious work Nomen Nesciis (2010) is the problematic situation of contemporary art, and its ability to offer an invaluable metaphoric representation for the issues that threaten it daily.
Today it is possible to seize the significance of his work starting from several preconditions capable of connecting it not only to contemporary art, but also to other close expressive languages, such as literature and philosophy. Sala himself admits in his last book, La voz remota (2010), that his roots come from the late Romantic concept of fracture: “I deal with ambiguity more than neutrality. The aim is to give manifold interpretations to a single image, without becoming obvious. A project might as well consist of changing a word. My interest in words is crucial. My work developed precisely towards the text.” This vision shows the affinity between the artistic action and the interpretation of a reality brought to a different level. In these places of will and vitality, Avelino Sala continues to convey the differences between his own experience, which everyone can understand, and a society that appears more interested in the interpretation of the matters of art, rather than the increase of knowledge. Accompanying the whole is a strange feeling of being unaware consumers, waiting for a show, victims of idleness and tiredness, sharing the exact same destiny of art. Although remembering Caravaggio’s words – which Avelino Sala celebrated in one of his work, engraving on a knife the motto “without hope, without fear” – art must go back to being something else. Or at least develop into an instrument capable of allowing reality to become a bet on the future of the arts in contemporary societies.
Text by José Luis Corazón Ardura
PDF version: Cura Magazine