An immersion with Marina Núñez
Interview with Marina Núñez by Daniel Soriano and Pablo Sandoval
27 February 2019
«Inmersión», Ed. Centro Puertas de Castilla, Ayuntamiento de Murcia, 2019, pp. 97-101.
In this conversation between the artist Marina Núñez and the curators, it is briefly analysed certain questions such as the relation between body and territory, power or ornament. A journey that attempts to draw the conceptual and matter body of the exhibition “Inmersión” held at the Centro Puertas de Castilla in Murcia.
To begin, we would like to draw a general map of “Inmersión”, how is it born? What are the proposals for this last project? Where can this new immersion take us to?
In the exhibition we have videos and printed images with the same name, but I started with the videos with the idea to recall the bas-relief from some temples through a 3D fractal program.
As on other occasions, it is an ambiguous title that alludes to the immersion as spectators in the depths of worlds carved with geometric and vegetal motifs, and also to the immersion of the inhabitants of those worlds, which appear at the end in their contexts. Because their skins have the same texture as their environment.
In other works, you introduce us to the character of Ícaro and his fall. In “Inmersión” the fall is present, although it is less aggressive. It turns into a slow and pleasant journey which seems to please the senses, at a visual and sound level. We submerge into the interior of the cavity. Is there any relation between the descent of Ícaro and that of the person who lives in “Inmersión”?
No, indeed the fall of Ícaro is necessarily distressing, and this one, which actually looks more like a journey of exploration in a ship, is pleasant.
But with your question something that they do have in common comes to my mind: the excess of ambition. Because these worlds seem to be carved in stone, rather than natural formation (but, who knows), and if it were so, and given that little by little we are becoming aware of the vastness of the landscape, we would be faced with an overwhelming company, an immense world ornamented down to the smallest detail. Even though the stone is more stable than the wax, it must be assumed that it will be a more stable achievement.
In “Inmersión” you present us other of the possible worlds that appear within your works. In this case, we submerge into cavities full of orifices until we find ourselves with the inhabitants of these landscapes. Who are these characters, and which is their mission?
The truth is that I really don’t know. Sometimes they seem to me as warriors looking after their territory (therefore we would be possible invaders), other times as calm women keeping a weather eye on the horizon (and we break that peace too). I prefer thinking about the second one, pensive people we have momentarily interrupted. In almost every case, both in the videos and the printed images, they look at us with complete calm. Although sometimes surprise or fear is intuited.
Their skins, similar to their environment, are formed by the same fractal patterns from the landscape by which they are surrounded. You have played in your pieces with metamorph, liquid skins or hybridization. What does this leap to the fractal world imply, so far but at the same time so close to your work?
Indeed, this is a topic I have already dealt with, the empathy with the context, instead of paranoid aversion to everything that is not oneself, with that obsession for autonomy, distance and control, with that fear of pollution, always sickly and deadly, instead of symbiotic.
In this case, the skin has the same texture as the landscape, which for me suggests two possible stories: the inhabitants of the world have built it in their own image, or they feel as one with it, without suspicion or boundaries. The second version seems to me more subversive and inspiring.
In every cavity, level, niche or surface that we find in the proposed landscape, we see a net built analytically and gently. You say that, when it comes to approach a new project, sometimes you work intuitively as a result of your long career and your acquired experience. For “Inmersión”, did you think of it as something you wanted to work with, or on the other hand everything was born in a more natural and organic way, in a feedback of concepts and production?
A mixture, I had very clear the type of world I wanted to construct, in regard to the hyper-ornate appearance of fractals, as well as how we were going to get into it by playing with the scale. I have also been in touch with the idea of the micro and macro several times, with galaxies locked up in little spheres or emerging from a face, for example.
What I did not have clear is the end, beyond knowing that the inhabitants will appear. I was rather thinking of that first story, that of the creators of the world, and I did some tests that suggested that end of contemplating a colossal artistic project.
But finally, when constructing the characters, trying different aspects that, if anything, had to do with the recurrence of fractals, I preferred to opt for them simply to be the same as their environment and just look at us. The other option is not discarded, but it opens that of the intimate relation with the context.
The references to the science fiction world present in your work is a topic that you have previously mentioned. You have also mentioned the importance that reading novels have when starting new productions. In this case, from where does “Inmersión” imbibe?
Some of the works do depart from concrete references, paintings in its majority (the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo, or some Bosco motif, a representation of an Ofelia or a bearded woman, for example). And sometimes I am not even conscience, time after finishing something I realize the similarity with some work, or more usually they make me notice it.
However, these are exceptional cases. In almost every work the references are so vague and multiple that I am not able to set them, neither have I enough interest in doing it. Definitely the novels, the cinema and the essays and so many others stimulus are acting, but not as a clear origin to no even refer myself to them.
The videos generate us a certain uncertainty, it is their inhabitants who adapt to their environment to live in a non-violent way, or by contrast, the own environment is the one that generated equal beings to it. In the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, it is contemplated a new closed ecosystem, where everything mutates in a constant and immediate way, the inhabitants blend with the environment, either the own environment blends with them. A destruction of the limits between environment and inhabitants that assimilate into a whole.
Could we see this reference as a mirror of what you propose to us with “Inmersión”?
The movie about the first book of the trilogy, “Annihilation”, seems interesting to me, but it wasn’t a reference, I saw it later. I had read the books a long time ago, so much that I couldn’t even remember them! Which means they could be one of those diffuse references. These and many other science fiction novels propose hybridations and symbiosis, present us with bodies that transmute and lose their limits. But in practically all cases, this fusion with the other is horrific.
In the case of this trilogy, the symbiosis is neither deadly nor necessarily results in a malevolent being, which is already a novelty, very appreciable. Even the possibility of accepting it is suggested (the third novel is so called, Acceptance). But the resulting hybrids of human, animal and plant are undoubtedly still spooky. They are not acceptable improvements, although they may be improvements, since such an adaptable ecosystem must have advantages, as long as the vertiginous evolution does not turn into pure chaos. But this is not how it is considered, in books even less than in the film, that avoids talking about the lighthouse keeper, a character who has become as unimaginable (and unacceptable) as the dark entities of Lovecraft.
We love the appearance of the branches/cables that are born from the skin of the women in the crystal laser engraved pieces. This symbology is not at all strange in your visual heritage. It is also a very common symbolic resource in science fiction: María in “Metropolis”, any character with cybernetic brain in “Ghost in the Shell”, “Matrix”, etc. What meaning do you give to these extensions?
It is curious, with the number of cyborgs that I have represented, and many of them wired or emitting energy rays, and it was not what I had in mind. It is the other, they are branches. The floor on which the figures rest has the same texture of branches as the bodies, and from that drawing that configures the body branches come out in turn. It is the same idea of integration of images and videos, although in that case that environment that is like them emanates from them. It can also, of course, be seen as a human-vegetal hybridization, a subject that I have already touched on in some images.
We cannot get out of our mind the relation, we think directly, between “Inmersión” and the “Metamorphosis” by Ovidio. In the end, may the protagonists be transforming themselves into a landscape, they merge into it and become eternal. Does it really exist this reference within this project?
Not his work, but I imagine that the images from Dafne did, but not in a conscious way.
I don’t know if you think of eternity as something positive, it is something so overwhelming that it seems to me an abyss.
Indeed, eternity functions as a harsh punishment.
In this work, you break with centuries of conception of what is the landscape and what is the subject. -Even ask questions on this topic we are subject to a language that only describes domination.- Maybe there exists hybridisation, but this concept requires from two autonomous identities are founded on one. The nearest case in your work to the hybrid are the cyborgs, where two conceptually closed and fictitiously confronted entities -man and machine- are melt in a single entity. Do you believe that the scarcity of a bastards perspective by all the fields of knowledge of the human being is hindering our development, whether technological, as citizenship, as living beings?
I have represented this fusion with machines, with plants, with microorganisms… and with inanimate objects too!
It is a very complex question that I feel scarcely prepared to answer, you have to know a lot of science and philosophy to do it…
However, I believe that if now we consider a vision of the subject and nature that has is less bases on separation and control, that they may suffer from the deliriums of a subject with feet of clay. If we think that scientists have been explaining for some time that observations or measurements can change -physically- the state of a system, or that it is not realistic to think of isolated elementary systems, we have an example in science. And the environmentalism has long proposed, at a political and philosophical level, that the human being is a part of nature and that the anthropocentric approaches that see the human being as out and above the environment are simplistic, as well as obviously dangerous to our survival as species.
We feel tempting to ask you if your production has an intentioned ecologist reading.
In a wide way it is. I mean, is a topic that inevitably appears when you represent hybrids made of humans and plants, or burning trees. I am aware that it is a reading of my work, and it pleases me. It is a subject which anybody cannot take an indifferent position, everybody has a certain general knowledge about ecology but, probably, not enough, however, we are more informed than we used to be 15 years ago.
Following the elimination of the barrier between subject and environment, these anthropomorphic beings that resides in their fractal worlds exert a position of power over the territory. They have created in their image and likeness this megastructure, or maybe, have developed their environment as one more organ, a prosthesis, in the same way that a spider’s web is an extension of itself. And looking around us, haven’t we done this already? We have transformed big surfaces of our planet through agriculture and the cattle industry, the cities are designed for the bodies, capitalists, but after all a type of body. We have even amplified our senses, at least the sight, we have eyes that observe from the space, sensors distributed throughout they whole geography which register infinite parameters. Are we creating our world unconsciously o are we melting with it?
We have certainly made it, but I don’t think unconsciously. Melting… I don’t think so, not even as a metaphor, it is still obsessively thought of an exacerbated autonomy of each individual, as if it was possible considering ourselves isolated beings from all influence.
You are right regarding the exacerbated autonomy. Despite having suffered during these last then decades an impressive technological development that have allowed us to increment some of our abilities through multiple extracorporeal prosthesis: we are able to orientate ourselves better thanks to the GPS, to predict the climatology or to see any point in the planet -and the universe- thanks to satellites, we can communicate in long distances, monitor our bodies and an endless etcetera, and everything is canalised through our phones. Even so, all this knowledge, at anyone’s hand, have not generated any empathy nor eliminated the barrier generated with the environment. The problem is of thought, of how information is used, the construction of the other, as you state in your production. Do you think that the barrier with the other is accentuating itself or are we increasingly prone to embrace the hybrid?
My hopeful impression is that the real hybridizations of our increasingly cyborg world -in a technical sense- end up becoming an acceptance of hybridization, and therefore of empathy with the other, at a symbolic level. I think that the images of permeable and flowing bodies can contribute to this. But it is quite clear that at the moment, at a political and metaphorical level, borders are revaluing. I hope that they are punctual reactions of fear to the new, and that a world is inevitable in which we stop seeing the one and the other as two opposite realities, in such a stereotyped and simplified way. And puerile.
Regarding fractal, there are several questions that interest us, especially at a conceptual level. The fractals present in your work are artificial, in the sense that they are visual representations of certain equations and parameters made by you, which have nothing to do with the drawing that generates a romanesco, a fractal found in nature. Mathematics are declared the tool that decipher and describe nature, is this reading of power relationship over nature present in “Inmersión”?
Well, I do not believe these equations and parameters, I only combine among the many that the program manages. And that formulas create structures that are repeated at different scales, the same as nature creates. That it behaves according to the laws that mathematics study, among other disciplines.
It is true that the scientific knowledge tries to decipher the world, among other things, to obtain certain control and power over it. But these fractals of the “Inmersión” worlds I don’t imagine them as the domain of reason over matter, as a world of stones without a particular shape domesticated by carving. I do see it as more probably artificial than natural, but I imagined the possible intervention as a magnificent artistic achievement, procurator of sublime aesthetic experiences, not as a metaphor of the imposition of a rational order over a natural setting.
Obviously this is what the readings have, now I will not stop thinking about the possibility of having represented a colonising manipulation, a rigid discipline.
The artifice has a great protagonism, especially in the videos and infographics, the crystals focus more on the subject. With evident reminiscences to this Arab plasterwork called yeseria, these mathematical structures are the ones that construct the landscape reaching the horror vacui. We are not talking about a white cube, or an aseptic plane. Bearing in mind the role of ornament in the history of art and aesthetics, is this use of ornament a conscious declaration of intentions?
I imagine that by the role of ornament in the history of art and aesthetics you mean that decorative motifs are never the main subject, although in some -few- authors and movements have gained great importance. Here it is difficult for these intricate and meticulous forms to be underestimated, at least because of their profusion, because they define the territory and make us wonder what we are seeing.
But no, I wasn’t thinking about that.
We also understand the role of women in the decorative arts, mistakenly called minor arts. An art whose role was to create a new skin to the environment, a function, perhaps, very tangible and tissue that can relate to the physical and animal, this added to the natural position that women should take, those of earthly beings. Is «Inmersión» in some way a work that contradicts this official discourse? At least from a sensitive position, in coexistence with the environment, new knowledge can be developed, and high concepts can be explored.
Yes, this is conscious. Ornament has been and is associated to women, and decorative art with its repetitive patterns (that the fractals, autosimilar, undoubtedly recall) considered inferior for not being vehicles of high concepts. In the history of official art. All absurd, feminist art historians have long ago made it clear that it was more a matter of relegating women artists than of there being formal strategies that are despicable in themselves.
And that’s why I like to imagine some amazons with ornamented skin. It can be a tattoo, although they look more carved, so do they.