Marina Núñez
“Clarity and penumbra”
“The fire of vision”, Ed. Comunidad de Madrid y Artium, Centro-Museo Vasco de Arte Contemporáneo, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2015, pp. 29-32.

The disorder, the instability, the displacements,
the unconscious, the drives, the tensions,
the hidden, the unsuspected, the mysterious,
the eccentric, the monstrous, the otherness,
the inscrutable, the obscure, the ineffable,
the shock, the convulsion, the abyss,
the anxiety, the anguish, the terror,
the excess, the desire, the risk,
the ecstasy, the trance, the possession,
the metamorphosis, the inconsistency, the formless,
the holes, the cracks, the pores,
the obsessions, the somatizations, the delusions,
and so on, successively.
but in the representations.
On this side of the canvas or screen: order, rationality, transparency, normality, clarity, firmness, serenity, restraint, disbelief, permanence, stability, sanity.
Is this true, is this what we desire? Perhaps, but this shouldn’t be the case. At this stage it is very clear that the commitment of our culture to an extreme reason, to a subject who was only conscience, was naive and fundamentalist. The risks which seem to lurk in the emotional, organic, unconscious and irrational… they cannot be avoided without causing a catastrophe of a broader scope than that which he was attempting to avoid.
The hidden side
Madness has been many things, at times incompatible: the reflection of a divine (or demonic) spirit or a regression to a pre-human state, unconsciousness or lucidity, a hint of wisdom or mere idiocy, the disruption of the soul or a somatic imbalance, a natural fact or a cultural construction. However valued or despised, unleashed or confined, it has been and continues to be the paradigm of the dark side.
The historical obsession to associate it with art has a certain logic. Not the logic which insists on detecting clinical convergences between ill patients and artists –manias, mental imbalance, melancholy, neurosis… the words and explanations vary–, but the topic is recurring. But the logic that establishes parallels, undoubtedly located in vague and metaphorical territories (nothing is more terrible than trivializing mental illness), amid thoughts for which, in one way or another, reality is somewhat uncertain, disordered and disturbed.
However if art always involves a certain new or altered perception, a different perspective which destabilizes the known, there are artists who deliberately delve with fervour into what is dislocated, distorted or decomposed.
Artists with visions of red eyes, swollen eyes, in flames, who know that a world without shadows is an impossibility, and likewise, this is not advisable: with a ubiquitous and dazzling light which does not cast shadows, it is easy to stumble half-blind. If our world is gloomy and enigmatic, we better learn how to handle ourselves. And this need for cartography explains why they explore in search of inconsistencies, alienations, uneasiness, breakdowns, conflicts, dramas, deformities, hallucinations.
Look directly
These images of what are above and beyond the polished surfaces, are they useful to us because they permit us to live a brief, intense and exciting experience of immersion in horror and thanks to it, they allow us to feel safe again? Is this a catharsis, do we feel that we purify ourselves, that we leave what is frightening for safekeeping –in this imaginary world– which otherwise could penetrate the flesh?
Undoubtedly there is a great deal of this, we know that separating our fears only makes them stronger and they harass us with greater power. Thus it is more lucid to look directly, rather than with a sideways glance, at everything, which if repressed, grows larger and ends up imposing itself. But for a while, in an orderly and domesticated way, to name it and define it in a symbolic and formally refined universe. This is a clever way of risking only what is essential, to exorcize our ghosts from time to time, to examine our nightmares protected behind a glass.
Clever but useless in the long term, since this is only a way of fleeing from real conflicts by depicting them. Which, although not as much as completely shutting the eyes, also attenuates and conceals the experience of oppression and consequently, as Marcuse warned, may cause indolence, paralysis.
If the images are not allowed to occupy more space than their own surface, if they are relegated or trivialized, if they are a fleeting consumption, they will remain as illusory solutions trapped in the realm of art, they will not be able to change our perceptions and interpretations of the world; they will not produce an overlap of the symbolic with the political, the social, with real life. To do this, it is necessary to become immersed in them, they must be allowed to affect us.
But in any case, as a circumscribed experience or (much better) a convulsive experience, what is really important is what we glimpse in these dark and buried images: underneath the appearances of sovereignty and completeness, we fail to control even ourselves; we are divided and even fragmented, we are ex-centric and metamorphic. And there is no form of identity which does not include this strangeness.
We can remove, corner, confine the crazy people and monsters, thus attempting to organize the world into clear and separate concepts and protect ourselves on the other side of the dividing line, but we intimately know that they represent our own fragility and vulnerability. Because the walls which separate the normality of our deformities and our judgement from our mental derangements, are not watertight but are full of pores, some as large as gaping holes.
Light and shadows
Since modern times, a significant part of art –accompanied by philosophy, anthropology, sociology, semiotics, psychoanalysis, and medicine…– has been intensely devoted to dismantle the idea of the unified subject in control, to convince us that alienation is not something secondary which occurs to a previously sane individual but is the way in which we are structured. That our identity is discontinuous, heterogeneous, fluid, evolving. The images which are dive into the abject, strange, perverse, abnormal, murky, disturbing realm… are part of a passionate multitude of demystifying manoeuvres.
And this involves an especially fascinating strategy, because they are not merely the deconstruction of this illusory image of a sane and sovereign subject, which could cause a simple nostalgic longing for the mirage of order, but purposeful. Since the human being comprised of light and darkness is to some extent a reconstruction of this fractured subjectivity, which operates by adding the torn pieces: knowing and accepting that the irrational and unconscious processes are also aspects of subjectivity, that the sinister is consubstantial with the familiar, that monstrosity and madness are not a matter of quality but quantity, that each body will inevitably be a corpse… we can reintegrate ourselves, recover a certain complex plenitude.
Because this otherness which we also embody is not necessarily destructive, on the contrary, it is potentially enriching. The aim is not to achieve a final, definitive and ideal state which is completely harmonious and free of contradictions, but at least to cease to be a psychic battle field due to the failure to reconcile those which we meet.
Another subjectivity, another sensitivity, another experience
Looking further ahead, at the set of individuals, a similar pattern is repeated: the dark and dystopian representations play on a slippery slope; they can be revolutionary but also contain revolutions. The symbolic can permeate and obliterate what is real or on the contrary, serve as a firewall so that nothing can inconvenience or transform it.
It is well known that many images of error, chaos and evil –both fantastic as well as images which intend a certain documentary nature– prove to be convenient for the system: they are situated somewhere else or they minimize the huge problems for which they are responsible that cause us an indigestible amount of anguish. Danger is the psychopath’s fault; the monster is to blame for the fear.
Those who are different, even if they are a crowd, are marginal beings and consequently do not represent the essence of the socio-political organization but its opposite, they bear all the horror and by doing so they act as safety valves and scape goats. Their stereotyping is a crude manipulation but it is an effective tactic: they deviate and mislead blame and responsibilities, and in the end, they establish the order which has defined them as threats to order.
Although the representations which attempt to subdue them are more numerous, from the world of art emerge those who vindicate them, those who specifically denounce these stigmatizing practices by which the fundamentalist subject creates these “others”, their madmen, their monsters.
Amid the numerous spectacular heinous images which assault us everyday until they leave us numb, they try to recover, thanks to aesthetic experience, the crucial intensity and passion indispensable for art having some emancipatory power: still causing the discomfort which suffering deserves, penetrating the banality of evil, exposing where the true irrationality of the system resides, stimulating the subversion of the repressed against the law and the canons which condemn it.
They propose another subjectivity, another sensitivity, another experience, arising from what has been buried and disqualified until now and which suggest other forms, less rigid and brutal, of being and existing.
The images from the other side emerge because the subject and the social structure are fractured, the censorship no longer functions and the fissures grow. When infiltrated by them, they can cause a disruption in the individual and political order, but this is an upheaval which will only shake the purulent scab into dry pieces. We hope that there is fresh flesh underneath.
There are many lucid essays which deal with these topics, however among them, I wish to mention those by my friends, so wise:
José Miguel Cortés (1997): Orden y caos, un estudio cultural sobre lo monstruoso en el arte; Anagrama, Barcelona.
Estrella de Diego (1998): “Historias góticas”, en Espacio Uno. Un espacio, catálogo; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Fundación Marcelino Botín, Madrid, pgs. 20-42.
José Jiménez (1989): La vida como azar. Complejidad de lo moderno; Mondadori, Madrid.
Alberto Martín (2013): “Figuras en el fuego”, en El infierno son nosotros. Histeria y posesión, catálogo; Museo Patio Herreriano, Valladolid, pgs. 40-69.
Isabel Tejeda (2010): “Marina Núñez o la construcción del cíborg. Un discurso multimedia entre la utopía y la distopía”, en revista Icono 14, Año 9, vol. 1; Facultad de Ciencias de la Información, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, pgs. 91-109.