José Miguel G. Cortés
She now stands without the door (With regards to works by Marina Núñez)
“Marina Núñez. Ciencia-Ficción, Consorci de Museus de la Generalitat Valenciana, 1998. Pag. 135-137
“The poem takes on a different dimension if we realize that it is the manifestation of the desire, not the story of a real life happening”. 1
Jorge Luis Borges
There is a group of contemporary artists who, in many of their works, refer (in accordance with Freud and his concept of the Sinister) to all that, whilst remaining hidden, is also familiar to us. They are representations of ambiguous situations in which terror hides behind beauty, ordinariness conceals something monstrous. In this way, the known and the unknown constitute two worlds that are both interconnected and interchangeable, based on an ambivalence and an alterity that complement each other. A hell anchored in reality and which feeds off daily life, trivialities and the routine of human existence. This world is a world in which I will never know or be sure of what I see or even what I believe to have seen, and which responds to the desire to reconstruct certain experiences from diverse and fragmented memories.
Wells wrote in his beautiful tale The Door in the Wall that the door in the wall was a real door which leads to immortal realities through a real wall 2. This, indeed, could be a door which hides a multitude of mysteries and beyond which a tall, pale woman dressed in a white nightgown might appear at any moment (as in the painting Sin título, locura (Untitled, Madness), 1995, by Marina Núñez) or, the shrouded figure of Lady Madeline Usher to the shriek of “MADMAN! I TELL YOU THAT SHE NOW STANDS WITHOUT THE DOOR!” 3. Both these enormous chambers provoke a sense of unbearable sadness, austere images where desolation reigns and where we can detect the traces of destruction and the sinister atmosphere. We can find these same doors in the work of other artists. Through the representation of simple doors I can see the image of hesitation, the desire to go beyond them and the fear of the unknown awaking inside me. These doors refer to presence and/or absence, they are objects that transport us from one ambit to another, to rooms filled with sinuous ambiguities. With this same effect, the work Untitled, Closet from 1989, by Robert Gober, depicts a closet without a door. it is the opening to another space, yet where it leads to I do not know. a dark, empty place with no trace left of its previous users. A claustrophobic place which allows me to recall memories, secrets and answers. It is the opening in the wall which could appear, which takes us nowhere, yet which stands enigmatic and mysterious. Enigmatic and mysterious are indeed the doors and windows carried out in 1996 by Juan Muñoz in his work A Place Called Abroad; unused, blocked up doors, firmly shut, yet whose mere presence makes me stop and reject upon what lies beyond, where they lead to, the people who have passed through these doors, upon the question- why are they shut?, upon my desire to open them and pass through and beyond and upon my fear of what I might discover there.
Perhaps, they are doors which lead to houses above which, according to the story by Poe, “there hung (…) an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the grey wall, and the silent tarn – a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued” 4. This atmosphere represents an invasion of the, until then, private, secure confines of the house by an unknown, malignant force which provokes the reappearance of events, fantasies and moments of depression in the subconscious of my mind’s eye. The exploration of the dark, hidden recesses, the fascination for prohibited or forgotten spaces, the attraction to the closed doors and closets which enable me to relive the most intimate of my subconscious; they are all elements which reappear in moments of shock or surprise. It is during these moments that the conflict between the interior and exterior world, the individual and society, intra and intersubjectivity is exemplified at its starkest.
This is also congruent with David Lynch’s perception when, in his films, desolation and chaos invade daily life. Life inside his apartments is turned into a nightmare and a state of semi-consciousness is recreated where the darkest, most disturbing secrets rise to the surface. Henry, the protagonist of Eraserhead (1972-1976) becomes the prisoner of his own domestic hell. In Blue Velvet (1986), Jeffrey ventures into a secret world, an imposing, prohibited land, where the loss of his innocence is the price he must pay for his curiosity. Throughout his long journey into the reality of daily life, David Lynch takes his camera to where we are able to discover the dark secrets which lie hidden behind their facades. For David Lynch, these apartments possess a double character: they represent a place of suffocation and claustrophobia where nothing works (the lift is out of order, the bell does not work…) and all trace of civilization seems to have disappeared; yet, they also represent a different universe where our most personal ghosts are brought into manifestation. They are both a journey into hell and a place of freedom (on the outside social mechanisms regain all their repressive power).
This aura of persuasive, day-to-day violence is also present in the empty, desolate rooms of the Belgian painter Luc Tuymans. A melancholy characterizes everything in his paintings, where reality assumes a sinister content and where the passing of time is linked to absence, loss, memory and death (see his painting Ceiling, 1992). His paintings are enigmatic scenes which appear to me as signs left in times gone by, traces of a life that existed yet that ceased to be a long time ago or, also, the sign of something that has just happened and that could occur again at any given moment (Silent Music, 1993). There is a total absence of human life in Tuymans’ works representing apartment interiors; the domestic appliances are clean and neat, everything is in its place and in an orderly fashion, an air of normality pervades and, yet, what ought to be a place of comfort and relaxation exudes an indescribable, threatening tone (Blacklight, 1994).
I can also feel that same threatening tone (despite the pictorial differences) in the interior scenes of the trilogy, Sin Título, Locura, which Marina Núñez painted between 1994-1995. In each of these works a different woman (or is it the same woman?), identically dressed on all three occasions, inhabits the painting’s desolate, half-derelict spaces. With an absent gaze, their long, entangled hair falling onto their shoulders, and a somewhat estranged or melancholic appearance, these women seem lost in their memories; these are women who are waiting, each in her place, for something to happen, If in the paintings by Tuymans there are no people, then Núñez makes use of the canvas to talk to us about the vulnerability of womanhood, about the psychological plundering to which society has subjected women over the centuries and about solitude, the product of the anguish and spiritual desolation which they confront in a hostile environment and in which memories are the only possible means of expression left to them. The defencelessness of the subjects and the frustration that their oppressive surroundings create, eloquently express the infernal existence that womanhood has become in Western Society. In the paintings by Marina Núñez, the wounded, abused body of the woman exudes a permanent nostalgia, it reflects a latent exile; as though being in a place, yet not belonging to it. On contemplating these works I understood Poe when he wrote, “I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all” 5.
Western Society defines the home as being a harmonious place where affection and understanding govern the relationships established therein. This, however, ceased to be true a long time ago, the home is no longer an intimate space and provider of warmth, affection and protection, instead it has become a domestic “container” where the needs and the most urgent desires of those that live there are suffocated and sublimated. The fantasies of comfort, health and love have been relegated by a much harsher reality brought about by the repression of all those aspects that are not governed by the established social norms. The house, furniture and electrical appliances acquire a powerful character which emanates uneasiness and mystery, they possess the capacity to terrorize, yet without losing an iota of their daily normality. And therefore, what might appear to be merely decorative objects or furniture for our relaxation and comfort become a weapon of torture and physical confinement, subjects that keep watch over us and control our altitudes, elements which colonize and mould our bodies.
Everyday objects, to paraphrase Freud, have become sinister. Silent, static objects which surround and intimidate us with their screams and their presence. Their silent, inanimate conduct has no other end than to engulf us in the anguish of everyday life in which the presence of madness and death become tangible. The reshaping of everyday objects by certain contemporary artists has lead to the illusion of domestic comfort being lost, instead giving rise to the introduction of a nightmarish facet into our daily lives. The pleasant and inoffensive notion of beauty has been subverted; the strange and enigmatic has replaced resplendent, clean, transparent modernist architecture. The darkest ghosts of the human mind have seized possession of the domestic environment.
A good example of the sinister quality acquired by these everyday objects can be seen in the works by Robert Gober, between 1984-1989. He possesses the extraordinary ability to convert the most innocent objects into claustrophobic situations, prisons and places of torture. We only have to observe the immaculate sterility of his Sinks or Beds which, with their disproportionate size and presence in the most unexpected of places, have the capacity to provoke a clear sensation of fear in the spectator. A similar sensation is also created in his Cradles in which places of rest and play have been converted into traumatic pens (as he himself calls them), in prisons which condition a child’s social attitudes. We can observe elements of all these qualities in the Dibujos de gabardina, 1988-1991, by Juan Muñoz. Here we can see a series of rooms in which silence and solitude are omnipresent and where these abstract concepts become tangible. A certain sensation of malaise occupies the space creating an enormous tension, it gives the impression that something has happened and that. at any moment, something terrible could occur. It seems that we have arrived at the wrong time, too soon or too late, we want to flee and yet, something makes us stop and pause in those rooms and now we are unable to leave. Likewise, Marina Núñez’s painting Sin título, locura, 1993, also reflects these fears. In this work we can observe the packed interior of the small lounge of a small middle-class home; a flower-patterned sofa, various pieces of furniture (a lamp, table…) and a wail covered with works of art (O. Redon, S. Dalí, M. Duchamp…), made up of large eyes, full the light space. A certain horror vacui emphasizes the even more oppressive atmosphere and sinister tone of the room, it possesses a deeply depressing quality and is pervaded by a certain air of illness. We find ourselves locked and immersed in an atmosphere of vigilante which is accentuated by the multitude of eyes on the wall that observe our every move. These large, wild eyes (like many of the eyes in the Locas (Mad Women) painted by Núñez), have an aggressive, incisive and imposing quality which hammers away at our conscience (like her Medusas painted in 1994). In this way, we feel both observed and oppressed by this wall of gouged eyes. These castrated eyes are, as Freud would say, the most evident manifestation of the mutilation of the father and the physical concretion of the threat to the family enclave. Therefore, and as Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his magnificent story The Fall of the House of Usher, “from that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast” 6.
1 Borges, J. L.: “El otro”, en El libro de arena. Alianza, Madrid 1977, p. 16.
2 Wells, H.G.: La puerta en el muro. Siruela, Madrid 1984, p. 18-9.
3 Poe, E. A.: ‘‘La caída de la casa Usher”. en Cuentos/1. Alianza, Madrid, p. 336
4 Ibídem, p. 230.
5 Ibídem, p. 321.
6 Ibídem, p. 337.