Susana Cendán
Everything has to do with the monsters international contemporary art, enero 2013, nº 53-54, pp. 78-86.


But also with death. At least that’s what we sense when contemplating the latest show by one of the most extraordinary of contemporary Spanish artists, Marina Núñez (Palencia, Spain, 1966), in the chapel of the Patio Herreriano Museum (Valladolid, Spain). Titled El infierno son nosotros (Hell is Us) the show takes its cue from Sartre’s affirmation that hell is other people, a judgment that conditions us and in some ways encourages our fear of otherness, by considering difference, anomalies, in a clichéd and hackneyed manner. But let’s put aside the protective barrier of art for a moment; who can act normal in a country where it’s actually the exception? What with so much demagoguery, mediocrity, backwardness, dishonesty, cockiness, snobbery, and sleaziness, many of us wouldn’t mind moving to one of the virtual spaces created by Marina, imploring the cyborgs there to save us. Now more than ever, these strange creatures, despite their fiber optic neurons and threatening anatomies, seem excitingly promising. Maybe the time has come when they can work a subtle and unconscious change on us, in terms of a real interaction with difference. At least we won’t need to scratch their skin to see what’s really behind their/our overestimated normality, like with the sinister reptiles in the TV series V.

Nearly 20 years have passed since this magnificent painter, who despaired about her abilities to produce a “well made” painting, surprised us with her constructed series on the representation of difference. Mad women, monsters, shrouds, medusas… fabricated in a realist style able to capture the innocent viewer, who quickly get the trick: obviously, the artist is not just a skilled craftsman, or a superficial thinker, but is capable of constructing a “complex vision of the world,” and that, as Barbara Rose astutely points out in the catalogue[1] to the show dedicated to her work at the Centre del Carme (Valencia, Spain, 2010) she “reflects on our conception of the world, altered by a variety of hybrid forms in science, literature, film, painting and architecture.”

This particular perception of the world has been growing intellectually within a theoretical and polyvalent framework. We know its facet of a passionate reading of genres close to science fiction, and 19th and 20th century gothic and satirical literature, but also that of an implacable scrutiny not just of the present, canonical history or restrictive patriarchal discourses, but those feminist theories that from an orthodox position continue to regard the battle between the sexes as a perpetual war of subjection and oppression, ignoring the spaces where “differences” usually manage to penetrate and which enrich our otherness and perception of the world. Dialectic debate enhances Marina Núñez’s work; she knows how to skillfully dodge demagogy, a recourse that’s hyper-present in our battered society, so oversaturated with simple answers that diminish us intellectually.

From her early career I especially like the monsters. But I know that I shouldn’t miss them because they’re still among us. Everything still has to do with the monsters. Perhaps her work has gotten more complex due to the use of sophisticated digital technology resulting in a powerful visual language. But art, the art of Marina Núñez, continues to offer us a stimulating escape route that lets us imagine an integrative society whose realization constitutes an exciting challenge that very few people would have the courage to take on. Marina reflects and embraces diversity without judgment, revising and rewriting antiquated concepts.

In many ways, and despite the obvious differences in formal and biographical terms, her work has certain similarities with that of a vibrant artist who not only experienced difference, but who was herself different. Leonora Carrington, in her marvelous memoir Down Below[2] recounts her particular descent to hell in a mental hospital in Santander (Spain) at the beginning of the 40s. Can anyone imagine what that was like? An experience that marked and redeemed her in equal parts, since the artist was able to profit emotionally from her journey to the “dark side,” opening small breaches toward sanity, or rather, a “poetic sanity” that would make her one of the most original and elusive artists ever. Leonora not only travelled to the edge, she reconceived it, creating a hybrid territory where, as in Marina’s case as well, her multiple identities could coexist in a context of normality.

Neither Leonora Carrington nor Marina Núñez (associated with Surrealism[3] in numerous writings) accepted the role of “passive muse” in the service of the lascivious and manipulating gaze of their masculine contemporaries. The divan, in any case, would serve these two extraordinary women to reflect upon the abuses that the surrealist authors had inflicted on the female body, seen as a simple object of desire, decadent and libidinous. The recontextualization of the traditional historic discourses seems to us an arduous and interminable task…

Perhaps one of Marina’s works which best exemplifies the idea of a society able to integrate multiple identities is Multiplicidad (Multiplicity, 2006), a video in which, as Iñaki Álvarez remarks in the interesting catalogue essay[4] to her show at the Sala Rekalde (Bilbao, Spain), “…the eye that Marina Núñez shows us, blinks, the universe moves and from it emerge a multitude of visions, abstract and real at once, that reproduce and swallow themselves in a kind of phagocytosis that nurtures and constructs the subject’s identity, the psyche, the soul, and the body-matter itself as an independent and unique entity that elaborates its own map during its journey.”

The universe moves, and does so in a reality lacking the human presence of men. Not, as in the case of Leonora Carrington,[5] because they are at the very bottom of her preferences, but because, like the figure in Ocaso (Twilight) (2007) we can intuit, from the deepest recesses of her convulsive humanity, her ability to feel, suffer, love… Her vision, even in the most adverse circumstances, opens a space for a new and strangely beautiful time.

[1] Bárbara Rose, El mundo está demasiado con nosotros, in Marina Núñez. Demasiado mundo, Centre del Carme, Valencia, May-June, 2010, p. 41.

[2] Leonora Carrington, 1983 by Black Swan Books, London, 1983.

[3] Marina Núñez, Sin razón, Ed del Lunar – Investigaciones Surrealistas, Jaén, 2008.

[4] Cover to See or “El ojo vago”, Ed Sala Rekalde, Bilbao, March-May, 2011, p. 20.

[5] I suppose that putting up with Max Ernst’s ego has its consequences.