THE DOUBLE MIRROR
Abel H. Pozuelo
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For some time now, we’ve waded through the conventions of artists who handle diverse registers and expressive resources, and in whose works changing techniques often coexist with different if not altogether divergent, creative avenues. Ultra-conceptual art, obtuse or plainly inexplicable meaning, manipulation of the observer’s perception, sensory abilities and interpretation, as well as descriptions of private worlds and even facile provocation as a means to create a different impact—or as an end in itself. These qualities appear throughout charted territories in all seven seas of art today. But, fortunately, we’re less fit for this kind of puzzlement, produced by artworks that display something naked and ungraspable, a terrain for us to pass through and abandon at its very gates.
Since a first encounter with Fran Mohíno’s art, the pulse gave way to a certain disturbance. It’s something that hasn’t stopped since, that makes simplifying or reducing his art’s formal and conceptual proposals impossible, lest we end up skirting his unquestionable achievements in technique and expression. It’s as though they contained a veiled message, legible like an engraved forewarning at the entrance to an ancient labyrinth, leaving the rightful impression that there really is no escape from it.
This trouble we encounter is presumably essential when trying to give life to a text on the complex particularity of what is currently held at the Museo Vostell in Malpartida, undoubtedly the artist’s most daring work.
Each piece and their ensemble together emit a sound on a barely audible frequency that disturbs us nonetheless, and we unexpectedly lose our footing on a shore that, suddenly, we no longer recognize. They are not about seducing us. They are not involved in constructing nothingness. Along these lines, we will not use the word “works” to describe them. For now, we will call them “projects” under the suspicion that they are not merely about works; for, they are not ideas derived in forms, or at least they are far from being understood if we only consider them as such. Rather, for the moment, they appear to us too much like a deaf noise, a strong odor, a warning.
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The aura encircling these projects originates from their outermost layer. Mohíno’s objects, images and spaces have the kind of veneer that makes them resemble any other industrial product. Much like the sandbox, its size and placement in 1.150.000 cm3 de What’s Your Level? sobre un contenedor de arena as the very pieces of acrylic glass contained within it. Like the website design for I Can’t Get Your DEPRESSION Out Of My Head as much as the apparatus for a game with definitive rules and the building-block project it proposes. Or the video Suck It In # 1 Los Barruecos 19_02_09… All of them lead us to speak about planning, about a calculated study of materials, techniques and their characteristics, about virtual simulation in their chosen placement and assemblage.
These projects emit a neutral signal, but if we are to understand them according to features attributable to an art object, this signal becomes muddled, almost refractory. Impossible for us to see ourselves reflected in them. Impossible to see any reflection of their creator’s own identity, which seems more akin to a label, an institution. They deal with sealed entities or structures in the same sense as traffic signs or any marketed product. The same as a ready-to-eat dinner or a medicine. They do not offer coexistence with the viewer, but produce alienation. They are presented with a coldness that usually comes with instruction manuals, with patents. They are not artistic objects.
Time spent at their side does not mitigate this uneasiness or the alienation we experience when we first encounter them; rather, it grows. We try to explain where it comes from, but it’s right in front of us: it emerges from an apparent lack of proposal. These works do not provide us with a vehicle to drive our senses or thoughts to any determinate place, feeling or idea. They posit themselves as pieces of a reality that wants to be nonnegotiable, only maneuverable according to its own rules. And they achieve this.
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Fran Mohíno’s products are always closed units and fragments at once, making up pieces of larger units.
Forming the basis for What’s Your Level? and its many derivations are pieces from a geometry catalog and a game with the artist’s more recent iconography on deviant sexuality, making for building-block combinations and cubic-centimeter attachments constrained by both their allotted space and the cost of each piece. But at the same time, as is the case for the components of any puzzle on sale for the public, the underlying implication is that these pieces should be brought together, joined as it were, to become something.
The particular manner of framing the video Suck It In # 1 (reduced to a grid that keenly intends on reminding us that a grid is precisely this: a deliberate reduction)… The on-site natural landscape at Peñas del Tesoro in Los Barruecos (recognized as a Natural Monument, which Wolf Vostell would elevate to the status of Art), at once sublime, romantic and surrealist, amputated and recorded in the darkness of night. Its horizon has been sliced by a ruthless, fluctuating laser that appears like a thread woven by fragments of white noise turned into light.
Fragments. Projects on suppression, on erasure, on incomplete, dismembered and effaced returns and, likewise, on playing with borders, with the limits of space and representation. Projects that foster repulsion for the comfort of all things beautiful, harmonious and finished, that construct for us now the evidence of something interrupted, dismembered, cut away and ex-centric.
And maybe now, might we understand more readily that these pieces address interruptions in the normal flux of life and things? What in their apparent immobility and apathy triggers this interference? This is the sort of trouble, the bother. From it comes a whirring sound, a muddled signal from entities that at best belong to a world we know but cannot apprehend, much less find solace in them.
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In fact, seen in this light, these projects’ apparent lack of proposal turns into a greater power for intervention. What’s more, on few occasions does one find a project that corresponds so accurately to the term “intervention,” in vogue for decades now in artistic experience.
But this is not necessarily due to their circumstance as material interventions in the place where the viewer finds them. Rather, before all else, it’s owed to how they change the channel, altering the frequency for any presumable connection between the habitat where we exist and operate and us.
Thus, perhaps the most evident example among those at the Museo Vostell Malpartida would be the vast sandbox with its assembled pieces that interrupt space and redefine it (as well as its scale and ours), turning it into an area occupied by a kind of playpen that denies us access.
Nevertheless, an activist’s appetite for overcoming perceptions of a single unidirectional reality can perhaps most clearly be appreciated in the two interventions that cast a thin laser light onto the landscape in the museum’s outdoor shadows (one recorded on February 19, 2009, seen in the video Suck It In # 1, the other taking place on the afternoon of the opening—a doubling that resembles a double-spiral feeding back upon itself).
On previous occasions, if landscape photographs were what intervened, turning partially blurry either with the use of digital processing (Sounds In Your Garden) or by projecting a moving picture onto them (Jogging In Your Garden), here it goes beyond this and for the first time directly implicates the landscape itself and our passive contemplation of it.
Mohíno chooses a drastic case. Our contemplative gaze upon the candor of a pure, evocative and pleasant landscape is shaken by a false line of horizon, made by fragments of wavering light that swarm about, competing until they overcome the real horizon and, with the passing of each minute, sketch out graphs of brain waves, as though the landscape had turned into a mental echo for an individual.
Our existing conventions for how we view a picturesque landscape begin to unravel, losing their force. The intervention takes place beyond these perceptions, in our very own way of coming to terms with a specific gaze, a view of reality bounded by our cultural conventions that is thus called into question.
These projects could almost be classified as environmental interventions, as extreme or even sadistic examples of so-called relational art, except that their proposition, beyond affecting our relationship to the world—an achievement demanded from all artists—directly brings this relationship to trial.
The interruption they achieve by immersing us in their logic is the very estrangement of fully jumping into a game and its rules. Becoming absorbed by it. Starting with the titles themselves (often written in a strange English that already proposes its distance from us) and without the need to underline the recurring motifs related to children’s games in Mohíno’s projects, or that sexuality (a frequent subject matter in graphic visual themes and sequences) is presented as just another game, what establishes the game all the more is the very structure of each intervention.
These are indifferent, sealed structures that are only activated if we have some interest in retracing steps marked by our routine attitude before the world. Cultural sites, prescriptive curiosity, definitions of “beautiful” or “good” must be traversed and deserted so their apparent passivity might turn into something active that distances us from our constructed selves. Like children in their playground. Like it occurs in the complete detachment from the world as an absolute, reductive order, whether sexual or otherwise.
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Once we have arrived at that place, everything is revealed to us as an operating mechanism, whether caused by an intervention into our preconditions, a struggle or, even less, a rebellion against social constructs, against predetermined ideas. Above all else, these projects interrogate our ways of constructing reality.
But what does this operation consist of? In the first place, it not only entails parceling out and multiplying an existing world, and our possible comprehension of it, but such a thing is its modus operandi.
The artist’s craft is fused (in reality, it is con-fused) with the force of this disorientation, drawing from its own trouble, from an uncontrollable capacity that proves so productive. His system produces this. Mohíno challenges himself constantly; he turns against himself as one who activates an order. The different projects and paths they traverse are the result of a constant acceptance—we could almost say, masochist—of impositions, of rules for his own game at the service of a much larger game that parcels out the packaged meanings of things. They are also the result of accepting the game’s capricious nature.
An analogy for nature can move us closer to describing the internal gears of this machinery. Like the game itself, vegetation is what seems to articulate these mechanisms, providing a recurring motif in these projects (in the recorded landscape, represented forms and in the scenarios where they are developed or appear). They are articulated in growth, in summation, in their possibility of bearing resemblance to cell tissue, like a root, like a plant or a jungle in constant, unbridled development.
It’s as though these projects extracted their force and were born from fragmentation, from behaviors, particles and elements in a world we habitually associate with meanings and perceptions fabricated by social and cultural elements for our very existence within it; as though they must be brought together in a new way so they might come into being. And in a new way, every time a new game has begun. The search for and discovery of a primordial existence, a state of pre-social activity that only obeys its own rules.
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Mirrors and reflections in Mohíno’s projects are present among his considerations for both form and conceptual approach, an idea present in his previous interventions and which concludes the whole scenario of questions posited here.
Thus, what is raised by the double on-site intervention at Peñas del Tesoro (the one frozen in the video and the ephemeral one, lasting a short while during the opening) and, furthermore, by the two installations from assembled pieces in What’s Your Level?, is their play with mirrors: mismatched and de-centered, mirrors that do not provide an exact or complete perception.
In fact, to discover this labyrinth and the very meanings that construct it and give it life, is to dwell within a double mirror: the self’s mirror and that of the other. A double mirror with countless reflections:
The creator’s self, the viewer’s self, the self who participates in wandering through the labyrinth, the self that bumps against the door without seeing it or walks away from it, aghast at the unsettling warning of subjectivity that lies behind it...
The other as a convention, as a norm that preconditions our way of seeing and wandering through a world perceived as one alone, and also the other as losing our way through a multitude of worlds, fragments, derivations…
We can be sure though that the mirror we are used to seeing is shattered. But instead of attempting in vain to piece it back together, these projects turn our attention toward its fragmentary, multiple nature. And they operate by assimilating this. In this manner, the proposed game does not consist of stacking up the pieces in order to arrive at a reflection of what one thinks exists just as one thinks it exists, but to stumble over an act of de-centering: to exercise an autonomous subjectivity from our social habits and constructs that allows us to immerse ourselves within the other as a variable, incomplete connection of fragments.
There is indeed something more to these rather jarring interventions than the usual sense of an intervention that reflects on the constructed self and how one deciphers the world. It entails a full-fledged proposal, which coaxes us into entering its game, dissolving that constructed individuality that dwells within us, and lets us lose our way among reflections of other worlds, of fragments and their splinters.