Fran Mohíno





Javier Hontoria

On a first approximation to the work of Fran Mohíno, the way in which his pieces of the last few years have evolved according to a series of guidelines that inquire into the conceptual possibilities of the image, essentially in their photographic dimension, should be stressed. We will assemble them, in a first approach, around a central axis of great semantic wealth, which has been present in his most recent series: the reflection on the position and role of the individual in the contemporary age and, in particular, on the one developed by western societies. I would have preferred to use a different syntax, to confer greater credit on the individual, stressing the way in which he develops in today's world, and yet, one shouldn't forget the fact that these societies, according to Mohíno himself, are already deft at creating individuals who are nothing but “cultural constructions which adopt the function of an abstract pattern upon which their power mechanisms may be implemented”.

This reflection is set within a critical reading of relational systems, the behaviour of human beings in a given environment, which Mohíno places in various contexts that, as well shall see, have a lot to do with the idea of play. The clues lie in the rules that the artist constructs in order to be able to participate in them, in the language required to understand them. We will come across these rules in very different settings, such as playgrounds, intervened landscapes, structures of an architectural influence or vegetal motifs. However, it is essential to state in detail a weighty question. In spite of the relationship with play and the unconventional appearance of many of his pieces, the underlying reality is a different one. The work of Fran Mohíno is a scourge of the powers-that-be, an imperturbable questioning of the values that support a vilified society, which results in a view stranded in uneasiness. Let us state it clearly: his work is harsh and violent, almost pathological. Furthermore, it is surprising to find a disturbing and often painful awareness of the world behind the formal clarity and luminosity. His works produce irritating tensions much as the film plots of the Dardenne brothers, the musical movements of Daniel Johnston or the prose of Thomas Pynchon -the last two, obvious influences for the artist can be exasperating. In this sense, the music of Daniel Johnston, American artist who suffers from bipolar disorder, has been significantly described as a hair-rising world hidden behind its naïve façade, a sinister world that in his case is determined by unrequited love. That is the reason why it is so important to pause before the work of Fran Mohino and avoid delighting ourselves in an initial appreciation. We will also advance a basic formal issue: although there has been a tendency, from the early stages of his career, to situate Fran Mohíno as having relation to photographic languages, Who Loves You Dear? –his exhibition at Burgos' CAB– opens up categorical and thought-provoking paths towards the sculptural. Thus, the installation What's Your Level?, which rather than occupying relentlessly invades the whole of the central space, confirms the above.

However, in spite of this new sculptural feature, occasionally featuring a very strong appearance, the works assembled on this occasion are but a succession of fragments which will permanently insist on the self-assertion of their very nature, i.e. of a series of reality fractions which will never lead to a perception of the “whole”. A dialogue between various works by Fran Mohíno would be like a concatenation of oblique readings that, for the artist, constitutes the most logical and reliable tool in order to attain his objectives. Founded on a solid allegorical base, these works emphasize certain scepticism in terms of the value of man as an individual, as a subject, in relation to those who share his very nature, who are born, evolve and die in the very same setting. The crisis of the individual is linked to the scant consequence that he has in contemporary, essentially Western, societies, in spite of the importance that the establishment claims to (needs to) grant him. We are told that the great virtue of democracy is the fact that sovereignty lies with the people and, consequently, we are all equally worthy in society as a whole. A total of 6.650 million identical particles, the number of which is increasing at a devilish pace. 6.650 million particles silenced with the help of the happy coupling of capitalism and democracy. Peter Sloterdijk attributes to Hegel that “although democracy means ‘power of the people’, at heart it is nothing but a keyword for a fatality yet to be conceived, the task of which consists in the destruction of that which, allegedly, had the power: the people, in its traditional and pre-modern sense”. Following this line of reasoning, Fran Mohino grants contemporary subjects the dubious value of a mere cipher (which has the same value as a vote).

Similarly, the idea that the greatest happiness for the individual is associated with the negation of oneself hovers over Fran Mohíno’s whole work, and can also be noticed in disparate praxis and iconographies. By way of some kind of dissociation, by escaping from the limits of the “self”, results begin to be achieved. In two of the pieces presently exhibited a direct allusion to the childlike universe can be seen, which is, significantly, and in spite of the existence of progenitors, a proprietor-free world. In recreation grounds children roam about not fully aware of what happens in them. Children thus escape from themselves and remain engrossed in a state of peace and tranquillity that we adults often find enviable. As I mentioned earlier, two of his recent works, belonging to the The Kid Of The Playpark And His Girlfriend series, are polyptychs featuring images of swings and seesaws printed on aluminium and gathered in a decidedly rough-looking assembly. By means of a cumbersome system of fast-adjust pincers, screws and wooden pegs the images are raised to various levels without ever losing their connection to the ground and the walls, as if moved by the urgency to hold on to the space, to seek out an intimate relationship with the architecture. Thus, the constructional idea is noticeable. Upon these images an animation is projected, featuring signs endeavouring to be language, a different one upon each image, thus setting a rotating sequence into motion, a circular movement that falls short of revealing a logical semantic solution and remains arrested at a mere babble, a wish to communicate that fails to do so. The intermittent beam of light produces arbitrary signifiers: a broken, incomplete, unintelligible language.

The intervened landscapes of the Jogging In Your Garden and Sounds In Your Garden series should be situated on a similar level. In the first one, Fran Mohíno projects captions onto the photographic images of landscapes which follow the trajectory dictated by nature's forms: bushes, branches and trees. The light is once more turned into a dynamic and musical language, however incongruent to the same extent.

Eloquently, it is difficult to follow the line/caption and the image at the same time. Furthermore, Sounds In Your Garden similarly displays sinuous lines traversing the landscape and yet it is not about a projected language, but rather about lines blurring the shapes of the landscape by means of digital processing. At this point sexuality enters the fray, although not conceived from a conventional perspective –if by this we understand the union of two people in a unitary and homogenous act–, the simultaneous explosion of shared pleasure. Dictionaries refer to love as the “intense feeling of a human being who, taking his own insufficiency as a departure point, needs, looks for and achieves an encounter and union with another being”. Nevertheless, Fran Mohíno understands sex the other way round for, in its climax, causes a loss of conscience in the individual, situating him, once more, beside his own self, far from the customary and desired mutual climax.

These lines, which traverse and blur the shapes of the landscape, are a metaphor for the dissolution of individuality's contours. The blurred subject, characterized by imprecise limits thus becomes more prone to happiness. And in the quest for the right path towards that happiness it is necessary to assume the reality of our destiny, which is none other than our disappearance. Satisfaction and well-being –Mohino tells us– reside in the acceptance of the fact that we ineluctably advance towards evanescence. This brings us back to the quotation by Heidegger we mentioned earlier. We live in a time when power systems produce concrete individualities of clearly defined contours. Dispersion is not a desirable value and concentration in pursuit of an adequate context of domination is rendered necessary. Bourgeois individualism is usually mentioned as the arena in which the system isolates individuals with the firm purpose of having them negotiate their own path in order to become, through an arduous and lonely endeavour, what they want to be. And yet, it concurrently involves the delirious mass production of greyish units, whose resemblance to the desired, easily controllable stereotype, is alarmingly faithful. In this sense, the powers that be are also concerned with the fact that individuals should remain, in terms of sexuality, within precise limits. The artist states it clearly: “For them [the powers that be] it is essential that sexuality should shed any ludic aspect and that the capacity to elude the responsibility of remaining within the limits of the construe that individuals are is disabled”.

Thus, in direct relation to the “intervened landscapes” of Jogging In Your Garden and Sounds In Your Garden, we find the X Numbers series, a collection of digital drawings printed on a reflective support. They are drawings that, as they require an interaction with the spectator, allude to a spatial dimension situated in the vicinity of the sculptural and, as we shall see, of performance. Mohino has conceived a vegetal hybrid, a compound of cactus and plant. They consist in succinct images, of a schematic line, that dominate over a mirroring surface, unveiling reflecting areas of various sizes. In these series the artist connects two essential ideas. On the one hand, he resorts to the myth of Narcissus (and, indirectly, also to that of Pygmalion) in order to allude to the obsession with his own reflected image. He adopts this myth according to the interpretation made in the Middle Ages, in which mirrors (and, occasionally, also fountains) are an image and allegory of love in courtly love literature. Thus, in the wake of Agamben, the presence of ghosts as the object and origin of love becomes visible. Fran Mohino not only emphasizes the possibility of falling in love with an image to which there is no access, but also, and more importantly, the impossibility of obtaining from reflections an integral image of oneself. On the other hand, on the grounds of the idea of fragment and biased reality, we enter once again the concept of individuality.

As I mentioned earlier, these hybrid vegetal forms set onto mirrors depend on the interaction with spectators. Recently Fran Mohíno has endeavoured to square the circle of this series in as coherent a way as possible by confronting his own fragmented reflection in a series of photoperformances. For the artist, failure to achieve an integral view of his naked body is in no way frustrating. Much on the contrary, his own fragmented image is greatly illustrative, the one that gives true meaning to the work.

I wished to wait until the end of our journey to discuss the complex and monumental What's Your Level?, a piece which is central not only because of its extraordinary dimensions, but also due to the fact that it merges all the pieces hitherto mentioned. The conceptual framework of the piece lies in its modular structure. Fran Mohíno designed a formally identical, 50.000 cm3 set of pieces. The structure at the CAB gathers twenty of these, representing a total of 1,000,000 cm3, in allegorical (and acidly ironic) reference to the million dollar home, flagship metaphor of the our society's ambitions. Nevertheless, the assembly of the 20 pieces indicates a hardly achievable aspiration. The mere assembling of two of these pieces, be it on the ground, wall or ceiling, already expresses the birth of something: in short, a relationship, a language, the possibility of an exchange. Digitally printed on each of these square methacrylate modules the lines, which describe a fragmentary route, are imposed in expectance of a subsequent union with another module of the same nature with which to form an itinerary displaying certain logic. The only rule of the game is to create closed lines. When this occurs, the relational mechanisms become operative and the minimal unit of language emerges, the one possibility of dialogue. And, of course, the greater the number of pieces that one manages to assemble, the greater the chance. We are dealing with an open game, featuring concrete rules, taking place in a space that absorbs those who participate, taking them away from reality and immersing them in a different dimension, much as happens to children, who lose their self-consciousness and of the surrounding reality when they play in parks.

However, we should continue to emphasize that What's Your Level? The surrounding space is of great consequence and transcends its condition as an architectural context. Fran Mohíno has created a quadrangular hall which rather than a mere panelling exercise lodging the the piece becomes one of its active elements. Although this space has an intense relationship with the original architectural structure of the Centre, the artist performs a slight displacement, a subtle if decisive shift that completely disarms perception. As is the case with the whole of Mohíno's work, a small gesture manages to violently alter experience, and not just that of visitors: this modification keeps in check the relationship between all the parts of the Centre, which are visible from the lower area, much as this area can also be seen from the remaining levels. Through his resort to the assembling, and in quite a subliminal manner, Fran Mohíno tests out the spectators' strength of mind. The rhythm and relationship between the works is disturbing and surprising, while the empty spaces tend to prevail, featuring a blinding white, which, much as the central walls, equally feature a remarkable semantic load. Significantly, three of the images of Sounds In Your Garden hang, completely crooked, from the robust granite buttresses. And, at the end of the itinerary, when the exhibition apparently finishes, the mirrors of X Numbers block the way, forcing visitors to retrace their steps and undergo the experience once more.

It is no longer necessary to state that the piece, in whatever phase (one should bear in mind that it is a versatile texture, always susceptible of changing), also remits to the idea structuring the whole of Fran Mohíno's work. It is a translation onto space of a complete system of relationships and unions in which there is a strong element of play, thus tying it with ideas of childhood as well as construction. It is necessary to underline that the structure is designed so as to prevent its being seen from any single point in the space, something which is related to the fragmentary captions that traverse the images of Jogging In Your Garden, to those other ones projected onto the photographs of swings and see-saws, to the impossibility of contemplating the image reflected on the mirrors of X Numbers in an integral manner and, in conclusion, to the general idea that turns these works into a deep and coherent whole, both thought-provoking and attractive in its formal and conceptual complexity: individualized subjects, puzzled before the shape of things to come in today's worrying world.