THEY DANCE STILL IN THE NEBULOUS GLOW OF MEMORY
The idea that Monique Bastiaans had originally conceived for the installation was completely different from the project that is now presented in the Las Cigarreras exhibition hall. This project had been slowly brewing for a few years, and we had been looking forward to presenting in Alicante. Still, the place ultimately selected for the exhibition changed it all.
Bastiaans is always very mindful of the place where she is going to exhibit her work, of the space or environment that is going to hold it. She usually develops each project for a specific site, taking into consideration the particular characteristics of the place, be it an exhibition room or an outdoor location, whether the setting is urban or in the middle of nature, the latter being the settings she favours most. She seeks to integrate her pieces into their surrounding environs and hopes to generate something beyond a mere dialogue, a relationship which, almost for a question of necessity, calls for an intimate engagement.
In her practice, artwork and environment interact in varying degrees. The interaction takes place on many different levels: space, light, material, colour, sound, and even smell. It can take subtle forms, as happens with the movement of the breeze and the reflected sunlight in the nylon nets of Mediodía se celebra en el interior (Noon Takes Place Inside), from 2001, or, for instance, by emphasising the clash between synthetic materials and organic forms, as in the case of her exhibition from 2007 called Vecinos verticales (Vertical Neighbours). At any rate, she always respects the essence of the emplacement.
“Who am I to torture some trees and presume that the result will be an improvement on what used to be there before?”1 she wondered in Ribarroja del Turia while working on the intervention project Adeu tristesa (Farewell, Sadness), which turned a field of orange trees that had died from citrus tristeza virus into an orchard overflowing with colour and hope, where she had wrapped the trees in red, fuchsia, and crimson fabrics. The respect she feels for the environment also explains one of the main reasons behind the ephemeral character of most of Bastiaans’ work.
The architectural space of the former tobacco factory buildings in Alicante that have yet to be refurbished surprised and captivated Bastiaans from her first visit. On seeing these enormous bays, revealed in the play of light and shadows produced by the sunbeams that filter through the large windows onto the flaking walls, we can conjure up a picture of the working environment during the years when the tobacco factory was in full swing. Still, what truly captivated her imagination in this case was the history of the factory, and particularly of its women workers.
At a time when most women were homemakers or worked in the fields, the factory in Alicante employed as many as five thousand women at a time when the population of the city had just passed the mark of fifty thousand people. The effect of this enormous workforce on the domestic economies of all these families engendered a certain shift in the social and political spheres of the town. The cigarreras, as they were known, had to develop ingenious strategies to reconcile their personal lives with long working hours, which in many cases were prolonged further by lengthy commutes to and from home. They organised themselves to tend to meals and to the sick, and more generally to develop a sense of community within the factory; they even set up a school to care for the children of those women who did not have any family members to leave them with. The strong solidarity and unity with which they faced various adversities encouraged the development of a unionising and activist spirit that set the foundations of the feminist movement in the town, and left an emotional mark in the memory of the people of Alicante.
The collective memory tends to be positive and enthusiastic, especially after the recent institutional refurbishment of the property for its public use. We can all generally agree that it is fitting to use the building for cultural uses, not only because it fulfils the appropriate architectural requirements for such purposes, but also because, historically speaking, it was the source of a series of social stirrings tied to ideals of progress and culture that few of us question today. But despite a number of recently published studies, this popular memory is also vague and imprecise, overlooking, for instance, the dire working conditions of the different periods of the factory’s activity, and focusing on the social achievements of the cigarreras.
As memories form it is not unusual for them to be slightly warped. Some facts are magnified, and it is only natural that other events are ignored; objective readings are left out of the record, they are of little interest. Furthermore, the influence of potential emotional charges of all kinds on the process of construction of memory invites a comparison with the processes of mythification, where language is used allegorically and incongruence is camouflaged as paradox. As time goes by, the deformation can change it beyond recognition.2
As an homage to the achievements of the cigarreras, and above all to the passion still aroused today by the image we have constructed of their fighting spirit, Monique Bastiaans also makes use of an allegorical syntax in her piece. Eschewing precise definitions, she reconstructs the image of that passion through outsized figurations of certain elements that refer to readily assimilated commonalities about working in the factory and the spirit of the cigarreras. Thus, behind the three large figures of the piece Don’t Dream It, Be It (it is not clear whether they are gigantic cigars (ciggaros) or cicadas (ciggaras), or the nymphs-cocoons from which all else will emerge), we come across a dance of flowing bright fabrics, Las ideales (The Ideal Ones), opposite an enormous tray of large cigars titled 1888 as a reference to the first revolt staged by the cigarreras from Alicante. The dim lighting emulates the light of memory and casts beams that cut through a fog which immerses us in the dense atmosphere and insalubrious air of the warehouses, while from some unclear place, as if coming from a distant memory, somewhere between the hum of the fans and the hiss of the smoke machine, we hear something3 that carries echoes of the voices of the cigarreras singing on their way to the factory.
As happens in many of her previous works—from Medusas in the Playa de las Arenas in Valencia in 1996 to the Ombligos mirándose (Navels contemplating each other) from 2008—the three nymphs of Don’t Dream It, Be It play with the tensions generated by the contrast of the organic forms and the synthetic materials. The seeming solidity of the figures from a distance reveals translucent areas when lit from behind, with intense red hues from the thick paste with walnut stain that coats their delicate lace skins. The precarious balance on the ground, dangling from one end, suggests a lightness that contradicts the heaviness implied by their dimension. Mimesis is avoided—it is not important that the figures resemble cigars or cicadas—in order to emphasise aesthetic qualities, which are versatile and capable of imbuing the object with a degree of uncertainty and inducing a sort of perceptual uneasiness. Bastiaans’ intention is not to obscure, though she does seek to awaken the senses; she seeks to trigger doubts and questions: Are the cigarreras in any way related to the cicadas? Were cigars (cigarros) named after their physical resemblance to cicadas (cigarras)?
1888, the fake tray with its oversized cigars—the product of the women’s work—has the same intent; although in this case there is a certain concession to mimesis with the texture of the cardboard material, so similar to the surface of a cigar that, in the end, the artist decided not to wrap the pieces in real tobacco leaves. The twilight created by indirect lighting then creates a trompe-l’oeil effect in relation to the depth of the cigars, which are nothing but semi-spherical heads pasted to the wall. Their scale only adds to the confusion.
Works such as Moony, from 2002, or Hemelzweet, from 2006, show that Bastiaans is interested in the rhythms that emerge from the irregularities in the iteration of spherical or round elements. Serial production is a resource that reinforces the view of the cigarreras as a group, but it also imbues a sense of spirituality to the piece. In any case, in this particular setup, behind the cigar tray she places the sound system for the music that composer Leopoldo Amigo—who has become a regular collaborator in the artist’s projects—recorded expressly for this installation. Once again we are faced with the question: Should we measure the results of the labour of these women with material parameters, or does this labour have spiritual dimensions?
The skirts of Las ideales are a core element in the installation, referring directly to the cigarreras. This is yet another iterated element. She already used it in the 2007 exhibition Plaisir de fleurir at the Sala Parpall— in Valencia, where its swaying movement alluded to the springtime joy of flowers; later on, with slight modifications and under the title of Merrily, it was combined with pieces that looked like high heel shoes or pearl necklaces in the exhibition Lunes, miércoles y por la noche (Monday, Wednesday and At Night) in Carlet, in a specific context that made reference to the sophistication and extravagance of women’s fashions. In both cases, a single unit was exhibited; now five skirts are being grouped together for the first time.
The concept of the group is reinforced by the chromatic homogeneity of the whole, which prevails despite differences in texture, hue, and other qualities of the fabrics. These variations acknowledge the fact that groups are composed of individuals. The fabrics are in varying hues of yellow, a luminous and cheerful colour immediately reminiscent of a proto-unionised workers’ association with feminist leanings that came to be known as “las amarillas” (the yellows)4.
Moved by groups of fans, the billowing of Las ideales recreates the movement of skirts in a dance, and conveys a sense of freedom that probably approximates the one felt by the cigarreras during dances held on special occasions, for which they rehearsed in the courtyards during breaks. In referring to the joy implied in the dances of the workers, Bastiaans elicits an anachronistic and strange sensation in us, a feeling of relaxation and fulfilment in the recognition of the contribution of these cigarreras to the emancipation and freedom of women in society.
All of this might induce us to think that, in fact, Las ideales is Bastiaans’s project that leans the most toward issues of a social or anthropological bent. However, the language employed is not the most appropriate for such purpose, since it restricts the objective scope of a reflection on those areas. The installation is structured according to the same allegorical rhetoric that permeates the construction processes of emotional memory and of identity itself, a primary logic consisting in basic associations of ideas, akin to the relationships of proximity or similarity in primitive magical-mythical thinking. It is a logic that is found in our epistemological core, and therefore almost instinctive. Nevertheless, this logic is complicated with tropes, parallels, opposites, polysemies, paradoxes and other acrobatics of language. Strategies that enable an awareness of emotional communication while addressing the need for cultural sensitivisation.
A multidisciplinary visual language devoted to experimentation that allows broad syntactic registers, and proves efficient and versatile in reflecting the polysemies, paradoxes and non-specificities of the allegorical discourse. It is in this game of establishing relationships, of insinuating them, of simulating them, in the manipulation of the poetics of those things that are revealed through interaction, that we can find the keys to this artist’s aesthetic language.
Boye Llorens Peters, 2012
1 Monique Bastiaans: Adeu Tristesa, Ribarroja del Turia, 2000, p. 3
2 While on the topic of these tobacco workers, and in relation to paradoxes, I am reminded of Nietzsche and his statement that work sets one free, and the aberrant use of his phrase in German concentration camps during the war
3 As I write, composer Leopoldo Amigo is putting the finishing touches to the sound recording that will accompany the installation
4 Caridad Valdés Chápuli: La fábrica de Alicante, Alicante, 2011, p. 158
The Internal (and External) heartbeat of Nature.
Monique Bastiaans´ exhibition “Ha llegado a su destino” comprises a wide range of artworks and brings forward, paradoxically, some questions with no answers and some doors that open. It is well known that this Belgian artist based in Spain consciously avoids the mainstream and she also stays away from genres or tendencies. On the contrary, she has chosen an inclination towards nature and the rural world, opting for materials as diverse as plastic, textiles, resin, metal or clay. In her works, we are not weighed down by the material she uses as finish (even plastic), since her interventions are human-size and reformulate the open space of the natural world (the landscape) equating reflexion and expansion. This allows us to point out two considerations. First of all, it is clear that in the plastic and poetic world of Monique Bastiaans the senses do not dominate the intellectual. Besides, the lightness of her interventions in nature confirms that the best homage to nature is to let it breathe.
Some of the interventions created expressly for the internal and external spaces of the Museo Vostell Malpartida are a good example of this idea of “letting it breathe”. While the innocence of Primavera Viral is just the opposite of something parasitic, the way interventions like Y ellos entendieron or Aspirar las brisas are displayed in the exhibition space can also be understood as deference to the (demanding) space the MVM assigns to temporary exhibitions. Monique Bastiaans´ oeuvre is quite far away from the hyperbolic baroque, still it is able to produce powerful emotions and its identity is strongly linked to the exhibition space itself. Nevertheless, among the many thoughts of the main lines of Monique´s own world it is perhaps worth mentioning the feeling that, in this particular case, lightness and (lasting) essence go hand in hand. In other words: her radiant sensitive intervention describes the immortal world order and reminds us the very concept of harmony also implies fugacity. A good example of this is the brilliant intervention entitled Aspirar las brisas, where Monique Bastiaans pays a tribute to Wolf Vostell (actually, the intervention celebrates the attraction of both artists to garlic) not betraying her signature (colorism, lightness, joy) and distancing herself from the extreme hardness of the ethic and aesthetic position of the “concrete poet”. This intervention also helps to assemble a flowing narrative which connects the rest of interventions in the exhibition, especially with the sound installation displayed in the same room, entitled Y ellos entendieron and produced together with the Valencian composer Leopoldo Amigo. Furthermore, Monique Bastiaans carries on expanding her scope by giving sound a primordial character in three of the works mentioned above. We should add to the already mentioned work with Leopoldo Amigo the auditive character of two interventions –Aspirar las brisas and Primavera viral- though not as obvious or immediate as in the previous one, it is certainly a feature. The sound produced by small ribs, propelled by engines, in the schematic versions of garlic in Aspirar las brisas is organic as well as metallic, syncopated, but the intervention is somehow robust. In this way, even though the works are visually modest and light, Monique Bastiaans keeps the Vostellian spirit alive giving his powerful aesthetic thought a wink. All this is diametrically opposite to guts, nerves and muscles, rage, power or force. And regarding Primavera viral, the wind makes a great number of small bells tinkle that give the piece an atmospheric and joyful character. An elegant and luminous filigree sound is rocked by Los Barruecos´ wind.
Very different is the beautiful complexity of the participative sculpture Unicelulares en tiempos de crisis, which hides under the appearance of perfect architecture a variety of small flowers. These flowers were produced with modelling clay by volunteers. By doing this, Monique Bastiaans states that unity is possible. While the organic form of the sculpture reminds us of the more archetypal natural world, conversely the inspiration of the piece comes from nature, from the behaviour of bacteria and protozoa. The work also aims to X-ray our current times. On the other hand, the intervention entitled Cuántica para cuervos refers to the exuberance of lichens on the rocks of Los Barruecos. The artist reinterprets the landscape with love by sowing two rocks in the interior of the museum with unrelated lichens that have been made with daily objects which when caught by the sun transmit brilliant and dreamlike sequences. To summarize the exhibition entitled Ha llegado a su destino explores like no other the nicest side of (human) nature.
Josefa Cortés Morillo
Alberto Flores Galán
Paint it with colours and joy
Monique Bastiaans’ oeuvre is big. Not only because the artist herself normally creates full-size interventions; but also because her work goes far beyond the surface. Her work is also big because it is mature work with no cracks. And it is definitely big because Monique has managed to develop her own style avoiding many references, since the artist has remained faithful to herself and stays away from tendencies, styles or schools. But her work goes much farther than just being personal, it is intense and precise and if there are two elements that define the artistic position of Monique Bastiaans they are colours and joy. If the Rolling Stones used to say “Paint it Black”, the Valencian artist with Belgian roots extols nature’s colours and joy. Seriousness is not good company for the arts, particularly in the case of this brave artist who is always searching for constant renovation but faithful to a self-imposed scope of manoeuvring, which is joyful and full of colourful ideas. The narrow coordinate system in which the artist is working doesn´t stop her from going off script and modernizing every installation she produces. She puts on view an unapproachable, intense, intelligent vision.
Monique Bastiaans knows to perfection her work terrain and shows her skills by focusing on the nicest side of eternal truths. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that some of her work focuses on site specific works that are normally understood as homage to the location itself. Consequently, Museo Vostell Malpartida seemed to be the perfect location to be intervened and drenched with both colours and reflections… since Bastiaans´ proposal hides a powerful ethical, moral and conceptual message behind a fragile, playful and enjoyable appearance. And this is where her greatness is. Her harmonious work sincerely connects big and small things, powerful and fragile things; it also connects an intimate relation with the sites and a universal connection. Her charming work bears genuine and moving thoughts that -in the line of Wolf Vostell himself- broaden our minds and encourage us to face difficulties in life. A good example of this is her participative sculpture entitled “Unicelulares en tiempos de crisis”, a work made of modelling clay and fingerprints from volunteers. Each fingerprint is unique but all of them form a perfect shape which is inspired by the organic shapes of the natural world. What’s more: even damaged or inadequate fingerprints have their own specific place within this big work which is also a story of global friendship.
Monique Bastiaans´ work is an exceptional anomaly in the context of current Visual Arts since it is lacking in artful devices. It is the purest spirit of ART and LIFE with no preservatives or colouring agents. We see a proposal that is natural, nice and straightforward. But above all it is essential. The intervention named “Aspirar las brisas”, for instance, is a tribute to the Garlic Club set up by Vostell back in the Eighties and grabs hold of the essence of the great world artist from Malpartida. Monique is exactly capable of evoking the mighty poet of the concrete, without renouncing her artistic identity, and at the same time showing the love they both feel for garlic, which was regarded by Vostell as the “elixir of life”.
José Antonio Agúndez García, 2012
Bastiaans and Vostell, Vostell and Bastiaans
Arriving at Museo Vostell Malpartida from Cáceres gives that special feeling of travels starting from home, like walking off, leaving streets, benches and buildings aside and entering a sort of no man´s land on the outskirts of the city, where the absence of civilization is reminiscent of the original texture of the ground, the wild and indomitable side of this planet we inhabit.
That particular day I had to leave the editorial department and get some air in Los Barruecos, leave the geometric and logical office and enter the realm of Fluxus, that seems to come from a different planet that was actually created for the former wool washhouse. That was our destination: Malpartida de Cáceres, the dirt road, a sky with obese clouds, an unpleasant autumnal day: 26th of October. Autumn. And Monique Bastiaans, and five stories coined by this Belgian-Valencian artist who engages this space with devotion, respect and a passionate fervour for Wolf Vostell.
The world stops a little bit when I talk to Monique: she is cool and original and wears a black sweater, explorer trousers and funny pink trainers that it is impossible not to notice. The mascara has been smudged a little bit because of the humidity and she arrives in the hustle and bustle of work, some hours before the opening of her exhibition.
She will wear something else later, maybe a blue dress, but at the time we meet her she looks like a brave warrior of the arts. This is one of the those cases where artist and work are totally connected, something like those children that are so similar to their parents that it is not possible to deny the family ties.
Monique seems to be clear about this: she knows her work, knows how to explain it so well that I don´t feel overwhelmed as I normally do with pompous speeches by artists inside an ivory tower. On the contrary, I feel drawn to her recreational full-coloured world and her ideas. Art as a game, art as life. An art that is easy to understand but also complex and significant in its closeness.
Bastiaans explains the title of the exhibition: “Ha llegado a su destino” (You have reached your destination). As said by the artist herself, the destination is nothing enormous or mysterious; it is the small, daily accessible things in life. The things that just happen. Or the things we make happen. Today. Neither tomorrow nor the day after tomorrow, neither yesterday nor the day before yesterday. “Ha llegado a su destino” says the GPS system every time it recognizes the coordinates previously programmed. This relaxes you a great deal, it softens the difficulties in life, which sometimes is as complicated as a still. To arrive. As Vostell did when he stopped over in Los Barruecos or as she herself did when she came to Spain.
Wolf Vostell and Monique Bastiaans, Monique Bastiaans and Wolf Vostell. 35 years after the opening of his museum in Malpartida de Cáceres, this artist starts a dialogue with the initiator of Fluxus art. There are no words but winks, a silent conversation full of understanding She takes up again some of Vostell´s ideas in order to venerate the master. “It is a real privilege for me to be here, I think we are still drinking from the fountain of the Fluxus artists”, she says, electric and full of passion. “Vostell is a million times bigger than I am, but maybe we have in common that both of us play to create works of art”.
She later shows her works. Surprises and riddles. Cheerfulness and truths so obvious that nothing else need be added. One of the rooms is filled with big feathers hanging from the ceiling and floating, referring to the ‘Vostellian’ idea of rubbing. It is called ‘Y ellos entendieron’ (And they understood). She explains that there was a time when there were feathers hanging from the ceiling of her room. She used to play directing them with her mind, and they obeyed. ‘Aspirar las brisas’ (Breath in the air) are huge metallic bulbs of garlic that produce a certain vibration with the help of an engine. Vostell also mentioned this rubbing. The work is also a homage to the Garlic Club created by the German artist.
There are two more interventions outside. Organic art initiating a tickling, the pleasure of delightful things. Ideas we can understand or at least we have the feeling of understanding, but we refuse to rationalize trying not to ruin the moment. ‘Cuántica para cuervos’ (Quantum theory for ravens) are a sort of lichens made of strainers that inhabit a big rock and strike up a “conversation” with some delicate beach umbrellas that create sound that comprise the ‘Primavera Viral’ installation. In the vegetation of the external space of the museum, these small bells certainly seem to expand life with its tinkling.
And there is still more to come. “Single-cell organisms cooperate and join forces in hard times”, explains Bastiaans, who alludes in her work to scientific concepts, sometimes in a very subtle way. This is true for the interactive work in her exhibition, which contains the fingerprints (modelled in clay) of those visitors wanting to participate. And so, fingerprint by fingerprint, element by element, something is built by all of us, like a collective hand that gets it right.
Before we leave, Monique poses for Lorenzo Cordero´s camera. He portrays her just as she is, the way she behaves, in the middle of work, in the middle of the natural world and encircled by the breeze from Los Barruecos, in trance like Wolf Vostell’s artistic medium. The road takes us back to the predictable Cáceres, to the asphalt reality we already know. And the museum at Los Barruecos is left in its location with Monique inside, like a permanent redoubt of mystery and energy.
Cristina Núñez Nebreda, 2011
On Temptations and Dangers, and the Insignificance of Man
A month before the opening of Plaisir de Fleurir in the Sala Parpalló, Monique Bastiaans was in Nagano for an exhibition. She came into contact with Shinto, the native religion of Japan, which is characterised by reverence for nature in all its forms. It was a spiritual homecoming in a world that could easily have been hers. From her earliest days as an artist, love and respect for nature has been one of the central themes of her work. She experienced Japan as a confirmation of her approach and she gained new inspiration.
Twenty years ago, Monique Bastiaans – who was born in Mons in Belgium in 1954 and was raised in the Netherlands – found herself by accident in Chiva, a village near Valencia, where she has remained ever since. In that period, she has made her mark on Valencia, while showing the restraint that is so typical of her. Without knowing her name, there is no inhabitant of the city that does not know her work. Earlier this year, she filled the local Colon underground station with objects that recalled organisms living in the depths of the oceans. Aided by the effect of glass partitions, she gave passengers the feeling that they were in a tropical aquarium. The imaginative world of Monique Bastiaans counterbalanced the realism of the local L’Oceanografic tourist attraction that she never visited.
The first time that Valencia got to know her work was when she created Red + Azul in 1994. Against the background of a blue-painted factory building, she laid out a
fan-shaped construction of waste wood linked by rubber in front of the fabrica de Cross, which was under threat of demolition. Many inhabitants will remember the net of transparent rubber rings that she hung above the Plaza de la Lonjeta in 2001. In the same year, she created another, more subtle, work called Dulce cielo, Séptimo hogar. By using nylon fishnets stretched above the Calle de la Reina, she was able to catch the silver sunlight in continually changing shapes and hues depending on the wind. Since the coming of Monique Bastiaans, the inhabitants of Valencia have been looking at their city in another light.
Although she exhibits abroad on a very regular basis, the art projects in her beloved Castilian landscape are those that create the greatest sensation. These include Medusea, the thirteen giant polyester jellyfish that she created in the surf on the Playa de las Arenas in 1996, as mythological messengers from the depths of the ocean. There was also the monumental Adéu Tristesa dating from 2000, when she wrapped 270 dead orange trees in red sheets as homage to millions of aids sufferers. Time and again, Monique Bastiaans reminds us of the comforting power of nature, a never ceasing source of life and inspiration. Even dead nature, such as the orange trees that succumbed to an infectious disease, is full of undeniable beauty and vitality.
It seems as if she is trying to tell us that, if a God exists, he communicates not by books, but rather by means of his creation: nature. This is an understandable attitude from someone who was raised in the country of Spinoza, the seventeenth century rationalist philosopher who equated God with nature: Deus sive Natura. The ancient Japanese Shinto, which Bastiaans recently came into contact with, is, like all animistic religions, based on the same idea.
Monique Bastiaans’ art has no place for treatises and manifestos, or for religious viewpoints. Nevertheless, Plaisir de Fleurir is an unmistakable reflection of the place for which it was created: a former cloister of the El Real Monasterio de la Trinidad, the oldest convent of Valencia (1445). In the 35-metre long and 7-metre wide
tunnel-shaped cloister, she has created a spiritual path in which all senses, with the exception of taste, can be experienced.
The path winds it way through a 21st century mythical garden, which is revealed after passing a curtain reminiscent of classical temples. A mythical garden should – and the nuns in the adjacent convent will confirm that – include the first people in the story of the creation. In Bastiaans’ version, Adam has assumed the form of a large pink arum with a moving yellow pistil. Eva is perceived as a lifted spotted dress lit from below, a reference to the famous Marilyn Monroe scene in the Seven Year Itch. This is imagery, just as poetic as it is explicit, in which the heavenly temptations and the associated risks go hand in hand.
Plaisir de Fleurir is not only a contemporary variation on the classical mythical garden, it is also a dialogue with the adjacent Monasterio de la Trinidad. As a result of their vows, the sisters are obliged to avoid contact with the outside world. The convent garden is therefore terra incognita for the public. And yet, Bastiaans does extend her hand from the other side of the wall. She has revealed the doors of the Sala Parpalló, which were masked behind a wall of heavy cardboard during previous exhibitions. It is as if she is trying to say: show that the doors are there and use them! At the same time, the transparent figures in the garden gaze longingly at the windows of alabaster, that wonderful veined natural stone that lets in light and which links the cloister to the forbidden garden behind it.
The parallel with the forbidden garden of the Monasterio is also visible at the heart of Plaisir de Fleurir: the well. In the case of Bastiaans’ work too, the well offers a view of your soul, but not without obstacles. On approaching, the surrounding structures move and so do the trees containing large, dark red fruits (forbidden fruits or fruits of immortality?). But before you know it, the reflection in the well has gone! And that’s what happens if you try to examine your soul, things are revealed but you don’t learn a great deal in the process. Further on, two trees with yellow trumpet-shaped flowers point the way, like heralds, to the end of the garden, where a large blue and pink funnel-shaped flower gazes enticingly. The garden exit is the beginning of a tunnel, the end of which is invisible.
Plaisir de Fleurir has given Valencia – the town with the alabaster windows and the hidden gardens – a contemporary sculpture garden that combines myths both young and old. Monique Bastiaans is a sculptress par excellence, but as is her custom, she rejects traditional materials such as natural stone and clay. She shows that structures made of nylon, latex and paraffin wax also have a soul, provided that they have something to say, and that something must be a product of your own imagination.
Just like the polyester-enclosed jellyfish of Medusea and the lovingly wrapped dead orange trees of Adéu Tristesa, Plaisir de Fleurir reveals, in a light-hearted and organic manner, the beauty and cruelty, the temptations and the dangers of our world, and the insignificance of man in that respect.
And as we have come to expect of Monique Bastiaans, she works with a great deal of respect and devotion. Which will probably please the sisters of the Monasterio de la Trinidad too.
Wido Smeets, 2007
CONTEMPORARY DEMYSTIFICATIONS REGARDING THE “LOCUS AMONEUS”
By Rosa Ulpiano
For Platonic philosophy, in the idea of nature based on the theory of design everything corresponded to the arrangement and purpose of nature observed by the artist- it was a second order reproduction of knowledge, moving away from premises such as what is existent and what is invisible1. This metaphysical burden would evolve through time toward a physical framework, a cultural structure, treated by different artists with an aesthetic approach, in which nature was a stage complement, where human beings appeared; it was a secondary value seen from an anthropocentric view, an order subjugated to the artist’s gaze. Nevertheless, it was in the 19thcentury when that classical metaphysical burden resulted in a superior entity, in an environment where, from then on, the human being started to occupy a position in the cosmos and whose intervention therein would rebuild longingly a memory of landscapes that existed.
Those are landscapes that have been impoverished, mostly by human intervention, and which through an aesthetic projection are transformed today by the particular vision of their creator. Sometimes by means of painting or sculpture, some other times by using new mass media or by its legitimization through Land Art, or landscape intervention, transforming them into captivating spaces. However, it should not be about an attempt of saving or improving them by returning to their origin, but rather an aesthetic masking of those assaulted landscapes -both urban and rural- in order to provide them with a new aspect through painterly and conceptual artifice. In this sense, during her whole artistic unfolding, Monique Bastiaans has made interventions in a variety of spaces. Thus, in 2002 she installed large red cloths on 270 dead orange trees in Ribarroja del Turia in her piece “Adeu tristeza”; in 2006 she presents at the Dutch Odapark of Venray “Por si las moscas”, where the artist rebuilt some artificial winding paths through the forest. Monique creates installations that play with the senses of sight, touch, hearing and smell in order to elicit different emotions from the spectator. Gradually her sculptures – made of different tissues, plastics and silicones – show that the artist is constantly looking for new technical, aesthetic and formal solutions through an abstract language which also reveals her taste for organic shapes and for nature. In her work Plaisir de Fleurir, Bastiaans recreates a sophisticated play of lights, smells and sounds, rich in nuances, which stresses the abstract effect of the composition; an intimate space where Bastiaans melts shapes and concepts through a stimulating vocabulary aiming to rekindle our look across these magic and enigmatic spaces, recalling manifold gardens impregnated by a sense of perpetual transmutation, by an alchemical and mystical impression.
Plaisir de Fleurir, refers symbolically to the holy garden of medieval allegorical thought,… and whose preceding models catch a glimpse of certain places and identities of primitive gods, as well as landscape alterations of unconsciousness. And the truth is that along mythology, worship or religion, divinity has always been sought in temples as well as in visions and dreams regarding nature. A wonderful and intensely yearned place “Locus amenaus”; a place for meditation, a sacred place of deities adopted in medieval times, or a worldly garden, sensual, evocative of legends of the Near East, the heavenly garden of goddess Siduru2, which Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, entered in search of immortality, a paradise of trees covered by precious stones and lush vegetation. Predecessors of the Christian Heaven on Earth, the garden of Eden of the Holy Scriptures, like those precious stones and brilliant materials often represented in decorated illustrations, and the portrayal of the World Mountain, where tradition places the Garden of Paradise. It is a secret garden masterly illustrated by Hieronymus Bosch (1453-1516) in “The Garden of Delights”, by means of associations which describe the erotic aspects of life, exotic pleasures which recall the «amoris curia», the labyrinth of voluptuousness with the well or pond from which large lilies arise, or the evocations of Merrily, the ante-chamber of the “love spring”, used by the lascivious and recalling the Love Garden as well as the illustrations of the Roman de la rose. But whose intellectual and physical barriers, framed by a medieval convent, isolate it through thought or through imagination, submerging the spectator and taking him beyond a legendary hero, or beyond a courageous Gilgamesh, in other words, by a new universe, of mass media, a new culture which absorbs us, which identifies it as “natural” and which states that history comes from “nature”. This is what Marshall Mcluhan in a certain way means when he says “the new media are not bridges between man and nature. They are nature”3. Demystification of that heaven on Earth in which the dreamlike rivers, flowers and forests have lost their omnipresent importance and are now replaced by roads, cars, shopping malls, etc. The locus Amenaus or beautiful landscape, assimilated by its last representation with Gran Hermana [The Big Sister] shows this last image or last stage; the leitmotiv with which Bastiaans represents the double paradox between media and spirituality.
THE TEACHINGS OF NATURA
In the artistic sphere, the art-nature pairing is usually specified through what is called poetics of respect and integration. For instance, in a context where nature is a landscaped garden, a wild area or the countryside, the artist takes part through his work which, depending on the materials, the size or the type of relationship with the environment, he/she expresses the metaphorical intention indicated.
However, this is only an option among a great variety of possibilities to draw ourselves closer, through art, to everything that the biosphere offers us. The same is true for words that deal with the relationship between art and nature. It is not obvious that an analytical approach or an essay may be the best option to express the feelings that Monique’s work arouses in us. Therefore, after this brief reflection, maybe it would be appropriate to change the language registers to reconcile them with the works and continue with them on the path that will lead us to the original matrix.
Reverence for lichen or moss does not mean paying homage to it -making a slight gesture leaning your head -, but lowering ourselves to their level, getting close enough and with sufficiently sharp eyes to discover their tiny blooms. Because moss also flowers; it is not an immobile tapestry of green velvet. This exercise of measurement-of physical height and depth of perception- symbolizes the difference between superiority and respect. Knowing how to situate ourselves in the context of the cosmos, the place that we occupy among the moss and the stars. Then we will understand that our greatness is not so big. We state it from a haiku of the master Matsuo Bashó:
I’m only a man
eating his soup
before the Morning Glory Flower1
Man and flower at the same level, that’s all.
But this is not usually the most common perception. This is why it is urgent to correct a collective short-sightedness that is blinding us and that prevents us from appreciating the omnipresent party of life, with all its frantic activity, its harmony and its whirl. Teaching people to watch has always been one of Art’s tasks. Then, the fascination begins: was all that biodiversity necessary to achieve the purpose of life? We will never be able to know why Natura Naturans illuminated such beauty and decided to show itself through millions of different, interconnected and irreplaceable fragments. They spread themselves before us at the expense of our care or devastation.
Natura’s first lesson: everything has its place and its purpose, nothing lacks function, nothing is dispensable. The jellyfish and the tortoise, the prey and the predator, the germ and the blue whale. We are all participants of the bittersweet challenge of existence; we also, who can write about the germ or the whale, who can recreate the jellyfish, the pistil, the anemone. We are fascinated by the thousands of faces nature manifests: Natura Naturata. But we will only appreciate them if we dare to leave the artificial placenta that we have built around ourselves. Then we will feel the uneasiness of its polarity: we will gaze at the exact moment when the dew becomes a drop and slides down a petal; but we will encounter hundreds of plant fleas absorbing the sap of the tender stems. Beauty and frightfulness coexisting in tininess.
Natura’s second lesson: everything alive is in motion; nothing remains static in the birthplace of time. Everything that is born transforms, grows, reaches its fullness and slides itself towards its decadence until death receives it. That death, which is life’s right conclusion, is not a failure, is not a loss. But while life exists everything tends to cross, to pollinate, to fertilize, to produce fruit. The magic of desire and pleasure allows the biosphere to continue beating. Life that wants to perpetuate itself through its makers. We could call it the beginning of pollen: while there are bees, while they want to suck to be able to live and while stamens exist for receiving pollen that is transported on their legs, then, a great part of plant life will continue existing. Thus, we will continue being here as well, much to our regret, without any gratitude for the bees. Blind, impenitent, forgetting that we are bound to the seed, the oak, the amphibians and the first seaweed. Eduardo Galeano reminds us of this with one of his wise stories:
[…] Before the before, in the times of the world’s childhood, when there were neither colors nor sounds, they, the blue seaweeds, already existed. Releasing oxygen, they gave color to the sea and the sky. And one fine day, a day that lasted millions of years, a lot of blue seaweeds decided to turn into green seaweed. And the green seaweeds went on generating, little by little, lichens, fungi, mosses, jellyfish and all the colors and the sounds that came next, trivial, to excite sea and earth.
But the other blue seaweeds preferred to remain just as they were.
That’s the way they still are.
From the far-off world that was, they look at the world that is.
It is not known what they think.2
But some of them decided to become green, and that is what counts. Although we still don’t understand that we are their descendants.
Before continuing with Art’s necessary commitment to life, here is a last example of our lack of respect. It is hard for us to understand the link between paper and trees, between frozen Christmas prawn and the destruction of mangrove swamps. That is why only some people feel their heart breaking when they hear the murmur of the power saw, which destroys the life that primary forests shelter without even having had the opportunity of greeting it. Only a few of us intone a requiem for each species that becomes extinct. It will never offer us the helicoidal treasure of its DNA, or the incomparable beauty of its shapes and habits. But, who do we think we are? Let us remember Voltaire:
Nature (to the philosopher): Since I am all that is, how can a being such as you, such a small part of myself, seize me? Be content, my children, being atoms as you are, with seeing a few atoms that surround you, with drinking a few drops of my milk, with vegetating for a few moments on my breast, and with dying without having known your mother and your wet nurse.3
Natura’s third lesson: everybody is part of a whole. We think we are different, but we are not so different; plants, animals, humans. We all have in common our blood/sap, we all depend on water to live and the same oxygen gives us life. We all share the same cycles: we are born, we grow and we die. We have sex and we reproduce ourselves; maybe we also share the pleasure of finding a companion. We are, therefore, participants of the mystical unity. But once again we are not aware of all that. We just respect those things that are close to us, what we consider as being at our same level and scale. Herein is another of the artist’s tasks: to draw closer, to place within our reach everything that is important but we did not know how to listen, to smell, to feel; To arouse in ourselves the essential sensitivity that we have lost because we submerged ourselves in our cold digital world. From here we resort to the principle of responsibility: now I know what I destroy and how I destroy it, and I know that I am morally responsible for ignoring it. Now I know everything that I could not perceive and that had always been right in front of us. If I want to, I will renounce what is offered to me, but it was already shown to me, I already felt it.
One of the main commitments of the present-day is to pay attention to Natura’s teachings. We, the artists, as artisans that work material, can spread the principle of hope to restore little by little the balance that has been lost. Through Art, we can explain the magnificence of small things, the exact size of the human being in the world’s lap, life’s amazing persistence. We have the responsibility of representing Natura, of symbolizing it. We offer you the ceremony of the bond, of the game and of the joyfulness and, in return, we only ask you to make yours the principle of responsibility towards every being that lives and flowers.
Some time ago I began to make a distinction between citizen, consumer and user in order to reach an understanding of how new types of art are received by those who enjoy them. I have come to use the term citizen when I feel that an audience is involved in the development of a work in an undefined way that, whilst it may not be appreciated by the citizen, remains of some importance to the work. The work is to be recognised as such because it seems to be out of place, perhaps set down in the middle of the pavement so that the pedestrian cannot help noticing it. After negociating this minor upset the pedestrian goes back to being a citizen.
Consumer indicates someone who gobbles up works of art with the bulimia of the reader of technical manuals, always devoting full attention to the label on the wall below and slightly to the right before deciding on the degree of reverence merited by the work.
User refers to a new type of audience who believes that by interacting with the work of art, engaging with the interface between himself and it, he has acheived some sort of creative participation and that he is making the work complete (an evil of the times which hopefully will disappear as quickly as I.T. hardware becomes obsolete). I am tired of talk about interactivity; key-board, screen and the click-clicking of the mouse seem to me about as interactive as the turning of a page.
The term user becomes untenable when applied to art forms which are not digital (be they interactive or not). Within the transfinite world of bits, the new interactivity never supposes or allows a contact which might result in harm to the art or, in other words, fails to do away with the cultural value of the work of art by the most direct means — touch. For use, if it be physical, means wear and tear. If I can touch it, it must be as real as I am. It does not belong to higher realms; hence the paradox of being in the (material) world but not of it.
Net*, to enmesh the viewer’s attention, and floats, like buoys to be grasped and clung on to, are the latest elements to appear in Monique Bastiaans’ work. Hers is a project aimed at the citizen, to captivate and hold the interest of those outside the art world and also outside the institutions which populate the art world and even outside the art institution, as it is mostly called by those who speak of art as an institution (from which they would rather not make an exit).
I’d rather not discuss whether or not we can live without art but art, rather than being a necessity, seems to be ritualized according to whatever social group one belongs to. It is essential to every sphere of activity and, depending on its circumstances, each of the worlds populated by people carrys under its skin some form of art (I won’t go into into details as I wouldn’t know how to say what these are). This extends to all parts of society in which the home and the public square form another skin from which we are not easily liberated. Public Art mostly sets out to peel off this skin in order to reawaken our sensibility and let us see what until that moment was being ignored: after being captured or enmeshed, we are set afloat.
Nilo Casares 2001
* Translators note: The Spanish red means both web (as in www.) and net (as used by fishermen). Monique Bastiaans’ red is material net rather than virtual web so the reference to the preceeding passage dealing with interactive web art has been lost in translation.