2020 will not be remembered as a good year. From Japan which does not constitutionally provide for the government to limit individual freedoms and which therefore essentially invited citizens to behave responsibly in order to contain the epidemic, to South Korea which used software to track all positive people's movements the political issue was almost as important as the health issue. This is above all due to the limitations on individual freedoms and the increase in controls. For years, the Spanish artist Kepa Garraza has been carrying out research on the reality / fiction relationship with particular attention to the role of the media in changing reality. So it seemed important to me to interview him to find out how he lived this period and if there were any influences on his artistic practice.
How did you experience the lockdown period? What effects/influences has it had on your artistic practice?
The hard lockdown period in Spain, during March and April was a very intense moment. Like most people, I lived it with a mixture of anxiety, frustration and fear. Nevertheless, this period was quite intense and productive for my artistic practice. The time in the studio was a time for disconnecting from the media and focus my attention on my artworks. I produced a large number of works that helped me to stay calm and to minimize the state of paranoia and fear we were living in. I didn’t make any changes in my working process, everything stayed more or less in the same way. Of course, this pandemic time will affect my work, but as it usually happens for me, it’ll take time until I can assimilate the whole situation and express it in my work.
Your latest project, your latest series is called Propaganda, continuing your path of analysis of the reality/fiction relationship. How was this new project born? How important is the use of persuasion in everyday life and in the world of art?
This project was born like a kind of continuation of Power, a series of drawings I made during 2016 and 2017. In Power I tried to make a synthesized chronology of the representation of this concept in western sculpture throughout history. My aim was to put on the same level some of the most important characters of western history to create a sort of unified representation of power during the centuries. A kind of synthesized view of how these powerful characters have been portrayed.
Unlike this, Propaganda was born like a much more ambitious project. The main idea behind this series is to analyze the aesthetics of power and its codes of representation throughout history. It may seem similar to my previous series, but from the beginning, I decided to apply a less restrictive approach to the ideas I wanted to talk about. In Propaganda, these ideas are represented in a more complex narrative, where subtleness and ambiguity are essential to understand my proposal. Sometimes, the links between the works that are part of this series are slippery and may seem unjustified, but this is just where I want to lead the viewer. My intention is to play in the grey areas of the narrative of the use of power, like a metaphor of how I understand and percept propaganda nowadays.
Propaganda was presented in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao. What is the link between these three different exhibitions, which works you preferred to exhibit in one context rather than the other... tell us, if you can, the three exhibitions, thus allowing us to "visit" them through your story. A very important thing today, which is very difficult to move due to the epidemic.
Propaganda is made up of more than 40 drawings, each one of them speaks about a certain time in history and it’s connected somehow with some way of using propaganda.
Some of these works speak about the personification of authority in portraits. Others about the representation of the family as an element of political legitimation, while others analyze the representation of war and military victory as a tool for social cohesion. Some of them show a very direct way of using propaganda, whereas others are more subtle and indirect.
The ideal way to exhibit this series would be to show all the work in one exhibition, where the viewer can experience all the different aspects of my proposal. Of course, it’d be great to have the possibility of seeing all the works together in a unified display with whom I can enhance the links between all the works and lead the viewer to the concepts I want to talk about.
Unfortunately, this possibility hardly happens and in this pandemic, times are practically impossible to do. For each of these three exhibitions, I made a quite thoughtful selection of works, thinking in the size and characteristics of each galley and the city I was exhibiting in. For my exhibition in Madrid (Galería Álvaro Alcazar), just before the lockdown, I presented a sort of museum display, with really big drawings and theatrical lighting. In my exhibition in Bilbao (Espacio Marzana), I presented only one big drawing, surrounded by smaller works. This time my proposal was focused on images from the late modern period (from the XIX century till nowadays) related to the representation of present political leaders and the ideas of authority and military power.
In Barcelona (Galería Víctor Lope) I presented a cropped version of my exhibition in Madrid in a more serene display. Some new works were selected for this exhibition, focused on concepts related to the idea of revolution. As usually happens to me, each exhibition showed an incomplete version of the series, but this is just a way of adapting my practice to reality.
What are the continuities and discontinuities between *Propaganda” and your previous series?
As you said before, there is something that is constant in my work since the beginning: the relationship between reality and fiction and how we use and understand it. This dichotomy is essential to get the real meaning of my artistic practice. I’ve always been extremely interested in how history is built and told, and how, since ancient times, human beings have manipulated information for their own interest. Probably this is a kind of obsession or at least a kind of recurring interest that inevitably leads me once again to the same place. It’s doesn’t really matter if the subject of my works is the death of Osama Bin Laden or a fake autobiography, I always try to force the viewers to interrogate themselves about how they understand this relationship and also try to convince them about the impossibility of getting a clear answer for this question.
Lately, this obsession has led me to a recurrent theme: the reinterpretation of history and the quest for the grey areas in this tale, those untold details that allow me to offer the viewer an alternative tale to the official version of a specific historical event.
In Propaganda this strategy is repeated time after time until the viewer is captured in a confusing net of hidden meanings, half-truths and evident lies. At least, this is my intention and this is the game I want to play with them.
What are the future projects, if you can say, you are working on?
I’m about to start a new series of works, combining paintings and drawings, whereby I want to talk about the felling of living in a constant process of crisis, with small intervals of relief and peace, but with the conviction that we are getting closer to an inevitable collapse. This felling may be justified or just a misinterpretation of our reality, but it’s clear that it’s universal and an essential part of the narrative of how we understand our world. My intention is to talk about social conflicts, violence and inequality, and how these issues have a deep influence in we understand reality and how we represent it.