Laida Lertxundi’s participation in A L I E N T O has been divided into two moments. Her film Autoficción featured in Beatrice Gibson’s exhibition in November. Now, following Céline Condorelli and June Crespo, her work reappears in a solo exhibition. This discontinuity points to a double interruption. On a personal level, the artist decided to leave Los Angeles and return to the Basque Country after almost twenty years in the United States. One of the main reasons behind this decision was the unsustainable lack of public health in the country. The insufficiency of ObamaCare, Trump’s election, as well as the artist’s motherhood precipitated her return due to the political inability to guarantee any type of care. A few months later, the pandemic was going to crudely put the body-state relationship on the table again. The break on an individual scale thus overlapped with the one produced by the pandemic on a planetary scale. In November we showed the last work Lertxundi shot in Los Angeles, a movie full of concern for the body-state relationship. The body of work opening now at NoguerasBlanchard is the first made upon her return to the Basque Country. A set of works that accounts for how an artistic practice survives when relocated from one space to another and more generally, of the strategies that continue operating within the reduced perimeter of action left by the pandemic.
The exhibition is marked by a desire to reunite with the landscape. However, it is not clear if it is a nostalgia for a particular lost landscape- which could be the Californian desert, which occupies a central role in the artist’s filmography - or a more generic desire to get out there, ignited by the months of confinement. In Lertxundi’s case, it is difficult to distinguish whether it’s one or the other, but there is no doubt an insistent search for ways to facilitate access to what is not there. The landscape is drawn from memory or is projected in front of bodies that want to enter it. Half-transparent, half-absent silhouettes are printed, like projections of desire, on fictional backgrounds. Places are more often representations, reproductions or memories than direct experiences. Inner Outer Space for example, is a film that comprises a whole series of exercises that have to do with forms of remote, deferred, mediated or imagined presence: telepathic exchanges, hands that travel over printed landscapes, places where you can be but that cannot be seen or, on the contrary, places that remain only in our memory. Distance and indirect presence, however, function as a playful and creative engine, preventing us from resolving the temperature of the exhibition in terms of nostalgia.
At times the drive towards the environment acquires an almost fusional intensity, like a desire for symbiosis. The background song in Under the Nothing Night, by the British group Complex, speaks of being a hillside, of being a pebble by the shore. In preparing for this exhibition, the artist has been reviewing the hydrofeminist thought of Astrida Neimanis, which begins with the fluidity, circulation and memory of water to talk about the continuity and communication between human and non-human bodies. The liquid images prevalent in these projects can be read through a hydrofeminist code but also as a consequence of the abrupt confrontation with a humid landscape after 15 years working with the Californian aridity that surrounds Los Angeles.
An ongoing movement between drawing and cinema runs through the exhibition. Recalling a game between surface and depth, it is much more ambiguous than attributing flatness to the drawing and depth to cinema. The prints have the physical and temporal depth of adding layers of ink and there are filmic sequences of crushing flatness.
The relationship between drawing and cinema doesn’t follow a consecutive logic according to which the drawings would be sketches for a film. With regards to process, cinema and engraving coincide in many aspects and the way in which Laida talks about the making of engravings is hardly different from what she could say about a cinematographic image: “You can’t imagine the amount of processes and time necessary to get this image”. Engraving is an analog technology for the reproduction of images, like the 16mm with which the artist usually shoots. Both require material contact (between light and celluloid or between ink and paper) to make the image appear. Lertxundi shows a predilection for techniques related to (con)tact, erosion or eroticism of the surface. In Inner Outer Space, two people are looking at a set of printed images. When they touch them, a movement is activated which provides them with depth. The tension between drawing and cinema or between surface and depth is a way of measuring degrees of access, presence or virtuality.
In light of the above, the artist’s recent productions could be interpreted as substitute objects. Like what she did when film shoots couldn’t be organized, or single-channel films couldn’t be shown in cinemas. It would be true if we removed any kind of negativity from the idea of substitution. For the artist, assuming the drift towards other paths has been the opposite of a frustrating resignation. In her own words, it has been “lysergic”.
Her recent works espouse a certain joy of what we could call “augmented materiality” of the processes that counteract the increased virtualization of life brought about during the pandemic. The physical manipulation, the thicknesses, the weights, the textures, the gestural repertoires of direct contact with the material, make us remain in their physical condition and become very visible in the works.
Another source of pleasure is found in preventing that the combination, fragmentation or provisional stages of work converge into a single result. The exhibition is conceived as a single body of work broken up into various elements. On the one hand, this deassemblage expresses the convergence of time for working and child-rearing during the confinement. Under these circumstances, the results can’t be anything other than fragmented, as they depend on intermittent dedication and concentration. The overlap between creative work and care work also explains the landscapes taken from cartoons used to make the engravings. For a while, they were the only landscapes available.
This fragmentation also points to the non-resolution of a process, its non-integration into a definitive whole. There will be no more film than its preliminaries, and accepting that has the liberating effect of not wanting to control and guide the processes towards the same results. Even not wanting to run out of pre-established protocols. Elements appear in many of the works that would normally have the status of an exercise, a model, a preparation or a sketch without having a goal beyond themselves.
In 1977, Marguerite Duras shot Le Camion, a film in which she appears sitting opposite Gerard Depardieu and together they read the script they are holding. The film is nothing more than the reading of that script interspersed with sequences of a truck traveling through various landscapes. Duras compared the development of her process to the movement of the truck: “I don’t know how to find the words to describe the sleepwalking attitude of the truck through the winter. As if it slept while walking, as if it carried the whole story without knowing it”. The sleepwalking process, is itself the story, like the truck adrift. Not your instrument. Pleasure is not in the destination, it is in being able to keep moving through the winter. “Le Camion” adds Duras, “was made for the pleasure of going forward, at the risk of breaking my face.”
The exhibition condenses the pleasure of doing despite everything, or against everything, on a light, autonomous, manageable scale in which there isn’t much time between desire and execution. Inner Outer Space exudes the rush and excitement of its filming process. You had to take off your mask, shout “action” and shoot fast through the bushes. The film doesn’t waste time, it is concise, even abrupt, without transitions, without ornament. It takes pleasure in the action, the pleasure of doing in a climate of excitement halfway between breaking the rules and disregarding results.
Laida Lertxundi (1981) is an artist and filmmaker who lives and works between Los Angeles and the Basque Country. Combining conceptual rigor with sensual pleasure, her films establish parallels between the earth and the body as centers of pleasure and experience. Her work has been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, New York, Hammer Museum, LIAF Biennale Biennale de Lyon, Frieze Projects New York, and in museums and galleries such as MoMa in New York, Tate Modern London, Whitechapel Gallery London, Angela Mewes Berlin, Joan Los Angeles, Human Resources Los Angeles, MAK Schindler House ICA Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín Colombia, CCCB, PS1 MoMA, Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, Baltimore Museum of Art, Kunstverein, Hamburg and the Havana Biennial, among others.
She has had solo exhibitions at Matadero Madrid (2019), LUX London (2018), Tramway Glasgow (2018), FuturDome Milano (2019), fluent Santander (2017), Tabakalera San Sebastián (2017), DA2 Salamanca (2015), Azkuna Zentroa Bilbao, (2014), Vdrome London 2014 and Marta Cervera. Her films have been screened at numerous festivals such as Locarno, New York Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, London Film Festival, BFI, TIFF Toronto, Gijón, San Sebastián or Edinburgh among others. She has received the Jury Prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival (2011) and the Basque Cinema Grand Prize at ZineBi (2007). Her work is distributed by LUX in London and is part of the collection of the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. In 2020 she received the Gure Artea award for Basque art.
Anna Manubens (1984) is an independent curator and producer with a preference for hybrid roles at the intersection between writing, research, programming, project development, institutional analysis, and exhibitions. She was Head of Public Programs at the CAPC musée d’art contemporain in Bordeaux until 2017 and previously combined her independent activity with teaching at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra with regular work at the artist-run organisation Auguste Orts (Brussels). Her recent exhibitions include Wendelien van Oldenborgh. tono legua boca, CA2M, Madrid (2019); entre, hacia, hasta, para, por, según, sin, EACC, Castellón (2019); Visceral Blue, La Capella; Barcelona (2016); Hacer cuerpo con la máquina: Joachim Koester, Blue Project Foundation, Barcelona (2016); and Contornos de lo Audiovisual, with Soledad Guitiérrez, Tabakalera, San Sebastián (2015).