Cry Me A River
Zsolt Petrányi

What do love confessions and artworks have in common? Or what do banknotes and lyrics have in common? Furthermore, how does a baroque space relate to the dance of riot policemen in uniforms? They are very much interconnected – Carlos Aires’ exhibition proves no otherwise.

Lyrics of pop and jazz songs are imprints of our memory. They can help us out in many life situations with their cheering and healing power or are there by our side in our sadness. Music characterizes the persona – says Carlos Aires and he is certainly right – because it is not only accurate for teenagers to identify themselves along different styles and performers. Well of course, these categorizations fade a little with time but our taste in music defines the horizon of our nature and interests. In songs we can discover our feelings’ true essence. At times lyrics can say out loud such things we cannot, in fact such things that do not even come to our mind.

Why it is no coincidence that Carlos Aires randomly quotes pop and jazz lyrics is that if you take a line out of its musical and textual context, you can find meanings that become topical in unexpected ways, whether they add to historical, social or private situations, regardless of the original intention of the lyricist. These lines accompany us throughout life and can gift us more and more fulfilled moments on a day-to-day basis.

The line from The Smiths’ Rusholme Ruffians – just to stick with love songs like Carlos – “So scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen, it means you really love me” has meant something to me ever since I was a teenager, a timeless expression of selfless love, regardless of whether anyone associates it with a melody or the band’s unique sound from the eighties.

Aires uses these timeless lines to confront them with representations in different media, for example when pairing them with images of archival photographs or portraits on banknotes. The series of black and white photographs shown here evoke the tradition of medieval text strips to put messages in the mouths of various characters, written in gold, gothic letters. The Gothic letter is, of course, a reference to the National Socialist texts of the 1930s, and the subjects of the images are also confrontational, but it is these contrasts that give the works their meaning: power weaves its way through private life regardless of time and space, and we consider this the most natural thing in the world.

Just as lyrics interweave our lives, money is the comfort of our everyday lives. Salary is only a number but its materialized form is a banknote. As an object, a banknote is owned by the National Bank of the issuing country and damaging it is a crime. Our relation to money is ambivalent, it’s problematic if there’s too little and it’s problematic if there’s too much. We in this room don’t have the knowledge of the illegal ways of obtaining it, neither have the knowledge that it’s illegal to damage or destroy it. Carlos made his work of the Obama couple dancing in this illegal way. Symbolic for many because of its depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the $2 bill features dancing Barack and Michelle cut from the original banknotes. Where Carlos’ lyrical and money related works cross each other is the other series from the artist, from which we can see one piece in the exhibition, a print depicting the Queen of England with a quote from a Queen song which can be only read if one moves in front of the work – real and reality, true and false, they are all cardinal themes of his works.

If we are talking about power, the individual, good and evil, life and death, love and its passing, then the policemen in riot gear tangoing in a baroque castle represents not only the reconciliation in beauty, and that tango was originally a dance between men, but also the mutually supportive relationship of the bourgeoisie and power. While watching the beautiful dance steps in the abandoned, picturesque baroque room, we might think to ourselves that under that uniform, which can serve as an image of aggression and inviolability, there is sensitive soul, that we can sense the best in clips of showing their eyes’ movements.

Another main work of the exhibition is also a reproduction of eye motives from banknotes, which appear on circular, gold surfaces – but its title refers to a movie. Reflection in A Golden Eye, John Huston’s 1967 Hollywood film starring Marlon Brando and Elisabeth Taylor, originally presented a dramatic story unusual for an American film in black and white with a golden tint. The artwork is a mirror in which we can see ourselves, but it looks back to us with the banknotes’ eyes – do we need more to understand our addiction to money and our vulnerability to work? No, we don’t.

The works of Carlos Aires, let’s confess it, look damn good. And this must be emphasized because, contrary to conceptualism, Carlos argues also for the appearance, saying, if there is no primary attraction in the works that stems from their appearance it is difficult to convey any message to the audience. So, in this exhibition, you don’t have to deep-dive into the descriptive text, you just have to simply give yourself over to the enjoyment of the artworks and let them affect you without any hesitation. Come hell or high water, with these words I will open the exhibition.

Farewell My Concubine
Lorenzo Fusi

Dramaturgy, power-relations and collective imagery in the work of Carlos Aires


Much to my disappointment, I lately discovered that there is no such a thing in ancient Chinese tradition as lighting red lanterns by the doorsteps of the quarters of the favourite concubine (as seen in 1991 Zhang Yimou's movie Raise the Red Lantern). Nevertheless, I will approach Carlos Aires’ latest installation using this story as a metaphor. Never mind if its origin is not philologically or factually correct. 

When an artist is invited to exhibit work in a museum, he or she becomes the “chosen one” who provides the institution and its visitors with a thrilling pleasure (art) in exchange for their attention (audience). This concupiscent exchange might last a night or forever. Institutions, as well as the visitors they nurture, are anyhow generally quite ambivalent in their relation to artists. The realisation that museums, collectors and audiences alike are polygamous creatures (given we ourselves are hardly monogamous in our sex lives) should come as no surprise. In the arts, as elsewhere, it is hard to sustain desire. 

As lovers hectically jump from one bed to another, in their frenetic quest for satisfaction, the viewer similarly moves from gallery to gallery. Always somewhat dissatisfied by the present experience and continuously prompted by the allure of the next-available offer, the visitor navigates the exhibition spaces as though they are a harem. The institutional frame prevents the idea of a brothel. Yet, savouring at ease one room, when a multitude of other possibilities is at hand, remains incredibly difficult. Hence, we quickly comply with our marital obligations and move on…

Our concubines are always ready in their alcoves. They are waiting to be acknowledged and complacently eager to please us. Not without resentment, since (whilst they are competing amongst themselves for capturing our attention) the household the institution has prepared for their display is restlessly expanding and multiplying its offer. The wait must be incredibly frustrating and discouraging, and one can only imagine their envy when the viewer is copulating somewhere else… It is sometimes a relief to be left alone though and not to have to deal with the brutality and insensitiveness of the occasional “husband”. This notwithstanding, nobody really wants to be abandoned for another lover. 

Thus, the first wife is soon to be replaced by a second and, of course, younger one. And so is the second, when the third wife arrives. An endless cycle of history repeating. 

Over the course of the years, the master develops different intimate and emotional relations with all his concubines. On the other hand, the wives gradually begin to understand how to best deal with each other. An intricate web of correlations originates from these negotiations: each person involved in the equation dispenses favours in a calculated game of fairness and opportunism. The household eventually finds its gravitational centre and stability. 

The time viewer and concubines have spent together, mastering their relationships, ultimately becomes their only solace. Eventually, sexual drive and potency are replaced by memory. And, so, they can rest.

But tonight let us raise the red lantern to Carlos Aires, nevertheless! A trail of paper-cased lamps will guide us to the private rooms and inner world of our new concubine. 

Caged fireflies 

When Carlos Aires told me that his new installation at CAC Malaga would be comprised of paper lanterns, the ancient custom of casing fireflies in transparent containers sprang to my mind. Allegedly, these feeble temporary lights represent one of the earliest types of lanterns in many traditions (i.e. they were a common feature in both ancient China and India). I then remembered how much I loved summertime back at home as a child. That was the time when my family and I would spend lazy days at our family home on the Tuscan hills. The month of June was a much awaited: summer break at school, the solstice announcing the new season, my birthday to be celebrated and entire nights spent running wild across the fields catching fireflies. 

We strongly believed fireflies were magical and benign creatures. Besides, our parents told us that if one brings fireflies home alive and leaves them under a flipped-down glass by the bed, they turn overnight into coins. It did not matter how many we got and how often we were hunting them, the miracle of fireflies solidifying into money infallibly happened. 

The dearest memories I have of that period of my lifetime are both connected to these unusual creatures: falling asleep in the tenuous light of the fireflies’ lanterns, in the certainty of becoming “richer” the following day, and the sight of the gentle Sienese slopes covered at night with fluctuating waves of luminous dots. 

The idea that art can enrich us, enhancing and illuminating our spirit, did not even cross my mind back then. This must prove that we grow utopian (and somewhat disingenuous) with age. Nevertheless, “beauty” and “alchemic magic” were also involved in the fascination I had as a child for fireflies. These were probably the seeds of my unripe love for art.

Naturally, the Tuscan countryside (as described above) is an idealised representation of a site that has witnessed atrocious events over the course of the centuries. Noticeably, during the World War II, the bloody fights between Fascists and the Italian partisans’ Resistenza, rape and violence perpetrated on the local populations by the Moroccan/Algerian/Tunisian/French army and, conclusively, the Allies’ “reconquista”. The pacified image I have of the place cost the life of my grandparents’ generation and the legacy of those events still resonates with the memory of the survivors.

Fascism is Theatre

Looking at some of the black and white images chosen by Carlos Aires to “decorate” his paper-lanterns, I could not avoid thinking of a time when war-imagery and nationalist propaganda publicly dominated people’s lives. The festive, and yet severe and melancholic, atmosphere Aires’ installation suggests, is underpinned by the rhetoric of power. One can easily relate the artist’s work to the celebrations imposed by an authoritarian regime on a community (forcibly induced to demonstrate jubilation, pride and joy they do not experience or share), the parade only commenting on the political party’s will to show happy people. Populism, naturally, comes to mind and so collective amnesia. The artist stages here an illusion of wellbeing and optimism that, in the best theatrical tradition, camouflages anxiety, guilt and remorse.

In this popular funfair of hypocrisies (a visual or cultural reference to the setting of ¡Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! by Luis García Berlanga Martí) the viewer gradually discerns the hidden motives of this anxiety: scenes of horror, destruction, death and injustice unfold, amidst more innocuous (but not necessarily harmless) imagery. 

At first sight, the installation is pretty, in fact, “beautiful”. But, as Michel Foucault once maintained “not everything is bad, but everything is dangerous”: we must consequently be aware of the dangers that beauty, in this instance, presents to us. 

A vein of nostalgia permeates Carlos Aires’ installation, but is he seriously longing for the ‘good old times’ when the separation between good and bad, black and white (quite literally, in this case), honour and desertion, war and peace, enemies and allies, masculinity and femininity was clearly marked? Or is he, instead, questioning why this reactionary show reel of stereotypes is vaguely comforting and reassuring? 

Uniforms, military paraphernalia, virility, courage and a variety of other ‘moustached’ clichés take central stage in this autarchic theatrical representation. Image after image, the artist insinuates the doubt that although the celebration is over, the risk of a fascist resurgence is still there. ‘The Cult of the Real Man’ (a myth informed by many regimes, including that of Francisco Franco) is in full display, printed as it were on the surfaces of Aires’ farolillos, as history unfolds in front of our eyes. 

Susan Sontag, reviewing the controversial photographic book The Last of the Nuba by Leni Riefenstahl in 1974, writes: “Fascist art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death”. In Spanish terms, the toreador killed by a bull on the arena is a hero, whether his death makes rational sense or not. He is the sacrificial victim offered in the name of integrity, conformity to tradition and manhood. The bullfighter’s elegant, athletic and vigorous movements would have certainly appealed Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘photographic eye’ and taste for muscular beauty, if only the ritual he performs (that instead seduced Ernest Hemingway, amongst others) was not tinted with so many sexual, and let alone religious, connotations. 

Populism, nationalism and a collective identity constructed on antagonistic categories of belonging and exclusion transpire in Aires’ work. Randomly, more humorous images intersect this rather languorous and desolate visual landscape. There is nothing particularly merry about them, in that they simply voice the sense of displacement and uneasiness the 20th century left us as a moral legacy. 

So, looking at Carlos Aires’ work (that to me closely resembles a Funeral Parade of Roses), I would like to conclude this short essay by quoting again Susan Sontag: “National Socialism—more broadly, fascism—also stands for an ideal or rather ideals that are persistent today under the other banners: the ideal of life as art, the cult of beauty, the fetishism of courage, the dissolution of alienation in ecstatic feelings of community; the repudiation of the intellect; the family of man (under the parenthood of leaders). These ideals are vivid and moving to many people […] their longings are still felt, because their content is a romantic ideal to which many continue to be attached and which is expressed in such diverse modes of cultural dissidence and propaganda for new forms of community as the youth/rock culture, primal therapy, anti-psychiatry, Third World camp-following, and belief in the occult. The exaltation of community does not preclude the search for absolute leadership; on the contrary, it may inevitably lead to it”.

The images Aires has selected for us challenge precisely this sense of collectiveness (or community) and, between the lines, question our need for ‘absolute leadership’ in these times of uncertainty and loss of orientation. Each picture in Carlos Aires’ selection is not per se a profession of truth, for it may be ‘real’, because there is never a single side to a story, but as many as the lanterns that are included in this installation. 


Todos quieren que les quieran
Fernando Castro Flórez

“Un sueño o una pesadilla es en realidad una película dentro de la gólova, excepto que entonces parece que uno puede caminar y participar en todo” (Anthony Burgess: La naranja mecánica).

Era una obligación colectiva: teníamos que ser el colmo de la seriedad y el rigor. Europa y el destino occidental no serían nada si los españoles no abandonaban su tendencia anarco-delirante (cimentada además en eras geológicas de cultura pre-pop y de cachondeo irreductible) para transformarse en rígidos burócratas, aspirantes a figurantes en el campeonato mundial del aburrimiento. El siglo convulso, vanguardista “a pesar de todo”, derivó en la atonía completa y el academicismo de los prefijos (post, trans, neo, hiper, des & Cia.) encontró seguro refugio en una museología pretendidamente radical (allí donde el conceptual institucional va de la mano con lo que podría denominarse “radicalismo subvencionado) que ha convertido en hegemónica una estética de lo plúmbeo. Convertido el minimalismo en una receta (“menos es más” o “lo que ves es lo que ves” transformados en pura cortedad retórica o estricta obviedad) y transformado el pensamiento crítico es una serie de letanías políticamente correctas y, finalmente, neutralizadas (ya sea porque consisten en prédicas a los conversos o modalidades del cripticismo para-ideológico que requieren de la vitrina expositiva para imponer, valga la paradoja, la impotencia de la praxis), se ha “normalizado” la anomalía local para poder ocupar el furgón de cola del bienalismo global. Lo que brilla por su ausencia es el riesgo, la singularidad, el sentido el humor y, lo que todavía más penoso, la pulsión deseante y hasta destructiva sin la cual el arte adquiere, inevitablemente, la pátina de lo “interesante” que es un modo educado de aludir a la experiencia del déjà vu. Cuando se completa esté ceremonial patético de la “homologación” casi nadie quiere desentonar. El arte de vestir santos tiene, en el campo curatorial, monaguillos de postín que no están dispuestos a aprender otro catecismo aunque lo que repiten sea abismalmente tedioso. Afortunadamente surgen algunos francotiradores o descarados que no están dispuestos a pasar por el aro y prefieren montar una fiesta, como hace Carlos Aires, aunque sea con raros farolillos chinos, malgastando el dinero para re-escribir canciones, focalizando el horror y el placer, invitando a penetrar en cuartos oscuros donde lo inquietante se hace visible o, en términos generales, planteando una materialización de un imaginario al pairo de las tendencias imperantes, acaso porque lo mejor es ir a su aire.  

Carlos Aires ha sido capaz de rescatar, con una mezcla de perversidad y lucidez, la copla para, valga el juego fácil, acoplarla con el contexto catastrófico que vivimos. Retoma un genero que tiene tanto de nostálgico cuanto de cursilada sin asideros para dar cuenta de su particular "educación sentimental". Afortunadamente Carlos Aires no se queda en el mero regodeo (a la manera almodovariano) en lo kitsch musical sino que le atrae la potencia narrativa que en esas letras melodramáticas late. Como en aquel pasodoble patrio escuchado "en tierra extraña" siente una especie de euforia delirante que le lleva a revisar no tanto la "memoria histórica" cuanto los pecios de lo acontecido, mezclando, sin miedo la fotografía de Robert Capa del miliciano muerto con unos toros o cuerpos desnudos y de erotismo desafiante. Carlos Aires salta por encima de la sombra del catetismo, el casticismo y la canonización, sin buscar atolondradamente la provocación que, a fin de cuentas, se ha transformado en el discurso institucional. 

Si, en series anteriores, había fotografiado a monjas que daban miedo o a un torero enano, en los discos de vinilo recortados con una precisión absoluta compone una especie de altares autobiográficos en los que alegoriza tanto la violencia cuanto el deseo, lo histórico y lo religioso, el folclore y la diversión de cualquier orden. En un momento en el que cualquier artista o comisario pretende camuflarse como un dj, Carlos Aires recupera un material literalmente obsoleto para contar lo que nos pasa, esto es, con la intención de que el fetiche pueda tener cierta potencialidad crítica. Sin caer ni en lo hermético ni en lo meramente propagandístico, Carlos Aires trenza narraciones que parasitan lo que llamaría la picnolepsia musical con la narcolepsia informativa. Así en las piezas que titula "Love is in the air II" graba en cuchillos imágenes que ha capturado de los archivos de ABC, con un sentido intempestivo de lo "historiográfico".

Karl Kraus advirtió que desde que la humanidad se puso al servicio de la economía, solo le quedaba la libertad de la enemistad. Nosotros que hemos vivido, con una perplejidad digna del Gran Terror, el tsunami del capitalismo financiero en su naufragio, sabemos de sobra que tenemos, como los gladiadores que abandonar toda esperanza. Ni siquiera podemos recuperar la "militancia" de los ludistas y atacar los elementos de producción porque la quiebra fraudulenta, el reajusta de plantilla y la administración colegiada del desastre impiden que el enemigo se materialice de otra forma que espectralmente. Carlos Aires sintonizo con este accidente generalizado cuando comenzó a emplear billetes de quinientos euros para "escribir" pasajes de la cantinela. Literalmente recorto la cifra de la economía política, destruyo la clave del intercambio, jugueteo con el sacrosanto material que encubre la alienación planetaria.

En la instalación que realiza en el Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga utiliza multitud de farolillos chinos que generan un espectáculo de singular fragilidad pero también de excepcional contundencia. El espectador camina por debajo de una luminosa forma geométrica que pervierte el minimalismo, aludiendo a una fiesta que no es precisamente lo que ves. En cierto sentido la papiroflexia repetitiva nos hace recordar que lo cotidiano está sembrado de maravillas. Trabajando de forma obsesiva en el archivo de ABC, Carlos Aires selecciona fotografías que tienen que ver con la guerra y el dolor, el llanto y la destrucción, la violencia y el trauma; en los farolillos están impresas esas imágenes en ejercicios de punctualización que hacen que resulte difícil sabe que tenemos por encima de nuestras cabezas. En buena medida esa sensación de “no ver exactamente qué es”, tal y como declara Carlos Aires, es determinante para escapar de una estética del literalismo. La iluminación festiva está habitada por la sombra del dolor y la promesa del placer adquiere la proporción de la pesadilla. Estamos acomodados en lo inhóspito lo que no supone, necesariamente, que hayamos aceptado la angustia. Acaso el deseo sea la fuente del desastre. El arte es un oxímoron, un vuelco de signos, un pasaje al límite que puede llevarnos hacia lo insoportable como le sucediera a la mirada catártica de Leoncio, en La República de Platón, arrastrado, finalmente, por la pulsión del horror.

La sobre-iluminación de este archivo dramático me hizo pensar, de inmediato, en el tratamiento Ludovico que aplican los doctores, con especial dureza, al asocial que tiene que ser “curado”. El cuerpo tiene que aprender a través de lo horrible que propiamente él cometía, es preciso que llegue a enfermar al ver las imágenes más crueles. Mientras Alex está al borde del vómito el doctor Branom se atreve a decir que “la vida es algo maravilloso”. No tienen ningún problema a fusionar la música de Beethoven o Haendel con las escenas más repugnantes, pues esos médicos saben, como los nazis, de sobre que la barbarie no encuentra límites en la belleza. Todo piensa el reo, sujeto en un cine siniestro, es real, muy real. “Es raro que los colores del mundo real parezcan reales de verdad sólo cuando se los ve en pantalla”. El arte despiadado produce, principalmente, estupor; consciente de que su destino es efímero. No hacía falta mostrarle al joven violento crímenes sin pausa para “reeducarle”, tendría que haber bastado con un paisaje de ruinas, ese imponente objeto del siglo. Carlos Aires hace que, en nuestra visión, se produzca el desajuste entre lo festivo y lo doloroso, la pasionalidad y el patetismo, el placer de la realidad iluminado y la certeza de que el sufrimiento impone su opacidad. Ya había explorado el cuarto oscuro y también la experiencia de los que tienen cataratas, convencido acaso de que, a la manera de Paul de Man, en la ceguera puede surgir la perspicacia. Ahora en esa estancia de los farolillos chinos estamos iluminados por la memoria inquietante, sin caer en el “mal de archivo”, en un proceso de transferencia artística que repite lo reprimido.

En esa imponente superficie de los farolillos no hay solamente dolor y desastre, violencia y llanto, sino que Carlos Aires ha introducido el “contrapunto” anómalo de fotografías familiares, toreros y hombres lobo e incluso focalizaciones de semblantes en el momento del orgasmo. Aunque ahí parecería que hay menos drama que en el archivo de las brutalidades que selecciona a partir del fondo del ABC, en realidad lo siniestro está inscrito en la familiaridad y el miedo a la castración constituye la prehistoria del sujeto, mientras la tauromaquia implica el riesgo mortal y la anomalía del hombre salvaje está en el borde del pensamiento clasificatorio. La petit mort y sus vecindarios inquietantes son utilizadas por Carlos Aires con su habitual dicción perversa, sabedor de que lo que designa la pasión es una halo de muerte, por éste se manifiesta la continuidad de los seres: “Las imágenes que excitan o provocan el espasmo final suelen ser turbias, equívocas: si entrevén el horror o la muerte, acostumbran a hacerlo subrepticiamente”. El terreno del erotismo está abocado a la astucia, la muerte queda desviada sobre el otro. Es de nuevo Santa Teresa el ejemplo más penetrante de la relación entre la sensualidad culpable y la muerte, en su manifestación del deseo extremo: cesando de vivir, entrando en la zozobra absoluta, perdió pie, no hizo más que vivir con mayor violencia, “tal fue la violencia hasta que se creyó en el límite de la muerte, pero una muerte que, al exasperarla, no detenía la vida”. 

Carlos Aires atraviesa la fantasía de un ámbito “bonito” en el que sentimos la oscilación anómala y común de placer y dolor. No pretende regodearse en lo macabro ni provocar con la explicitación sexual (a la postre focalizada en esos semblantes que puede provocar la aphanisis), sino que nos quiere emplazar en un territorio en el que no vemos todo, donde hay una sutura entre lo que vemos y lo que nos mira. Puede que tengamos, como escribía Joyce al comienzo de Ulises, que cerrar los ojos para mirar: cada cinco minutos la luz de los farolillos se apaga y durante siete segundos quedamos a oscuras por las imágenes supervivientes en el fondo de nuestra mirada. No estamos en una fiesta, ni mucho menos, sino en una cripta fantasmática en la que asistimos a la pugna pulsional entre placer y muerte. Opening Night de Cassavetes le sirve a Carlos Aires como algo más que un mero pre-texto-título. La figura de la actriz que se niega a admitir que ha envejecido, con el público con sus reacciones azarosas, impone un dramatismo que también está plegado sobre sí mismo. La impresión de dama con la capa blanca en el escenario se asemeja a una mariposa blanca o, coincidencia inesperada, a uno de esos farolillos en los que está impreso el desastre. El pliegue del papel es análogo a las arrugas del rostro de esa fotografía inmensa que forma parte del decorado de la escena teatral al comienzo de la película. Escuchemos otra vez esa conversación entre la mujer que regresa a casa empapada y el hombre que no se fía de la gente que habla de sus hijos pero le encantan los ancianos: “Lo saben todo. Pero no lo dejan ver. Puedo mirar a esa mujer, a esta señora mayor, y contar las arrugas de su cara. Por cada arruga hay un dolor y por cada dolor un año. Y por cada año una persona, una muerte, una historia, una amabilidad”. Carlos Aires regresa a una “casa” que está edificada con memorias que son pesadillas y obsesiones, momentos del gozo e instantáneas del sufrimiento insoportable. 

La lúcida y, al mismo tiempo, sombría instalación de Carlos Aires nos hace tomar conciencia de que no podemos estar, hasta el infinito y más allá, pasando del epigonismo a la estupefacción ante un urinario, como si hubiéramos perdido hasta la posibilidad de mear cuando nuestro destino es, valga la redundancia, escatológico.El arte terminal del que habla Virilio no es, en ningún sentido, la cura, antes bien, es el combustible de la narcolepsia. Querríamos comunicar algo o, mejor, con alguien y, al final, nuestra llamada se pierde en la nada o, para ser más concreto, en el desierto de Mojave: un sonido en una cabina de teléfonos, la espera de una respuesta que solo será accidental. El lugar de la demolición, el blanco del terror (ese archivo que está re-plegado como límite de nuestras visiones ascendentes), puede, a pesar de todo, acoger la belleza. Eso que parece cruel es, en realidad, lo más inquietante. El joven-violento-reeducado de La naranja mecánica contempla películas que son sueños y pesadillas que hacen que tenga ganas de vomitar pero, sobre todo, le llevan a comprender que carecía de escapatoria. No hay redención, tenemos que aprender a soportar nuestros traumas que, con frecuencia, no son otra cosa que la consecuencia de habitar en el país de los lotófagos. Carlos Aires no quiere conmemorar nada ni responde a otra ley que a la oscura del deseo, por eso nos invita a un estreno en el que el público (reducido a fotografías en blanco y negro) puede ser telón de fondo para aplausos, silbidos y risas. “Quieren que les quieran. Les han de querer”. Suenan, con calma melancólica, unas notas en el piano. Recordamos cuando “las emociones estaban a flor de piel”. Una tela, un papel, cientos de imágenes se pliegan y siguen siendo visibles incluso cuando todo está oscuro.

Lieux de mémoire drague
Rubén Gallo

Carlos’s work is both sexy and serious. Sexy because it deals with the theatrics of gay desire. Serious because it deploys conceptual strategies for its investigation. Take, for instance, his two works about cruising, that gay ritual which the French call draguer and the Spanish ligar. Here are some instructions on how to cruise, for the benefit of readers who unacquainted with such an edifying activity. First, consult a well-respected web guide, like Type in your country and state, your region, province, or departement. A few clicks of the mouse will provide you with a comprehensive list of the many places you can visit in order to meet other guys: you can choose among parks and back alleys, boulevards and shopping malls, swimming pools and even subway stations. (There is even a gay cruising area, the website informs us, in a public toilet at the Vatican: habemus cacam!) Next, put on your sexiest clothes – tank top, leather jacket, shorts or even hotpants if you have the legs for it – and head towards the place of your choice. Once there you must observe a few simple rules: first, no talking. Cruising is best done in total silence. If you like another guy, make eye contact and concentrate on telepathically transmitting your innermost desires and fantasies. If he looks down or turns away, you’re out of luck. Keep walking and try again until your gaze locks with someone else’s. The final step is quite simple: take a few steps towards him – remember: no talking – and once your bodies have touched your innermost instincts, honed by five billion years of evolution, will automatically guide your movements. You will need no further instructions to enjoy the age-old ritual that has been celebrated by Proust and Gide, by Genet and Sarduy, by Barthes and Foucault, by Guillaume Dustan and Benoît Duteurtre.

(Critical parentheses: In an article on Carlos Aires (Camera Austria No. 88, 2004, p. 38), Slovenian critic Marina Grzinic writes about the artist’s representation of gay cruising areas. “So what are the possible stories of gay cruising parks in general?” she asks, rhetorically, before answering her own question: “They are part of a certain evacuation in our imagination about what is going on there. They are like voids in the structures of the city. So real and horrific in everyday life, but negated within the social imaginary of the city as well as negated by us viewers.” 

Evacuated imagination? Voids in the structures of the city? Real and horrific? It sounds like Miss Grzinic has never been to a gay cruising area, and in an effort to enlighten her, I offer to accompany her on a guided tour of the cruising parks in Lubjliana, where she lives, or New York, where I live. Although some guys might run away in terror upon discovering that Ms. Grzinic possesses what psychoanalysts like Slavoj Zizek call “partial objects” (i.e. breasts), I do believe such a visit would be a most edifying experience for her: she will learn, for example, that the only “evacuation” performed in such sites concerns bodily fluids; that the activities performed in these spaces involve not “voids” but orifices; and that these places are not as “horrific” as she fears, even if one does run the risk of brushing up against the occasional troll.  

End of critical parentheses).

And now back to Carlos Aires. Carlos has represented gay cruising areas in two of his works: The Enchanted Woods (2004) and Mister Hyde I (Dark Room, 2003). The first deals with a cruisy park in Antwerp; the second, with the “dark room” in the bowels of a gay disco.

The Enchanted Woods consists of a series of digital prints depicting nocturnal landscapes: postcard-perfect compositions featuring dimly lit trees and lakes, crepuscular bushes and pathways. These scenes could not be more idyllic: they evoke the peace and quiet that so many Romantic poets found in nature, and they bring to mind words like beauty, stillness, harmony, even transcendence. There are no people to be seen, and the viewer has absolutely no idea that these idyllic landscapes are actually the scenario for the wildest, kinkiest forms of gay sex. Here we find a postmodern form of trompe l’œil, except what is being trompé is not the eye but our way of reading photographs. 

Mister Hyde is the perfect companion piece to The Enchanted Woods, although the artist does not always show them together. This video was taken in a gay disco, inside what is known as a “dark room.” The dark room (also known as a “back room”) was a revolutionary invention allowing even those urbanites living far away from parks and enchanted woods to enjoy the pleasures of cruising. Making a dark room is extremely simple: take a crowded bar or disco with an exclusively gay clientele; open the door leading to the basement and turn of all the lights down there. In a few minutes the basement will be jam packed with guys making the most imaginative uses of every nook and cranny. A dark room can be the best antidote against the ravages of old age: are you fat and balding, wrinkled and grey? Come right in, for all of these imperfections will be charitably obscured. Love is blind, they say, but here sex is blind and darkness conquers all!

Mister Hyde shows a sequence of brief scenes filmed with an infrared camera inside a dark room: we catch glimpses of men having sex in couples, in threesomes, in large groups. These black-and-white images have been montaged with footing shot inside a fair’s haunted house showing a number of plastic monsters. Dark rooms and haunted houses turn out to be very similar spaces: dark, creepy, and full of scary sights. 

The Enchanted Woods and Mister Hyde are complementary works, like two sides of the same coin. Both series represent cruising areas in the dark, but aside from this one element in common they are mirror opposites: people are absent from the Enchanted Woods but they occupy center stage in Mister Hyde; the woods are beautiful, the back rooms squalid; one depicts the setting for a fairy tale, the other the scene of a nightmare; one is a landscape, the other a sociological document; one is seductive, the other repellent.

Though these pieces are so different, they were made by following the same strategy: introducing a camera into a place in which recording devices are not welcome. For The Enchanted Woods Carlos did not conceal his actions: he used a bulky Hasselblad camera on a tripod (to allow for the long exposures that give the light in these landscapes such an intense quality), an instrument that stuck out like a sore thumb. For Mister Hyde, in contrast, he entered the dark room with a compact infrared camera hanging from his neck. He circulated incognito through the pitch-dark spaces, guiding himself by touching the walls (and the odd body who happened to be in the way). No one saw his camera, and the artist had no idea what the footage looked like until he played it at home. 

In both cases, the act of taking a photograph becomes a transgression of unspoken taboos. These are public places, but the cruising that goes on in them is usually a private affair, a ritual reserved to the participants. By photographing these scenes, Carlos has made public the private behavior of cruisers and he has exposed the myriad private uses of public areas. This dialectic of the public and the private reminds me of something Vito Acconci once said in a lecture: the only difference between the public and the pubic (the privates) is the letter L, the letter of the Law (in English and in all Romance languages: Law, Lex, Loi, Ley, Legge). There is an irresistible human impulse to turn all public spaces into pubic spaces, and it is only the threat of the Law that keeps people from doing so. The Enchanted Woods and Mister Hyde show us spaces that have resisted the tyranny of the law, places in which the legal L has fallen out of the public to render it pubic: pubic parks and pubic discos. 

I could go on writing about cruising, were it not for space restrictions (another manifestation of the letter of the law), which limit my text to 7,000 characters. Since I’m at 6,670 and running dangerously close to the cutoff line, I’d better wrap up and say a few words about Carlos’s other work. I began this text by saying that most of his practice was about representing the body, the awkward body, the gay body, in relation to the gaze of others. Enchanted Woods and Mister Hyde zero in on the body of the gay cruiser, which enters into play with the body of the viewer: our gaze intrudes violently into these private scenes, uncovering the nudity, the imperfections of these bodies that had been protected by a shroud of darkness. 

Most of Carlos’s other work depicts bodies that, like the gay body, become deviant only when inserted into a context of difference: dwarves appear strange when surrounded by tall people, but they seem rather ordinary when living in a society of dwarves. Thus Carlos once made a dwarf bar (Alter Ego, 2004), whose diminutive scale forced taller people to experience the discomfort of being in a body that does not fit into the dominant scale. And his photographs of nuns, butchers, and Spanish soldiers show us bodies that seem utterly strange when shown in the United States or Northern Europe but which are entirely ordinary when surrounded by other nuns, other butchers, other soldiers. 

For his project at the Palais de Beaux Arts in Brussels, Carlos proposed filling a room with photos of smiling presidents rulers: a bright façade to hide the little shop of horrors contained in the adjoining room (a video of a Spanish drag queen singing Arab techno): another example of how bright, glossy appearances usually conceal an unsuspected and dark reality.