Bird's The Word...
Okay look, you know we always start from the point that we are in agreement then, we know we are slow, lumpen, resistant, low-rent panegyric peddling, eternally late adopters. So, years after the rest of the world found her! By happenstance, we chanced upon, and stumbled into the fabulous and fabulously esoteric world and work of the artist, Greta Alfaro.
We were concerned with the ballistics of Pryce Lee at the Sickening of the Calm show at the Fridman New York in January and there encountered (At Last... as Etta says) the very remarkable Greta Alfaro and were soon mesmerized by her video installation, In Ictu Oculi. In Ictu Oculi dates back to 2009 and well, well, imagine if that Alfred Hitchcock shot The Birds in an unkempt lot at the end of your street. And the Birds were, bigger. Way Bigger. With even bigger beaks. And they ate your lunch. What would that even tell you?
After months of hardcore stalking with our telescopic night vision email goggles that can see all the way to Spain, we finally caught up with Greta in May and asked, as anyone would, "What are you doing now, I mean right now. If you don't mind me asking... And what are you plans for the summer..." Greta's answers, more gracious, thoughtful and good-humoured than any of our questions, as you might expect, are simply the stuff that makes a soul want to exist.
GA: I am sitting on the balcony at my flat in Valencia, surrounded by beautiful old buildings in a narrow street. The weather is wonderful and my dog Lope is on my lap. This place is kind of my office at the moment, I am working on a solo show for Artium, Basque Museum-Centre of Contemporary art in Vitoria, Spain, curated by Eduardo García Nieto. It is part of a very exciting program that invites the artist to reflect about the space, the relation with the audience and the temporality of the exhibition: the kind of challenge that I like. It opens on the first week of July and we will organize some kind of event for the beginning of September as well.
OL: 'Suppose we first became charmed by you and your work with the feasting vultures, In Ictu Oculi. Of course, aside from what it might represent, we want to know about the How/Where was it shot, Was it scary, and were the vultures hand reared? I can't stop looking at it... But these things I want to know, how you did it. Or like a magician must the How? remain magical?
GA: We should never underestimate the magic of life and nature, and their power to surprise and scare us! There are no tricks in this work, the means are pretty simple. Vultures are very common wild animals in the area where my family lives, in the North of Spain. I travelled to my mother's village, Fitero, and investigated a bit about vultures' habits. Local hunters were extremely helpful, and they also gave me a lot of hope: they truly believed that the vultures would sooner or later approach the table. This confidence was important because it took one week until they finally did. I would set the table every day early in the morning and then bring everything back home at dusk. I was not scared (vultures don't eat alive animals), but they were. I had to hide and leave the camera there, wrapped in barbed wire. They finally came at 2pm on the seventh day. My friend and I were observing the sky from a nearby hill. We saw hundreds of vultures flying over the area. All of a sudden they descended like in a tornado, it was breathtaking.
In Ictu Oculi, 2009
HDV, colour, sound, 16:9, 10 min.35 sec
OL: We love it and are enthralled. Would make a great installation as a video wall in a daring restaurant...
GA: Yes, that one at the IMF
OL: What about the Saatchi Connection...? That raised your profile. Where in the world have you found a greater, and equally an area where there is a lesser response to your work.
GA: It is very difficult to say. Of course, the more it is known, the more it is requested to be shown again. I can't really say how much there is of a cultural empathy and how much of coincidence in each case. I am thrilled and surprised every time it is shown or requested.
OL: The list of exhibitions you've been involved with, it is totally amazing. Does it take a team? What's your secret - and when do you even have time to create after all that?
GA: I work by myself, I find it difficult to delegate my responsibilities to other people. In terms of creativity, I am working all the time; I would say that there is no difference or limits between my everyday tasks and my creative life. Another thing is when you actually enter the time of production. These are very short and super intense periods and involve the work of many people.
I would say that I am usually ok with time, it is funding what is more difficult to find...
OL: Waking up today, I heard on the radio that the Turner Prize nominees have been announced. Well, what they hell is up with no painters? None any good anymore? All Video all the time. And what the hell is up with that? Greta, who's gonna take it?
GA: The question with painting is a very complicated one. How to think about painting in the contemporary world? What is its role? How can it be inserted in the new ways of understanding the image and relating to it? I think that those are problematic issues. It seems difficult for painting to be able to communicate with contemporary times. For me, the only way painting can do it today is establishing a link between the pictorial tradition and contemporaneity, or expanding its limits to other media.
On the other hand, video seems to be more in touch with contemporary times: its immediacy, velocity, amount of information available in one piece, etc. suits the way we relate with images in our contemporary life, seems to relate better to what happens around and to be able to speak about it in a way that is more approachable, more familiar, more comprehensible.
Regarding the Turner Prize, I have no idea of who is going to take it.
OL: I read your remarks on the Awareness of Doubt and was immediately taken by them. Your Fruit of False Promise and the awareness of doubt - (I love awareness of doubt!) thingy, I can't help except see it now as a linear thread - are there any others - in all you do...
GA: It is funny to realize of the linear threads in your work. When you do a project you think of it as an isolated item, relating to specific reasons. But later, if you look at your production over the years, all the areas of interest seem really obvious and interconnected. And they might not have been conscious until you see all the work together.
My aim is to allow for further reflection on current times and western identity through unexpected juxtapositions. I am interested in bringing the mythical, historic, traditional and the paranormal to the contemporary, and in the use of ceremony, rituals and celebration as a symbol of civilization and a way of controlling chaos and nature.
Greta Alfaro is all over the world this summer. Her work can be seen alongside luminaries Philip Treacy, Isaac Mizrahi and Alexander McQueen and more at the Bass Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami. The exhibition is called "Vanitas. Fashion and Art", curated by Harold Koda, from MOMA. It runs until July 20th, 2014.
Her work can also been seen in Europe at the Volta art fair in Basel in June, with Spanish gallery Rosa Santos.
If you do nothing else next. If you can't get to Greta's shows this summer definitely watch In Ictu Oculi before you next have a picnic. You might not be glad you did.