Jupiter’s darling

Chus Martínez

Jupiter’s Darling [1]

Topoi, choreographies and imaginary journeys in the drawings of Charo Garaigorta

The supremacy of time over space when it comes to structuring the events that constitute the everyday experience unfailingly marks the relegation of other perceptions linked to the senses of touch, sight and smell to a position of secondary importance. The space then becomes a receptacle intended to provide an effective and neutral setting for an activity, for work, one’s domestic life or travel, marked by arduousness, a determination to achieve one’s goals in the shortest possible time.

The floating figures that appear in Charo Garaigorta’s drawings choreograph another kind of topos, a talking space motivated by the life of the mind that takes place in it, stirred by muses of some kind that transform their deliberate neutrality by transmuting function into style. The space depicted is an airport. A type of space that combines every possible value of the ‘public square’. The airport recalls the old dream of the ideal city in the manner of the drawings by the utopian architects of the 18th century, in which one can read their determination to arrive at a space that would meet in every respect the functions attributed to it and which would transcend this urge to design a place where pure transit is translated into interaction. An ideal city inhabited by ideal citizens ever ready to keep the order agreed in the equally utopian social contract.

However, these drawings are not an exercise in architectural rigour. Quite the contrary. The starting point for these images is an archive of references that range from the explosions of form and colour in the synchronised swimming ‘aqua musicals’ starring Esther Williams to a personal reinterpretation of scientific illustrations of micro-organisms. All of this, fused in an image created with a subtle sense of satire, contributes to fictionalising the rationalist intentions of these spaces used, passed through and consumed, as well as the experiences that take place in them. The sum total of all these visions resembles a psychedelic encyclopaedia stuffed with the most unlikely ingredients: the sugary happiness of the American dream, values and symbols of modernity at the very height of their expression and a pantheistic synthesis of the experience of the journey. The result points towards an urge to build a system of knowledge of the world based on a particular attention to peripheral experiences, to those moments in life which are not constitutive, such as waiting in the departure lounge at an airport, but which are nevertheless capable of putting the often intolerable dimension of the continuum of our daily lives on hold.

On occasions, the organisation of the elements in Charo Garaigorta’s drawings calls to mind the series of illustrations entitled “Times of Day” by the German Romantic painter Philipp Otto Runge. The points of similarity are the importance accorded to the determination of a theme—and just one theme, at that—and to studying all its symbolic possibilities through a distilled design of the order of the whole. The image, then, emerges like some alchemical potion as a result of the multiplicity of factors in which colour and the chromatic relationships play a decisive role. Drawing is not the imagined illustration of a space that really exists and that we have been in, but the representation on paper of a process of renewing the nature of the relations between the elements in play: subject and space, but also line, colour and the texture of the support itself on which everything else comes to life. The crux of this renewal is the energising of each of these entities and the objective is to create a bond that is sufficiently powerful to relate everything together.

The airport, that happy place of the 1950s, is a case study for grasping the tension between the particular spatial and temporal demands of a rational architecture that is heir to the values of the Enlightenment and the extravagant Romantic-Symbolist vision that flirts with these rigid co-ordinates, infecting them with the psychological factor in such a way that the place, delimited by the architectural form of each of these different airports, becomes less important, while the situation, the range circumstances that converge in them, takes on greater prominence. The most marked trait of this situation is precisely the fluctuating superimposition of different narratives. An airport is a physical structure that encapsulates a biotopos, hence the umbilical connection between the figures and the main building, which could be interpreted as a stem cell, the primary source. This genuine embrace by these female figures, all of them alike and yet all different at the same time, turns the building into this floating structure with no context other than itself, like the now classic spaceships in the great science fiction sagas that American film has now made us used to. Independent and at the same time subject to their own idiosyncrasy, these platforms suspended in midair are clearly related to the past—as symbolised by the way that the drawings seen from afar look like some a primitive organism viewed through the lens of a microscope—but also to the future, a future in which beings, spaces and machines are not increasingly perfect and digital but somewhat negligent, playful and dimly aware that they could belong to the world of high technology and not to that of the applied arts. Accustomed as we are to thinking of the distant future as a utopia characterised by the height of progress and perfection, it seems almost incongruous to imagine a future that is happy but less than absolutely ideal, a future that would correspond to, say, a patchwork quilt, a handmade cover resulting from the reuse of everything to hand and whose beauty does not depend on each of the individual minuscule pieces sewn together nor on the intrinsic quality of the colours or materials, but on the extravagance of the whole, on its ability to hypnotise us while we are unable to draw our eyes away from it. Seen in this light, the drawings enable us to think of a dystopian, hedonistic and ultimately happy time to come.

An airport is also a system of social organisation. It is a space designed to establish patters of behaviour amongst users and workers; it is a highly regulated and strictly regulating unit based on the belief that it is possible to reconcile the passenger’s free activity with an orthodox system to control him and which is, of course, required to safeguard his security or rather, our security, for as soon as we enter the structure of the airport, we become members of the community of travellers, of people passing through. The complex network of interconnections activated in these places of transit links all of us thanks to a system of equivalent experiences: arrival, departure, delay, hurry, boredom, waiting, anticipation, doubt, groundless fear, claustrophobia, the impression of being on a stage. This is, in short, a condensed metropolis inasmuch as it is a space that encompasses notions of both the subject and the community.

These curious swimming women—heiresses to a vision from myth, part Amazons and part heroines of the modern world—inhabit a space crammed with ‘blanks’, from the voids painted in tempera to the very transparency of the onion paper on which they are drawn. Colour, as I mentioned earlier, plays a key role, given that it moors the building and accentuates the morphological change that the building undergoes under its playful influence, which is not, however, without ulterior motives. The body of these figures becomes an ornament integrated into the overall whole, like the soldiers in the Roman centuria, forming symmetrical and perfectly co-ordinated units, the ceremonies at which Nazi officers were presented to the party leaders filmed in Nuremberg by Leni Riefenstahl, or the more banal but no less spectacular swimmers in Esther Williams’ productions for MGM in California in the 1940s. In each of these examples, the subject is nothing but one element of a system of cogs and gears, part of a figure the form of which she cannot herself apprehend, but which she knows herself to be a fundamental component of because she contributes to the establishment of a synchrony on which everything depends, an order responsible for ensuring that things work, an effort directed towards making the artificial appear natural.

In The Mass Ornament, Siegfried Kracauer places particular emphasis on the fact that travelling has increasingly become an incomparable opportunity to be somewhere other than the place that you are usually in and hence the decisive function of spatial transformation as a change in temporal place is fulfilled. Travelling is, he declares, reduced to a purely spatial experience. There are many ways of relating artistic practice to life itself, with the gradual fencing in of the first-person experience. In such an experience, everything is subordinate to what we know as ‘real time’, the here and now of the period that we are a part of. Biographical time, to put it thus, prioritises the synchronic sense of time. This temporal dimension intertwines with another, time as a flow of events, as the course of time, what we generally understand by change. The biographical dimension could be understood as the effort to combine these two planes: time as the space in which identity develops; and time as the flow of events that we are surrounded by on all sides. The core of a biography is the effort the subject makes to understand this other time and to incorporate it into his understanding of the world. This junction of temporalities gives us now, through the genre of autobiography, access to the central problem of how the mechanisms for understanding the world that we are a part of are related.

In this respect, travelling gives us the opportunity to experience different places through our senses. Places are opportunities for multiplying sensorial effects, beginning with sight, enabling us to submerge ourselves in a panopticon in which one person’s gaze is contaminated by that of another. The traveller, whether he will or not, becomes a promiscuous being, one who is permeable and ripe for contagion, receptive to every kind of echo or reverberation of what he is and what is his in what is not. As a result, travelling has acquired a significant dimension that is different to that which it had centuries ago. Mobility has become a metaphor that refers to the possibility of cross-contamination between cultures and not just between individuals. Travelling implies the possibility of a nomadic consciousness, the possibility of travelling freely through the other’s space, of achieving, for just a few hours, a kind of state of empathy with everyone around us, in the departure lounge of an airport, for example. The airport, as seen from the perspective of Charo Garaigorta, seems to have become a space that catalyses all these dimensions of the postmodern condition, in which the ‘good life’ would take the form of ‘eternal holidays’. In transit, a strange and pleasing metamorphosis takes place: the everyday, the continuity of everyday time, is suspended. The airport becomes an in-between place, a space incorporating many other spaces that makes it possible to develop an awareness of a supra-territorial place. It is not a no-man’s land but a space that transcends other spaces, floating, just as the artist shows it in her drawings. It is a strange province beyond other territories that enables us, moreover, to free ourselves from the ever-present question of identity. The hope that one might begin to search for the culturally authentic in an airport is revealed to us as absurd.

The floating bodies of these swimming women transform the structure of the building into an artificial and extravagant accessory of the game in progress. The airport is also a body manipulated more by the threads of these women and their free will than by any other constriction or convention. In contrast with the male vision of the modern, clear, diaphanous space that is perfectly resolved in itself, these airports have been turned into the tailor-made spaces of these women who have taken them over by surprise. The flâneur and the vagabond—two key figures when it comes to thinking about the timeless spectator, capable of living the life of another for a few seconds, of infiltrating their space, of experiencing the everyday as if it were a perpetual journey going nowhere—are men. The vocabulary that conceptualises figures in modernity is eminently masculine in complexion. These sirens are clearly women and are the embodiment of the gender difference. The notion of leaving home to set off on a journey is traditionally associated with men, and the home, the principle of permanence, is linked to women. Travelling also begins another chapter related to the roles of the genders: that of sexuality. The fact of being released from the domestic bond means that men enter a sphere of freedom, are released from domestic responsibilities and are exposed to the possibility of an occasional encounter, to romance. One only has to think of Ulysses. Tied to his ship’s mast, in the same way that these sirens are entangled in these airports, he heeds the seductive power of the sirens while at the same time avoiding succumbing to them. Ulysses is a unique precedent of this range of values and social practices that is emblematic of the modern world, travelling as a means to make contact with one’s true self: the Bildungsreise.

However, a curious inversion takes place in the selfsame drawings, and it is the swimmers who create almost spermatozoal forms and who fertilise this imagined organism that the airport has now become. Everything contributes towards the creation of a sense of fantasy, of escapist, almost hallucinatory, images, in order to celebrate, but also to lay on the table an entire series of ‘existential’ (though I dislike the term) conflicts and notions typical of the contemporary culture of travelling, the culture of tourism, the density resulting from this mass experience, from its industrial dimension, and the difficulty of ever freeing oneself from it completely in order to recover a total sense of oneself in this amalgam of sensations, times and places.

Charo Garaigorta’s drawings emerge once one has understood that one is at the outset oriented towards understanding the cultural and social context that one is an integral part of. This in itself leads us towards wanting to transform the experience into a meaningful experience. And it is here that the origins of this series lie: to approach in a foreshortened manner our ability to assimilate what we are, our changing identity, our expectations of the future and time. Her drawings respond with a personal and fictional scenario to a time which, in turn, floats nowhere.

With the courtesy of Rekalde

[1] The title is taken from one of Esther William’s classic aqua musicals.

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