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Reinterpreting our signs and symbols – Marina Vargas – “La muerte por las manos” Madrid
February 6, 2014
Life and death have always been closely connected and their symbols are always present. La muerte por las manos (or Death by Hands) titles the new exhibition by Marina Vargas at the Galeria Javier Lopez in Madrid. It is not a gloomy and dark exposition, as you might expect from a show that makes you aware of your own mortality, but is instead full of light and reordering. The latest works of Vargas are part of her reinterpretations and appropriations of symbols and signs for our contemporary society.
Galeria Javier Lopez’s new art director and curator Fer Francés has commissioned Vargas’ work for the new and spacious gallery. The building was designed by Vicens and Ramos, who tried to create an organic dialogue between architecture and landscape. The name of the exhibition, La muerte por las manos, was inspired by Miguel Hernandez’s poem Me sobra el corazón (Spare me the Heart). There are different ways to interpret this poem she explains; The first is ‘too much heart’ and the second ‘no more need for the heart’. Already hinted at in the title, interpretation is key to Vargas’ work.
Different interpretations are exactly what the young Andalusian artist is interested in. Her work focuses on the reinterpretation of signs and symbols. Signs give the direction, but symbols are always there, she says. Her work questions the religious origins of signs and appropriates them for herself and for us. However, her work does not claim any universal truths nor tells the viewer what the values of signs are, but rather she offers an alternative interpretation.
Considering the title of the show, one could imagine dark undertones, but the focus lies on the hands. Asking her about her techniques and working style, she simply shows me her hands. Preparing for the exhibition, the clay and other materials have distressed her hands, but she shows them proudly. Friendly yet shy, Vargas begins to smile as she talks about her hands and what they have been through. Her new exhibition also emphasises the notion of hands as well, referring precisely to the process of creating the works of art. She explains that her work is very physical and through the work with her hands she creates a connection and energy. She feels that her work is alive when she works with it. For her the exhibition marks the funeral and the time to move on to the next project.
Working with painting, sculpture, drawings, photography and installations, Vargas does not restrict herself concerning her creative output. However, most of her work is related to themes like life and death, as well as its signs and symbols. It is the negotiation between these opposites that makes her work exciting. She always works with symbols and signs in one form or another, this again being the case in her latest exhibition. This time though, she incorporates new materials. Old simple prayer rugs from Morocco have become canvases for her painted hearts. She borrows religious symbols and signs from Catholicism and Islam, in order to create a reordered collaboration. The interesting aspect is that she uses real and existing objects that already have deep religious connotations. In her previous work she would create these objects entirely herself. Through the paintings of these prayer rugs, she breaks their original meaning and provides them with a new and reordered set of characteristics. Interestingly though, the objects do not have an ultimate significance. This seems quite postmodern, but it isn’t entirely. The meaning depends on the interpreter; concrete interpretations as such are not the main focus here. Instead the major purpose of these works is the questioning and the transforming of the object’s original meaning.
Over the last few years the young Andalusian artist Vargas had various solo shows and participated in numerous group exhibitions that took her to New York, Milan, Casablanca and Havana. She has even received various prizes, such as the Antonio Gala Foundation award. Her work often features figures and lines that relate to human instinct and worship, life and death, sexuality and violence, fear and love. Often her works bear a strong feminine sense within them. But she is not a feminist per se, she explains; although she appears to be a calm but confident person, she becomes passionate when she talks about her work. The strong feminine presence in her works is far from being feminist. Her works are not emotional and political, but passionate.
An example of this female presence can be found in the piece Piedad Invertida o La madre muerta (La Piedad Reversed or Dead Mother). In this inverted pieta, Jesus is holding the Virgin Mary. Although he has her heart in his hand, she is the prominent figure in this sculpture. Sometimes the way you died is more important than the way you lived, Vargas explains. According to the bible the Virgin never dies, but Vargas puts her dead in the arms of her son. This is what her work is about. Although she uses religious imagery and symbols, it is not only religion that interests her and gains prime importance in her work. It is rather about being religious – a form of imagination and magic. Images have a long history of being used sacredly, however, over time these symbols change. Vargas aims to capture and visualize this transformation.
Marina Vargas’ exposition runs until 12th February 2014. In the same year she is planning to collaborate with the CAC, the Contemporary Art Center in Malaga. It is not surprising that symbols and signs will continue to play an important role, one of her recent interests is the tarot. Vargas wants to create and design her own set of over-sized cards; designing everything from the shape to the numbers and the look of these cards. After all, Vargas clarifies; it is the artist who is the medium.
Words by Peter Schimke
Marina Vargas: La muerte por las manos is on at the Galeria Javier Lopez, Getxo, 12 B, 28023, Madrid and finishes February 11, 2014 for more information – es.galeriajavierlopez.com