Francisco Salas: Gabriel, the title of your projects always plays a relevant role that oscillates between being descriptive and digressive. Sometimes it even aims at hermeticism. Une énorme langue [One Huge Tongue] is the title of your recent exhibition at PM8. Why this title? What are the connections that you establish between it and your proposal for the gallery?
Gabriel Pericàs: I don’t know if I ever told you the story of the belt. I’ve had this belt for many years. It was always too long for my waist, so much that I had to loop the excess over itself so that it didn’t hang. It was bulky and bothersome but I preferred to keep it. In case I get fat, I thought. But this concern for investing in the future changed suddenly after an especially traumatic breakup with my partner of almost 6 years. Sorrowful, I thought it wasn’t worth it anymore and I cut it to the minimum fastening length. As a reminder of the need to stop worrying about the long term, I hung the cut piece on my studio wall. Like a warning, like hanging your enemies’ heads on spikes so they don’t come back. It looks like a tongue, I thought. But that is not where the title comes from. The breakup left me very sad and in an anti-therapeutic, practically masochistic act, I decided to reread A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, by Roland Barthes. A huge tongue is the monstrous figure used by Barthes to describe the lover who doesn’t cease to speak despite receiving no response. “Soliloquy makes me into a monster: one huge tongue.” When I read it I immediately identified. Personally, I desperately had attempted to discursively convince my ex-wife not to abandon me. Unsuccessfully. And generally, one could argue that a big part of my art practice has made of “talking too much” a methodology. This impulse is eminently devoted to producing something like a flux of unsolicited “discursivity”, which often disappoints as it doesn’t shed any light on the meaning of the work. So it relates to the desperate lover, but also to the figure of the heckler, for instance. Now, to answer your question, one of the exercises for this exhibition involved an attempt to sublimate such impulse into an object-production protocol and create a group of works by means of the incontinence of that monstrous tongue.
FS: Could you elaborate about this new production protocol as a guideline for those who aren’t familiar with your work? How does it articulate…
GP: I say protocol because I recently read it in a text about Jean-Luc Moulène. But I am not sure I am using the term properly. I don’t know, to my knowledge, what’s peculiar about the protocol is its inflexibility, its programmatic essence. It focuses on pre-establishing the set of conditions that the material will be put through, and hence the bulk of the discursive responsibility falls upon the conditions, not the result. It is high-yielding because one is very tolerant with whatever form it outputs. Now, as I was telling you, the show comprises a series of pieces that have been produced through an exacerbation of this discursive incontinence, to the point it became a sort of fabrication system. This gesture contributes to complicating a problem that I have been dealing with for a long time now, which is the relationship between the two main products of my practice: speech and objects. It is not new. I already used a similar strategy in one of the pieces in Elastische Luftsäulen, my first solo show at the gallery, two years ago. I’m thinking of The invisible chair (Prototype #4), 2014, which the new sculptures are a clear spin-off of. Indeed, it was a different context, where I was studying modern furniture design and I wanted to comment on its obsession for lightness maximization, which, it seemed to me, regarded materials as a burden. Around that time I saw in Los Angeles a street magician who seemed to be sitting on thin air, floating, using no chair at all. This scene reminded me of an image I had seen on a poster from the Bauhaus… I want to make the story short because I already explain this at length in Puff!. Eventually, my proposition involved fabricating and exhibiting the mechanical device necessary to carry out that trick, as a sort of caricature of that modernist effect of chairless sitting. It was intended to be a bit more complex than this but, alas, the piece wasn’t read as I expected. It was criticised as a “low blow to street magicians, who are just trying to make a living.” They said that having grown up in a place so subjected to the tourist industry I should “empathize with their cause more than anyone.” This perplexed me, of course, since neither magic in general, nor street magicians in particular, were ever too present in the development of the work. “You cannot point to an honest worker and say their means of subsistence are a fraud,” they said. In other words, it was received like a spoiler, like a malicious, unnecessary reveal of a harmless artifice. This is a very interesting misinterpretation, I thought to myself. First, I remembered Juan Muñoz making public the instructions to perform card tricks in A Man in a Room Gambling, from 1992, which as far as I am concerned is one of the best works of art of all time. The script for that piece uses fragments from the book The Expert at the Card Table by S. W. Erdnase which is such an obvious cheating handbook! Unsurprisingly, Muñoz boasts: “If I am not wrong, concealing or hiding data is punishable by law, but not however by the codes that rule the creative act.” But I realized Juan Muñoz’s approach can be appreciated as having a pedagogical undertone, being generous and offering some sort of prestidigitation literacy. Whereas my approach was seen by the critics as a basic attempt to provide material evidence to unrequestedly disabuse the public, and hence was a de facto prosecution of the trick’s executor. So, instead, I remembered John Nevil Maskelyne, a skeptical British watchmaker turned to illusionist, who in 1894 wrote Sharps and Flats: A Complete Revelation of the Secrets of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill. But his approach was also honourable: to denounce the fraudulence of those magic spectacles grounded in supposed supernatural powers the magician claimed to have. To Maskelyne, the task of the magician should combine engineering and theatricality. The goal was the temporary suspension of disbelief, not a permanent deception. And he had a resounding influence. Since the beginning of the XIX century, British colonialism had built this perception of India as an exotic and mystic place, and attempts at monetizing that image promptly followed. In 1832, a British newspaper published an engraving of Sheshal, a Brahmin who claimed to have the ability to levitate, a trick with religious nuances that was thereafter appropriated and repeated ad nauseam for money. The fascination with the very idea of a body defying gravity, fostered the great success of the levitation trick in all big magic spectacles. So much so that one can trace a genealogy of illusionists who, progressively getting rid of those mystic undertones Maskelyne denounced, have been perfecting technically and theatrically that same trick. This line culminates with David Copperfield flying onstage while carrying a member of his audience on arms. Nowadays nobody believes that Copperfield has supernatural powers, everybody knows that his success relies on a complex system of extremely thin wires, which the spectator decides to obviate, and, above all, a meticulous choreographic work. Now, the trick I saw in Venice Beach was much more modest, much less showy. You can’t say its intention was fraudulent nor that it appropriated mystical iconographies. Just a man in regular clothing holding a piece of cardboard with the sentence: “Have you fucking seen my chair?” Honestly, the prank was more amusing than impressing. I had seen variations of it before, many times, in Mallorca and Barcelona. Some were more extravagant than others. But they were humble and brave: outdoors, with no backstage, in daylight, unprotected… And it is taking advantage of such vulnerability that people try to sabotage them. You just need to go on the internet to find all these shitty detectives setting hidden cameras at the beginning of the day to record the set up of the apparatus. And I, the critics said, had become one of these stupid bigmouths who, incapable of suspending their disbelief, feel the irrational urge to reveal that “material truth.” And I guess this is how an ambiguous critique of modernism can earn you a reputation equivalent to that of a bully right-wing youtuber… In any case, even though that reaction was then beyond my original intention, for this show I decided to embrace it. I considered it an interesting problem! So I devoted some time to compiling examples of these internet users who devote their time to unveil, with more or less success and more or less evidence, these street levitation tricks. Aside from the videos I mentioned, I have plenty of photographs overlaid with stupid diagrams enlightening us with the laws of physics. You would be surprised by the effort some people put into this. So I thought it would be interesting if I exacerbated that impulse. Now, just to clarify: I don’t sympathise with their attitude. Like the comedian Stewart Lee would say: “I was going to use an exaggerated form of their rhetoric to satirize their rhetoric. And it is a shame to have to break character and explain that, but I don’t want some bigot hearing about these pieces and emailing me saying ‘Well done, bro, for having a go at those hippies!’” So what I did was I took the collected material to my hometown’s blacksmith in hopes it would be enough for him to fabricate replicas of some of those structures. The resolving ability of the blacksmith, who was able to engineer and build the ideal mechanical skeleton for each one of the various tricks I showed him, allowed me to withdraw from the responsibility of making decisions regarding the objects’ final forms. They are essentially functional pieces given that the blacksmith, who, by the way, asked that his work was remunerated with collector brass instruments I would smuggle from the United States, ignored that they were going to be exhibited as sculptures. So I guess that’s why this time I called the process a protocol, because my contribution to the work’s final result is limited to having established the sequence of rules that finally produce it. A friend told me that this strategy reminded her of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian artist who boasted of commissioning his paintings through the telephone in order to withdraw his hand from the work’s execution. So that a technical process of signal transmission, a protocol after all, coarsened his art practice. I said yes but pointed out two fundamental amendments. First, I told her, my process was more factual, since everybody suspected, and his wife, the photographer Lucía Moholy, thus confirmed it after his death, the story was just a myth: the paintings were never ordered on the phone. And second, I said, my rationale aimed for greater dishonesty. The interposition of the blacksmith’s criterion to decide the formal characteristics of the objects was not a mere gesture of withdrawal, like Moholy-Nagy would have done. It had a greater goal: that the resulting objects presented the particular, nuanced features of what has been produced to solve a problem. This utilitarian appearance would entail the maximum contrast with the way the public perceived the pieces, which is surely as a problem, at least a semiotic problem, if not an ethical one. Indeed, they have been conceived to foster confusion. For instance: essentially, they are displaced functional structures, right? almost like a ready-made, which is a resource that we agree doesn’t have much value in and of itself, but they also tend to be classified as geometric abstraction. This, of course, is due to their nudity and linear nature, but also to their color. They have all been painted with multiple coats of glossy enamel. The three are monochromatic, two are red and one is white. The volume of their many overlaying coats, which have been applied with a relatively small brush, softens the edges of the metal structure delivering certain virtuality. The gloss finish turns them into strident objects, which at the same time exaggerates this transition from concealed to exposed, and provides ambiguity, since it’s a texture that doesn’t seem to suit them. Ultimately, both their form and color have them perceived as enigmatic bodies, in contradiction with their original condition as a solution, as the unveiling of a trick. What happens is that, deprived of the problem, its solution becomes a new unknown. I see it as turning a sock inside out, an approach which is fundamental to understanding the rest of works in the exhibition, even though they have such different presence, I know. In addition to these three works, which are imbued with a sense of brutality, I have included three plinths with extremely delicate pieces. On two of them, there are vitrines which host two pieces that hung from the ceiling. They belong to this group of pieces I made in February for a show at the Abrons Arts Center in New York. Just as in the Levitation series, these also originate in the exaggeration of a gesture. And they are also the product of a cut, an operation aimed at exposing some internal mechanism. You see, when I was a teenager, computer mice, the device that allowed us to use the computer and would eventually allow us to “surf the internet,” functioned with this little gray ball that was showing a bit on the bottom, remember? You rolled the mouse around your desk’s surface, and its coordinates translated into the position of the cursor on the screen. I already used a number of these balls in a piece I did for the previous show, in which an “invisible dam” made of magnets embedded in the concrete floor of the ramp that leads to the gallery prevented a group of balls from moving downwards, keeping them trapped. Well, for the show in New York I was telling you about, I decided to dissect some of these balls in order to make sure of what was already obvious seeing their response to the magnets: that under the rubber coating, there was a steel nucleus. When my friend Irati saw this work, she told me that when she was little she used to eat the eyes of fish. In the mouth, the eye’s flavor is similar to that of the rest of the fish. The sheet of gelatinous texture that covers it promptly dissolved giving way to a second layer, with a texture identical to the normal fish flesh. Although when you bit, she said, you discovered that the eye had a hard nucleus! Under the gelatin-like coated, meaty material, a tiny, translucent sphere exists, impossible to bite into. You would normally spit it out of your mouth and discard it with the fish bones but, as a child, Irati swallowed it in order to keep her discovery a secret. In any case, the pseudo-autopsy of the mouse ball divided the object into three elements: the two halves of the rubber coat, and the steel nucleus. This somehow analytical approach was in reality a form of dwelling upon that curiosity which would push you to open the mouse’s cover to peek inside and see how it worked. I know we have talked about this many times. Indeed, it has something to do with the libido and with what desire makes us do… Anyways, once split, the parts allowed us to understand the material characteristics that made virtual navigation possible. The rubber contributed its traction, while the steel contributed its weight. In contrast with the fascination awoken by the cursor’s movement on the screen, this physicality was almost pathetic. So I wanted to exhibit the parts in order to give their dignity back. In the end, their efficacy and stealth were beyond reproach. And then, a radical doubt emerged. Such a rudimentary unblackboxing exercise, which could perhaps make sense within the field of theory or criticism, didn’t make a good art object. It resolved itself like nothing but an empty trophy. Art, I reminded myself, is not the place where one goes in search of transparency. Art is a place to administer disruption, not to boast of the conclusive ability of your method of analysis. Confronted by such a substantial doubt, I could do nothing but take those components and present them as a mere substitute of the mode of thinking that had produced them. Now they would be there only to be the object of a counterattack. One I know many regard as superbly reactionary. I literally traversed the components with an antagonistic element. An element that intervened in lieu of a thinking modality opposed to the one that made me believe that, in order to understand the mouse, it was necessary to split it open and disembowel it. Since this presumption has a clearly centripetal direction, my intervention had to function as a sort of conceptual centrifuge. Finally, I decided on the following gesture: hang the components of the dissected ball with a hair from a horse’s tail. Now, there is a simple rationale behind this decision. The hair’s physical attributes, its thickness, consistency and natural length and transparency are ideal for the sculpture’s purpose. It resembles fishing line, commonly used in bad art installations, providing thus a camouflage. However, most of the charm of this resolution is based on its apparent arbitrariness. When the attentive observer discovers the hair, the figure of the horse bursts as a confusing significant. Especially since the horse, even though most people associate it with sexual potency, is a sign spanning a broad semiotic spectrum and hence its discursive influence is uncontrollable. The title, Pendulum, refers to the look of the piece, a weighty metal body suspended from a hair, as well as to the oscillation between polarised ways of thinking. In New York, aside from some idiot who read “mouse ball, horse tail” and thought it was a joke describing disproportionate genitals, the three variations of the piece were very well received and that made me very happy. They told me that the works “posed ethical dilemmas and conceptual complexity, without it eclipsing their material formulation.” In short, they said, appreciating their formalisation allowed you to understand them and vice versa. And, after the shock with The Invisible Chair, this made me very proud and so I decided to conceive a new version of the Pendulum series. To do so, I discarded most of its specificities and clung to the following formula: (1) the opening of a mechanical system, the eviction and exposure of its internal components, and (2) the addition, with maximum dissimulation, of a foreign component attempting to go unnoticed. In other words, the (1) product of a logical thinking would be (2) parasitized by a disruptive gesture. A (1) well-meaning process and (2) a poetical boycott primarily destined to reject any symbolic capital I would benefit from upon “revealing results”. And well, once the conceptual structure was posed, I only had to replenish it. As for the mechanical system, I would use a retractable pen, a little machine whose dismemberment evoked the seemingly harmless curiosity to understand how an object works. All the pieces that the pen is comprised of have been roughly put together, forming a figure that nonetheless seems to be governed by a certain order. At the end of the pile, a non sequitur: one of my nephew’s baby teeth has been surreptitiously added. Such an emotional and singular object, so loaded with affective value! The tooth of a beloved one is forced to live together with the parts of a banal and malicious object: a pen printed with propaganda. You see, I acquired this collection of eighty promotional pens on this second hand online store and I only used those with the logo of a financial institution. On the other hand, my sister keeps all the teeth of her children. She collected them from under their pillows when they were being offered to the Ratoncito Perez, the Spanish rodent equivalent of the tooth fairy, who takes the tooth and leaves some cash in return. I guess this sort of premature transaction seems to be the justification for the pens being from banks. Although the main reason, as you can imagine, is actually the trauma provoked by the mortgage I recently got to purchase my new studio in Mallorca. I don’t even want to think about it… 25 years! In any case, one of the pens with teeth rests on the third plinth of the show. And yes, finally there are photographs on the walls. There isn’t much I want to say about them, to be honest. As a matter of fact, they were all retrieved from my cellphone’s memory in an attempt that the gallery hosted some figuration. The five, almost identical, black and white images that we placed at the beginning of the show are a sequence I took during a hike to Harriman Park, in upstate New York. We swam in this gorgeous lake and walking back to the car one of our friends put her hair behind her back, discovering a moist surface on her shirt, just where her wet hair was, on her left breast. I observed that both of her nipples had hardened despite the fact that only one, the left one, was in contact with the cold, with the humidity. Now I know this is a normal body reaction but back then I found it suspicious and decided to take a picture. Interestingly enough, the burst was an accident. The other is a picture of a white horse I took while on a trip to Mallorca. It belongs to an old friend who agreed to tear some tail hair off her horse to give it to me so I could make the Pendulum pieces I described earlier. Now, before this, I had made a first prototype using a synthetic hair I plucked from a violin bow exposed in a music store in New York. Back then I was sharing a studio in Bushwick with another artist and had the Pendulum hung from a wire coming down from the ceiling. My studio mate, trying to reach for a tool that belonged to him and that I had left on the shelf behind the Pendulum, unintentionally gave it a pull and broke the hair. That incident made me reconsider the extreme delicacy of the piece which, ever since then, I decided to exhibit inside vitrines. It also made me think it was necessary to use real horse hair. If, due to an eventuality, it broke, at least I would have the peace of mind of having done the right thing. In other words, while the risk of breaking was the same as his synthetic substitute, the horse hair possessed more truth. Does that make sense? So in a trip I made to Mallorca in 2016 I asked my friend for a little lock of hair from her horse’s tail. That day I also took some pictures of her horse, impressed by its virility. It had been a long time since I saw a horse in the flesh and I had forgotten about the majesty of these animals. Although this is not apparent in the portrait because of the dissymmetry in the position of the horse’s ears. The hair lock she, somehow reluctantly, gave me travelled with me back to New York made into a little ball. When I disentangled it I found out the hair had curled. In order to correct the curves, I placed each individual hair on a mirror, tense, held up and down with scotch tape. The mirror had a baroque frame, and so with the row of horse tail hairs aligned covering the glass, now it resembled a harp.