THE VERTICAL OF THE CHASMS.
Everything that is material vanishes very quickly in the substance of the universal whole; the memory of all things remains in an instant buried by eternity.
Meditations. Marcus Aurelius .
Everything began in a cave. Under the concave shelter of the rock, Carmen Baena began to devise a discourse in which the world she saw became the habitat of her own memory. Centuries before, Plato also imagined a cavern in which men witnessed a ghostly dance of shadows in perpetual motion. In that crackling of chiaroscuro, the chained slaves of whom Plato spoke thought they recognized, here and there, figures and forms.
Baena grew up in a cave in a hamlet called Belerda that belongs to Guadix, a village located in the northeastern region of Granada, an area dominated by an earthy landscape beneath the northern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. That place is full of concavities -they say there are more than two thousand of them- in which people have lived and live since remote times. Our artist’s childhood takes place between those arid and clay hills crowned by white chimneys in a truncated cone shape. Later, such a curious landscape, which some call “The troglodytic city”, sustained the bases of his first works in the Faculty of Fine Arts of Valencia.
Memory is that prodigious. Marcel Proust, in his monumental A la búsqueda del tiempo perdido, recalls his entire childhood thanks to the taste of a cupcake soaked in lime blossom offered to him by his mother. The connoisseurs call this lightning memories. They say that the emotional impact produced by some circumstances cause our brain to activate in a fulminant way to bring to the present facts of the past. But Baena’s memory is not born of the injection, manna of the persistent memory with which she compares each present form with one of the past. For her, silhouettes, forms, ideas constitute her universe or, in other words, the copy of a model, a spiritual reconstruction of a landscape not lost. Her eyes have seen how the entire surrounding space of the caves trembles as the light from the outside comes in. This one, architect of the hours, tinkles and moves along the clay wall, millimeter by millimeter, illuminating the hollow.
It is not surprising Baena’s curiosity about what space is, a tribulation on which philosophers, scientists, physicists and geometricians have theorized, giving rise to antagonistic concepts. In classical Greece, space was considered as one of the four constructive elements (air, earth, fire, water) of the world. Aristotle writes that “simple bodies move, from here to there, to their proper place”, establishing the concept of place. While Taoism raises the unitary resolution of the opposites: principle that explains the Being or Not Being through the ideograms of Tao Te Ching (Book of Tao and Virtue).
Following Baena’s imaginary game we can understand how a cave opens our consciousness to a new world. The world of shadows is unstable, complex, ungraspable and our mind, which never tires of narratives, finds in this mutable environment continuous propositions capable of enlivening the most dormant imagination. His works oblige us to see the reality of sensitive things by endowing them with a meaning that is easier to sense than to explain.
Until now we have spoken of space in a horizontal sense because we penetrated into the chasms that she built, but in her latest works, in poetic understanding, the sculptor brings together houses and trees. Houses with gable roofs and a central door. Houses whose schematic form has eliminated the gap between appearance and reality, between experience and knowledge. What does this statement mean? They come from the direct knowledge of the visual and tactile experience that we all have about what a house is, from the very moment when, as children, we doodle them on paper. Baena considers that the only reality we can speak of with meaning is the reality of the experiences that have always accompanied us. The first impression that is bequeathed to us and kept in memory.
Certainly when we deal with the world of perception we work from some conceptual scheme. Not even what we call our experiences are direct experiences of reality, but they are permeated by our concepts and can only ultimately refer to other experiences. All the reality we can access is the internal reality of our system of representations. We are always within them, as are our beliefs. We know that our optical experience of the world is an extremely complex dominant part of our overall experience. Baena attempts an intelligible vertebration of the real. We could argue that its logos advance on the basis of metaphors that start from contemplation. We know that contemplates the one who looks, but also the one who thinks. The platonic slave of the cave ideas a world, theorizes about possibilities. Definitions are born from theory and also precepts, contemplation is the gaze of logos. Forms, ideas, constitute our world. A world of which we can only know that it is a great cognitive spectacle. The way of manifesting Baena’s world could be explained with Gastón Bachelar’s phrase: essentially, the idea of reality consists in the conviction that any entity surpasses the immediate data (perception) or, to speak more clearly, that it will be found more in the hidden real (essence of the thing) than in the immediate data (sensitive aspect of it).
Baena’s houses are enunciated and, like everything enunciated, a representation. Even to avoid ambiguities we can argue that Baena really works on icons. All the elements on which he works start from a representation as an object that, moreover, slides towards highly symbolic interpretations beyond an archetypal meaning. It is necessary to play with certain mental structures to follow their narrative structures, the pluralism of their possible analogies decree the final incomprehensibility of the whole. In the disparate conjunction, the monism that each object possesses, is suppressed in benefit of the superior, the parts undergo a magical metamorphosis and radiate a certain mystical power. These objects, with their slides towards the symbolic, open their paths of interpretation towards the multiple, the irreducibility of the whole. Something that we appreciate when we follow the additive process of her work that has taken her, consecutively, from the cave to the house, to finally add branches, roots, trunks or sticks to it. An imaginative sequence if we understand that imagination is not a mere reflection of external images, but an activity subject to the will of the individual related to semi-conscious fantasy.
Baena vertebrates his work through serial cycles, a genuinely modern resource that implies the temporal relativization of the artistic gesture fragmented in moments. But in her series we find a rodeo intention that transmutes time into an ascending spiral. Now, our artist works with silhouettes and forms that are trees when they are not trees, branches or roots that she herself discovers in her walks through the countryside and that, in some cases, lacerate, like lightning, the Spartan geometry of the dwellings. There is a whole notion of trajectory in his criteria when describing space. A house indicates a point of location, determines the notion of place. As the centre indicates the medium, it divides space, balance and power. The house is static. However, the tree, the branch, is a path of space, the experience of movement as an emotion gestated by chance that crosses the unlimited but finite space. A tree, with its trajectory forged over time divides, limits, measures. It is like a path, it explains the psycho-physical dynamic. In addition, a tree makes us discern the difference between above and below, while the cave placed us in another dichotomy: inside-out. The tree is a symbol of the unattainable and the attainable; proximity versus remoteness. In a tree we can hang, oscillate, almost fly. We can even live like the Pampant Baron of Italo Clavino, who one day decided never to go down to the land we walk on.
In the garden of his studio Baena, he turns trees into charcoal that later become part of his pieces. With such a simple ritual he reconciles himself with old traditions. Those that attributed to the trees their own life. Because there was a time when human beings believed that cutting down a tree was a sacrilege. Fearing the forces of evil unleashed, a whole series of ceremonies were invented in which ash had to be present as an act of contrition and redemption. In this way our consciousness was appeased, sensing what we already know: the universe is in continuous combustion, things are only moments of becoming. It is possible to trace an atavistic presence -of transmutation of matter in the manner of Heraclito- in these pieces, as there is in the works that use resin, a material that scratches until it achieves the appearance of ice. They have realized, before the mud, now the fire and the water. Water that also appears in their houses furrowed by fine stainless steel rods that resembles the sperm fertilizer spilled by Zeus in the hole in the roof of the house in which his father had hidden Danae. In this conjunction of elements it may well seem that air is lacking, but some of Baena’s houses have delicate wings that make them fly. They are winged houses. Others are built on roots that have not run aground in the ground. They are aerial. Where does a house lacerated by roots go in the air? Certainly the image has something surrealistic, there is no room for more explanations: it is enough to admire them. We can only exclaim phrases like that of the famous Lautréamont: “Beautiful as the fortuitous encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table”.
The sum of all the elements makes us imagine the author as an alchemist of the poetic in search of a truth that only she seems to know. Happy artists are like that. Worlds are invented in which they live alien to the reality that surrounds us. A good creator introduces us into a more or less fabulous realm of chimeras and speculations. The creative act is not only cosmogonic but also ontogenetic: it refers not only to the universe but also to the appearance of all beings, from an embryo to an image. It is permissible for us to pursue something primitive, anachronistic in these beautiful objects that seem to unite the past and the present. As if they were symbols that cross time to bring us a message of a remote time, of legendary origin, immersed in an arcane mystery. There is something fantastic in everything she proposes, but watch out, the fantastic is not unreal but the circumstantially forgotten reality that the artist brings us closer again. The sculptor digs the well of memory in search of what we were and what we forgot. She creates and recreates the myth that we all have parked in some neural fold.
His architectural forms, whether houses or temples excavated in marble, take on a legendary value: the legendary forms of living, the houses of the soul. These dwellings, lacerated by trees and branches, show our harmony with the origin: the Tree of Life, the Cosmic Tree, that sacred tree hidden in the Center of the World through which one ascends to the heavens or descends through its roots to the underworld. And in the middle, in the center, the house, the inner being, the refuge, the states of the soul.
Cubicles crossed by branches; dry branches that can no longer be wielded at the step of the triumphant. Some have even become golden, like those that Virgil placed in the hands of Aeneas to descend to hell: “a bouquet, whose flexible wand and leaves are made of gold, is hidden in a leafy tree, dedicated to the infernal Juno. Every grove protects it and the dark valley envelops it with its shadow. But it is impossible to penetrate beneath the depths of the earth before having collected from the tree the branch of gold leaves… Aeneas, guided by two pigeons, sets out in search of the golden branch tree in the great forests and suddenly discovers it in a deep throat… Arriving at the stinking throat of the Avernus, the pigeons rise suddenly and, sliding in the limpid air, the two land on the dream place, on the tree where the reflection of gold shines and stands out on the foliage. As well as under the mists of the winter, in the bottom of the forests, the mistletoe, strange to the trees that elevate it, is reborn with its new sheets and near its rounded trunks with its fruits of color saffron, the foliation of gold appeared in the luxuriant kermes oak, and its brilliant sheets crackled to the light wind (Aeneid, song VI)”.
Crackling of dry branches, doors that open to other worlds. Let us see where they lead us.