Concentrated spaces. The fragility of humans

[leer en español]

Francisco Carpio Olmos: “From the moment we get up and until we go back to bed, we’re subject to continuous risk from life and destiny.”

During lockdown, our relationship with the space that has provided us shelter for almost three months has developed in such a way that it now seems to form a part of us. Inhabitant and habitat have merged, compressing routines and lifestyles through forced discipline into a paused automatism akin to what some might imagine as life in a convent.

Meanwhile, the rejection of physical contact learned through the strict imposition of these new habits has opened up an inner dialogue of intimate soliloquies, disrupted only by the distraction of online connections. Aside from the social need for information, the experience has shown us that humans are capable of surviving in isolation.

The dizzying pace of our former lives remains. They were put on hold and this pause might well have provided us the opportunity to reassess how our present impacts on an uncertain future, now conditioned by the perpetual risk of infection.

How does lockdown affect the way in which an artist approaches their work? Many confess that they need the street, bars and relationships to create. How will it affect the art world and artistic trends? It seems that this new world will be shaped by these psycho-sociological considerations. What challenges do we face as creators and audiences in this new, post-emergency situation? The challenge of overcoming that most terrible threat that could leave us paralysed or even trigger our extinction: fear.

To answer these questions, we’ve spoken to the poet, painter, Fine Arts lecturer and art critic, Francisco Carpio Olmos.

How has lockdown affected your work, your creative approach and, in general, how do you think it will affect the arts and the art world?

I’m a person who occupies a border region between creation and theory. My work and activities as an art critic and exhibition curator or university lecturer situate me in a more theoretical terrain, yet at the same time I’m also an artist and share my personal projects via Instagram. Lockdown has affected my literary activity very specifically. As it happens, I presented a new book of poetry at Just Mad Fair, with Ediciones Fuera de Carta, with Patricia Mateo and José Luis Lopez Moral. It’s the sixth poetry collection I’ve published and as part of a project in which they work on books by artists, they started a new collection with me on texts and writings. The edition 00 is a poetry collection of mine entitled Rimbau fue la primera estrella de Rock. It’s a really exciting project. The book was going to be presented in March at an art gallery or bookstore but lockdown put a brake on that. As a critic and art theorist, my work has cut back to two collaborations. For me, I think like most human beings, whether or not related to the creative arts, this has been a time of reflection, thought, introspection. This pandemic has made us see that technology, which is necessary and indispensable, can also be very deceptive. I think technological developments had led human beings to believe that we were almost omnipotent. Yet it has only taken a near-inert microorganism to literally shake the planet. I mean, as human beings we’re very fragile: we’re flesh, bone, blood and muscle, we’re beings that from the moment we get up and until we go back to bed, are subject to continuous risk from life and destiny. It has been interesting to see how this has made us reassess the need to consume culture and art. During lockdown people have read a lot, seen movies, listened to music, travelled virtually to museums and art galleries. This goes to show that art and culture are essential; they’re not the unnecessary luxury which governments or the powers that be would sometimes have us believe, and that’s positive.

What challenges do we face as creators and audiences in this new, post-emergency situation? 

Certain formats will have to change, we’ll move towards online, digital communication. This has an upside but also a negative impact, as the physical, material, human communication of art in situ is lost. But it’s something which should happen in combination with more classical formats such as museum, gallery or studio visits.

A message of hope on the transformative capacity of art even in the tough, present-day situation.

Art is something indispensable, inherent to human beings, intrinsic to them. Theodor Adorno, the Frankfurt School philosopher, wondered whether poetry was possible after Auschwitz. I’d answer the same: yes, more than ever. After barbarism of that kind, it’s even more important, more necessary to show that we’re not only that, we’re not only barbarous but also thinking beings who feel, produce and create. I also recall a poem by Bertolt Brecht which speaks of poetry as something necessary in the darkest of times. And I do think we’re living through dark times in many senses. Although technology can trick us into believing otherwise, in terms of thought, solidarity, justice, these are not good times. Gerhard Richter, the great German painter, said that art is a way of explaining the inexplicable. Human beings ask questions and seek answers. So art will continue to be important, to make us even more human. I’d also like to emphasise something which, as a teacher, I experience in my day to day and that’s the inadequate artistic education provided by regulated, academic settings. From nursery school, humans’ creative capacity in visual arts, music and movement is gradually curtailed. And in higher education, artistic and cultural content is increasingly lacking. It’s important that arts education improves. If regulated and official curricula tend to eliminate it, then it will have to be institutions, museums, galleries, the art sector and artists who address that mistake. I’d emphasise the basic human need for artistic and general education.

Photography: Oscar Rivilla

Translation: Rebekah Jane Rhodes

Music: Dr Symptosizer

Art direction: Oscar Rivilla&Carolina Verd

Hair&Makeup: Sara Trueba

Location: Alfredo Velasco´s studio at Calle Carnero 1, Madrid


Main Picture: Blouse by Les Coyotes de Paris; pants by Local ; sneakers by Golden Goose courtesy from Pez tienda

Photo 2: Jacket from Forte Forte; top by Humanoid; pants by Forte Forte courtesy from Pez tienda

Photo 3: top de Roberto Collina; pantalón y zapatos de Masscob cortesía de Pez tienda

Photo 4: top by Humanoid; pants by Masscob courtesy from Pez tienda