When T.F. picked up this work on paper at a charity auction, she knew nothing about it – she just loved the octopus.
She wrote me asking what I could find out about it, and its artist. The piece is signed by Mireia Zantop, (born in 1965 in Spain), and a little research says that the artist began her artistic life as a two-dimensional painter. But now she teaches body language and identity relations as a performance artist, specializing in action poetry.
She follows a long tradition in Spain of multi- and transdisciplinary artists, who fit the brand called Spanish Modernism.
In these times of lockdown, it is fascinating to dream of joining this artist in one of her performance pieces at La Muga Caula festival, happening in the Basque region of Spain since 2005 in early September in Catalonia. How wonderful it must be to trek out to the local waterfall, and hide in those caves, and soak in the thermal baths while seeing avant garde Spanish performance artists!
The festival, termed more of an event or happening, takes place mainly in the Basque countryside. How wonderful.
This festival of La Muga Caula, in which T.F.’s painter is formative, is an homage to the Dadaist movement, and notably one of its founders, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), one of the most fascinating geniuses in the history of modern art.
The festival of action poetry marks Duchamp’s visit to the waterfall and to the village of Les Escaules in 1965, and a performance piece takes place at the site of a photo taken of him at the “salt de la Caula,” a waterfall gorge that is the home to Paleolithic remains and evidence of habitation for 600,000 years.
What I love about my job is I get to imagine how other artists take ideas from other artists, and why, and in this case, T.F.’s artist Mireia Zantop has taken the spirit of the Dadaist movement into her work as a performance artist.
The Dadaist philosophy was that art is not really anything, and art is everything, all at once, and to prove this, they took everyday objects and “made” them into art by their significant settings, framings, unveilings and shadows. We are talking about a movement at the beginning of the 20th century when the world was reeling from World War I and its aftermath.
So the movement of irreverent art, a slap in the face to the artworld that came before and realistically represented objects, had lasting impact.
One of Marcel Duchamp’s paintings that is celebrated at this performance festival of La Muga Caula is Duchamp’s “Tu m’.” That is an interesting title; it is short for French slang for two phrases: tu m’emmerdes (you annoy me) and/or tu m’ennuies (you bore me).
This painting is a strange size, more of a mural, as it was created by Duchamp in 1918 at 27 x 119 inches and was meant to hang over a long bookcase in the home of Katherine Dreier.
Like most Dadaist paintings, this is a series of “ready-mades,” objects that are everyday things, but set into a work of art to BECOME art: a bike wheel, a corkscrew and a hat rack in Trompe l’oeil, which means that Duchamp painted these three elements realistically – with their shadows in place to create the sense of three dimensions. This painting also includes REAL objects: a bottle brush, a bolt, and safety pins.
Why does the artist of T.F.’s painting celebrate dada- style art? This is because that movement questioned the way we think about art, that art is not a thing, but an experience of how something is perceived, which is exactly what true performance art is all about.
Performance artists use a performance to suggest reality, just like Duchamp’s painting, “Tu m’,” because a performance is both an imitation and an actual event.
This festival also rejoices in another old photo, which draws a circle around the still flourishing Dadaists, a picture taken by Man Ray of Duchamp in 1968 upon his birthday: Duchamp has no head in the photo, but he holds his birthday cake between his legs. This is the irreverent spirit of the movement.
To be sitting at the dining room table, which is my office in a condo on the upper Eastside, I can only dream of attending such an event. It is meant to reach all the senses, at a Catalonian waterfall. So, T.F., this is the power of art once you start to understand its spirit. Thank you for sending me this trip!