may 2, 2017
Adele: Are you a cat or a dog?
María: [laughing] I remember that! I remember reading that in Kass’s interview. I guess dog, if I have to choose one. I don’t know why though. I never had pets growing up so I guess I am not a pets person.
Ava: Can you describe your studio practice as a party?
María: There’s this term in French—I don’t know if you have it in English—petit-comité. Do you know what that means? It’s when you invite only your besties and there’s like 5 or 6 people hanging out and the music is really quiet.
Ava: That sounds nice.
María: Yeah. So that’s what my studio would be like ‘cause everything is so black and white, so calming people say. It’s always tidy and clean. I just have to repaint the walls, this week, but usually it’s pristine. That couch too. I just took the cover home two days ago to wash it. All these colors underneath are too much for me.
Adele: Oh, I can’t tell if you are moving out or if this is how your studio normally is, because it’s so minimal.
María: Oh yeah, this is how it normally is.It’s just the walls that I need to paint, but other than that, yeah, that is how it normally looks. Give me a few more days and it will be [gestures with hands to show how clean].
Ava: Should we talk about romance? Or should we just talk about intimacy?
Adele: Both! we have to talk about both.
Ava: Okay. What is your idea of romance?
María: What I think is that it’s a cultural construction so it changes a lot from one place to another. I also think that we are so—in the definition of romantic love—we are so influenced by Romanticism in an 18th or 19th century that it’s hard to move away from that almost spiritual experience I guess. Do I believe in true love? Yeah. But like, what’s forever you know? Probably nothing if you believe in changes and changes affecting you. I don’t know if that answers. I am interested in the idea of longing something either from the past or the future.
Adele: Yeah, I mean is like true love, romantic? Or yes..
María: Yeah it’s so hard, all those things about romance. Because you said—do you guys mean, in relation to love or?
Ava: Did I say love? Well I guess romance we think about it in relation to love because that is obvious. But I guess if people have broader thoughts on romance?
María: Well romance means, I mean maybe I’m wrong but I think it comes from—I think romance means story.
María: Yeah. We can look it up. Because words like romancero and other words in Spanish or like the word for novel in French is roman, which means story. So, I think it makes sense to think that that is its meaning. It’s just so weird because the origin of words sometimes is so different from the meanings that we give them. And it changes. Meanings change all the time in relation to events or history, right? So I’m sure the conception of romance in the 15th century is so different from ours.
Ava: Right in our age of Tinder. The Tinder Era.
María: Yeah. I know. I’m trying to think of, of course I think faster in Spanish, but I’m trying to think of to see if there’s anything that I can think of. And if I think of romance I can only think of break-ups. I feel like, my understanding of it is that romance is what we are told romance is.
But then, there is what you experience first hand. You just don’t name things like that, right? You just don’t name your everyday life. So yeah, romance seems like something that is external to my own experience. I have learned what people say romance is. But if I love someone, I don’t need to name it like that. For example with homosexuality and things like that, I mean, do you think that people wake up and tell themselves that they are gay? Or do they tell themselves that they are gay when they are hanging out with the person they love? No. It’s just like one thing is conventions and terms and things agreed upon. And then another things is your own experience. But yeah, here’s a confession. To me, for a long time, romance was to get home, put the key in the keyhole, look at the love of my life and fantasize about making that last. It was a fantasy of this thing I longed, in a foretold breakup. Fantasizing about us making it through all the mutual emotional exhaustion was my idea of romance. Going back to the French term mentioned earlier, that was my “novel”, the love story I wanted to write with this person.
Adele: How does intimacy play into your idea of romance or, perhaps, how does it stand against it?
María: I know a lot of people use that term about my work or ‘touch’ or other terms. But then when I’m making work, I’m just making work. I mean I know how it could be talked about or what terms people could use. Even the term ‘nostalgia’—I’m working with my family archives, so of course that comes up. I just finished writing my thesis today. And so it’s like 60 pages, but there’s not that word because I don’t want it to be part of my vocabulary.
Ava: That’s not what the work is about to you?
María: There is a—nostalgia is like the term romance. It’s so biased or charged in bad ways that I don’t want to sign up to be in that club because I know I don’t want to be part of any club of any kind. So I think there’s like different levels of intimacy. There’s intimacy that you share with your family or lovers or your friends. And then there’s intimacy with oneself. For example, this is a total spoiler but the image of the hands: What do you guys see when you look at it?
Ava: I mean it’s quite ambiguous.
María: That’s kinda the point in cropping it like that. The image is my grandmother’s hands on her lap. The way I cropped it out allows for other interpretations. So, people can project whatever they want. So that’s the potential of this image: it’s so ambiguous for people that it allows that to happen. And so if you read it as two people’s hands, you can project to be the touching hand or the hand being touched. My experience is that we always tend to—or I always tend to—somehow project myself in the images I see and see if I belong there. And that’s part of working with the family archive and trying to dismantling it to generate cracks from where I can fit coming from such a rigid and catholic family where everything is about shame, guilt, sacrifice through work, and stuff like that. And, even the women’s hands project is an homage to women in a general and it aims to rethink representation of women in the broader context of photography but also in the particular context of my family in Spain of the 1950s in a dictatorship, when women were so censored. So, the question was how do I think of intimacy in relation to romance?
Ava: Do you have any interest in doing graffiti anymore or are you past it?
María: I don’t think I need to paint in a public space anymore. No, I don’t.
Adele: Do you consider the bus project a painting in public space?
María: At first, I thought it was a public art project, and that it was public art. But then I realized—and this was after riding the bus, which was so transformative to me—I realized that it has stopped being art to become just part of the residents’ lives backdrop. So it was just like an image inserted in these people’s everyday lives, and I love that.
Adele: Do you think it was ever art in these people’s lives?
María: I thought it was art before I got their perspective. But even the term public art is like what the fuck even is this. What’s public art? What’s public? What are public spaces if we are told that public means that it belongs to everyone but we all know that it isn’t ours. I have no interest in painting graffiti, but I have an interest in thinking of graffiti as one of the most interactive ways of relating your body to the city because it claims a space that isn’t yours. And that isn’t anyone’s either most times. It’s interesting to think about how graffiti writers move or navigate differently through the city because tags or throw ups or like pieces become part of the city’s map. They spread out like bus stops or street posts. And so they become points of reference in the city. I think that’s so interesting. It’s funny to think about the particular case of Richmond. Like, everything is so clean here so that means that they make sure graffiti writers aren’t welcomed here. But then they hire these muralists that make art.
Ava: Well, the last question that we are asking everyone is, when was the last time you screamed?
María: Uh, well when they approved the extension of my visa, I was like, “Fuck this shit!” [laughing] I was so pissed. I was crying and screaming and hating everything. And I called my parents and instead of supporting my anger, they were so supportive of me staying that I was like, fuck now I feel like an idiot. I scream less here because screaming in English takes more time and effort so I just tend to not say anything and silently swear in Spanish.