The memory of my territory is alive in this decolonial gesture | Fresco EP#4
Chilean artist Nicolás Cox carries out direct actions in the streets of Madrid. In his works, history is present in every gesture: his main motivation is to understand that with just a body, an object, and a camera, it is possible to create the activation of the political and recovery of historical memory.
By Luciana Demichelis
Being a Latin American migrant in Spain completely changed the life of Chilean artist Nicolás Cox.
At just over 28 years of age, in Chile, he carried out actions that questioned the symbolism of memory and how forgetfulness about events like the dictatorship had changed the composition of Chilean society. But it was in Spain where his works could be presented with new narratives, where he decided he wanted to raise his voice about the colonial wound in every step that young migrants take when they arrive in that territory.
“Many of the works I create also have a significant sculptural-objectual character, as there is a clear relationship with the objects and spaces to be used,” he said. “Thinking from the body also suggests a material understanding that is conceptualized and activated based on how it is performed.”
Action ‘With a cross wielded as a weapon I point to Latin America from the center of Madrid’.
How did you begin to create these links between photography and performance?
At the moment, I find myself inhabiting Spanish territory, developing various processes focused on artistic production. I’ve been here for a year. Truth be told, I’ve never used the term performance to describe my creative practice. Instead, the expression I use to “define” my work is the word action or art action. It seems to me that “action” has a sharper, more direct component and, at the same time, sharply focuses on the event itself.
It aligns better with the practice I’m engaged in. Many people have referred to what I do as performance, and I understand why, but personally, I don’t use this terminology when I talk about and present my work. Many artists describe their practice as “performative,” it makes sense to me that they do so. In my case, in terms of terminology, I’ve always been attracted to the notion of “direct action.”
Regarding the relationship with photography, it is evident. The piece is both the action and the photograph. The execution of the gesture is undoubtedly the driving force, what needs to be done urgently, the constitutive act, and how to activate/alter the space where it occurs. It is irrefutable in its occurrence, constituting the activation of the political. But these actions are also conceived as an image; that is, they are a projection of an idea that, before being carried out, is thought about in terms of how it should be, how it should be shown, from what perspective; how this action itself is emphasized in the way it is presented; this is where photography plays a fundamental role in enunciation.
Just as it allows the action to be “transposed” so that it can be shared at another time and place, it enables a strategy in how the gesture is manifested, exposed, and combined. Another important point in the dialogue with photography is that, when exhibiting and teaching, it allows the focus to be on the gesture itself. That’s why I also use monochrome extensively, as it allows me to concentrate interest, analysis, and reflection on the action being carried out, eliminating elements that may not be important or are distracting. Black and white also disrupts the linear temporal relationship and serves as a way of framing and pointing. Ideologically, it makes sense to me to think that capitalism has “stolen all the colors” by implementing advertising logic and its fantasy world. From this perspective, I consider monochrome as an aesthetic confrontation of radical contrasts.
Many of the works I create also have a significant sculptural-objectual character, as there is a clear relationship with the objects and spaces to be used. Thinking from the body also suggests a material understanding that is conceptualized and activated based on how it is performed.
‘Book Burning’ Action
‘Book Burning’ Action
“The piece is both the action and the photograph. The execution of the gesture is undoubtedly the driving force, what needs to be done urgently, the constitutive act, and how to activate/alter the space where it occurs. It is irrefutable in its occurrence: it is the activation of the political.”
What was the first situation where you realized your condition as a Latin American migrant?
I should start by saying that I position myself as an anti-nationalist, and the notion of a homeland has never made sense to me. I understand the idea of a country as an institutional imposition organized through powers that work to uphold the interests of the dominant class. It has nothing to do with the people who inhabit a territory and their customs. Symbols of “unity,” such as a flag, are signs of oppression and punishment, raised to reproduce logics of subordination and forced homogenization, linked to a supposed “identity” that serves a state utility. However, I understand that many people stand up and use their symbols for liberation from dominant states with imperialistic intentions.
Living in Europe is a cultural shock, and Spain, with its direct, living, and ongoing colonial relationship, exacerbates this. From there, I have felt more identified with “Latin American” because it is a way to understand more complex and broader identity roots. Being here becomes a political position from which you are perceived and also self-perceived. European institutionalism, Westernized and white, classifies the bodies that make up the social landscape in a racist manner, linking colonizing axes. I have used the symbolic degree found in Madrid to develop my work here because it is a city where the signs of power converge: the palace of the monarchy, Christian cathedrals, the RAE building, monuments to the “discovery” of America, and more.
For example, Spain’s national holiday is on October 12th, called the Day of Hispanity. This date is when Columbus arrived in the “New World.” Celebrating this date festively is undoubtedly a violent act th
‘Diameter of the crown of the Spanish Royal Crown’ Action
Who are your influences? Have you exhibited alongside any artists you admire?
Many artists’ works resonate with me, finding alignments at ideological, thematic, and conceptual levels. By that, I mean artists inscribed in “art history” and peers. In recent years, I have had the opportunity to connect with artists whom I consider friends and colleagues, and I am enthusiastic about their work. We have converged in communication and collaboration spaces, both within and beyond what could be understood as “the art space.” I believe that the execution of an artistic intention should be aligned with how one navigates daily life, reflecting positions consistent with one’s ideological interests, manifesting in the works and in all their diverse dimensions.
How do you think the relationship between photography and artificial intelligence will evolve? What are your hopes and concerns for this evolution?
Well, that’s the big question. The truth is that today, after a few months of the emergence of programs like Midjourney or Dall-E 2, which seemed to replace photographic images taken with a camera, I see that they coexist. They are images with different characteristics. The relationship can continue to be like that in the future, maintaining some of its characteristics today. I distinguish between those created with these types of programs and traditional photographs. I don’t believe one will replace the other; it will be somewhat dialectical. I hope that it expands and serves to explore things that may not be possible due to the limitations of the camera technique.
For example, I have combined things in the images I created that couldn’t be done with a camera. I gave the program even contradictory instructions, including photographic techniques, as if I were setting up the camera to take a photograph, and it gave me some interesting results. So, that could be interesting.
As for concerns, they wouldn’t be about photography but more general and related to human labor, working conditions, and the growth of inequality or a transfer of wealth to even more concentrated sectors. I believe that is one of the dilemmas presented by AI. But that is happening whether there is AI or not.
‘Composition of the Chilean Flag’ Action
An artistic intention must correlate with how daily life is resolved, presenting positions that align with one’s ideological interests expressed in the works and in all the diverse dimensions.
What are you working on now?
At the moment, I am in the process of creating and resolving several works. I dedicate myself to thinking, building, and executing multiple pieces simultaneously. They are individual pieces, each with a specific form of conceptualization and logic, although clearly, they are all connected by “thematic” or rather ideological factors. They are enunciated from a position.
I think persisting with these issues is necessary because mentioning something once doesn’t solve it. It’s where the forms and tactics of language change to generate different procedures that lead to new approaches or questions. The works occupy different configurations in language, determining how they are conceptualized and their sensitive structure. Each presents different discursive/narrative forms that work within their reasoning while simultaneously dialoguing with each other.
All the works are carried out from a standpoint consistent with libertarian ideas. Most of the works I’m currently creating are actions and photography, but I’m also working on some pieces based on the appropriation of archives and their recontextualization, as well as objectual intervention and the occupation of spaces. The body of work in progress questions the subversion and re-signification of symbols and signs of power, political-historical memory, both in Chile and Spain and the anti-colonial stance.
Currently, I am developing some exhibitions that are coming up in established art spaces, residencies, and spaces much more linked to self-management outside what is understood as the art circuit.