Azucena Vieites

Fúcares Madrid

The most startling thing about this exhibition of drawings by Azucena Vieites is just how hard they are to see. The pieces are fragmentary and incomplete, sometimes positively minuscule. At first glance, the viewer may not understand exactly what is being shown. The object, figure, or landscape—to name some of the motifs that interest this artist—is not looked at directly; rather, it invites sidelong glances, indirect ways of looking. Vieites does not believe in an all-knowing frontal vision.

Vieites draws inspiration from our image culture. Felt-tip pen in hand, she makes use of music magazines, feminist and queer publications, fanzines, catalogues, CD covers. From this material, she chooses partial images and traces them onto paper, usually in black but sometimes in color. But she is not simply mimicking or copying; instead, through her transformations she resignifies these images, giving them another visual and semantic meaning.

There is, in this work, a certain mistrust of the single, absolute image and of linear narration. Drawn nonchalantly, her stories are not told in a direct, orderly fashion, but rather insinuated with knowing winks, as it were—through signs, outlines, and faces whose features are blank or crossed out. Vieites instills in the viewer a desire to find out more, to delve into the work. It takes an effort to reconstruct the narrative logic. Vieites seeks a demanding, curious audience that really knows how to look, one that is open to something different from the spectacular work she finds so abundant in today’s art world.

Women abound in this universe of affection and sentiment. There are women from music groups like Les Biscuits Salés (these “salty biscuits” are four female musicians from Barcelona) and Feria (a trio that grew out of Les Biscuits) and from the art world (artist and fanzine editor Cathy Lomax, who directs the Transition Gallery in London, for example, or the bold Basque artist Itziar Okariz, who lives in New York). Vieites makes reference to these women in her drawings by including their names, the titles of their songs, and so on.

In some of her works on paper, Vieites has tried to depict things that don’t really exist. Since she uses icons taken from innumerable sources, she doesn’t represent a single reality but rather a hybrid. One of her recurrent sources is the Spanish record label Austrohúngaro, which produces much of the alternative and eclectic music Vieites loves so much. This label appeals to young nonconformists with a sense of humor; it represents a music—and a lifestyle—at the margins of mainstream culture. It is not surprising, then, that Vieites’s work is not limited to drawing. In collaboration with artist Estíbaliz Sadaba, she has worked on zines, videos, seminars, and other projects with the Basque collective Erreakzioa, which she and Sadaba founded in 1994 as a platform for artistic, cultural, and activist practices in relation to art and feminism. At the same time, she’s continued working as an individual artist, though one who does not believe in overblown and grandiloquent art—an art that she resists.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.