Murcia, Spain

Jesús Martínez Oliva

Sala Verónicas

The first thing one saw upon entering the central nave of the eighteenth-century Verónicas church was a sort of square-shaped, wall-like construction, flanked by two lower horizontal ones stretching back at an angle. Behind these, a light flickered and confusing sounds could be heard. On closer inspection, one discovered that the structure formed by these squares was made of green boards taken from desks of the sort used in Spanish schools. On the other side of the “wall,” it became clear that the light and the sounds were coming from three videos being projected on screens attached to the legs of the desks. In Impossible Is Nothing (all works 2005), the first projection, to the left, there was a video loop in which the logos of sports brands like Adidas and Nike could be discerned, along with their slogans (in English): IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING and YOU ARE FASTER THAN YOU THINK; and, in Spanish, DESAFIAR, CONTROLAR, ASCENDER, DOMINAR (challenge, control, rise up, master). The fast-paced background music suggested a nightclub. The second screen, in the middle, showed a group of teenagers doing risky and dangerous stunts on powerful motorcycles (Carreras de motos). Their tricks attest to their control and macho arrogance. On the third screen, to the right, was Masletà (Stunt), which showed a city square full of smoke. The sound was deafening, the smoke caused by firecrackers and fireworks—again, the work of would-be tough guys. The three screens were fastened to the structure made from the school desks.

Additionally, in a lateral nave, Martínez Oliva put up children’s drawings in which gender identification was unconditional: The girls drew feminine figures; the boys, masculine ones. There were also photographs of classrooms in which desks like the ones used in the installation are seen, as well as drawings made by Martínez Oliva that show the students’ work tables transformed into networks, grids, and geometric shapes—implies that the school is a place for regulation of behavior as well as for education—for inculcating uniformity and adherence to norms.

Visually suggestive and conceptually complex, Martínez Oliva’s work raises issues of pedagogy, anthropological ritual, and gender. The installation with the three square panels constitutes a sort of altarpiece, situated in an art center that was formerly a church, a platform for the promulgation of rules and mores. Likewise, male domination does not occur spontaneously but is forged by social rituals. In today’s consumerist environment, the slogans of multinational corporations, conveying such ideas as challenge and speed, serve as drugs in the process of learning a violent masculinity. These advertising messages are aimed mainly at boys, and they enjoin various forms of masculine display—for instance, the motorcycle races, which almost never feature women drivers. The motorcycle is a substitute for the phallus. As suggested by the square (both symbolic and real) formed by the desks, even an abstract language may not be so innocent. This ambitious installation is a tour de force that encourages reflection. Education in gender norms happens at school and then affects daily life, including leisure time and popular festivities that are, in the end, encoded rituals.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.