San Sebastián

View of “Elena Asins,” 2012. Foreground: Menhir I-XL, 1995. Wall: La rotación del menhir (Menhir Rotation), 1999.

View of “Elena Asins,” 2012. Foreground: Menhir I-XL, 1995. Wall: La rotación del menhir (Menhir Rotation), 1999.

Elena Asins

Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea

View of “Elena Asins,” 2012. Foreground: Menhir I-XL, 1995. Wall: La rotación del menhir (Menhir Rotation), 1999.

Elena Asins first began exhibiting her work in 1960 at the age of twenty. Yet despite her long-standing presence in the Spanish art world, she can still be considered an outsider in the sense that she has tended to ignore the prominent trends of her time. In the 1960s, when a murky informalism and Pop-inflected figurative painting quarreled for supremacy in postwar Spanish art, she and a few others turned toward a constructivist method that found its roots in the work of artists such as Jorge Oteiza and Pablo Palazuelo. But Asins soon ventured even farther outside the mainstream with visual poetry and informational art and by employing the computing strategies she studied at the Centro de Cálculo of Madrid’s Universidad Complutense and other universities.

Over the past decade or so, Asins has kept a very low profile, returning to the public arena only last year, when the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía organized a beautiful and thorough survey of her work. “Topaketa berankorrak” (Late Encounters), her recent exhibition at Koldo Mitxelena, offered a more modest but still illuminating account of Asins’s art. While it included few of her acclaimed drawings and prints, the show brilliantly shed light on her use of the moving image and on her sculpture. This elementary selection of works seemed to perfectly represent a career that systematically rejects artifice in its painstaking search for the absolute, allowing the show to focus on the struggle between her incisive speculations on time (explored through moving images) and a more physical, sculptural approach. An example of the latter, an array of forty lacquered wood menhirs with small formal variations, greeted viewers at the show’s entrance. The former could be found in the symmetrical rooms at either end of the exhibition space, where projections of rhythmically permutating sequences of geometrical patterns evoked musical scores.

Asins’s work revolves around research into the fundamental topics of seriality and sequence. The objects she creates are not the end goal of her quest but only evidence of an intellectual process. Single, free-standing sculptures thus function only within the context of a larger structure, where they occur in symmetric intervals as temporal units in a dynamic flow. Nor is the visible world a significant source for this work, because what is at stake in it transcends the perceptual, just as its accretive and evolving formulae are independent of the will to narrate. It would be reductive to label her practice Conceptual art, but—to an even greater extent than the work of many of her colleagues in the 1960s—her art truly occurs within the unyielding walls of the mind.

Yet references to the abstract structures of music and architecture do emerge in both the sculptures and the projections. Asins stresses the importance of a mathematically rooted praxis that turns the spatial experience of her work into a temporal one. When addressing the rhythmic intervals in which her sculptures are displayed, for instance, she declares that they are “extensions that occur one after the other instead of standing one next to the other.” The concept of representation is systematically overshadowed by the will to experience the complex development of a mental process. Therefore, thinking is unequivocally triumphant over the senses, for, in Asins’s dogma, ideas are always there, regardless of our capability to apprehend them.

Javier Hontoria