Move from the artist Martha Rosler to the youtuber Encarni and the gags of the Morancos to the activism of Hair / Carceller. The maneuver is no small thing. Dodging the world of art to go around the broad daily atlas to end talking about it involves intelligence and cunning. Marta Sesé and Ricardo Pérez-Hita have two graduates in art history from the generation of the nineties that four years ago launched the Mental Fig, a platform of thought that has a lot of audiovisual cartography, performative conference, video sessions and cultural postproduction. The idea is to upload any hierarchy and match youtubers, elaborate documentaries, silly videos, performances and video clips. Understand, classify, order and interpret the large amount of production that exists in the world stored within YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo and other similar platforms.
The nod to Hilomental, project of Arturo Bastón and Félix Pérez-Hita is undeniable, although they pull SCUM Manifesto, the bible for feminism, which Valerie Solanas wrote in the sixties before hitting three shots at Warhol. They speak of a need to move against a certain boredom and to undo such rigid limits in the university in the way of understanding the production of knowledge related to visual culture, an area that the agenda never reaches. Like critical discourses with history or post-Internet art. "We were interested in delving into topics related to feminisms and opening a dialogue from the audiovisual using a relaxed format but also allowing us to document and learn in the process," they say.
A spontaneous session in 2014 opened the way for this project of pure visual anthropology that seeks new forms of production of cultural chaos. To prepare each session, they choose a theme and both begin to search through videos, almost always on YouTube. Later, they share the search, establish the lines of interest, structure the session and convene the meeting live with the public. Shortly after, they edit the session and hang it intact on the web. The notions of originality and even creation slowly fade into this new cultural landscape where the figure of the manager or curator is more like that of the DJ or programmer, those who select cultural objects and insert them within defined contexts. Yours are diverse, from a music bar, a bookstore, a festival or an artistic space like Homesession, the last one to live within the start of the new season in Barcelona and the Art Nou.
They know that any material can be retaken and serve as a basis for a new composition. That a true criticism of contemporary life forms is given by a different attitude towards the artistic heritage, through the production of new relationships with the cultural sphere. French critic and commissioner Nicolas Bourriaud would say of them that they are samplers, that is, a chain of recycling of sounds, images and forms that implies an incessant navigation through the meanders of the history of culture. In a moment that seems to live in an eternal deja vu, few projects like this one are so faithful to the era that they have lived. That's where Mental Fig finds an infinite space of possibilities. First, to generate new spaces to think from the images. Second, to seize all the cultural codes, all the formalizations of everyday life, all the works of the world heritage, and make them work. They explain how.
Does the mental fig fill a hole or occupy a space?
We like to talk about what spaces we occupy, and how, to fill a gap. We want that in the gaps in which we are living with many more people and initiatives. Working from feminisms, visual culture and doing it in a relaxed but settled way allows us to occupy and oscillate between different registers: from the bar, the self-managed spaces to the art center or museum. It is something that interests us a lot. To give an example, in the seventh session we did in the Heliogábal, a musical bar in the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona, we shared a poster with Ajuar, the duo that works the jota from feminism. It was a particularly quick session, with us and the audience standing. We take advantage of the presence of Ajuar to analyze a topic as prolific as tradition. The opposite of what we did two weeks later on D11, inviting Playtime Audiovisuales to the dialogue. The session, which tried to shed light on the relationship between work and gender, was extended for two hours, some videos that went around ten minutes and the frame was closest to the white cube. At the beginning of 2019, we will hold a session in the La Permanent initiative, which Roc Domingo would commission at his mother's hairdressing salon in Lleida.
Is there freedom on the Internet?
For years, certain discourses of power have been reproduced through the Internet. It is necessary to propose an alternative video account to the arrangement made by the capitalist algorithms dictated by YouTube. It is important to work with feminism from the Internet, to become aware of the politics that move in that plane. At a time like this, in which many of the discourses that run on the Net are consumed alone, without giving rise to questioning or collective debates, we think it is important to highlight the ability of Mental Fig to facilitate a meeting. And we do not stay there. We transcribe all the sessions and publish them on our website. It is a way to make the story more accessible and to rethink the discourse itself. The reason for a project like this is not found in the artistic or social context, but in the personal. In May 2014, three years after 15M, the time it took us to metabolize this new way of understanding politics, we find ourselves in this mutual interest and have built a way to channel and formalize it.
Is Higo Mental an institution? What is the art institution?
Although an article like this undoubtedly institutes us a little, Higo Mental is not an institution if we understand it as an entity with the capacity to legitimize. It is not among our objectives. What is important for us is to be aware that we are part of a mechanism that has and should dialogue and question the art institution and the role of other agents. We believe that the institution-independent binomial is one more fiction. We move in this interdependence, although we must find new linguistic frameworks that do not work from the center-periphery line or from otherness and that help us define ourselves with agency.
Do you identify with a certain scene of young art?
Observing the contexts in which we have worked, we can consider ourselves part of a young generation with which we share spaces and supports. However, within this generation we do not consider ourselves part of a scene that takes years of travel in the circuit of contemporary art. It is paradoxical, but the history of art career kept us away from our most immediate object of study. Higo Mental has grown out of what is the circuit of art through which artists usually spend defining a scene. Now we begin to notice an interest in our practice in that context. Our presence in Art Nou 2018 attests to that.
How do you finance the project?
– Understanding the economy from a feminist perspective, we are building a project in which the reproductive, the care, are at the center. The mental fig adapts to our lives, respects our work cycles and, therefore, is economically viable, since it is not and does not pretend to be a mainstay. It is a sustainable project beyond cumulative logics. Funding has always depended on the space in which the session was given. We have worked hard from self-financing, always with the help of an essential network of cooperation and cooperation. The political affinities also enable Higo Mental to happen, as is the case with the session we held in the Veusambveu feminist bookstore or the one we did in Ladyfest Barcelona. We have also done sessions in different frames where it was possible to access a budget for production and fees. We are interested in maintaining both ways of working.
Self-management and precariousness are sisters …
It is very difficult to work if your project has no commercial ambition. In the circle we know, the spaces allocate more money to beer than to the production of work. No hint of fees. It is the way for independent spaces to survive in their own precariousness. As worrisome as projects that are beneficiaries of public calls are forced to work with ridiculous budgets.
And the emergent, is it overrated?
Of course not. It is very precarious, although it can have a certain media level. Precarity, young, emerging … we are talking about a linguistic framework that revolves around an economic background that is important to point out. When we speak of the emergent we are feeding the justification of its precariousness or exploitation.
Choose a topic of urgency to take it to a debate.
We urgently open the agenda of the debate to something choral, diverse in terms of race, sexuality and class. Assume that nobody owns this agenda and that it does not have to be marked by the Anglo-Saxon world or by the institutions or by the privileged independent projects that we have the ability to enunciate. We also need strong mediation proposals that value the process before results and schedules that are not opaque. That takes time, money, conscience and political will. The choral debate that we mentioned is only possible with the repeal of the Aliens Act and other measures that must be put at the center of the debate.