A glimpse of the hedonism of post-Franco Madrid: La Movida @ HOME
The art installation of this year’s ¡Viva! Festival promised to be “contradictory, confusing, eclectic, invigorating and hopefully a little bit out of control”, which perfectly encapsulates my experiences on a drizzly Thursday night at HOME. And relinquishing control in favour of honest expression is exactly what this exhibition achieves—a true batiburrillo (a Spanish word, translating more or less to ‘mishmash’) of the cultural and artistic reactions of a nation shaking off decades of repression that had dematerialised practically overnight. La Movida attempts to give Manchester a snapshot of the enormous wave of creativity flooding out of Spain in response to this sudden freedom—from pop culture to pornography.
Outstanding pieces for me involved watching the infamous 4chan ‘Shrek is life, shrek is love’ video whilst an actor dressed as Shrek intently watched me doing so from mere inches away, and Bruce LaBruce’s contentious photo series Obscenity. The former is a well-known reference from internet subculture, often hailed as a metaphor for the exploitation, or even abuse, of the child by popular media and culture, only made creepier by an omnipresent, and somewhat threatening, real-life Shrek rendering the whole experience of taboo voyeurism as cyclical and as uncomfortable as it should be. Obscenity presents the underbelly of fetish and fantasy in an opulent, decadent and unashamed manner, fearlessly incorporating religious imagery alongside full-frontal nudity. I found it encouraging to see subcultures too often smeared as solely seedy to be so seamlessly enmeshed with high art imagery in a entirely unapologetic manner.
The opening night involved three performance pieces, the first being La JohnJoseph’s cutting and witty comment on modern society and communication 2D Joan. This was followed by Oreet Ashery’s Monkey Bum Factory, which, in spite of how ridiculous it initially sounds, was rendered oddly entrancing by the artist’s complete indifference to their surroundings, going about their business with the calm matter-of-factness of someone completing their daily routine. I, personally, who can imagine nothing more panic-inducing than having my naked arse painted and printed onto a canvas for someone to hang in their home, was both perplexed and impressed by the complete normalcy with which the participants carried out their task. Having dragged several friends along with me in order to protect myself from small talk and lone-drinking, one was significantly miffed at not having the opportunity to print his own derrière, showing the La Movida spirit to be as relevant to 2017 Manchester as it was to 1980s Madrid.
An hour and a few pints later, we headed up to Theatre 2 for the final performance of the event, Alejandría Cinque’s After, only to be told at the door that we couldn’t take our drinks in and there was no re-admittance, resulting in about 25 adults desperately chugging pints of cider and £8 G&Ts in the classic British spirit of “waste not, want not”. Gassy and to no small measure perturbed, I found myself seconds later being led by hand through a pitch black room by a man in a disorientatingly bright head torch and being told to sit on the floor in a corner, during which I lost half of my group and accidentally sat on a stranger’s leg and three plug sockets. Set up with three projectors and large screens, two central stations of lighting rigs and cameras and the audience huddled in a circle on the floor in a nervous silence, the doors were shut and—for better or worse—we were in it together for an hour. And what an hour it was, beginning with Cinque cutting up pills over a soundtrack of driving techno and distributing them to the audience one at a time, fake pills of course, but real-looking enough to confuse the man sitting next to me to near hysteria. Following this, Cinque walked us through the various pop-culture and personal references on his journey to coming to terms with his sexuality and gender identity. A delight for a fellow 90s kid, the audience chuckled and nodded along with the Sailor Moon, Spice Girls and Britney montage, Cinque breaking down societal boundaries from the role of a young boy bullied for wearing a pink coat.
Having settled in to the apparent rhythm of proceedings, I was once more sent into a freefall of confusion when Cinque reappeared stark naked except for a torch inserted into his anus. After a slow lap of the room and several impressive yoga moves, a bright red spotlight slammed on as he took a deep squat and popped it out onto the floor. At which point, the man next to me completely lost it, sobbing and snorting into his coat in a manner that was not concealing it anywhere near as well as he had hoped, making it incredibly difficult for me to maintain my position as objective observer and not a woman trying to process someone essentially pooping a torch in front of her. After Cinque’s exit, the screens cut to a video of him masturbating and sniffing poppers in an ATM cubicle for an agonising ten minutes. At first the non-edited length of it perplexed me, but upon reflection it now seems to me that it was done in this way to drive home the humiliating realities faced by those whose sexual preferences and desires are seen as acts of deviancy. Cinque rounded off the show by pumping the room full of smoke and lasers and jumping up and down with alarming energy to yet more repetitive beats. Although a little distressing (and definitely not in the same realm as my average night out), I could see from the artist’s journey through self-expression exactly how Madrid and its nightlife came to be the modern city I love—a haven for free expression and unashamed creativity for all.
I emerged slightly shaken, achy and unwilling to make eye contact with any of my friends for a good ten minutes. We headed out to the fiesta tent where we danced the night away to techno with glow in the dark hula-hoopers and a surprising number of children, street drinking à la botellón and daring each other to get our faces painted. La Movida definitely delivered on its promise to confuse and invigorate, and I can think of few other times that I have felt so happy to relinquish control. All in all, a rousing and evocative end to an incredibly well-curated and creative festival, roll on next year for another ¡Viva!
La Movida will be open until 17th July, for more information see https://homemcr.org/exhibition/la-movida/