Rosa Martinez, 2007
Maider López’s participation in the 2005 Venice Biennale, together with recent projects in Rotterdam, Budapest, and the United Arab Emirates, has firmly established her as one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Basque art. López’s work is commonly associated with Post-Minimalism, due to her effective transfer of Donald Judd’s notion of an art that is “neither painting nor sculpture.” Since receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Universidad del País Vasco in 1998 and a master’s degree from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London in 1999, she has maintained an ongoing relationship with the public art center Arteleku, in San Sebastián, that conceptually sustains her creative stance. Although she started out from a fundamentally pictorial background, she has developed a multiform artistic practice in the past decade that challenges the classical hegemony of separate disciplines and expands her field of action to the social sphere.
In her earliest work, López created interventions in which the disguised, dissimulated transformation of the spatial geometry of the exhibition site became the work itself. Whether by modifying walls, floors, or windows, creating indoor and outdoor furniture, or transforming an entire architectural structure, the artist put new accents on the iconography and syntax of the site. Examples include the awnings added to the balconies of La Casa Encendida in Madrid (Toldos), 2003 and the modification of the floor of the Italian Pavilion in Floor (Suelo), at the 2005 Venice Biennale through the deployment of wooden platforms with multicolored junctures, which, integrated into the existing architecture, renovated it both functionally and aesthetically. In Sala 306 (2007), López turned one of the “classic” rooms on the third floor of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao into a “Frank Gehry” room: the square floor plan was turned into an organic petal shape through the addition of curved walls, while the central cube (a lightwell that brings light from the skylight down to the second-floor gallery below) was clad to become a curving column that narrowed as it rose to become part of the skylight. Using the visual rhetoric associated with Gehry, López challenged the concept of authorship and became a chameleonic and ironic mimic of the architect. As Sergio Rubira has commented, camouflage, disguise, being, and appearance connect López’s oeuvre to the multiple strategies of the simulacrum.
López also creates actions in which the protagonists are citizens who participate, knowingly or unknowingly, by interacting with the urban or rural landscape. López recruits her protagonists through public calls for participation published in the press or distributed by post. The apparently absurd situations she creates in these works are driven by a subjective and humor-infused logic that establishes new visual games with the context while revealing the playful and critical potential of collective participation. In Ataskoa (2005), hundreds of motorists were summoned to create a monumental traffic jam on Mount Aralar in Navarre. “Why do I take this contemporary event in city life to surroundings in which traffic jams do not occur? To create an act of stupidity, a waiting for Godot, a provoked innocence,” says the artist. In Beach (Playa ), an apparently ordinary summertime beach scene was gradually interrupted by the fact that all the swimmers were carrying red towels, which, when stretched out on the sand, appeared to turn the beach into an abstract checkerboard. The artist captures these scenes in photographs, books, videos, installations, and even consumer objects such as t-shirts and posters. Beach, for example, “performed” in Zumaya in August 2005, was documented in a series of photographs and a book published in 2006.
Four works created in 2007 tesitfy to the expansion and consolidation of López’s creative thought that year: Crossing, Dunafelfedés. DunaDiscover Football Field, and AdosAdos, created in Rotterdam, Budapest, Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), and Bilbao, respectively. In Crossing, a series of ninety-two snapshots, López documented the irony of urban randomness by photographing passersby whose clothing matched the color of the building he or she was passing by. Surprising and exhilarating, the resulting dissolution of form and color alludes to a hypothetical identification between movable sign and context.
This identification and dissolution of the subject with the city is also present in Dunafelfedés. DunaDiscover, a mass action that took place on the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest. Hundreds of participants were placed at a distance of one meter from one another and given dark green umbrellas that mimicked the color of the River Danube below. Opened at the same time, the umbrellas caused the bridge to “disappear” when viewed from the air, unifying the citizens with the water in order to underscore the importance of this hydrological source in metropolitan life.
In Football Field, staged at the Art Square in Sharjah, the perfect geometry of a soccer field was painted onto the pavement in red lines. The existing urban furniture—lampposts, benches, and so on—remained in the middle of the field, between the two goalposts, where they were sure to interfere with any play carried out on the field. By overlaying this recreational use onto the square’s multifunctional structure, López created new interactions in the form of coexistence. The sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre remarked that social spaces cannot be conceived of and imposed by power; rather, they emerge when used by citizens and, above all, when physically and symbolically reinvented by them. Hence works of art can contribute to the aesthetic questioning of the urban landscape and the reinvention of the concept of citizenship, which is what artists such as Krzysztof Wodiczko and Franz Erhard Walther, like López, have done, to varying degrees and from different perspectives.
The series of photographs titled AdosAdos documents an action specifically conceived for the Members of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao on the occasion of the institution’s tenth anniversary in October 2007. Participants were invited to expand the museum and create a gallery that could be seen from outside the building by arranging “titanium” plates—pieces simulating the titanium sheets lining the exterior of the museum—according to a spatial and logistical schema conceived by the artist. As participants transported these simulated plates, the artist noted, “a movable architecture, nonexistent until the Members’ arrival, was configured, creating a fleetingly temporary wall, since a space was created for a few minutes that disappeared when they changed positions again.” The visual association with the defensive architectures constructed by military battalions huddling their shields together, or with the mosaic tifos created by fans at soccer matches when each person holds up a piece of colored paper to create a unitary image, here took on new meaning, alluding to the role of citizens who endow a museum with civic and social content and construct it in a symbolic sense.
As Jaime Iregui has noted, Lefebvre identifies three basic, interrelated types of social space: spaces conceived by the State and designed by urban planners; spaces inhabited by residents through symbols, images, and exchanges; and spaces defined by citizens through their itineraries and everyday networks. López’s work can be situated in relation to these latter two modalities, since the artist starts out from preexisting spatial designs and uses scenarios in which citizens represent their routine roles, at times circumscribed to the quick, determined transit between their places of work, housing, or recreation and generally aimed at the consumption of the programmed meanings for which institutions act as a vehicle. Conceiving public spaces as a visually dynamic and symbolically modifiable support, López simultaneously plays with the formal aspects that enhance their function as places for meeting and socializing, distancing them from disciplinary movements and the habitual flows of production. Her work interrupts routines, shakes up institutionalized representations and interpretations, and becomes a platform for collective celebration. It is an effective form of aesthetic, cultural, and political exploration that joyfully indicates other possible forms of coexistence in which humor can and must play a fundamental role.
(1) Donald Judd.
(2) Sergio Rubira, “¿En qué se diferencia el camuflaje del disfraz?”, in Maider López ( in collaboration with the Regional Government of Gipuzkoa, the Basque Government, and Galería Distrito Cu4tro 2005).
(3) Maider López, in Maider López, p. TK.
(4) Henri Lefebvre, La production de l’espace (Paris: Anthropos, 1996).
(6) Jaime Iregui, “Los espacios del espacio público,” Dossier Zehar 82/83, Arteleku, Donostia-San Sebastián, 2005.