Plensa: “We have become accustomed to war seeming like normality and I refuse”

Talking to Jaume Plensa is not always easy.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
13 May 2024 Monday 05:03
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Plensa: “We have become accustomed to war seeming like normality and I refuse”

Talking to Jaume Plensa is not always easy. The other day, for example, at the opening of his exhibition at the Lelong gallery, in the New York neighborhood of Chelsea, there was no way to find that moment for conversation,

When Jorge Pérez, businessman, art collector and philanthropist, does not appear, a couple appears who shows him one of his sculptural heads – “it is small in size,” the husband clarifies – installed in the garden of their house, or a young couple African Americans who praise those six individual towers (more than two meters each) composed of letters that together make up the word utopia. “They must be artists,” Plensa says modestly after hearing the congratulations.

Utopia? “I think we have to ask for everything again. And asking for everything is utopia. It's romanticism. We have to ask for everything again because we have become so accustomed to the political world that always negotiates a minimum and it cannot be that we are always asking for the minimum.”

In the list of what to ask for, it specifies several things, “that all wars be automatically stopped, that free movement be allowed to everyone, that the concept of borders and flags be put to an end”, all issues that sound today more utopian than ever.

Apart from another piece that is more of a table (given its usual dimensions), these six sculptures of letters have the characteristic that it is the first time that verticality is introduced.

“Behind it is that idea of ​​a bridge between the material and the immaterial. And I believe that language, the word, is the key for human beings to achieve that. And it is as if you made a column that you can climb, that you can go up, to touch the immaterial, the divine, something that escapes us, that is above us. And the word is the key to all that,” he says.

But this work, in addition to being original in his career, is an exception in this exhibition titled 'Silent diary', basically composed of paintings in which the letters and words of the poets are combined as a common thread. In these paintings their eternal heads are mixed with poems (T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Baudelaire, Shakespeare).

“In this world of violence, of war in so many places, poetry is more necessary than ever,” he emphasizes. “It seemed to me that it was important to show these creations in New York to tell people, be careful, poetry can be the great tool that we sometimes look for to resolve these complex dilemmas. The poet is the great inspirer of society, even though people do not realize it,” he continues.

“Sometimes we doubt whether artificial intelligence is a problem but, once human intelligence has been demonstrated, it may not be a problem. How badly we are doing it,” she laments.

“Poetry makes you live a parallel world that sometimes helps you understand reality better than reality itself. Art in that is an extraordinary territory. Sometimes it seems that we are in the clouds they say, but no, I think it is very good to be able to look at what you are doing yourself from a distance. I think art is an extraordinary instrument,” he reflects.

He maintains that all this work arose last summer, concerned about a war in the heart of Europe (and things have gotten even worse with the conflict in the Middle East). “We have forgotten what peace means because there is practically not a moment of peace in the world. “We are in a permanent war,” he points out.

That is why his drawings are expressed “almost in telegram format,” he remarks. “They are papers glued on top of papers in strips of text that I have amplified directly from the books. I have scanned the book and enlarged the text and pasted it on the paper like the strips that used to make telegrams. As if it were an urgent matter that must be communicated immediately,” she specifies.

And, as a connection with his most common work, there are heads of anonymous people that he takes from travel books. “I always try to have the presence of the human being. And I consider that the head is the great palace of dreams where real things happen. The body is like a pedestal for the head,” she argues.

He assures that people tell him that his large sculptural heads emanate peace, while here everything seems darker and murkier. “I tell them that this is like my personal diary, made with drawings. The drawing has immediacy and the sculpture has a slower reflection. The sculpture is closely linked to the world of the farmer, who plants, cultivates and has to wait for the moment of harvesting. Drawing has an immediacy almost like writing,” she argues.

But the tone is between gray and black. Pessimism? “I'm very optimistic but at the time I made all these drawings, the world seemed like it was ending. We have become accustomed to war and that hurts me a lot. We have become accustomed to war seeming like normality. And I refuse to let it be that way,” she responds.

“The entire work is an enigma and I say this as a visitor to my own exhibition. It is an interesting experience because I show some drawings that I am no longer doing. Now I am working on many stone pieces in Barcelona. I'm obsessed with the stone again. And it seems incredible that this is very light. It is an exhibition on paper,” he concludes.

He will return to 'crunch stones' as soon as his travel schedule allows. From New York he already flew back to Spain, where this Thursday he received the Ojo Crítico award for his career at the Reina Sofía in Madrid. Two days later he must be back in the United States to be named an honorary doctorate by the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.