Grasp the essence, the beauty, that subtle, silent movement that creates the magic. Harmony, grace, elegance even in chaos, in what appears ugly on the surface but which actually opens our eyes to what really is. And then nature. The oldest teacher of life who shows us and accompanies us if we ever really want to. And the great works of the past as well as contemporary writers, reflections, roots that are intertwined in various expressive forms, many, fascinating. Irene Fiestas artistic universe is all to be discovered with wide open senses ready to welcome new nuances, to deepen evocations of history that tickle memories of what we were, of what we are and of what we decide to be from now on.
Why did you decide to dedicate yourself to art?
Before, I was doing something else, then at 26 I felt this need to paint that up until that moment I was only expressing as a self-taught person. It all took place in a series of synchronic events that led me to this profession. In 2010 I decided to move to Italy even though I don’t know the language. Initially I lived in Florence then I moved to Bologna where the Academy of Fine Arts, according to some friends, would have been more suited to my type of abstract art. After this course of study I have dedicated myself to various things such as photography and video making. Now that I have been living outside Spain for 12 years and have embarked on this path, I realize how much it has always been a part of me. I think it’s a necessity, something you have inside and you want to give shape to.
The last exhibition you created is called “The Palace of Memory”. Where does this idea get its inspiration from?
It all started with a novel “Memory Palace” written by the British writer Hari Kunzru in 2013 commissioned by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London with the aim of proposing a dialogue between literature and visual art. Kunzru set this story in a future London hundreds of years after the world’s computing infrastructure was swept away by an immense magnetic storm. Technology and knowledge have been lost and nature has taken over the ruins of the city. Writing, collecting and art are prohibited. The narrator of the story is in prison and uses his cell as his “palace of memory” the place for the things he remembered: fragments and details that we can recognize from our time. He clings to his belief that without memory, civilization is doomed. In this regard, a sentence by Jorge Luis Borges struck me: “We are our memory, we are this chimeric museum of inconstant shapes, this heap of broken mirrors”. Thinking about continuous change, the concept of wabisabi came to mind, that is the acceptance of the transience and imperfection of things according to Chinese culture. I am studying it a lot and it also connects to the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi which consists in repairing fragmented ceramic objects with lacquer and gold powder. There is a story that explains this connection well. A Japanese emperor when he broke a teapot decided not to throw it away and asked a craftsman how to do it. He proposed to rebuild it by giving it a second life and putting the broken pieces back together. Why didn’t he want to replace her? Because it was the teapot that had experienced all the other tea ceremonies, it had a memory. Furthermore, the palace of memory is a modernization technique that Cicero used. He was trying to recreate a room with objects that would help him connect to concepts he needed to remember. From all these ideas was born the thought of re-proposing a room in an interior design space, a way of bringing different concepts to an audience in direct form, a room that also contained elements damaged by history such as bombed statues that have signs, wounds. To focus on these elements, to look at them, means to give them a light. Otherwise they would be forgotten. Nature is another present element that I always put inside my works. The essence of everything is that things, even if they are transitory, changeable over time, imperfect and marked by time, contain their own unique beauty.
What is beauty for you?
Here in Italy it is a very heavy concept. The beauty I’m talking about instead is a relief that emerges within you wherever you may find yourself. Even a ruined wall can have its beauty. It all depends on the subjectivity, on the gaze of whoever looks at that wall. So in my opinion beauty is an inner condition, it is a tension of the soul that is found, recognizing itself in the things around you. But it doesn’t happen when you want. It all happens naturally, you feel it. It is a condition of the senses that brings you closer to saying: I exist, I am in this body, I am lucky enough to have all the senses, at least as far as I am concerned, and I use them as tools for living. How my body perceives things gives meaning to beauty, therefore, it depends on our subjectivity. It belongs to the individual, to the content and to the culture. There are those who find the aesthetics here beautiful, while those who find the oriental one beautiful. My gaze is closer to the latter.
Returning to your show. You used the cyanotype technique. What does it consist of and why did you choose it?
The woman who first developed this technique was Anna Atkins who created the first illustrated book with photographic images in which she spoke mainly of algae as she was a botanist. I use plants a lot in my works because I feel they belong to me. I wanted to use this technique to pay her a tribute. She and she was a great woman whose talent was unfortunately not fully recognized at the time. What she did, her scientific book, remained in history and subsequently appreciated also in the world of art.
What is your relationship with nature that I seem to understand is your main inspiring muse?
I believe that we are now living in a historical period where it is really important to be close to nature and to feel that it is a world that is about our identity. The connection with memory is precisely linked to its potential. Plants also have memories, a story behind them. They help us understand ourselves and also perhaps how we should be in the future. In his texts Stefano Mancuso, scientist and writer, speaks precisely of their sensitivity. Plants have more senses than we think. They also have a way of understanding the world and the ability to socialize with each other. Through the roots and chemicals they communicate. They also do this collectively to protect themselves. When you go out into nature, such as in a forest, you feel that there is an energy. The vibrations you find make you feel different and bring you closer to your deepest essence. This also brings you closer to creation.
How are you doing your research now?
I can’t focus on just one thing. I take here and there. I would like to do other works, other installations. I am reflecting on emotions and I am discovering some beautiful texts that are helping me to better understand and nourish my inner world. It is very interesting because it concerns the world of memory. Some texts, for example, that I am reading and that have helped me a lot are “Atlas of human emotions” Tiffany Watt Smith, “Objects and life. Reflections of a second-hand dealer of the soul on things possessed, emotions, memory “by Giovanni Starace,” General psychology. Sources commented on emotion, perception, thought, memory ”edited by Luigi Anolli.
In this moment of pandemic, many people feel the need to rediscover themselves because they have realized that the progress pursued is leading to the destruction of us and our Planet. We are therefore looking for sustainable development and therefore the need to enhance the slow cycles of nature. What role does art play in all of this?
There are many artists who are bringing interesting reflections on nature. Especially on the fact that nature will not actually destroy itself. It will always find a way to regenerate. It is we who are risking extinction. The plants will remain. Land art, for example, works a lot on this. If we leave an object in a wood, the moss takes it back. There are different poetics and languages about how climate change is told. It is important that there are these things and that they make people think. In this, art plays an essential role. The human being forgets very quickly. Some are already doing it. Others are reflecting on existence, on where we are. For me Gaia is home. We think that the four walls we are in are our home but it is not. We built them to shelter us from the rain and much more but now it seems we want to protect ourselves from everything as if everything were dangerous. As I said before, nature teaches us. Plants, for example, cannot move. They have to solve the problems they have where they are. The pandemic has immobilized and destabilized us. Our habits have changed. We cannot pretend that nothing has happened. We have to learn from what we are experiencing and reflect on how to move forward. Nature can inspire us on how to do it.
Unfortunately we are easily manipulated when we have no solid foundation or roots, to stay on topic. I believe that art is a fundamental part in their construction. It is a vehicle of contents that educate and ennoble people.
The other day I was reflecting with a Japanese friend on the fact that there are Japanese terms that cannot be fully translated into Italian. For example, they have the philosophy of bathing in nature. I always ask myself: what can I do with art?
Art and music are immediate channels that, if usable by the human being, understood as having all the senses to enjoy them, move consciences …
I with my art do not want to lead to me but I want those who observe it to be able to immerse themselves in themselves. I want to awaken to a sense of individuality and identity. Accompany people to ask themselves what they want to change and what direction they want to give to this change. We often think that it is others who have to change things and we entrust everything to the institutions and to the outside world, but it is only through small daily choices that we can trigger a change. And I think the concept of beauty is essential here.