Marta Ramos-Yzquierdo
Curator and writer.

‘ Autofictions of Paradox. Crimes Against Reality’
Contribution to the book Cristina Garrido. El mejor trabajo del mundo/ Cristina Garrido. The Best Job in the World. Ed. Fundación DIDAC (2022).

It is nigh on impossible to speak about our condition as creators, producers, workers in the field we could call art practice without bringing up the issues of anxiety and precariousness. Examining them from the viewpoint of the functioning of the capitalist system, our résumés and exhibitions, bodies and works are placed under continuous scrutiny, in an effort to conform to an idea of professionalization in an area sustained on a myriad of paradoxes. Paradoxes like that of vocation and actual expectations; that of education based on limitations and preconceived ideas and job opportunities; that of continuous production and the presentation of specific, delimited projects; that of the market and engagement; that of international movements and local actions; that of desire and self-denial.

In this way, each one of the stories that gives shape to what we call the artistic context becomes something more than a symptom. The very panorama is in itself the symptom. At this juncture, biography is never mere anecdote and autofiction can be viewed as a possibility of enunciation that embraces much more than the purely subjective. How can we understand the possibilities of action? How can we contemplate the always courageous decision to stand down or to continue plugging away?

Some tiny almost imperceptible gestures can help us to keep going.

Often in the morning, when I am very tired and feel like I am unable to walk, I clench my fists as hard as I can. I keep going; nobody I meet on the street realizes that my fists are totally locked, bright red and with the least possible amount of air inside. Nobody hones in on, nobody focuses on this action. Minimum and invisible. Who could notice it? Who decides to lend so much attention to what might be happening in a tiny interval that, despite everything else, shows that purpose and movement continue?

Every morning a young girl wakes up and puts on her orange-framed glasses. The same routine gesture of donning her glasses is followed by opening her paintbox. Looking and painting, every morning. But the glasses have no lenses, they are only frames. They focus her attention. The missing lens, made from the almost imperceptible material of glass, speaks of an action to and from what is apparently invisible. Now, let us focus our attention.

Removals, 2009-2010

Invisibility becomes the potential space of focusing. That being said, the prefix in- added to visible does not mean to say something is non-existent, rather that we cannot see it. In this sense, Cristina Garrido, who, before being an artist, used to copy what was visible in the history of art, such as Manet’s Olympia or the self-portrait’s gesture of analytical affirmation, focuses or fixes on the invisibility that has been in-visibilized. We might indeed say that she pre-fixes, before us, on what normally goes unnoticed. She started, now as what we all take to be an artist, by revealing it from its concealment. One of her earliest works, Removals, 2009-2010, consisted in draping sheets over pieces of furniture in a simulated living room at Ikea. The everyday objects become phantasmal within this idealized domestic setting. One could already discern in this action some small yet highly telling details: working within a system of representation, the phantasmagoria of the everyday and a certain degree of unlawfulness or, at least, of defiance of socially accepted behaviour, all tinged with an understated sense of irony. In this case, the store epitomising our aspirations to democratic consumerism, to “comfortable living”, is turned, in her ritual gesture of shrouding with sheets, into a space of desire trapped in the freezing of a time held on pause, foreclosing the possibility of a future.

Nullifying dreams also makes an appearance in another of her early works. In Paintings for Wallets, 2012-2017, Garrido painted on a number of lottery tickets—a piece of paper that has traditionally condensed the dreams and hopes of the Spanish middle and lower classes—faithfully reproducing the original image but blocking out the part with the serial numbers that identify it. Put into circulation in the wallets of strangers, who were asked to hold onto them for a period of five years, these paintings, which is to say works of art, are also altered tickets, and therefore, subject to legislation that penalizes anyone caught altering these official documents with fines and prison sentences from six months to three years. Some of these tickets may have been winners, but, concealed and modified by the artist’s action, that possibility will never be known nor potentially real. These paintings highlight another two features of Garrido’s working methodology: the appropriation of supports and images and a strategy of involving other agents, in this case the receivers and custodians of the lottery tickets.

Paintings for Wallets, 2012-2017

Around this time Cristina was living in England where she had gone on the Erasmus exchange programme to Camberwell College of Art (2007-2008) and then later to take an MA in Fine Arts at Wimbledon College of Art (2010-2011) thanks to a scholarship from Fundació “la Caixa”, all part of the ideal formation of any contemporary artist. While there, she undertook a series of actions in which she transferred the concerns which she had carried out as petty misdemeanours to the context of commercial art galleries: stealing books or magazines and intervening in them to erase an art object, and then putting the publication, now with the missing object, back into circulation. A conceptual action indebted to early practices of institutional critique, and which could well be grouped together in a new version of On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts (De Quincey, 1827), this time dedicated to theft. In the video Outside the White Cube, 2011, Cristina can be seen in the reflection of the White Cube in London, one of the world’s most high-profile galleries, returning a magazine to the neighbouring doorstep, also belonging to one of the company’s many societies. The piece is completed with a photographic recording of the process of intervening in the auction house magazine in which she “removed” the works of the artists, leaving the spaces that once held them empty. She had taken the magazine a week earlier, after coming across it leaning against the door to which she would return it. The addressee was the director of the gallery at the time, but using his post as administrator of another company. When examining it, Garrido came across an article from The Art Newspaper, another of the instruments or spaces of artistic legitimisation, in which it denounced the practice of some galleries that represented living artists, which, through other companies, bought and sold works by these artists in the secondary market—resale between owners which excludes the artists—thus directly intervening in their market value. Shortly afterwards, Cristina wrote to the gallery requesting her original piece so that she could include it in her MA exhibition. She never received a reply. The documents for this work include a copy of the newspaper and copies of the request letters.

Outside the White Cube, 2011

On my first visit to her studio, in 2014, looking at this work—and others, like the also intervened series of museum postcards Veil of Invisibility, 2011-present, or the fictitious publication of invented works and artists based on the appropriation of public scenarios from the Sketchup program, imitating the style and language of compilations on the up-and-coming artists to look out for, This is Art Now, Vol. 1, 2013—Cristina told me about her frustration on seeing that her works were viewed as “little paintings” and that she sensed a certain misunderstanding about the purposes and motives underlying her actions. This lack of interest had a direct bearing on her chances of receiving scholarships and grants, exhibitions and sales. It also affected her living conditions, those which directly affect our bodies and where they can be inscribed, not just symbolically but also materially: where to live, where to sleep, where to work, what and how you eat, where you rest. This was not—nor is it now—a case of victimism or complaining, but a vital analysis of working conditions following a set of expectations conditioned by education and the sociocultural context in which our generations have grown up.

Let us return to the symptoms of a system and the system as symptom. It is no accident that the piece she presented for the MA show at Wimbledon College of Art was called Symptom, 2011, and consisted in completely surrounding the school building with real estate For Salesigns: perhaps for the college, for the education system or for the newly graduated artists themselves. There are another three works that also impinge directly on this symptomatic situation: The `culture of this course´, 2016, in which Garrido recovered evaluations by her teachers during the postgraduate course in which they analysed the skills she had acquired and her achievements, mostly relating to the capacity for conceptualization in her practice; TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, 2014, where she transcribes a letter of recommendation from a boss in one of the many jobs she did while studying in order to pay her way, in the form of a large mural; and Clocking In and Out, 2015, which documents a week of public exhibition of the artist’s working hours, posting a selfie on social media when she wakes up and when she goes to bed, in a “digital-world” updating of Artist at Work, 1978, by Mladen Stilinović. The disconnect between the spheres of education and work patterns, joined by the awkward bridge of commerce, perhaps outlines the best plan of the paradoxical situation of the context of those who decide to study and try to exercise as “professional artists”.

Symptom, 2011

The artist has used biographical material to create a series of narratives, somewhere between personal experience and realist fiction: an artist who flirts with crime and acts from a setting of invisibility. In an analysis on the place where an action could be carried out, the settings and elements of the scenography of art, Garrido adopts the opposite strategy, riskier in its fictionality and at once foregrounding the system of construction for everyone to see. Those seductive spaces for unease. This is what happens in another three works by Cristina: #JWIITMTESDSA? (Just what is it that makes today´s exhibitions so different, so appealing?), 2015, Aerial photography does not create space but registers surfaces, 2016-2018, and Boothworks, 2017. If we were to take them together, we would have a set prepared for success: the catalogue of repeatedly used and, as such, everyday objects in the contemporary art installations most often reproduced on internet; idyllic snapshots of skies posted on social media by renowned curators on their way to or from one of the artworld’s international capitals; and the place that has absorbed a large part of contemporary practice, the art fair, and its main agents, the gallerists, focusing on the commercial display as creations in themselves. All of this supported by voice-overs of academic quotations that endorse and contextualize, but also question this triumphal development which borders on, if not science fiction, then something ominous, whose familiarity strikes us as unsettling and even terrifying.

In this approximation to Garrido’s body of work, her uninterrupted analysis on what it is to be a contemporary artist, she also includes the bodies of another reality, tangible yet invisibilized, that of those other people who act on the sidelines of the system. In The Copyist, 2018-2019, she invited an official copyist from a museum of old masters to paint views of a contemporary exhibition. The first time this performance was enacted was as part of the exhibition “Querer parecer noche” at CA2M in Móstoles, Madrid, a show featuring works by a large number of those who made up the art scene in Madrid in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Heterogeneous and controversial, with major works but also with glaring gaps, the fact of documenting it by means of classical painting, a genre that has no place among this generation, once again touched a sore spot on the issue of what makes a contemporary artist, what they do and how they live, as well as other concerns pertaining to musealization and the archive.

The (Invisible) Art of Documenting Art, 2019, takes the form of a video and a book compiling the work of photographers who document exhibitions, the mediators of the actual image we ultimately receive as the work of art in catalogues and official webpages. As she herself says, it is like “a turn of the camera” to reveal the ultimate author behind the final impression of the work of the artist and all others involved in the exhibition.

The (Invisible) Art of Documenting Art, 2019

Finally, El mejor trabajo del mundo, 2021. This installation brings together all the components we have been underscoring so far: a collaborative network in its making, autofiction, appropriation, small symbolic thefts, institutional settings, people and objects on the margins, subtle irony, incisive perception of tiny details. A setting, a story that could well be the plot of a film by David Lynch, or a more humorous version, The Party with Peter Sellers, as Cristina herself suggested. It’s a crime scene, that affects both the artists who exercise the option of developing their practice—whatever that may be and even if it is not preceded by the adjective ‘artistic’—outside the contemporary art system, but also those who decided to continue. Both paths involve renouncement and both options require courage.

The question, then, is not whether one keeps going or gives up. We return again to the symptoms of the symptom. Attentively observing what is invisibilized underscores the unrealness of the conception of what a contemporary artist is. A professional on which romanticized illusions of the subversive ingenious creator are still projected, but one who also has to deal with the welfare state’s promise of being able to carry out their activity in society in function of the choice and education on which their skills were targeted. To be able to live with dignity through their work. Fine Arts is a university degree, just like Business Studies or Law. But neither the labour or the public administration system have managed to create the conditions necessary for sustainable professional development, which understand the characteristics of this practice, and, above all else, do not seem to understand the symbolic patrimonial value for the whole of society of their production—which embraces research, continuous thinking, critical attitude, experimentation—over and above its material formalizations and commercial derivations, which also exist.

For these reasons, and in these times of uncertainty in which precariousness expands to almost all activities, the artist could be taken as the paradigm of the new worker, one whose increasingly more immaterial practice does not fit in with current models of remuneration, with ways of doing that are relentlessly expanded—actively or passively—and which are increasingly more affected by overexposure of the ideal construction of oneself. I am thinking of Sibila from El entusiasmo by Remedios Zafra1 and of the autobiographical narration of Clavícula by Marta Sanz.2 Enthusiasm, that “altered appearance that feeds the productive machinery and speed in the capitalist framework”, goes hand in hand with “the fantasy that we really choose and the guilt for not taking the warnings signs of our body sufficiently serious. As if we could stop whenever we wanted. Even that makes us feel guilty. We feel guilty about everything.”

Between speed and weight, between anxiety and precariousness, we keep going, we choose the path, reformulating desires, to give them free rein, and banishing ghosts, to free ourselves. To achieve this, though it involves our bodies, perhaps we should think of the art system not as a perfect crime. At most it would be theft. Then, our job would be to destabilize the security system. A job that would be collective and imaginative, of infiltration and surprise, that helps us to recover the object of desire … or perhaps, there is nothing to recover because it never existed in the first place, and we only have to reincarnate it tangibly and radically.

1. Zafra, Remedios, El entusiasmo. Precariedad y trabajo creativo en la era digital, Anagrama, Barcelona, 2017.

2. Sanz, Marta, Clavícula, Anagrama, Barcelona, 2017