Koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu
“You don’t get a tiger cub without going into its cave”
Just like the illustrious painter and engraver Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Fuendetodos, 1746 – Bordeaux, 1828), the artist Carla Cañellas (Valencia, 1982) invites us to reflect on the risks to be taken in life if we want to obtain great things, as this Japanese proverb dictates.
However, the initial impression produced in the viewer when confronted with the artist’s work is that of being in front of a whole series of well-known characters from Japanese animation and manga, specifically Dragon Ball, one of the most successful series of the Land of the Rising Sun abroad. Surely, in our imagination, a melody has already manifested itself: light, fire, destruction,
the world may be a ruin…! However, in turn emerges the memory of strength, self-improvement, fun, jocular assumptions, even with a kawaii or adorable touch. And isn’t Goku a good example of Japanese soft power? What are the assumptions that are put to the test? How are they shaped in order to reach the general public?
Historically, artists have sought different resources to raise contemporary issues, but if anyone was a pioneer in dealing with situations that could be uncomfortable and, above all, those that were subject to censorship, it was Goya. Through his works, he acted as a chronicler, analyzing the situation of the country. A Spain where different cultural groups with the need for social ascension were in conflict with the most reactionary structures, the architects of national stagnation. Goya’s attitude thus entailed certain risks, since he was under the watchful eye of the Inquisition, an institution reviled by the Enlightenment -a circuit in which the artist from Maó was integrated-, in charge of social repression. The satire, the somarda (sardonic) character of Goya, were fundamental so that, as a reporter (chronicler) of the time, he denounced the harsh conditions in which some socioeconomic groups lived in Spain. Saving the distances and, under a different conception, Toriyama Akira (Nagoya, 1955), the creator of Dragon Ball, also made use of irony to bring us a story from a Chinese novel Journey to the West (published in the 16th century during the Ming dynasty), in which a group of characters face different difficulties along the way.
Carla Cañellas fuses in her works both references, through the technique known as suibokuga (⽔墨画) or sumi-e (墨絵), the Japanese art of ink painting. Images of Japanese animation from the 1990s take center stage. The sublime Chinese ink stroke on washi paper (和紙) hides different layers of reality in which we gradually glimpse the influence of the Aragonese painter.
Magnificent works by Goya such as “Los Caprichos” or the “Cartones para las Estancias Reales”, are reinterpreted by the artist in the key of contemporary socio-political criticism, emulating the composition and formal characteristics of these works. The pictorial judgment made by the Aragonese author to the Inquisition, the ways in which power was exercised by the elites or
royalty, or the different allusions to various social problems, find a solution of continuity in the interpretation of the artist Carla Cañellas on current situations in which the Gag Law intervenes. Thus, in the spiral of the “eternal return” of history, the incongruities and injustices of the past are connected with their survival in the present, in which legal frameworks try to repress the freedom of individual expression.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that Goya accompanied his images with short texts, coinciding with the same spontaneity that characterizes the Japanese proverb. The protagonist of this exhibition, makes use of short phrases; both those that arise from the reflection on the background of the current situation (as can be seen in the conformation of the support of some of his works, through the use of newspapers glued simulating cardboard or current ads), as those guidelines that gave Goya for the preparation of the work or the own conclusions drawn by the master.
Almost two hundred years after his death, Goya lives, the struggle continues.
Alejandra Rodríguez Cunchillos
Mario Malo Sanz
Alejandra Rodríguez Cunchillos (1986, Zaragoza) is a specialist in Japanese contemporary art, professor at the University of Zaragoza, museum educator and independent curator. PhD in Private collecting and collectors of contemporary Japanese art in Spain.
Mario Malo Sanz (1987, Teruel) has a PhD in Historical Sociology from the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and is a specialist in Japan and its relations with the West. He is also professor of Anthropology at the Universidad Oberta de Catalunya and museum educator.
To see the complete piece contact with Carla’s email.
To see the complete piece contact with Carla’s email.
Goya Vive ,la lucha sigue is a project that explores the production of fiction and the expression exercise, about censorship and the limits imposed on creation, about the management of information and how it is presented to us through the media. To do so, I take as an example one of the most absurd and saddest cases in which the set of rules and articles of what we call the Gag Law was implemented: the case of Nahuel.
Nahuel is a very young boy who belonged to a vegan, anti-drug and anti-capitalist anti-violence movement, who for writing a tweet saying “Goku vive, la lucha sigue” was the victim of a frameup and after police confusion spent a year and four months in prison until he was released, the state forces having admitted that it was a mistake. When I heard about his case, his story made me think of the Inquisition, and how many parallels there are with it today. And who is the first artist in Spain to talk about it? Goya.
This is how the project begins, turning the characters of “Dragon Ball” into the protagonists of the images of the master Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. A revision of the work of the great Aragonese master through Goku and his friends, a way of narrating that what he told 275 years ago is still valid.
Based on a video (above this text) that shows the creation process of a 300 cm x 400 cm drawing in Japanese ink on washi paper in which a donkey represents the trial of different anime characters (Goku, Bulma, Krilim and Kaito) dressed in the same positions as Goya’s pieces “Aquellos Polvos”, “No hubo remedio” and “Le pusieron mordaza porque hablaba”. The donkey also refers to the engraving “Si más sabrá el discípulo”. At the same time as the drawing is drawn, Nahuel’s story is subtitled: The creation and construction of a fiction serves as a metaphor to talk about how the other is created:
The project continues later with revisions of some pieces from “Los Caprichos”, others on the “Cartones para tapices para las estancias reales” and different more personal exercises.
The following drawing pieces serve as expressive exercises, mixing in different layers the aforementioned characters that appear in the initial video piece.
Here some of the protagonists of the anime dialogue with all the characters of the series of the Caprichos and Album C. of drawings by Goya that make reference to the Inquisition, and choosing in their captions the titles of some of them, specifically those closely related to the case: “Por mover la lengua de otro modo”, “Por haber nacido en otro sitio”, “Hasta la muerte” and finally the one that titles the game of the content with the case and purpose of the project “Goya vive, la lucha sigue”.
In all the pieces, both in this series and in the later ones, I have tried to create a union and/or coherence with the personality of the characters selected from the anime and the concepts developed by Goya in each situation.
In addition to the pieces related to the Inquisition, I am currently expanding the project with different works also related to the Caprichos. “Tú que no puedes” is a reinterpretation of the engraving of the same name. In the original work, Goya refers to the Spanish saying “Tú que no puedes, llévame a cuestas” (You who can’t, carry me on your back), creating a scene that is a
satire of the exploitation of the people by the privileged classes: two humble men carry two donkeys on their backs with great effort.
Nowadays, this meaning could be applied to countless areas of everyday life, but for my part, I associate it directly with the world of the countryside and agriculture. The hard work of the land is entrusted to people with very few resources, the burden is carried by the underprivileged and in the background, the consequences of the bad practices of the landowners who want to obtain products at low cost: pollution and drought.
My piece uses two of the Japanese anime characters who are heroes carrying donkeys on their backs, exactly like Goya’s original piece, drawn in ink. In the background in graphite, a mixture of images creating a drawn collage: a fragment of the cracked earth of Doñana, dead fish from the Mar Menor and a “sale” sticker from a supermarket.
CARDBOARDS FOR THE ROYAL ROOMS
On a personal level I find Goya’s human and emotional journey fascinating, trying to empathise with what must have been his work as a court painter and at the moment when he decided that he “must” do more than decorate the rooms of their majesties.
For me there is a major turning point here, which I find in the seventh series of his Cartons for Tapestries. Goya initially refused to continue with this type of work, wanting to distance himself from the guild of cartonists, but after the success of the first, Women
in Conversation, he decided to continue, thinking that perhaps he could begin to give a double reading to his designs and compositions, and so in a veiled way, stop being so kind.
Charles IV instructed him to “draw pictures that please and show off good taste”, “Asumptos de cosas campestres y jocosas”, (Country and jocular issues), “Diversiones aldeanas”, (Village Amusements”) to decorate the walls of his residence in San Lorenzo del Escorial, showing the amiable face of the common people as if it were a sweetened newsreel. Goya took on the commission, sensing that it would not be pleasing to anyone who could read. I believe that it is perhaps here that the mastery of his ingenuity begins, and some of these cartoons are also preliminary rehearsals for some of the later engravings in his series of Los Caprichos.
The series is completed in addition to the piece Mujeres conversando with: Las gigantillas, Los zancos, La boda, Las mozas del cantaro, El pelele, Muchachos trepando a un árbol and El balancín.
In all these pieces, he begins to work strongly with double meanings and irony, giving the spectator with an educated gaze the reading of a subterranean discourse referring to the political instability of the time. At first glance, the scenes are friendly in appearance, but the characters are always trying to rise and stay afloat, a metaphor for the difficulties that existed both in the Master’s time and today. This “newsreel” in the form of cardboards with such a supposedly friendly appearance is tremendously revealing to me in many respects. Our “Cartones” today, the newspapers, are not very far from the ideas of manipulation that Goya showed with their contents, they are in themselves the means for our manipulation. For the following series, I take as a reference four of these cartoons, capturing them in a “cardboard” made with today’s newspapers, making a clear allusion to the fact that these themes continue to occur with total similarity.
The drawings have the same title as the cardboards to which they refer, with another phrase also appearing in the composition, in all the pieces attributed to Charles III or Charles IV, contrasting with irony about what was “happening” to the plebs, making light
of their circumstances. In some cases, these phrases were specific indications of how the cardboards should look, while in others they were simply sentences attributed to the monarch.
When I was immersed in the elaboration of this series based on the ” Tapestry Cardboards”, my partner found the papers on which the following piece is drawn.
The building where our studio is located is in an industrial area, and the building next door is a big printing house. Normally they receive giant trolleys with all kinds of paper for recycling. Well, when the situation began to get complicated for the Primary Health Care staff and their rights began to be cut back, making their situation unsustainable, curiously, thousands of papers appeared in those trolleys with the following headings: “Primary health care management. Suggestions, complaints and claims.
We were very impressed because it seemed that all these papers had been removed from the hospitals so that there was no option to complain. On Goya’s cardboards there is a piece in the Prado Museum called “The Wounded Bricklayer”, with another much smaller piece next to it, called “The Drunken Bricklayer”.
The composition is exactly the same, but it is said that Goya produced the larger one later than the smaller one, with a gentler title so as not to have problems, to express the working and health conditions of the time. Given the circumstances and coincidences, it seemed to me a perfect model to use for Primary Care reports: they tell us that the Health Service is wounded,
perhaps it is the management that is drunk.
In my career there is a very strong turning point that occurs when the second time I travel to Japan, with a scholarship in the artistic residence AIRY Yamanashi, I begin to receive classes of Shodō, oriental calligraphy and I also begin to practice Kung Fu.
There I understand how the martial arts and their tastings are intimately linked to the brush movements and it is when my production begins to be done entirely in ink. This last piece can be considered a sort of wink to these perceptions, as well as a bridge between the main characters of the project Goya and Goku, as well as a bridge between Western and Eastern cultures and their way of drawing. Siu Nim Tao, is the first form of Ving Tsun, which means, “First idea of the beginning”. I use the first part of it to imagine Goya doing it and transforming himself into Goku.
The result is an installation of 144 drawings plus a video showing the animation process.
First idea of the beginning / From Goya to Goku
Installation of 144 pieces of drawing, ink on Tosashi washi paper 26 x 18 cm w/ u + 34′ video / 2022