Memory of life
Ángel Cagigas, 2010. Universidad de Jaén
Catálogo de la exposición “Resiliencias / Cajas de memoria” de Rossana Zaera
“On contemplating Rossana Zaera’s latest works, it occurred to me that the best way of defining them would be as a work in creation, a work that can be traced back to earlier pieces and that will continue in those still to come. I say this because they seem to be a natural continuation of previous series like Vivir, Anatomías, Heridas, cicatrices y otras condecoraciones, Habitaciones sin número or Rostros, series that belong on a continuum, to an undivided whole, to an unfaltering, unstoppable work in progress, in which she reveals her conception of the world, her worldview.
In Resiliencies she talks of the human capacity to persevere in life, with the conviction that we have an internal strength that is much more powerful than we believe, a strength that enables us to overcome changes and crises, and usually to come through these trials even stronger. Perhaps this is where the meaning of life lies, since joy, happiness in itself seems to be flat and shallow, while what gives us form and relief, what shapes the depth of our personality is pain, the predicaments that mark our lives, some of which we manage to overcome, while others get the better of us, but that always cause our skins to crack and tinge our spirit, our mind, with nuances, giving us a joie de vivre that largely comes from this very capacity to overcome pain.
In this series Rossana Zaera starts off with images from the plant kingdom; in pieces like “El sueño” (The dream) we see a destroyed world, burnt, annihilated, seemingly dead, but from whence a new light unexpectedly emerges, a rebirth, a green shoot that once again takes up life’s journey, since really, life is no more nor less than the mechanism of death and birth repeated a thousand and one times. And here she reveals this mechanism through the metaphor of plants that reminds me of an author, now forgotten, Gustav Theodor Fechner, and one of his most outstanding works Nanna oder über das Seelenleben der Pflanzen (Nanna, or the Soul-Life of Plants), in which he defended the idea of an animist world where even immobile living beings, plants, the living entities that least resemble the human, have a soul, personified in Nanna, the Germanic god of plant life, and can feel and therefore react and act according to their own impulses. Indeed, Fechner claimed that “the growth of the foetus in the mother’s body may manifest the greatest analogy with the growth of plants in that, like a plant, from its very beginnings it generates its own organs […] plants are children for they do not abandon the earth, their collective mother; they anchor themselves to her and take their food from her. […] The plant remains permanently fixed to the maternal breast”. In this sense, plants are beings with souls, capable of feeling and responding emotionally to such stimuli, although limited by their dependence on the earth, like all of us in fact.
This assertion also reminds me of the Romantic Movement philosophy, so firmly grounded in representing the conceptual pairs of creation-destruction or disintegration-reintegration, in re-creating the beauty of decomposition from which all life springs, and in analysing the relationship between human beings and nature. And this step from the plant to the human world, this revision of the analogy between anatomical and physiological structures of plants and humans, this vision of a sprouting seed resembling a brain coming up with a new idea, as in “El brote” (The shoot), in “Hojas de otoño” (Autumn leaves) or in “Nido” (Nest), brings to mind images of Marina Núñez’s recent work, images from science fiction, figures of women lying on the dried up earth from whose flesh spring tiny trees, women beginning to be invaded by foliage emanating from their own insides, plant-human hybrid women, images that in this case translate into a dystopic vision of our present and immediate future, whereas the images of Rossana Zaera’s work speak of the hope of reorganisation, of rebirth, of new utopian possibilities.
The hope permeating all of Rossana Zaera’s work takes us back to the concept of resilience that gives the series its title, and is no less than the capacity to resist pain, crisis, suffering, adversity, and bring into play our ability to cope with these blows, to come through these experiences transformed, fortified, so that, more than the success of our actions, we can draw positive results from them; a concept closely related to oriental philosophy that reminds me of certain fables which, far from exalting brute force, advocate malleability, a deceptive fragility that allows the essence of being to persevere.
What most interests me in the series is the presence of human bones, skulls, vertebra, whole skeletons, as in “Cráneo con ramas” (Skull with branches), “Cerebro con lirio” (Brain with iris), “Floración” (Flowering) or “El vaso de barro” (The earthenware vase), in which we see interred bones, dead, lifeless, from whose surfaces plant life emerges, and thus human death secures plant life, death and life shake hands since they are actually the same thing, two sides of the same coin.
All of this also makes me think about the geological time scale, as Eduardo Punset would say, and brings to mind the work of the archaeologist, the historian, work which in the case of Rossana Zaera is reflected in the keen interest in the biographical that can be seen in much of her work and that lies at the heart of her Memory boxes series. These are small boxes; some are shoeboxes that hold an entire life and that can serve as a portable memory. I find this idea delightful, since like Enrique Vila-Matas, and in the wake of authors belonging to the secret “Secret Society of Portables” also known as the “Shandy Conspiracy” such as Marcel Duchamp or Walter Benjamin, whose goal was to create artistic works that could be carried in a suitcase, I am also an admirer of all things portable, and these boxes can hold an entire work, an entire life, an entire living memory of the past that still activates and intervenes in the present.
These are memory boxes, boxes of pain, boxes of life, shoeboxes that take us back to Rossana Zaera’s childhood, to the family shoe shop, boxes in which she keeps her experiences, boxes containing keepsakes from her parents and her grandparents, boxes with built-up shoes, the shoes of her childhood, hospital ward boxes, with their rows of beds, with their memories of sick children, boxes full of scrap with a golden heart in its midst, junk from which the prodigious emanates, boxes in which we see staircases to heaven, staircases to another reality, perhaps hopeful…, or at least different, as though it were a child’s imagined future.
These are boxes in which, like in life itself, our episodic memory and emotional memory are mixed together, the labyrinth of events in our lives and the labyrinth of our passions. They are boxes of personal memories and those of others, open boxes and closed boxes; we might imagine the closed boxes as guardians of the landscapes of our own lives, which may prompt us to start our own memory boxes. Indeed, contemplating these boxes has taken me back to landscapes from my own life, to review them, re-examine myself within them and analyse how they affect my life today. There are dozens, hundreds of boxes that resemble Chinese secretaires with their numerous little drawers that guard, enclose, or hide secrets, secrets that these boxes bring to light, make public and thus become more real, since surely what remains unspoken loses some degrees of existence, but also stagnates and curtails our lives. Hence this going public, this work of extracting experiences, transfers certain contents from the subconscious to the conscious and in doing so perhaps neutralises their emotional burden, and through this assimilation, enables us to go forward and live life more to the full.
The memory boxes are stage sets, scenes of a physical environment that recreate life’s vicissitudes and whose materiality transports us to the immaterial, to the world of the mind; indeed we might define them as scenes from the mind that describe the artist’s private life and that testify to her commitment to art. They are installations, or rather, micro-installations that may be defined as poetic objects that challenge us with the importance of the biographical and narrative itself as a life creator, that set out to make art from life itself, which in reality is the raw material of art.
But perhaps what is most distinctive about these two complementary series, Memory boxes, anchored in the biographical tale understood as our lifetime, and Resiliencies, centred on life’s story interpreted from a geological perspective, is the importance accorded to the process, a delicate and subtle process that puts the value of creation above the creative product, which gives these projects a vitality because it generates the possibility of interaction with the spectator who can join in the game by starting his or her own creative process using the same methodology and the same purpose as Rossana Zaera’s work, thus becoming the creator of his or her own story, and at best, integrating experiences through artistic activity, combining life and art, breathing life into art and art into a life.”
 Fechner, G. T. Nanna oder über das Seelenleben der Pflanzen. Voss, Leipzig, 1848.