ALL ART HAS ITS PLACE
Greater love hath no man for his readers than to write an article when he could have been exploring his local landscape to catch glimpses of Angelina Jolie (pictured above). This week she and her co-stars, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden and Rob Stark, have been filming on Fuerteventura and Tenerife, before coming over here to Lanzarote to film more location shots on the island. The film they are making, a Marvel production called The Eternals, is expected to be the highest budget movie made in Europe this year.
My stalking, sorry, I mean research, took me on a drive over Le Geria and I passed the temporary film camp at Volcan El Cuevo (La Asomada), where filming was taking place on an esplanade between Masdach and Tegoyo in the area of the Camino del Guaco. The filming team was authorised by the city council to continue until Sunday 24th November, but I had caught sight of all this during the Thursday and Friday that were expected to be the duration of the shooting. It had been agreed that the film crew would ensure that everything was locally sourced. Indeed, Cabildo sources have confirmed that the production of the film has seen local companies and producers hired for the filming of the scenes of the island. This means important economic benefits that this blockbuster will leave as a legacy of their time on Lanzarote.
It has been widely reported that Angelina Jolie loves horses and a small photo-book has been published of her riding and walking them. She might have admired the stone horses and riders that until just before her arrival had been on show as an arts installation on a shoreline outside Arrecifie. However, the government had herded them up and moved them on, for reasons no one I know seems to understand.
Montefuego TV called it Demolition Day and headlined their programme report as The Day Of Destruction at The International Museum Of Contemporary Art (MIAC) Lanzarote. In their six o´clock evening news they noted that 21st November 2019 was the day the ´destruction´ of the art installation The Rising Tide, as ´ordered´ by the government, was begun.´
It was only in September that it was reported that a strange request had been made by the council of Arrecife who had recently contacted British sculptor, Jason de Caires Taylor to remove the sculptural ensemble visible from the coast just outside the castle, in the sea. The reason given by the council is that it is believed to damage the work of Lanzarote artist César Manrique. The creator of The Rising Tide expressed great sadness at the decision and stressed his disappointment pointing out that MIAC is a museum of contemporary art housing a collection of artists with diverse works. He commented that the work is a vehicle to convey a message of activism in defense of the environment and the argument that damages the image of César is a real madness, because It is precisely what César did, to make Lanzarote an open art center. The artist has decided that he would start negotiations to find out what he can do with the four horses. In his opinion the current location in Arrecife is the best place for this work and says he is continuously receiving messages from tourists that enjoy the vision of the sculptures. He also commented that this location is perfect because the tides do not damage the horses. He advised the council, that if they cannot find an alternative location, to return them to the UK.
According to the TV company, the ´targeted destruction´ of existing art is declared by the government as a step to preserve and protect the ‘true’ art of the island. The works of the artist César Manrique, who died in 1992, are regarded, say those responsible for the decision, as representative of that ´true art.´ and the removal of The Rising Tide has been decided upon as it is not a true representation of Lanzarote art.
According to Dolores Corujo, the President of the island, the ‘Lanzarote art doctrine’ is now in force. Translated literally it implores, “Let us focus on our main sign of identity: the stamp of César Manrique”.
The inference there can be easily identified and drawn. If the Cabildo is allowed to become arbiters of taste and quality, then our individual and communal opinions count for nothing. If Cabildo kite-marks are imposed upon on us, telling us what our artistic tastes should be, then what price democracy?
Some of the above is directly quoted from a press release by Montefeugo TV, and the words in quotation marks were printed as shown here. Knowing whether the words came direct from the TV Company or from The Cabildo or its President might help clear my thoughts, but I have to admit that I am genuinely worried about what seems to be a didactic governmental approach. This concern is deepened because I have recently noticed a simultaneous sea-change streamlining what has, until recently, been a very generous programme of Cabildo-supported arts and cultural events by aspiring and emerging island artists in a number of disciplines.
I worry about the long term effects of this ´book-burning´ approach.
As a writer of the all across the arts pages for the Lanzarote Information web site for the past two or three years, and as author of my own twice weekly Sidetracks And Detours blog, I have loudly celebrated the diversity and accessibility of the island´s arts and cultural agenda. If I´m honest, I have often used Cesar Manrique and his canon of work as a comparison or reference point, and I have never tried to pretend that there are new artists who have yet matched Manrique´s genius or his prolific output.
Whenever I have spoken, though, to artists working on the island and interviewed them about their art form I have never sensed any resentment of Cesar´s status. Our artists, instead, rate him and praise him as highly as do we ourselves, the general art-loving public. However, if Manrique were bestowed an exclusivity that those artists could not share, nor even have their work looked at in the same light as Manrique´s, then surely alienation and resentment would breed amongst a generation that until now has felt only inspired by the work of perhaps the greatest artist the island has produced.
I don´t believe that art can exist in isolation. Da Vinci´s Mona Lisa surely speaks in some way, even smiles in some way, to characters in crayon-drawings by five year olds, and the stone horses of The Rising Tide discuss the state of the world with all who ever stop to look at them, in different light and waterscape depending on the time of the day. The work itself surely engages in conversation, even if not in agreement, with the Another Place exhibition / installation placed on the Crosby coastline in the UK by Antony Gormley.
Manrique´s art spoke, and still speaks, profoundly not only to the people of this island about local difficulties but also to the whole world about climate and social issues. In April and May, on the stage at the reducto beach in Arrecife, we saw fourteen different presentations celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the year of his birth. He and his art were addressed in those concerts by play-writers and actors, by singers, musicians, choirs, dancers and even a full-blown opera company.
Local artists in many disciplines rose to the challenge of properly celebrating Cesar not only by creating work worthy to be associated with him but also by taking great pride in doing so and sharing with audiences their gratitude to him for all the doors he opened for them. Those doors could soon be closed.
Even in smaller, parochial galleries I have spoken with aspiring artists exhibiting their own works. One astonishing graphic artist / illustrator / artist spoke to me at length about how it is the shape of Manrique´s Lanzarote that inspired her wonderfully ´empty´ and lighted landscapes.
If we try to lure tourists to the island only through Manrique´s name and his achievements of the past, then we are surely usurping his name and turning it into a brand or a logo.
When I came to live here four years ago, after twenty years of annual holidays on Lanzarote, I did so neither despite nor because of Manrique and his work. Rather, I came because of the legacy of scores of thrusting and challenging young artists I had seen seeking to match not his talent or style but his attitude, to life, to art, to his island and its people. This year on the island I have seen opera, contemporary dance, folk lore music and dance, jazz music, timple music, visual arts exhibitions, poetry readings and story tellings. I have been shown round exhibitions by wonderful freelance arts curators and have reeled at the brilliance of a series of exhibitions at Cic El Almacen. Trust me, though, seeing all those wonders did not anyway diminish my admiration or respect for Manrique´s work. Instead these exhibitions made me realise what a massive inspiration and impact he has on today´s generation of artists, who acknowledge his wisdom, respect his ethics and celebrate his compassion. I don´t need the Cabildo to tell me how and when to praise his name. Nor do I, or any artist on the island, I suspect, require government guidance about how to share Manrique´s legacy with those visitors who might not know of it.
I have asked many artists, in interviews, whether Manrique´s work is in inspirational ray of light for them, or a shadow that hangs over them and darkens their ambition. That they still admire his policy as much as his painting might suggest that Manrique knew, perhaps better than this government knows, that art does not exist in isolation.
The artist, Jason de Caires Taylor seems, commendably, to have bitten his tongue throughout this debate and we can only hope he doesn´t ride his horses off into the sunset. He´s perhaps hanging on to see where his models might be eventually put out to grass, but it seems they are to be kept in a ´stable´ until a decision is made, though no date has been promised for when that might be.
I shouldn´t take sides on any of these issues as I am not indigenous to the island. However I can vote in Lanzarote elections and so am entitled to deliver my argument.
There is empirical evidence that Lanzarote is such a marvellous melting pot of the arts because the people of the island are so proud of the art and the ethos that Manrique delivered. There is such vibrancy in the arts scene here because Manrique embodied multi-disciplinary collaboration, having worked in so many art forms, for social betterment, with so many other gifted artists.
The Cabildo might feel pleased they have turned back The Rising Tide but they have also dislocated Manrique, too, by separating him from the very art forms and artists he loved.