Exhibition “J’est un je” by Simeon Saiz Ruiz
Paintings of victims of the Balkan wars taken from images that appeared in the media.
During the months of April and May at the Exile Memorial Museum you could see the temporary exhibition “J’est un je” by the artist Simeon Saiz Ruiz. This exhibition presented part of the ongoing project of the same name, “J’est un je”. This project in particular is an artistic work by Simeon Saiz started in 1996 and continues into the present. The object of this creation is to develop paintings of victims of the Balkan wars in the 1990s from images that appeared in the media. Apparently, this work reminds us of the large battle paintings typical in the 19th century but incorporates a stylistic innovation of the 20th century.
However, the pictorial operation goes even further. Simeon Saiz has created a monumental and essential work both from an aesthetic and ethical point of view. It is an artistic process that questions forms of representation and mechanisms common to and very present in the current public life, and it also exposes the use and handling that military conflicts are subject to and, specifically, the visual treatment suffered by victims, mostly civilians, in the media and the world of communication. It also questions us, the viewers, on our “ability” to live with such barbarism. Simeon Saiz himself said: “[...] if the first question that comes to our mind when we see these pictures is: who killed these people? Another question equally relevant would be: how can we live with these pictures?”
The paintings of this artist, therefore, provide us with a thoughtful look at the images that come from the various civil conflicts that took place in the territories of former Yugoslavia during the decade of the nineties. Images that we have seen for years in the press and audiovisual media: columns of refugees, corpses, wounded, maimed... Bosnians, Croats, Serbs or Albanians. It should be remembered for example that in the case of Bosnia, the civil conflict meant that two thirds of the population had to take the road to exile. No doubt we are facing an artistic production that consists of a demanding aesthetic and intends to highlight the lack of transparency of information while we live immersed in a world in which we are drowned by images and information.
“J’est un je” is the name given to the series of paintings. An ambivalent title that comes from the twist that Simeon Saiz has given to the famous phrase of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, “J’est un autre” (I is another). While the original sentence of the famous 19th century French writer reflected the dissolution of the “I” in the complexity of modern and urban times and, therefore, forever conditioned by external influences and the diversity of a life that left behind the “certainties” of tradition, the motto inverted, “J’est un je” (I is an I) acquires another double significance. On the one hand, it refers ironically to the dangers that come from adopting a position of extreme individualism and the exacerbations of an aggressive identity in a globalised world in permanent crisis in the late 20th century until today; on the other hand, it refers to the possibility that the individual is capable of reaching a critical autonomy amid the relentless stream of images and the avalanche of information.
Simeon Saiz’s paintings question the hypothetical utopia of transparent communication and help society to rethink its relationship with the knowledge of the facts and events. In this respect, the enlarged translation of newspaper photographs and television news fragments into some paintings where the picture is not clear, with abundant distorted views of the observer and the chromatic changes with respect to the original allow you to freeze and place the story to make it reappear again through a hygienic view, which invites us to meditate on the distortion that affects the reality that often disguises itself under the striving for objectivity and accuracy in the world of communication.
The titles with connotations as objective as, for example, “Victims of Serbian shelling in the Croatian area above Bosnian positions in Mostar (from images of TVE1)” or “Six children were killed yesterday in Sarajevo by the mortar fire while playing with their sleighs in the snow, Saturday January 22, 1994. (From Reuters photo)”, contrasted with a painting style that often disfigures the visual reference, guide the viewer towards achieving a reflexive exercise in imagination; an operation that helps to activate the potential criticism before the process of assimilation of the relentless proliferation of so many images that circulate in the media. This may help reduce the insensitiveness of the retinas and the conscience which viewers often show at the incivility and the suffering of victims of armed conflicts and their consequences.
Exhibition: 27 March to 25 May 2010