Shell Shade.
A Conversation With Julia Spínola in Madrid

Julia Spinola
Lubrican, 2018.

Marc Navarro: In Lubricán [Gloaming] you address the idea of the path. It’s something that appears for the first time in your practice and has to do with the dimensions of the project. I wonder whether this has forced you to work more narratively.

Julia Spínola: Yes. The fact that it is a big exhibition, conceived as a kind of survey of my work over the last seven years, forced me to think of a structure that could sustain both the older works as well as my newer ones.

MN: Why were these pieces so important in outlining this path or walkthrough?

JS: They follow each other in time. The first was Frase (objeto). BOCA, and then came Figuras and, finally, Uno zurdo y uno diestro, y uno zurdo y uno diestro. There is a line joining all three. When I was working on the first I finally began to expand into three-dimensional space; before that, I had mostly worked with drawing. In Frase (objeto). BOCA I started to unfold material, almost like a nervous tic that you keep repeating. By the time I was working on Figuras I had the feeling that the material finally broke loose, and I wanted to get rid of boundaries; here, I was already questioning the limits of material, how far I was able to extend it.

MN: One gets the impression that you conceived the exhibition from an optic close to dramaturgy, from a structure attuned to space but also to time.

JS: It all started by thinking about the pieces I wanted to include, and what it meant to show them again in another present, in this exhibition. It seemed to me like a kind of estrangement, asking me to take these same pieces to a place that was not present, to show them, but not in the now. Rather it was like a this-is-now-but-I-don’tknow-if-it’s-here or maybe a this-is-here-but-I-don’t-know-if-it’snow. Following this line of thought, the first newly produced piece I conceived is a replica of one of the modules from Uno zurdo y uno diestro, y uno zurdo y uno diestro, but with rounder corners instead of all those right angles, and I worked it like a block, not in planes, and using moulds from a clay replica, cast in resin and painted the colour of MDF board. This module added to the original piece, subtly rounded, shifted the whole towards another place. This idea of roundness led me to images of late evening, when the light no longer casts shadows and hard edges are softened and blurred; this moment of twilight is what ultimately defined the tone of the exhibition.

Julia Spinola
Lubricán, 2018.

MN: Your work often dwells on the body and the way in which it is inserted in the everyday. You explore the perceptive quality of the immediate, but through an estranged body.

JS: Many works start with a gesture I have in my head, a gesture which initially takes the form of an image, but which I can’t explain other than through this gesture which is, if you like, an image in motion. It has to do with moving material from one form to another. For instance, in Figuras, this gesture is like photograms or abrupt cuts that are deployed at an intermittent rhythm, the frequency interrupted all the time, at a regular speed. In Uno zurdo y uno diestro, y uno zurdo y uno diestro the gesture was of two hands entering into a block and dividing it in two. Around the same time, I was making pieces that were joints or articulations; I was obsessed with bones, with how a joint like a knee or elbow operated structurally, with the points around which the body rotates. One thing led to another, and one day when walking downhill from my studio back home I started to dwell on the rhythm of the hip bones, and it seemed as if it could take over the whole street. This image gave rise to the wedge that cuts through the box: the wedge is the inclined street, and the closed plane in the form of a box is a highly schematic representation of the hips and the top of the legs. And so, in this round about way, I arrived at the first image of the two hands entering the block and dividing it in two. In Lubricán there is, on one hand, the gesture of giving something a good shake and then letting it settle again, but not with out first having gotten rid of some part of it, a thin layer, perhaps its very image. On the other hand, there was the image of material joined together, compressed as much as possible, completely taking over blocks of space, and then this same material relaxing, loosening, and coming back together again.

MN: There is a self-imposed distance with regards this body. You don’t arrive at it through expressiveness but from a mechanical approach.

JS: In The Abyss Marguerite Yourcenar said: “he lifted his arm, and was astonished to find that the command was given, and received.”[1] It’s the surprise that the body actu ally responds. My work on the ear as form, in Oreja. Vaciamiento, dealt with the pure mechanics of centrifugal and centripetal movements, studying it in order to later apply the gesture and empty the forms on paper, from inside out. But it was also an emptiness that opened up to connect that part of the body with others, with the space beneath a hand suspended in the air of somebody walking, or even the form contained by a half-opened hand, which is similar to an ear.

MN: But there is a limit to that body, perhaps not unlike the limitation of language.

JS: Possibly I am using the gesture as an instrument for measurement, a tool. My fixation with this gesture goes back to before I started working with the ear, the gesture of a hand entering into something solid and emptying it from within, in a quick, rotatory motion. What I did was, in a natural way, to look for that gesture in a given place, locating it in a form and then following that thread. It could be a way of measuring, of circumscribing. In the end, the body is there, in the middle, and I use it to expand an image. In the case of Uno zurdo y uno diestro, y uno zurdo y uno diestro, it is not just hips walking downhill, it is an all-embracing whole. It is not myself who is walking down the street, it is all about the potential unleashed, the possibilities that exist in that play.

MN: In Lubricán the gesture that describes this rupture in perception is a hand moving about.

JS: It is a disordered gesture. It is almost as if one were erasing oneself: I have the object, I grab it in my hand and I shake it. It is not only the object that is no longer visible because of the movement, besides that you also stop seeing the hand and part of the arm.

MN: You often introduce organic elements in your pieces, staging a kind of conflict that goes beyond the qualities or temporalities of material.

JS: It has to do with colour. It is a colour that enters the exhibition and comes already made, from its inside. In Uno zurdo y uno diestro, y uno zurdo y uno diestro, there was the piece with the apples, with its yellow colour displaced to the painted ramp, but there was also another part of the exhibition in which the work with colour might not be discerned at first sight, in the area with the boxes; there were many elements that were not MDF board, but were painted the colour of MDF, though I see them more as estranged objects than as camouflaged objects. I always think of colour as a highly restrained element that must be surrounded by very neutral things for it to stand out. You have to give this place to colour. And this place should seem very ordered so that the colour arises from within a certain chaos. It is something that has to do with a loss of control, with breakage.

MN: Do you use colour to question what we see, and also our way of seeing? How do you approach the split between vision and perception?

JS: It is almost as if things had a shell. It’s like what Gambarotta said in one of his poems: “the shell of that shell.”[2] It also has to do with the idea of presence that Tiqqun spoke about. They argued that the modern subject takes its presence for granted, as guaranteed. And that we are going through a crisis of presence precisely because it has been taken from us without us even realising it. The thing is that we never thought that we would have to fight for it, we had never questioned it. It has to do with rationalist thinking, which always understood the world as exterior, objectifiable, the body as a limit, and the perfect thinking box enclosed inside that body. They said something very beautiful about language: when we say “the rose is red”, that is is by no means innocent. Because the rose is not red, rather it looks red.[3] We do not include ourselves in the statement, we do not question ourselves. We say “the rose is red” and we do not mix ourselves with it. In other cultures, presence is something that has to be earned, and you can lose your presence and disappear in the world. And I am not talking about identity. Identity might well be a distraction; it is not identity that is in question, but presence.

MN: When you look back over your output, you can clearly see the constant negotiation between the two- and the three-dimensional. Your first works were drawings, and drawing is still part of your practice even though it is increasingly more sculptural. I am thinking, for example, of the works on cardboards Figura. Frase.

JS: My sculptures might actually be flatter than some of my drawings. My work with space starts with paper, like an extension that I have to mark out in order to make it a place. I am thinking for instance of Geológicos, and the horizontal line, the ground, with which I started each one of those works on paper. Or Cabeza (oreja). Cadera. Pie, which gave the paper forms by means of cutting and displacements. In the case of the cardboard in Figura. Frase, it was almost like a gymnastic exercise. They required a prior structure, a structure that is there, underneath the image, holding it together, even though you can´t see that structure. I started out from the sensations that intermingle when something is said, from that element of emotion or nerves when you are talking. With these pieces I wanted to transfer this nervousness that affects speech, when you start to say something and then let it go. I wanted to make an image that would be like talking. I would prepare a strategy beforehand, a system of two-to-three gestures that would fit together very quickly, as if it were a sport. In these pieces the vertical is the figure. There is a mirror relationship with them. They were executed very quickly and with intense concentration. I was so close up when I did them that I didn’t actually see them until I stopped and stood back.

Julia Spinola
Lubricán, 2018.

MN: Both cardboard and MDF board are mass-produced neutral, functional materials. They speak to the idea of structure, but rarely to skin or ornament. You use them a lot in your work.

JN: It came about from the series Geológicos. Partly because of that colour which is so I-don’t-know, so indefinable, “poor demure brown. Trampled by red,”[4] as Derek Jarman said, which means nothing and yet, without knowing why, I am reminded of bones. Brown is the colour of material, of its mixture, of the mundane, it is a melange, a sludge. In this series I used colour consciously and circumspectly, I wanted it to explode and at the same time to be localised, which is why I introduced it very rarely and always within brackets. The colour of MDF board, of cardboard, is the support without added language that surrounds colour and makes it concrete. Furthermore, these are materials that have allowed me to work from the plane, as a fairly natural consequence of working on paper, though in my mind there is an obsession with volume, with working in another way, more a question of giving something form rather than constructing.

MN: Language is one of the axes around which your practice revolves. You approach it from its materiality.

JS: The Greeks used the same word pharmakon to refer to colour, drugs and writing. It seems as if there was an argument about the written word, because it was like a double that had arrived to superimpose itself on reality and ended up replacing it. Colour was another deception, seduction, a false duplicate, something that had to be pulled back because the real was just behind and the appearance distracted us from the essence, and this distrust somehow still lingers. On this triad, I am reminded of Henri Michaux’s Knowledge Through the Abyss. I took notes from this text which I then printed on green paper and I have been consulting them over these last few months. I am interested in it as a process of writing. Michaux wrote it in various states of altered consciousness and, as he wrote, the fact of having a pen in his hand stopped him from letting himself go altogether. He became his own pursuer. There are many references to the hand that writes, more like a rake than a hand,[5] to language that unfolds before him, in the midst of and behind those words,[6] or, when turning the page, he dwells on a description of the shadow cast by the page as he lets it fall. Afterwards, sober-minded, he wrote about it all again, questioning it, bringing into play a language that is continuously being armed and disarmed.

MN: A language that, quoting Luce Irigaray, refuses to exercise “control over things, to appropriate the world and others”, but rather “opens towards the unlimited”, which is to say, towards “accepting a future built with the other.”[7]

JS: I will return again to “the rose is red”, and to the hegemony of is. When we say that “something is something” we are automatically removing ourselves from the equation, we are cheating. On the other hand, when we say “this rose looks red”, then we are making ourselves visible there in the middle, becoming part of the becoming of things. There is a presence that is not circumscribed to one’s outline, but that opens up, mixes and returns. It describes a more circular route. Tiqqun says that we have to be aware of that which is done to us when we speak. You say “the rose is red”, then you return to your things and nothing has changed, yet the rose is not red, the rose looks red. Therein the doubt, and that’s what happens to me with colour; it makes me doubt, it questions me. This also has a lot to do with the fact that I am very much on the surface of the eye, and to be on the surface of the eye could well be like being on the edge of language where one is already more outside, more on the outside and you dissolve, you lose yourself.

Julia Spinola
Lubricán, 2018.

MN: In Lubricán you start by planning thoroughly. The project is painstaking armed and from a mental “conscious posture”. At once, you demand a space in which meaning can break down, and a time that allows you to lose control of all this prior construction. How do you negotiate between these two states, physical and mental?

JS: I am talking about a series of questions I have to put into practice, otherwise they are just words, ideas, and that is not enough. The meaning has to be broken down, as you say. During the action something has to take place that is not in the plan, something in the relation with the material, with those objects, with those images, which reminds me again of Michaux’s raking hand, which, as a hand, was completely blurred.[8] In the process of making I must look for that something that dislocates me, that dislocates the whole previous plan. At a certain moment, things start to move by their own accord, for instance, one of the pieces in the exhibition, a wall of pressed cardboard, of material that pushes, has mobilised itself in my head in such a way that it has ended up crushing a series of elements that were in the way, some hedges, and now all that is left of them is a fine green line; and although it was a mental process, it is now the piece that is making itself, moving itself, somehow removed from me. I need to finish this exhibition and to be in a place that I had not foreseen so that I can carry on from there, and for me that is the most exciting aspect of all.

MN: The title of the exhibition suggests a place of uncertainty. When night begins to fall it is like a moment of confusion in which we don’t know whether the wolf is a dog or whether the dog is in fact a wolf.

JS: Yes, that’s where the word “lubricán” comes from, from the Latin lupus and canis, wolf-dog. A conflated word that is neither one thing nor the other. I like that; it gave me room to work with. The time it refers to, gloaming or twilight, which is literally a compound of two-light, is also a moment of ambiguity, of it-is and it-isn’t, is it the day ending or the night beginning? I have been taking a lot of photos on my mobile at this time of day; sometimes I take two photos of the same image, one five minutes after the other. In this lapse of time the image would have started to dissolve in certain points that were beginning to move, dazzled, on the screen of the mobile. Then night would fall, which is very orangish in Madrid, because a lot of areas are lit with low-pressure sodium-vapour lamps —it’s a fantastic name, don’t you think?— and the scale of the city changes, as if the ceiling were lowered, making it more human, and then the other half starts; I am reminded of some lines by María Salgado: “we have come to turn ourselves into the material of what we make.”[9]

MN: Speaking of your exhibition, you often use references and authors who are somehow affiliated with the ancient world. I wonder where this interest comes from, and how these readings are echoed in your working process.

JS: It could come from my need for history, for a story, a tale, narration, but it is not just a question of content, but also of form, of how these stories are told. In the link we can detect between the present and all that, I believe that there is a relationship with a double, of time somewhere between frozen and split in two. On the other hand, I have been reading Lucretius, who in turn wrote about the writings of Epicurus, but dressing them up in a more passionate style. He is an incredible character, profoundly materialist and atheist, who tried to understand the world through what it contained, from the smallest to the largest thing, from “the seeds of things”[10] to phenomena like lightning, or the movement of stars, wishing to embrace everything, but from a kind of zero-degree observation that produces thoughts and sensation, in a back and forth process in which everything is interrelated and in motion. Now, some of things Lucretius wrote might strike us as very innocent, but I am attracted precisely by this emboldened naivety, this fragility. For instance, he believed that images were floating all about us, that they were made of atoms that had been thrown off objects, and that if these impinge upon the eyes, they produce sight; and when these atoms enter the mind, they cause thought, if the body is awake, and dreams if the body is asleep.

MN: In Lubricán, but also in many of your previous works, the city, its relief, its streets and even its vegetation operate like a kind of subtext.

JS: There is something about the idea of the city that I never quite grasp. It’s a very physical feeling of being inside something. You leave home and you are outside, but also inside. Lavapiés, for instance, is very enveloping, but when I go to other parts of Madrid I don’t feel so protected. Maybe it has something to do with the height of the buildings, the fact that it is in a hollow, with all its steep streets, or maybe it’s the sky, which you always see in fragments, between the buildings. All the signs are there though this doesn’t imply that I know what they mean, or even if they mean anything at all. I have a relationship with the city that is half-way between sculpture and image. This is the ground, this is the sky, this is my left and this is my right. This is the people around me, this is how they move; but at the same time, when I am walking about I am always looking for my images, a view that opens up only if I place myself in a certain place. Lubricán is very exterior. Literally it is when night falls while you are out of home, in the street. That’s it: leave home when night is about to fall and go back when day begins to break. It’s an exhibition that catches you when you’re out.

Interview published in Julia Spinola. Lubricán Edited by Beatriz Herráez (CA2M, Madrid, 2018) ISBN: 978-84-451-3683-6

Please follow this link to acces the digital version of the exhibition catalogue (Es/Eng).


[1] Marguerite Yourcenar, The Abyss, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1976, p. 173.

[2]Martín Gambarotta, Punctum, Mansalva/Vox, Buenos Aires, 2011.

[3]Gilles Deleuze & Tiqqun, Contribución a la guerra en curso, Errata Naturae, Madrid, 2012.

[4]Derek Jarman, Chroma. A Book of Colour. June ‘93, Vintage, London, 1995, p. 79.

[5]Henri Michaux, Conocimiento por los abismos, Sur, Buenos Aires, 1972.


[7]Luce Irigaray, En el principio era ella, La llave, Barcelona, 2016.


[9]María Salgado, “Es un secreto”, Hacía un ruido. Frases para un film político, Contrabando, Valencia, 2016.

[10]Lucretious, On the Nature of Things, trans. by Martin Ferguson Smith, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 2001.