David Ferrando Giraut



David Ferrando Giraut interviewed by Manuel Segade

June 10th, 2008

I understand that your initial investigation into this piece* began as a result of your interest in second-hand vinyl records, and how the covers of some contained images of ruins which had drawn your attention.
*(Road Movie - Perpetuum Mobile; this piece is the main focus of discussion during the interview)

That’s partly true. The way in which exhibition elements are arranged suggests it to be the case, as the two pieces in which the juxtaposition of three album covers give rise to a narrative are entitled Storyboard, with the LPs acting as the starting point for the video. This is not to say, however, that the origins of this project lie strictly in the album covers per se.

In recent years I’ve worked within the audio-visual sphere, using the mass media as a fundamental part of the contemporary individual’s ecosystem. This is an area which is de facto alienating and from which it is impossible to escape due to its omnipresence, but in which, I firmly believe, there are still gaps which are susceptible to being taken over by individual subjectivity, by a purely personal point of view. I like the idea that among the millions of record covers in existence, random chance and your own subjectivity lead you to choose a few selected records and thus establish a relationship with them that previously was not obvious. This could function as a motor or a catalyst for a narrative which, in spite of setting off from a basis of consumer goods, is still generated by your subjectivity. This was what I was seeking to achieve with the title Storyboard.

What is certainly true is that one year into this I became very interested in theobjectual quality of vinyl records and in their market. Vinyl is something which is inextricably tied into popular culture, the vessel which holds the temporary cultural manifestation that is music; in other words a vessel which contains time itself. On a purely technological level its time has been and gone, records are now clearly obsolete. When you enter a second-hand record shop you can’t help but notice the sensation of nostalgia with an element of science fiction to it, faced with the accumulation of technological objects which have become suspended in time, like fragments of a ruin that speaks to us from another era – which in fact actually contains these eras. The most curious thing of all however is, despite being considered as an obsolete medium there is a thriving second-hand vinyl market, and not only this – there is information coming out of the UK that suggests that vinyl is actually outselling CDs. This strikes me as fascinating – it’s a reaction to the immateriality of digital formats, something which has an equivalence in the artistic world with the transformation of objects. As a reaction to the whole virtual thing, it seems as if people are nostalgic for materiality again... What I’m getting at is the relationship between the status of a vinyl record and my project. I’m very interested in audio-visual product – and here I’m not talking about an object per se but about what it contains: the image, sound, a certain ambience or narrative – which has become somehow suspended in time, obsolete, yet is still in our midst, and, above all, in our memory. For me, vinyl is a material metaphor of physical correspondence with a more abstract idea.

The importance of allegory as a linguistic strategy in artistic investigation into critiques of systems of representation throughout the eighties was fundamental. Do you also see allegory in such Benjaminian terms?

Something which has appeared constantly throughout my work has been my unwavering interest in Romanticism. The idea of ruin was one of its recurring themes, and from various points of view has always occupied a place of some importance in my artistic output.Walter Benjamin said that allegory was to theworld of ideas what a ruin was to the world of substance, and it’s certainly true to say that whenever I have read his writings on the subject of allegory – and those of Craig Owens, who followed in his wake so to speak – I have always felt that my strategies are akin to that way of working which emerged from the baroque period. As far as I remember, at least two of his ideas can be easily identified in my work, and that I have consciously made use of them to a greater or lesser extent. On the one hand, Benjamin says that allegory rescues a series of elements from the past which were otherwise destined to disappear, and combines them, recovering them for use in the present, yet emptied of their original meaning which has been substituted by a new meaning. This has been a frequent strategy of the avant-garde, and especially of postmodern art, something I recognise in my own experiences. On the other hand, and yet related to this, and perhaps more specifically applicable to my video, Benjamin mentions how in German baroque drama a piece could be represented in the ruins of its origins. In its allegorical construction, the ruined forms of a work of art which had been saved were always evident. I’m no great expert of German baroque drama, but nonetheless this idea is very close to the conception of Road Movie - Perpetuum Mobile the elements of which are presented to us as rubble, creating a totality which is really a collection of fragments which emerge from a past which we might intuitively sense but not be able to fully reconstruct. From that point I have sought a series of familiar elements to finish the piece with – easily recognisable, such as film clichés, which can be interpreted in terms of ruin. But I’ll come back to this point later.

If we consider questions such as these, I feel that interpreting my work with respect to the Benjaminian idea of allegory could prove most useful.

In almost all your earlier work there is some reference to film. Here you have provided us directly with a piece of film as your contribution to the exhibition.

That’s right. Both in terms of questions related to the means of production and concerns of a more discursive nature, it seems to me to be the most suitable medium.

In earlier work there was an intentional sense of tension between the desire to create confusion between reality and fiction, and that of revealing the artifice, the device by which that confusion is in fact created. For example we might hear screams in the forest, but after a while it turns out they came from a television (in Night of the Living Dead), or we see two separate screens, one of which shows a fragment of film which talks about a meteorite which has supposedly fallen to earth, the other an excavator digging out the crater (Meteorite Fall).

This tension between the creation of confusion and the laying bare of the device is something which is clearly present in my new work, although I get the impression that the mechanism has become somewhat more sophisticated. This has meant, as you say, moving away from making videos which reference cinema to making a piece which is altogether more cinematographic. I used to be very concerned with the division that exists between fiction and reality – which in our day to day lives are anything but terms which are set in stone – and in the video I made last year, CryWolf (Making Of), I sought to make the dividing line even less clear. This project strikes me as having been a step forward in this sense, and whilst I am still happy with it, when it came to considering the piece I was going to produce for the CGAC exhibition, I was determined to take this even further. At the same time I set myself the task of producing a piece which would operate on a more visual and unconscious level, as CryWolf was much more of a narrative, with a sizeable amount of text. This new piece is a lot less didactic, less self-explanatory, and to a certain extent might be seen as being altogether more malicious. The type of production employed this time round allowed me to create an entity that had a certain cinematographic appearance. As far as image treatment is concerned it is considerably different to my previous pieces, which tend to be more domestic looking. My idea was to try to strengthen this cinematographic aspect, whilst at the same time introducing a series of elements which go against the grain of standard filmic logic. The clearest example of this was the inclusion of the stage lights between the car and the injured person, thus turning a real landscape into a set, although there are a series of subtler devices which seek to accentuate, even exaggerate certain elements which are, as I said before, film clichés. For example, the excessive deterioration of the car, which seems inexplicable, bearing in mind the surroundings; the artificiality of the smoke machines used to create something midway between the smoke from the car and a Romantic fog; the fact that the soundtrack alternates between the purely musical and something which is altogether more diegetic, creating at certain moments a (false) sound ambience which once again turns the previously natural setting into something artificial. Or else, with regard to the soundtrack, the excessive emphasis on the appearance of the actor, which gives it a character somewhere between climactic and overstated, excessively cinematographic. Nevertheless, in spite of all this, the intention this time was ensure that the image itself had sufficient capacity to fascinate in order to make all these devices obvious, to make the viewer doubt what he or she was seeing.

Your piece suggests an affinity with the B movies that were made in the nineteen-seventies. Is this another example of ruin or in fact some sort of environmental semiology?

Horror films have often tapped into this tragic notion of the natural, an aspect that was inherited from Romanticism, having first passed a pop culture filter. This is something that has always attracted me (you only have to consider films such as Friday the 13th or The BlairWitch Project, to give just two examples).

There are two or three specific aspects of B movies that sum up quite neatly the questions that interest me which I have already mentioned. Firstly, these films tend to employ an imagery which is created for immediate consumption, inherently tied in to the moment in question, and which therefore normally ages badly. This is related to what I was saying earlier about obsolete images which remain in our vocabulary, our memories; it would also tie in with the idea of ruin. Secondly, due to their own sense of precariousness and their awareness of this, they put forward plot lines which are somewhat simplistic, loaded with clichés and reference points, covering up deficiencies by seeking complicity with the spectator. Here I see echoes of Benjamin’s idea of a piece of art born from its awareness of itself as a ruin, and I wonder if this might be the reason why these films continue to fascinate audiences in spite of their drawbacks and deficiencies, and the fact they seem so dated. Finally, and once again as a direct result of the lack of resources, these are films where the means of production are frequently visible, yet they still manage to create an atmosphere which is both intense and credible, highly effective despite their evident artificiality.

Your technique of expanding the time of an accident, it seems almost Tarkovskian.What does this perpetuation mean within the structure of the shot sequence?

On the one hand there is a basic idea which is, as you rightly say, somewhat redolent of Tarkovsky. The idea was to approach the scene as if it were suspended in time; time flows, we see it in the movement of smoke or in the river in the background; however, in spite of the continuous camera movement and the passing of time, the narrative does not move forward: it appears to be frozen. The camera turns and the same elements appear in the shot, always in the same place, without any apparent transformation other than subtle changes in lighting and wind direction and strength. Tarkovsky used to say that capturing the flow of time was the element that most defined film language, that the more literary narrative structures were little more than a concession to the market; that maybe the evolution of cinema from the earliest experiments of the Lumière brothers tothe most conventional forms of current cinema had not been altogether positive in artistic terms given the demand for standard narrative cinema, closer to theatre in the classic sense. It strikes me as interesting that, even bearing in mind that his films carry a great literary weight, this idea is always there, just under the surface. I like the idea of a film as a time container – something which is also inevitable in any kind of film, although many filmmakers don’t pay much attention to it.

The choice of a supposed car accident as the central theme is due, as I have mentioned, to its nature as a cinematographic convention, as well as to the fact that it is a brief yet traumatic event – also one with Romantic overtones – which tends to presuppose some sort of narrative reflection. The aim here is to create an air of expectation among the viewing public which is nevertheless not satisfied; on the other hand we discover how this easily recognisable image leads to no other conclusion than its constant repetition, and that this, together with the appearance of the elements which I have already described, and not consequential with the cinematographic logic that can be easily assimilated by this kind of image, turns it into something of a paradox. It’s almost like singing a lullaby to a child whilst continually prodding him so he doesn’t fall asleep.

The majority of your work has a very specific setting: around the Galician village of Negreira, where you were born. This must have a big influence on the Romantic framework you tend to use: the correspondence between the exterior – nature, climate, environment and ambience – and the individual’s inner emotional climate.

I was born in Negreira and lived there till I was eighteen. I’m certain it had a marked influence on me; above all the fact that I grew up in such a small village, surrounded by nature. When we were children we always went playing up the hill or down by the river, then later, before we were allowed into bars, we would buy beers and go and drink them in the woods. I suppose everybody’s circumstances are different and lead them to experience things in a certain way, and the truth is that as a result of all these experiences, I have always had an intense relationship with these places. I’m sure that for this reason, ever since I can remember, I have been attracted by the Romantic idea of landscape as a projection of our inner self.

Negreira didn’t have an awful lot of leisure opportunities and so that’s how we spent our time. I’m talking here about the early nineteen-nineties. Like any other teenager, I also used to watch TV and listen to the radio a lot. At that time Twin Peaks was on and The Silence of the Lambs had just come out. I was really into things like that. The music I liked most back then and which was the most popular at the time were the grunge bands from Seattle, with their pessimistic soundscapes which seemed to conjure up dense woodland. These days I realise that what was going on at that time was that my world was fed in equal parts by these two ways of receiving stimuli, which ended up merging into one: direct, firsthand experiences, and indirect experience via the mass media. And, above all, the coincidence (or maybe I selected what most reminded me of my surroundings) that the physical surroundings – landscape in which these films or the whole Seattle movement took place, was not so different to what I saw when I set foot outside my house: forest, river, fog and rain, lots of rain. All of these references from the English-speaking world acted like some kind of filter to the way I perceived my everyday world. As I have already said elsewhere, half jokingly, half seriously: “I used to live with one foot in Seattle when I was a teenager”.Without ever leaving Negreira, obviously.

All of this has stoked – and evidently continues to do so – the fires of my artistic career: the questioning of mechanisms of this kind and the search for an answer within the context of artistic expression. For this reason it’s normal that in many pieces of work I use Negreira’s landscapes as my locations, as the peculiarities that define my relationship to them form part of the backbone of my project.

You have worked with a production coordination team, an actor and a producer who provided the rest of the equipment, as well as two special effects specialists. What has this meant to your work?

I have already spoken about the change that has come about as a result of making a more cinematographic piece, one I couldn’t have made using my normal method of working (I tend to work alone, or at the most, with one friend and using very little equipment). This forces you to plan your work in a completely different way: when I work alone I usually do a whole series of test shots, I improvise a lot and film lots of material I end up not using. Very often I set off from an open idea which gets narrowed down as I film and edit. It’s a very hands-on approach to working and one I really like. The danger is that this somewhat undisciplined system doesn’t necessarily oblige you to make an effort to synthesise, and sometimes that can be detrimental to the piece. When you work with a team you have to accept that your idea will have to be far more pinned down from the outset. This forces you to discard certain elements and accept others from the start, and that, whilst undoubtedly difficult, is also quite positive I believe. At this very moment it’s also what I feel my work needs. I suppose that now I will go back to my more ’domestic’ way of working, although I am nonetheless certain that the conclusions I have been able to draw from this synthesis in this piece will allow me to see things in the future from another perspective.

You’ve been living for a long while outside Galicia – what does it mean to you to be involved in this project?

In my teenage years I was talking about earlier, we once went on a school trip to Santiago to visit the CGAC. We saw an exhibition by Vito Acconci. I was amazed to see something like that, so close to home, and since then I’ve always made an effort to visit the museum as often as possible. A short while later I decided to study Art and then I went to Valencia – nevertheless, I have always kept the CGAC as my point of reference and taken the time to visit it whenever I have been in Negreira. Despite its supposed ups and downs I have always been interested in its programme and fully respected its exhibition policy. However clichéd this might sound, it means a lot to me to be here for the museum’s fifteenth anniversary. It seems to me that I belong to one of the first generations of Galician artists whose formal training, from the very outset (and even before) is so closely linked to visits to the CGAC.

Anyway, regardless of sentimental issues, this is an excellent opportunity for me to show my work in Galicia under conditions which really could not possibly be bettered, as well as, once again, being able to produce a piece of work which Icould not have made under other circumstances. I firmly believe that initiatives of this kind, with the risk that they imply, show a strong commitment to the future of Galician art, as well as giving a clear indication that a museum like the CGAC can have a dynamic effect, providing a stage which goes far beyond their usual exhibition programming (which, as I have said, was of great value to me during my artistic training). Long may they last!