In the mid-1970s we were impressed by the solemnity with which the fine arts spoke of themselves, but thanks to some mysteriously-received gift we managed to muster up an ironic smile of mistrust just in time. Not that we scorned the merit of the old masters but in their rhetoric – and in their enthusiastic imitators – we recognised a suspicious fraud. It wasn’t long before we saw them treat our precocious cynical affiliation with anger. However much it was our turn to question them, the idea of consenting to our insolent way of seeing the world did not occur to us. A disproportionate eagerness for respectability led them to imagine themselves as the replacements for the old crocks of the century and it was this pretension that encouraged our sardonic disdain. Now, having learned the lesson of time, I understand the difficulty involved in teaching disciples who are as joyful as they are disbelieving. What can you say? Credulity was not one of our qualities. The mysterious gift – we found out later – goes back to one of the most subversive philosophical currents that have passed through the history of culture. We were sceptical with irritating intensity and this spirit secured an excellent sentimental education for us. Our refusal to share contemporary ingenuity made us immune to the doctrines that were spreading through the beliefs’ market at the time. Whether aesthetical, political, religious or musical, the eloquence of these ideas was received with sharpened mistrust. This irony saved us from the ingenuous complacency that many people put up with.
It is in the memory of those years of splendour, in the shared initiation during an adolescence made of learning and fraternity, that some revealing keys of the route travelled by Antoni Socías are found.
His skill as a painter, sculptor and photographer, the mastery acquired in any of the disciplines he has chosen for his extraordinary explorations of the world, the freedom with which he has managed to undo his artistic achievements, have made him one of the Spanish artists who are most brutally involved in the incessant destruction of his own work.
The protean, virtuous, voracious, sarcastic and cruel talent energetically unfurled after the mutations of the language emerging in each era have allowed him to handle it, manufacture it and abandon it with the urgency his intransigent genius demands.
Since his first works, I have seen him consume the same cycle over and over again. When he accommodates himself in an artistic domain, when he forges the unmistakeable personality of his styles and sees his brand recognised, he hurriedly abandons the encumbrance of what has been achieved.
One has to understand the value implicit in this attitude of constant renovation. It is a challenge very few are in a position to accept. Renouncing the singularity of a completed work, leaving that which has been laboriously conquered behind and once again heading for the uninhabited horizon is to exercise a supreme act of shedding.
Living open to the call of the unknown, to what one has to give of oneself once again in unexpected circumstances, feeling attracted by what does not exist, committing to what it will come to be, means complying with one of the most radical demands of Art.
The passage of time has given this search its exact heroic magnitude. Antoni Socías has freed himself of the servitude imposed by the expectations of others and has followed the train of his powerful intuition, of his despotic instinct as a predator of himself. Who knows how far he will want to go.
After contemplating his new work, I hasten to write to him, as amazed as ever:
With this series, Toni, you are inaugurating a new gaze. Once again you can see that deliberate “confusion of minds” with which you shake up the certainties of others. Once again you slide along that frontier where the absurd and the domestic meet, attack and injure each other. Your trip to Africa handles the theatrical, narrative and metaphysical potency of the images with mastery, but evokes a perturbing and subtle disappointment. What would that be?
Your point of view in Africa is an exercise of style that destroys the distance between the photographer and the world. The African visions the culture industry offers us maintain a narrative twisted by the caution, the prejudices and the hopes of the traveller. On the one hand we know that he admires that which is exotic and loves to be fascinated. On the other hand, fearful of what he sees, he has misgivings and steps back. He wants to trap what he sees, but he does not want to touch it. He pursues an acceptable simulation of what is real, but knows that his presence spoils the integrity of that exotic, primitive, virginal image. How can he negotiate this tension?
Your journey is a parody of the genre: the illusion of that invisible photographer has been cancelled out, ridiculed. Your work is a confession: I am here. Could I be different? The “people” smile at me or repudiate me. There is no way of preventing it. I confess. I have to touch everything I see. This is the agreement between my eye and the world. Anything I cannot touch will not exist. It is not enough to see, it is not enough to look. You have to touch. Take on the supreme risk of being rejected.
The indulgence of the subjects you come across is surprising. It will also be disturbing. How did you manage it? No-one will know how to interpret it. Is it a sign of your personal power? Arrogance, abuse, interference…? Or a surprising fraternity between strangers in the marketplace?
The cultural construction of Africa performed by the west, the elaboration of that oriental exoticism so severely revealed by Edward Said, the savage emotions polished by literature and films, that orthopaedic vertigo with which the traveller strolled through the other world (the adventure projected by the travel agency), now enters its phase of decline and with your gaze, you are recording a substantial change. The exotic others have entered our lie and it is they who rest their chin on your hand. It is the great migration that brings them home, but also the rebellion of a voice that is their own, modulated by their personal memory (not that of the species, or the tribe, or the country, or the religion, or the customs, or the folklore); and in that intimate memory inside each of them reverberates the experience of the fatuity with which we have grown sick of ourselves.
As from now there will be nobody to admire. They are what we are. Disappointing images of how small we have come to be. Up until now they served as our consolation, a remote possibility of another life. All we had to do was glimpse their world from time to time to obtain a necessary consolation. And yet now they are men instead of images, they have become fellows, kin, equals. They will not serve us as a mythological refuge for our tired souls. We can take their hand, converse, become bored with them. They will not be the idyllic image of ancestral Humanity, the guarded innocence in the first origin of the world. That flow of useful illustrations to our cultural failure has run dry.
Your trip to Africa, Toni, is the chronicle of a cultural transformation but it does not evoke what happens there, amongst them. But rather what takes place here, amongst us. The new gaze, which you give a precise, eloquent shape, receives characters unexpectedly similar to ourselves. That self smudged with black smiling in the mirror, in the reverse of the world, said it all. Never before had it been seen in this way.