Defending Empedocles

Issue 02/15

The countryside is a scenario from which we may defend the return to the origins of total artists, their constant exploration of the land as a place from which to create.

‘The manipulation of nature is an old wish of mankind, who needs to master their environment and modify it at any time to serve their purposes. This is what has been— apparently, achieved in the cities, where nature is reduced to the domesticated environments of parks, gardens and roundabouts.’ The quote is from Pau Waelder, curator, in his mention of French philosopher Alain Roger and in reference to the work of Spanish artist Santiago Morilla.


Santiago Morilla: Strike Back Sculpture, 2012. Salamanca, Spain

The rural environment and its metaphors, the mirror it holds up to urban circuits that reflects the class struggle, is one of the core ideas of Morilla’s installations. This artist has been working for years on the countryside as an artistic tool to offer video art, photography, illustration and specific interventions ‘with’ and ‘in’ rural scenarios. In his artistic creations the movement of sheep, a mountain of hay bales or the bird’s-eye view of a pond and hoses are new critical visions of the countryside, its manipulation in cities and its daily confrontation with urban life.

Santiago Morilla: To Where You Came From [still], 2012

As Morilla himself states, ‘If you change the position of the hay bales in a field so that they’re not just towers of food or skittles chucked wherever the hell the bailing machine felt like it … randomly … if you break that grid you’re making sense of the countryside, and it could contain a coded message.’ This is what Pau Waelder describes as ‘hacking the landscape’ in the title of his study. The artist takes a field and a reaper to draw a finger pointing critically at the city, or takes a flock of sheep to draw the word ‘End’ in a green field. He manipulates the countryside in order to defend it.

Santiago Morilla: To Where You Came From, 2012. Salamanca, Spain

The Rural Contemporánea group of artists and curators works along the same lines and has been boosting the value of nature and the countryside as an artistic element for some time. They work in rural environments and establish artistic networks in which sociocultural aspects prove more necessary than in large cities. This implies the return to the origins of the total artist, the constant exploration of the land as a place from which to create, drawing attention to the soil under our feet—in short, the return to Empedocles’s cosmogenic theory of the four classical elements: earth, water, air and fire.