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O Magazine

Ecstasy and rapture.
An interview with María Cañas


Pau Atienza,
Morrosko Vila-San-Juan

She says she’s a woman made up of fragments and she misses her pre-digital brain. She praises Borges and reading, and says we might end up evolving to become potatoes with one finger continually clicking. She adds that what she does is videomachy, she fights with all sorts of audiovisual landscapes and detritus, doesn’t give a damn about copyright and keeps on thrusting audiovisual goring, like a bull, to generate portraits against the tide. Everything is pure delirious and contradictory, or, what is the same, pure art. This Andalusian video-artist, collector, archivist and re-mixer has generated a torrential and provocative body of work, which has been recognised with a great deal of awards and exhibitions.

  • Your work is very visual, how well do you manage with words?

I think in images but talk a lot… I imagine that my neurotic, diogenic and quixotic brain encourages me to talk a lot. Magic is about feeling and living… Words aren’t really necessary. When you say something, you spoil it. I’m full of words, of noise, of an imaginary and of images. And the more that comes to mind, the more I can hear silence. All this audiovisual detritus, all these ruins… In the ruins of my fragment, on the one hand, I find myself, but on the other, there are no images beyond the Sun. I don’t know, no matter how much videomachy and video-guerrilla I make, I’m still quite at a loss.

  • In your work you seem to want to leave words aside and reach ecstasy and rapture through images instead… Was Iván Zulueta’s film Arrebato important to you?

Of course! The difference is that I’m more of a pharmacist’s junkie, not a heroine one. Images have devoured me. That magical image, like a giant tit pouring all the images of the world… Thinking in images is reassuring to me, although at the same time it leaves me exhausted. In my flat I haven’t got any coats because I have no room for them in my wardrobe… It’s all piles and piles of hard disks, and Betacam, VHS tapes, or DVDs, and they are infested with fungi on top of that… My editor, José Carricarte, used to tell me: “this digital art of you people is all perishable, there will be none left…” Maybe he’s right. I’ve got mini dv tapes I can’t see because the camera no longer works and I can’t connect it to the computer. And if to that you add the whole planned obsolescence thing… What we have left is a sort of archivism, but we don’t know what will survive out of it. The editor insists: “what are left are stones, Roman ruins… But your stuff is all going to disappear.” And, somehow, that would be quite liberating. Should Internet crash, that would be liberating! We’re all on Fascistbook, pouring all our wrath and our art into an app that, like Google or YouTube, isn’t horizontal or free, but has completely capitalist and directed interests, the most important thing for them is selling our data… I’m worried about spending my life in front of a computer. Life isn’t there. It’s all very contradictory… I, like Orson Welles, am very contradictory. And what gives me life at the same time takes it away from me. I’m like an electric zombie, a passionate digital junkie…

  • Do you feel the need of going back to the physical, to collage, for instance?

Since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by collage, by its capacity of generating monsters and finding myself among the ruins of fragments… To me, monsters are part of an evolution. The Elephant Man is one of my favourite films. With collage I pay homage to all monsters and all sick people. My grandfather, who came from a village near Las Hurdes, Valdelacasa, went around villages taking care of lepers. That kind of sickness was a taboo, if there were a leper in a family his/her relatives had to lock him/her up in the basement… And I inherited from my grandfather a great collection of images of people suffering from ichthyosis, elephantiasis… I admire and feel a kind of solidarity towards people who live with these illnesses. Monsters have given me a lot of strength to go on. In fact, my films are video-spawns, little Frankensteins… They’re my homage to monsters, which have nothing to do with the mainstream, or with orthodoxy or essence or purism; they make us grow and evolve. But, well, monsters are also all those Syrians trying to come over here… We can live that as a threat or as something positive which, thanks to the mix of cultures, will make us evolve and improve. What I’m interested in is making video-guerrilla, and trans-national and local stories against the tide. Generating critical cultural low cost stories, political video-guerrilla and video-remix.

  • How did you start making collages when you were a kid?

I was a very complicated child and I had very big traumas. I’ve always felt like an extra-terrestrial. My mother, when I was little, took me to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind and I was sure I was the alien. She took me to the park and I just stood there, looking towards the light, begging UFOs to come and take me. And that feeling, above all where I come from, such a Baroque, purist, stale and prudish land… With its religion based on blame and hitting your chest, but with all that hidden hypocrisy on the other side… I looked for my own territory in art and collage, somewhere to feel free, to express myself, to take a rest: a refuge.

  • Was there rage there too?

Totally! I’m a rebel because the world made me this way, as Jeanette used to sing. With video-terrorism I’m a pain in the arse and I shit on everything and I take revenge on everything… I do digital and cinephagist apocalypses and hecatombs and feel so comfortable. It’s a vital necessity. If I had done what my father told me to (he wanted me to study Law), I would be mad and on medication.

  • Films are your great references?

Yes, I love Jaws, Piranha, North by Northwest and all the Hitchcock movies… I love the magic of watching films and believing they’re true. When I saw Rosemary’s Baby I had to sleep with garlic and crosses in bed for several months because I didn’t want to have the devil’s child. The power and images of films influence and condition your life… I was also raised with La bola de cristal and La clave. With La bola de cristal I wasn’t really aware because I was too young, but my best moment of the week was Saturday morning sitting with my brother in front of the telly watching those punk stories by Lolo Rico, and later on I realised they had a great influence on. I see the Bruja Avería as a kind of alter ego… And films such as Fahrenheit 451, by Truffaut, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes or The Munsters… I wanted to be part of that family! And La clave and Balbín drove me mad… I was like an old soul. I feel filthy, alien, post-Marian and a-historical. Since I was a kid… I think I isolated myself and ended up like an old lady.

  • Is that due to your eagerness to watch everything?

Absolutely. I’m like Don Quixote with courtly romances. I wanted to be a painter and, in fact, I stopped studying Audiovisual Communication to paint. But I suffered greatly because I had this stream of ideas in my head and one day I wanted to be Francis Bacon, the next day Basquiat, after that Caravaggio… I painted a lot, but threw everything away because I was never satisfied. But with the Internet and digitalisation I saw I could start channelling all that stream of ideas. And that’s how I stumbled with all those images… I’m an artivist and a defender of free culture and of our historical memories. We can’t allow for the NO-DO to be kidnapped… I believe in re-mixing and interchange. Art is a game of all men with all ages. My mission in life is being a sort of vestal virgin, inspiring, arousing, and educating people for them to become freer, wilder and more creative. Educating, to me, is helping people to be able to govern themselves… If we’re all stockholders of the film industry, because we all pay to go to the movies and buy DVDs, why shouldn’t we be allowed to hack all these discourses and generate stories against the tide, blowing up clichés, symbols and myths? That’s why I have this anxiety to cover everything… Since I couldn’t find it at the Film Institute and I had nothing, I discovered what a girl could get away with from home using that popular asshole called YouTube and the Internet. I started compulsively downloading everything; I wanted to get to the end of the Internet. I went bananas… I have no melatonin left in my body. I’m electric. The terrorist virgin of the archive… Seville’s electric archivist! I went to a psychiatrist and, due to medical prescription, I no longer have an Internet connection at home, I need to go to my mum’s… Today, anybody can make films, and as Val del Omar used to say, never-ending films… Our imaginaries are multiplied ad infinitum, and you could go on and on and make films forever, eternally, totally reload, it’s like Unamuno’s story but at a digital level, and online. I’m interested in films with no cameras; you no longer have to pick up the camera, why? Because everybody shoots the same… Why should I spend money in shooting when everything has been done before and I can recycle stuff, it’s more ecological to do B-movies… If someone gave me a lot of money to make a film, I wouldn’t be able to do it, I’d be too anxious… What I need to start creating are these short-circuits, recycling and remixing everything myself.

  • Wouldn’t you be interested in making a fiction film?

Yes, but what I find harder to deal with is the actors… Archives, memories, create a distance, you’re never involved with people directly; you’re with their spirits, with the magic of photography, of film, what has already been recorded… In fact, now I’m collaborating in a project with people in altered states of consciousness, visionaries, madmen, and I feel incapable of shooting them. I don’t see the point of shooting them and then not helping them with their lives at all… And when it comes to today’s actors and films, I’m only interested in very limited things. You need to go far not to get lost in the distraction. As daddy Pasolini used to say: “Culture is a resistance to distraction”. We spend the day playing with our smartphones, on Fascistbook… We’re all scattered brained. Culture is a resistance to distraction and laughing is an orgasm of intelligence. And there’s where risastencia [laughter-resistance], my philosophy, appears… Humour of any colour, grotesque, Buñuel style, carnivalesque, naïf, hyena laughter, post-humour… It’s a kind of popular resistance. I’ve also been called the “Tarantina” of the YouTube age.

  • You use laughter to create opposites and confrontation, how do these mechanisms work exactly?

As William Blake used to say, the road of excess also leads to the palace of wisdom. What I’m excited about are short-circuits, mixing the unmixable, Camarón and Michael Jackson dancing flamenco together. What orthodoxy and official discourses say can’t be done is the base of my work. It’s a necessity and it manifests itself in political video-remixes and the editing of attractions, an editing of contrasts and contradictions. I’m very contradictory; I’m like a riddle within an enigma. On the one hand I’m sick of being María Cañas and would like to be “María Coñas” [coñas=jokes], that’s why I resort to humour… Maybe I’m not doing things the right way and I should be doing stuff anonymously and get an alter ego. What I’m interested in is media wildness. We’re all very “big brother” already, controlled by the FBI, the CIA, Facebook, Google… And I can take the liberty to do media terrorism with almost no money and video-remix. Terrible hobbies to make us roar… I think the revolution won’t be televised, it will be on every small TV we each make with the Internet. It’s vitalist existentialism. Scepticism is with the political system, politics is no longer an art, but something tacky, but I believe in risastencia [laughter-resistance]. And in culture as an exchange… I pay homages because I couldn’t afford to pay all those copyrights. I follow the idea of Fair Use, that American law that won’t ever have here; we have to pay for everything! Why should we pay for NO-DO, when it’s part of our historical memory? I have friends making documentaries that will end up being crap because they can’t even afford to pay three minutes of NO-DO… Why do I have to use pigs from Ohio to make a film in which I would need national pigs? Nothing is original, as Jim Jarmusch says. Since us creators are in the stay we are in, at least we have to take the liberty of doing whatever we want. And there are cracks in the system, and we can do it.

  • Have you encountered any legal problems?

Not yet. But, unfortunately, I’m not free; I censor myself all the time… With religious images, with bullfighters’ faces, with registered trademarks… I’ve had to censor myself so as not to get a hell of a fine. But since everything I do is for non-commercial purposes I’ve had no problems. Well, I did an installation once and was denounced by Falange Española. We created a humorous pop fable about the nation and the Spanish flag and they took it very seriously. Then I brought it to Barcelona and people loved it! But had I done the same with the Catalan flag… In any case, I think in the transformative and social power of art. What I’d really love is making a hell of a mess. But I haven’t managed yet. It all stays within art, and the only thing I can do is arousing souls… We should reset everything and start it all again from anarchism, real austerity and social equality.