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Esther Ferrer: Art as a form of activism
The Didaktika project offers visitors key concepts from the exhibitions through educational areas, special activities and this online section. On the occasion of the exhibition dedicated to Esther Ferrer (Donostia/San Sebastián, 1937), Didaktika focuses on essential aspects of the career of this artist, considered as one of the pioneers of performance art. Ferrer began to use this form of art to transform reality back in the 1970s. Her works had a twofold scope: a private dimension, bringing into question intimate issues like sexuality or personal relationships, and a social side, condemning the objectification of women and the denigration of the female body, while vindicating gender equality.
Beginnings: The Zaj Group
In 1964, the experimental musicians and composers Ramón Barce, Juan Hidalgo and Walter Marchetti established Zaj, one of the most subversive, avant-garde groups in the Spanish art scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Esther Ferrer joined them in 1967. She helped strengthen the group and remained in it, along with Hidalgo and Marchetti, until its dissolution in 1996. She took part in Zaj’s concerts, festivals and events in Spain and other countries.
Under the influence of American experimental composer and music theorist John Cage, Zaj combined avant-garde music, experimental poetry, and performance with the aim of taking everyday activities out of context and defying the status quo that curtailed individual and collective freedoms in pre-democratic Spain. Performances like The Nobleman with his Hand on the Chest (El caballero con la mano en el pecho), where Hidalgo placed his hand in one of Ferrer’s breasts, were met with enthusiasm by a few and with shock and aversion by most.
Esther Ferrer and John Cage
In the summer of 1972, the American musician John Cage and the members of the Zaj Group met at Los Encuentros de Pamplona, an international art festival gathering more than 350 artists from a variety of disciplines: electronic art, performance, video art, poetry, painting, sculpture, film, and experimental music. Deeply impressed by Zaj’s groundbreaking ideas and social claims, he arranged a tour for them through USA and Canada in 1973. Thanks to Cage’s tour, the members of Zaj were able to meet people like American dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham. In 1978, Cage invited them to be part of Il Treno di John Cage (John Cage’s Train. In Search of Lost Silence), a three-day happening on wheels departing from the Bologna Centrale train station in Italy. As her mates took charge of the project’s sound, Ferrer set out to transform a coach by creating a maze of threads that connected the furniture and hindered passenger transit, thus making passengers part of the intervention. She became friends with Cage, whose creative ideas turned her world upside down. With Cage, Ferrer understood that every noise in this world, even silence, is music.
Pioneer of performance in Spain
Esther Ferrer played a key role in the introduction and development of action art in Spain, back in the 1960s and 1970s. She considers performance to be the art of the here and now. Her performances involve three fundamental elements: presence, space and time. She is concerned with the effects that the interaction between these three elements have on the viewer: the presence of the person making the performance (the artist), the presence of the recipients, playing an active or a passive role in the performance (the viewers), and the space-time where the performance takes place.
Ferrer uses everyday objects in her performances, stripping them of their usual functions. In doing, she creates absurd situations that encourage the viewer to find something in them while conveying no specific message. In The Things (Las cosas), one of her best-known performances, the artist, sitting on a chair, places all sorts of things on her head. Thus, she becomes a plinth and the museum where the performance takes place is her context.
A free woman and a feminist
Esther Ferrer prefers the phrase “making things” to “making art” to refer to her creative work. This language preference shows her discomfort with the term and category of “artist”, even when she uses this word to tell people what she does and make herself understood. Her approach to art and life is guided by her desire for freedom and her efforts not to go against her ideals. This principle has enabled her to tear down barriers, opening countless artistic possibilities for her. A staunch feminist, Ferrer transformed her own body into a tool to criticize the patriarchal society and vehemently claim for the visibility of women in the Spanish and the international art scene she was part of, dominated by men. In Intimate & Personal (Íntimo y personal), a performance she has staged on numerous occasions since 1973, the artist measures her body and those of other women and men in an effort to condemn beauty ideals in fashion and advertising.
ENCOUNTER WITH ARTISTS
Wednesday, March 14, 6:30 pm
Artist Esther Ferrer, a pioneer in performance art in Spain, will talk about her exhibition and creative process with Petra Joos, exhibition curator and curator of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
COURSE. APPROACHES TO ART: A BRIEF HISTORY OF PERFORMANCE
Wednesday, May 16 and Thursday, May 17
Álvaro Rodríguez Fominaya, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Creation of Andalusia (C3A), will share the keys to performance art: its history, its main works and artists. A course for people interested in the fundamental concepts and references in this branch of contemporary art.
Venue: Education Room and Museum galleries
CONCERT. ESTHER FERRER AND THE LAUGHS OF THE WORLD
Saturday, May 19
An activity based on the exhibition, “Esther Ferrer. Intertwined Spaces” and the work The Laughs of the World (Las risas del mundo).
Venue: Gallery 105 Time: 6:00 pm
Audio guide and adapted guides
The audio guides, available at the Museum entrance, provide further information on the works in each exhibition.
Ask at the Information desk for audio/video guides for people with cognitive, hearing and/or visual impairments.
Free quick tours on the artworks exhibited. Check times, topics, and available languages at the Information desk.
Tickets: Free admission. Min. 5 people, max. 20 (first come, first served; no prior reservation). Groups will not be admitted