The Mediterranean: Some Considerations on the Identity and Territoriality of Thought

Abraham La Calle

Visual artist

In artistic creation there are innumerable commonplaces related to Mediterranean sensibility, which supposedly must maintain fixed and well-defined characteristics in which we can all recognise ourselves. However, artistic production cannot and must not be classified according to these guidelines, which are no more than a historical burden that, perhaps, artists must shake off to develop freer work and greater creativity. And Mediterranean identity is in constant motion, belongs to a collective subconsciousness full of images that make up only one part of the scheme that sustains artistic production.

In this article I endeavour to put forward some considerations about the role that the concept of what is Mediterranean can play in artistic production. My intention is to question the geographical labels that generate partial and extremist differences. In other words, those that recognise difference as a refuge. Indeed, the world in which we live is tremendously complex; it is formed by infinite contributions and, although it is true that tradition, history, landscape and social experiences form part of these contributions, they are not the only ones and are not useful for defining or classifying artistic production. They are only one part of a much wider whole and we cannot afford to tolerate a cultural burden that seems castrating to me. Our collective unconsciousness has become a highly complex structure full of contributions that generates individual responses of thought. It is, therefore, a network of relations that extends through everything that our imagination reaches.

Throughout my artistic career, I have used the western as a theme in a series of paintings, which, in principle, has little to do with the Mediterranean thematic. However, from a young age I have seen in Almería the production of films of this type and, in some way, taking it as the motive for an account subverts what could be expected of a cultivated spirit in the Mediterranean. Perhaps it is a question of fleeing the commonplaces in order to offer a vision different from the immediate reality that we experience. In fact, Mediterranean culture itself, as we could define it today, is an interminable compendium of contributions that, throughout history, have taken unsuspected paths.

Therefore, it is difficult for me to conceive of a grouping of painters, sculptors or video-artists that, under the identity of Mediterranean sensibility, could contribute something to the artistic panorama, as this something would be predictable and so stopped in a time that is not our own. It would be almost like setting up an exhibition of artists from Andalusia or Murcia. These kinds of labels cannot explain anything, they only enable the policy to fulfil the quota of visual arts it is supposed to cover, for some strange reason I do not know.

I think that only through humour can values be seen such as the genius loci, the midsummer heat, the golden dusks of winter, the dome outlined in the silence of mysterious clarity, the cypresses, the olive trees, the palm trees, etc. The interminable collection of Mediterranean commonplaces is almost ridiculous. Beyond these, both the erotica of the troubadours and the maniera gentile of the pre-Raphaelites, the vegetal motifs and sensual naturalism of Mediterranean Modernism, the androgyny of the Lady of Elche or the sinuous honeycombs of al-Andalus are examples of Mediterranean sensibility, that for a long time has been the centre of the cultural world for different reasons, very often geopolitical. However, I consider that this romantic nostalgia can become a difficult burden to bear for the creators around us. It is a historical burden present in artistic production, but it is necessary to manage it with great dexterity. Perhaps it must be shaken off to develop a freer work.

Mediterranean identity is in constant movement: the many participations extend it and give it a breadth that tends towards dissolution

Mediterranean identity is in constant movement: the many participations extend it and give it a breadth that tends towards dissolution. We understand the Mediterranean as the epicurean and humanistic ideal. If this is how we see it, it is because we compare it with other ways of seeing the world. Perhaps we could say that Northerners know how to produce and Mediterraneans know how to consume. This can be the commonplace in which, in general, we recognise ourselves but, if observed closely, it would be difficult to place ourselves under this umbrella.

Antoni Gaudí said that virtue is in the midpoint, and the word “Mediterranean” means “in the middle of the earth”. On its shores of median light and at 45 degrees, which is what best defines bodies and shows forms, the great artistic cultures have flourished, thanks to this balance of light: neither too much nor too little, because both are blinding and the blind do not see. Thus, in the Mediterranean the concrete vision of things imposes itself, and authentic art must rest on this. Our visual strength is the balance between feeling and logic: the races of the north fill their heads, drown feeling and, owing to the lack of clarity, produce ghosts; while those of the south, because of an excess of light, neglect rationality and create monsters. Both with the insufficient and blinding clarity, people do not see well and their spirit becomes abstract.

We inhabitants of the countries bathed by the Mediterranean feel beauty with more intensity than those who inhabit the Northern countries, and they themselves recognise this. Those of the north appreciate richness more, achieved with the effort of thought. They maintain their great museums well because they are rich, and they cost them a lot of money, because the works they contain have been paid for with enormous amounts never received by their creators, who, in general, lead a life of poverty. These words, important within what we could define as Mediterranean feeling, remind me more of certain writings by Sabino Arana defining the Basque Country in genetic-cultural terms than what could be the account of a kind of aesthetic option of representation.

The Mediterranean has throughout history sheltered infinite cultures and historical events we can be proud of and, of course, others it is better not to mention. We have to be critical with our own past and question the present. If we think about the story of art and literature in the Mediterranean setting, the events are fascinating and of a very different character, but those that occurred in other geographical areas are no less so: the Middle East, the Far East, America or Northern Europe. Thanks to this shared history, today we have the opportunity to learn many things about how artists of all disciplines (cinema, literature, painting, etc.) confront reality. There are endless possibilities in terms of what I believe can be the dissolution of the territoriality of thought. I am more interested in how a poet structures his/her work, how he/she understands that it is necessary to confront the re-approach to language, or how he/she deals with his/her private concerns in conjunction with public ones. In short, there are endless themes that have to do with artistic production and not with a common sensibility or, in other words, with a place of protection where the behaviour guidelines are practically pre-established, a place to recognise oneself or a territory stopped in time.

By way of conclusion, we could say that the territorial ideas to mark out culture respond to the principle of uncertainty: when we observe something that is in motion with the aim of defining it, that something is already in another phase, in another place, and is different. I have no doubt that in our work there is a substrate that belongs to a collective subconsciousness, composed by images of a common memory that, for me, are not the motive or purpose of my work. They are only part of the scheme that sustains artistic production.