Miguel Ángel Hernández: I work as an art critic and historian and I had written a huge number of texts on contemporary art from an analytical point of view. But I felt myself doing art autopsies, like forensics, feeling that something was missing in my approach to art. I needed to introduce emotions, intensity, the real experience of art. I needed to make art works in real life. And I needed to move the discussion about some problems of contemporary art (the body, the self, social engagement, pain, death…) out from the world of art, to connect with a larger audience beyond the world of art experts and amateurs. So I decided to write a novel in which contemporary art could act and have a seminal role in real life. Because, in the end, art is always about life, even if sometimes art criticism makes us believe that it is just about art.
IFOA: Is your character, Marcos, an artist after all?
Miguel Ángel Hernández: He is a student of Fine Arts, so even if he wants to escape from the idea of being an artist he can’t avoid it. His research about migration looks like a work of art, his own action in Escape Attempt could be considered a performance. He decides in the end to choose life instead of art, but this decision, if you think of it carefully, is also an artistic decision: contemporary art is full of those kind of acts of rejection. Conceptual Art is sometimes about that. So in a certain way Marcos is close to being a conceptual artist. Maybe he can’t escape from art.
IFOA: Why did you choose to focus on invisibility & immigration?
Miguel Ángel Hernández: I was interested as an art critic in both subjects, but they were separated in my work. I wrote a PhD on “Antivisual Art”, the forms in which contemporary art avoid visibility fighting against the pleasure and domination of sight. And I curated an exhibition on Migratory Aesthetics and the ways in which contemporary art embodies the experience of migration. When I started writing my novel I realized that both interests were close. For one of the central issues in immigration is precisely invisibility. And I decided to work about how we perceive immigration in visual terms, how something can be invisible even if it is in front of our eyes, or how sometimes you need to hide, to erase, to efface in order to make the absence visible.
IFOA: Should art have boundaries? Is there unethical art?
Miguel Ángel Hernández: I think the limits of art are the legal limits. Art is not different from other jobs. It is not a state of exception. An artist is a worker, not someone that can do everything she/he wants. When you think of art as a separate world with no boundaries at all in the end you are thinking of an art without political agency. I prefer to think of an art engaged in social reality, that’s to say, an art that plays a role in the realm of politics. And that is an art that has social and legal boundaries and only then can it try to expand, subvert or reform them. But an art without boundaries is a non-effective art.
The question of ethics also has another answer, because art and ethics are separate domains, at least on what refers to modern art. From Courbet on, modern art is free from ethics as a coercive force. This means that an artist can do a good work of art that is not a good ethical action. That’s exactly what happens with Jacobo Montes, the artist in Escape Attempt. His works are valuable and full of potency as works of art, but they are problematic in ethical terms. The whole novel is about the tension between these two things. Because sometimes you have to choose: to be in the side art or to be in the side of ethics. And that decision, of course, is complicated.
IFOA: What’s next for you?
Miguel Ángel Hernández: I published my second novel last year, The Moment of Danger (El instante de peligro). It is a reflection about the memory of images, polyamory and the necessity of slow time. The novel remains in the realm of contemporary art and in a certain way could be considered a sort of second part of Escape Attempt, in the sense that the main character is close to Marcos, but in his forties and with the feeling that all the dreams of his youth have been shattered.
And now I am writing a non-fiction novel about a hard moment in my life twenty years ago. It is a true-crime novel in which art for the first time has nothing to do. I am entering an absolutely new and dangerous territory for me. And I must confess that I am not exactly enjoying the process. Sometimes literature is painful, but necessary.
Miguel Ángel Hernández @ IFOA:
Miguel Ángel Hernández, Suzana Tratnik and Ruth Ware discuss the journeys of their characters with the Toronto Star’s Deborah Dundas on Tuesday, October 25 at 6:30pm. For tickets click here!
From Spain to New York and Canada, from painting to performance art and music, Miguel Ángel Hernández, Molly Prentiss, and Eric Beck Rubin explore the lives of artists and their surroundings on Saturday, October 29 at 8pm. For tickets click here!