Which paths does culture take us?
Philosophy, Literature and Poetry are the foundation of the artwork of Aixa Portero. María Zambrano, Platón, Ortega y Gasset and Heidegger are present not only in the work Alice through the root, but also in all her artistic production, which revolves around resilience and freedom, whose conductor thread is the Culture of Peace (1). In this case, the artwork is not only determined by personal and historical events that leave a mark in the artist. Furthermore, in the case of Aixa Portero, violence –in one of the most horrible manifestations– also leaves a permanently mark in both her life and work.
These ingredients have defined the artist’s personal iconography, which has multiple interpretations. In addition to chrysalises, birds, feathers and Venuses, we also have the images of: the book, the tree, the roots and the branches. Several of these iconographic symbols give life to her creations. Artworks of great beauty such as “cradle-nests”, “books-bird” or roots turned into branches make references to inner freedom and resilience.
On this occasion, Aixa presents a landscape in the shape of a forest – somewhat peculiar- which she invites the audience to enter.
Shall we cross the forest?
Every adventure begins with a first step (Chesire Cat)
The forest has been present in the history of art through painting and literature. Along history, different painters throughout diverse styles, knew how to capture its energy and symbolism, being it also an inspiration for cinema. It has also been and it is present in our imaginary. There are unlimited many connotations that one can find in a forest. Thanks to Western Literature, we are faced to three visions: terror, survival and refuge. To some extent, all three aspects are presents here.
In this work, Aixa Portero doesn’t present to the audience a haunted forest, even if letters fall from the trees and their shadows project ghostly figures. Nor does it suggest terror. Rather, it refers to that fear that is latent in us, as a consequence of the society in which we are immersed in; where it seems that we are moving further and further away from each other; where the ability to dialogue is being lost.
Women continue to struggle to have a voice and be an echo of voices that have lost their power. In other words: where something or someone seems to want to distance us from the culture; or where violence seems to roam freely.
We have to leave this place. But how?
“Could you, please, tell me which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends on where you want to go,” said the Cat.
“I don’t care that much—” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you take,” said the Cat. (Alice and the Chesire Cat).
The idea of survival, the search for truth, communication, equality or peace, leads us to enter this forest, where a reddish color calls our attention and invites us to cross it.
Which way do we go? Which path do we take? Will we manage and cross it? Where will our search for dialogue, communication, culture and peace lead us?
This forest hides a refuge.
If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there (Alice and the Chesire Cat).
Alice through the roots
Alice through the roots winks at Alice in Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.” Alice will be our alter ego and a key stone in Aixa’s artistic body of work due to its meaning (the deep, the rooted, our fears, frustrations, concerns) to which she gives a twist by turning it into a branch (inner freedom, the ability of the human being through resilience to bring to light what’s hidden inside). This will be the point of union between two worlds that are presented as forests.
Aixa digitally creates a bucolic landscape, reminiscent of the landscapes that have accompanied us in different pictorial styles throughout the history of art. But, with the difference that we are in a forest of letters.
In this work Portero leaves aside the book: a fundamental piece in her career as a symbol of intellectuality and freedom. She created with books the installation entitled The Roots of The Flight, as a forest of books, where the letters fell to the ground. This was a reference to the loss of culture and the capacity of human beings to rewrite themselves. These trees whose leaves represent unconnected letters which do not build sentences –neither communicate– give birth to a forest where there is no real communication. This is a metaphor for the situation our society is going through. But there is hope: the trees are alive and the leaves, which have been replaced by letters, are falling to the ground, sowing hope. Maybe dialogue and communication will arise from fallen words.
-It corresponds to a real experience to find a clearing when wandering through a forest(2).
The sound of the forest is accompanied by strange chords along our wandering. Or is it our gaze that changes depending on where the sounds are coming from? Are these chords trying to guide our steps? Little by little, we are confronted by a unique sensation that accentuates the timeless light and reddish color that surrounds the forest.
Surprisingly, there is no fear in moving forward. There is a certain light. There is hope. It is time to listen and see not only what is around us, but to go beyond. What is there? The whispers of the forest lead us towards what looks like a stunning white bare tree, but it’s not what it seems. It is a large root that has grown into branches. A hole beckons and beckons.
We fall in and listen.
“Trees are sanctuaries. When we have learned to listen to trees, we will feel at home. That’s happiness”. Hermam Hesse.
Just as Alice fell through the hole into a new world, we’ll fall through the roots, where a warm sound and a blinding white light transport us to a pure, white room: a heaven of peace.
We now wander through a new forest, which is aesthetically distanced from the recurring bucolic image of a forest. This new forest is from the 21st century and the trees have become ribbons of light where we can’t find unconnected letters. Here we see poems of peace written by Spanish women from the 15th century onwards. Aixa Portero’s voice echoes some of the words, sometimes single phrases from among these verses, constructing a new poem.
This new clearing is a place for voices to be heard, of listening.
Happiness is possible.
-The clearing is an open space for the voice […] the clearing is a place of listening, not only of vision(3)
The sounds that now accompany us are no longer unrecognizable. Now they have turned into a clear voice. The voice recites poems of peace. There is communication. There is poetry. This sound relaxes us.
Alicia through the roots is undoubtedly a work where the meaning of poetic from Paul Valéry’s “poetic is the language that oscillates between sound and meaning” is more relevant than ever. Thus, poetic is that first forest through which we wander. And poetic is the journey we make guided by a blinding white light. A journey through the roots that separates two worlds: the unconnected one that we leave behind on the surface before falling through the roots and the deep one that is a refuge of communication, poetry and a culture of peace.
For this plea for peace that is Alice through the roots, we have relied on the poems of: Florencia del Pinar from the 15th century; Santa Teresa de Jesús, Luisa Sigea and Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza from the 16th century; Catalina Clara de Guzmán and Sor Manuela de San Félix from the 17th century; María Gertrudis Hore, Margarita Hickey and Mª Rosa Gálvez, from the 18th century; Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Carolina Coronado and Concepción de Estevarena, from the 19th century; Blanca de los Ríos, Concha Espina, Pilar de Valderrama, Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Elisabeth Mulder, Ernestina de Champourcín, Josefina De la Torre, Josefina Romo Arregui, Dolores Catarineu and Susana March, from the 20th century.
1: Culture of peace: it consists of promoting a series of values, attitudes and behaviors that reject violence and prevent conflicts. They try to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation of obligations between people and nations, taking into account the very important point of rights, respecting them and including them in these treaties. This was defined by UN resolution, being approved by the United Nations Organisation on 6 October 1999 at the Fifty-third session.
2 y 3: Neves, María João (2012): Sobre la metáfora operante de los “claros del bosque” en Ortega y Gasset, Martín Heidegger y María Zambrano. Universidad Nova de Lisboa.
Victoria Arribas Roldán