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Greta Alfaro

Maja and Reuben Fowkes: Could you tell us something about the challenges of filming the work - where was it shot, how did you select the location, and where did the vultures come from?

Greta Alfaro: The work was filmed in Fitero, the small village where my mother comes from, in the Spanish region of Navarra. I usually depart from elements or themes that are familiar to me, and then try to transform them into something more universal. Vultures are very charged with cultural meaning, people know very little about them as animals, in our minds they are more like a symbol or a myth. Vultures are a very common species where I come from. In order to film this piece I relied on the help of hunters and other people from the village, who knew very well their natural environment. They advised me about where to set the table, and of different habits of the vultures. However, it was not easy to get them to jump on the table. I had to wait for one week, setting the table every morning and unsetting it at dusk. Vultures have extraordinary eyesight, and if one of them notices that there is food, it will draw circles in the air to let the others know. They approached the scene every day, but either my presence or the presence of the table prevented them from getting closer.

MRF: The Latin title means ‘in the blink of an eye’, why do you think it’s important to remind us about the transience of life, and things getting out of control? 

GA: I think that it is important today to reflect on the impermanence of almost everything, and on the fact that life cannot be controlled. One of the big triumphs of capitalism and consumerism is that some of the ultimate values of our societies today are youth and comfort. This fact implies an obsession with control – of nature, of time, of the body, of safety, etc. - and the setting of new taboos and fears, among which is death.

MRF: Your work is imbued with art historical references, including to the Spanish tradition of Vanitas painting, as well as the subject of the Last Supper, but what does it mean to take art history out of its context and transport it into a natural environment where wild animals are the main actors? 

GA: I don’t think that I am taking art history out of its context. What is the context of art, in general? I think that the context of art is life. I find it very sad to think that art should be confined to museums, and in the case of history of art, confined to history. I really believe that art should be made more present, more reachable, as it is a way of knowledge and reflection.

My first contact with art was not with contemporary art, but with art history, through buildings and artworks in my environment, and at school. I think that it is the usual background for most people. There is a certain visual culture that we have learned from our everyday life and that remains with us forever, forming part of our way of understanding the world. I like to recall that part of my identity when confronting the creation of an artwork, it is a way to be honest, but I also hope that it is something that links me to other people.

On the other hand, I believe that contemporary art, and contemporary culture, should be linked to the tradition where they come from. I don’t think that to make reference just to events or images that are happening nowadays is realistic, or maybe I don’t like the kind of reality it reflects, that of living just in the present… it seems irresponsible to forget who we are and where we come from. I would like to update certain subjects or reflections that are still relevant to today’s concerns.

MRF: The vultures in the film cause uncanny feelings in the viewer and give a sense of ornithophobia, was that intentional?

GA: I was not intending to give a sense of ornithophobia, but I was looking for the uncanny. I wanted to work with an animal that would work more as a symbol than as a living being, an animal that would represent negativity. In this sense, vultures are always linked to death, illness, dirt or war. However, I think that the uncanny doesn’t come only from the presence of the birds, but from the fact of them being confronted with civilization, and the way they relate to it.

MRF: In the context of seeing vultures as one of the many different varieties of bird species, do you consider vultures to have an inherent value in themselves beyond their symbolic and metaphorical characteristics in human culture?

GA: To be honest, when I started working on this project, the only thing I knew about vultures was about their symbolic and metaphorical significance. On working, I started to find out about the real animal. They are necessary to their environments, they clean the fields from decaying corpses and almost never attack living animals. And although they look ugly and brutal on the floor, they become extremely elegant when flying. I think that they don’t deserve their bad reputation.

 


Greta Alfaro,In Ictu Oculi, 2009


Greta Alfaro was born in 1977 in Spain. She studied Fine Art at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia and Photography at the Royal College of Art in London. Alfaro has exhibited individually at a A Very Crafty and Tricky Contrivance, commissioned by the Genesis Foundation, Fish and Coal Building, London (2012), Invención, curated by Andrea Paasch, Museum Ex Teresa Arte Actual, México City (2012); Elogio De La Bestia, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Huarte, Pamplona, Spain (2010), In Ictu Oculi, curated by Antonia Gaeta, Carpe Diem Art & Research, Lisbon, Portugal (2009), and Ricorrenza, curated by Alba Braza Boïls, Dryphoto arte contemporanea, Prato, Italy. Group shows include New Order: British Art Now, at the Saatchi Gallery in London (2013), Whitechapel Open at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (2012); Bêtes off at La Conciergerie in Paris (2011); Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2010 at the ICA London; Drama, Baby, Drama at Kunsthaus Essen, Germany (2012), and Inanimate Beings, Inéditos at La Casa Encendida, Madrid (2011). Her video work has also been screened at the Rencontres Internationales at the Pompidou in Paris (2010), at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (2011), and shown at the MoCA Hiroshima inside the program A Window to the World (2013). She has received prices and grants such as Generaciones 2014, Spain, Contemporary Art Collection CAM, Spain, Moving Image Contemporary Video Art Fair, New York, Genesis Foundation, London, or Photography Price for young artists El Cultural de El Mundo, Spain.

 

 

 

   
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