“El No Me Mires” by Carlos Amorales
Carlos Amorales is an artist from Mexico City who experiments a variety of media for his artworks which includes video, animation, painting, drawing, sculpture and performance. He uses his artworks to explore the limitations of language and translation systems to analyse cultural experiments. As part of a trilogy, ‘El No Me Mires’, the final film in the series, depicts the dream of an opium addict with a storyline based on an Inuit myth whereby the protagonist becomes invisible to Europeans after trying to trade goods with them. The set design, paintings and costumes were largely influenced by Kazimir Malevich and the political theories based on Joseph Beuys. With this film, Amorales aims to create a new symbolic language through his artist influences and understanding different cultural backgrounds.
Malevich created a suprematist image of a man. Instead of painting them as what we see in reality, he uses only symbolic representations that reflect how mankind should be perceived by others. By leaving out details such as a person’s facial features and skin colour, Malevich creates a timeless conceptualization that avoids being deceptive or materialistic. He finds symbolic representations a necessary action to create awareness that symbols require similar elements as how a “naturalist” or “realist” paintings would be constructed. Suprematism allows viewers to recognize the likeness and associate symbols to the subjects that we are familiar with in a reality. In relation to Malevich’s use of supremetist language, it reflects his beliefs that the technique is similar as cubism and abstract which were styles already existing. Furthermore, he challenges viewers that there are endless possibilities in interpreting what they see in reality. To quote Malevich, he believes that “abstract art cautions us not to concretize anything” meaning, in this situation, a man should all be equally viewed and not be classified on how they should be treated based on how they look, making viewers aware of social issues such as civil rights.
Similarly, Joseph Beuys, uses iconography in his works with the same belief as Malevich that abstract and symbolism are able to represent spiritual sensations that cannot be shown through a physical object that already exists in reality. His belief in abstraction was also inspired by Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner’s theories in anthroposophy in understanding the spiritual by using methods similar to those used in science in order to reshape and heal what Beuys considered a damaged society. In order to represent those feelings, Beuys uses shapes that are commonly associated with what majority of people would have already recognized. For example, like Malevich in his work ‘Black Cross’ (1923), Beuys uses the shape of the cross symbolises faith in Christianity much like we see in churches but both artists wanted to create more depth to the cross by not only relating it to religion but also to be interpreted as a shape that means coherence from the connection of two separate rectangles to create the cross. Beuys uses the cross in his work Action “MANRESA” (1966) to represent the division of worlds. He wanted to add substance to abstraction and minimalistic artworks as he wanted viewers to see not just the object in front of their very eyes but realize that there is something beyond them. An example would be his work ‘Snowfall’ (1965) where he added texture and movement in what could be a stack of squares placed above a couple of wooden sticks but the squares were curved where it overlays the sticks and a contrast between the different materials can be distinguished.
Beuys also uses coyote symbolism to relate them to Native Americans’ cultures – their myths and folklore – and how animal-like instincts can be compared alongside human behaviours. Perhaps this helps us understand Amorales’s choice of characters better and why he chose to use this Inuit myth. The Natives are portrayed to be leading a simple life with a close-knit bond with each other in contrast to the Europeans who were seen more unforgiving and mocking the Natives’ way of life. Adding performance into his work also reflects the influence of Beuys who also had done performance art to emphasize the message that an artist is trying to get across. As ‘El No Me Mires’ was a story told by the opium addict, we can see that the book he held that consisted the story he was reading from, did not consist of words but stamps or drawings of cubic shapes which may signify “other-worldly” themes that cannot be represented by reality. When the character describes his reflective feelings, the stamping of shapes onto the book may resemble them, like pouring out your experiences to a diary. The anger that the character feels that goes through in his mind was portrayed by him destroying parts of the set as he described it. All of the description that the mind gives on what the character is going through were thought processes that were represented abstractly and through the performance, which matches the theory Beuys conveys in his works.
In relation to Malevich, ‘El No Me Mires’ uses the idea of suprematism by using shapes and symbols to the set design and the objects that were used as props as well as costumes. The background resembles no distinct setting, only colourful blocks and shapes which let viewers have their own imagination applied to how the environment would be instead of Amorales spoon-feeding the entire scene. This encourages more involvement and interaction between the viewers and his film. Also, the goods that the Natives were trading to the Europeans were not distinct even though they were described in the story but viewers are challenged not be materialistic but instead, focus on the interaction between the two characters. Amorales smartly uses collage to highlight the passage of time and the subject of temporality. As the film seem to be set for viewers as if they are watching a play on stage, there is a consistency in the style of the setting in every scene but at the same time the colours and shapes have shifted according to the atmosphere of a specific scene. Collage in Amorales’s work also represents a unique language of his own and this ties in accordingly with the feeling of foreignness for the characters from two different cultures, Europeans and Natives, as they both have shown different ways in overcoming their problems. For example, the Europeans used weapons as a defensive tool but the Natives had a ritual that seemed like sorcery. Still on the subject of language, this reiterates what was shown on the book which the opium addict was reading the story from which did not consist of words but a collage of different shaped stamps on its pages. Additionally, the children, as they are listening to the story were stamping on their own books as well, suggesting that they are re-writing their new perception on natives than making fun of them like they did in the beginning.
In the beginning of the film, Amorales tells a prologue of what the story of the Inuit myth was supposed to teach the children which was accepting cultural differences despite skin colour or facial features. The children only recognize that the opium addict is different because of their different skin colour, which his is darker and is associated with “local people”. The children also mocked him for being smelly and “made up of poop” because of how he looks different than them. However, Amorales reveals his qualities, despite looking different he is still a human with selfless qualities whereby he is willing to give up his meal for the children. Another way to interpret this is also how the minority had to give in to the majority race as they have no sense of belonging or connection, aligning with Malevich’s awareness of supremacy in society. The opium addict uses the masks and instructs them to “eye me not” even though you cannot see the children’s eyes after putting them on which shows that there is no difference between a Native and the European once they stop judging their individual features. By the end of this film, it is to be understood that despite cultural differences, society should always practice having empathy towards each other and treat everyone as an equal.
Nur Aniqah Binte Sumadi
Frontrunner Curatorial Assitant
Further Reading: 1. Mark Rosenthal, Sean Rainbird and Claudia Schmuckli, Joseph Beuys: Actions, Victrines, Environments, USA: Menil Foundation, 2004. 2. Julie Rodrigues, “Reshaping the World Through Social Sculpture”, Escultura Social: A New Generation of Art From Mexico City, Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007. 3. Essays by Simon Baier and Britta Tanja Dumpelmann, translated text of Kazimir Malevich’s “The World as Objectless” by The Malevich Society, Catalogue from Kunstmuseum Basel, Hatje Cantz, 2014. 4. Charlotte Douglas, Swans of Other Worlds: Kazimir Malevich and the Origins of Abstraction in Russia, UMI Research Press, 1980.