How to interpret those bodies that Lidó Rico extracts from his own

Óscar Alonso Molina. 2017

“I’ve been good enough to save your life”, said the villain, inflamed by my suffering, “take care at least how you use this favour…”

Marquis de Sade

Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue

The distinction between the physical and the moral only became a practical concept in the medicine of minds when the problematics of madness were displaced towards the interrogation of a responsible subject. The purely moral space that was then defined measures exactly the psychological interiority where modern men seek both their depth and their truth.

Michael Foucault

History of Madness

The perspective on pain that we could relate to the thaumaturgical capacity of art is that of Lévi-Strauss, and the transition necessary to do so requires identifying the artist with the shaman. “The cure consists in making explicit a situation originally existing on an emotional level and in rendering acceptable to the mind pains which the body refuses to tolerate”, the author explains in his Structural Anthropology. What, then, could be more apt for the very art that in our era presents itself to the social body as its symptom and at the same time as its therapy, a sort of “medication” that activates the defences of the community and of culture, through barely perceptible homoeopathic infusions of the very substances that are poisoning us? Because as the anthropologist showed us in his study, within the framework of the indigenous understanding of the world the cure practised by the shaman is always underpinned by a spiritualised conception of pain, on the premise, also fully accepted, that “the relationship between the monster and the disease is internal”; in other words, that it is part of the patient’s spirit. Thus Lidó Rico’s work will enable us here to auscultate, analyse, or perhaps just suspect or glimpse the general ailments of the spirit of the age, through its offering to the world of art.

I have commented elsewhere on that distinctive, almost performative undercurrent covertly present in his work, completely invisible to any viewer standing in front of his finished pieces. There is a total immersion in the material — the materials — that shape the artwork, whose form is acquired by contact with a suffering, subjugated body, in forced postures humiliating to public dignity, defiled, soiled and on the verge of suffocation: a dirty body, therefore, which contaminates the original material. The paralysed cry, the grimaces of disgust or pain, crystallise in the mass only because the artist’s body has emphasised it to the point of petrifying its simulated suffering, wallowing in it. It is a fixed image of the uncontrollable. We are dealing, of course, with a radical version of the theatrical impression that affects the sensibility of the audience in front of the stage, who are indelibly changed inwardly after projecting themselves onto the emotions and experiences of the actors performing before them and for them.

Classical theory reminds us that this cathartic function of simulation in the presence of others initially pushes the audience to an unprecedented limit of involvement in the problem in question, tragedy, but also that they will then inevitably be returned to “reality”, though now affected by the spectacle they have witnessed and have somehow suffered in their own flesh. That this process of taking on the pain of others (re)positions us is by now a long-standing topos; but that the purification provided by art puts us a step ahead of or a step behind our previous thresholds of tolerance of the world’s evils is something that would be difficult to discern clearly nowadays.

In this respect Lidó Rico adheres to procedures that are in principle diametrically opposed to the anaesthetic effect of the media, with their constant live broadcasting of horror. In contrast to the relentless, endlessly perpetuated demonic saturation of disparity, this artist piles on the pressure with precision and shows his strength in spaces, gestures and moments of indescribable intensity, specific and terrifying. In this sense, many of his pieces are unbearable (holding nothing back, exteriorising everything): truly intolerable. Art, once again, is uncontrollable, while boredom, as Jünger said, “is simply the dissolution of pain in time”. In contrast, Lidó Rico shows us not so much the punctum of suffering, the core or nodal point of the emotional, existential dénouement of a suffering body — though he does that too — as “a language in which states, unformulated and otherwise impossible to formulate, may be immediately expressed”, to quote Lévi-Strauss again. In making the transition to that verbal expression, offering formulas through which to come to terms with the enduring nature of extreme personal experiences in a way that is intelligible to the community, to the viewer, to culture, this artist performs a dual function, acting at once as a bodily physician and a psychological therapist.

Even in the early days — I am referring to the mid-1990s — when his work had not yet adopted such a mortifying formulation of our desolation, Francisco Jarauta sensed “the gaze that probes the abyss and recognises no safe place, even in dreams”, using this phrase to explain the artist’s emphasis at that time on “a fragility within the work and its representation”, which he has somehow never abandoned. In those same years, despite putting forward a very different interpretation, Francisco Javier San Martín elaborated on that relationship between the material components and his dreamlike vision, when he recognised that “Lidó Rico is not, of course, a follower of Duchamp, although the Surrealist element […] is a key ingredient in his work. On the other hand, there is a very specific type of relationship with materiality and craftsmanship in these pieces: his work is not sanitised, but neither are the traces of manipulation prominent”. And indeed, it is true that the concrete presence of the body lies not in its trace, but in its hollow form… This is probably why the viewer’s consciousness is struck by that unsettling strangeness so typical of the surrealistic experience and of dreamlike states, as in semi-consciousness itself, in which life is both there and not there at the same time. It is a disturbing quality amply exploited in the aesthetics of uncertainty: things show us a recognisable face (in this case it even has a name), but in its features we glimpse that void, the negation of identity, where the familiar voices are no longer ours… Because aspiring to see oneself exactly as one is, without the inversion imposed by reflection in the mirror, can only be understood as a first alarming symptom of madness.

But even beyond the face, the literality Lidó Rico needs in order to carry out his work is sometimes frightening. “Diving in plaster is liberating for me”, he confesses, “because it swallows up the transience of the body […] I have always thought that the gruelling, torturous nature of the process is implicitly present in the pieces themselves: uncertainty, violation, ignorance, anger, passion, satire, distress, madness… the whole pack of commotions is concentrated and mutated into resin, finally reaching the conclusion that humanity begins where reason ends.” And beyond this? Beyond that familiar face, there is still inner life… literally. As when he moved heaven and earth to be able to work with real human brains, with no simulation or technological reconstruction from a meticulous scan; no substitutes or allegories or messing about: Lidó Rico needed to have the weight and texture of the organ in his hands as an actual, specific corpus certum, an indispensable requirement for someone whose iconographic repertoire unfolds from the nervous activity contained in its circumvolutions.

In any case, the means employed to articulate an unequivocal image of the private or collective anguish in which people of our time are drowning seem to be just the first stage of a therapy that forces us to witness the inner drama of a body — individual or social, I repeat — whose relationship with its surroundings is one of grieving. Even in those works of his in which playful elements, or cultural references (as for example in the series quoting great names from the history of art), seem to be to the fore, the image of humanity that always occupies centre stage “burns you with his pain”, as Baudelaire put it in his famous poem Alchemy of Suffering (“L’un t’éclaire avec son ardeur”), although there are some translations that opt to render the verb as “illuminate”. And Lidó Rico does indeed work on the path of the flowers of evil, a luminous, burning path that consumes those who enter deeply into it. As he himself does by diving in plaster.

[Madrid, May 2017]