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30 mayo 2024

Jorge Gil: “I feel comfortable making dolls, it’s something that awakens from tenderness to panic”

The contemporary artist Jorge Gil (Jaca, 1981) develops his artistic activity around the identity of the individual, the loss or the passage of time. Sculpture, through dolls, puppets or automatons are his main means of representation, which he combines with languages such as painting or audiovisual.

You were born in Jaca, how long were you there?

I lived there until I was 16, then I went to Pamplona to study the artistic baccalaureate. Although the closest place was Zaragoza, my father worked in Pamplona and had a rented apartment. But we went to Jaca every weekend, summers, long weekends… my family was there. I have been linked to Jaca for many years.

How did your interest in art and sculpture begin? Was it fostered in your home?

For sculpture was older, but for art since I was very young. My maternal grandmother, the one from Jaca, painted, she was self-taught. Since I was three years old I remember seeing her painting and it was very clear to me that I wanted to do fine arts from a very young age. Sometimes it’s not what your family wants you to do, because they want you to be a useful man, but I did very well. I started with pure sciences because I wasn’t bad at it, but I think you have to study what you like. I studied in Salamanca and stayed there.

jorge gil contemporary art dolls
(Photo: Jorge Gil)
What have been the elements that define your artistic work?

I started as most artists start: painting. It’s the easiest thing to do, what you have at hand, at home, in your career… The last stage in Pamplona I did a sculpture course, I started to play both sides, between painting and sculpture. My career was a hybrid between painting, sculpture and audiovisuals. Depending on what you want to say, one medium is better than another, even an installation, a performance, sewing, in short, they are challenges… I don’t define myself as a painter or a sculptor. It all depends on the project you have in mind, I am an apprentice of everything or a master of nothing. I get bored very quickly, I burn out very fast, so I prefer new challenges.

That’s why you have evolved from sculpture to installation or perfomative work.

Yes, I’ve also done a lot of engraving, with more experimental and weirder challenges. For example, I have worked on engraving with a research center, we try new techniques with electricity, we mix printer’s inks, we look for new languages and new tools that are not so artistic media, let’s say they are home media that have nothing to do with the conventional ones.


jorge gil contemporary art dolls
Crisálidas’, by Jorge Gil. (Photo: Jorge Gil)
An artist is usually asked what materials he uses, but in your case I see that it’s not a common question…

(laughs) I use everything. Stone, wood, cast iron, the typical sculptor’s stuff… but then I have also used giant stuffed animals, things that can be folded or stored because we couldn’t fit them at home. Chrysalides comes from that idea, a gigantic installation that fits in a suitcase. When I exhibited it at the Jewish Museum in Berlin I took it in a small suitcase. Now I’m working with black cement, iron... I have a piece that is like a kind of Ouija board with iron and electronic devices. Little by little you get into more difficult gardens that are more and more challenging.

Another project where we investigated these new languages was to connect the town of Malpartida (Cáceres) with the Vostell Malpartida Museum, which is a few kilometers away. It was a large interactive piece that took what was happening in the main square to the museum. Is it sculpture, is it painting? It is more installation or architectural, it is an artistic piece and you look for a way to represent what you want through that language. In short, this is one of the characteristics of contemporary artists, although there is a bit of everything, and many still want to be considered just painters. I have never liked to categorize myself. The language depends on the project.

jorge gil contemporary art dolls
Los impostores’, an installation made with pink rabbit stuffed animals. (Photo: Jorge Gil)
Do you still use paint?

Yes, what I took to the Jerusalem Biennial two years ago was a painting. But a special painting that when the sun hits it, it goes away. It’s a work that talks about memory, some characters that are made with paints that are photosensitive, the longer they remain exposed, some characters fade. Someday they will not exist, maybe just a slight appreciation of a loose silhouette. What I like to show is that you can do different things being a painter. Painters have always wanted to look for the best and most resistant varnishes and paints, that last forever and I am interested, on the contrary, in the opposite, that it disappears. It is a change of paradigm.

This is linked to the idea of the identity of the individual that is always present in your works.

Yes, it is one of the fetish ideas and also the idea of the group. I make group portraits. I buy photos on Ebay, I remove and add people: I take a photo of a German family from the 19th century and I put a photo of my friends from high school… Identity is always constructed. The Family Portraits project comes from a story from Jaca. A great aunt of mine was looking at a book about the history of Jaca, showing me some pictures and discussing who was who. When you go to the correlation of numbers and names you see that it was a totally different person. You realize that the photo doesn’t match the name assigned to you, because there’s a typo, you get skipped… it’s not relevant, but in other spheres it is, you get blown out of the history of your town. Christian Boltanski, who passed away recently and is for me a reference, said a very interesting phrase that I usually remember “now a day we die twice, the physical death; and the second, when nobody recognizes you in a photograph”. That is, that second death is when you pass into oblivion, into anonymity, and that seemed very interesting to me; that historical and group memory is very relative, it depends on the context and the source.

Play Movil dolls artistically intervened to talk about the duplicity of identities in ‘The value of things’. (Photo: Jorge Gil)
The doll is a figure always present in your works to represent that anonymous individual. Why are you so attracted to this figure?

The doll, which is a bit derogatory for sculptors, seemed very interesting to me and that’s why I did my thesis on the doll in art. The doll transcends the concept of the statue. The doll is something that is not alien to us, we have all had a doll, from the Paleolithic, through Rome, there are many motifs in antiquity of dolls … to Gusiluz which is the variation of the dolls quitapenas of Guatemala. The doll has something magical and ritualistic about it. I felt comfortable making dolls, it is something that awakens in individuals antagonistic feelings, from tenderness to panic. A doll can have a more aesthetic form, less or more beautiful, more in keeping with the landscape or not. I make all kinds of dolls or integrate them into other installations.

What other artists have inspired you to develop your work?

Juan Muñoz and Christian Boltanski made dolls, Louise Bourgeois made them out of felt and Annette Messager has a lot of stuffed animals. In the 80s or 90s it became a catalytic element to generate a sensation in the viewer. One always seeks to generate a sensation in the viewer or to see what happens. But never an indifference, in the end it’s like a song.

Within these sensations, do you seek to awaken any particular feeling in the viewer?

Not usually, I try to go in layers. There are works that are easy to understand like Family Portraits, others like the one about the lucky rabbit or Los Otros are more complex to explain because they are more autobiographical, and there you look for a feeling but you don’t always get what you feel, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer valid. All the stories we build for ourselves are valid and even more so in the times we live in, which depend on the source in which you are reading it. The same thing happens in an artistic piece.

What other ideas do you work on in your works?

I work a lot on the idea of loss, how we face the loss of a loved one, of luck, of money… I also talk about mental illnesses, which I approach from doll themes because I find it more comfortable to do it that way and it is more digestible for the viewer. Many times they remind me of the stick virgins used in imagery. I find them much more powerful than if they were dressed, that you can see what you don’t have to see, it’s part of the concept. In the Others project I build the figures in that way, usually what the sculptor does not want to show, the part of the wood that is not sanded.

Los Otros is one of your projects in which you can see that work around the identity of the individual. Installation 2 represents expressionless mannequins holding a puppet, what message do you want to send?

That part of The Others is made up of three self-portraits of me: an actor and two spectators. The faces are made from my casts. The actor is holding a puppet, which is also me. It represents an internal act, when you, yourself, theatricalize and try to understand things. It is a project that talks about how your thoughts work, your personality, how you mask things, you put on layers and shields… The central nucleus would be that scene that is now part of the Rucandio Collection of Contemporary Art that can be seen in Torre de Don Borja in Santillana del Mar.

What are you working on now?

I’m preparing an exhibition that I have in summer at the Matadero de Monzón de Campos (Palencia) in collaboration with a collection of puppets from a collector in Madrid. It’s a dialogue between the puppets and some larger ones that I’ve made.

You have exhibited all over Spain and also in Colombia, Portugal, Italy, England, Germany, Israel… but never in Aragon. Would you like to do it in Jaca or in the IAACC Pablo Serrano in Zaragoza?

I haven’t exhibited in Aragon, it hasn’t come up and I’m looking forward to it. I have family there and it would be the perfect excuse. But they haven’t called me yet and I don’t feel comfortable calling museums.

What is your relationship with Aragon?

I still have friends in Jaca, my family, but I don’t go there much for work reasons. I lived in Extremadura for a few years and it was far away, but now that I’m in Salamanca, we go a little more, although not as much as we would like.

Which contemporary Aragonese artists do you value?

Jorge Vicén, Antonio Fernández Alvira, Gema Rupérez, Jorge Isla?

What Aragonese museums do you recommend?

I’m a little disconnected, but of course the IAACC Pablo Serrano is a reference in contemporary art. I also recommend the Pablo Gargallo, Goya’s house in Fuendetodos, the CDAN in Huesca, the Drawing Museum of Larrés, the Cultural Center of the Slaughterhouse in Huesca… and the Diocesan of Jaca, for my land, which has been very well after the restoration.

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