Ryan Rivadeneyra is an artist
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Screamin' Green

Performance for Rita McBride's "Blind Dates", MACBA, Barcelona, 2012

Screamin' Green, a project comissioned for Rita McBride’s Arena during her retrospective at MACBA, attempts to deconstruct associations between interpretation and meaning to talk about relationships between installation, performance, and visceral, romantic experiences in contemporary art. A series of images build up a narrative that questions interpretation, contradiction, metaphors, and symbols, while describing personal experiences that happened while producing the piece. Winner of the 2013 Miquel Casablancas Prize.

 

 

It all started in mid-May of 2012. I had a meeting with the folks at the MACBA, in Barcelona. The following week would be the opening of a mid-career survey by American artist Rita McBride that would last the entire summer, and they wanted some young, local artists to spice up the boring sculpture show and do a couple of performances in the exhibition space. Rita’s main piece, titled Arena, was exactly that: a giant semi-circle of tiered seats, kind of like a Greek amphitheater, where you can sit or lay or climb, or do whatever you do when you look at giant monumental sculpture. Whenever shown, the museum would propose a program of a handful of performance artists to do a couple of performances in the exhibition space for very little money. So the following tale is about my experience making the piece for the Arena.

Ok, so I had never seen this piece before. I didn’t even know the artist. I think the first time I had seen it was in the one Rita McBride book they had at the museum bookstore, which I had looked through 10 minutes before my meeting with them. It was placed next to a Banksy book. Maybe something to do with public art, or something like that.  

The museum was closed, it was Tuesday. There were only a handful of people in the exhibition space: the installers and one of the curators. I touched the sculpture. I caressed it. I sat on it. I climbed to the top, and looked down. I went under it. Somebody had told me that the bottom part, its structure, is like a whale’s skeleton, and walking under it makes you feel like Pinocchio From the Disney movie, or Jonas from the Bible. I said that it made me feel like I was in the last scene of The Shining, when Jack Nicholson is chasing his son though the hedge maze in the snow with a giant knife.

So I started to think about what I’d do for the piece, how I could relate my work to this giant sculpture. I wanted it to be a perfect connection, so I searched for a formula, something that would marry us in perfect unison, even though we had nothing to do with each other.

I kept thinking about this idea of the perfect connection between two things that had nothing to do with each other, and one day, looking around on the Crayola color list page on Wikipedia (which is probably one of the most beautiful Wikipedia pages) I came across this color: Screamin’ Green.

Screamin' Green.

This is a color that’s composed of two ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. You’ve got green, a color we all know perfectly well, and screaming. What does a scream have to do with a color? Do colors have mouths? Can colors shout? I don’t think so. And it’s not like it’s ultramarine blue or something, cause that refers to the color of the ocean, or forest green, cause, well, it’s the color of a forest. Screamin’ green. A green that screams. It’s the bonding of two different concepts, two sensorial descriptions that unite and make love and make this third thing, their child, this new creature called screamin’ green. It’s the perfect couple.

Thinking about the perfect color, I start to think about the perfect shape this perfect color would have.

Some would say that the perfect shape is the circle. But it’s not. It’s the pyramid. The Egyptians knew it in Giza, the Mayans knew it in Chichen-Itza, the Buddhists knew it in Asia, and the yanks knew it in Los Angeles, Memphis, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. They’re something similar to Rita McBride’s Arena sculpture, but upside-down.

So I started to experiment with pyramids, making small sculptures out of things that I would find in my house or at the grocery store. My first experiment was with an avocado. I had to sculpt this avocado so that it would have the perfect form, an avocado pyramid. As I messed around with its shape, I became obsessed with its texture; that oily, slimy, sensual texture, as if it were butter made from milk taken from the teat of Mother Nature. The avocado started to become a religious object, a relic, symbol of the human condition, of fertility, mortality, the sublime, the uncanny. I took a picture of it and opened it in Photoshop, to see what I would be able to do with it to make it better, to put it in context somehow, with a background that would elevate it to where it belongs. I needed to find that perfect union between object and place, an unequivocal relationship, a constant dialogue between the avocado and its surroundings that would never be misunderstood. It should be a celestial union, a match made in the heavens, true love! I decided that the avocado could only be in one place and one place only, and that place would be in the center of the universe, where it surrounds all and is surrounded by everything. It’s in its place, because its place is everywhere- it is, and is in, the universe. It’s made from stars, and exists among them. Avocado pyramid and universe, the perfect couple. 

Given this undeniable success, this ineffable encounter between form and function, between object and context, between avocado pyramid and universe, I decided, like any well-to-do artist would do, to keep experimenting with this format.

After the avocado I made a pyramid out of those colored cotton balls that they sell in the drug store and which I have no idea what they’re actually used for, the only thing they really do is be soft and look pretty. I combined them with a black and white background: a picture of a mountain with its snow and its rocks and its trees and all its pretty things.

After the cotton, a pyramid made of aluminum foil, surrounded by a fat piece of red bloody meat.

The red was so beautiful that I made one out of chewing gum, of course, surrounded by a head of blonde hair.

After the gum, a chocolate step pyramid, similar to the first pyramid constructed by the Egyptians, the stepped pyramid of Djoser. But this time instead of being in the dry and desolate desert, I placed it between green marine algae, a green that only exists on the ocean floor, a screamin’ green.

Next, a blue sponge surrounded by giant magenta crystals. This one really makes sense, since the sponge is almost like a crystal in itself, I’m sure they share certain characteristics, like maybe something to do with fractals or something.

And so on. A pair of broken bricks lying upon a large lake.

A teepee of tangerines mounted on a field of frozen water that resembles a marble tabletop.

A mountain of mustard melting upon a volcano vomiting hot magma.

Some sticks stacked upon a close-up of scaly skin.

A baby blue paper pyramid surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites.

Triangular potato chips stacked in a giant triangle upon a beautiful romantic sunset.

A tower of delicious soft smelly cheese placed among a pattern of hard gray rock.

Dark black licorice candy upon another frozen landscape.

And finally, another stepped pyramid, made from pieces of boiled wet red beet among some dry desert dunes.  This also reminds me of Djoser.

I like them all, but mostly the avocado. It’s perfection. 

Screamin’ green.

Screamin’ green is almost an oxymoron: two opposing concepts that come together to form something new, something much more beautiful. They were never supposed to be together, but they need each other, they complete each other. Kinda like Romeo and Juliet.

One of the first things that Romeo says in Shakespeare’s play is a series of oxymorons about love that function as metaphors for Romeo’s relationship with Juliet:

“Oh, brawling love! Oh, loving hate! Oh anything, of nothing first create! Oh heavy lightness, serious vanity, feather of lead,
bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, waking sleep, that is not what it is!
 This love that feel I, that feel no love in this.”

Here’s a list of some of my favorite oxymorons:

Intellectual Property
Conditional Freedom

Public Opinion
Constant Change

Improvised Plan
Hypothetical Situation

Free Credit
Minor Disaster

Unemployed Worker
Crisis Management

Anarchist Politician
Democratic Leadership

Creative Destruction
Negative Growth

Ethical Banking
Budget Deficit

Free Market
Civil Disobedience

European Union
United Nations

And finally, the greatest contradiction of them all:

Museum
of Contemporary Art

Screamin’ Green.

It’s a color that kind of makes you uncomfortable. It’s like if you get a raft, and you put a horse on it. The horse isn’t used to being on water, it needs stable ground. However, when the Europeans went to kill all those Indians in the Americas, I’m sure they took a horse, and that horse must have been pretty confused, after weeks of shuffling around on a boat in open sea.

The natural place for a horse isn’t on a raft, it’s in a beautiful field filled with grass and trees and flowers, where it can walk free. But even better than its natural place in the world, what would its ideal place be? Maybe it could be a world of beautiful neon colors, horses galloping through reds and turquoises, walking through an magenta and orange planet, admiring a purple and blue horizon, resting in a violet and green dream.

Ok, so I figured that if you can attach the word scream to the word green, and if I can place horses in beautiful colorful places, why can’t I change other things? I started looking at the old masters of landscape painting and became quite interested in one of the greatest painters of this genre: Joseph Mallord William Turner, the guy that made us flip out with those crazy, beautiful skies, lovely sunsets, the guy that was capable of mastering shape, space and color by painting one of the most intangible spaces there is: the sky.

How did Turner decide what pigments to use to paint these skies? I suppose that in the end it’s all pretty subjective, you paint it the way you feel like painting it. And that’s that.

So I decided to do some experiments á la Turner, to see if I would learn anything new. I downloaded some landscapes from the Internet that I thought were pretty pretty, to try to get as close as possible to those Turner masterpieces. Would I be able to change the color of the sky like he did, to make something new and beautiful from something dull and boring, and get away with it?

First, I changed only one thing, an object. A lake. Oh, how beautiful! It looks like another planet. If I can change the color of a lake and have it be beautiful, then I should also be able to do it with everything else. So that’s exactly what I did, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. From white snow to blue snow, from blue skies to green skies, from green trees, to purple trees. In this picture the sunlight passing through the lens of the camera does beautiful things, especially once you change the colors. Since that sun was beautiful, I got another picture, and added a sun. And why not, I added another, that way it also looks like something otherworldly, like a moon from another planet. Maybe it could be Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. Since I was already doing crazy things, I added three or four more suns. I started changing its colors, and then sticking in Photoshop filters left and right until I went completely overboard. This no longer looks like a Turner, but rather some kind of psychedelic poster that I would have in my room when I went through my neo-hippie phase as a teenager. Or something like that.

Then I came across this image: a beautiful sunset with an immense sky over an ocean that looks like a colorful wrinkled blanket. I stared at t for a while, and said to myself:

Ryan, what are you doing? There are things that should change in the world, many things, but Mother Nature isn’t one of them. Ryan, you can never make this better. The world is perfect as it is, we just have to know how to distinguish the good things from the bad things. These days there are a lot of bad things, but among them you won’t find this beautiful, perfect sunset.  Ryan, you shouldn’t be wasting your time trying to change Mother Nature, you should be wasting your time trying to change mankind.”

I was confused, so in search for some inspiration, I took a vacation. I decided to spend a weekend to let loose up in the Costa Brava, about two hours north of Barcelona; that beautiful place where Dalí was born, where Picasso, Duchamp, and John Cage had once lived, and where Walter Benjamin had died.

I arrived at one of those beautiful rocky beaches, you can’t even lay down on them.

It’s as if the beach is asking you to observe it, to take pictures of it, to write poems about it and paint it and all sorts of crap like that. The first thing I saw were these giant ants that were everywhere, very Dalinian. This one here has a giant head, almost as big as that piece of onion that it’s dragging.

I then passed this boat. Sailors give human names to their boats. The name should be perfect for the boat, and they tend to be female names, suggesting some kind of marriage between boat and man, between piece of wood and plastic and human being. This one is called Charly. Or Rosa. Or both of them together.

I walked along the coast, on that little trail that separates the water from the waterfront mansions, and I ran into this giant cactus. It was just sitting there, that incredible living being in all its glory, taking in the warm sunrays and feeling the warm wind breeze. It looked spectacular with its primary green in contrast with that slate of sky blue and its yellow and orange flowers. Its branches were so beautiful, they looked like little hearts.

On one of the branches someone had scraped in the word PATÉ. Paté? What the hell does the word paté have to do with a cactus? Paté is creamy, delicate, delicious. It suggests its delicacy in the word: paaaaaatttttté. And cactus, cactus is quite the opposite. The word itself almost pinches your throat when you say it, CACtus.

Following the trail, I kept passing these incredible rock formations, rocks that had been chiseled by wind and water for centuries, nature forming nature, naturally. Wherever I turned my head I’d almost see what looked like a replica of the Sea of Ice, by that German painter, but much more Romantic. It was nature imitating art.

I saw pieces of rock that looked like the roots of incredibly big trees, right next to incredibly expensive houses that had incredibly ugly cement sculptures that imitated the rocks that imitated the trees. Here, art imitating nature.

Next to the incredible house and the root-rocks, there was a small private beach where I found these pebbles. For that beach, they were the perfect pebbles. Perfect because there was nobody on the beach, because it was May and the owners of the incredible houses still hadn’t arrived at their summer villas. So I had the private beach all to myself, so I could throw the perfect pebbles into the sea, and have them skip like flying fish, like in that scene in Amélie. How romantic! The perfect pebbles on the perfect beach with the perfect sunset. All perfect, just as planned.

I decided to go in the ocean when, all of the sudden, everything fell apart. The water was full of jellyfish, transparent, disgusting jellyfish. I picked one up with a stick, and started touching it, caressing it. Jellyfish are one of the first organisms of the planet, and nevertheless they have stayed the same all this time. On the one hand, we all come from this jellyfish, we just evolved a little, that’s all. On the other hand, this jellyfish is as it always has been, it hasn’t evolved because it has already reached its own perfection, it doesn’t need to be anything more than what it already is. It’s been the perfect combination of form following function after hundreds of thousands of years.

This jellyfish is completely transparent, but light seems to bend as it passes through it. It’s as if it were some kind of lens, something wide, like 25mm or something. But its texture was new for me, it felt like an open Tupperware of Jell-O that you forgot in the fridge and when you notice it months later you definitely wouldn’t eat it, but you would touch its smooth, dry surface. It also kinda looked like some kind of liquid that would be inside your eye, the stuff that would come out if you slice it in half, like in that Buñuel movie. You would get something pure, colorless. Some kind of Jell-O that’s only function is to allow you to process light and color. It was beautiful; I wanted to play with it all day long.

The next day, Saturday, I drove down the coast, stopping at different beaches, trying to find something with as much beauty and anatomical perfection as the jellyfish. Form with function, style with substance, color with flavor. A red strawberry, with a sweetness that exploded in my mouth.

A colorful building with giant letters that spelled the word COLORS, with its whole Mondrian thing going on.

A mobile phone service antenna, camouflaged within the rocks of a mountain.

I drank a Mediterranean flavored juice on the Mediterranean sea: it was the unification of the inside of my body with the outside.

I laid in the sand and looked up at the sky and clouds, on a blanket that had a stamped pattern of the sky and clouds. It was as if I were floating in mid-air.

I saw different types of rock coming together to stop being rocks and become mountains.

And finally, a tiny white plant that contrasted with the gray rocks. It had strange little branches tangled within itself of the most pure, delicate white I’d ever seen.

On Sunday I went to another beach, this one a little more touristy. I ate a sandwich and drank a beer at the bar. For some reason, ending my trip at a beach like that didn’t make sense. What the fuck was I doing there, after everything that had happened, after such a spiritual journey?

I went for a long walk to go explore the surrounding area, and I found an archeological site that was centuries old. I started observing it, touching it, caressing it, like I had done with the Arena, when all of the sudden an archeologist that was working the site came out of nowhere and started screaming at me:

“Don’t touch those rocks!” he yelled.

“Excuse me?”, I answered.

“I said don’t touch them!”, he yelled again, this time even more upset. “They’re very, very old rocks, and you’re gonna ruin them with your rough skin and your disgusting oily fingers. They’ve been here thousands of years, waiting for someone like me to study and take care of them, and I’m not about to let someone like you come along and ruin all these beautiful ruins.”

“Look,” I said, “I’m really sorry, but I don’t understand why I’m not allowed to come and touch them, if the wind, the sun, the rain, and Mother Nature has been touching them for years. And in a way, me and my oily fingers are also part of Mother Nature. Plus, what’s the difference between these rocks and any other rock? There aren’t rocks that are older than other rocks, all rocks are just rocks, and they all have the same age, just like planet Earth.

“Okay, okay… I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t realize you were so fucking ignorant, I feel sorry for you. Here, have a cigarette.”

He tossed me the pack of cigarettes he was holding. The archeologist smoked a brand I had never seen before, called Bisonte. Its logo was a cave drawing taken from the Altamira caves: it was the perfect cigarette brand for an archeologist.

“No, thanks.” I tossed the pack back over.

“Look,” he said, “I feel sorry for you because I see that you don’t see what you really want to see. You don’t see through things, you stay at the surface, at the shallow part, the beginning. And the beginning never takes you anywhere. Me, as an archeologist, I understand these things. My job is to dig up rocks, and to know which rocks are good rocks, and which rocks are bad rocks. I know how to look at things and see more than what’s actually there. I suppose one can say I’m like an artist, a rock artist. Take this rock, for example. When you look at this rock all you see just a regular, brown rock. But I see much more: this rock isn’t brown, it’s neon pink, and its color expands in every direction, like a radioactive rock. It has an inner light that just gets brighter and brighter, until it almost blinds you, and all you see is light. And it’s not just this rock, it’s all of them!”

I couldn’t see anything.

“Look, you try it. Look at that wall, and tell me what you see.”

I looked at the wall. I wanted to see more than what was there, I wanted the rocks to change color, to give out light. I wanted the rocks to be much more complicated than they actually were. I saw nothing.     

“Look,” he said, “sometimes, a lot of good things happen to a few people. Other times, a few good things happen to a lot of people. But never do a lot of good things happen to a lot of people. I think Bob Dylan said that.”

It was getting late. Walking back, along the beach, I started seeing a bunch of those transparent jellyfish. They were everywhere, washed upon the shore. I picked one up. I started touching it, feeling it up. I squeezed it with all my strength, until it disintegrated completely.

People say that when you know something for sure, that it’s clear, colorless. Politicians always say that they’re transparent. If transparency is good, does that make color bad?

I finally got back to Barcelona, and wanted to bring everything from my trip back to the city, to show it to people. I tried to replicate the feeling of squeezing the jellyfish, but with some Jell-O that I had bought at Lidl. I put them in the palm of my hand, and slowly closed it until completely breaking them apart. It felt amazing, but it just wasn’t the same.

I bought some smoke bombs and lit them up all at once, so the smoke and colors would mix and make other beautiful colors, like the archeologist’s rocks, but nothing.

Finally I locked myself in my studio, to try and recreate that union between the avocado and the universe, those beautiful shapes and magical colors. I got some balls of used aluminum foil, put them on a black background, and lit them with three colored lights: red, green and blue. And when they all came together for the photo, voilá, the magic of colors and this beautiful world right in front of my naked eyes. It looked like some kind of rainbow brain.

I started doing more, I couldn’t stop, tons and tons of little tin foil sculptures beautifully lit by tons of tones of colors. They looked like candy-cane asteroids, and turned into different things as I went along: a scorpion,

a dead jellyfish,

Freddie Kruger’s hand,

some weird creature,

a scorpion devouring Freddie Kruger’s hand,

something that looked like a John Chamberlain sculpture, but much better.

I made a small family, that turned into a pair of eyes that looked upwards, downwards, to one side, and to the other.

And at the end of the day, I stuck with this one. This one is perfect.

This one is like the avocado pyramid,

like Romeo and Juliette,

like the horses,

like Turner,

like the cactus,

like the jellyfish,

like the blanket with the cloud print,

like the archeologist and his rocks,

like the archeologist’s cigarettes,

like the colored wall that I never saw,

like the Jell-O,

like the smoke bombs,

and, finally, like Screamin’ Green.