Habitando el proceso

Fascinating atmospheres


[some speculations about the artistic process of Mercedes Lara].


Julia Kristeva argues that, in the limit of primary repression, consciousness continuously errs in its attempt to transform into meanings the fluid demarcations of the territories through which it travels. The sublime borders the abject, being both extremes of un-possession or the lack of the object; in one instance it appears as the depthless memory whose shining involves a loss for being and in the other it is symptom of a language which, once it withdraws itself, structures the body as something anomalous, foreign or monstrous. “The abject confronts us with our personal archeology”[1]. It can be a precondition of narcissism or a chasm when it disentangles itself from repression. Mercedes Lara (un)folds in her fascinating works something I shall call, at the risk of repeating myself, a folding-and-veiling of passions and desires, which seem to infuse a particular anamorphism of the subject[2].

Dwelling in the process reveals the fascinating obsessive quality of the artistic work of Mercedes Lara which can widen its imaginary territory without hardly, hence the paradox, moving itself at all. The aesthetic double bind[3] of her work creates movement, acknowledging “the constant movement and rhythms of everything that surrounds us”[4], but, at the same time, compelling us to occupy space, that is, to dwell in the present. The very poetics of the materials she uses conveys this desire to bring them into conversation, or rather, to bring the heterogenous into cohabitation.

Lacan recalls in his analysis of the meaning of delusion, picking up on a 1908 article of Abraham in which he describes the behavior and disaffection of a premature mental patient through his relation to objects: he piles stone upon stone for months, useless pebbles that have for him the worth of valuable goods. So steadily he piles up stones on a table that it ends up collapsing with a great racket. Everything is swept away, and our character, who seemed to bestow so much importance to this cumulative task, pays no heed to the cleaning procedures nor does he protest about the evacuation of his objects of desire. He simply begins anew to accumulate stone upon stone: “It is tempting to make a fable of this little apologue, one that would show that this is what we all do all the time. I should go even further -to accumulate a stack of things without value, to have to consider them lost at a moment’s notice and start again is a good sign. Indeed, if the subject were to remain attached to what he loses, not being able to bear being deprived of it, it could be said that here you have a case of the overvaluation of objects”[5]. Perhaps the only thing we can defend is that object over which our passions have spent themselves, particularly when dealing with an artist’s trade, whose primary working materials are her own desires. Deleuze has pointed out that repetition is language’s strength, entailing an unavoidably excessive idea of creation. Perhaps the task of art is chiefly to make all the different repetitions work together, with their differences of nature and rhythm, their divergences and decenterings, introducing, as Mercedes Lara does, art into our daily experience[6].

The project of Mercedes Lara is buttressed on drawing which she calls “a thought system that allows us to project ideas”. Her work dwells in the present or, in its heideggerian terminology, tries to think what we are in an essential form[7]. Mercedes Lara makes use of primary elements, deploying water, earth and fire to sustain her passionate representation of time and space. Water, as she declares, is very present in the process of “drawing” continuous movement: “I use concrete as material in which to use earth and cement, and as a cornerstone and blending element, water. Metal and glass, that the earth yields. The glass which uses also fire with enamel and produces the dichroic lense. And finally, felt which is a material extracted from wool, manufactured by man and its culture”[8]. Materials turn “fluid” and are used to convey sensations, such as the mesmerizing installation of “drops of rain”, devised with multiple pieces of china, or the mobile of dichroic lenses, which continue Calder’s tradition, conjuring up the solar system.

Mercedes Lara, in a style of her own that has some points of connection with minimalism, though without falling on the orthodoxy of the “ideal giveness”, plays aesthetically to produce differences by way of repetitions, fold-and-reflect structures such as the grandiose piece of copper and paper which she created for her exhibition at Lucía Mendoza’s gallery, showing that it is precisely through geometrical structuring that one can produce hazardous surprises; it’s a style that goes beyond abstraction, the ultimate aberration[9], towards the concrete. As she lucidly remarks, “when we inhabit we make habits, filling everything with emotions, which also change”[10]. Mercedes Lara’s aesthetic program could be tied with the concept of atmosphere proposed by Gernot Böhme, which brings Benjamin’s notion of “aura” into other “spheres of presence”[11].

Mercedes Lara has emphasized her interest in how time introduces changes into space, turning light into “a form of interpreting the weight of time”[12]. In order to dwell in a place of light, she stresses that what’s essential (in all of life’s episodes) is something secret, sub rosa (“under the seal of silence”) or prodigiously “inmaterial”[13]. When I wrote, years ago, about Mercedes Lara I already noted that she was “obsessed with light”[14], but it must be added that her obsessions stretch too into the mutations of color, such as those that she produces with the dichroic lenses that she uses in her pieces. Manuela Sevilla, writing about an installation of this artist, suggested that, to a certain extent, her work has to do with the specular-fracture (in a Lacanian fashion) of the subject[15]. We shouldn’t forget that the subject still is “a stain in the picture”[16], a “veiled” trace that addresses us.

It cannot be denied that gestures, individual attitudes and behaviors, as Marcel Mauss remarks in his canonical essay on the techniques of the body, are social experiences, the product of various forms of learning and mimicries either voluntary or unconscious[17]. One could add to this the Delphic motto of ne quid nimis (nothing in excess), which contributed ever since the Middle Ages to impose an ethic of the gesture which is in itself something of an “economy” too: gestus (conveying not only a specific gesture but the set of movements and attitudes of the body) shares part of its fate with the word modesty[18]. Artaud, in his Lettre sur le langage (1931), suggests that beside the culture of the words there is the culture of the gestures: there are other languages that differ from the nakedness of our Western language, given to the desecration of ideas, that is, to their presentation in an inert state. Doubtlessly, it is art that endeavours to return to the state that anteceded the necropolis of intuition that our conceptual framework embodies, activating an intensive corporal dynamic, bringing a new anatomy of the imaginary. Mercedes Lara overflows the rigidities of geometry and cut-and-fold, trusting herself to chance, generating lines and luminary trajectories which are “anexact”, precisely what Plato refused to see[19].

This work which brings us into a geometry of drives is always distinguished by a genuine philosophic curiosity[20], infused by a desire for illumination. The whole of Mercedes Lara’s aesthetics is geared to produce something more than “speculations”; it wants to create luminous spaces where to experience emotions that go beyond the realm of the visual[21].


We have to have, above all else, an open mind, to be capable of developing, in freudian terms, unending “free associations”, to work towards a radical excitation of dreams[22]. We must shred complexities in a gesture that is identical to the localisation in the abyss of the receptacle, in that space that is, fortunately, not philosophically pure. “Here, in culture, is a tear, a new basin, the chora of the Timaeus, the fertile virginal womb, from which explodes the crazy proliferation of that variety geometry —interminable discourse, immense narrative— whose flow of results has never stopped increasing, all the way up to us, like the continuous abundance of writing on the pages and walls, of wheat across the fields, of war outside the entrenchments and of rites in the temples”[23]. Mercedes Lara knits an illuminating cartography, draws subtle spaces, sediments aporias (as if ultimately she were allegorating about a kind of “umbilical cord” that maps out affects and sutures wounds) and confers a “paradoxical” materiality to her reveries.


Through art one can “give space to the void” which allows for the articulation of desire[24]; the shadows, the partial objects, the fascinating shape-shifting reflexes, create, in Mercedes Lara’s works, a dwelling space. Though this artist has repeatedly refused to talk about shadows, only about lights, this pair cannot be disentangled. From the evocation of the tokonoma[25] to the contemplative experience of silence[26], the process that we are to dwell in is chiefly liminal. “The form of a thing –says Gernot Böhme– operates also towards the outside. It irradiates in a certain manner over everything that surrounds it, shatters the homogeneity of its surroundings, fills it out with tension and suggestions of movement”[27].

The aesthetic experience that interests Mercedes Lara is an interstitial and unstable one[28], which can, ultimately, be paradoxically harmonious. We are before an “heraclitean” imaginary that acknowledges the change of things[29]. Dwelling in the process, feeling and thinking this time in which it is our lot to live[30], is the stuff of Mercedes Lara’s work. In a digital age where we are swept away by a tsunami of junk data, towards a babelism of (un)connection[31], we have to find a way to create spaces, something that perhaps can be accomplished by way of works of art, rigorous forms of unveiling the truth[32]. As Blanchot would say one can only live by killing the child inside oneself, the hand and shadows leave a certain suspense, painting brings a delightful delay, it reclaims a singular intensity of life[33]. These fascinating dwellings inhabited by the luminous works of Mercedes Lara are a genuine gift that remind us that poetry is precisely what we lack, but, above all else, it compels us to adopt the ever-changing nature of our identity, basking on reflections as unsettling as familiar. It is a process that accounts for what we are.


[1] Julia Kristeva. Powers of Horror. An Essay on Abjection, Columbia University Press, New York, 1982, p. 13.

[2] Mercedes Lara has noted that her paintings are not emptied out, but rather veiled: “Veiling forces and trains the eye to seek what is beyond the veil” (Statement of Mercedes Lara included in Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz: “En silencio” in Mercedes Lara. En silencio, Banco Zaragozano, Zaragoza, 2002, p. 11).

[3] For Gregory Bateson, as he defined in Steps to an Ecology of the Mind (1972), the double bind was originally a form of understanding juvenile schizophrenia in a qualitative manner, but he considered that the concept could be generalized far beyond the field of symptomatology and mental disorder. Those catachrestic concept-metaphors can be expanded to the aesthetic realm. Cf. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, Harvard University Press, London, 2012, p. 4.

[4] Mercedes Lara: description of Habitando el proceso, exhibition at Lucía Mendoza’s Gallery, 2019.

[5] Jacques Lacan: “The Meaning of Delusion”, in The Psychoses. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Taylor & Francis, London, 1993, p. 20.

[6] “For there is no other aesthetic problem than that of the insertion of art into everyday life. The more our daily life appears standardised, stereotyped and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate -namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death, (…) connect[ing] thereby the tableau of cruelty with that of stupidity” (Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition, Columbia University Press, New York, 1995, p. 293).

[7] In the 1951 conference titled “Building Dwelling Thinking”, Heidegger notes that ich bin (“I am”) means ich bauen (“I dwell”) or that being a man means to “dwell/be on the earth as a mortal”. Cf. Martin Heidegger: “Building Dwelling Thinking” in Poetry, Language, Thought, Harper, New York, 2001, p. 145.

[8] Mercedes Lara: text concerning the exhibition Habitar el Proceso, Lucía Mendoza’s Gallery, 2019.

[9] “The passage through abstraction is a considerable event. It is the end of a system of representation, although probably not the end of art, to the contrary. I still see abstraction both as complete renewal of things and as an aberration. It is potentially dangerous for art to the extent that the aim of abstraction (and modernity in general) is to move towards an analytical exploration of the object” (Jean Baudrillard, “Art between Utopia and Anticipation” in The Conspiracy of Art. Manifestos, Interviews, Essays, Semiotext(e), New York, 2005, p. 51).

[10] Mercedes Lara: description of Habitando el proceso, exhibition at Lucía Mendoza’s Gallery, 2019.

[11] Böhme defines atmospheres as spaces, in as much as the presence of things, people or the constellations that surround them, their “ecstasis”, “tinge” them: they are spheres of presence themselves, their reality in space. Atmospheres are inherent to the subject, “they belong to the subject in as much as they are experienced by people in their physical presence, and in as much as, at the same time, this experience is for the subject a physical encounter with space” (Gernot Böhme: Atmosphäre. Essays zur neuen Ästhetik, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 1995, p. 33).

[12] “For years I have been interested in time as concept and in the changes time forces into space. Light is a method of measuring the weight of time, almost always changing or in movement” (Mercedes Lara: text in the catalogue for the exhibition Refracción at Lucía Mendoza’s Gallery).

[13] “Hugh of Saint Victor, in his commentary to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (in Hierarchiam coelestem) states that the reason of being of corporeal and sensible things resides in the possibility of instructing men through the symbolic mode, that is, figuratively, and that corporeal beauty is image of the inmaterial” (Mariateresa Fumagalli Beonio Brocchieri: La estética medieval, La Balsa de la Medusa, Madrid, 2012, p. 17).

[14] “Mercedes Lara is, literally, obsessed with light and there, in that inmaterial domain is where she embarks on a journey that entails a relinquishment of the pictorial so as to reach the essential” (Fernando Castro Flórez: “La pintura expandida de Mercedes Lara” en Fisac+Lara, Espacio Fisac, Daimiel, 2008).

[15] “Sometimes when we search the “I” we bump into the other, placing ourselves in a divided space, something similar to the Lacanian mirror, though stemming from the originary discourse. “Things are ultimately as they are narrated” and are more of a reflection, than things in themselves; illuminate oneself, to look at ourselves in the mirror until we find a broken image, a story that breaks and fragments into two united realities, that both affirm and deny themselves. This is the strategy of doubt, of a work that presents a transit from the inside to the outside and from outside to inside, where the intermediary place, the dwelling place of the many, is foregrounded” (Manuela Sevilla: “Interferencias”, texto sobre Mercedes Lara).

[16] Jacques Lacan. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, W.W. Norton, London, 1998, p. 98.

[17] Cf. Marcel Mauss: “Techniques of the Body” in Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter: Incorporations, Zone Books, New York, 1992, p. 454- 78.

[18] Cf. Jean-Claude Schmitt: “The Ethics of the Gesture” in Michel Feher, Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi (eds.): Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Vol. 2, Zone, New York, 1989, p. 131.

[19] “No other archeological technique would have been able to lead me below traditional surveying. Yes, the shaky square drawn in the sand, the hesitant and anexact graph that Plato refused to see is perceptible and purely mathematical at the same time. Whence it comes that Plato himself forgot the world of the shaky graphe, anterior to intelligible metric, and which twenty-five centuries after him we wind up remembering” (Michel Serres: Geometry. The Third Book of Foundations, Bloomsbury, London, 2017, p. 27).

[20] “For Lara, light is the element that allows her to embark on a particular observation of the relationship between time and space. It turns into a tool that depicts real orographies that can be altered through changes of color, simulating or accompanying the variations in the perception of time and space according to the moment when they are conceived. It is a justification for a whole world of curiosity, disquisitions, reflections, speculations and meditations, where the philosophical melds with the plastic” (Lucía Mendoza: prologue to the catalogue Mercedes Lara: “C”, Galería de Lucía Mendoza, Madrid, 2016, p. 11).

[21] “The sensory ratio of vision as such becomes even more complicated when it enters into the region of emotion, affect, and intersubjective encounters in the visual field—the creaking board that startles the voyeur, the “hey you” that calls to the Althusserean subject. Lacan further complicates this issue by rejecting even the Cartesian model of tactility in “The line and the Light”, replacing it with a model of fluids and overflow, one in which pictures, for instance, are to be drunk rather than seen, painting is likened to the shedding of feathers and the smearing of shit, and the principal function of the eye is to overflow with tears, or (in the case of “invidia” or the evil eye) to dry up the breasts of a nursing mother” (W.J.T. Mitchell: Image Science. Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics, Chicago University Press, London, 2015, p. 133).

[22] “For this purpose [to delve down into latent thoughts and the interpretation of dreams] Freud proposed the method of “free fantasizing” (freie Einfälle) and “free association” (freie Assoziation) apropos the manifest images of the dream under scrutiny. Free rein must be given to the psyche and all the restraining and critical faculties of consciousness must be relaxed; one must allow anything to come to mind, even the most outlandish thoughts and images that have no apparent relevance to the dream being analyzed; one must become completely passive and allow free access to whatever comes to consciousness, even if it seems senseless, meaningless, with no connection to the matter at hand; one must endeavor only to be attentive to whatever involuntarily arises in the psyche” (Valentin Nikolaevich Voloshinov: Freudianism. A Marxist Critique, Academic Press, New York, 1976, p. 50).

[23] Michel Serres: Geometry. The Third Book of Foundations, Bloomsbury, London, 2017, p. 45.

[24] “The void filled out by creative symbolic fiction is the objet petit a, the object-cause of desire, the empty frame that provides the space for the articulation of desire. When this void is saturated, the distance separating a from reality gets lost: a falls into reality. However, reality itself is constituted by means of the withdrawal of objet a: we can relate to “normal” reality only in so far as jouissance is evacuated from it, in so far as the object-cause of desire is missing from it” (Slavoj Žižek: The Metastases of Enjoyment. Six Essays on Women and Causality, Verso, London, 2005, p. 76). I want to note, in relation to Mercedes Lara’s works, that this desire, whose main drive is the cutting down of the signifier [coupure], is also impelled to produce a suture.

[25] Mariano Navarro, in a text about Mercedes Laras, brings into comparison her works with that concentrated thickness of silence which pervades the shaded air of the Japanese tokonoma, about which Tanizaki writes in his essay In Praise of Shadows: “there one finds the adequate imprecision of indecisiveness, because after each drop of pigment, it kindles a wick of light. There is a luminous universe there that glistens and flickers behind the terse consistency of the ingenuity, as if this was a net or a cage through whose mesh color overflowed”.

[26] “There are specific places where silence makes its subtle omnipresence felt, where it can be more easily heard, where it may appear as a sweet, soft, continuous and anonymous sound; places to which the advice of the poet Valéry applies: “Listen to this delicate sound which is continuous, and which is silence. Listen to what you hear when nothing makes itself heard”; this noise “blankets everything, this sand of silence… Now nothing. This nothing is huge in the ears.” Silence is a presence in the air” (Alain Corbin: A History of Silence. From the Renaissance to the Present Day, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2018, p. 8)

[27] Gernot Böhme: Atmosphäre. Essays zur neuen Ästhetik, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 1995, p. 33.

[28] “The aesthetic experience here is largely characterized by the experience of destabilization, which suspends the perceiving subjects betwixt and between two perceptual orders. A permanent stabilization lies beyond their control” (Erika Fischer-Lichte: The Transformative Power of Performance. A New Aesthetics, Routledge, London, 2008, p. 157.)

[29] “Everything, absolutely everything is in continuous change, in addition to whatever each one of us perceives as different” (Mercedes Lara: description of Habitando el proceso, exhibition at Lucía Mendoza’s Gallery, 2019).

[30] “This project is an attempt to draw the idea of dwelling in processes, that is, of dwelling in the present” (Mercedes Lara: description of Habitando el proceso, exhibition at Lucía Mendoza’s Gallery, 2019).

[31] “A moment’s reflection about the role of the human hand in relation to the computer should remind us of Bill Brown’s tellingly non-redundant aphorism: “the digital age is the digital age”, the era of carpal tunnel syndrome and ergonomic keyboards. Obsessive text messengers live in the age of the thumb, and of a generation that is “all thumbs”. We have invented in our time new forms of clumsiness along with new skill sets, automatisms, and habitual subroutines. What Friedrich Kittler has predicted as a “general digitization of channels and information” that will “erase the differences among individual media” has in fact produced just the opposite: a new Tower of Babel populated by machines that cannot communicate with other machines” (W.J.T. Mitchell: Image Science. Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics, Chicago University Press, London, 2015, p. 141).

[32] Miguel Cereceda notes that Mercedes Lara’s fixation with veiling in her work (“veiling forces and trains the eye to seek what is beyond the veil”) has to do with Heidegger’s characterizing of truth (aletheia) as the lifting of a veil that renders contemplation possible.

[33]Demeure is a French verb of extreme multiplicity. It originally meant “to put something off till later”, it conveys a retardation, an established delay, in a legal sense too. The question of delay has always interested me and I would not oppose surviving against death. It has even occured me to define surviving as a different possibility, alien both to life and death, as an original concept. […] I have never been able to reflect on the thought of death or on the attention to death, or indeed the attendance or the anxiety about death, as anything other than the affirmation of life. They are two movements which are inseparable for me: a constant attention to the imminence of death which is not necessarily sad, negative or deadly, but on the contrary, the substance of life itself for me, the greatest intensity of life” (Jacques Derrida: Sur parole. Instantanés Philosophiques, Éditions de l’Aube, Paris, 1999, p. 51).


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