Random Parts is honored to present the works of Javier Arce – a visiting artist based in Santander, Spain.  

His artist residency began on September 15, and concluded with an opening on October 4, 2014.  

Text by Mónica Carballas.

Notes about the forest passage

A life build your own house and your own future

                 Some say perspective exists to distinguish between sight and

                 Vision  as if losses in landscape lent

                 Transcendental distance to what was to be

                 Inhabited           between substance & spirit


                                                                Kevin Power*


Wealth is living with the power to create solidarity and a communal spirit

                                                                Franco (Bifo) Berardy


The soil, the cabin, the landscape, the tree...their images...  The idea of Doblar la Tierra moves like a hazy halo around the pieces that Javier Arce has gathered under this title.  This project proposes an exercise to imagine a space; yet there is no need to find it in a specific place or in just one image, and there is no intention to provide a particular and finished shape.  On the contrary, it focuses on the experience of this quest process and it is nourished through it.

One of the core ideas used by Javier Arce for this project is a specific house:   his cabin in the Cantabrian Mountains in the north of Spain.  Like other agricultural buildings, the structure is very simple, with a rectangular shape, and the rooms are very small;  and it is built with local materials:  stone and wood.  It is in the south-facing slope of a valley surrounded by an Atlantic forest with oaks, chestnuts, beeches, pines, hazelnut trees and gum trees.

Your own house is at the same time a familiar place but also an unknown one.  It is our own space for intimacy and freedom, private and (in theory) impregnable.  Like a mirror, it reflects what we are:  our likes, our peculiarities, our eccentricities and our obsessions.  Building our house up is building ourselves up.  We are our house.  That is where the trip starts, on the site.  However, the path that takes you to that place is not important:  there are always several ways.  What is important is how we look through.  What we see, or rather, our ability to see – always with the echo of Kevin’s poem in our memory like sounds that spread through the valley.  Seeing is not that easy.  It is essential to keep your lenses and the present focused, since there might be an invisible siege that gets closer and closer on us.  We do not manage to see it, but we recognize the symptoms.  We somehow perceive it.


We live in a time where we might not speak about time but about transience.  Still, this term sounds like a kind of political correctness of language, or like a gesture of goodwill or tolerance, since there has always been a coexistence of different times in different places, even when we have tried – from our western perspective – to correct it and impose our own.  That is how times coexist in the shapes of violence, which with we daily bump into in the media:  from a headless body to the one infected by a laboratory virus, from a stoning to a drones’ war… from slavery to the person with no rights (Agamben).

The writer Danilo Kis suggests in The Encyclopaedia of the Death the possibility of reading about the life stories of all those people who have lived.  Death reminds us that each life on Earth is essential, as essential as the questions from the poet that will never stop being formulated.

Referring to the permanent state of crisis we find ourselves seems almost absurd for its reiteration and obviousness.  Rather than alleviating the symptoms of this illness it would be desirable to go through it, heading to the places – whatever they are – with no fear.  We have the feeling of being continually on the brink of disaster, knowing that it is not our disaster, that it is permanently lived in different parts of the planet.  We acknowledge ourselves as men and women potentially with no rights.  We observe how the police state gets expanded in a world under surveillance, always with our consent and collaboration.  Today dictatorship happens through our subjugation to surveillance and control.  Hopefully, we will question if being indifferent is an option, and hopefully we will be able to imagine ways of living together in freedom.

The cabin is the beginning and the end, being at the same time a deceitful image.  Nonetheless, what has kept Javier Arce constantly interested is just the opening provided by ambivalence and the environment of confusion created by the ambiguity of the image.  He looks for storms in the imagosphere, not for certainty.  He has experimented previously, so he knows that images have the capacity of being recharged like electric poles and consequently of reacting with extreme movements.  That is the case of works such as Kill Lies All (2013).  He is interested in stray images, poor images that wander around Internet, liable to be used, manipulated and changed its meaning.  He knows that the image is nothing by itself.  What creates meaning is the use of it.

His process starts like a game but despite appearances, it is never hazardous.  I find particularly interesting the way he transfers the algorithm to the drawing table.  He applies a subtle action of resistance, almost like a hacker, but the opposite:  he uses a graphite as a tool, diverting the traced routes and the predetermined tracks mathematically formulated, allowing the possibility of a change of direction through a camouflaging strategy.  As Hito Steyerl states:  “the only way to escape from a camera is by becoming a pixel”.

The cabin is not a den where you hide.  It is not the romantic space where you get shelter and inspiration, and it is neither the place where to find isolation from the world and solitude.  On the contrary, it is a space tailor-made for the body – for the bodies – and “the only way to create solidarity and empathy is through the body.  Solidarity is enjoying the other’s body.  Solidarity is not an ethical or political value: it is corporeality”**.  The cabin is a space of freedom for encounters with others and with the world.  Arce himself pointed out the quote:  “In order to reach the forest it is necessary to go through the cabin”.

Doblar la tierra

What is the meaning of Doblar la tierra?  It might be related to the motto written on the ribbon that opens and closes Javier Arce’s studio:  retry the life experiment in the communal.  The project itself takes the shape of an odd assemblage.  Its elements consist of different independent works.  At first sight, these works might seem unconnected in their formal materialization and in the references and ideas that they suggest:  drawings with lines that reproduce adequate images such as a sculpture installed in the space, working as a mold for an engraving, a fragile model of a cabin’s structure, a book used as a measure to cut a piece of wood, or the video based on The Forest Passage by Ernst Jünger…  However, under this pretended collision of ideas, forms, materials and elements, like latent footprints, sketched attractive conceptual lines appear with the potential to expand in multiple and stimulating directions. Doblar la tierra is a work in progress.  At this stage, it manifests with a high degree of energy concentrated in every part of this obtusely processed jigsaw.  Each part seems to possess the vocation to be the embryo of a succeeding development, like seminal thoughts chained with no need of a link, or like matter meteorite-shaped, which will explode and spread, creating new shapes and other images.

The enigma of El Tercer paisaje

I wonder, again, what is the lens that – all of a sudden – makes us see what we have seen day after day without seeing it.  The first piece I can recall of this set is an enigma that challenged us from a quiet place where it sat for more than a year, on the wall at the deep end of the artist’s studio.  It is a subtle and delicate piece.  Its discrete presence persists in the memory thanks to its stealthy call to pay attention to it even briefly every time we visited the studio.  It is associated to pending questions that have inexplicably never been formulated.  Where does it come from?  Why did it remain there?  It is a drawing made up with lines done assembling small bars of charcoal that draw up an organic and simple geometry.  The choice of materials creates very evocative and poetic relations.  This fragile model was hanging over the dirty white background of the wall.  It was attached to the wall with three long pins, bent with extreme precision, just enough to act as an invisible bracket, as minuscule clutches, creating a distance between the geometric structure and the wall, enough as to get a projection of a game of shadows swinging in the daylight.

The model reproduces the structure of Prospect Cabin, Derek Jarman’s cabin in the south of England, not far from a nuclear power station where he created a beautiful cactus garden.  It is inhabited by generations of spiders – weavers of threads that will intertwine new shapes.  The enigma is the origin, the model of El tercer paisaje, which hosts the core of the project as a metaphor of the abstract landscape of imagination.

Through the cabin

Daily reality swings between the immaterial digital cloud accessible from the studio and the brightness of the clouds that can be seen from the mountain Alto de la Cruz.  Although both provide us with information, I cannot stop recalling Jünger’s question in The Forest Passage:  why today’s man believes what the newspapers say and does not believe what the stars say.

Arce recovered the old door of his cabin:  a rudimentary and solid door built with oak planks that he used later as a mold for a xylography.  The lines of the gouge entangle with the natural grooves of the wood grain.  On the surface, one perceives the simple space of the cabin and the rhythm of a forest, which is mixed up with the abstract pattern of the old oak skin.  When the engraving is revealed on the paper, transmutation between the shapes of the drawing and those of the planks make the limits of the image disappear and the landscape of the cabin merge with the ancient and solid landscape of the wood.  Distance and proximity:  anything can depart.

The sequoia and the eclipse

The image shows the scene of the felling of a sequoia.  It is presumably an engraving or a drawing of a North American landscape.  An image from Internet, decontextualized and poor in quality, as any other of the billions floating in the cloud and that – despite globalization – will most probably come from two of the five continents.  On top of this image (as in previous occasions), Arce superimposes a drawing that partly conceals the other one.  It is a dark, graphite grey almost plain surface made with a repetitive set of vertical lines, each one less than three millimetres wide, and it makes the image look like a mechanical vintage print.  It serves as a black curtain that eclipses or censors partially the scene.

The act of opposing the scene with the felling of the sequoia and the life around the tree takes you to a romantic North American landscape, to the level of color, making us think of the meditative spaces of abstraction.  However, the interpretation should not be subdued to the dichotomy between the image of what “sublime romantic” is and what “sublime abstract” is.  In my opinion, what seems to stand out more is the act of the artist to provide with time an image that already lost time.  It is a micro-action of resistance.  The recipient is the restored image and maybe the author in his quest of that trip that leads to abstraction through the long, repetitive and automatic task of drawing.

Nature still provides the possibility to feel an impression, maybe not sublime anymore, but inquisitive about our existence,  about our temporary presence.  Yet, it is not possible to surrender to a naïve contemplation of the landscape or to the quest of an original or unique experience.  The planet is unstoppably deprived of its natural resources.  Undaunted, we contemplate how investors buy in the emerging countries vast croplands or big water supplies.  It is well known that drinking water scarcity will be the main reason for war conflicts in the next fifty years.  Forests are continuously cut down and burnt, and the Earth is being drilled with fracking fluids while we know it poisons the drinking water supplies.

The Poor Man’s Friend

The account of the previous story boosts the memory of the vast spaces of the North American landscape as a symbol of the national identity.  But it also reminds us of the reality of the occupation of the natives’ lands and their displacement to the West.

The image of the poster for the Log Cabin Campaign taken over by Arce, is one of those finds led by the algorithm of the unsettling factory of Silicon Valley.  It is also wrapped with the generous information provided in the format of statistics graphics found in Wikipedia.  In a few words: During the 1840 election in U.S., the conservative candidate William Henry Harrison stood for the elections as a war hero and as a friend of the poor;  a man born in a cabin and who liked drinking beer.  Thanks to this clever populist strategy he managed not only to avoid the problematic issue on slavery but also to win the elections.  The artist has reproduced the poster for this campaign (using the previously described technique.  He has decided to leave blank the space occupied by the face of the candidate.  Blank spaces in Arce’s works do not equal to something erased but to the non-drawn.  The absence is actually the fact that the face of any candidate could fit the void.

When Jünger writes about the fragility of democracy in The Forest Passage, he reminds us that an election campaing is like a show*** and, as such, it needs a stage for the show, a mise en scène, uniforms, atmosphere and a specific stage set up.  In those first decades of the 19th century, with a very strong crisis and the drama of slavery as a backdrop, the stage was the cabin.  A symbolic image that sways between the place for The Forest Passage and the violence of the settlements and occupied territories.

Who is the passage flyer?

For the making of the video Doblar la tierra, Arce intertwined images of the valley where his cabin sits with quotes taken from the book The Forest Passage by Ernst Jünger.  This is an essay recovered at the right time because of its extremely radical relevance, if we think about the new repressive forms owned by the Establishment, quite related to the endless possibilities of surveillance, and if we think about the options we have of not becoming one of their victims.  “Human beings are getting to a point where they are asked to create some documents that are calculated to provoke their own ruin”****.  The Forest Passage is a call to resistance and to the defense of individual freedom against any form of oppression.

The eye behind the camera, attentively, recognizes the surroundings of the cabin.  This is due to a daily practice of paying attention to the details of shapes and movements.  It belongs to somebody who does not allow himself to be surprised or seduced by the scenes surrounding them.  This person does not look at them for the first time.  On the contrary, he coexists with them and it seems that they help him to think.  The rhythm of the sequences is natural and with ambient sound.  It transmits the calmness and determination of a life choice already taken.  This is the choice of freedom.

Poetry as a measure

“Opening” is the word Arce uses to talk about this new period in his work:  the opening of the field, according to the book that he used to make this unusual piece.  The materials he used are a few small old oak beams from his cabin.  They have been hand-sawed by the artist into small pieces, using the book  The Opening of the Field, by Robert Duncan, as the measure.  This performative gesture is a beautiful act of remembrance of the conversations he held in recent years with a friend, Kevin Power.  For Kevin, Robert Duncan was an essential poet who was always present in his works.

Going back to Jünger:  “The poet helps the human being to find the way back to himself:  he is a forest fleer”*****.   Hence, it seems a good idea to return regularly towards poetry.

Pisueña, September 2014

Mónica Carballas


*Fragment of a poem sent by Kevin Power to Javier Arce in October 2012, from the unpublished poetry book Death Set: Pisueña Green End of Green Road (2011-2012) with the objective of carrying out a collaboration between Javier Arce and Kevin Power.

**Erotic Uprising, or the Schooling of the Body, inteview with Franco Berardy by Willem van Weelden, Open, number 23, NAi PUblishers, Rotterdam, 2012. P. 37.

***Ernst Jünger: The Forest Passage.

****Ernst Jünger: The Forest Passage.

*****Ernst Jünger: The Forest Passage.


Javier Arce (b. 1973, Santander, Spain) has a degree in Engraving from the Escuela de Artes Aplicadas in Oviedo, an Honors Degree in Fine Art at the Basque Country University and his Masters in Sculpture from the Wimbledon School of Fine Art.  In 2008, he was granted the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York and has shown internationally including, Paris (FR), Munich (DE), Brasilia (BR), Zagreb (HR), Sibiu (RO), Ljubljana (SI), London (UK), Bangkok (TH), Manila (PH), Vieques (PR), and several cities in Spain.