Meeting the artist: Carlos Aires at the CAC Malaga


Friday 23 March saw the inauguration of an usual exhibition by local artist Carlos Aires in the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo in Málaga.

Carlos Aires was born in Ronda, Málaga, in 1974. He studied Fine Art in Granada, specializing in sculpture, and completed a Masters in European Arts and Cultures. He then went on to spend a year living in the Netherlands and a further two in Antwerp in Belgium – where, as he later explained, he learned most of his English.
Between 2004 and 2008 Carlos simultaneously completed a Masters in Photography at the University of Ohio in the USA, and a doctorate in Fine Arts at his alma mater, Granada University. In his short but prolific artistic career, Carlos has held exhibitions all over the globe, from South Africa to America, and in a multitude of European destinations. After all this time away from home, it seems only natural he should return with a bang … or in this case a flash - a unique, authentically Andaluz flash.
The exhibition is a light installation in the form of 2,500 traditional Spanish farolillas (small lanterns used at ferias) strung across the full breadth of the gallery. The rest of the room is deliberately left empty: the walls are white and completely bare. The lanterns are printed with images taken from archived issues of ABC newspaper, featuring both national and international news, printed in black and white.
At first glance, it appears the gallery has been decorated for a party or festival, but when you tip your head back and look a little closer, you see that the lanterns portray the faces of dead or dying people, both famous and unknown, and, as we later discovered, hidden amongst them, some experiencing religious and physical ecstasy.

At the opening night of the appropriately name “Opening Night” installation, talked exclusively to Carlos Aires to find out more about this work and the motivation behind this unique and moving piece, which, as a collection of lights and iconic photographic images, is a far cry from his usual artistic field: sculpture.
Carlos explained that the images had come directly from the ABC's archives, and expressed his shock at having been allowed the copyright. “Funnily enough, they just said ´Take them´ - I don´t know how.” He could not believe that nobody had asked before, or that he was so easily permitted access to such iconic images (including the faces of Adolf Hitler and Michael Jackson, to name a few).
The artist explained that, although famous entertainers and historic figures are featured, many of the pictures came from the Civil War period and that, to him, the most important thing was to see “how we relate to the images”.
He went on to say: “You know we have the national TV news on at eating time, and the idea of people eating at the same time as watching all these horrible images is something that didn´t feel good to me. I wanted to work with this concept, that you can have something very normal Andalucian (the farolillas), combined with all these memories, all collective memories, all on top of us”.
As we were talking to Carlos, the lights cut out. It appeared that there had been a power cut as we were all plunged into darkness. Or at least that’s what we thought the first time it happened; the whole crowd was in shock, and we collectively believed that the exhibition had been ruined.
We quickly (three minutes later, to be precise) realized that it was a clever trick by the artist, and the gallery - it was in fact an integral part of the intended message of the exhibition. Carlos explained the black-out: “I also worked a lot with blind people, and I wanted us to see the world the same way as the people who can´t see. So the lights are three minutes on and ten minutes off.”

Of the lanterns themselves, Carlos explained that they were all handmade in Seville. Even though most paper lanterns are imported from China, it was important to Carlos that the entire exhibition be entirely of not only Spanish, but Andalusian origin.
It is really refreshing and reassuring to learn that the concept behind the piece runs directly to the root and is not just reflected in the surface.
Opening Night is a truly moving piece of art and Andalusian history; Carlos has captured the essence of the Andalusian collective memory beautifully. I would urge you to go and see it. A word of caution though - lots of mesmerized people staring upwards may lead to head-on collisions and neckache!
The exhibition is on at the CAC Malaga until 6 May 2012.
Photos © Michelle Chaplow
Blog published on 2 April 2012