The Museum of Contemporary Art has for a long time had the wish to present the Spanish installation and performance artist Esther Ferrer to a Danish audience. At the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1999 the international public had the chance to see some of her larger installations and to become acquainted with her long artistic career.
Esther Ferrer was born in San Sebastian, Spain, in 1937 and has lived in Paris for the last twenty years. From 1967 she belonged to the Zaj group (1964-1973) as one of the group’s ”permanent” members, together with Juan Hidalgo and Walter Marchetti.
The Zaj group’s artistic background shows strong relations to Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Eric Satie and Zen-inspired ideas. The contemporary experimenting international art scene was a further link – especially the neo-dadaist wave, for which the Fluxus movement, for instance, acted as a mouthpiece. A possible closer membership was discussed at the invitation of George Maciunas, but was categorically rejected by the Zaj group.
Zaj was a particularly active group in Spain. They performed concerts, staged actions, published reviews, correspondence, arranged exhibitions and performances, all in opposition to the official Spanish art under Franco’s dictatorship. Their actions and performances were characterized by a minimum of pose and a maximum of content. They played on a neutral and impersonal conduct, presenting everyday situations and using ordinary everyday objects. Simple actions with condensed significance.
When Esther Ferrer was asked what Zaj meant for her, she answered: ”Zaj is a possibility which is transformed into practice, a desire, a point of view”.
In 1973 the group was split and the three above-mentioned artists moved away from Spain. In 1996 the Zaj group had a large retrospective exhibition at the Queen Sofia National Art Gallery in Madrid. With this exhibition they became once more visible as one of Spain’s most innovative and ground-breaking groups.
The exhibition ”Esther Ferrer, from action to object and vice versa” in Sevilla in 1998 contained a long series of works: installations, photos, drawings, texts and a video documentation of her actions and performances. In the exhibition catalogue it is said that she applies common everyday objects in the very same way John Cage used everyday sounds in his music. A remarkable observation which merely underlines the extensive importance John cage’s Zen-inspired thoughts had among experimenting artists in the second half of the 20th century. A common everyday object in Esther Ferrer’s installations is the chair – an object which is a fixture in her performances as well. But, in addition to the chair, the rope, the reflections, the body, the sexuality, the written texts and the self-portraits are all recurrent elements. There is like a rhythm and a repetition through her whole production.
Esther Ferrer’s long, intense, artistic career is almost legendary. Her presence on stage is unique. And she has through the years – untouched by changing styles and trends within performance art – continued with a practice whose main foundation is the ”raw” art form, deeply rooted in reality, which does not allow too much stylistic spread. Her own body is her starting point and essential means of expression.