TOXIC EVOLUTION - 2011-016

This work aims to be primarily a swan song to Nature and its resigned yet unrelenting struggle for survival. Soler-Arpa shows us how pollution has abused and mutated our natural environment. However, Man's relentless assault on Nature has not overwhelmed its strength. The artist's sculptures portray asymmetric and crippled creatures that, nonetheless, move forcefully. Toxic Evolution venerates the struggle of Nature to perpetuate itself against all the odds, despite the residues that poison its veins.


What is "geological time"? Geological time is the term applied to describe the extended periods of time the Earth and life have needed to evolve and transform. Thus, we speak in millions of years to explain the planet's changes. We know that life has extraordinary resources to perpetuate itself over time. Its mechanism is called evolution. The factors that influence evolution include natural selection, genetic migration or migration flow. Yet above all we know that evolution needs time, specifically geological time.

"Toxic Evolution" is the title of my upcoming exhibition. In it, I focus my efforts on creating a fantasy animal house of imaginary creatures.

Inventing animals is nothing new; Greek mythology offers one of the first sources, among which are the Minotaur, griffin, and faun. There are also the dragons of the Middle Ages and the fabulous creatures of Nordic folklore. By way of more recent examples, among the magnificent oeuvre of Joan Foncuberta are his 1980s works. "Herbarium" and "Fauna", which, as the artist puts it, "drift within the confines of fact and fiction" with a slightly humorous touch.Another example is the amazing book by Javier Sáez Castán and Miguel Murugarren, "Animalario universal del Profesor Revillod", where you compose incredible animals by playing with the order of the pages,or Borges' acclaimed "Manual de zoología fantástica".

In my case, I draw on this idea to explain and condemn a reality. My animals are not simply the result of a creative whim. "Toxic evolution" evokes the struggle between nature and today's artificial toxic agents that derive from man's waste and pollutants. I focus my interest on vertebrates and on how they would respond in evolutionary terms to a changing environment, contaminated with substances that have unpredictable effects on them. Artificial elements that catalyse changes in their organisms over short periods and their race against time to adapt themselves.

These animals (perhaps located in the near future) straddle the boundary between the possible and the impossible, the real and the imaginary, the graceful and the tortuous. Their strange morphology is fruit of contamination that triggers uncontrollable genetic mutations. They are ultimately fictitious victims of modern Man's whim and irresponsible behaviour, as is the reality of so many of today's endangered species. Radioactivity produces iridescence in their beautiful coats; transgenesis provides them with extravagantly elegant limbs. In the not-too-distant future, strange fish containing high degrees of mercury will swim the rivers and seas; animals of a third gender will breed in an original manner. We might see elephants with plumage, two-legged sheep, furry reptiles, ruminant amphibians, two-headed lizards and moles with luminous eyes ....

I want to stress the intrinsic elegance in the natural evolution of animals. This can be appreciated in the efficiency of their bodies; in their movements ... one need only consider the gallop a horse, or the leap of a hare or the structure and design of the plumage. This gracefulness is one element that I intend to underscore in the representation of my animal house. These beasts will also be elegant despite their biological defects. They will have managed to stand upright and walk. I seek to lend credibility to their capacity of movement. The toxic component may also afford them a spectacular artificialness that is difficult to cope with, pushing back the boundaries of what is "normal"... A sad and delirious selection of transgenic prototypes. Resourceful in a toxic nature that ultimately implies failure. Unfortunate beings that rise above their remarkable and intransient intensity. Gifted evolutionary relics doomed to extinction.And thus they will stride like magnificent kings among garbage bags ...

This project aims to be first and foremost a swan song to nature and to its resigned yet persistent attitude to this lost cause, a battle against Man's blinkeredness, to the magic of anatomy and movement. Through this work I try to venerate the power of nature in its struggle for self-perpetuation, even with residues in its veins. And above all its desire to never yield.

In terms of approach, I focus on the anatomy of these beasts in order to make them entirely convincing. To this end I am using what I call "a false scientific format".

The novelty of my idea lies in the work's format and to a less extent on the concept that, as I have mentioned, is not new. I've spent the last 3 years collecting bones of all types and from all kinds of animals. I have bones of bulls, cows, horses, boar, vultures, African buffalo, antelope, elephant, ostrich and lamb, among others. Like the Shen Shaomin did some time ago, I am using the bones acquired as pieces of "Mecano" to build and present in the form of realistic bone structures, which are the remains of these bizarre creatures.

In order to get hold of the raw material for my collection, I have had to dig up dead animals or collect carcasses in the most inhospitable places, as well as learn the rudiments of taxidermy in order to remove the flesh from the bones and clean them of impurities.

The collection will be presented as a scientific exhibit of palaeontology or zoology, as if it were a natural science exhibition. Besides these sculptural pieces comprising real animal bones, an extensive collection of drawings and paintings will supplement the centrepiece of the sculptures of these creatures that I intend to bring to life. A sea of waste perhaps projected on the walls or reproduced physically within the exhibition space will clash with the animals and help us to grasp the exhibition's intent. I am also looking for grants in order to present the exhibition described with the support of 3D animation, which will bring these creatures to life through movement and posture. I'd also like see all of this highlighted by the sounds my make-believe creatures would emit, and which could be listened to selectively. This would involve hiring a sound studio to create these different animal sounds.

The creatures I am making are mutants, damaged, degenerate, illogical and, above all, sadly unaware of their fate. Yet like all animals that inhabit our planet, they struggle to stay alive. I imagine that they might seem healthy and elegant, though they are neither normal nor destined to survive. They have the plausible defects of not having originated from a natural evolutionary process, but rather as a whim of Man... and here I pose the question that sums up the goal of my work:

Can life evolve without geological time? Will nature, as we know it be able to deal with the waste products we dump or will it succumb to environmental calamities? The answer is contained in the word: "EVOLUTION" This creative exercise arises from a growing sense I have of dirt, toxicity, sickness and tumours, which affect me as a human being and nature, and which are the result of Man. "Mercury, cancer, mutation, acids, batteries, transgenics, oil, deformation, asphalt, the consumer society, radioactivity, plastic, pollutions, CFCs... are the concepts that have brought these beings into existence."

Alvaro Soler-Arpa 20-08-2011