The Birth of Floriwood or the Hindu Gardens of Felipe Cardeña
by Yoss


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If according to an old, oxidized, academic definition, art is first of all what stirs up a definite response in the onlooker, then nobody can deny this condition to the collages of this industrious Spanish artist. His variegated compositions, patiently worked by means of the traditional method of cutting and pasting, won’t leave anyone indifferent… at any level.
One can rightly surmise that the naive man of the street, unaware of the sophisticated conventions of artistic circles, will plainly and easily find «beautiful» these works. On a multicolored carpet, where flowers are the main – if not the unique – ingredient, various icons, belonging to pop culture as well as to traditional religious imagery (be it Christian or Hindu), unfold their protagonist charm. I know quite a lot of housewives, regular consumers of soap operas and buyers of posters of their favorite actors, who could put without hesitation a collage of Felipe Cardeña at the head of their bed or in their drawing-room to boast of it for months and months, in front of their friends.
One would even expect that the pedant who thinks to be a connoisseur just because he is able to tell a Picasso from a Dalí, will flatly repudiate these collages because of the trivial and cheap quality of their heroes, wide ranging from Rocky to Batman, passing through pussycat teens manga style. And because of the obvious bad taste of their profusion of ultra-colored flowers (all those flowers, unavoidable in any imagery of beauty), which reminds us of the gaudy and often incongruent choreography of Bollywood films. Because they are, in a word, the epitome of kitsch, of trivial pseudo-art, of the worst of mass culture that every cultivated person, eager for distinction, must automatically reject.
But in these collages there’s much more than that.
Because, beyond instant and superficial enchantment or beyond aristocratic and contemptuous rejection, there begins the realm of camp, of endless irony. Beyond the obvious and the mere appearance, the Hindu gardens of this ironic Spanish artist of form open their polychrome gates.
Obligatory references in front of his work, are the hippie years, the Flower Power, the Swingin’ London, the psychedelics, the LSD visions, the lessons of don Juan by Castañeda and his mescal distilled from peyote, the Beatles and their absurd relation with Maharishi… in a word of the hot summer ’68, when imagination almost got the power, even if once it got it, in all likelihood it would only shrug its shoulders in pure indifference.
Felipe was born in ’79, a decade since young people were «realistic and asked for the impossible». Therefore, those years can’t be for him anything but a remote, blurred fatherly reference, as Ismael Serrano, a songwriter from Catalonia, sang in his lyric «Papá, cuéntame otra vez». Legacy of an earlier generation, history parched in books, at best nostalgia for those years of madness and freedom, that changed the twentieth century. Someone else’s recollections, borrowed dreams… but nonetheless vivid.
And now we are in the twenty-first century. The century post everything: post great ideologies, post great utopias, post great disappointments, even post the end of history, according to Fukuyama. A century where postmodernism is not a serious matter, where every artist can and actually must make fun of fun.
Because it is beyond any doubt that Felipe’s respectful embezzlement over the icons of Hinduism is only a joke: trimmed with gold and jewels, posing as for a photo, there are Shiva, Ganesh and especially the charismatic and photogenic Krishna. Sweet irony in the desecrating eye that likens the actual naiveté of gods from a pantheon, which is not only exotic but also almost inexhaustible, to two or three images of saints and religious people of Christianity. As if to say: today they are repeating what we did many centuries ago. As for them, in the unconscious glory of the apogee, and in the «shame» of recollection, as regards ourselves. Anyway, let’s be benevolent to their simple, pure eastern devotion. At least, as much as we are kind to our own western past. Perhaps, are Christian saints and blessed souls amounting to much less than gods and little gods sprung from the fertile imagination of the Brahmans and holy men in the subcontinent, south of Himalayas?
And more than that, merciless Cardeña is remembering us, with a smile, by means of Batman and Rocky and the pseudo feline and childishly sexy manga dolly and the would-be worker, who seems more ready to strip to the beat of music, than to seriously work, that western pop culture is creating day by day its own saints, gods, icons. As preposterous and solemn as the past ones.
Paradoxically, which scenario could be better for the dark Batman than that floral explosion that looks like the work of a deadly enemy of his, the charming Poison Ivy? Isn’t it the perfect setting for the epitome of the sweaty virility of this «sexual worker»? The tender femininity of all those petals and corollas? Flowers, as a neutral backdrop in their variety, act as ideal sacred ornaments of new lay gods.
Felipe winks at us, so naughty as the child Krishna that steals butter from the bottom of the pot, one of the most human stories of the childhood of this infant god with blue skin. He whispers at our ears the if the gods are dead, long live the new gods. If nothing is sacred, everything is such, and everything is allowed… because everything is at the same time susceptible of holiness. He asks, claims our kind complicity, in this carnival of floral halos, in this parade of new saints in «neutral» frameworks.
He wins our complicity, because he doesn’t even try to make an impression on us by the fineness of his line or by his sophisticated shadows: he is merely editing these compositions, and minimizing the creative side. The artist in a way is the whole of society, is all of us. In a metamorphosis that would have flattered the great Russian film director Eisenstein, Felipe gets rid of any responsibility. He limits himself to editing, he is only cutting and pasting. Art is the world. Felipe scarcely discriminates, selects, chooses. He doesn’t create, no, please, don’t let be cheated.
One can’t take seriously the cobweb of pop and sacred references interlacing in the visual imagery of Cardeña as one can’t ignore the explosive effect of his carpets of flowers. Felipe’s garden, is the garden of western, eastern, Chinese culture, is the eternal and ephemeral garden of every moment. The garden of our fantasy. No wonder that in front of each one of these collages, we have a hazy feeling of déjà-vu, of rediscovery, more than of novelty. Perhaps all the gaudy ingredients of those dishes are spinning in our memory, waiting only for a stimulus, a powerful spark of energy to mix them, arrange them and make them coagulate.
Felipe Cardeña holds in his hands the switch to turn on that electric shock. He moves us with his barely restrained laughter, with his tender fondling at our pure and naive childish imagery, at our first bashful, awkward attempts of «art» that we remember in our childhood and teens. When a bunch of magazines, a pair of scissors and a little paste were the magic keys to get inside or to build a garden of charming and beautiful possibilities, that had no limit but that of conception, fantasy, inventiveness and good taste. Not the serious, academic artistic envied power to draw or sculpt.
Once Michelangelo said that the sculptor only had to take away the part in excess, as the sculpture already existed inside the block of marble. Felipe with a little stroke of chisel shows us how to get rid of a little but meaningful obstacle: the shame of imaging. He throws us beyond all restraints to mix, deleting the limit and at the same time letting flow the audacity of the seemingly craziest, kitsch and irreverent visual associations.

Kitsch is dead. Felipe killed it.
One moment of silence for the deceased.
Kitsch is born again. Felipe is its father.
A millennium of feasts for the newborn.
Long live Felipe, long live the kitsch.
Long live the spectator.