Luis López Carrasco

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Looking Up: Week #4 Aliens
Luis López Carrasco

23 Minutes

Artist Cinemas

Repeat: April 24-25, 2023

“This world has always seemed to me to be somewhat strange, somewhat alien to all of my emotions.” An alien is a foreigner, an outcast and, in popular culture, an inhabitant from another planet. Tesa Arranz, a key figure in the 1980s Madrid scene and lead singer of The Zombies, has painted over 500 portraits of outer-space creatures. Confronting the singer’s paintings with memories of her youth, her poems and diaries, Aliens depicts an emotional landscape in Spanish history where happiness, nightmarish experimentation, and alienation walked hand in hand.

Aliens is the fourth installment of Looking Up, an online program of films and accompanying texts convened by Jorge Jácome as the twelfth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Film.

The film is presented alongside a conversation with Luis López Carrasco by Alejandra Rosenberg Navarro.

Looking Up runs in six episodes released every Monday from March 18 through April 24, 2023, streaming a new film each week accompanied by a commissioned interview or response published in text form.

A conversation with Luis López Carrasco
By Alejandra Rosenberg Navarro

Alejandra Rosenberg Navarro (ARN): I am curious to know how, after making The Future (2013), set in early 1980s Spain, you went back to the period of Spain’s transition to democracy. How did you arrive at Tesa Arranz and come to make your film Aliens (2017)?

Luis López Carrasco (LLC): Aliens was a project commissioned by the museum and arts center HOME in Manchester for an exhibition on La Movida Madrileña.[1] I was thinking about what to do because I had a lot of archival material and footage that I hadn’t used in the final cut of my film The Future. Then, I read a text about Tesa Arranz in the magazine El Estado Mental by journalist Germán Pose.[2] I knew about Tesa because, when I was 21, my flatmate was obsessed with the 1980s, La Movida, and the Spanish New Wave. So we used to watch a lot of videos of the band Zombies playing and of Tesa dancing with them. In the 1980s, everyone in Spain knew about her, and it was appalling that she disappeared from the public eye. So, when I read Germán’s interview with her, I decided to make my project for HOME about her, and how she spoke about La Movida using a different, iconoclastic discourse.

ARN: So the initial text is an adaptation of Germán Pose’s interview with Tesa Arranz.

LLC: Exactly, although I had to cut it down a bit. Germán told me that he had been with Tesa for a whole six hours, for this super strange interview where they ended up in a hotel room with a bunch of different people. She was in her pajamas. A very strange, very crazy situation. So he structured those six hours of interview as a monologue, emulating the work of writer Svetlana Alexievich. And when I read that piece—written by Germán although the voice is Tesa’s—my idea became to make a film that adapted the text using the five hundred paintings of aliens that she mentions.

ARN: I love the different media that appear in the film, starting with video. It seems to me that each of your projects experiments with a different recording format that suits that particular project: Here it’s video, but in The Future it’s 16 mm, if I’m not mistaken. And in The Year of the Discovery (2020)…?

LLC: In The Year of the Discovery, it is Hi8, and in Aliens, it is VHS-C, which are the small VHS tapes.

ARN: So, we have video, we have paintings, we have typed poetry—several types of media that interrelate with each other. How do you think of the film form through the different layers of formats?

LLC: Originally, the piece was going to work more with the texture of the video. The idea was to do a whole process of analogic deterioration, not digital; that is, to record the short film and, once the image material was finished, to physically shred it. I had already done this with previous installations to see if the error could produce some kind of new image. But I abandoned that idea because, when I met Tesa, I realized that her voice, her temperament, and her personality already had enormous life. So sometimes, as an author, you have to lower your ambitions so that, on a formal level, the piece is at the service of the person you are portraying. It didn’t seem respectful to tinker with the format if we couldn’t hear or see her. But it was interesting to me to use video in order to create a temporal ambivalence and a continuity with the archival material.

On the other hand, there was a plan to record all her pictorial work: to make a video catalog of all her paintings. We recorded five hundred paintings. Ion, the director of photography, and I spent three days just recording paintings—I would close my eyes and see the eyes of the paintings looking and staring at me. Then, when she gave me the poems and other typed material, I had to make a selection and combine them with images, which was not easy. For the paintings, the reference was Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s film A Visit to the Louvre (2004), but for the other material—I spent a day trying to figure out how to fit those in. In the end, maintaining both an oral dimension and a written dimension in the film was one of the ways of showing the different facets of this personality, which, like all personalities, is multiple. The text she reads is part of her public persona. And it is in the poems that we find a less usual, more intimate dimension.

The amount of material that Tesa gave me was enormous. I put it together to point to some of the hypotheses I had about it. The idea was to join the paintings with the text to see the common points in the montage and, thus, link the aliens that she paints to all the people she met in the 1980s, as if they were emanations or projections. And, at the same time, in the poems, I was looking for questions that also had to do with biographical intuitions, as for example when she says, “my smile of ecstasy will destroy the world.” And she appears at the end of the film smiling, with that smile of hers that was especially recognizable. With these associations, I was trying to thread the biographical together with the artistic.

ARN: That’s exactly where I wanted to get to. When we see the television images that open the film, which appear distorted and with interferences, it makes me think of all those aliens who were countercultural and who have now been absorbed by the hegemonic discourse, like Pedro Almodóvar, or who have disappeared, like Tesa herself, or others who have passed away. At the end of the short film, after seeing all the paintings and listening to the stories, we realize that Tesa paints her own eyes and those of all the personalities of La Movida, as we know them. And there is something there about disappearance and deterioration, and at the same time about thinking again of those people who at the time seemed extraterrestrial but who are now very much integrated into the mainstream culture.

LLC: Yes, or who have disappeared—and Tesa has been incorporating them with that image. In the film, I wanted to accommodate that portrait of a period, that absorption by the establishment of the countercultural implications of La Movida Madrileña, with a desire to build a less complacent and less mythomaniac story.

ARN: I’m very interested in how your films deal with the collective and political memory of Spain from personal experiences and spaces. In Aliens, we are in Tesa’s dining room; in The Future, in someone’s house; in The Year of the Discovery, in a neighborhood bar… From everyday life situations you lead us to think about the political situation in Spain not only at that time in the past, but also in the present. Although this film series by Jorge Jácome is called Looking Up, your films lead us to look at the past, and back at the present from that past: There are many temporal vectors that connect the everyday and the domestic sphere with the national political situation.

LLC: Using the amateur and the domestic, in terms of a microhistory of everyday life, to talk about life as opposed to grand historical narratives is something that has always interested me. As early as 2010, I was already reticent regarding certain aspects of official history. Actually, it was related to something that still worries me today, the feeling that the mainstream narrative of Spanish democracy was very homogeneous and had left out a lot of experiences of various collectives and territories. I find very interesting all the work that was being done in the early 2000s, with the idea of reconstructing the history of groups or minorities that had been marginalized using found-footage tools, as we see in, for example, the work of Péter Forgács or in Raya Martin’s A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (2005). The idea was to use audiovisual elements to problematize an account of the majority that has dominated our view of the past in the service of certain hegemonic groups.

When I have not been able to find the archive, I have proposed an archive that could offer us elements for an alternative historicization. It might sound a bit rational, but in the end these are very emotional matters. The work I am now doing on the television program Vivir cada día (1978-1988) has to do with my strong sense that there have been no images of the emotions, sensibilities, and experiences of the social majority from the 1980s onward in Spain. So, in my work there is a search for a missing image, which sometimes I find and sometimes I have to reconstruct from the present.

There is also an obsession that can be a bit melancholic. In the end, I also have a very intimate drive to know what was really going on during that time, where all those people I knew as a child or as a teenager have gone—people who have disappeared, who have no place in the imaginary. This dispute over the collective imaginary is a very bone-deep issue. I intellectualize it a lot—it’s just that sometimes I lack the tools to understand my society. In the case of Aliens, it seemed interesting to me that at the end of a more official exhibition on La Movida, the visitor would find two paintings by Tesa and my short film, as if a kind of bomb had been dropped on the waterline of the discourse—or a submerged bomb had risen to the surface.

ARN: You have talked about the role of the emotional and the affective in the construction of this archive. Your camera has a lot of affect: You are creating an archive based on affective exchanges and it shows in all your filmmaking.

LLC: Although I am making more of a kind of collective commentary, all these projects are also a record of my own memories. In the case of The Future, I was portraying my best friends. These are people that I love. In the case of Tesa, it reminded me of many people I knew as a child who were friends of my parents. And when I made The Year of the Discovery—which is a film that I came up with by going to a Christmas dinner with people from my school—I had a very strong bond with material based on my own experience. I think this produces a certain confidence, a certain complicity in the filming itself. Many times, I have selected the technical team based on their temperament more so than their technical skills in order to generate a kind of respectful framework. So I think this effect is based in the fact that, in a way, I am portraying people who are very close and important to me.

ARN: Luis, thank you very much.

[1] A countercultural movement that took place mainly in Madrid during the Spanish transition to democracy, following the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.

[2] Germán Pose’s text can be found here: https://elestadomental.com/especiales/la-mala-fama/tesa-arranz.

Alejandra Rosenberg Navarro is a scholar and film programmer specialized in amateur film, popular media, and gender studies. She is currently finishing her doctorate at New York University with a dissertation titled Transatlantic Lenses: Gender and Amateur Cinema in Iberia and Latin America (1920-1940). In the fall, she will join Brown University’s Department of Hispanic Studies as Assistant Professor.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Film, Music, Democracy
Documentary, Video Art, Subcultures & Countercultures, Punk, Europe, Memory
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Luis López Carrasco (b. Murcia, Spain, 1981) is a filmmaker and writer. In 2008 he co-founded Los Hijos, an experimental cinema and documentary collective. His work has been shown in numerous international film festivals like Locarno, Rotterdam, Toronto, NYFF Film Society of Lincoln Center, BAFICI, and Viennale; and contemporary art centres like MOMA (New York), Georges Pompidou (Paris), HOME (Manchester), and ICA (London); and Museo Nacional Reina Sofía, CCCB, MUSAC, Marco, Tabakalera Donostia, La Casa Encendida, IVAM, Cendeac or Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. Mar del Plata International Film Festival (Argentina), Valdivia (Chile), Distrital (Mexico), Lima Independiente (Peru), 3XDOC, CGAI, and Arteleku dedicated monographic focus to Los Hijos’s work.


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