Between 10th November and 4th December, 2011, a unique and curious exhibition was held in Lima (Perú), in the Sala Luís Miró Quesada Garland. Entitled “Warriors, Monsters and Beasts”, it showed work by Ety Fefer and José Tola, and was unique not only because of the nature of the exhibits, (puppets in glass cases, that move on their own), but also because it was a collaboration between the young Ety Fefer, known for her work with mobile dolls, and known also as “mother” of The Grumildos – a family of beings that inhabit changing, cabaret-style spaces, straight out of the imagination of their creator – and the veteran and highly recognised Peruvian painter, José Tola.
It turns out that Ety Fefer is an artist who lives in several places at once, one of them being Barcelona and, taking advantage of the fact that she was visitng the city with a performance, in a “wine gallery “, we thought it would be good to chat with her and ask her to explain a few details about her important show in Lima.
“About ten years ago, Mr. Tola came with some friends to where I had my Grumildos, and we hit it off. I suppose he liked the puppets; and suddenly he started coming to visit me with other people. Over time we became good friends and after a while I found myself without a workshop and he invited me to go and work in his studio, with certain conditions that I’ve tried to comply with to the letter, aware of the privilege he has granted me. Each of us works as we like and in their own space. He taught me some secrets about colour that I really needed to understand, and from time to time he would come to look at the creatures taking form under my hands. One day in his workshop making my Grumildos I felt bored and discouraged, and I sat down to watch him paint, which is lovely. It suddenly occurred to me to make faces out of Plasticine, insipired by his paintings. I made several, and when we had ten we decided to turn them into dolls, and that’s how our project “Warriors, Monsters and Beasts” began. From there we started a a process of exchange in which Mr. Tola suggested colors, forms, new strokes and details, and thus arose the first nine dolls, whom we call Warriors. In 2010 they were shown in a space with an exhibition of his paintings in the Lucia de La Puente gallery in Barranco (Lima) and people really liked them.”
The dolls, placed in glass cases, move, almost floating in space. The grace of their movements does not come from mechanisms inside the doll, as is usual in automata, but through the use of strings, – as if they were puppets manipulated by unseen hands -, by subtle, carefully thought-out machinery. The Warriors are outlandish figures, brightly coloured, the result of an aesthetic that comes from many varied sources given that there are multiple ethnic influences – from the pre-hispanic world and other distant cultures, after passing through some of the most dramatic and truculent inner landscapes of the human unconscious. These influences converge in a brilliant synthesis which the two artists have managed to convey in the humble forms of dolls that move on their own.
“After Warriors, came Monsters, nine in all, created between 2010 and 2011. Alongside these, two Beasts emerged, named for the wickedness that oozed from them. These twenty creatures are the ones we finally exhibited in late 2011, in a public space in Lima that is located in a park in the Miraflores neighborhood. It received a huge number of visitors, and obtained a resounding success with the public and critics. Our intention now is to take the exhibition to other countries and show it to international audiences. I think the natural places to show them would be museums and art galleries, but they could also be shown in certain theatre festivals that have a ??gallery area. The fact that Mr. Tola’s work is highly considered and expensive has to be taken into account; it can’t be hung just anywhere. For that, there are my Grumildos, who travel and can be set up wherever they are invited.”
Ety Fefer came to Barcelona for the first time at the invitiation of Víctor Molina, director of the much missed International Festival of Visual and Object Theatre of Barcelona. She was a revelation and from that moment, Los Grumildos, her most widely known and shown creation, have been seen in a multitude of festivals around the world. They are creatures made according to a tough and fantastical vision of reality, with an aesthetic that seems to bring together dark Gothic elements of the unconscious with fiction and surreal Cabaret dreams, somewhere between archaic and futuristic. They constitute a puppet theatre that, while being static, is not still, as the figures move continuously, powered by numerous mechanisms. They fill a room or exhibition space, and to enter it is to immerse oneself in another world, in which music, light and colours create an atmosphere that is home to the strange creatures living there: in a house, on stage where they are performing, or playing various instruments in a rock band…
“I don’t really know if they’re puppets or not. They are held up by strings, my little dolls, but I’ve never wanted to manipulate them. What fascinates me is to invent the way they can move, on their own, with movements which are natural for each character. Before thinking about anything technical, I weigh the figure, I study its weight with my hands, its gestural possibilities and the way its limbs hang and swing; it is the doll itself that tells me how it should move. So then I struggle to makes sure that the movements are those it has asked me for. They’ve got, let’s say, a life of their own and I listen so as to be able to offer them what they need, with secret, hidden springs. Since I began until now, I must say, I have learned a lot and have been able to respond to their requests with increasing success. Now, the movements are fluid and organic, without the typical abruptness of automota with which I struggled at first.”
I ask her if she has new projects underway. Her answer confirms that this Peruvian artist, – anxious to travel the world with her large families -, is at a good, creative juncture in her life:
“Yes, I have a new project for Mechanical Shadows, for which I’m looking for someone to collaborate on with me, someone with whom I can work to fill large spaces. It will be something new and mysterious, playing with light and shadows, with a hard, punky aesthetic. And while I’m working on that, I would really like to take “Warriors, Monsters and Beasts” which I created with Mr. Tola, to Europe and the United States ”
From Titeresante, we wish her luck and offer our enthusiasm and moral support. When the currents of different arts meet to produce such surprising and high quality results, it’s good to celebrate the fact, and accompany the artists as they set off on new adventures.