MADRID — Like most avant-garde artists, Alicia Framis wants to change the world — or at least a small piece of it.
“My work is always about social issues, like feminism, and daily life,” says Framis. “I really believe art can make a social change, even if the steps are small. I don’t want to make art for other artists and the art world; I want to make it for mi gente [my people] and for another generation that is not yet here.
“It’s a commitment I have. Everything [I do] has to be new,” she continues. “I think about creating something that doesn’t exist. My maestros are people that go beyond their specialty. For example, [Catalan chef] Ferran Adrià goes beyond food, John Hejduk [former dean of architecture at Cooper Union] goes beyond architecture, Comme des Garçons goes beyond fashion.
“I can’t stay in the atelier waiting for inspiration. My life with other people, the interaction, that’s where the [creative] power comes from and I don’t expect so much [from people]; it makes things easier.”
Her latest work is a one-woman show in Shanghai, at the Duolun Museum of Modern Art, through the end of January. Then there is the filmed performance called “Secret Strike — Inditex,” which is being exhibited here at Galeria Helga de Alvear until Saturday. The video went public last fall at Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea in northern Spain, then at the Berlin Art Fair and in the U.S., at New York’s Mireille Mosler Ltd.
The film chronicles a day-in-the-life of Zara, Inditex’s most popular chain; the camera sweeps in almost dizzying motion from the entrance and reception areas to the loading dock, capturing executive meetings, fragrance testing, pilot stores, a vast distribution center, even the cafeteria. Computers are on, machines and conveyor belts, too, but the employees are eerily frozen in the moment.
The fast-freeze image is becoming a Framis signature. “I did a project called ‘Antidog’ [in 2002] where women demonstrated against domestic violence in the streets of different [European] cities. I could see in the video that a static group of women just standing there without doing anything was a stronger visual statement.
“Inditex’s employees were very involved in the film,” adds the artist. “They are just people standing still; some move or blink, and I like that. They’re human, real people, not actors. That’s the most important thing for me. My first films were more of a spectacle. I tried to do something more intimate here, with no outsiders. ‘Inditex’ is a personal rather than a social performance; it’s a portrait of an enterprise and the nice thing is that it’s not an economic strike, it’s an existential strike.”
“Secret Strike Inditex” was shot last spring. Framis and her nine-member crew spent four days — six hours a day — at Zara’s La Coruña headquarters. Most scenes were completed in one take, she says, to maintain spontaneity. “We wanted to be short and intense.”
“Each department was in a different color — one group in blue, another pink, another green. The video already looked like a piece of art. People say it’s artificial, but it was really like that. And everybody wanted to be a part of the film, except Amancio Ortega [Inditex’s famously reclusive founder and chairman]. He was there, but we weren’t allowed to photograph him.”
Asked if performance art was tough because not everyone gets it, Framis says, “There was a boom in performance in the Nineties because people were looking for new experiences. But now the market again wants painting and drawing because they’re easier to sell than concepts and ephemeral things.
“In the art world, there is too much pressure. Market interests force you to produce something different every year, like a summer’s song. Before, there was not so much, but now you can be famous at 25. Then what?”
Wearing a V-neck purple-blue top, a matching beaded necklace, jeans and sneakers, Framis says her fashion preferences — the expensive brands, mainly accessories, are picked up in a Dutch discounter — are Viktor & Rolf, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Mango, H&M and, of course, Zara. “I like the idea that there is no stereotypical Zara girl; it’s democratic fashion,” she comments.
At 39, Framis is a single mom, self-confessed workaholic and “very demanding of myself.” She started out as a painter studying at the University of Barcelona, but the Catalan capital is not her favorite place, and even though she lives there with her 21-month-old son Ariel, she says she doesn’t fit into the local art scene.
“Life is nice in Barcelona — the beach, the food — but I have a problem with it. The people are too content; they’re too self-satisfied. They’ve lost the hunger — and it’s a pity. Barcelona reminds me of Venice; it’s like looking at a dead city. Even 14 years ago, Barcelona was not inspiring.”
So she took off to Paris’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts, “where I discovered performance [art],” and later, to Amsterdam on a post-graduate grant. She stayed for more than a decade, until the birth of her son.
Now, Spain is her focus — at least, artistically. Following her Zara project, Framis is preparing “Well-Matched Houses,” an urban architectural project to be constructed outside Barcelona later this year that will then move to Berlin for exhibition. “It’s an artistic idea for 21st-century couples who don’t want to share every day or a whole lifetime,” Framis says.
It consists of two small houses that slide in and out “like a matchbox,” and construction costs will run about $60,000. The project is being supported — and paid for — by private collectors and institutions.
“There are only two kinds of artists,” Framis concludes. “One is interested in promoting his or her career; me, I want to change the story of art.”