'Los Abajonistas (The Underists)' - Juan Gomez-Aleman Interview

by Javier Lauret

"The Abajonista (Underist) art is the one that never comes to public light.

Is a movement that talks about how difficult it is for an artist to enter the system and materialise his or her work.

It is a homage to all those great ideas that if they had come to reality they would have changed the destiny of humanity,

but they never did." 

- Juan Gomez-Aleman

Spain has been one of the European countries worst hit by the economic recession resulting from the financial crisis in 2008. As a consequence of this long period of struggles, the country had to reinvent itself in many ways in order to keep going, and Spanish art has accordingly found new paths of expression. Particularly, in the scenic arts, where a lack of funding and theatre spaces has been acute, I heard a couple of years ago that a new movement, the micro-theatre, was gaining ground using disused buildings which were empty due to the real estate crisis. This art aimed to bring a new type of interaction with the spectators, who attended the performances in small groups and were presented with short theatre pieces in each of the  small rooms, following a route inside the buildings which run alongside the story.


I met Juan Gomez-Aleman, in 'La Juan Gallery' who is revolutionising this art taking it one step further an creating a totally new artistic movement. 


Juan Gomez-Aleman is the creative director of La Juan Gallery. Drama Writer. Theatre director. Performer. 

Being mainly self-taught, he attended different art schools but could not connect completely with those. In theatre he centred his research in the audience; who are they? and why are they observing me? Are some of the questions that influence his proposals such as 'Nidea' (Noidea), a play that follows the path from the blank to the appearance of an idea, or "Aburrimiento Chair" (Boredom Chair) in which the audience is sat backwards to the stage listening to an apparently incomprehensible play. From 2012 he starts to experiment with world of visual art and performance and becomes obsessed with the need to create an artistic movement, that is how he founded the 'Abajonismo" together with artist R. Marcos Mota: a movement based on those artists whose masterpieces will never get to the public eye. He has presented his works in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, Tunisia and the U.S. 


In 2015 he founded La Juan Gallery, a gallery of living art, in which he acts as cultural manager, curator and creative director. 

How and when did you become an artist?

I think I have always been an artist, but at the time I never openly admitted it. Since I was a child, I was interested on generating experiences for others, inventing games for other children, and later when I grew up, writing and directing theatre plays or making performances. At the end, it all comes from the same desire, a strange satisfaction from giving others a moment in which they forget about themselves and live a new experience. 

As a self-taught artist, what experiences or people in your life have helped you more to develop your career?

Mi own life in Madrid is a constant source of inspiration, thanks to the people I cross paths with, the experiences I live turn the city into a distorted mirror which brings me back a reflexion I use to create. For me, observation and listening have always been essential in my learning as an artist, and of course, everything is very linked to Madrid.

You are a writer, director, performer... Can you tell us in which discipline you find yourself more comfortable and which one you find most difficult?

Directing, writing, creating, I cannot conceive it separately, for me it is all part of a whole and I like it in equal parts. I do not like to explain what is living art to someone who has not experienced it, what we have been doing in La Juan Gallery is an ephemeral experience, it is intangible and most times, unexplainable. Trying to put words to something like that usually causes me a mental blockage.

I have heard different interpretations of the 'Abajonismo' artistic movement from which you are one of the founders. Can you comment a bit more on its history and what does it mean to you?

The Abajonismo is the movement of those who are under, in english we could call it 'Underism'. The abajonista art is the one that never comes to public light. Is a movement that talks about how difficult it is for an artist to enter the system and materialise his or her work. I founded this movement when I saw that my creations never reached the public, it is a homage to all those great ideas that if they had come to reality they would have changed the destiny of humanity, but they never did.

Your shows remind me of Andy Warhol's Factory in New York and Almodovar movies. What or who you think are your main influences?

Both Andy Warhol and Almodovar have influenced me. But also Lorca, Duchamp, Leonardo da Vinci. I've got a very eclectic taste, I am interested in the pop culture, the kitsch, the elevated, the pleasure and the laugh. In a way, La Juan Gallery is a bit of all that, if I had to choose only one reference, I would go for the Living Theatre and its ideal of changing the world through its works.

Your space is ground breaking and very innovative. How did you have the idea to create La Juan Gallery?

I started writing conventional theatre plays, but I realised that the result was breaking the structure of a traditional theatre story and it was closer to a living art experience, in addition, the theatre producers did not understand that I had the audience backwards to the stage during the performance, so I decided to create myself a space where I could release freely everything I could think about. At the end, this space intended for me, has happened to identify many other artists who, like me, could not find their space. 

Do you think your gallery has a concept with a strong relationship with the City of Madrid? Do you see this happening in other cities?

This concept has started in Madrid, but it is a gallery of living art, and the concept has to do more with people than cities. Mi idea is to bring what we do here to other places.

You showcase lots of  'non-commercial' performances and exhibitions in your space. Is it easy to find galleries like yours?

I want to think that La Juan Gallery is unique. Our idea that art is in people and not in objects is rare to find, it is an art gallery that does not hang anything in its walls.

Why did you choose a gallery in La Latina quarter as opposed to other locations in Madrid?

The street we are in was kind of a Chinatown full of  wholesalers shops, but the area was declared specially protected and most retailers abandoned their spaces, leaving the street almost desert.  I thought it was a challenge to start something here as it is not associated to an ideal location for art, and this is specifically linked to our project; a new street, a new path, a new way to understand art. Additionally the street is called Juanelo, my name is Juan, and the Gallery is La Juan Gallery. Coincidence?

One of the things that amazed me is the amount of exhibitions and performances you manage to program, with different shows almost every week. How many exhibitions/ shows have you run so far?

We have a a cycle called Accion Xm2 (Action per square metre) in which we got to have 30 performances happening at the same time in the gallery. In this six months, I could not count the number of performers that have passed by our space. La Juan Gallery is more than a gallery, is a creative hub, in this half year we had all sorts of creations, artists interviewing ladies, exhibitions of plastic artists who would hold their works while the public was viewing it, retrospectives of performers, sensory experiences, a laboratory to form artists where we develop part of the contents that we then program in the gallery.

What projects are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?

The gallery is a living space and we never stop. Next month we have an event where we will mix art and fashion, a homage to Paco Clavel, a performance wedding. We will also be present in two festivals promoted by Madrid City Hall, a new edition of Accion Xm2, and we are organising a performances fair on the beach during the summer. 


For next year we have as a project La Juan House, a residence for artists, and La Juan Van, a caravan of performers carrying the living museum to the villages of the world. La Juan Gallery is alive, and growing at full speed.

To find out more about La Juan Gallery please visit www.lajuangallery.com

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