Felix R. Cid's Sword of Damocles exhibits collages of photographs taken of crowds at marches and protests across the U.S. and Europe in 2017. In his pictures, Cid doesn't give viewers much room to rest or breathe. He squeezes together countless, high-resolution photographs of protesters to create huge, human-sized prints that, from afar, look like abstract images or mosaics. The effect may be claustrophobic, but is no doubt energetic and eager. Along with the photographs, there's one sculpture in Cid's exhibit: a pile of Greco-Roman style statue remains wearing vibrant Mexican wrestling masks. Taken together, it seems like a warning for what the Trump presidency could bring: a civilization in ruin.
I sat down with Cid at the Sunset Tower Hotel’s restaurant in West Hollywood the day after his opening. (He often used the words pictures and images to refer to his completed work, but didn't once say the word collage.) He greeted me in a gray hoodie, his long black hair pulled back into a bun, and a silver Darth Vader ring on his finger that he occasionally knocked on the table for emphasis.
THE BELIEVER: I’m so happy that I got to see the work in person.
FELIX R. CID: Especially with the photos, you really need to. There has to be a reason why, in 2017, you see the photograph in person. You have to be able to see the details.
BLVR: Images of music festivals from your previous exhibit, X, are composed in a very similar way to those in The Sword of Damocles, but the contexts of the two are very different.
FRC: Are they?
BLVR: That’s what I want to get at. How is a protest against Trump similar to a music festival?
FRC: I grew up during a transition from a dictatorship to a democracy, and I was surprised by how the youth in the West is now politically less involved. I remember when I was younger, and if you were among crowds, it would be to protest politically. In the States, it is more unusual than in Europe to see protests and rallies, but since the new administration, protests are happening all the time. When I made the Sword of Damocles, I was thinking: why are these young kids are here and not at a festival?
Younger generations live in this new world where physicality is not really that common. You interact much more online, but then all of a sudden, through the internet, real events are possible in ways they couldn’t be before. It happens much faster, much bigger, and suddenly here’s all this touch and crowd, and we sweat together.
I do this work because I’m interested in drama. I’m obsessed with how much you get in a photograph. In some of these photographs I take, you can have an entire description of humanity: people crying, laughing, people making love, not in these ones in The Sword of Damocles, but in the ones that I had in X.
I was moved by what was happening this past year. I was actually working on something very different, and then felt I had the responsibility to be out there instead of in the studio. I started to go to these events and I’d come back and do this process. It wasn’t about formalities, and it wasn’t about photography. It was about picture-making, and it was about what is happening to all of us.
The cameras that I use are insane, hyper-realistic. They give you more information than you see in the real world. When you have all that information, and you get that much detail, the more blurry it becomes. At the right distance, you don’t know what you’re looking at anymore. You don’t know if these are humans, or if this is an abstract image. I think this is pretty much what is happening in this information era. It’s a simple metaphor that my work has always done. I have always been interested in how photography analyzes reality.
That’s why I like photography: it’s not a straightforward thing. You’re looking at something, and because it looks so much like the real world, you believe it. We've built an entire capitalist society based on a belief in the image. It’s an absolute lie. To create something that doesn’t exist, that doesn’t have smell, doesn’t have three dimensions, only two, doesn’t make any noise, doesn’t move, there isn’t even a narrative. You have to create it with another picture, but within the picture you don’t know if you are taking the hat off or putting it on the guy. This is the limitation of photography, which is also what makes it powerful. That’s always been my fascination with the medium, but in this case it’s explicit of what we are all experiencing through what is real and what is not.
BLVR: You covered all the questions I had.
FRC: I talk too much.
BLVR: No, it’s great. I don’t have to do anything [Laughs.] I was looking at the inauguration image a lot last night. The top half of the piece is empty, which is unique for this series.
FRC: This white space on top, that is the floor. They covered The Mall with a white plastic. It’s like a half-inch thing and it’s made for events, so as not to destroy the grass underneath. I was there, and I had all the permits for a press guy. I started photographing just the floor. And then after, the Trump administration came out with “The Obama administration planned to put down that plastic purposely so that with the contrast, from the top, you see more the white, and it feels more empty.”
And I came back and I was downloading everything, and I would see all the pictures I took of this white thing. Honestly, I usually don’t work like this, but I started building a kind of wall with the white parts. I thought, “I’m just gonna have this white thing here, because I don’t have the people anymore. Maybe we need a little of it to understand the work.”
If you look at the inauguration day one, everyone is looking at me, at you, the camera, way more. It’s something I didn’t realize while I was shooting. I know how I felt when I shooting, but it’s interesting that everybody was checking me out, everybody was paying attention to me. And of course, I have an accent, and I have a look.
BLVR: So you were receiving looks while shooting the other images, just not in the same way?
FRC: I see the people looking at the camera way more. Like, “What is that?”, more than any other picture I did. The rest of the pictures that I did, the people inside are more liberal, and I guess more accepting of someone like me.
BLVR: In the Trump inauguration image, I noticed some protesters.
FRC: There's a few, yes. I have to say, everyone was good about that, very respectful.
BLVR: The military members towards the top of the image, though, they’re this looming presence.
FRC: I was just thinking about that, but it’s normal for the inauguration of the most powerful man on earth, for a country that’s at war on several fronts. There has to be security. But I have to say I have never felt that scared in my life [Laughs.] There were snipers everywhere, every corner of the city. You have to pass four military controls that check you. I didn’t have a bad experience, but they weren’t like, “Hi, how are you doing today?” Let’s put it that way. It was very intense. And the feeling, to see the whole city of Washington shut down with helicopters, military. The way it felt, there was more people in uniforms than people without uniforms. It felt like 1984 on steroids.
I’m from Spain and I live in New York, where there’s a lot of police and a lot of control, but it’s intense to see so much, and of course I know it’s for our protection, but it’s uncomfortable to me.
BLVR: You were also at the Paris elections.
BLVR: And did you feel safe there?
FRC: That is a great question, because I’ve been in so many protests in the States, and I’ve seen the cops’ behavior. For example, in New York it’s amazing. They are so organized, and super nice. I’ve never seen a conflict.
And then you go to Paris and the cops are provocative. They close everything with these big gates, and they throw the gas. The Parisians are a little more radical, because the consequences are different. They bring Molotov cocktails and throw them. Not all the time, but when I was at one of them, they did, at a protest against racism. There was this kid that was being sodomized with the police tools, a terrible thing, in suburban Paris. Le Pen was about to be elected.
But it’s very subjective. Whatever happens to you in Europe, you are in Europe. I am a resident here, but you always feel more protected when you are in your region or country, where your passport is from.
BLVR: So, I imagine you felt even more safe at the Catalonia protests.
FRC: Of course, of course. Well, it’s funny, because that is a very different thing, because these guys, they scare me. I think they scare everybody.
The only positive thing is that we don’t have firearms in the streets in Spain, so people can’t go that crazy. They can go crazy with the sticks and knives and the Molotov cocktails, but they can’t just pull out an automatic gun and kill people. But this protest had the potential to become very dramatic. If you had a camera there, the radicalists in the crowd, and the cops, none of them like you. You are the target of everybody. But you are also protected because you have a camera.
What I found most interesting are the pictures I took in Madrid while all of this was happening. Every single building in the center of the city had hundreds of Spanish flags. More so, of course, in the privileged areas.
Today, for a liberal Spaniard would never be happy being seen with the Spanish flag, and he would never use that as an icon. He would never fly the Spanish flag, even though he loves his country. The Spanish flag has a strange relationship with the dictatorship, with the abuse of privilege.
People in the privileged areas, the conservative people, they can fly the flag, because they feel proud about it. They’ve been doing it all their lives. They view the Spanish flag as a symbol of democracy against this kind of abuse of power of the independentists in Catalonia who, without the full votes and Parliament, have declared independence.
And that’s why I liked the idea of the Spanish flag more than the actual crowds. For the next piece, I’m gonna have less drama. Maybe it won’t work. I’m still working on it. If it doesn’t work, maybe I’ll go back to people.
Timea Sipos is a Hungarian-American writer and translator currently earning her MFA in fiction at The University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Offing, Two Lines Journal, The Short Story Project, Juked, and elsewhere. You can tweet her at @timearozalia.
The Sword of Damocles at the Garis & Hahn gallery in Los Angeles will close January 27th.