Alessio de’Navasques in conversation with Miguel Adrover
Last among the romantics, Miguel Adrover, lives in his native home in the Arab part of the island Mallorca, where he has created his own bucolic, punk, dreamy world: one he reinvents every day through a photographic project of self-portraits. This new beginning brought him to Paris in a recent collection at Galerie Balice Hertling entitled Exposition N°120 (maybe). As an irregular and unconventional figure, wonderfully chic and rebellious, he changed the history of fashion. With his early 2000s collections in New York, he challenged the meaning of logos and branding, proposing an anti-capitalist vision through ideas such as sustainability, recycling and interculturalism. In his shows, he always created nonlinear narratives full of emotion and soul that were meant to challenge and provoke the establishment, perhaps in the hope of some positive change. His transformation of a Burberry trench coat into a dress, for which Burberry sued him, became a manifesto of his ability to translate opinions into clothes. His fashion has always been considered such art that it has entered the collections of the Costume Institutes of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In an unconventional and open conversation, he tells us about his vision of a world no longer free but dominated by judgment and oriented by a corporate ideology, where little room is left for the expression of true creativity.
Alessio de’Navasques – Let’s start with your most recent exhibition in Paris, which was at Galerie Balice Hertling. What do you think about showing your work in the context of an art gallery? What does it mean for you?
Miguel Adrover – It was the first time I’ve done an art exhibition: it was a group show made for the gallery’s anniversary. That’s why they invited all these different artists. It was a great experience for me since now I live in the countryside and have no friends. I don’t have any opportunities to share my work besides Instagram, and I can only do it via my computer. Nevertheless, the work I put on Instagram has nothing to do with the other work that I usually do… Instagram is something I discovered during the pandemic two years ago. My account was opened before, but my assistant managed it. I refused to use this format for a while, but I realised it is how things work these days, and if I wanted to share what I do, I needed it. I wanted to share this big personal experience: returning to the village of my origin.
A.D.N. – Where do you live exactly?
M.A. – The village is located in the southern part of Mallorca. The house where I live is 790 years old. Six generations of my father’s family grew up here. This room, where I’m now, was used to keep the wine; next to me is where the horses used to be, and the house is still the same. I renovated some spaces because they were falling apart. I spent my childhood here with my grandma. For me, it came about after everything that happened in New York: the fame and my work being considered toxic from that day. I struggled. I put all my life savings into my brand. Then I worked for an ecological company in Germany called Hess Natur for almost eight years, one of the first companies in the world to do organic clothing. I don’t mean to stop doing things, but now it’s a different time. Fashion has been just one thing that I’ve done in my life. And that’s why it is a little difficult for me because everybody still considers me a designer.
A.D.N. – That’s how you approached photography.
M.A. – Yes, my work is very, very personal. I have about 300 series that I’ve done in 7 years now. I work in total isolation. I have a well on my property that is 400 years old. It is empty now. It’s a big underground space where I work. I don’t have anyone to help me out. I do everything by myself. I learnt photography using a small camera that cost $200, and now my camera costs almost $3000. But I’ve discovered everything on my own along the way. I’ve met a lot of photographers like Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, David LaChapelle, but my work is very different. All these people are fashion photographers. My work is more…
A.D.N. – … yours is more artistic.
M.A. – My art is about how I feel. I create these worlds In which I can find myself since I am not happy with the current aesthetics of reality. I work with mannequins because I dislike working with human beings. I only started photographing myself about two years ago, before it was only with mannequins.
A.D.N. – Why do you use mannequins?
M.A. – I use mannequins trying to express human emotions because humans have already lost those emotions that I’m hunting for.
A.D.N. – A consistent part of your work is about self-portraiture too…
M.A. – I photograph myself because I feel like I want to bring out everything I have inside me, all these characters. It is all me. I do have women, too, inside me. I have warriors inside me; I’ve losers inside me; I’m all that. It is me. I’m not trying to be anything that I am not. But it takes me a lot to find myself; eventually, I do find it. I know who I am, and that’s very, very important. Because I am not seeing people, I explore the different personalities that I do have inside.
A.D.N. – You are an artist and have something to say, which is different from when you work on commercial things. As an artist, you can do it all by yourself.
M.A. – Yes, in photography, I do all the roles of a team myself: hair, lighting, painting, and set designer; physically, it’s hardcore. I create these large installations with more than twenty mannequins that take days and days to build. I create a world to comfort myself aesthetically and immerse myself in it. I feel so uncomfortable with what is outside. I don’t like the aesthetics, all this fakeness, and people feeling insecure with their selves. It is the opposite for me. It’s like finding beauty in the authenticity of my old age. I want to somehow enjoy my body in a natural way till the end. I’m doing it by creating art. That’s all I do. I stopped having sex about six years ago and gave up alcohol and drugs, besides marijuana, which I smoke daily. My return to the village after so many years was part of this.
A.D.N. – A new era began for you after New York…
M.A. – After New York, my biggest job was to look at myself in the mirror to find out who I was. Somehow you get trapped in all that craziness. You were required to go and follow a schedule, feel the pressure to produce a certain amount, organise shows…I had a lot of responsibilities because it was not only my life; many people’s lives depended on that, and I was at a point in New York where I found everything shady. Now, I can have much more freedom because I’m working alone.
A.D.N. – So now you are rediscovering yourself.
M.A. – Well, I have a lot of anxieties about the climate crisis. I had to express it in my work, and I love to have series like “Plastic, fantastic, disgusting”. A lot of my work is dedicated to how I feel. Being able to express how I am feeling is like beginning a new life.
A.D.N. – Why don’t you have sex anymore?
M.A. – Because I almost had 6000 sexual encounters in my life, I experienced that from a young age, and it got to the point that it became boring. I was not the person to go to places and have sex with many people; in a way, I liked the traditional approach. But I’ve been loyal only to my desires and to myself. I don’t regret anything, I’ve been in many relationships, but most of all, they were relationships with myself. You know, in a way, sex takes a lot of energy off you and a lot of time. Also, these days everything is so reliant on sex. It has been so much exploited, floating around everywhere, and I’m bored with that. It’s not exciting for me anymore. Now I need to be focused on my work, and that’s what I’m trying to achieve with no interference.
A.D.N. – It seems with art, you’ve found a new framework for yourself.
M.A. – When I go down inside my well and close the entrance, I only have a little window, and it’s where all the light comes in. The world outside disappears. It’s only me and my creativity. I work a lot with fabrics because fabrics, draping, and all that speaks to me, and it’s something that’s connected to classic art. Before, I wasn’t interested in anything related to art or museums, but after discovering all of this world, I am captivated by it. As soon as I started photography, some friends saw my works and commented that they resembled classical paintings. I then went to Madrid to the Prado Museum to look at the classics like Goya. I was unfamiliar with them and wondered why I was so moved to look at at least 500 years old paintings. As I thought about it, I realised there was something that really resonated with me. It was the fabrics, the way in which Velazquez used the fabrics or Rivera, one of the disciples of Caravaggio. I was captured. Then I’ve learned all about it over the last two years on television and YouTube through this BBC channel, where the classics are explained every week. I got to understand not only about the work but about the artists too, about their life, what they were doing, what their passions were…
A.D.N. – You found a connection with the people behind the masterpieces. So artists from the past are becoming a cathartic way for you to look for yourself.
M.A. – In a way, yes, I feel more related to 16th-century or 17th-century artists rather than anyone who is considered an artist today. I work on my own. I work with what I’ve got because I don’t buy anything. I’m a collector. I collect stuff, objects, and many things that I had when I was a kid and are still here. I’ve been collecting all over the world since I first got the chance to travel. And now, I have the opportunity to use everything I’ve been collecting to create these emotions through photography.
A.D.N. – I see a lot of poetry in your work; there are a lot of layered feelings.
M.A. – Yes. My work is not conceptual. It’s more of an art that I’d like someone like my mother to be able to understand in the same way someone at the creative vanguard from Paris would. Conceptual art needs an explanation. I don’t want to give an explanation. My art needs to impact, to communicate when you see it. I believe that art can cure, and I think art can make your life happier. I need to be surrounded by things that I like, and it’s not about expensive things. For me, the old hat of my grandmother will do.
A.D.N. – What does fashion mean for you today?
M.A. – I still explain myself through clothing. And I’m using clothes in all these self-portraits to express something.
A.D.N. – People loved you as a designer.
M.A. – Well, I’ve got to say that there were people that supported me because it’s true. Vogue supported me a lot, also with what happened after 9/11. But I had to say no to Anna Wintour many times, not because I had an attitude but because she wanted to come backstage to see what I was doing before the show. I invited you to the event… it is like saying I’m going to show you a present I will give you next week. It doesn’t work like this. But yes, there were a lot of people that appreciated my work. I was hounded by newspapers more than fashion magazines, like The New York Times and The Washington Post. I did many international interviews. All my work was related to socio-environmental consciousness from the beginning. And it still is now. I didn’t change. My thoughts always end up in the same place because I see things this way. Now I’m just interested in other ways to express myself unrelated to fashion.
A.D.N. – Are you still interested in fashion?
M.A. – Well, not in the industry. There is a lack of reality or actuality in fashion; very few talk about what really matters. In general, we live in a repressive society these days. I’ve never felt so un-free as I feel now, and I grew up under the Franco dictatorship here in Spain. Now you need to measure what you say so carefully. Even on Instagram, I’ve been censored many, many times. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your life is; they can sacrifice you on social media. Social media changed everything.
A.D.N. – It’s through social media that your works reach new generations.
M.A. – I see these new young people who follow me, who, as far as I believe, don’t know what I’ve been doing until now, how much I’ve been fighting for important things. They now see my work and find it normal or trendy. I was the first one to work with the appropriation of labels, and all these labels sued me. I got sued by the New York Yankees, I got sued by Burberry, by a lot of people.
A.D.N. – You challenged the meaning and the power of branding. Was it a political action?
M.A. – The majority of people are stuck with brands. People are like little hookers. It’s like the football fans with the players’ names on the t-shirts. They’re little bitches for the players. They are little bitches for the labels too. And what are those labels? Fashion houses are named after people who are already dead, why can’t we forget about it? Designers are artists, and artists, like painters, can’t paint anymore after they are dead. Goya doesn’t paint anymore, and nobody has taken his place. If you consider a designer like an artist, when a designer dies, the label dies. Get over and give space to new people so they can build their own brand and own identity.
A.D.N. – Why do you think we are facing a situation like this?
M.A. – It’s because of the power of corporations and conglomerates: they will never let you do it on your own, and they always have the power over the influencer and all the media circus. The same is happening to art now.
A.D.N. – Have you seen anything interesting recently? I mean in any field.
M.A. – I like Peter Wilkie. I don’t know if he is still alive… there is so much out there, and it is somehow overwhelming to follow up on everything that can disappear quickly. I don’t know. I don’t have that much time to follow anything. I just follow myself and my work. I work hard every day, and I don’t have days off. I don’t know what I’m working for because I don’t have any exposition in sight. I just have the compulsion to express myself. I have anxiety—I’m really depressed—in one day, I can go up and down twenty times, I can feel really happy and turn around the corner, and I feel really sad. I find my moments of peace when I’m walking with my dog in the countryside or the forest when I stop to look at nature, something that you cannot criticise or look through on it or say anything about because it’s just there; it’s nature. It could be a flower or a stretch of land or something, and that’s what brings me peace.
A.D.N. – It’s quite moving what you said because it’s almost impossible to stay in such a judgemental society where you’ve always got to demonstrate something or promote yourself at every moment on social media.
M.A. – I thought, “oh my god, I’m falling into these narcissistic things”, but no, I don’t want to fall into that; I just want to express myself through my work. I’m working with this burden every day, and I don’t know where it ends, but it is the only thing I can do.
A.D.N. – So now, do you feel alive or dead?
M.A. – I feel more alive; I just live disconnected. I don’t have a mobile either because it is all related to that. You won’t find a moment where you can have eye contact with anybody anymore, even when you are going to the supermarket and waiting in line to pay, everybody is glued to their mobile. And then when I call my friends they don’t answer the phone… what the fuck? I don’t really understand how it works anymore.
A.D.N. – What do you miss from the past?
M.A. – It was all very different, for example, travelling to another country before you had a mobile. It was all a surprise. It was an adventure, where are you gonna go, where are you going to stay, what places I’m going to find, what people I’m going to meet, how is the food going to be, or you had to read really long books. It was much more exciting because you were discovering something. Now, before going to the hotel, you know what it looks like, even the room you can personalise and everything. You even know where you will take pictures and selfies in front of this monument or this place. I remember going to London as a teenager when I was 14. I only knew how to get to King’s Road, where all the punks, the new romantics, went. I had a goth band. I remember John Denson made these fantastic shoes, but you needed to go three hours outside London by train to find them. But today, this doesn’t have meaning anymore. Before you had to undergo numerous physical experiences and even suffer, you had to meet people in person; it was part of your formation. When I went to London, I knew Leigh Bowery and used to know Michael Clarke and all these people. It was a different time. All this energy and everything around it doesn’t exist anymore.
A.D.N. – How did you start your journey?
M.A. – I dropped out of school when I was 12 years old. I’ve never learned how to write or to do mathematics. I don’t know anything about it. I’ve learned everything on the streets, like talking in English. I’ve started to learn a little bit about how to write now because of the posts on Instagram and writing on Google. Before doing fashion, I did a lot of stuff; I was working in Madrid with Pedro Almodovar, and I was in a transvestite band. I did a lot in my life. But now I live with very little. I have a fireplace, and I have everything that I need. I still have my Mum and Dad, and they need me now. It’s great to be here. It’s a simple life. Whether my Mum is going to kill a chicken or rabbit is a sacrifice we make for survival. I work with what’s surrounding me. I photograph the animals, putting my clothes on them. I have many crazy series about the magic I can bring out of nature. In a way, I don’t have any energy when I’m here besides nature which is an immense energy that I always rely on.
A.D.N. – How do you see the humanity in the future?
M.A. – I don’t know if we are going into the metaverse, but I know that we are very disappointing homosapiens.