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Render unto Zaj the things that are Zaj. - by Rubén Figaredo.

        In 1964, the Spaniards Juan Hidalgo and Ramón Barce, together with the Italian Walter Marchetti, founded the Zaj group. In this group that came as a real shock to the dismal Spanish artistic scene, artists like José Luís Castillejo, Tomás Marco, Miguel Ángel Coria and a large etcetera collaborated. In 1967 Barce left the collective and Esther Ferrer was incorporated. From this moment on the group became a trio with the very Ferrer, Juan Hidalgo and Walter Marchetti.
        In spite of not having any money, nor public or private funding, Zaj started to move, to be precise on the 19th of November, 1964. The event, that was announced after the action had already taken place, consisted of a procession in which three objects were carried along a traced out itinerary, identified by Ángel González’s perceptiveness as the route through Madrid taken by the anarchist Buenaventura Durruti (1896-1936) commanding his column on the way to the front, just before he was assassinated by a sniper.
         Two days later, on the 21st of November, Juan Hidalgo, Walter Marchetti and Ramón Barce performed their first concert as Zaj in the Hall of Residence Menéndez Pelayo.
        Gradually, once a series of strictly musical roads were considered as travelled, such as serialism, concrete and electro-acoustic music, Hidalgo and Marchetti became inclined to use instruments as symbols and not as the producers of sounds. They move away from the musical event to approach the event in itself, without the hindrances of a language, that, still being new and unknown by the majority of his hypothetical spectators, ran the risk to consume itself within esoteric circles of self-destructing initiates, and to perpetuate itself in a mechanical repetition like in an infinite loop.
        The surprised public of the Zaj happenings was witnessing the first events of music and action that took place in Spain, which were related with the international Fluxus movement even though it followed it’s own independent path.
        The work of Zaj broke the conventional division of artistic disciplines by mixing the musical with the theatrical, the fortuitous with the provocation, the experiment with the conspiring wink in front of a public of non-initiates who often rebelled at not understanding the sense of the marvellous follies of the collective.
        The “not exclusively sonorous” opened an immense field full of fascinating suggestions and interactions; for art - if we have to consider it the mirror of a society - on that given moment only could be absurd, because absurd were the derivations that forced the discourse of many of the creators of the moment.
        One of its fundamental aesthetic pillars would be the rejection of the idolization of the artistic object and conventional circuits through which works of art were distributed. Maybe they did not seek the provocation and the transgression per se, but the fact is that they achieved that, maybe due to the prudish and provincial ambience of dictatorial Spain, a rural and terrified country where every novelty was condemned and persecuted. Blinding the authorities with their talent and witticisms they ended up with an accusation of the crime of public scandal after a soireé in the Beatriz Theatre in Madrid in February 1967.
        In Zaj’s production divers influences and aesthetic principals were gathered: Duchamp, Cage, Satie, futurism. Anyone could participate in the group’s activities (writers, musicians and poets) and their activities also had a heterogeneous character: concerts, interventions, sending of cards (mail-art), book presentations. Zaj concerts consisted of a succession of brief performances or “etcéteras”, that have not the least in common with a traditional concerto. The etcéteras were based on gestures, written phrases, silences and exhibition of objects taken out of context (bags, tables, chairs or glasses).
        Their most active period was between 1964 and 1972. They carried out their performances at halls of residence, streets, city squares, faculties, trains, theatres and art galleries. Even though in Spain these performances provoked ridicule or indignation on the side of the public in general, outside of Spain there was a huge interest in the work of the group which translated into two tours through Europe in 1966 and 1968; they travelled to cities like Paris, London, Frankfurt, Cologne or Düsseldorf. These tours culminated in a program of Zaj concerts, which starting out in Lisbon and ended in the United States and Canada in 1973, on invitation by John Cage. Another important aspect of the group is the revitalization of avant-garde writing in Spain, with books like Viaje a Argel (1967), by Juan Hidalgo, el Arpocrate seduto sul loto (1968) by Walter Marchetti and La caída del avión en el terreno baldío (1967) by José Luís Castillejo
        “The integration or, at least, proximity of the arts necessarily leads to working as a group, to be able to paint in time and compose in space or who knows what. This is how collectives like Fluxus in the United States, Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Juan Hidalgo’s Zaj in Spain, etcetera, have appeared. One should add the countless series of happenings dispersed or concentrated - according to preference - all over the world during the seventies of the past century. And not to forget the lamentable destruction of musical instruments, pianos smashed by the blow of the axe or the disembowelled violin that Maciunas put forward in 1962 with his Solo pour violon. With no fixed boundaries, we have to think of the theatre on the streets that entailed the presence of posters on walls, unexpected noises, texts, dance, music, scenery and much more happening to anyone’s taste.” 1
        Let’s look at the account of Tomás Marco, as theprivileged witness of the first steps of the group and participant in some of their performances: “Hidalgo, upon his return to Madrid in 1964, after he had created ‘Música abierta’ in Barcelona, founded Zaj together with Walter Marchetti and Ramón Barce. Later, other artists, whether they were musicians or not, united with or worked together with Zaj.
        The evolution happened fast, from unconventional concerts - albeit with sonorous substance matter based on ‘música abierta’ - to writings, concerts on streets and squares, concerts of works not exclusively sonorous, to the publication of books. All of this makes Zaj an artistic reality of the foremost importance in Spain. Even Dick Higgins has written that its about ‘the most important cultural event coming about in Spain since the civil war’. It’s not really important to know whether Zaj has made or has not made music in the strict sense of the word. Furthermore, their connections with Dada, Fluxus, etc., are nothing but superficial, this is about an independent phenomenon and one with a vigorous personality. Probably, Zaj has created a new art that sprouts from the tight margins of music. This would be very important, but in any case one must acknowledge that in many works, that because of their structure or thought do not fit in Zaj, their influence thereupon has been decisive.
        Precisely one of the most prominent artists of the Fluxus movement, Dick Higgins (1938-1998), would write about the group in 1967: “There is no official history of the Zaj Group. The general spirit of the works en the group identifies itself with are ahistoric, fresh, and never even permitted the question that could upset: whom actually belonged to the group. Those who just once worked with the group are described as ‘not working with us anymore’, as preferred to ‘they are not Zaj’.
        The word Zaj itself, lacks meaning, except when it became the ident of the group. At some Zaj manifestations, the word has been spelled in alternative form – for example
Zej or Zoj.
        It suits to say, as a historic observation, that Juan Hidalgo and Walter Marchetti were the founders of the group in Madrid somewhere in 1964…
        For Javier Maderuelo “Zaj is really the only group with an ideology, an aesthetic and a coherent formalism that has flourished in Spain.” 4 “Zaj’s arms were: imagination, humour, philosophy, spontaneity, elegance, Zen, joy and a profound disdain for stupidity. (…) in the sixties it was the real avant-garde, a group that put a bomb into each of their concerts or performances, in each printed book.5
        Today, in spite of the time that has passed, the freshness of Zaj still hits us with a lash of primordial creativity that leaves behind as retardations many of the more recent artistic ideas that are regarded as new.


La familia artística - Juan Hiladgo: Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Juan Hidalgo, Buenaventura Durruti, Erik Satie

1     Hoffman, W (dir.) [et. al.]. “El mundo suena: El Modelo Musical de la Pintura Abstracta”. [actas simposium]. Arnaldo J. (Ed.) Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza. Madrid, 2004. Pág. 61.
   Marco, Tomás. Pensamiento musical y siglo XX. Pág. 170-171.
3     Higgins, Dick. A Zaj Sampler (Works by the Zaj group of Madrid). A Great Bear Pamphlet.
Something Else Press. New York, 1967. Pág. s/n.

4     Maderuelo, Javier. Una música para los 80. Garsi. Madrid, 1981. Pág. 15.
5     Ibidem. Pág. 16.

You may quote this article, but please use the folowing referencia:

FIGAREDO, Rubén (2009). "Render unto Zaj the things that are Zaj".; translation Ingrid van der Voort [online article]. [Date of consultation: dd/mm/yy].

      Translation: Ingrid van der Voort.
      Versión original en castellano, A Zaj lo que es de Zaj.

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