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Barcelona´s Underground Scene #2: Artist Rubén Río
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Barcelona´s Underground Scene #2: Artist Rubén Río

Picture of Babette d'Freek
Updated: 13 December 2015
Circus has been popular in Catalonia for centuries. It has born, grown, flourished and languished before taking off again many times during its over 200-year lifespan. It’s no wonder you never know what kind of a spectacle you might bump into on the streets of Barcelona. Rubén Río is one of the artists exploring and developing the city’s contemporary circus scene. As part of our series on Barcelona’s underground scene, he discusses his art and life.

‘I come from El Astillero, a little town in the region of Cantabria, in the north of Spain. I was about 18 when I found myself trying to juggle. I enjoyed it very much! Juggling is an endless world of tricks and challenges. One day someone told me it is possible to make a living out of it. The environment of my home town was closed to the outside world, and I had never even seen a circus, so I was surprised to hear that!’

There is a magical, serene atmosphere on the street when dozens of people stare at Rubén, as crystal balls smoothly roll in his hands. The moment is delicate and somehow holy—the people do not even bring their telephones out to take photos or video. The audience is as focused as the performer himself.

‘When I perform I am completely there—not thinking of the future or the past. I leave the “me” person out. I feel connected with people on a deeper level, that we are all together, us, the human beings. Art is a very big thing for me—where does it end and become entertainment? Art is like going into the unknown, and it doesn’t guarantee that you will like to be there. You have to be brave to deal with what you might find—a diamond or just carbon.’

Rubén’s art looks easy; the balls look as if they would float on air. But it has required hours of extremely focused practice. Rubén handles those precious objects with care that makes him seem like the most zen person in the world. Though he is an introvert, he also defines himself as a rebel.

‘Since I was a child, I’ve had the necessity to manage myself and fight against the things I don’t like. Back in Cantabria I used to be a skater—that was seen as something weird in a little town. Being politically aware, I also played and wrote songs in a punk band. I never liked to be told what to do, and I was fighting against the things I didn’t like in the society. Later, I changed the parameters of what is important and the way I deal with the things I don’t like. Nowadays, the most important things in life to me are to be at peace with myself and to give to others.’

Cia El Cruce, a theater company that Rubén runs together with another circus artist produces shows that are comic and absurd, but at the same time poetic. Art and business are the kind of juggling that not everybody can or dare to combine. But Rubén does.

‘Artists don´t have any social support even if we are in a very special situation, it’s very hard to survive. Money has to come from selling shows. It means we have to generate a product that fits into the market. You find yourself saying ‘oh this is great, I found something different that might be interesting for the people’ and next ‘will it be interesting for the industry, can I survive with this’. Art or culture should not be productized. I have to remind this to myself when I am in a creative process. But though it’s tough, it’s also rewarding; the best is that you have to challenge yourself constantly. There is never a point when you can relax. When it’s constant dealing between money and expression it makes you think a lot of who you are and why you do it. Artist is not the proper person to call himself an artist – it’s the audience who judges that.’

Like those of artists throughout time who have sensed and reflected the joys and the pains of society, the words of Rubén are critical, but still bear hope.

‘Things are going very wrong in the world, and it seems like we need to crush them in order to change the direction. I’m an anti-capitalist; I see that capitalism has made people think only through money. When the most important thing for a society is money, then the people, the planet, the justice, the truth and other fundamental values fall under it. Then everything becomes “fair” if it has enough money behind it. But even though I believe that, I also believe that as long as there is life, there is hope. The hope is in the people.’

Find more about Rubén and his art here.

Rubén can also be found on Facebook.

By Babette d’Freek

Read the rest of our Barcelona Underground series:

#1 Artist Eduard Castells