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World
Milena Placentile
MILENA PLACENTILE in Barcelona 02/08/11
February 08, 2011

At the start of a new year, and with ARCOmadrid just around the corner, a number of exhibition venues in Barcelona were between programming, yet I still managed to take in quite a diverse selection of contemporary art during my recent visit. 



Martha Rosler, If You Lived Here Still

La Virreina Centre de la Imatge offered three complimentary exhibitions. The size and scope of Martha Rosler's archive connected with her 1989 project If You Lived Here Still provided a stark reminder that inadequate housing is an international crisis that has only worsened over time. A small densely packed room included documentation of the original and subsequent installation as well as related projects enacted in public space, plus copies of correspondence to developers and politicians, and printed matter concerning community organizing efforts throughout the United States, England, France and Spain. In an adjacent room, an installation featuring the work of various local anti-gentrification movements including V de Vivienda (H like Housing) and their graphic campaign, No vas a tener casa en la puta vida  (which loosely translates to mean, “you'll never have a house in your fucking life”), among others, chronicled ongoing struggles through photography, video and ephemera from recent public demonstrations. Given the merciless actions of Barcelona's government in prioritizing tourism above the basic welfare of citizens and the role of arts and culture in facilitating gentrification, it may seem unusual that a government-run arts organization would present these projects. As an artist representing a local collective later explained, their message needs to get out in every way possible and when an opportunity was offered, they took it, but they still know where they stand.



Susan Meiselas, USA Essex Junction, Vermont, 1973, returning backstage (from the series Carnival Strippers)

Sandwiched between obviously political projects (see above; see below), I figured Susan Meiselas' Carnival Strippers was meant as eye candy to draw visitors, but I was wrong. This exhibition featured evocative portraits as well as candid shots of showgirls working in the most marginalized of situations before, during and after performances. These images, taken thirty-five years ago, were contextualized through audio interviews with the performers and attendees, detailed notes about the women Meiselas met during her research and ephemera related to the time and place of the encounters. The work communicated complicated intersections of agency and objecthood, choice and circumstance, desire, intolerance, freedom and subjugation.

In comparison, the third show, Foc Divers by French artist Bruno Serralongue, was rather disappointing in that the images were little more than common snapshots and, quite frankly, the context of their production was not challenging enough to invest the work with deeper artistic meaning. Described as “a newspaper reader who decided to check out the published news story with his own eyes,” Serralongue travelled the world photographing significant people (eg. Subcomandante Marcos/Delegado Cero) and events (eg. the World Social Forum in Mumbai). The absence of drama or tension in his work is explained as a result of him arriving too late  and is claimed to represent the failure of communication, despite technology, etc. Two videos by John Baldessari, The Meaning of Various Photographs to Ed Henderson - 1 and The Meaning of Various Newsphotos to Ed Henderson - 2, were presented to contextualize Serralongue's work, but truth be told, I found them far more intriguing. So many years later, the form and content of these videos are still resonant – what are images, how are they constructed, by whom and for what reasons? Serralongue's work failed to provoke such questions.



Are You Ready for TV, installation view

Are You Ready for TV at Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona boasts an encyclopaedic investigation into television that transcends convention through seventy-two hours of artist video and experimental television. Promising intriguing work via an ambitious mandate, this exhibition had enormous potential. However, if there was ever a show that fell flat due to presentation, this was it. Aside from the fact that the large-scale cinematic format used to present many of the works contradicted the small-scale nature of television, the viewing conditions were highly distracting. The massive monitors were so reflective that viewers were often more present than the videos themselves, the audio bled from one space to the next causing a non-conducive cacophony.



Peter Weibel, Endless Sandwich, 1969, video still

Navigating the dense program was also unnecessarily difficult. Why not present sub-themes from the exhibition over the course of a year, thus reducing the strain on viewers? All that said, I found assorted gems embedded within the avalanche. For example, Peter Weibel's Endless Sandwich, and Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman's Television Delivers People.



Josep-Maria Martin in collaboration with Mouhamadou Bamba Dioup, Casa Digestiva para un piso de Lavapiés, 2010, installation view

Arts Santa Mónica is a relatively new space occupying a former monastery. It originally focused on visual arts but has expanded its mandate to explore a wider range of artistic enquiry. In addition to a large exhibition about a local poet, there was a show featuring the sometimes quirky and always tech-focused outcome of Swiss artists-in-residence at various scientific laboratories in Switzerland and China. However, what really caught my attention was a group project called CATALYSTS: Art, Education, Territory curated by Ramon Parramon. Due to language barriers, I was unable to delve into the theoretical framework of the exhibition, but I nonetheless appreciated the dynamic selection of work investigating the various mediating forces at play when interacting with space/place. Two works in particular caught my eye: one for its dark wit and bling (Welfare State (Smash the Ghetto) by a collective called Democracia), the other for its quiet contemplation (Casa Digestiva para un piso de Lavapiés by Josep-Maria Martin in collaboration with Mouhamadou Bamba Dioup). The first work (an installation involving kinetic sculptural, a mural and video) witnessed the destruction of a marginalized territory in Spain as a warped, participatory spectacle. The second work – also an immersive installation including painting and video – told the remarkable and deeply personal story of an immigrant who risked everything in search of a new life in Spain.



Anna Maria Maiolino, X de la sèrie Fotopoemação, 1974, black and white photo

At Fundació Antoni Tàpies, I whizzed through the presentation of work by the widely celebrated Catalan modernist for whom the venue is named, but lingered intently over Anna Maria Maiolino's large, multidisciplinary retrospective. Considered an important contributor to the Neo-Concretism movement and sometimes likened to Lygia Clark, her exhibition offered a tremendous amount of history and context in a succinct and engaging fashion. Intrigued as I was over the Italian-Brazilian artist's various torn paper projects and sculptural work in clay, I found a simple installation involving eggs spread on the floor around a plinth beneath a raw cotton canopy surprisingly powerful. Performed by Maiolino since 1984, this piece suggests the fragility of the burgeoning democracy in Brazil at that period. Many works in the show addressed the fearful nature of life under military dictatorship but also cited the body as a site of resistance via basic function, movement and sound, relationships and physical experience.



Dixon, Stimulus Package, two installation views

For all the lens-based work I absorbed during this round of gallery visits, Venezuelan/Canadian artist Juan Carlos Noria (a.k.a. Dixon, a.k.a Royal) reminded me of the power of the drawn and painted line. Thriving in Barcelona, the city he has called home for the past five years, Noria's recent exhibition titled Stimulus Package at Ras, swept me into a headspace teetering between empathy and anger. Empathy because a few of the more intense paintings featured bodies burdened with the weight of chemical and ideological pollutants such as synthetic toxins and intolerance causing the drain of life force. Anger because the murals on the wall – a layer below and around the paintings – so accurately depicted the seemingly unstoppable force of corporate greed.


Milena Placentile is a curator and writer living in Winnipeg. She is one of Akimblog’s roving correspondents.


La Virreina Centre de la Imatge: http://www.bcn.es/virreinacentredelaimatge/english/home.htm

Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona: http://www.macba.es/

Arts Santa Mónica: http://www.artssantamonica.cat

Fundació Antoni Tàpies: http://www.fundaciotapies.org

Ras: http://www.rasbcn.com/

 

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