Dora García’s work is strongly characterized by the involvement of its viewers, who are urged to take a stand on ethically contentious questions, to commit themselves to a closer examination of these matters and to reflect on the institutional nature of the setting in which their encounter with works of art takes place.
Hers is a practice based on research, and one that focuses on subjects which recur and are woven into the whole fabric of her production, such as the interest in the history of anti-institutional movements (with particular attention to anti-psychiatry), the figure of the artist as outsider and mechanisms of communication, whether linguistic or not. These subjects are not explained to the viewer, but laid out with an attitude that verges on a challenge: documents, ambiguous reenactments in performances, lectures and talks, videos and books are presented in the exhibition space as archives, sophisticated sets of references, reworkings. Viewers have to choose their own key of interpretation, decide what attitude to take, the degree of interaction they wish to have with the work. Or remain impervious to the provocation of an enigmatic theme, ambiguously presented in such a way as to make people think. As a complement to this total openness of interpretation, García prepares a series of instruments, often in the form of websites, to share her sources with viewers, to inform them about her projects and keep them up to date on their development and to get to know their opinions and reactions through blogs and social networks.
Joan Brossa (Barcelona, 1919-1998) is one of the most important twentieth-century writers in the Catalan language. A poet, playwright and visual artist with a long creative career, he was always linked to an avant-garde conception of culture. A founder of the Dau al Set group (1948), he understood the poetic as something that was not confined to the verbal but included the whole range of artistic expression: visual and object poetry; what he called ‘poetry in action’ when referring to the more or less non-literary performing arts (magic, circus, cabaret); cinema, and so on. His literary works have been translated into a dozen languages. Of particular note in his career as a visual artist was his presence at Art 20 in Basel (1989) and in the official pavilions at the São Paulo Biennial (1994) and the Venice Biennale (1997), in addition to numerous solo and group exhibitions. Firmly committed to Catalonia and to democracy, institutional recognition came to Brossa late: in 1987 he was awarded the Ciutat de Barcelona prize; in 1988, the UNESCO Picasso Medal; in 1992, the Government of Catalonia’s Premi Nacional d’Arts Plàstiques, and, among others, the Gold Medal for Fine Arts of the Spanish Ministry of Culture in 1996. In 1999 the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona bestowed a posthumous honorary doctorate on him.
Joan M. Minguet
When Ignasi Aballí began his career in the late eighties, it was linked to the practice of painting. He soon took up the conceptual currents to question elements of painting itself such as representation, the support or the pictorial material in works in which the artist disappears: leaving pots of paint to dry or pictures in which the image is the result of the traces of the sun on the canvas. As a response to the crisis of representation in art or the impossibility of representing anything (common to writers with the same concerns such as Perec or Enrique Vila-Matas) he began series such as Mistakes, in which he blots out the surface of the picture with Tipp-Ex, or others done mechanically using newspaper clippings on the basis of the information they contain. In the exhibition Desapariciones (Disappearances) at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 2002 he introduced elements from the cinema with which he would embark on a broader reflection on the image in contemporary society. A twofold concern, with the image and the status of painting, shaped the itinerary of his exhibition at MACBA in 2005, which travelled to the Museo Serralves in Oporto and the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. His work will be included in the official selection at the 2007 Venice Biennale.
David G. Torres
Hans-Peter Feldmann (Dusseldorf, 1941) started his work as an artist at the end of the 1960s. Since then his work has been characterised by his interest in some of the less attractive aspects of daily life; a critical awareness before the structures that produce aesthetic experiences, and with an irony that lightens the message without hiding the moral questions involved.
What most interests him is the forms of art we create in our daily lives, especially the uses and meanings we attribute to photographs.
His work, full of humour, questions the symbolic space which opens up between what things really are and what they mean for us. They show the dreams and desires that we project onto the images and objects, filling them with meaning. Indignation is also shown in the narratives constructed with images from day-to-day life and with the objects which have not been refined by class or money.
Interested in the collective, in the ephemeral and in what has no value, his work is always presented unsigned and in unlimited edition. This is his way of positioning himself before a system of artistic production and consumption, and the notions of value, permanence and authorship associated with the artistic object. In essence, Feldman believes that the function of art is none other than to help us deal with life.
In an interview for Sites magazine (New York) in 1982, Ronald Christ commenced by asking Antoni Muntadas if he should call him Antonio or Antoni. ‘Well, Antonio is Spanish but Antoni is Catalan,’ the artist replied, going on to admit that he had resorted to using ‘just Muntadas as a practical solution.’
Christ then sketched a relation between the Antonio/Antoni duality and the similarly dualistic utterances with which the artist was entitling many of his projects at the time, such as Emissió/Recepció(1975), Personal/Public (1979-1981), Watching the Press/Reading Television (1981) and even an early version of Media Sites/Media Monuments, on which Muntadas was then working and which was the reason for this get-together with the art and literature theorist Christ. ‘So,’ Christ asked him, ‘the dialectic in your titles is a resonance of you background?’
Muntadas replied in the affirmative – ‘yes, this division is a little schizophrenic,’ – and, on the subject of the Catalan/Spanish duality, added: ‘But, you know, in the language of my native city there is another peculiarity. In Catalan you can make a distinction between mitjà, which means “tool”, and medi, which means “context”, whereas medium or media refer to both.’ This duly prompted Muntadas to formulate a maxim about his work that can be deduced from that differential feature: ‘I work with the mitjà on the medi.’
The comment was equally enlightening for Christ, who attributed to the artist an expanded conception of the notion of mitjà/tool, as distinct from the reductionist approach that had come to hold sway in most of North America as a result of Clement Greenberg’s formalism and Marshall McLuhan’s technological determinism. In contrast, Muntadas’s perspective appeared to be a particularly genuine way of understanding the medi and the mitjà as distinct yet related entities, as entities in tension: since the mid 1970s, Muntadas has been focusing on how social mediaare naturalized as a result of the action of the tools. Hence, too, the artist’s coining in 1976 of the concept of media landscape, which has served him through the years as a way to refer to the object of analysis of his work.
Read with golden fingers (L’Innommable – Samuel Beckett), 2010
Object | Used book and gold leaf
13.5 x 18 cm
In the first decade of the twenty-first century Dora García began a series of works based on literary texts, which is still ongoing. In this series, in addition to manifesting her abiding interest in studying phenomena related to language and communication, the artist brings into play her capacity to explore — and to exploit in creative form — the links and crossovers between literature and performance, focusing in this case on the performative aspect of reading, that is to say, in its condition as act or action. The pieces in this series are one-off books, which the artist makes using paperback editions of works by her favourite authors, reading each one with her fingertips covered with gold leaf. The golden fingerprints that each reading leaves on the surface of the pages preserve, enduringly visible, the physical gestures inherent in the act of reading. An act at once universal and personal, potentially infinite and at the same time unrepeatably unique; an act that extends over a given time to establish, in the words of the artist, ‘a process of strange temporalities difficult to gauge, but very accessible if the gestures and movements of the reader are traced’. The golden marks of her fingers on the pages effectively bestow material entity on the reading as ‘an action that seems to leave no trace on the body, and yet nonetheless generates very complex temporalities between the infinite past of the text and the future of all its readers’.
The piece entitled Read with Golden Fingers (L’Innommable – Samuel Beckett), from 2010, which belongs to this series, was made on a copy of L’Innomable (1953), a long monologue in the first person in the course of which the narrator, whose identity is sketched for us with blurred and changing contours, reflects on the capacity of language and discourse to construct the reality around him and even his own essence. ‘The search for the means to put an end to things, an end to speech,’ the narrator affirms, ‘is what enables the discourse to continue.’ Echoing this perspective, it would seem to be the reading of the text by Dora García, with the golden trail this has left in its wake, which materializes the communicative act that is established between author and reader. In doing so she highlights — by making visible — the role of the viewer in his or her condition as co-participant on the literary act, while at the same time ‘muting’ the volume, leaving it unusable for further reading and thus cancelling its infinite potential as a tool for communication. The symbolic charge of gold — valuable, but also materially quantifiable — is overlaid on the literary discourse, in contrast with the immaterial and therefore incommensurable character of the act of reading.
100 years, 1997-2000
|Photograph | B/w|
|31 x 24 cm (x101)|
|Hans Peter Feldmann’s work has evolved using various diverse media, but he is particularly well-known for his work with photographs and the books without text that he has made with them.|
Since his youth, he has always been fascinated by the effect that photographic images produce within us. He often says that “a photo is just a piece of paper, an object, which, when we look at it, arouses our emotions: sympathy, pity, hostility, memories, moods, etc. But it is not the photo that does this; it is our brain. And this is true of any type of photograph, whether good or bad, public or private”. Due to this fascination, Feldmann has assembled a huge archive of images of every type over the years. Perhaps it is for this reason that the array of photographs that he uses in his series is very wide-ranging, although his work is presented (in contrast to media images seeking glamour) devoid of attraction: cheap reproductions, black-and-white photos and photocopies of everyday images. That is why his work shows us a world like ours, a fragile and grey world whose final meaning is uncertain.
He is not interested in individual images, but rather in series of images, or to be more precise what appears when a number of images are grouped together. His well-known “Time Series” from the 1970s consisted of consecutive images taken over a brief period of time. Using 36 successive photographs, negatives from a single roll of film, he revealed some everyday or trivial moments of life: The passage of a ship, a friend reading, etc. It was his way of detaining the flow of time in order to examine it. The series “100 Years” continued his reflection on the passage of time, linking it now to the cycle of life.
In 2000, when he had already become known as the standard bearer of amateur photography, family album photos, snapshots and even bad photographs, Feldmann produced an extensive series of carefully produced photographs in black and white entitled “100 Years”.
The series consisted of 101 portraits of people between the ages of eight months and a hundred years. The person photographed poses in the centre of the photo, appearing calm and in his/her customary setting, looking out at the spectator through the lens. Underneath each photograph we see printed the person’s first name and age. When on display, the series is presented as a long line of 101 portraits that we traverse as if we were spanning 100 years; an entire lifetime. When we reach our own current age we generally look more carefully, wondering about the person in the photograph and comparing ourselves with him/her. When making the series, Feldmann drew on his own emotional background. All the people photographed were members of his family, friends or within his circle of acquaintances. This is typical of his work. For the artist, linearly ordering the ages of his relationships is a way of meditating on the passage of time, which causes us such anxiety. For the spectator, to traverse the series is to reflect upon our own temporal condition.
The series is also presented as a book. While the majority of Feldman’s photo books have a rather austere design, with this one he has played more with the design of the cover. The numerous small photos that fill the cover and the type of lettering used distance this work from the more serious design that, given the content, we might have expected. This is also characteristic of his work: trying to say something profound and important and transgressing his essence through humour; a way to not take oneself so seriously.
Old painting (naked woman laying, with black barrel over the eyes), 2005
|Painting | Oil and acrylic on canvas|
|150 x 110 cm|
|During a period of his life, Hans-Peter Feldmann devoted part of his time to buying antique paintings at auctions, with a special preference for nineteenth-century portraits. With a subtle gesture he would draw on a clown’s red nose, make the eyes crossed or paint on a bruise or — as in the work shown here — a black bar over the eyes of the figure in one of these unknown and uncatalogued works from the history of art. If there is a constant feature in Feldmann’s work it would be the way all of his images are placed on the same semantic level and assigned the same value, whether they be oil paintings, photocopies, dollar bills or old photos picked up at a flea market. The artist anticipated the inability of our present-day information culture to distinguish and appreciate the value of different pictures, since they all circulate together in a sea of pixels. The title of this work, Old Painting (naked woman laying, with black barrel over the eyes), tells us exactly what it is: ‘an old painting of a nude with a black stripe over her eyes’. Feldmann’s work does not seek to represent anything other than what we see; the trap lies in the fact that we all know some art history. We can all identify the purpose for which the painting was created, because we have seen such paintings countless times and we recognize the style, the brushstrokes and the composition and therefore understand the code in which its message is conveyed. At the same time we recognize here the paradigm act of naughtiness or vandalism which consists in painting over or defacing a work of art. |
It is unusual nowadays to come across a censored image. The flood of images circulating on the Internet and especially in the social media has made it impossible to control what can be and cannot be shown. It could almost be said that the black bar over the eyes, a sign of privacy, is now meaningless. This makes Old Painting…, from 2005, look all the more contemporary, ridiculing any last vestige of decorum that may linger on in the age of Instagram. This is not the first time that Feldmann has worked with the female nude and its signification, almost as some kind of Pop trope. In another series, Stamps with Paintings, he put together a collection of postage stamps featuring classic nudes from art history. It is striking to note that most are from countries that enjoyed a modern era marked by interest in the relationship with the Western artistic canon and are currently subject to dictatorial and fundamentalist regimes. The classical and neoclassical tradition in art allowed the representation of the female nude. Now hundreds of millions of pornographic images circulate on the Internet while in a number of countries images of the naked body are taboo. With this gesture, Feldmann reminds us that perception is always relative and conditioned by the socio-political context in which it takes place.
Hans-Peter Feldmann hardly ever gives interviews, believing as he does that not everything can be translated into words. At the same time he is aware of how dangerous images are, perhaps because, as Didi-Huberman has said, they create a different kind of signification, open and outside the canons of reason. Aby Warburg, André Malraux and Pierre Bourdieu introduced the notions of the ‘imaginary museum’, the social uses of photography and the Mnemosyne Atlas, and these concepts may underlie Feldmann’s obsession with collecting things. The relationship between reproduction and original, and his obsession with the conservation and contextualization of artifacts in an iconographic institute are among the constants that can be seen in this work, although it seeks to present itself as just a joke.