Rafel G. Bianchi 

Repensar l’olivera (Rethinking the Olive Tree) , 2017

Publication | Artists’ book| Cal Cego ed.


The role of the passive adventurer, which possesses every assurance of safety, is therefore the only one that in all conscience I can recommend to the reader. It allows him to have wonderful adventures with none of the attendant inconvenience and preserves him safe from divine and human punishment.

 Pierre Mac Orlan


In his essay Petit manuel du parfait aventurier,[1]the French writer and bohemian Pierre Mac Orlan (the nom de plumeof Pierre Dumarchey) mounts a tongue-in-cheek defence of the passive adventurer at the expense of the epic glory typically associated with the active adventurer – that is to say, the true adventurer: those who expose themselves to and suffer from the extreme experiences that their indomitable spirit demands. In complete contrast, Mac Orlan offers here, from the comfort of the desk, or the armchair, a kind of tribute to the imagination as a purveyor of adventure without risk.

When I first came across the book, a few months ago, it immediately brought to mind two other instances of this kind of adventure. Of these, one could fairly be described as juvenile, and the other as perhaps a little more intellectual, but not by much. The first is a classic: I am almost embarrassed to admit to it, but it really is so wonderful that I have come to regard it as indispensable. This is the reading experience of Bastian Balthazar Bux in Michael Ende’s mythic novel, The Neverending Story. Have you read it? You may be more familiar with the film adaptation from 1984. The boy, who is having a pretty tough time in real life (his mother is dead, he is being bullied at school…), takes refuge in the attic of the school to read a mysterious book he has stolen from a strange bookseller, and the fantasy of passive adventure helps him find a new focus in his life. The second book that came to mind was recommended to me some time ago by the artist Dani Montlleó: Voyage autour de ma chambre,[2]by Xavier de Maistre, published in 1794. This is essentially an account of the author’s experience, when he was 27, of being under house arrest for six weeks, a period of apparent inactivity in which he undertook a mental voyage through that very confined physical space. In much the same way as Bastian, de Maistre decided to take refuge in the mind as a form of fantastic resistance to the constraints of real life.

However, the most personal connection I made in reading Mac Orlan’s book belongs not to the field of literature but to that of the visual arts, which is also the field in which I work. I was pleased to discover that, for me, the most direct link with the definition of passive adventure was in the art practice of Rafel G. Bianchi (Olot, 1967).For quite a number of years now Bianchi has been addressing the conceptualization of his work from a position close to the ideas of Mac Orlan. In fact, on several occasions I myself have observed similarities between Bianchi’s work and a certain kind of mountaineering literature or real adventure writing. I am thinking, for example, of Conquistadors of the Useless,[3]by Lionel Terray, in which the climber reflects on the absurdity of the process of scaling Alpine peaks, and of Werner Herzog’sConquest of the Useless,[4]the director’s account of the filming of Fitzcarraldoin the forests of the Amazon. Yes, it is curious how the titles of the two books play with the same opposing concepts: conquest and uselessness, deed and dysfunction. At the same time, these binomialsare keys to understanding Bianchi’s work.

Well, after carrying out long-duration projects of epic dimensions – notably La bandera en la cima(The Flag on the Summit, 2007-2012), in which he made hyperrealist paintings of the fourteen eight-thousanders (the highest mountains on the planet) without leaving his studio, or the more recentHow to Paint Mountains(2016-2018), an attempt to draw all the mountain landscapes suggested by Alfred James Wands in a 1970s publication – Bianchi, perhaps finding himself now in a quieter, less heroic mood, has decided to give up his mental expeditions to the Himalayas, the Alps, the Andes or the Rockies and focus on a far more telluric, emotional and relaxed adventure.

Rethinking the Olive Tree amounts to a new imitative challenge, in this case a painstakingly minute analysis of the little olive tree that the artist’s mother, Glòria Padrosa, has – or rather, had – on the balcony of her house in Olot. With the intention, then, of engaging in dialogue with the olive oil production carried out at Cal Cego and with the art practice of some of the artists in its collection, Rafel G. Bianchi has set out on a new passive adventure, perhaps the most passive of them all so far: the making of an artist’s book of a single exemplar in which, in his capacity as passionate botanist, he documents Glòria’s domestic Olea europaea, leaf by leaf and branch by branch. Doing this required of the artist an uncompromising and even (from a sentimental point of view) morally reprehensible gesture. He literally had to steal the olive tree in order to install himself – and it – in the physical and mental space where Bianchi’s adventures take place, namely his studio, a setting very similar to the attic in which Bastian reads or the room that the impetuous de Maistre cannot leave. In short, the space of the work process, and not that of its final resolution; a habitat – the studio – that for some considerable time now has marked the processual and temporal rhythm that defines Rafel G. Bianchi’s work.

To conclude, if we turn our attention to the book that is, in theory, the final stretch of this adventure, we can see how Bianchi’s work has increasingly come to resist the finalizing and closing of an idea. Following the logic of the tracing book, Rethinking the Olive Tree incorporates a last conceptual twist based on persistent copying in the playful possibility that anyone who so wishes can make a new drawing by tracing the artist’s naturalistic drawings of the olive tree – a performative dynamic that, when all is said and done, would allow the rethinking Glòria’s olive tree to be carried on infinitely.

David Armengol

[1]Pierre Mac Orlan, Petit manuel du parfait aventurier. Éditions de La Sirène, Paris, 1920.

[2]Xavier de Maistre, Voyage autour de ma chambre (1794). Recent editions: Mille et une Nuits, Paris, 2002; Garnier-Flammarion, Paris, 2003; Voyage Around My Room(trans. Stephen Sartarelli). New Directions, New York, 1994.

[3]Lionel Terray, Los conquistadores de lo inútil. Gallimard, Paris, 1961; Conquistadors of the Useless(trans. Geoffrey Sutton). Bâton Wicks/Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2000.

[4]Werner Herzog, Eroberung des Nutzlosen. Fischer Taschenbuchverlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2009; Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo(trans. Krishna Winston). HarperCollins, New York, 2010.