Re/Formulations: Narrative Processes
Curated by Juan-Si González
With Steven Bollman, Arturo Cuenca, Michael Casselli, Willy Castellanos, Frank Guiller, Armando Guiller, Juan-Si González, Glenna Jennings, Rómulo Sans, and Cepp Selgas.
William V. Musto Museum and Cultural Center
May 15th to July 12th, 2015.
Re/Formulations: Narrative Processes
(From the exhibition Catalog)
By Fèlix Riera*
“The true path is along a rope, not a rope suspended way
up in the air, but rather only just over the ground. It
seems more like a tripwire than a tightrope.”
Book 8 of the diaries of Franz Kafka
The Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, whose temperament and temperature were that of an ephemeral, changing light, died in a duel at the age of twenty-seven, leaving us in his character Pechorin, in his novel A Hero of Our Time, written in the middle of the 19th century, some of the most defining features of contemporary art. In the temperament of Pechorin, he designated elements we recognize as our own, like the idea that one's work is the pale and defective extension of life, that the greatest work of an author is him or herself, that no human realization makes sense once it is complete, that the artist is the main saboteur of his or her work, that we are able to create the non-work, that a creator can no longer constantly maintain an artistic attitude, linear in time; rather, this has to change because we must always be another; we must show ourselves with a mask of indifference and spectacle, play and challenge fate. Pechorin, the alter ego of Lermontov, needs the grandeur of the immensity of the Caucasus to dilute himself in time and space, to stop being, to be tested. It is the same need that artists have today, searching in the immensity of what has been done, in the steppes of human thinking, for a place (never fixed) to settle and to draw new strength to continue wandering. Like Pechorin, built and defined by the energy of others, possessing, seducing, exhausting, invading, and taking over their beauty to later, once they have succumbed and are in love, abandon them to their fate.
Contemporary art operates the same way with its publics. It makes them experience the potency of the new, of the novelty; it leaves them without a fixed image, seduces them with vague promises of modernity, advertises that they are part of the work without their realizing they have become material, in disguise, in the work itself and, therefore, can live in it but cannot see it, cannot observe it. It denies them contemplation in exchange for applause. It plunges them into a game that they can never win. They are part of a simulation where emotions seek only euphoria, never descent into an inferno. Pechorin is a dandy with a magician’s cape, with the poetic electricity of Tesla. He is a deceiver who reveals himself in every action, someone who moves forward in life looking for the extremes, contemplating a game of Russian roulette that, in his world, has already become the last emotion, where the boundary between living and dying has been erased. Pechorin, perpetual individualist, saved from oblivion by a narrator who never knew that he offers us one of the ultimate challenges of today's art in these words: “I learned not long ago that Pechorin had died upon returning from Persia. The news made me very glad; it gave me the right to publish these notes, and I took the opportunity to put my name on someone else’s work. God grant that readers won’t punish me for this innocent forgery.”
The exhibition “Re/formulations: Narrative Processes” shows us an attempt to present our Pechorin/creator in a new duel, a duel that does not succumb to the fever of an egotistical romanticism or the predatory light of modernity that has eliminated all nuance of commitment, the struggle to reveal that the world spins to expose more than to hide. The pieces in the exhibit underscore an effort to restore, to heal the rift between aesthetics, ideas, and politics. We are facing an exhibition that brings back political mobilization, disagreement, critique, and the need to discuss what is common and to understand that we are not alone. The strength of these works, photographs, and sculptures that communicate and question the processes of de-objectification to which we are subjected, resides in having delineated a discourse that triggers sensitivity in the viewer’s gaze. The works of Juan-Si González, Rómulo Sans, Arturo Cuenca, Frank Guiller, Cepp Selgas, Steven Bollman, Willy Castellanos, Michael Casselli, Glenna Jenning, and Armando Guiller, show us the degree to which our docility is a product of our powerlessness, of our voluntary servitude. Its calculation is recharging the battery exhausted from working to reach the audience through a speech that amplifies the feeling of abandonment in the face of the apparatuses that states have built to cause the submission of our will to change. Foucaultian apparatuses that Giorgio Agamben defines this way: “I shall call an apparatus literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings.
” All these artists seek to pierce reality with their images, to make us see. They desecrate our graves and myths so for a brief moment we stop seeing the stars and orient our efforts to see what we are walking on and where we are headed. It is an exhibition that motivates us to make the leap, to be awake, to let go of naiveté, to defeat the deadly and subtle game of appearances that dominates the relationship between what we are and what we project. The writer Albert Camus in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, after considering the thoughts of several philosophers, tells us that these men “vie with one another in proclaiming that nothing is clear, all is chaos, that all man has is his lucidity and his definite knowledge of the walls surrounding him." The photographic pieces in this exhibition will help us see the walls that surround us with great precision and accuracy. Pechorin, in his eagerness for self-destruction, in search of emotion for the sake of emotion, always refused to see; for this reason, he distanced himself from his time, the 19th century, to achieve what was his apart from the world. The works that you see here are the result of moving into our time, translating the complex relationship of violence to which we are subjected into a more direct language. A collective exhibition that takes us away from the steppe and returns us to the bustling city to denounce the dominant spirituality, which is based in the surveillance of our emotions.
*Felix Riera is the director of Catalunya Radio. He is author with Jean Clair, the Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, and other authors of the book “Beauty” edited by Donzelli Editore. He has been a Professor of Communications Audiovisual of the Pompeu Fabra University, collaborates in the magazine cultures of La Vanguardia, and also, he is the editorial director of Grup 62 and The Sphere of Books in Barcelona.