Montse Badia



Diputación de Barcelona, 2005-2009

Tuesday 10 February 2009, by Montse Badia

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For many years now, video has represented a very widely-used medium that has been entirely integrated into contemporary artistic practice, enabling artists to approach aspects of questions, situations, problems and representations relating to all the facets of the human being. If we consider the impact that the global public sphere and the mass media have on our reality, and how they determine the creation (or the manipulation) of the contemporary conscience, it is no surprise that today’s artists use and make reference to the mass media, to their formats and their strategies for constructing discourse.

As Claudia Giannetti notes, “contemporary thinkers such as Vilém Flusser, Götz Gorßklaus, Régis Débray and Dietmar Kamper, suggest that today, we as humans do not live exclusively “in” the world, nor “in” words, but rather “in” images: in the images that we have made of the world, of ourselves and of other people; and in those images of the world, of ourselves and of other people that are provided by technological media. “With the videosphere we are witnessing the end of “the society of the spectacle”. We were in front of the image, now we are “in” the image” (Regis Débray)”.

But what is the state of affairs in the realm of the image, at a time when the development of technology and the adaptation of new means of reproduction and simulation of reality for artistic uses have amplified the effects of the crisis provoked by the invention of photography? “It is not a question of tracing history back to the caves”, wrote Jean-François Chrevier and Catherine David in the catalogue for Passages de l’Image, an exhibition that was a reference to the decade of the 90s , “let’s admit that this history exists, and place ourselves in a specific phase of its development: the period of the “modern image”, a complex category that appears with photography and that takes up a network of interferences between certain modes (or models) of representation, of portrayal, and some types of pre and post photographic imaginary production again. (...) Moreover it is a fact (though is it one we must accept?) that in a society ruled now more than ever by the law of the spectacle, as Guy Debord wrote, the dominant model is the model of communication”.

Let us consider, therefore, the progressive advance of the image in movement, that is, image-time as the most generalised form of experience of the image in today’s societies. This type of image, made possible by the technical devices of production and distribution, creates an expanded perception time that is not unique and singular, but rather continual, and passing.

We all have the shared experience of going to the cinema, something that we do from a very yound age: we buy our ticket, we enter a space that we share with other people, the room darkens and the session begins on a big screen that fascinates us and invites us to enter into other stories, in other worlds. When we see a film, our eyes look up and down, and our mind transports us beyond itself to enter a world that is bigger than life itself.

Over a century of cinema has given form to our culture, and this is recognised by contemporary artists. Art and cinema have come together repeatedly throughout histoy: if in the early days of cinema, art exercised a clear influence on cinema (the avante garde cinematograpghic movements linked to the artisitic avante garde - futurism, expressionism, surrealism, etc, the positionings of the 60s and 70s with nouvelle vague, the North American underground, expanded cinema), today there is no doubt that the influence is in the inverse sense, and is linked to the need for art to move towards traditionally non-artistic discourse that is representative of different types of cultural manifestation. As a result, many contemporary artists work with cinematographic cliches that operate as models of representation or identity, from both a constructive and a symbolic perspective. With these works and installations, the museum space, which was traditionally static and presentational, is transformed into a projection space (in the broadest sense of the word). Therefore the museum becomes a species of cinema, or, conversely, distances itself from this approximation and emphasises its lack of similarity with those spheres of experience most closely related to mass consumption.

For many decades, the idea has dominated that modern and contemporary art must be presented in a neutral, well-lit space, the white cube that creates a distance between the object and its surroundings in such a way that, by decontextualising this object, it is elevated to the status of a work of art. This presentational format is being gradually superceded by the black box, which generates a space for projection and also for suggestion. In such a space, the audience experiences the moving images as enlarged images that stimulate the senses, while the distinction between the "I" of the spectator and the visual representation is blurred.

The museum, the art centre, the exhibition space, are undergoing a metamorphosis and becoming a species of cinema in which, as Boris Groys said quite correctly , “The need for darkness creates a state of invisibility that fuses with the structural impossibility of seeing video work in its entirety. This absence of visibility becomes a challenge for the spectator, and perception is transformed into participation". As the artist Jeff Wall has summarised so well on several occasions, the museum must not only have a sun wing, but also a moon section that enables cinematographic experiences. And, we might add, an area for those works that have limited access to more established cinematographic distribution systems.

At this point, it is interesting to mention some examples of exhibitions or presentations that have taken place in recent years and that show this trait: White Cube/Black Box, presented in 1996 at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, included video pieces and installations from the Foundation’s collection; Black Box Recorder, a project organised in 2001 by the British Council, was a selection of video works by 12 British artists; the X and XI editions (1997 and 2002) of the Documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennale (2005) included a proliferation of projection spaces with timetables of film and video showings. It is also worth recalling exhibitions such as Señales de vídeo (Video Signs) (Madrid, 1995), Monocanal (Madrid and other locations, 2003), Bad Boys (Venice and other locations, 2003), Video Times. 1965-2005 (Barcelona, 2005) or the incorporation of the Black Box section that from the year 2005 is to form a part of the programme of ARCO, the contemporary art fair held in Madrid.

“What the last several years of innovation in video work have taught the art community is that art made through video is still art”, wrote Dan Cameron , “art can be approached using more or less the same criteria that we might apply to a painting or a photograph. If this sounds contradictory, it is not, for the simple reason that the sense of the world, which is implicit in most experiences of actual film or television is not the same as the worldview promoted by art. One of the most striking differences between the two is in the degree to which art continues to support the belief that the world can be shifted, altered or represented according to the artist’s requirements, whereas most television and film productions support the notion that the artist-technician is a kind of technical wizard whose creations are meant to be enjoyed at the greatest possible remove from the site of creation. In a sense, this argument returns us to the heady challenges faced by the early videoart pioneers of the 1960s and ‘70s, who found that the viewer/producer was the ideal consumer of the fledging medium, because he or she could both absorb media positions and respond to them in kind. While this is a far cry from both the anesthetized television viewer of today and the rebel computer-hacker vilified by the media giants, it offers the slim possibility that in order to make optimal use of the new challenges opening up, the newly-democratized viewer is going to have to begin thinking more like an artist than at any other time in human history”.

These are some of the reflections that mark the departure point of the project Sessió contínua (Continuous showing), a collective exhibition that brings together a selection of video works produced in the last five years by some of the most relevant and important contemporary artists in this field. The definition of the formal characteristics of this project is the result of reflection on the transformation of contemporary artistic practice and the need to explore different presentation formats in order to communicate artistic proposals that use elements and media belonging to other contexts. Sessió contínua consists of three different programmes of video projections produced by artists that are shown in a display especially designed for the occasion by another artist.

In this way, Sessió contínua is intended to reflect a consideration of the cinematographic form (or the moving image in general) as one of the most habitual forms of the visual experience today. The presentation devices by one of the artists shows the crossover of different disciplines, and reflects on the forms of presentation and exhibition as part of contemporary artistic discourse itself.

Its format means that the project Sessió contínua is a mobile, portable exhibition. It is no coincidence that the exhibition responds to a present shaped by mobility, flexibility and adaptability, yet without removing/ignoring its paradoxes and negative aspects, such as the standardisation and homogenisation that irrevocable dominates this age of globalisation.

Sessió contínua does not aim in particular to present a vision of the status quo in the here and now of contemporary art produced in this country, but rather aims, through the selection of 10 artists, to offer a compact, accurate vision of some of the most interesting work produced in the field of video in the last five years. It is no coincidence that the artists who are participating in Sessió contínua belong to the same generation, the generation that grew up with television and for which cinematographic and televisual experiences form part of the most basic day to day. Approximations to the eye-witness documentary format, clear references to narrative and cinematographic codes, reflection on the status of the image, hybrid creations with other fields of contemporary creation such as pop music and design, appropriations, gentle shifts, acidic social commentary and resistance strategies are some of the key notions defining the stance of the ten artists that form Sessió contínua.

The artist Xabier Salaberria has taken on the task of designing the architecture of the three projection spaces. Using a module-based system, Salaberria has looked to move away from both traditional museum furniture and the type of furniture that seeks to create a specific atmosphere or meaning, and has opted for materials that have been manipulated to as little an extent as possible and for structures of an austerity of appearance that claim no other role than that of their functionality.

In its approach to cinematographic presentation devices, Sessió contínua has been conceived as a species of “multiscreen”, in which three independent programmes of video works are projected, each grouped around a thematic axis, thus allowing the visitor to choose the desired "route" (in this case visual). In this way, the re-use of a type of cinematographic programming (the continuous showing) which is no longer used, emphasises the idea of expanded time, of the passage of time during which the spectator’s experience depends on his or her choice of route.

Programme number 1 is entitled “Construccions de la identitat i altres antimarques” (Constructions of identity and other anti-brands) and combines three pieces of work exploring the communicative capacity of the image in relation to the construction of the identity at a time when this is fundamental, namely adolescence. The world of advertising, fashion, design and pop culture also have a strong presence in these pieces, particularly in relation to an ever more media-manipulated present in which individuality is becoming a mass phenomenon, advertising no longer sells products but rather lifestyles, and identity is equated with images and products.

Dulces confidencias (Sweet Secrets) by Cova Macías, Un mystique determinado (A certain mystique) by Carles Congost and Nueva Ola o Desencert, subtitled A Time to Love and a Time to Die, by Joan Morey are the video works that make up this programme.

Cova Macías usually uses video and photographic media as a form of analysis of subjects relating to the construction of the identity in difficult age groups such as adolescence and youth. Macias generally works in close collaboration with the protagonists of her videos, who reveal their reflections and worries in front of the camera. These thoughts are often related to day to day contexts and are sometimes, in fact, very banal. In Dulces confidencias (2003) some young people tell the camera of their worries, their doubts and their needs, while the artist shows small flashes of everyday situations that complete their portraits.

Carles Congost usually works with photography, video and installations. A large part of his work follows a similar process to that used for commercial videos for television or the music industry, the difference being that Congost incorporates small elements that allow the spectator to see the ambiguity of the topics, always reflecting the subtleties of human relations and the values associated with certain ages. The culture of adolescence and the contradictions between the banality and the definition of roles is one of the principal themes articulated in his discourse. Un mystique determinado (2003) presents the story of a promising young footballer, who begins a career as a video artist. In the format of a musical (and with compositions by the group Astrud) and with the presence of clear references to the “Congost Universe”, the artist presents a story focussed on a decisive moment in a young person’s life, which at the same time becomes a sharp, ironic portrait of the art world.

Joan Morey’s main project is STP (an acronym from Soy Tu Puta, I’m your whore), an anti-brand that creates a deconstructive remake of the dynamic processes of the fashion world. In this remake, as the artist himself has written, of communicative deformations in the reflection, sampling, and/or frivolisation of "media forms" to turn them into constructive elements of the gears in his pieces, is where STP finds the crack that enables the establishment of a more intimate, private or complicit dialogue with the spectator. Nueva Ola o Desencert (2004), which bears the subtitle “A Time to Love and a Time to Die”, explores the distorsion and multiple interpretations of cultural concepts over time. In this piece, Morey intentionally blurs two styles, Nouvelle Vague and New Wave in order to reflect on generational changes and the way in which they result in re-adaptations or distorsions of cultural references from the recent past.

Programme number 2 is entitled “L’estatus de la imatge” (The status of the image) and consists of two pieces that consider the idea of the fundamental role of the image in our societies, along with evidence of the essential role of cinematographic references in the formation of "collective cultural thought". Un/balanced 1 by Mabel Palacín and Walt & Travis by Martí Anson are the two pieces of work included in this programme.

The work of Mabel Palacín shows a preoccupation with the notion of image and its status in contemporary society, and the way in which this has penetrated our lives, blurring the lines between reality and fiction, with all the contradictions that this involves. Un/balanced 1 is described by the artist in this way: A series of characters divided into three groups live in three different houses, distanced from each other. They relate between themselves, but never with the people in the other two houses, which creates a strange network of connections that does not respect spatial limits. In Un/balanced, nothing is as it seems, nobody lives with whom they say they live and the characters exist through the relations, coincidental and shifting, that they are capable of maintaining. Un/balanced is based on close-up shots of the characters, who relate between themselves with looks, which are the vehicle for transmitting emotions and which give rhythm and meaning to the sequences, in the margin of temporal and spatial logic.

In the work of Martí Anson, the experience of the spectator is an esential element. In his photographs, videos and installations, Anson often confronts the spectator with irritating situations, or simply frustrates their expectations. Walt & Travis is a film shot in the USA that is entirely faithful to the codes and formats of the Road Movie, to the extent that certain shots from well-known films can be recognised, such as Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. However, there is one difference: in his film, Anson emphasises and recreates all those moments or situations that never appear in Road Movies, such as the dead time in which the characters are in the car and are not talking, or the moments when the cars stop at a level crossing while waiting for a train to pass. In this way, by making that which is ordinary or to which we are accustomed strange, Anson makes us question that which seems predetermined.

Programme number 3 is entitled “Condicionaments socials, causes i casualitats i altres contradiccions” (Social conditioning, causes and coincidences and other contradictions) and contains five pieces that, in a very broad sense, talk of the present, of the contradictions and paradoxes that determine our relationships with others, of control mechanisms, of codes and predetermined roles, and of the strategies to avoid them or at least to show us their mechanisms.

Todas las Historias (All the stories) by Dora García, Arquitectura para el caballo (Architecture for the Horse) and Canicas (Marbles) by Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Determinación de personaje (Character Determination) by Antonio Ortega and Etc. by Tere Recarens are the videos included in this programme.

The work of Dora García takes the form of drawings, photographs, installations, performances, videos, sculptures, sound installations, writing diaries and projects developed on the internet. García usually explores the mechanisms of the artistic act to reveal the conventions implicit in any creative act. Todas las historias (2001) is explained thus “A man, a woman, recite aloud all the stories of the world. When they have finished, all the stories, all the men and all the women, all the times and all the places will have passed through their lips”. The video shows a performance in which the narrator recites infinite fragments of stories chosen from the thousand that can be found at In this way, Dora García is championing the power of the word over that of the image.

Fernándo Sánchez Castillo views art as a catalyst for social tension. In his work, he often explores the forms of surveillance and control exercised by state powers, and the forms of resistance to these acts, together with the fragility of symbols of authority, regardless of their legitimacy or origins. In the videos Arquitectura para el caballo and Canicas (2002), the artist harks back to Spain’s recent past, the final years of Franco’s dictatorship, in order to condemn, very subtly, the perversity of the architecture in the Autonomous University of Madrid: the building was designed to allow the riot police to enter on horseback in order to quell student revolts.In response, the students defended themselves by throwing marbles under the hooves of the horses to make them lose their footing.

The work of Antonio Ortega deals with social behaviour and dynamics. He often makes recordings which, with a strategy similar to that of a fable, take easily recognisable references in order to describe and exemplify situations. With an attitude of naivety, distanced from any kind of cynicism, Antonio Ortega observes from a perspective of perplexity and permanent doubt the mechanisms that define the dynamic of artistic production and its role in society. In Determinación de personaje (2000), Ortega takes up a joke belonging to the Spanish comedy duo Faemino and Cansado, which is recreated by an artist, Oscar Abril and a curator of exhibitions, David G. Torres. The chosen joke talks of art to bring to the foreground all the preconceived ideas and the “shared places” characteristic of the artistic system that, in this case, becomes a metaphor for, or an example of, the social system.

One of the most significant aspects of the work of Tere Recarens is the link established between its life cycle and artistic production, without forgetting the importances he places on the game and the sense of humour. Etc. (2002) is a video filmed in Estonia, where the artist again plays with the autobiographical device, in this case her name, Tere, which in Estonia means “Hello”. Recarens is the protagonist, although she is out of shot, of this video in which she addresses the different passers-by with a greeting that in this case is the artist’s name, in a way that causes surprise and disconcertion. Through this little anecdote, Recarens gently subverts normal perception and reveals the cracks through which it is still possible to carry out absolutely individual acts that are entirely removed from predetermined social codes.

Montse Badia
June 2005

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