While previous presentations of the MACBA Collection had favoured chronological approaches, on this occasion the discourse was weighted towards one of the key aspects of art in recent years: the time that shapes and structures the evolution of an artwork.
The exhibition was structured around four core areas: the convergence of art and poetry; the relationship between artwork, spectator and space; exhibition films, and the new poetic-political practices of the global world. This approach put the limelight on the kind of art that, from the sixties onwards, had transcended its objectual boundaries in order to become experience, requiring audience involvement and participation in order to activate its full symbolic, aesthetic and political potential. Alongside pieces that were already part of the Museum’s holdings, this exhibition presented a wide selection of new acquisitions, with highlights including a literary painting by Marcel Broodthaers, l’Art et les mots (1973); exhibition films by Dara Birnbaum, Jordi Colomer, Valie Export, Harun Farocki, Peter Friedl, Joan Jonas, David Lamelas, Anthony McCall and Ulrike Ottinger; works by Alice Creischer, David Goldblatt, Krzysztof Wodiczko and the artists collectives Tucumán Arde and Agustín Parejo School.
In societies not possessed of a founding myth, the idea of identity is verified less by reference to a great na(rra)tion or a territory than by the weave of relations between subjects. Needless to say, we cannot understand the poetics of relation without taking into account the idea of place. Place, however, is not understood here as territory, but as relation. The centre-periphery dependence ceases to make sense, and there is no vindication of the centre by the periphery, as has occurred so many times in our country. The relation does not go from the particular to the general, or vice versa, but from the place to the whole world, which is not a universal and homogenous reality, but, quite the contrary, a diverse one.
As Edouard Glissant points out in a different context, the great narrative, which derives from epic writing and is practically dictated by the gods, is intimately linked to the closed object, to transcendence, to bodily immobility and a kind of tradition of achievement, that we call linear thought. On the contrary, what this writer calls the poetics of relation and diversity is found in the open work, the transversality between art and poetry, the immanence of orality, bodily movement or the opening implied by expanded cinema. The artist's function is not so much to create objects that provoke a reflex response from the viewer, but to make viewers capable of recreating their own aesthetic experience. Art is, above all, experience, and if the viewer does not retain this, it is lost. That is why, in this case, the engagement of the viewer is essential to the artist, as is their capacity to retain and repeat this experience. Previous presentations from the MACBA Collection have taken a more historic focus, in which radical artistic actions conceived and developed in the 1960s and 1970s collided with the great art that dominated much of the cultural establishment in the 1940s and 1950s, and with more recent proposals. Unlike these, however, this new selection from the MACBA Collection underlines the poetic and relational aspect of this art through exploration of different themes: the convergence between art and poetry; the relation between the work, the viewer and the space; exhibition cinema and experimentation in narrative and performance; and new poetic/political practices in a global world.
SPACE / LANGUAGE
One important aspect of the MACBA temporary exhibitions, some of them held recently such as Art and Utopia. Restricted Action, Raymond Pettibon. Plots Laid Thick, Robert Filliou. Genius without Talent, and others scheduled for the near future, such as the Vito Acconci and Günter Brus retrospectives, is the textual and poetic dimension of the work of art, and that dimension is also one of the axes of this presentation. After Marcel Duchamp, the textual character of the work of art enables a decisive broadening of its spatial and symbolic aspects, going beyond its fixing as an object and its reification as an image. The works of artists like Marcel Broodthaers – whose L’art et les mots (1975) is included –, Joan Brossa, Dieter Roth, Henri Michaux and Francesc Torres are shown alongside works by artists linked to Constructivism, who may be regarded as precursors of the opening of the space as a form of relation between work and spectator. Outstanding among them are Pablo Palazuelo, Joaquim Llucià and Gego, as well as Jorge Oteiza, whose work is linked to the film Operación H, directed by Néstor Bastarretxea.
Although the reciprocal interest between the cinema and the visual arts dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, as shown by the Cubists’, Surrealists’ or Constructivists’ experiments, it was not until the sixties that film had a crucial effect on their development, and that, in turn, allowed it to experiment with its own limits. It was then when some artists rediscovered film and video as specific media for making new ways of structuring from an insistence on the process and an exploration of the physical and psychic limits of our perception, as is the case with Line Describing a Cone (1973), by Anthony McCall. David Lamelas’ work Film Script (Manipulation of Meaning) (1972) sums up two key concepts of expanded cinema which have John Cage as one of their precursors: an interest in the temporalisation of the work of art and the involvement of the spectator in the processes of its making. The full inclusion of sound and movement, theatre, dance and performance is a product of that “expansion” of art, and many artists, such as Bruce Nauman, Dara Birnbaum and Joan Jonas, have found film and audiovisual media to be the means of expression that suit them best. In her video-performance Jonas proposes a twofold play of identity in which she explores a study of gender and cultural archetypes. The feminist approach is dealt with by Valie Export, as reflected in her work Cutting, through manipulation of the elements of film structure. After the cinema experiments of the seventies, the transformation of the projection device became a path for exploration for many artists. Structural cinema is founded on the presentation of the moving image and emphasises its formal structure through montage, the manipulation and edition of the film, in which we can perceive a non-illusionist intention that contrasts with conventional narrative cinema. Examples of that are Vampir Cuadecuc (1970), by Pere Portabella, and Berlin Horse (1970), by Malcolm Le Grice, who founded the London Film-makers’ Cooperative at the end of the sixties and introduced film as a subject into the curriculum at Goldsmiths College in London. A group of artists from different disciplines – among them Andy Warhol – searched for a new cinematic experience which would involve the spectator bodily. Ronald Nameth documents that process in Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, in which he filmed one of Andy Warhol's happenings with The Velvet Underground for the purpose of conveying an underground “lifestyle”. For his part, Hélio Oiticica made a series of projects with Neville d’Almeida entitled Quasi-Cinemas, projection-performances, like the series Block-Experiments in Cosmococa - Program in Progress. Using pop culture, Latin and American music and drugs such as cocaine as art materials, in these pieces Oiticica offers us a critical and subversive look at his environment.
ACTIVISM / INFORMATION
When the postwar period finally came to an end and the new society of the spectacle was ushered in, events like the May 68 revolt in Europe, the escalation of the Vietnam War in the United States and the repression of the military dictatorships of the decade in Latin America took place. Those events were the consequence of a deeper crisis of the system that shaped a generation of intellectuals and artists, for whom it was vital to intensify a culture of rebellion. That was when, in cities on both continents, strategies to redefine the artist’s role, activity and relationship with the spectator and the context where the cultural transaction takes place were put forward. This presentation of the MACBA Collection shows some examples of artists or collectives who were forerunners in political or social activism, among them the Grup de Treball, one of the most important groups in the context of Conceptual art in Spain. In Argentina, in 1968, a group of artists – among them Graciela Carnevale, Roberto Jacoby, Eduardo Favario and León Ferrari – denounced, in the Tucumán Arde exhibition, the situation and the labour conflicts in the province of Tucumán. They presented documents and launched a counter information campaign that used the strategies of the communications media. In Brazil in 1970, Cildo Meireles printed messages rejecting the dictatorial government and the authoritarianism on Coca-Cola labels and banknotes, thus turning them into communication tools beyond any control. Marcelo Expósito’s documentaries and Joaquim Jordà’s film Numax Presenta (1980) relate the experience of workers in the seventies in the transition to post-industrial or post-Fordian capitalism. Carles Guerra will be presenting this documentary with his interview with Toni Negri, N como Negri (2000).
POLITICS OF RELATION
Though the historical events of the seventies have provided a reference for artistic behaviour today, the increasing political and social complexity of the contemporary world has forced people to rethink and reformulate the historical models of political art, or art done politically. This exhibition includes a selection of artists who work in the public sphere, for whom the challenge of finding a way of seeing which corresponds to the dignity of what they are representing has become vital. That conception gives rise to an educational and cultural model designed to encourage the autonomy of the public and to experiment with forms of self-organisation and self-learning which can produce new kinds (on-line, dehierarchised, decentralised, delocalised…) of artistic and social processes. Among those artists is Harun Farocki who, in his films about the first Gulf War, Eye Machine I (2001), Eye Machine II (2002) and Eye Machine III (2003), analyses the way in which military visual technology has penetrated civil life; Peter Frield, who questions the concept of “gender” in different institutional conditions; and Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekman, artistic organisers of the project on the crisis of 2001 ExArgentina, who define their work as a search for ways of representation to keep indignation and solidarity in the memory, like a poem or an image which can suddenly take on the shape of a tactic suitable for the times we live in.
NEW SUBJECTS, NETWORKS AND AGENTS OF CREATION
The Spanish context of the eighties – a subject which will be examined in depth by the exhibition Desacuerdos. Sobre arte, políticas y esfera pública en el Estado español (Disagreements. On art, politics and the public sphere in Spain, 2005) – is determined by the belated transition to democracy and the need of the state to institutionalise a cultural policy which had not previously existed. Since then, and more openly in the nineties, a current of artists has acted beyond the institutional spheres of art and culture, using forms of work on line, independent practices and decentralised ways of management (from the video sector to the phenomenon of actionism or performance and the new forms of cultural self-management). This exhibition will be showing experiments by collectives classified as resistance, such as the works of Rogelio López Cuenca, who founded the group of artist-activists Agustín Parejo School in the eighties; the work of CVA, a collective whose members are Juan Luis Moraza and María Luisa Fernández; and the career of Pedro G. Romero, who uses investigation of the image, in particular iconoclasm, as a point of resistance. In this field we also find the work of Muntadas, which investigates the discourse of the communications media through the gesture as a symbol of power.
The last part of this exhibition contains works by artists who look into the concept of otherness and construction of the subject from different positions. This attitude relates our convictions as subjects with different geographical and social contexts where the rapid impoverishment of local culture, the growth of xenophobia and fear of exclusion are patent. María Ruido’s work deals with the social construction of the body and gender identities, women’s imagination of work and the forms of construction of collective and personal memory. Alien Staff (1992-1999), by Krzysztof Wodiczko, is a device designed for tramps and immigrants, which works as a tool for survival and communication for those who have no voice.
Lastly, the work of Ulrike Ottinger brings a conceptual leap to this presentation of the Collection which goes beyond the usual debates on gender and sexuality in traditional feminist theory. Ottinger uses complex non-linear narrations and a disturbing, eccentric, but most of all ironic, iconography. Classified as queer cinema, Freak Orlando (1981) is a small theatre of the world in five episodes which deals with mistakes, incompetence, lust for power, madness, cruelty and everyday life.