PHoto España – The last day so soon…
We were familiar with the photographs through the Chris Boot book Lodz Ghetto, so were hoping for an innovative approach to exhibiting. Although the photographs were displayed in thoughtful groupings, not a single caption (beyond the obligatory explanatory panel outside the show) was to be found. Context is everything in such a body of work, and although we knew important facts – Ross was the official photographer of Lodz Ghetto’s statistics department, who took extra-curricular photographs to document daily life in the ghetto and then buried his archive which he later recovered – we wanted more. We didn’t need to know every name, or precise date, but an explanation of some kind would have been beneficial or a copy of the book to reference.
The next “exhibition” we witnessed was non-visual (not part of PhotoEspana!) and worked on the aural possibilities for bringing to life a time and place. In this case it was 03 May 1808, when the people of Madrid rebelled against occupation by the French troops (also the subject of a painting by Goya – see the previous day’s post). We entered a shiny metal triangle and were immediately enveloped by total blackness. Sounds of birds, bells, horses hooves, shouting, screaming, crunching (presumably of bones) surrounded us and left us dizzy and disoriented. Clever stuff, which made us think about the types of photographs that also have the power to transport the viewer to a time and place, and how this effect is achieved (through the photographs, the way they are exhibited, the context provided, added music or audio, or, more likely, a mix of these things).
No amount of context could have helped the other show in this complex, which appeared to have been curated by a bank (say no more). It doesn’t seem to appear in the PhotoEspana literature, but it displayed the canary yellow logo proving its affiliation somehow. In one newly-carpeted room, empty seascapes, big cars and garden lights masquerading as planets fought for attention. None won.
Also on show within this complex was a vast group show, largely of cityscapes, which, curiously, had no affiliation to PhotoEspana at all. The current obsession to photograph ultra-modern buildings on large format cameras has its place, but its charm is fleeting. Our favourite was a typology of German intercoms and their owners’ carefully-typed names.
Tears were shed as we eagerly arrived at Javier Vallhonrat’s show Acaso (Perhaps) at Canal de Isabel II – only to find it closed for siesta. On our last day, we still hadn’t got used to the fact that everything is closed when we are at our most productive. If anyone happened to see this, please can you add a comment, as we thought it looked very interesting.
Forced into three hour lunch, we still had time to pack in two more shows before the off. Ramon Mateos and Minerva Cuevas were exhibiting together at Casa de America. Mateos had recorded eight individuals singing the International Socialist Hymn, as well as a ninth actor representing Lenin in his mausoleum, twitching and spasming (presumably as he hears the cacophony to which the viewer is subjected). Deeply political undercurrents were at work here, presumably a cry for the death of any real meaning of socialism in the world. Cuevas was also working with political intent, it appeared, as she had choreographed a series of children’s picture cards to run together as a film projection, depicting space crafts and earthly beasts as similarly magical. Her other body of work displayed caged animals in spot-lit bubbles projected through exquisitely beautiful old cameras onto the gallery walls. Her work seems to pointing us towards a contemplation of the ethics of science and nature.
Our final visit was to Cristina Garcia Rodero’s exotica images of ceremonies to worship the Venezuelan goddess Maria Lionza. Undeniably beautifully composed and expensively displayed, we were largely unmoved, and left without a clue as to the importance of Maria Lionza, or what anyone was doing in their ecstatic poses, sucking candles or laying face-down in the water (seems that the English translation was forgotten in this exhibition). Also: why the mirrored floors, we wondered, thankful for our jeans.
The last view we had of Madrid was that of the Palace, two minutes away from our hotel, yet we were oblivious to its proximity, as we had not walked in that direction. Show-off pink geraniums in formal flower beds encircled the palace, at the same time turning it into an Alice in Wonderland experience in the brilliant sunshine. Our sense of place slipped straight into the fictional for our last half hour in the Spanish capital, and we enjoyed the new perspective.
Thanks to Maria at PhotoEspana, the staff at RoomMate Mario and all exhibiting artists.