Photo España Day 3: From Abattoirs to Goya
His work, at the Reina Sofia, was displayed as a slide-show with his voice-from-beyond-the-grave as spoken captions. Hotel Palenque was clearly absolutely compelling, driven, brilliant work, but unfortunately, the laconic voiceover was delivered or recorded at a pitch difficult to discern coherently. We could make out bits and pieces but we were straining so hard to hear it tarnished our experience. (Just read in the catalogue that it was a lecture given in Utah and Smithson was believed to be ‘a little drunk on whiskey’ at the time!) Essentially, in 1969, Smithson and his wife and a friend travelled to ancient Mayan sites, and in photographing a derelict hotel, parallels grew in relation to historical processes of renewal and destruction then as now, and the work transformed into the meditation on place and its cultural significance that we observed. Maybe headphones would work better.
Also at the Reina Sofia was the work of Spanish documentary photographer Leonardo Cantero, whose place in this country’s photographic history is assured. One striking shot of children climbing a wall into a misty wood stood out. But (after Smith) the photographs – disregarding (if it’s possible to disregard) their political significance of documenting Franco’s Spain – struggled to keep our attention.
Like lambs to the slaughter, we made our way to the city’s former abattoir, Matadero Madrid. Here our own ruminations on ‘place’ began. This stunning building – now an arts centre – was utterly deserted. We were the sole viewers of Marcellvs L’s video works. Two large screens at either end of a sandy-floored space showed two different but connected films, in which, it must be said, not a lot happens. This is of course the point. I will confess to being slightly seduced by the uncanny play on the concept of watching and being watched. We also we oddly thrilled to witness the blood of the slaughtered animals on the ground outside.
The other show we hoped to see there (Pedro Paiva and Joao Maria Gusmao) had not yet opened, something we’ve learnt to get used to over the past few days (on the way here we had been turned away from another exhibition as it too, was not yet opened).
Highlight of the day was an unexpected one. We went to the Prado Museum to see their Goya show. We hurried past the portraits of the great and the good and homed in the Disasters of War, some of which were exhibited among other work, such as still lives (the juxtaposition of dead meat and the sufferings of humanity was slightly unpalatable). To the haunting sounds of Shostakovich, we watched a 15 minute slide show of each extraordinary print, and remembered the debt of every war photographer to Goya. The work is insurpassable.
Today’s adventures will include (all being well) the work of Lodz Ghetto survivor Henryk Ross, Javier Valhonrat as well as Minerva Cuevas and Ramon Mateos. If we have time … Cristina Garcia Rodero. Watch this space …