Galeria Trama, Barcelona | September 29 – November 15, 2016
For this exhibition Parc Natural at Galeria Trama, curator Frederic Montornés returns to the writer Georges Perec’s book Espèces d’espaces (Species of Spaces) (1974) that he freely interpreted for his 2015 MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) exhibition in 2015. Montornés now brings together five artists, and focuses specifically on Perec’s description of countryside as a space that simply exists to augment urban life, no more than, in Perec’s words, “the pleasure zone that surrounded the second home of some of his fellow dwellers” and “the place where one eats home made bread, breathes better and sometimes sees animals that are not normally seen in cities.” Through this lens, the countryside is somewhat humorously reduced to an ahistorical, apolitical, supplementary space; it is almost as if the city predates the countryside and thus was able to invent it.
Though not spelled out by Perec, what we regard as landscape is of course a construct and the expression “countryside” a perception of land and its use as a distraction rather than a site of survival and labor. Montornés digests Perec’s point into a question of who exactly is doing the looking, and consequently how does what they see vary in signification? Each artist in this exhibition addresses the notion of countryside—from its artificiality to its existence as matter in relation to an understanding of primal existence.
In light of this idea that space, lets say anywhere, is a cultural construction, the artists here exemplify how difference can manifest through the production of art—especially where a theme is introduced that, in this case, not only poetically expands conceptually, but also allows for contrasting formal approaches to art making that might otherwise, wrongly, find themselves mutually excluded. Take for example the first the ceramic sculptures of Rosa Amorós (b. 1945, Barcelona). These assertively terrestrial objects are fashioned forthrightly and handled with both subtlety and a no-nonsense sensuality that is at once sexual and votive. MO II (2013), is a violet and blue bullet-shaped mound, encrusted like a tree trunk, whose surface is small increments of rounded or rough shapes as infinitely variable haptically as the form is direct and singular visually. This sculpture is made from clay accumulated into a shape—fixed by firing in a kiln. It is, like the other pieces by Amorós, a fantastic work.
Technically distant from these sculptures are the photographic hybrid views of hypothetical natural parks by José Ramón Ais (b. 1971, Bilbao). Trained both in sculpture and garden design, Ais creates landscapes of enormous imaginative scale without leaving straying beyond the confines of a well-tended, domestic garden. Moving inwards towards a more micro perspective, Jerónimo Hagerman (b. 1967, Mexico City) photographs lichens up close, and the details of their variety of growth throw our associations with aerial views. It is disorienting, the micro/macro divide, fluid, and again challenging, though this time through scale rather than montage, in a provocation to locate “nature.” Jóse Díaz (b. 1981, Madrid) and Jan Monclús (b. 1987, Lleida) both contribute paintings to the exhibition. They are each opposite poles of possibility for representing nature: Díaz the process-based gestural mode, analogous to nature’s events, and Monclús a cartoon-like simplified view.
In such a succinct exhibition, Montornés has achieved complexity and depth with nothing sacrificed to an over arching theme. In fact, the exhibition seems to generate itself in that each work, not only individually, but also when in a dialogue with each other, evokes more than the show’s initial idea. Rather than fitting artists into a curatorial strategy, this exhibition was a two-way street, where idea and knowledge of individual artists’ work happily coincided. And the exhibition is nonetheless rigorous for this.