Longitudes

Max Andrews' review of Julia Montilla's exhibition 'El "cuadro" de la "calleja"', Espai 13, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona

Below Max Andrews' review of Julia Montilla's exhibition, 'El "cuadro" de la "calleja"', presented between February and April 2013 at the Espai 13 of the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. Text was first published in the Issue 156 of frieze.
View of the exhibition at Espai 13. Courtesy of the artist and Fundació Miró.

Julia Montilla’s exhibition documented a minor miracle: between 1961 and 1965, in the tiny Cantabrian village of Garabandal, four young girls allegedly received repeated supernatural visitations from the Virgin Mary and were entrusted with her prophesies. However, the so-called Garabandal apparitions are not recognized by the Vatican, though they continue to be championed by a sprawling network of international enthusiasts. Montilla documented the visions – or, rather, documented their documentation – stressing how the beholding of physical testimony can access a vast surplus of politics and patriarchy, belief and body language.

Montilla was not primarily concerned with debunking the girls’ visionary experiences. Instead, the exhibition’s four annotated display cases (La construcción de una aparición, The Construction of an Apparition, all works 2012–13) – containing books, magazines, proselytising pamphlets, religious journals, collectors’ postcards, slide-lecture packs sold by ‘Garabandalist’ organizations, and so on – contextualized them with a forensic attention to how they were produced and publicized through photography. The girls’ theophanies and trances could be understood, it was proposed, as site-specific performances in a post-Lourdes tradition of remote ‘scheduled apparitions’. A monitor looped a 1971 television documentary, while an overhead projector beamed a 1994 newspaper article reporting that Hollywood were set to dramatize the autobiography of Conchita, the most precocious of the ‘seers’ (three of whom left Spain for the US in the 1970s) and that Luciano Pavarotti would sing the theme. Two slideshows entitled Soportes vivientes para la fabricación de un mito (Living Supports for the Fabrication of a Myth) were accompanied by Montilla’s commentary and, along with Garabandalistas, a new publication edited by the artist, compiled dozens of archival shots of the girls’ ecstatic night-time walks, taken by various amateur and professional photographers. Staring fixedly up into the beyond, offering crucifixes and rosaries, conversing with the divine, or open-mouthed to receive invisible communion, the girls are portrayed clasping their hands together or individually writhing on the ground, stupefied by Marian divinity, and all the while seemingly oblivious to the crowds, microphones and lenses around them.

 View of the exhibition at Espai 13. Courtesy of the artist and Fundació Miró. 
 
Tracking the emergence of ‘trance photography’ as a cult genre, Montilla considered how the documentary materials themselves have acquired venerated status as certificates of veracity. The quirk that some of the projected archival images had been noticeably pixelated in their to-and-fro from print to analogue display seemed like a confession of sorts, of Montilla’s own evident hand in their ongoing dramaturgy, here in an artistic context.

In the visionary events’ shift of emphasis from the small street where the first apparition was said to have appeared, to embrace the ‘epiphanic landscape’ and pious tourism throughout the entire context of the village, Montilla’s voice-over and captions proposed how the performances conformed to the expectations of naive and spiritually pure rural life, where hoax or conspiracy would be unthinkable. Through astute bibliographic research and juxtaposition of source materials with commentary, the apparitions’ enthusiastic casting as an apocalyptic warning was shown in its entanglement with the Franco dictatorship’s demonization of Communism and the left. Furthermore, as a sign that Spain’s peasantry had been chosen as spokespeople of God without the middlemen, Montilla articulated how the folkloric fervour of the apparitions’ thronged crescendo in 1965 would have spurned the concurrent doctrinal reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

From "Soportes vivientes para la fabricación de un mito" (2013). Courtesy of the artist.
 
Yet, Montilla’s bravest and most calibrated area of enquiry intimated how the moving imagery of the girls’ rapture established a legendary motif for the performing or occupied female body as an index of radical obedience, even to the extent of self-harm. Correspondingly, the two screens of El contagio visionario (The Visionary Contagion) and Ídolos y ídolitos (Idols and Lesser Idols) showed fragments of a 1961 film of the entranced girls alongside a video shot by the artist in Garabandal in 2012, showing a muttering woman devotee supposedly in a trance herself. In urging feminist questions about Garabandalism seemingly as a form of infectious hysteria, Montilla echoes Elaine Showalter’s 1997 study Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture in which alien abduction and – more controversially among other case studies – Gulf War syndrome, are interpreted as fictional epidemics propagated through support groups, popular magazines, talk shows and the Internet. Whether the seers and believers of the apparitions reflect extreme symptoms of cultural anxieties and traumas, as Showalter would argue, or represent exultant communiqués from the Blessed Virgin, Montilla carefully beseeches that we must still pay attention to what they continue to tell us. 

– Max Andrews

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Gone with the wind: on the 'art crunch' and the Centre d'Art de Barcelona, the saga continues...




Happy Christmas.

The dark cloud looming over the art world in recent months is how the worldwide economic recession is going to hit. We've already seen some of its consequences (from the dire situation of MoCA LA's finances to the apparent 'return to painting' in the art market), but what about daily practicalities? How is the lack of cash flow or
collapse of the British pound, for instance, going to affect programming in art centres and museums? Is waning support for new productions, residencies, research and travel obvious already?

In the Nov–Dec. Frieze, Dan Fox wrote around the last recession in the 1990s, when "
newspapers and television talked about art rather than the art market and how dynamic or corrupt it might be" and when there were "fewer of everything: fewer artists, curators, galleries, magazines, art consultants, private foundations." As Fox states, the credit crunch is also a "content crunch". Having exchanged "crunchy" opinions with a few artists and curators recently, one senses that the relentless rhythm of e-fluxes and the like, and the constant proliferation of and aspiration to travel to and from biennials/triennials/quadrennials, art fairs, symposiums, gala dinners, discussion platforms, art auctions, etc. are feeling increasingly, well, just too much. Maybe a downsizing will have its benefits?


Bringing in some examples close to home, one wonders how are the many Spanish museums that have appeared in the last decade facing up to the new economic year. In Catalunya alone, there has been a flourishing of art centres (Lleida, Granollers, Girona (with temporary venues)), and soon there will be further venues in Vic and Tarragona. On the other side of the coin, in Barcelona already a few key art spaces, which offered invaluable support for new commissions, have already 'gone with the wind' and there is a clear lack of infrastructure and of competitive study programmes (La Vanguardia, 30/11/08). Sala Montcada, for instance, has gone. Operating since 1981, it has just had its two final seasons at Caixaforum after much revolt within the artistic community when, in 2005, 'La Caixa' foundation announced its closure and then stayed its execution – at least until now.
After two lacklustre seasons with works produced by Le Fresnoy, Espai 13 in Fundació Miró, began to show signs of life again last October with a programme curated by Jorge Díez. But most notably there was the sudden closure (or 'reconversion'/new orientation in the words of the politicians) of the Centre d'Art Santa Mònica (CASM), whose programme limps on until early 2009. The pre-Christmas news (El País, 10.12.08) was that the announcement of the new venue for the long-awaited replacement kunsthalle space (renamed as Centre d'Art de Barcelona - see post 17.07.08) will be located in a 1,200m2 space in the newly-opened 'Imagina' building. Built in the former site of a textile factory, Ca l'Aranyó in the new-technology branded district called [email protected], east of the city, the site is near the future Disseny Hub Barcelona, the Auditori, the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, and Hangar, Barcelona's only surviving production and residency centre, in Poblenou. According to councillor Joan Manuel Tresseras, the new art centre will be a joint force of the Ajuntament de Barcelona (Barcelona City Council) and the Conselleria de Cultura (Art Department of the Catalan Government). But, two days later the Ajuntament said they knew nothing about this new venture (El País, 12.12.08) becoming clear that Tresseras wanted to close the 'open wound' that began with the 'reconversion' of CASM, before its new director, Vicenç Altaió, announces the new exhibition programme.

Dejà vu? How can Tresseras insist on providing a transparent procedure of selection for a new director for the art centre, when there is a clear and alarming lack of transparency, dialogue and set of priorities amongst the cultural agents operating within the same city? How can an independent management and operational funding be secured to attract a competitive bunch of professionals to apply following an open-call selection process? Ideally it should also establish an open call not only for its head figure, but for its whole team, from organisers to restaurant caterers. Find the best, by offering the best.

Founded in 2005 by Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna, Latitudes is a curatorial office based in Barcelona, Spain, that works internationally across contemporary art practices.

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