Photos: Eva Carasol.

Things Things Say

Fabra i Coats: Contemporary Art Centre of Barcelona, 17 October 2020–17 January 2021

An exhibition with works by: Adrià Julià (1974, lives in Barcelona and Bergen), Annette Kelm (1975, lives in Berlin), James N. Kienitz Wilkins (1983, lives in New York), Sarah Ortmeyer (1980, lives in Frankfurt), Eulàlia Rovira (1985, lives in Barcelona), Francesc Serra i Dimas (1877–1967, Barcelona), Stuart Whipps (1979, lives in Birmingham), Haegue Yang (1971, lives in Berlin and Seoul), as well as meaningful things from the Friends of Fabra i Coats archive.

Do you trust things to write human history? Do things’ lives matter? Do you really think that if you stare at something long enough, it will reveal its secrets? ‘Things Things Say’ springs from the past of Fabra i Coats—an industrial complex dedicated for over 100 years to the manufacturing of cotton thread. Taking on the genre of the ‘it-narrative’ in 18th century English literature—as well as the approaches of object journalism and microhistory—the exhibition tacks back-and-forth between exceptionally normal things and the extraordinary global narratives of labour, obsolescence, and the industrialisation of nature, that they trigger.

‘The Kipper and the Corpse’ (2004–ongoing) by Stuart Whipps centres on a restored British Leyland Mini from 1979, and the demise of the Longbridge car factory in Birmingham, UK, which closed in 2005 – the same year Fabra i Coats closed. Haegue Yang’s ‘VIP’s Union’ (2001–2020) consists of a gathering of furniture on loan from very important people: prominent figures from local society, including a retired factory worker and a notable Catalan politician.

James N. Kienitz Wilkins presents ‘This Action Lies’ (2018), a film that focuses intensely on a single white foam coffee cup from Dunkin’ Donuts, while Sarah Ortmeyer’s ‘SABOTAGE’ (2009), a field of broken wooden shoes, alludes to a precursor of the “go-slow” strike used as an employee tactic in modern industrial conflicts. Clogs also feature in an anonymous photograph of workers at the Fabra i Coats from around 1932. The master key to the factory hangs alongside it, a loan from the Friends of Fabra i Coats.

Adrià Julià's film ‘Popcorn’ (2012) is a kind of American horror movie in which industrial violence and cultural supremacy lies behind an apparently benign snack food. Annette Kelm’s photographs in the exhibition look at the legacy of the lilac-coloured overalls that became an emblem and uniform for a new wave of feminists in mid-1970s West Germany.

In the 1930s, the self-taught photographer and lithographer Francesc Serra i Dimas worked on the photography and visual communication of the products made at Fabra i Coats, taking pictures of thread wound or formed into spools, balls, tubes, or hanks.

Created during the course of the exhibition,
Eulàlia Rovira's video ‘A Knot Which is Not’ (2020–2021) premiered online when the exhibition ended and the gallery spaces were once again empty. Putting a new spin on the stories of the Fabra i Coats textile factory and the objects found there, the video weaves with the words that our hands seem to have stopped recognising.

Fabra i Coats factory was formed through the first merger between a Catalan company and a foreign multinational, and was the first in Spain to offer its workers paid holidays. In the setting of the bygone site of production, the works in the exhibition introduce a perspective on how the modern world has been shaped through complex and contentious relationships between humans and the web of life. ‘Things Things Say’, together with the exhibition ‘4.543 billion. The Matter of Matter’ (CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, 2017–18) have been conceived as a diptych: two folds with the same hinge between deep time and microhistory, natural history and the history of capitalism.

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