Exhibition at the Neue Gallery (Austria)

Exhibition at the Neue Gallery (Austria)

03.04.2014 – 17.05.2014

Fernando Sánchez Castillo, FLO 6×8, Núria Güell, Adrian Mélis, TAF! – Enmedio

curated by Karin Jaschke

In recent years, the European economic crisis has not just affected Greece, but also Spain to a huge degree. Taking the concrete social and political context of Spain as a starting point, the artists of this exhibition titled Activacioneshave addressed the current social situation in their own unique ways. The effects of the crisis, protest, and mobilization in a world that is rapidly becoming precarious are the themes addressed by these works. The exhibition shows the positions of five artists and artist collectives, all of a younger generation.

The economic problems of the country didn’t just impact the labor market, they also triggered numerous cuts to social services that have had an effect on education, health, and overall society, as well as on cultural centers and art institutions. Protests against these indicators of the crisis, which have been felt increasingly within the last three years (since the 15M 2011 movement), are initiated by various sectors of the population. Specific artistic practices tie into these protests, some of which themselves effect the movement, even intervening directly, with the goal of creating dissent and galvanizing the public. Conceptual approaches, research, and documentation create additional artistic methods that are in turn seized upon by the artists.

In addition to vehement criticism of the actions of the banks, the focus of several of the exhibited works seen tackles the issue of eviction. In recent years, tens of thousands of apartments and houses in Spain have been forcibly evacuated because a rising number of families are not able to make payments on their mortgage. The subsequent return of the apartment to the bank doesn’t cover the entire sum of the debt, since the property is generally auctioned off well below the purchase price. Paradoxically, ever since the real estate bubble has burst, countless apartments now stand empty. Since social protest began, numerous successful blockades against these evictions have taken place, initiated by the neighbors of those affected or by members of the Coalition against Forced Eviction.

The media art collective Enmedio (Barcelona) intervened as part of the TAF! – Taller de Acción Fotográfica [Photographic Action Workshop] in public space in Barcelona and other cities. With campaigns such as No somos números [We Are Not Numbers] in 2012, carried out together with the photographers and activists of the Platform against Eviction [PAH – Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca], Enmedio addresses the issue of forced evictions, something that is becoming an increasingly widespread phenomenon in Spain in recent years. As part of the campaign, portraits of evicted persons are posted in public places and bank façades, thus giving them a public presence. Postcard campaigns supporting specific cases are aimed directly at the banks named as being responsible for these people’s situation.

Núria Güell’s works are characterized by subversive intervention. For her project Intervención #1 (2012), she created a legal framework for her activities by founding a cooperative. Through this cooperative, the artist contracted an unemployed worker, himself previously evicted, to unlock an apartment door, documenting the process on video.

Like so many others, this apartment stood empty after it, and the entire building, was bought by the Bank Caja Mediterráneo and all occupants forcibly evicted. The door is not only the sculptural focus of her installation, it also fulfills a purpose beyond the exhibition context – now that the entrance door has been removed, former occupants can once again legally use their apartments.

Through song and dance, FLO 6×8 create art with the immediate presence of their bodies. They call themselves the “colectivo activista-artístico-situacionista-performático-folklórico-no violento”, or the “activist-artistic-situationist-performative-folkloric-nonviolent collective”. Their turbulent interventions hark back to the traditions of flamenco, singing of pain and oppression. FLO 6×8 performs activist dance performances in front of financial institutions and in bank lobbies to protest the financial system and to “draw attention to the accountability banks have for the rampant pillaging and blatant instigation of the economic crisis.” The song titles are indicative of the name-calling and irony of the interventions, which directly involve the bank customers.

An important aspect of the performance is the publication of the performance videos on the internet via YouTube, circulating and making them publicly available.

Artist Adrian Mélis shows photographs from his Puntos de reposición (2013) series, taken in different Spanish cities. The photos show the freshly painted walls of buildings. These are places where graffiti with popular political and social protest slogans such as “Esto no es una crisis, es una estafa” [This is not a crisis, it’s a scam] has been painted over. Underneath the photos, the artist reproduces the slogans as subtitles, thus decoding the initially inconspicuous images. Shot with an impartial eye, these quiet photographs counter the stirring graffiti slogans, which retain their underlying presence despite being covered with a layer of paint.

In his Pegasus Dance video (2007), Fernando Sánchez Castillo overturns the usual use of an instrument of repression by engaging two water cannons in a dance-like choreography. The video was filmed at Rotterdam Harbor with the assistance of the Dutch military. In a poetic inversion of the actual intent of these vehicles, to subdue protest, one sees them here in a romantic dance to the sounds of a waltz. The actual function of the water guns is satirically twisted in a musical, burlesque-like show as they glide across the asphalt like graceful animals.

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