Vestigios Invisibles

30 May 2014

31 August 2014


The exhibition Vestigios invisibles (Invisible Traces) presents photographs by Mark Adams, Ana Teresa Ortega, Xavier Ribas, Ann Shelton and Vicente Tirado which record territories that were once the scene of events of which they are no visible traces left to photograph. These images ask us to rethink the representation of landscape and its memory.

For its theoretical framework the exhibition returns to the notion of late photography as expounded by David Campany, who defines it as follows: “These images appear to us as particularly static, often sombre and quite ‘straight’ kinds of pictures. They assume an aesthetic of utility closer to forensic photography than traditional photojournalism.” In Campany’s view, this type of photography is the trace of a trace and “a kind of photograph that foregoes the representation of events in progress and so cedes them to other media,” taking on the role of the “undertaker, summariser or accountant.” Contrary to the notion of the decisive moment introduced by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1952, late photography “turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened, totting up the effects of the world’s activity.”

The work of the photographer from New Zealand Mark Adams engages with the contested narratives of the colonial history of the Maoris (New Zealand’s indigenous people) although his photographs do not explicitly reveal anything of the stories they reference. In his series Heke ki Te Ao Marama, Adams retraces the steps of the historical 1877 protest march led by the Maori leader and prophet Te Maiharoa and portrays the places it went through, the ancient land of their Rohe (district) in the South Island occupied by the colonial troops of the English crown.

Similarly, Ana Teresa Ortega’s new project about prisons conditioned specifically for women during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship which ensued—a sequel to her Cartografías silenciadas suite—is a record of the specific buildings and locations where events took place that photographs cannot capture directly, instead simply containing them. And even though these spaces, some of them in still existing listed buildings, others in constructions that have since vanished or been replaced by new buildings, do not in themselves reveal anything of their tragic past, they are an expression of their memory, of what took place within their walls.

In his recent work Xavier Ribas uses photography together with archive and testimonial material to reconstruct, albeit fragmentarily, the historical connection between a small provincial museum—the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Vicente Aguilera Cerni, in Vilafamés, a small town near Castellon—and the political revolution in Chile in the early 1970s led by the Unidad Popular government, and he does so starting out from an interview with the Chilean president Salvador Allende recorded in 1972 of which all traces have been lost.

In the series in a forest, which Ann Shelton started in 2005, the artist portrays oak trees presented, according to urban myth by Hitler himself, as seedlings to gold medal winners at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Shelton explores the stories and uncertain whereabouts of these trees, a lingering trace of Nazi Germany, some of which still exist while others have already disappeared. From a Spanish perspective, one ought to bear in mind that Berlin’s candidacy to host that year’s Olympics won out against Barcelona. Later, in protest against the organisation of the Olympics in Nazi Germany, Barcelona organised the People’s Olympiad, which, notwithstanding the positive response and the considerable number of athletes from countries opposed to Nazism who enlisted to take part in it, some of whom had already arrived in the city, was cancelled at the last moment due to the outbreak of the Civil War.

The series Tumulus by Vicente Tirado laconically puts together a compendium of different mounds that appeared around the outskirts of Castellon during the peak of the real estate boom just prior to the economic downturn. Piled up by diggers, these mounds of branches, trunks, waste, soil or bricks which Tirado captures in his photographs are a vestige of what that landscape once was and at the same time an indication of what the place is destined to become.

Devoid of any human component or the traumatic or sensitive content referenced in these landscapes, the images by these artists invite us to thoughtfully