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Issue 221

David Bestué's Ode to Preservation and Decay

At Centre d’Art La Panera, Lleida, the artist reflects on our changing relationship to the land through sculptures that disintegrate over time

BY Max Andrews in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 12 MAY 21

‘Pastoral’, the title of David Bestué’s exhibition at Centre d’Art La Panera in Lleida, is intended as somewhat ironic. Although it may seem idyllic, the countryside around the city has a history of distress: not only was it the scene of some of the most brutal episodes of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), but intensive farming and irrigation, especially for fruit cultivation, has also steadily industrialized its steppeland in recent decades. Like the derelict buildings that pockmark Lleida’s urban fabric, Bestué’s exhibition summons a terrain that is barely held together, on the verge of becoming undone.

Pomes, xiprer, barca, barranc (Apples, Cypress, Boat, Ravine, all works 2021) is composed of a row of seven identical forms that recall the outfalls of concrete water channels, whose mouths are aligned as if agog for a solstice. Made from the shredded and compacted materials of the work’s title – desiccated fruit, umber gulley earth, an entire wooden river boat that has been pulverized to form two slabs, and a ground-up fallen tree that comprises three – the sculpture is deliberately friable and will disintegrate during the exhibition. Ultimately, the substances will be returned to the nearby weather-beaten landscape from which they came. Bestué seems to ask why sculpture should maintain its pretence of timeless durability in an environment that continuously refutes it. Why do we insist on conserving things that are inexorably falling apart? Two anonymous pieces of stonework lent by the city museum – a fragment of a 14th-century carved dossal from a ruined church and a recumbent, rough-hewn, Roman-era milestone – reformulate such questions. The latter lies alongside Bestué’s Pomes de Seu Vella (Seu Vella Apples), a metal pedestal supporting a cast-wax apple compounded with dust from Lleida’s monumental cathedral – a syncretic sculptural poem to preservation and decay.

David Bestué, Pastoral, installation view, Centre d’Art La Panera, Lleida, 2021. Courtesy: the artist and Centre d’Art La Panera, Lleida

In the exhibition, materials become more like ingredients, the making of sculpture akin to an unwritten recipe. A loop of rope hanging on a wall is formed from pulverised bay leaves and dried onions (Corda de llorer i ceba, Bay and Onion Rope). A chest freezer contains melon-sized balls of frozen water from the River Segre, which flows down from the Pyrenees to divide Lleida in two (Boles de riu, River Balls).

Bestué addresses a directness that has been lost in our relationship with the land not only through industrialization but as a result of the proliferation of images, which can prevent direct lived experience. The two unique promotional posters the artist produced for ‘Pastoral’, Palla (Straw) and Roses i fum (Roses and Smoke) – made in collaboration with a master papermaker and displayed on advertising stands in the city – encapsulate this: instead of using a photograph, the artist incorporated dried grain stalks in one poster and a beguiling blend of petals and ash in another to embody rather than represent the exhibition and its seasonal topographies.

Anonymous stone sculpture, c.1375, 120 × 100 × 53 cm. Courtesy: Museu de Lleida

In a YouTube live conversation with the exhibition’s curator, Marc Navarro, Bestué discussed how his focus on perishability and preservation connected not only to terrain and climate but to ways of conceiving temporality. For the artist, time is denoted by two rooms in his late grandmother’s house in a village in the nearby province of Huesca: the larder and the attic, with the former representing a constantly replenished space for fresh provisions in a continuous present, and the latter a deposit of bygone things and the old memories yoked to them. ‘Pastoral’ attempts an exchange: to conserve, a least temporarily, the vitality of the here and now, while letting go of the representation of the historical past. Bestué approaches his art as a sort of heuristic alchemy that seeks to re-enchant, distilling matter and memory with an extraordinary sense of humility.

David Bestué‘Pastoral’ is on view at Centre d’Art La Panera, Lleida, until 6 June 2021.

Main image: Pomes, xiprer, barca, barranc, (Apples, Cypress, Boat, Ravine, 2021), desiccated fruit, wood and earth, 110 x 40 cm eachCourtesy: the artist and Centre d’Art La Panera, Lleida

Thumbnail: Taula, fruiter i pomes (Table, Fruit and Apples), desiccated fruit and wood, 120 x 100 x 51cm. Courtesy: the artist and Centre d’Art La Panera, Lleida

Max Andrews is a writer, curator and co-founder of Latitudes, Barcelona, Spain.