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Issue 167

David Ferrando Giraut

LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial, Gijón, Spain

BY Lorena Muñoz-Alonso in Reviews | 30 OCT 14

David Ferrando Giraut, Speech Prosthesis (An Alchemical Conversation), 2014, installation view at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial

‘In the end, there is no control of the unconstitutionality or irrationality of the law beyond the ballot boxes or social movements’, says a voice-over at the start of Speech Prosthesis (an Alchemical Conversation) (2014), the latest work by Spanish artist David Ferrando Giraut, which was staged as a solo show at LABoral. The four-channel video installation explores how irrationality, triggered by greed and fear, runs rife in current processes of political decision-making.

Ferrando Giraut’s ‘case study’ is the Spanish government’s controversial revision of the energy laws last year, which resulted in penalizing the renewable-energies sector, whereas only a year earlier it had been incentivized. Ferrando Giraut’s immersive work was shaped as a conversation between the four natural elements – wind, water, earth and fire – which assumed several guises across the different components of the installation: as voices, as colours, as objects and as sounds. Each channel of the video featured a specific background colour (yellow, blue, green or red) and two digitally animated, rotating objects, each signifying the ways in which human beings have harnessed these natural elements throughout history. Earth, for example, was represented by three prehistoric stones and a hydraulic hammer; water by a Greek amphora and a water cooler. Wind took the form of bellows and an artificial-respiration machine. Finally, fire was embodied by a tinderbox and a camping stove. The use of this genealogical set of objects is a recurrent strategy in the recent work of the London-based artist, one that allows him to impress upon the viewer the sense of a historical continuum, which he sees as having been supplanted by the rhetoric of rupture, of relentless ‘life-changing technological revolutions.

In front of the panoramic widescreen projection at LABoral, four speakers, in the triangular forms of the alchemical symbols of the four elements, were placed on top of metallic poles. The speakers were positioned in a square formation, creating a space that you had to enter in order to hear the different parts of the quadraphonic soundtrack. The audio featured fragments from interviews that Ferrando Giraut had conducted with a local group of experts, including an environmental activist, a lawyer, an economist, a geologist, a climate-change specialist and a philosopher of science. In a clear nod to Bruno Latour’s concept of the ‘Parliament of Things’ – a rejection of Modernity’s dualistic distinction between nature and society, which was first mentioned in his oft-quoted book We Have Never Been Modern (1991) – the artist employed the experts’ testimonies as if to give a voice to the objects. These voice-overs offered varied insights into the energy problem in Spain, emphasizing not only the political and economic motivations behind the recent revision of government energy legislation, but also the impact that traditional methods of energy extraction are having on the environment.

Despite the local nature of its source material, Speech Prosthesis tackles universal issues, particularly the widely discussed question of whether to endorse ‘Anthropocene’, a recently popularized term coined to designate a new geological era marked by the deep transformations caused by humankind. But it is the work’s critique of the irrationalism of much contemporary politics – expressed mainly through the experts’ voice-overs – that makes this piece so timely.

While it clearly belongs to the tradition of research-based art, Speech Prosthesis doesn’t avoid formal experimentation. Crucially, and despite the seriousness of its claims, it’s a sensuous and enthralling work. The objects mentioned above rotate mid-air on the screens for the duration of the piece (24 minutes) and the voices – carefully treated with sound effects that evoke the four elements – become haunting cyphers for our mistreated ecosystem: they’re like voices of conscience that stubbornly emerge from near-obliteration. Ferrando Giraut’s installation is not just an illustration of a critical creed or a documentary-style piece about a political situation, it endeavours to tell us about something we might already know, but in a way that we’ve never been told it before.

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso is a writer and editor based in London, UK.