BY Joseph Jackson in Reviews | 06 SEP 94
Featured in
Issue 18

Ideas ans Attitudes Catalonia Incognito

BY Joseph Jackson in Reviews | 06 SEP 94

Between the first showing of 'Ideas and Attitudes' in Barcelona in 1992 and the present exhibition at Manchester's Cornerhouse there have been several shifts. Primarily, a geographical shift: in Barcelona, Catalunya is the name of their own historic, semi-autonomous region; in Manchester, Catalonia is an evocative but composite image of civil war, anarchism, individualistic football skills and Mediterranean holidays. There is also a contextual shift: 'Ideas and Attitudes' is now paired with an exhibition of contemporary Catalan work, provoking comparisons and genealogical speculations. There is, too, a shift of emphasis: the Manchester exhibition concentrates on the period 1970-75, underlining for a foreign audience the relation of the works to Franco, who died in 1975. These works are responses: responses, for instance, to Catalan society and to the wider, seemingly more glamourous, outside world. Carles Pazos, who casts himself as a Hollywood matinée idol in I'm Going to Make Myself a Star (1976), is straightforwardly escapist. The shock, here, is that escapism can be political.

Indeed, these works are often, if sometimes obliquely, political responses. Francesc Torres' Almost Like Sleeping (1975), which contrasts stills of Franco with the artist's bitten fingernails, is particularly powerful. As responses, these works are improvised, fleeting suggestions. Pere Noguera camouflages his photographic repetitions. They resemble dated, re-tinted photographs that can blend easily among other photographs of the family, the Madonna or the Generalissimo on the wall of a conservative, Opus Dei-supporting, Aunty. Other works are so patently disassembled, they seem to be barely there. In Benet Rossell's glasses of Calvados, the traditional sugar cube is replaced with a resin cube: smuggled inside the resin are fingerprints or photographs.

Because the majority of the works are readymades, comprising consumer items, they are peculiarly difficult to read when shown out of context. Are they looking back, to Spanish Surrealism? Are they looking outwards, to Pop Art, Internationalism and America? The problem is compounded because these consumer objects, although bought in the 70s, are so uncommercial they could have been designed a half century earlier. Franco's Spain was never opposed to capitalism, it was simply economically inept. As a result, consumer capitalism was neither a dream nor a problem for these artists. This becomes clear in Put a Warhol in Your Life (1973), again by Carles Pazos. The work, which is composed of Coca-Cola bottle-shaped sweets, manages to turn the prime symbol of consumer capitalism into a piece of folksy handicraft.

Capitalism, as economists of the left and right insist, has a logic. Outside of Spain, the world long ago accepted that the political formulation of problems must give way to economic formulations. A country that has never dreamt of an underlying economic rationality is left with a neo-medieval world of mad rulers, prophets and lunatic religions: exactly as Franco's Spain had become. 'Ideas and Attitudes' reacts to this neo-medieval world, but also to something else: the political image which the State needs to camouflage its lunacy. Fascism is derived from a political image - the fascio or bundle of twigs bound around an axe-shaft that symbolised Roman jurisprudence. These artists deal with political images by erasing or disguising them, and this becomes their dissenting response to a political abomination.

The contemporary work of 'Catalonia Incognito' is never as flaky as many of the pieces in 'Ideas and Attitudes' - the work is practically martyred to good taste. False Door (1991-92), a sculpture by Torres Monsó, exhibits the playful attitude towards classical geometry and the interplay of false surfaces that have become the hallmarks of Deconstruction. Unlike pure Conceptual Art, Deconstruction affirms the impossibility of producing an uninfected artwork. It is not simply that the spectator will tend to create unintended relations between disparate objects but, crucially, that even the most self-contained artwork will always carry traces of unvoiced relations to things outside itself - and must do, if it is to broadcast the fact that it is a closed piece. In short, deconstruction draws attention to necessary paradoxes and aporias. As a style, it has become the new European good taste because it brings up problems as 'niceties' that require an attitude of urbane whimsicality. In contrast, the anarchic indifference to questions of Theory in 'Ideas and Attitudes' reflects a harder, more radical edge.