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Observations on a New Life in Spain

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Conceptual Art in Barcelona

29 December, 2015 (12:02) | Living in Europe | By: admin

Once Elia returned from Santander, she had a lot of writing to do. She totally made herself at home in Gracia, using the extra computer work station, she figured out how to play Pandora Radio through the wireless speakers. But despite her intention to throw herself into her Santander project, she found herself in a fun flirtation with our artist friend, Federico Mañanes, (aka Fede) who she met in Gracia.


After familiarizing himself with Elia’s work online, Fede understood that not only does she possess sexy curves and a winning personality,  but she is a world known artist (in the performance art milieu).  So he asked her to come up with an impromptu performance for his solo art show on the following evening at a nearby gallery.

“You’re great,” he told Elia, “Let’s do something together. I have an opening tomorrow night and I’d love you to improvise a short performance for the occasion,” while batting his long eyelashes.

Elia loves fun projects, and she took a liking to Fede, so she came up with an idea on the spot and asked him to bring her a giant cheap canvas or something that would work as one, plus some water based paint and a paint brush or two. Of course she  pulled me into the performance as well.

This is what we came up with. In my opinion the rehearsal is hilarious, much more so than the live performance the following night, but that was fun as well, though the crowd didn’t know how to react, heh heh heh. In the actual performance Federico would paint the walking canvass as it walked through the space, while I filmed it on my iPhone. Silly fun!

Elia is the type of artist that is always working on or researching a project. Its her life. Her work is very daring. For relaxation she likes to go see what other artists related to her field are doing because it stimulates ideas.

She wanted to go to a couple conceptual art galleries that had the work of one of at her friends, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who has become well known since she last saw and worked with him.

I realized how refreshing it is to have a girlfriend here in Barcelona that wants to go to get to know what’s going on in the art world. Although I don’t seek it out on my own, I enjoy conceptual art when its clever or unusual or comes together to make an effective statement. But with only a couple weeks left before she returned to Costa Rica, I also wanted her to come spend some time at our new beach digs.  So we made a plan to go to one gallery, spend a couple nights at my beach, and then visit another gallery afterwards.

Conceptual Art in Barcelona
The Design Hub Museum in Barcelona
(Museu del Diseseny de Barcelona )
IMG_2690Fora de Lloc  entranceAlthough the Design Hub is not easy to access unless you arrive by metro or know your bus lines, its well worth the visit. For this show, Titled Fora de Lloc (translates to “Out of Place”) we enter through this “remembrance of a door”, an impressive installation, leading past a gold covered human body, which is more impressive in person than in the above iPhone snapshot. Her friend Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s installation of 25 modified padlocks which can be interconnected to create assemblages or chains was one of my less favorite works, although I understand its concept. At first this piece was one of the what I call “lazy” contributions, where the intellectual idea is possibly more interesting than the piece itself. I could say the same about the hanging sculpture next to it of a hat meant to be worn by 3 persons instead of one, but I love the whimsy of it. But despite my original perceptions, the  combined images of those two pieces started to work on me.  The curator (and former Philosophy major) Rosa Pera did a good job of establishing the theme as we enter an oblong hall which eventually fans out.

Hub Disseny BcnIMG_2675

The big hall is busy with the work of scores of artists, architects, sculptors, multi-media artists.

IMG_2678Fora de Lloc 3

What I enjoy about conceptual art is when a piece actually gets me to think outside the box. Although only a few individual pieces moved me to new thoughts, the total effect of the works of 40 artists all with the theme of displacement stirred me to an interesting inner dialogue about my personal feelings of being out of place, not just here in Barcelona or back in New Zealand when I lived there, but even where I was born, in Hollywood, where I felt like an outsider for most of my childhood. Elia and I (and my dog Quixote) spent a couple hours there, taking it all in.


1 – My dog adds an “out of place” element to our experience, for dogs are unwelcome. He hides quietly in my red bag while I literally drag him around 2- To turn on this light you have to pull on the noose.

Rather than go on extensively about the content of this thought provoking exhibit, I share the  official video:

Some of the entries were disappointing, and reminded me of work I myself did over 30 years ago. Others provoked interesting thoughts, which means the exhibit as a whole is doing its job.

Elia made it a point to meet the very approachable and friendly curator, Rosa Pera.

Elia near friend's exhibitELia and Rosa

Its not my intention to write a long-winded art critique, I am just sharing this experience because there is always something interesting going on at The Design Hub in Barcelona.

After this, Elia and I kicked around my beach pad a few days, swimming, laughing, watching people, exchanging deep thoughts and observations. Its interesting; the effect of being surrounded by so many tourists, beach goers and vendors is one of perceived anonymity. We were able to discus some of our deepest personal thoughts in this environment, with no fear of anyone trying to listen in. I may someday dedicate an entire blog post to this phenomena of anonymity in big, happy crowds, and combine it with a series of chance conversations with strangers I meet while swimming in the sea.

After our  few days dedicated to fun beach relaxation we set out for The Blue Project Foundation, another Conceptual Art Gallery which also showed a work by her friend and former collaborator, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. This small gallery is in the El Borne neighborhood, walking distance from my beach pad.

The Blue Project Foundation

The show we saw was called “Little is left to tell (Calvino after Calvino),”  with 12 works, grouped in pairs representing an eclectic group of conceptual artists who analyze each of the predictions Italian writer and philosopher Italo Calvino advanced in his posthumous book, Six Memos for the Next Millennium. The artists were asked to represent the themes he put forth; visibility, quickness, lightness, exactitude, multiplicity and consistency.

For me this small exhibit was more of a photo op than an intellectually stimulating one. It was the usual combo of a few clever works, and a few lazy ones, neither artistic nor conceptual enough for my tastes.



“Simply Red” by Daniel Firman was one of my favorites, with the Calvino theme of multiplicity. The artist explains, “I always think building as a sculpture/image that escapes from its original form, particularly in the works that are based on the principle of accumulation or agglomeration,” which is a bit wordy considering how this sculpture of plastic, clothes and objects speaks for itself. I found this piece to be aesthetically satisfying. Also, it makes for the perfect selfie backdrop, heh heh heh.

Elia’s friend Rafael Lozano-Hemmer had one of the more interesting installations, titled 33 Questions Per Minute. on the theme “quickness”

Blue Project FOundationIMG_2710

The computer program uses grammatical rules to combine words from the dictionary and automatically generate 55 billion random questions at a speed of 33 per minute. The program has been programmed to avoid repeating the same question and will take over 3000 years to present all the possible word combinations. The viewer is asked to type in a question, and if its not one that’s already been asked, it will display in the little green read-out displayed here. Elia typed in her classic question, “Does Love Exist?”  Apparently no one had asked that specific question before.

IMG_2705 Another hangman installation, on the theme of “lightness” was called “Second Chance” by Elmgreen & Dragset. It has a rope covered with bronze. I’m impressed by how much time and effort must have been involved to construct this. It works as a metqaphor for the challenges and failures that happen to us all in life, where nothing is clear-cut. Is life worth living? Could suicide be a metaphor for the challenges and failures that happen to us all in life?

Blue Project Foundation 7
I dismissed this painting of a maze at first glance, but then when I really studied it I was charmed by it because it shows where and how someone made it through this maze by doubling back on their tracks.It is meant to illustrate the theme of consistency, but I’m not sure how the theme relates to this work.

Blue Project FOundation 8IMG_2713¨Nuages” by Xavier Veilhan on the theme of visibility. The viewer is encouraged to see images of things that mean other things. This was one of the more interesting pieces artistically, as it was fun to circle around it and view at it from different angles and distances in the room.
(The other piece with visibility as its theme was of a canopy of white canes, which was a cool concept by Sophie Cale, though not worthy of a photo.)

Blue-Light3This is a shot from a video by Ignasi Aballi on the theme of quickness. Its another example of a work that is more conceptual than it is art, in my opinion. The artist says, “There is no more activity than seeing the sand falling down. It appears to choose slowness over quickness.”  This was one of the lazier pieces I thought, more conceptual than art.  It would take more than a video of an hourglass to make me ponder the pace of modern life and embrace the concept of slowing down over quickness.

Blue-Light BIG CRUNCH CLOCK – Gianni Motti (exactitude)

This is supposed to be a whimsical scenario for the ultimate fate of the universe. Again, yes its conceptual, but is it art? The slightly pretentious narrative tells me The Big Crunch is a possible scenario for the ultimate fate of the universe, in which the “metric expansion of space eventually reverses and the universe recollapses, ending as a black hole.”  But if I hadn’t read this I wouldn’t have had these thoughts, which is why I wasn’t overly impressed with it.


Blue-Light2 Eclipse by by Laurent Grasso 

“There is something ominous in the modern sunset” the catalogue explains. This piece took some thought, work, and artistry (neon, mirrors, etc)  I liked it. Its meant to also be a tribute to the Michelangelo Antonioni film from 1962  by the same name (L’eclise). What I like about this piece is that without reading any info on it, I understood it and although my iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice, in person I think it stands alone as a cool art piece that could fit in other modern art scenarios. Unlike most conceptual art, it evokes a feeling.


… Months after beginning this post I finish it … Elia returned to Cost Rica, did a successful performance of the piece she and Orlando worked on in Santander, and now it is almost years’ end.

I miss Elia, for she is a great accomplice, instigator and confidante. It is my deepest wish that someday she figures out a project for us to work on together – she is motivated by projects, and I am inspired by her. We agree this is something to strive for, but its up to her to make this happen. She is due to return to Spain next year for a famous festival in Cadiz – which sounds like a perfect excuse for another road trip.

I leave you with this clip of Elia, dancing on my balcony, laughing in the wind.