1. The present
In a wonderful text entitled “Observations on the Long Take” (1967), the Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini describes a number of parallels between time present – life happening now – and a sequence shot.
(…) Reality seen and heard as it happens is always in the present tense.
The long take, the schematic and primordial element of cinema, is thus in the present tense.1
Pasolini speaks of a “subjective sequence shot”, because it is undeniable that the gaze which perceives each long take can only view a single perspective of the action of reality at any given moment. This leads me to imagine that time becomes the editing tool for everything that has happened before; memory limits the content of the narrative that we gradually formulate, and contact with others enables us to add fragments from takes captured from other viewpoints. This enables us, at times, to make sense of actions that, perceived from our single angle, we hardly understand at first. Nevertheless, if an action can be explained, it is because the action has already happened. Similarly, Pasolini tells us that a life will be inexpressible whilst it is still living.
(…) the language of our lives (with which we express ourselves and to which we attribute the greatest importance) is untranslatable: a chaos of possibilities, a search for relations among discontinuous meanings.2
The present is untranslatable. That is more or less what I thought when, in December 2015, Francesc Ruiz Abad (“Fran” to his friends), the artist from Calonge, and Albert Mercadé, artistic director at the Arranz-Bravo Foundation, asked me to write a piece on the show to be devoted to Fran’s work in the exhibition space funded by the artist Eduard Arranz-Bravo in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, in the autumn of this same year. A solo exhibition of work by the artist. Thinking about Pasolini and his article helps me to understand that what we are going to do is to assemble a representation of his work process. An assembly that can in no case be considered final, as the only possible description of his practices, since we are not speaking of a past, resolved action, but of an active life whose future actions are completely unforeseeable. As yet unknown.
As I write this, Fran is in Cuba.
Or maybe Mexico.
Maybe flying back to Calonge.
2. Things and boxes
During a visit to his studio in Calonge, Fran shows me around his works, his work methods, his spaces, rhythms and movements. That is where certain words emerge, words in which the artist finds the support for his narrative. Or perhaps I myself, listening to him, retain in my notes certain words that help me to explain to myself what it is that the artist the artist does and to give substance to my own impressions.
LEARN TO PAIN
And I note:
February 2016: a strange painting disturbs me.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. Fran’s work had disturbed me before, especially when he presented the exhibition “Elephants, Shoes and Paper”3. That was when I browsed through his notebooks for the first time: paper-backed publications hanging from the ceiling, in which smiling, repetitive, anonymous personages lived in the paper environment, surrounded by what looked like everyday notes. Notebooks that could be agendas that could be diaries that could be sketchbooks that could be catalogues4. In fact, after that first contact with the artist’s work, there have been few times that the word “uneasy” has not hovered around me, encircling me like a cat with a seductive yet never direct smile, never transparent, a strange, constantly-present character5. Even better was when I learned that, in a way, this is exactly the feeling that our artist seeks. This was at a moment during that visit when he told me about his desire to make strange image. The search for the most unusual image that might be. A desire that, from the way he expresses it in words, reminds me of another filmmaker, in this case the German director Werner Herzog, speaking not of the unusual, but of transparency.
It’s simply a fact: there are only a few images left.
When I look out here I see everything is cluttered up. There are hardly any images to be found. One has to dig deep down, like an archaeologist; one has to search through this violated landscape to find something. Naturally, there is a risk involved, one that I wouldn’t avoid. I see only a few people who take risks in order to change this misery –the misery of having no images left, none that are adequate. We desperately need images, those images that are relevant and adequate to our level of civilization–ones that correspond to those deep inside ourselves.
And I would never complain that it’s sometimes difficult, that one has to -let’s say- climb 8,000m up a high mountain to still get images that are clear and transparent. Here hardly anything is possible. You therefore really have to search. I would even fly to Mars or to Saturn with the next rocket that I could board. (...) I would go anywhere.6
I do not know whether the strange images that Fran desires to make and the transparency that Herzog seeks have anything in common. I would rather suggest that they are opposing ideas, but related because they are based on a similar perception of what images are. While Herzog has devoted his life to travelling around the world in search of purity, the naked image, without layers, the uncivil image, free from human manipulation –as if that were possible– Fran has also travelled, and continues to travel, going from one place to another, gathering all sorts of things, collecting them, photographing them, drawing them, keeping them in boxes that are sent by post, that board airplanes, ships, vans, lorries and are moved around until they reach Calonge, crossing Europe or Asia or the Atlantic Ocean and which, one day, later, he shows me as fragments of time past. An image is never naked; it contains the (subjective) eyewitness testimony of some event. Fran collects a series of elements that are placed over the canvas, as if it were a box to keep things and, as Herzog says, he has to dig down like an archaeologist, but not because there is no image, but because we are surrounded by them and it is necessary to explore that layers that become juxtaposed. We need to intuit their depth, the multiplication of presents on the canvas, in a box, on the pages of the artist’s notebooks, or in any of his collections.
In short, we might say that,
at this exact time,
Fran is travelling and collecting.
Who know what he will do in the autumn.
Who know what he will be doing when this text comes to an end.
PS: I will ask Fran for one of his notebooks, one of the ones he makes for himself. I will write my text on its pages and, perhaps, restricted by the very size of the paper that he takes with him when he travels, by its weight, I will be able to write something about the things that he is doing. Something that is just part of some other of the things that he is doing. Now.
On Sunday, March 13
I return to Calonge,
I receive a notebook.
On one of its pages, Fran has written:
A JOURNEY DOES NOT NEED REASONS. TU TÍO. BEFORE LONG, IT PROVES TO BE A SORT OF REASON ENOUGH IN ITSELF. ONE MAY, – MAYBE THINKS THAT ONE IS GOING TO MAKE EI A JOURNEY. BUT, FUCKING YET SOON IT IS THE JOURNEY THAT MAKES OR UNMAKES YOU, SOMETHING AND EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF IT.
After a route that, by chance, took him eastward and lasted six months, engaged as he was on a project funded by the Guasch Coranty Foundation at its 2013-2014 call for proposals, Fran returned home. This was only a temporary return, though, as he would soon leave once more. But he came back. And this return, in March he tells me, is not the end of the journey; rather, it forms part of it. When you return, the journey continues, because you are a new person, a different person. The traveller’s hangover, as Patricia Almarcegui, Professor of Comparative Literature, calls it:
(…) on returning, the traveller’s hangover is fantastic. You have become hooked on another reality and you need time to really come back. You come back, but you are not all here.7
He left Calonge with no particular destination. With the sole premises of leaving home and allowing the logics of chance to determine his fate, he took all kinds of vehicles, travelling across southern Europe and leaving the continent through Georgia to cross the Caspian Sea, the little that, unfortunately, remains of the Aral Sea and entered China from Kyrgyzstan. Traversing China, he ended his journey in Hong Kong, which he was forced to leave rather quickly due to visa problems. He hitch-hiked, getting lifts from lorries and cars, sleeping in his tent, at the houses of friends and strangers, he walked on his own, he took trains and ferries, he crossed borders, he heard languages new to him, he got lost in the mountains, he suffered cold and heat, he ate badly, he met different people and, no doubt, he also discovered another self. It is inevitable that a journey like that will change you and that its consequence will, no doubt, be long-lasting. Because, on a journey, we meet the Other, we encounter difference, we lose something of ourselves and take on other things, other ways of perceiving reality, of seeing life.
Along Fran’s route, it was not only the places he passed through that caused culture shock, but also the modes of transport he used to get around. The modest means that he had decided to survive with required considerable interaction with each person he met. As if influenced by the wealthy British gentlemen whose Grand Tours around Europe to see the great cities in the narrative of art history during the mid-nineteenth century were antecedents of modern tourism, our artist embarked upon a kind of formative journey which, adapted to present times, went beyond the limits of our continent in order to discover new gazes and to find himself at that point where the path splits into innumerable possibilities. Here I note a comment that Fran made to me and would repeat on several occasions: “The exhibition as journey”.
And apart from all this, at each place he visited he gradually filled boxes with things, sending them home, as if to say, “Hey, I’m OK”. The postmarks from the place from which they were sent are impressed on the cardboard, leaving a trail, like a sign on an imaginary map indicating the route Fran is taking. Each element he places inside these boxes talks to us of events, places, times. Each set of objects stored in this way describes the different thing that Fran discovers in the Other. The collection as a whole, arranged on a table in his studio in Calonge, suggests as many narratives as perceptions of difference, of the unknown, of the strange, have emerged. And for those not lucky enough to have travelled with him, each object, like words, is a device that reveals the potential meanings it holds, and which we no not yet know. As the curator Caterina Almirall puts it:
When we know its name, the thing will change in form. It will then have a known form and will occupy another place in the collection that we organise according to the function that things have or perform. The function of things has to do with what things can tell us. Things that tell us things that we already know are in one place, and things that tell us things that we do not know or do not understand are in another place. We also reserve a space for things that we do not yet know.8
On this point, we can mention that the German word “Dingsbums”, used as the title for the intervention by Fran and the artist Eulàlia Rovira at El Passadís, managed by Almirall, could not be more appropriate to name all this. They defined the word as follows:
Dingsbums is a German word meaning “whatchamacallit” or “whatsit”, referring to things that we cannot identify because we don’t know their name and cannot point to because they are too far away, because we cannot see them, because they don’t stay in one place, but move around...9
4. The film
Like a film made from travelling shots and still shots.
That is the first thing I write in a notebook that I will use to think and write about Fran’s show, an exhibition that is a journey that is a route that is a film.
Movement is formed by intermediate gestural moments and key gestures. We see this in digital animated programmes when, to generate an animation, you have to mark certain key points on a timeline, placing the element in the desired position, and the programme will invent (deduce/calculate) the intermediate movements. The journey enables us to discover a different time –Almarcegui also says this. It is formed by movements and rest points. This rhythm also influences the way the artist works. He collects objects, takes photos, draws in his small notebooks when he travels, as he moves around, and paints large canvases when he returns home, when he can spend a few days quietly in his studio. We want to insert these rhythms into the space at the exhibition, turning it into a musical score of gestures for a journey, a route.
PUNTS CLAU > REPÒS, TEMPS DILATAT > QUADRES DE GRAN FORMAT
TRAVELINGS > TRÀNSITS, DESPLAÇAMENTS > COL·LECCIONS, LLIBRETES, OBJECTES, CAPSES
A collection of skies will be installed around the room, and other objects will give clues to the key points and what is in them. But what are in these key points? How do we define them? If this show is a journey in which, among the paintings, some of the boxes from the hitchhiking journey from Calonge to Hong Kong will also be displayed, why not superimpose the path that Fran drew across the Earth over the plan of the exhibition room? Then perhaps we can decide where to place each piece, and the space will define the order of things.
IMAGE MAPA + TRAÇAT + PLÀNOL SALA
One night in a Skype chat, Fran recounts his whole journey to me. As he does, I draw, on an acetate superimposed over a map of Europe and Asia, the line that he drew with his journey, as if he were dictating it to me. I note down a few words about the things he underlines about times when he stopped over in particular places. As a result, each space is linked to a series of events that happened to him, feelings he had. Having been superimposed over the plan of the room, it is now the line that narrates those experiences. You just have to arrange the times in order to see the line.
5. Eduard Arranz-Bravo
Albert Mercadé tells us that half of the room will be installed with works by Eduard Arranz-Bravo. In other words, the same exhibition space will contain works by both Fran and Arranz-Bravo. Although Fran and I intuit a series of parallels between the two artists, we prefer to say nothing and invite Arranz-Bravo to give his opinion about Fran’s work, about forming part of this journey, as someone with more experience who has already blazed a few trails himself. That is why we speak up to suggest that when he selects from his own works he should choose those in which he is seen through the other, which is Fran.
And it is a pleasure to report that he accepted.
A “welcome home”.
1 Pasolini, P. P. (1967). “Observaciones sobre el plano-secuencia”. In: Empirismo eretico (1977). Milan: Garzanti (Trans. Pinto, Raffaele)
3 The exhibition “Elefants, sabates i paper”, organised in cooperation with Jordi Erra, was presented simultaneously at L’Indiscret and at Heliogàbal, two venues in the Gràcia neighbourhood of Barcelona, in March 2014.
4 This idea of hybrid object helps us to think about the function of this catalog you have in your hands. See “Things to talk about things that speak” Eulàlia Rovira pages 79, 80 and 81 of this catalog.
5 p. 28-29
6 Werner Herzog talking about Wim Wenders’ film Tokyo-Ga (1984).
7 Interview with Patricia Almarcegui, “La resaca del viajero es fantástica”, published in El Periódico, 21 June 2008. http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/opinion/20080621/patricia-almarcegui-resaca-del-viajero-fantastica/print-238603.shtml
8 Excerpt from the text that accompanied the exhibition “Dingbums: Coses que brillen quan cauen” [Dingbums: Things that Shine when They Fall], by Francesc Ruiz Abad and Eulàlia Rovira at El Passadís, curated by Caterina Almirall in April 2016.
Curator from the solo show "I didnt know I was collecting"