Angel Marcos in / and Barcelona
With what lively expectation, we await the exhibition in Barcelona, of Ángel Marcos about Barcelona. After he has worked his way over two consecutive months, through the field and the plane, with thresholds and depth, travelling through, looking, analysing, capturing, and lending visibility to a reality at eye-level, standing upright, that is to say at the height of a gaze that thinks, and in thinking looks. We are now in Barcelona, in a historic context, three days after a democratic vote of major transcendence for the relations between the citizens of Catalonia with the Spanish State, amidst the flux of peoples fleeing en masse from the Middle East and Africa, from wars and violence to Europe. But it is not the narrative of history that interests a photographer who is not a reporter, so much as the politics of images.
A critical gaze is fundamental to the work of art. The criticism that was consubstantial in politics just as it had been an anathema to religious truths has become an advertising slogan with which to purchase an oscillating political vote. It remains, in the shift towards the society of Knowledge that transfers the production of material consumption to open readings and unprecedented hypotheses in different disciplines, a critical space for creativity. Ángel Marcos is one of the photographers who has known best how to analyse the “dead point” and the “dual point” of reality in his relation with art, and vice versa, without falling into the pure description of a document or the inflated rhetoric of constructions cropped or mannered in their language. The craftsman photographer and the artist photographer have known how to maintain a dialogue, like few others, between the reality and physics of history: the photograph as reality and reality as the constructor of the photograph.
The dialectics Marcos presents battle without synthesis in a space that is apparently external but strongly committed to the ethical biography of the one who looks and gives; in a time that falls beyond the instant or conclusive time. Neither an accelerated nor a halted time; it is a time through which reflection can travel. The experience of this untiring prosaist, an art of footwork, and reduced lyrical phrases, the field of vision in one single sheet, expands into a new itinerary and field of investigation: Barcelona. Our photographer works like the Romantic painters who threaded their way through uncharted landscapes with the aim of painting a piece of nature equivalent to their soul. It is in his aspiration of the city, in the abstract fusion of art and nature as it were that Marcos finds in his criticism of the place the ideal of photography: his epistemological creativity.
The aesthetics and politics of Marcos always elucidate a space of contrasts: a dialectic dualism typical of the Baroque, a dialogue of opposites; light and darkness, rationality and natural spontaneity, gold and putrefaction, dogma and inquisition, the architecture of the elite and the false ceiling. The avant-gardes brought a model of struggle to the aesthetic order, one that broke with the obsolete. Little could we have imagined that in the dawn of Postmodernism, at the crossroads of styles, in the thirty or so years that Marcos has been developing his research, that we would see desire converted so quickly into political slogans and hedonistic advertising. Or that yearning would end up disappearing a sign of life transformed into an agonising textual body, in a landscape in which all form of everyday life is expelled. This depersonalised social body, converted en masse into an object of value, consumption, and voting is no longer a moral subject. In this metamorphosis of globalisation, the indigenous is converted into the indigent, the international mafia member into a local producer, the traveller into a tourist, the reader into data in the culture of spectacle. The figures that were signs and ideas with which to understand the enigmas that structured chaos into order have lost their readable value (the world converted into text) to constitute the cells of the supra-human-cybernetic consumer. Marcos, however, conscious of the implosive weight of the social situation, has not sought to document this transit through the actual media of the culture masses, pre-eminent in teopolitics, so much as, akin to the philosopher and the linguist, has sought an experience where the noticeable reveals to the soul the tensions in a language graphed to be read, thought, and activated. The analytic rigour of his contrasts and the sequential ordering of his analysis at no point lose the radical sense of an artwork in which beauty and criticism displace desire and consumerism, delusion and alienation. The gaze of Marcos is that of a solitary humanist in an unpopulated world, who works solely with the lyrical and objective capacity of the camera focussed on cities objectified by the human creation of their landscape and language. At the limits, between one thing and another. Testing lucidity.
Our soft, permeable brain can retain no more than a few images one gets the feeling that even fewer than the limited number of words we combine into different phrases in the spoken language. The property of impact is granted to the image. We all retain a selected trail of still and moving images that come to constitute our well of memories. An inferior form of storage, undoubtedly, to the prostheses of our archiving devices, and it goes without saying, one that is insignificant alongside the capacity and lightness of the anonymous cloud. From the photographs that always spring to my mind within what could be called the “Museum selection for an external biography”, as yet to be curated, those of Ángel Marcos figure prominently. I’m referring, to give one example, to the image presented in a light-box from the series Obra póstuma 11 from 1999, where a large format photograph of a priest, in ceremonial robes with arms out stretched, hangs in front of and framed by the high altar of a church in front of two rows of parishioners captured from behind, sitting quietly, in shadowy silence. The persuasiveness that distinguishes it is the result of having superimposed two images. In the background, a church, the place of worship for faiths, dogmas, and religious icons, hierarchical and anthropomorphised, that are no longer visible here; on top of which is the photograph, not a painting nor a sculpture, of the go-between, the intermediary between the divine and the human world, between the absent public and the one that observes him: the photographer or the spectator. Undoubtedly the priest or preacher is closer to the art critic than the craftsman who fabricates images. What strikes me about the photograph of Ángel Marcos is that he has made it by photographing it twice, thereby converting it into a photograph that says more than just what it photographs; it is at one and the same time a real and a constructed photograph. With this action and its results, amidst the crisis of photography as document, and in the move towards constructed or deconstructed photography or analogic post-photography, etc., in the end in any of the steps by which photography has acquired linguistic possibilities in the critical and hedonistic generosity of Postmodernism, Marcos has managed to maintain the disciplinary attributes of photograph while retaining its lack of discipline – or transgression. In this way Marcos bids farewell to the twentieth century, the century of the photograph and the image.
Marcos has progressed with a methodology similar to a structure that runs in parallel with the critical thought of social philosophy and the aesthetic turns of his times. There have been two grand tempus or periods, preceded by a double epigraph, along with others, such as Rabo de lagartija and L’Intima Sovversione, in branching and spatial displacement. It is the rhythm or structure of a good book of poems or the essay of this, on the other hand, meticulous photographer of books of photography.
After some early works about the asymmetries of human couples, and Estampas personales where he stages the image, Marcos recounts, primarily through the Paisajes, the vastness of the landscape of Castile, converting it into the plane of a still life, a place inhabited by death and solitude. One perceives the aridity of the affective memory the dryness of the photograph in this way establishes, in the homeland, his stylistic identity with sobriety. Here you have a metaphysical identity of the poetics of emptiness, a politics aimed at the analysis of opposites.
In Los Bienaventurados he shifts from the landscape to decontextualized interiors, from desolation to the lyrical object or the lamenting person. The external box encapsulates a huge existential emptiness, filling it with extreme folly, unleashing as it were a visual language of onomatopoeia. From locality to construction. In Obras postumas, he causes photography to enter as a counterpoint to the reality of the photograph, allowing the combat between photograph and reality to become a visual and conceptual game, as was the recreational illustration of science in modern education at the beginning of the twentieth century and in these at the end of the century. From construction to displaced identity, from the no-place to the no-body. In La Chute, interpersonal emptiness as an allegory for inner tedium picks up on the mismatches of domestic life in a stage prior to one that relinquishes the personal in favour of a questioning that resituates the yearning, the desire, and the mirage. He finds himself faced with confrontation and annihilation.
The large series currently in progress, Alrededor del Sueño, focuses the transfer of place onto cities defined by their metonymic expansion. In Nueva York, the totality of universal concepts of the city-state, an amalgam of realities and desires, transit and games, construction and debris, are crystallised betwixt the urban profile seen from the barren periphery and the hedonistic language of advertising seen from the absence of the receiver. The architectonic totems of rationalist progress confront the individual subject identified as a pawn. In Cuba, the language of publicity shifts to the revolutionary advertising slogan, in its failure blending into the beauty of the revolutionary debris and the skin of the houses and the streets. With a certain paroxysm, the subseries Un coup de dés, in Las Vegas, culminates the reflection on language with a kitsch wall of typographies, about money, consumerism, and gaming. In China, there is no fusion, so much as an abyss between the architectonic constructions and archetypal living, between modernity and tradition, or urban rationalism and human life. It is a brilliant series, intense and systematic that breaks down into a visual and linguistic itinerary one of the most universal and well-structured gazes that has arisen from the culture of the image in the analysis of political ideas. An indefatigable worker, recently in Madrid, that I’m not sure whether he concludes a cycle or opens a new one, the icons of the capital, of capitalism, and the excess of images, rise up like a Grand Tower of Power, an exterior that twists into the interior.
The galleries, Galeria Trama and Sala Parés present in Barcelona, as a prologue to what one hopes will be a large exhibition in a public museum space in the city, what his gaze has selected of Barcelona, too often seen only from within, via a long tradition (by Català-Roca and Gomis to Maspons, Colita, Miserachs, Pomés, and Rivas, as well as by those of the generation of Marcos, the Laguillo, Esclusa and Freixa, up until today). A gaze detached from the day to day that has been complemented by those of Man Ray, Lloyd, Capa, Collins and so many others. Àngel Marcos forms part of the point of view, offering the original and universal counterpoint we desire. When all is said and done we are ideological subjects susceptible to being observed and transformed and we are “economic” subjects, as Gramsci referred to the reader and diffuser. My wish for Marcos is that the Catalan society responds to the ideas exhibited in the images analysed here. I hope that some of his works are purchased and remain here, and that he earns the diffusion he merits in a society that values culture and humanism, identity and progress, criticism and creativity.
With the desire to see the whole exhibition and make the synthetic reading, I have to draw to a conclusion this anteroom to the text that will follow. I’m sure that we will see a gaze on tourism as merchandise, the comfort of the city with an architecture that usurps the symbol from the people, the traces of those excluded and the destruction of the sprawl of the urban nucleus, the representation of political, economic, religious, and civil power, art as displacement, and its contrast with the obsessive subtlety of the light and the sea, in the face of this morass of people confused by the mass and the speed.
The critical lucidity regarding the structures of power and language, and the beauty of time itself, of this great artist, Àngel Marcos, forces the spectator to reflect. Right from the very beginning his works cause such an impact they substitute the bare, stereotyped images archived by our brain under the pressure of the alienating system of mass culture and the technical and advertising engineering of politics. The lyrical subject can be a historical subject, just as the photographer can be a critical and creative subject.
Vicenç Altaió, September 2015