Evoking the Messiness of Memory With the Ocean’s Tide

Installation view of Francesc Torres, “La Campana hermética. Espacio para una antropología intransferible (The Hermetic Bell. Space for a Non-transferable Anthropology” (2018), installation, dimensions variable (image courtesy the Center for Galician Contemporary Art; photo by Mark Ritchie)

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — Part of the first generation of artists to critique the legacy of the Spanish civil war, Francesc Torres has long investigated the memory and detritus of violence. His exhibition in Galicia, which samples five decades of his artistic production, frames these concerns through the local practice of collecting “crebas,” or items washed in by the tide. Mixed media drawings and assemblages appropriate military equipment that would feel heavy-handed if not for its quotidian use. Installations immerse the viewer in the ambiguous reconstruction of history.

“The Hermetic Bell. A Space for a Non-transferable Anthropology (La campana hermética. Espacio para una antropología intransferible)” (2018) bears witness to the past century’s wars and revolutions through a lifetime of the artist’s possessions, accompanied by documentary footage. A dizzying array of objects on walls and shelves — from flashy American car magazines to olive pits carved by political prisoners in 1940’s Barcelona, including the artist’s grandfather — map a grim narrative of modernization. Children’s toy battalions age into the battered armaments of Spanish civil war soldiers. The past itself is subject to political weaponization, and memory demands not the storage of objects, but the viewer’s interaction with them.

Installation view of Francesc Torres, “Feminicidios por arte impuesto” (Femicides interposed by art) (2018), installation of paintings of diverse artists from the collection of the National Art Museum of Catalunya, knife from the second half of the 20th century, X-ray of the restoration of the painting “Venus and the dove” (1867) by Juan Cordero Hoyos, photographic reproduction of The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez, showing damage, photographic reproduction of works by Lucio Fontana, dimensions variable (photo by Paco Rocha)

“Femicides: Interposed by Art (Feminicidios: por arte interpuesto)” (2018) recovers paintings of female nudes from storage at the Barcelona Museum of Modern Art that were vandalized the night of the 1952 Eucharistic Congress, amid mounting state repression. The bandaged, gashed, or subtly restored surfaces take on flesh, recalling lives lost to femicide. Yet those most vulnerable — Black, trans — remain omitted by historical emphasis on white female nudes. Other photographs nod to artist Lucio Fontana’s conceptual incisions and “The Rokeby Venus” by Diego Velázquez, which was destroyed in protest by the suffragist Mary Richardson in 1914. Such juxtapositions question the politics of aestheticizing violence.

Torres’s recent works in Galicia meditate on nature’s scars. A photographic series compares an abandoned whalery in Gures with wolfram mines in Casaio, once crucial for arms production. One wonders whether such images abstract us from destruction or critique the systems that destroy. Today machines record violence with precision, but remembering remains messy human handiwork, especially amidst current collective scales of loss. “Sofía and The Abyss (Sofía y el abismo),” (2019) documents a performance in which Torres tosses sixty books into the sea. The few that surface a day later he retrieved for display. Yet the work pulses most when I imagine him, as the label briefly mentions, searching the coasts for miles.

Installation view of Francesc Torres, “Sofía y el abismo (Sofía and The Abyss)” (2019), digital color photographs on paper, books. 20 items: each, 67 x 100 cm and 7 items: each, 12.5 x 20 cm (photo by Paco Rocha)

Francesc Torres, Crebas, continues through January 10, 2021 at Galician Center for Contemporary Art (Rúa de Ramón del Valle-Inclán, 2, 15703 Santiago de Compostela, Spain). The exhibition was curated by Rocío Figueroa.

Drawing on the Galician tradition of collecting “crebas,” or items washed in by the tide, Francesc Torres immerses the viewer in pivotal moments of Spanish history via its detritus.Read MoreBooks, Francesc Torres, Galician Center for Contemporary Art, Santiago de Compostela, SpainHyperallergicRead More

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