Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Prophets of Gijon, A Prologue

Ric travels to Gijon to see 'En Residencia', a site specific collaboration between Asturian and Welsh artists curated by Marc Rees.

I held the knife aloft, so everyone could see it clearly; I continued to display it because I was still somehow convinced it was the pen I had been rummaging in my jacket pocket to find. How could it possibly be a knife? I had passed through the 'criminality detector', the 'golden arch of truth', which reaches deep inside your mind at customs. The uniformed woman had sifted me with her eyes and then removed my boots, but still she had failed to distinguish me, so clearly a felon, from my fluffy and vanilla fellow airline passengers, many of whom were now watching me very closely. They were, I think, trying to anticipate my next move, more bemused than concerned at this stage; I was providing for them an amusing if a little unnerving interlude from their budget airline tedium. I had a clear choice: I could stand up and, after pledging allegiance to some monstrous deity, start butchering the passengers one by one, (beginning with the most nubile of course), before crashing the plane adeptly into the nearest shopping? Or I could sit down quietly and put the weapon back in my pocket. I chose the latter.

We arrived at Santander having avoided untimely arrest and we embarked on the coast road to Gijon. The rain hammered against the car windscreen, all hopes of giving my mankini, , its debut airing looked to be dashed, but we were in Spain, the land of Laurie Lee and we were, I reminded myself, here to air our brains, not our buttocks. My compadre, Dave, had even less in the way of a concrete expectation of what we might find at the end of the rainbow than I had; indeed
, much of the outward journey was spent justifying to him performance as an art form, (I dare not mention installation, far too complicated). “It is my conviction”, I told him, “that performance as artistic statement finds its roots in the very foundations of human interaction”. After all, the Prophet Ezekiel, in 600BC, lay on his left side for 390 days, cooking only one 8 ounce chapati each day over a crap fire (not his own crap, the Lord spared him that indignity). He would, undoubtedly, have been awarded a healthy grant for such an undertaking nowadays. Ezekiel, of course, had a specific purpose for his work, a message to deliver, but what would the 'Prophets of Gijon' have to tell us? And in an age in which, the Socratic maxim, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living ‘ has been so brutally inverted, would we even listen?

The next morning, we strode from our hotel into the weather; we allowed the wind
to clear our minds of expectation; 'unimpeded wonder', is the correct mental attitude with which to attend an event such as this. So it is as children that we make our way between the beige and brown apartments, which dominate Gijon with their symmetry. Our rented roller skate, pushed bravely through to the outskirts and to the horizon from which slowly grew, elephantine and intensely masculine, La Laboral. Its tower alone stands 170 confident meters above the muscular belly of the surrounding campus. La Laboral was built in the 1940's and ‘50's, in response to a mining accident, which left over a 1000 orphans. It was, in essence, a huge boys school, but its cocksure presence belies this relatively straight-forward function. The strong honest masses, of which the majority of campus is comprised, had been cruelly festooned with neo-classical frippery by the architect, Luis Moya, providing further evidence of the complicated forces that brought this place into being. Marc Rees, En Residencia's curator, had chosen local Asturian artists, together with the finest artists selected and imported from Wales, twenty in total, with the brief to 'respond to La Laboral as a space' and, by association, its history. The leviathan fell out of favour after Franco's demise, only when a generation had passed, and the memory of the majority had softened, had it been forgiven, re-packaged, marketed as a university and perhaps even celebrated.

blog photos: Ric Bower
above: La Laboral
below: Bendedict Anderson's upended pews with dance artist Tanja Raman in green

The rest of this article along with photographs from the celebrated Warren Orchard will be featured in Issue 1 of Blown at the end of May/early June.

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