July 01 – September 17, 2016
Tracing the beginning of conceptual art
It is important to start by clarifying that this is not a photography exhibition. It would be more accurate to interpret these works as a sequence of objects in the shape of a book’s double sheet constructed with images. Furthermore, this work intentionally take us back to the 1960s of the past century, a key period where precisely photography became to be used as a tool in the service of a speech. It is also a non-photographer work, understanding that what wants to be told, that is the author’s intention, is a more extensive and complex concept than a mere isolated snapshot, as occurred with key authors that become to be known during that period like John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Robert Barry, Dan Graham or the collective Art & Lenguage. In some way, there’s echoes of them in this series.
The starting point of the project is the personal memory of the artist, who dives into his memories to recover some books that shaped his imaginary. From among the many that his father, a well-known ornithologist of the time who lived in Jerez de la Frontera, owned, he was specially attracted to one by the Swiss naturalistic Charles-André Vaucher, entitled Oiseaux En Vol (Flying birds), a handbook published in 1962 that, far from the taxonomic vision that characterizes the scientific gaze, has an extremely personal character. The way in which photographs are presented and subjective relations are established between them, much closer to a photobook than to a dictionary of birds, denotes a sensitive approach to the natural environment. The result is an open interpretation addressed to people with concerns, who is curious and has a real interest in birds. In this book, much in demand back then, there is no categorization or exhaustive study of the specimens in their natural environment, rather the opposite could be said: after an hour of dedication, thought and observation, Charles-A. Vaucher presents in his own way the visual summary of something he is passionate about. Without technical or optical boasts, with little or no a priori definition and, above all, putting individual experience before the rigor of systematization. Its aim is not to gather documentary testimonies of a specific sighting, but to communicate sensations capable of arousing suggestions in the reader-spectator in the first person. His photographs are characterized not by showing us the amazing world of these winged beings, but by noting it through an own experience.
Absorbed in this insider trading post, Juan del Junco leafed through Oiseaux En Vol over and over again as a child. He traced the photographs, drew the silhouettes of the birds or imagined what these animals would look like in their wild environment. This magical territory into which he enters thanks to his father, will become a differential fact that will mark his artistic personality forever, a sediment that now emerges interweaving artistic and scientific language at a crucial moment for both disciplines, at the beginning of the 1960s. All the works of Conceptual Andalusia: Européens en vol make up a succession that seeks to be as faithful as possible to the original edition of Vaucher. That’s why the rhythm of the images and the way they are presented, as well as the size of each page, 27.5 by 42 centimetres, are exactly the same here. He has also used 35 mm reels in B/W, always choosing a manual focus, using basic lenses and trying to recreate through a home scan the high contrast that the printers achieved at that time. They are small format photographs that have no industrial bias and claim artisan aspects of the trade and of the manual processes. Even the artist himself has revealed all the negatives. Somehow, del Junco seeks to approach Vaucher’s way of working, with few resources and recovering the analogical processes of a few decades ago.
He also seeks to revive the approach that the Swiss naturalist had to the field, reinforcing experiences that have to do with the communion between Nature and man that feels that who enters the landscape without being an intruder, but understanding what is happening around them as an absorbed and privileged spectator. Without reaching the levels of Hamish Fulton or Richard Long, Juan believes in the rituals that help to immerse him in the animal world, a territory not trodden by civilization where after spending hours and hours stalking birds in silence, something pure and almost religious is discovered. It all begins with the rite of going to the country, a ceremony like no other. Get up early, get the equipment ready, get to the place and wait. Waiting patiently in the salterns of the Guadalete, in the reedbeds of the eastern arm, in the mudflats and mudflats of the marshes of the Guadalquivir, in the mountains of Sierra Morena, in the pine forest of La Algaida, in the countryside of Jerez… And in the background, sometimes overlapping and sometimes solo, the sound of birds. The connection with the terrain is magical, it makes you feel part of something, a bond that enhances emotional aspects and makes the epiphany emerge. Robert Smithson and his wife, Nancy Holt, recorded together with a Bolex camera in 1971 a brief tour around a swamp. The point of view of the film and its subjective vision could bring us closer to a equivalent perception of what Juan could feel in equivalent places. As the French thinker Georges Didi-Huberman understands, in the images it is impossible to separate affective from intellectual dimension or the beauty from the singularity of each event. If we follow his approach, this work of Juan del Junco supposes the right balance between both vectors, a level of maturity that transcends the barrier of iconicity to uncover conceptual aspects of greater importance that range from the semiotic to the semantic.
Defined the framework of action, a fundamental characteristic that differentiates this project from the Vaucher budgets is that Européens en vol contains an implicit suggestive metaphor between the migration of birds and people, a simple analogy that can be used as a simile to reflect on what is happening in Europe today. For thousands of years, birds have travelled from Africa to our lands on a long-distance flight that involves a risky journey to places that are favourable for feeding, breeding and family development. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards, most of them young people, have been forced to leave their homes because of the serious social and economic crisis in which we have been immersed since 2008. The number of expatriates has increased by 56% in recent years, figures that continue to rise gradually without many of those who left home finding any reason to return.
It’s the same with birds, once they migrate, not all of them return. Some adapt to the environment and prefer to stay. Cattle egrets and moritos have colonised the wetlands of the Iberian Peninsula. Also the collared doves or the monk parakeet has adapted with solvency to the southernmost cities of our territory. It is a question of survival and reconversion of the ecosystem that has been occurring since the 19th century, when large flows of population began to occur from Europe to the whole world, mainly towards America. Once a population has settled in a destination, the place quickly takes on a new identity that mixes the indigenous with the foreign without discriminating. In that exchange, there are gains and losses.
The numbers that appear in each image of this series help us to individualize what seems abstract, indeterminate. The artist-accountant is the one who understands each living being differently from the others, the one who pays attention to them and goes beyond statistics. For the media and politicians, these migrants are just numbers. In 2014, 51,267 people born in Spain arrived abroad, more than double the number in 2008; 5,606 arrived in France and 7,259 in the United Kingdom; a total of 5,909 Spaniards ended up in Germany, three times more than eight years ago1. Nobody tells their stories or the meaning of that devaluation. Little is said about what they leave behind and about what awaits them. Young people have become pessimistic about their future, aware of the lack of opportunities. The equivalence is curious: Spaniards who have flown from their nest without a specific destination, to the chance of a new habitat; a generation that lives in uncertainty. Migratory birds also no longer do what they were supposed to do just a decade ago. Some specimens of white storks, swifts, hoopoes, bee-eaters, ratchets and red kites no longer return to Africa in winter. They move from region to region through our geography or stay in the same place. They didn’t leave because of the cold as is usually considered, but because of the lack of food. The proliferation of red crabs in rivers and the creation of large peri-urban dumps, to cite two examples, have a greater impact on their continuity than climate change.
Normally, Juan del Junco has worked in previous series on very meticulous projects that have been built piece by piece, section by section. Some worked as if they were cards from a house of cards held in balance by small sensitive details. Others relied on an imaginary story that later became a staging. Paradoxically, Conceptual Andalusia: Européens en vol is his most conceptual project and also the most similar to that of an instant hunter photographer. Its development begins with a stalking similar to the one that countless 20th-century reporters were able to exercise in search of a particular image. The experience lived in this wait is decisive. The result bears little resemblance to a documentary photograph, although one of those main ingredients is precisely that. During cooking, the components merge to originate a sequence of objects in the shape of a double sheet of book inspired by something deep that he has rescued from his memory. The outcome brings together continent and content from an ambiguous stage that is not easy to locate. Perhaps that is one of the great virtues of this series, to place oneself in an uncertain interstice beyond the photographic.
It is undeniable that photography comes from a language defined by functions and particularities different from those of his own, references that he quickly absorbed yearning to constitute a solid and at the same time honorable frame that imitated with the utmost dignity the procedures for interpreting the reality it came to replace. Although he has not yet been able to get rid of some of those conditioning factors inherited from the way in which the paintings are presented, he is progressively managing to create his own lineage, above all on the basis of new discursive tactics that are intertwined in the central decades of the 20th century. Some were generated by visionary photographers such as Walker Evans who, soon glimpsing the potential of images, do not resign himself to the heritage that constrains them, and conceives a creative project with a book structure whose meticulous metric structure is an example of specificity (American Photographs, 1938).2 Others come from conceptual authors such as Ed Ruscha, capable of producing a work-object also in the form of a book (Twenty Six Gasoline Stations, 1962), which descends in a confused way into the realm of everyday life to question the condition of what may or may not be considered art. Paradoxically, the former seeks to enhance photography by elevating it from the documentary to the aesthetic, while the latter acts practically the other way round: it cancels out the artistic condition attributed to the format until it reaches a zero point. Starting from opposite poles, both strategies manage to neutralize the referent and then give it form according to a concept. Here it is the same with Européens en vol: once its deictic potential, its notarial value, has been deactivated, the artist uses this frame as a syntactic support for an idea.
This new establishment of the photographic that has depreciated its documentary value and has expanded its scope of action to other more intellectual fields is the result of a progressive dislocation that has occurred in the last half century. It will be from the 60’s onwards when the concept begins to crack, called into question by conceptual artists who approach the image as non-photographers, as Charles-A Vaucher himself does with the edition of Oiseaux En Vol in 1962, whose intentions do not seem artistic, but emotional. Its aim is to encourage the savoir-faire of the birdwatcher and to stimulate its imagination, for what from a scientific point of view can be a disconcerting manual. That same year in the United States, Ed Ruscha produced a limited edition of photography books under the name of Twenty Six Gasoline Stations, whose meaning, analysed from the artistic premises, was disturbing in a similar way. The photos are aseptic, cold, irrelevant; they don’t stand out for anything and are of no special interest. They are made without technical care and are not intended to go beyond the enunciative, they are only an elementary record. The author does not try to monopolize protagonism nor to define a style; he is detached from the genre in his traditional valuation and even presents the work in a popular format renouncing his artistic differentiation. Veintiséis Gasolineras is an object (no longer a simple image) that mixes low and high culture. As Jeff Wall meditates on ‘Signs of Indifference’3, Ruscha is dismantling the photographic technique in an exercise of denial with this series. Obviously, an ironic pop nod is underpinned in the whole idea, but also a reconsideration of the photographic as something different from what the genre had hitherto covered in its relationship with the artistic. “The care with which the book is published, even if the photographs are technically bad, suggests that Ruscha is also playing in the field of a nationalization of the banal that does not exclude the interest in the effective confection of the support, that is to say, in the manufacture of his works.”4 Ruscha’s work is part of a very common trend in the second half of the 20th century, which approaches the cultural using art as a liberating critical weapon capable of breaking the established formal limits. It is not a question of transgressing the genres, something that would be more of a form of avant-garde, but of relocating the speech5.
A key element also to be taken into account is that photography came into contact with semiotics during these years, beginning to be interpreted, decoded, analysed and reassembled not as an image, but as a text. Many American conceptual artists start from the photographic and derive their work from other territories that question what is and what is not a work of art, taking certain Duchampian premises to unthinkable margins. Some creators dealt with aspects performatives and other linguistic aspects, such as Dan Graham and later authors such as Marta Rosler or Sophie Calle; but in most of their experiences, photography played an important role as a testimonial value. They used it to patent their works or to call them into question, they disassociated them from one idea or associated them with another, but always seeking to question its essence. From then on, photography was located in a mixed territory between the social and the cultural, impossible to abandon. This expansionary trend has continued to this day, overlapping perspectives decade after decade.
This type of work demonstrates that there is a different between an image and the representation of an image, which is why authors such as Jean-François Chevrier and James Lingwood proposed in the late 1980s a trend as the other objectivity in relation to photography, which has to combine its dual condition of image in itself and material production. In addition to being an icon, a photograph is a physical entity that acquires connotations that can be interpreted according to its appearance, connection and presentation. It can never be detached from the stand, which provides fundamental meanings to perceive its global meaning. Its object condition determines and configures it. Both realities, content and corporeality, are at the same level of reading. The way in which we receive information relates that totality (image+object+context) to our baggage of knowledge, as well as to experiences fixed in the collective unconscious, which we understand and decipher. However, these associations can be misleading, because a representation is not always what it seems. Faced with the crisis of reality in contemporary art, there is a reaffirmation of the image from the perspective of the photographic, which rebels against the effects of the cultural industry and the banal processes of consumption that we experience every day. Photography should not be interpreted only as something documentary because it is above all a push-button capable of generating thought.
Juan del Junco does not create books, he talks about books―real books born from emotion and experience. Now that many people are interested in the fashion of the photobook, he claims one from more than fifty years ago, that was as well conceived outside the art world by someone who didn’t consider himself a photographer. Oiseaux En Vol becomes a suitable vehicle for spreading a passion that captures the attention of those who show interest in birds. Both in form and in concept, it is a publication that fulfils its mission in an accurate way. Above all, because it is born from the concern of someone who resorts to the visual grammar that allows a book to expand and make known his love for birds.
1 Data extracted from the official website of the National Statistics Institute (INE).
2 The most important thing about American Photographs, the printed volume that Walker Evans published on the occasion of his homonymous exhibition at the MoMA in New York in 1938, is its historical significance. For the first time, a photographer is invited to show his work in a museum of this size. The author has two parallel proposals: an exhibition for the halls and a publishing house in book format.
3 Wall J. Señales de indiferencia. ‘Indiferencia y singularidad. La fotografía en el pensamiento artístico contemporáneo’. P. 246-247. MACBA. Barcelona, 1997.
4 Del Río, V. ‘Fotografía Objeto’. P. 100. Edita: Universidad de Salamanca. Salamanca, 2009.
5 Ibídem. P. 98.
Juan del Junco, Jerez de la Frontera, 1972
Exposiciones Individuales (recientes)
2016 · Conceptual Andalusia: Européens en vol.Les Archives. Galería Isabel Hurley
2016 · Conceptual Andalusia: Européens en vol. Organized by Sema D´Acosta, Museo Nacional de Ciecias Naturales. Madrid. Official program of Photoespaña.
2013 · El lenguaje. Galería Magda Bellotti, Madrid. Festival Off PHE 2013
2011 · Taxonomías. Sala Puerta Nueva. Córdoba
2010 · Pinturas y otras obsesiones. Galería Alfredo Viñas. Málaga
2009 · El sueño del Ornitólogo II: Cuaderno de campo. Galería Magda Bellotti, Madrid, Festival OFF of PhotoEspaña 09
2008 · El naturalista y lo habitado: trazas, huellas y el artificio del artista. Sala Cajasol Sevilla, Sala Cajasol, Jerez.* CATALOGUE
· El sueño del ornitólogo. Sala siglo XXI, Museo de Huelva.* CATALOGUE
· El sueño del ornitólogo II (del Phylloscopus sibilatrix a la Oxiura jamaicensis). Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. Sevilla
Exposiciones Colectivas (recientes)
2016. · Animalista, organized by Rafael Doctor. Casa Encendida Madrid
· Lo Audio-visual. Videoarte en las colecciones de 9915, organized by Alicia Ventura, Cicus. Sevilla
· Cómo hacer arte con palabras, Estrategias lingüisticas concetuales y postconceptuales. Organized by Manuel Olveira MUSAC
· Colecionar, clasificar: más allá del archivo y del documento. Organized by Juan Antonio Alvarez Reyes. CAAC. Sevilla
2015 · Open Studio Madrid. Artista Invitado Nave Oporto
· Nepotismo ilustrado. Organized by Juan Francisco Casas. Galería Fernando Pradilla. Madrid.
· El rumor de la montaña. Organizer Marta del Corral. Sala Fundación Cruzcampo (Málaga)
· XXXVI Certamen Nacional de Arte Contemporáneo “Ciudad de Utrera”. Utrera (Sevilla) Catalogue
2014. · Reproductibilitat 1.2 fundacion AENA + Es Baluard. Organized by Angeles Imaña and Nekane Aramburu. Es Baluard Mallorca
· Certamen de Arte contemporaneo de Pollença
· Frida en celo, organized by Arantxa Boyero. Art Nit Campos. Auditorio de Campos, Mallorca
· La Vietnamita, organized by Marlon de Azambuja. Espacio OTR, Madrid
Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. Sevilla
Per Amor a L´Art (Bombas Gens)
Centro de Fotografía de la Universidad de Salamanca
Es Baluard Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani de Palma
Colección Caja Madrid
Colección Caja Madrid Sevilla
Colección Circa XXI
Colección Fundación provincial de Artes Plásticas Rafael Botí
Instituto Andaluz de la Juventud. Córdoba
Instituto Andaluz de la Juventud. Málaga
Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Pamplona
Fundación Unicaja, Málaga
Universidad de Córdoba
Excmo Ayuntamiento de Utrera
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