Between art and activism. That is the common feature of the works of Eulàlia Grau (Terrassa, 1946), to whom the Museu dArt Contemporani de Barcelona
is devoting her first monographic exhibition. Corruption, exploitation of labour, real estate speculation, gender stereotypes, and in general the capacity of the mass media to influence our image of the world are the subjects that interest her most. Half avantgarde artist and half activist, Grau is regarded as one of the most militant voices of her generation. The exhibition includes a selection of her work, which she herself has called portraits of the reality around us. Forty years after the creation of these works, many of the situations she criticizes still exist today. This exhibition is part of MACBAs mission to rediscover important local artists and focus on works which are little known but significant. Such has been the case of recent exhibitions of Benet Rossell, Joan Rabascall and Àngels Ribé.
I Have Never Painted Golden Angels brings together over a hundred works from the seventies and early eighties, many of them presented for the first time. They force the spectator to think about the mechanisms that our society is based on, where dominating values come from and how the systems of repression are structured. The exhibition also includes a recent work exhibited for the first time entitled Me gustaría morir en un lugar donde nadie me viera. María (Id like to die in a place where no one can see me. María), 2011-2012, a series of photographs depicting current cases of political and financial corruption, such as Gürtel, Nóos and Millet. Eulàlia Grau announces and denounces reality by employing images from the press which she recomposes and uses as elements of analysis by contrast. The result reveals a mosaic of apparently unconnected real situations that co-exist in our socioeconomic and cultural system.
Eulàlia Grau began to study Fine Arts in Barcelona, but she left to study film at Sala Aixelà, where she attended classes by Pere Portabella and Alexandre Cirici and met Jacinto Esteva, Josep Gusí and Antoni Padrós. Later she studied design at Escola Eina with Cirici, Albert Ràfols-Casamada and Josep Maria Carandell. In Milan she worked at Ettore Sottsass design studio. At a moment when artists were investigating new media, Eulàlia decided to work with iconographies with a highly critical political content. It was in the seventies and part of the eighties that she produced most of her work. In the mideighties, after spending some time in Germany, she moved to Japan and later to China. When she returned to Barcelona in the late nineties she did not immediately take up her artistic activity again; a few years would pass before she decided to continue.
In all her work she uses photographs from the media. According to Grau, the photograph captures a unique fragment of reality in a context of permanent change. She then extracts and recomposes that reality on emulsified canvases and silk screens. She also works with other media such as books, posters or entries in magazines, aware that they have wider distribution on alternative circuits and are more accessible to a broader public. Her work becomes a radical means of observation of reality, reflection and activism. It is an uncomfortable testimony to the society of her time. She documents what she sees, the weaknesses, contradictions and perversities of the capitalist system, and induces the spectator to react. Her output is closely linked to a political and social struggle, to denouncing a capitalism that deepens class differences. The system uses perpetuation mechanisms which are not just repressive, like the police, the army or the prisons, but also persuasive, like the family, school and the media.
Determination to unmask obscenity in her work
A common feature of her work is a determination to unmask the obscenity of the differences that tarnish our environment, the structural violence that permeates everyday life and the macrosystem we are embroiled in. She denounces the instrumentalisation of our lives and of politics, marked by the interests of capital and the market. And so in the exhibition we can follow her work from the first pieces to the latest.
In the series of canvases Etnografies (Ethnographies, 1972-1974) she constructs collages from press photographs in which she presents images with critical associations and abrasive comments on consumption, violence, the use of power and bourgeois values. She presented them at Sala Vinçon in Barcelona in 1973 and at Galería Buades in Madrid the following year. For this first exhibition she did a collage in which she included a photograph of herself with images around it. It is a kind of biography that tells of the sins she has committed and her usual objects of consumption. With the sins she condemned herself before the Catholic church; with the commercial products, before the snares of the system.
In the silk screens of La cultura de la mort (The culture of death, 1975) she puts scenes of hunts, demonstrations, police pursuits and bank robberies side by side. All the images allude to ways of wielding power, often through violence. She exposes a society and a culture that are rooted in death and destruction.
Cancionero de los hombres verticales y de los hombres horizontales (Songbook of vertical men and horizontal men, 1975) is a book, unpublished until now, which deals with the ways of representing the successful or vertical men and the horizontal men, who are losers or failures. She highlights symbolic attributes which allow her to characterise the two typologies and their membership of different social classes. Along the same line, ...Inventemos también nosotros... (Let us invent too, 1976) talks about Diego Navarro, an Andalusian worker, father of a large family, who was unemployed. After taking part in a demonstration he was sent to jail, where he eventually committed suicide. The piece is complemented with the story of Juan Vilá Reyes, a well-known Catalan businessman involved in the Matesa fraud, for which he was sent to prison but later pardoned. She contrasts the scarcity of information and images of the first case with the abundance of data about the second. She showed the work at Galeria G in Barcelona and, for the commemorative portfolio, she reproduced the image of the Navarro family in their humble setting beside a photograph of the Carter family walking along surrounded by bodyguards in El règim capitalista crea cada dia situacions com aquesta (The capitalist regime creates situations like this every day, 1976).
Social inequalities are also reflected in Vivendes...vivendes (Housing...housing, 1976-1977). An analysis of the houses in some districts of Barcelona which concludes that there are two kinds of housing: for the dominant and the dominated classes. The houses of the working class districts barely meet the legal minimums for inhabitability. The bourgeois houses, on the other hand, are assertions of power and prestige. Society assigns a role to women in the family and the home and compels them to occupy subordinate places. Denunciation of their situation is implicit in all her works, but in Discriminació de la dona (Discrimination against women, 1977) the raw images show their subjection and inequality with men. This is undoubtedly a paradigmatic work in that it treats the issue openly.
El cost de la vida (The price of life, 1977-1979) is a quadrillage or comparative cartography of the three stages of capitalism: protocapitalism (in countries such as Spain, Italy or France), postcapitalism (Germany) and precapitalism (Third World). It shows how control is exercised with more or less subtlety, but is present in all systems and always legitimised by society. Les Setrilleres (The cruet, 1978) is an intervention, the fruit of a collaboration with Francesc Abad and Antoni Miralda. The object was the Monument to the Fallen in Terrassa, known by that nickname. It consists of a large scale photographic montage, questionnaires and a recreational space for the public to express themselves and think about the history of the country from icons and symbols used by power.
The book and poster Orden público (Public order, 1978) show the masked methods of control which are channelled through the media, the family and the school, but also the ones in which the institutions entitled to exercise it (police, army, certain uses of technology) use explicit, undissimulated violence. Per què? (Why?,1979) is also a book, but on this occasion for children. Three unique and different ones which combine colours and deal with subjects like war, violence, money and sex from a childs perspective.
Desarmament-desenvolupament (Disarmament-development, 1979) shows, in a poster, the contradiction between peace agreements and the reality behind political decisions. In 1979 the president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, increased the defence budget by 9.4%, despite a commitment to limiting arms production. Another poster, Flic-Story. Historia de detectives (Cop story, 1979), illustrates the capture of Jacques Mesrine, a fugitive hunted by the French police who was Public Enemy Number One.
Eulàlia Grau also does pieces for magazines. For example, Canigó (1982-1983) invited her to design the cover two years running on the occasion of womens day. Both times she presented images of boys and girls in which the roles society assigns according to gender were placed side by side. Kommentar (1982) is a work originally published in the German magazine Docks, a reflection on jails. It shows how both prisoners and warders are behind bars.
Lastly, the installation Klara (1983-1984) explores the meaning society gives to death. It shows colour photographs of six graveyards south of Berlin and, in black and white, the imaginary journey of Klara, whose gravestone is already prepared for when she will be buried alongside her husband. It is completed with a reading of a panegyric by the clergyman Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704) and the Messe de Tournai, an anonymous polyphonic composition from the 14th century. Me gustaría morir en un lugar donde nadie me viera. María (Id like to die in a place where no one can see me. María, 2012-2013) is a recent projection which is being shown here for the first time. It contrasts photographs of the everyday life of Maria, a homeless woman, with satirical montages of famous recent cases of political and financial corruption.