BARCELONA.- More than a thousand ships are estimated to have been sunk off the coast of Colombia, laden with treasure valued at nearly ten billion dollars. In recent years, this estimate has generated intense debate and considerable legislative activity aimed at regulating property and exploitation rights. Under Colombian law, all such valuable objects and elements submerged in the countrys territorial waters are known as shipwrecked species. For Irene de Andrés, the discovery of this unusually poetic legal term planted the seed for a project that plunges into the complexity of postcolonial relations and emerges with an expository essay on the evocative capacity of the concept of shipwreck.
The artist begins with the discovery of the galleon San José in November 2015. This flagship of the Spanish Armada, sunk in the Battle of Baru more than three centuries earlier, was found near Colombias Rosario Islands. At the time it was sunk, the San José was laden with valuable treasure. The vessels discovery and the possibility of refloating it thus led to strong tensions between the Colombian government, the U.S.based salvage company Sea Search Armada, which provided the coordinates, and the Spanish government, which claimed ownership. In Shipwrecked Species, de Andrés approaches this conflict from a postcolonial perspective and in the context of a new socioeconomic setting that highlights the connections between colonialism and the current tourism industry in the Rosario Islands.
For her project for Espai 13 her first solo exhibition in Catalonia-, de Andrés has created an installation consisting of videos, photographs, documents, texts, sculptural pieces and found objects, through which she explores the case of the San José from multiple perspectives, from historic and economic angles to sociological and literary ones.
The show also taps the poetic potential of the concepts of shipwreck and pro derelicto (abandoned) remains, which the artist interprets as a time capsule that, once discovered, abruptly injects a previous time frame into the present. In keeping with this perspective, the proposal eschews a historicist approach, showcasing instead a network of anachronistic relationships, in which the present, past and future intertwine. The way the works are displayed is a critique of the nineteenth-century museographic aesthetics of many naval museums, in which a supposedly univocal discourse is articulated in chronological order based on an historical-scientific interpretation of the facts. The uses the museographic devices typical of such institutions (display cases, pedestals, etc.) to build the opposite: a plural, fragmentary and timeless reality through an extensive collage into which she introduces poetic elements.
Examples include a newspaper article about the galleons discovery juxtaposed with, among other objects, a page from Love in the Time of Cholera that mentions a shipwreck; a map of Colombias maritime boundaries drawn by de Andrés exhibited next to an abstract depiction of the prospecting that led to the discovery; and a Cartagena tourism catalogue that the artist has appropriated alongside a reproduction of a fragment of Samuel Scotts painting Wagers Action off Cartagena, 28 May 1708, depicting the battle in which the galleon was sunk.
In a display case, the copper plates the artist used to produce photogravures of underwater images of the galleon are contrasted with aerial photographs of the area of the wreck reminiscent of both a military visual language and current monitoring of the site through geolocation technologies. Meanwhile, a series of images featuring the hands of various players involved in the discoverys management from a member of Sea Search Armada to the president of Colombia introduce, in the words of the curator, Alexandra Laudo, gestures with echoes of colonialism, associated with conquest, domination, and ownership of the plunder.
The videos included in the show likewise offer multiple perspectives on territorial discovery and recognition, in which the unequal relations between foreign and local agents, the connections between colonialism and tourism, and the contrast between commercial sailing and sailing for pleasure are all on display.
Drawing on the contradiction implicit in the title of the show, in which the term species is used to refer to inert material elements as opposed to its usual meaning of living beings de Andrés displays on pedestals various sculptural elements in which form and content are paradoxically related: a cannonball made of ceramic, an ingot full of water from the Caribbean Sea, a sea snail filled with lead, and another, emptied, in bronze. Through the form or the materials, many of which are used in weapons, these sculptures allude directly to both the armed conflict that led to the sinking of the San José and the subsequent dispute over its remains.
Finally, a handful of coins stuck together, representing the currencies of all three of the parties to the dispute over the wreck (Colombian pesos, euros and U.S. dollars) conjure images of treasure, but also the commercialization thereof and the plans to profit from the galleon through its refloating and conversion into a museum, already announced by the Colombian government.
Irene de Andrés (Ibiza, 1986) holds a fine arts degree and a masters in artistic research and production from Complutense University of Madrid. She was recently the resident artist at the FLORA Ars + Natura school in Bogotá (Colombia). She is the recipient of numerous prizes and grants, including the 2012 Circuitos de Artes Plásticas Prize, the 2013 Generaciones Prize, the 2014 Injuve Prize, and a 2015 Vegap Grant for Visual Creation. In 2012, she was the resident artist at Fundación Bilbao Arte and, in 2015, at Beta Local (San Juan, Puerto Rico). De Andrés has participated in many group exhibitions, including Un lugar y el tiempo (Espacio Odeón, Bogotá), Energy Flash. The Rave Moment (MuHKA, Antwerp) and Depois do futuro (Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro). She has also had solo shows at art centers such as Galeria Marta Cervera (Madrid) or Casal Solleric (Palma), as a recipient of the 2015 City of Palma Prize. She currently lives and works in Madrid.