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Invocable Reality: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona opens group exhibition
John Smith, The girl chewing gum, 1976. Video | 11'38” | b/n | sonido. Cortesía del artista, LUX, Londres y VEGAP.

BARCELONA.- Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona presents the group exhibition Invocable Reality, curated by Montse Badia (Barcelona, 1965), which follows the multiple options for considering reality offered by artistic practice. For this, the exhibition brings together a collection of works by artists from different backgrounds and generations who reflect upon that which exists, its representation and mediation, based on the 'here and now'.

Although the real is one of the major issues with which we engage in art, this show approaches reality at a moment in which we have a complicated relationship with it, a moment dominated by the prevailing rhetoric of distraction, the mechanisms for the construction of reality, its mediatisation, fictionalisation and virtualisation. At the same time, there is a ‘passion for the real’, for the genuine, for that which is credible.

The exhibition explores all these aspects starting from the questions: Is there a reality outside our perception? Does it imply the affirmation of reality both in life and death? Is extreme violence the price we pay to unlock some layers of reality? Is reality the everyday, our personal experience? Or does reality lie with other people? Is it possible to represent authentic ‘slices of life’? What is authenticity? Can art have a bearing on reality?

Invocable Reality starts with two seminal works from the seventies: the video The Girl Chewing Gum, 1976, by John Smith (London, 1952), which records a scene that takes place on a busy London street while a voiceover appears to direct both the camera movements and the actions taking place, and the dramatic documentary Als wär's von Beckett (As if it were Beckett), 1976, by Lutz Mommartz (Erkelenz, Germany, 1934), depicting a cruel and dramatic exchange of reproaches and accusations, laments and frustrations of a couple in crisis, who, at the invitation of the filmmaker, remained separated for a week to meet again in front of the camera.

With the work of Roman Ondák, Antonio Ortega and Núria Güell, reality enters the museum with new codes. Teaching to Walk, 2002, by Roman Ondák (Žilina, Slovakia, 1966) is a performance in which a mother accompanies her son as he takes his first steps in the gallery, a brief but crucial moment in the lives of all human beings. With this simple gesture, inspired by his own experiences of his son learning to walk, Ondák invites us to rediscover that instant, not by representing it, but by letting reality enter the museum in the form of an artistic work. In Zócalo Antonio Ortega. Un intento de glosar el concepto de demagogia (Antonio Ortega skirting board. An attempt to explain the concept of demagogy), 2013–14, Antonio Ortega (Sant Celoni, Barcelona, 1968) installs a skirting board around the exhibition space. Specially produced for the occasion, the skirting board is slightly higher than standard. With this minor modification and this simple gesture, Ortega gives the museum space a ‘reality with a practical purpose’, turning it into a real space.

Núria Güell (Vidreres, Girona, 1981 ) seeks to make a direct impact on reality. To this end she has formed Ca l’Àfrica, a cooperative with a group of immigrants currently living in industrial warehouses in Barcelona’s Poblenou district. The cooperative organisation is a tool that allows its members to draw up labour contracts, thus finding a solution to their situation. Some of them have been hired in the context of the exhibition to perform various tasks.

Mireia Sallarès, Jeremy Deller and Phil Collins film reality. In Le Camion de Zahïa (Zahïa’s van), 2003, Mireia Sallarès (Barcelona, 1973) presents the story of Zahïa, an Algerian woman who ran a van selling pizzas in a square in Valence, southern France, until a new city bylaw prohibited the parking of such vehicles in the city, coinciding with the redevelopment of the city centre as a shopping mall. On this occasion, the piece is activated by installing a van similar to Zahïa’s in the public space, acting as a projection ‘screen’ for a selection of documentaries that explore issues related to gentrification and the privatisation of public space.

So Many Ways to Hurt You (The Life and Times of Adrian Street), 2010, by Jeremy Deller (London, 1966) tells the story of Adrian Street, the son of a Welsh miner, who made a career as a bodybuilder, with guest appearances in TV shows and later in the United States, where he became a star of American wrestling. The installation has been made in collaboration with Mikel Pascal and Javier Murillo, creators of the mural inspired by the documentary.

In the work gerçeğin dönüşü geri (the return of the real), 2005, Phil Collins (Runcorn, England, 1970) investigates the post-documentary culture, which television has tended to personify, showing the devastating effects of mediated reality. In this video installation, different reality-show participants, who feel their lives have been deeply affected by the experience, have the opportunity to recount their stories in conversation, this time not edited or censored.

Enric Farrés-Duran (Palafrugell, Girona, 1983) proposes itineraries arising from coincidences and chance encounters. Farrés-Duran clones the book by Enrique Vila-Matas, Never Any End to Paris, in which the author suggests a continuity between the real and the fictional. He conducts research into events and places in the ‘Fifth District’, between the Faculty of Philosophy and the Massana School of Art in Barcelona, resulting in a system of inputs and findings, a city tour commentary and a publication.

Rafel G. Bianchi (Olot, Girona, 1967) creates tasks that require a great effort, at times demonstrating the absurdity, not only of artistic work, but also perhaps of the world at large. A x metros del objective (At x metres from the objective), 2006–14, a work in progress that the artist intends to make throughout his life, brings together a series of images resulting from an ongoing action: running away from the camera lens for 10 seconds, while the clock and the artist himself count before taking the photograph. Acudits de vaques i pintors. Cabirol reenactment (Jokes about cows and painters. Cabirol re-enactment), 2013–14, consists of painting the same landscape in plein air repeatedly on the same canvas, showing the impossibility of the representation of reality.

Although death and insecurity form part of reality, our societies tend not to accept them. This creates seemingly objective systems that calm our fears and transform what we dare not face into something agreeable and material, turning death into something unreal. For Auto Portrait Pending, 2005, Jill Magid (Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1973) has signed a contract with a company that will turn her into a diamond when she dies. Drawn-up like a love letter, the contract specifies the details of the creation of the diamond from the ashes. The vitrine displays the shank of the ring and the mounting, but lacking the centre stone, the diamond, that completes the self-portrait, which for the moment remains unfinished.

Invocable Reality opens a line of work that will be continued with two additional projects to be carried out in 2015 and 2016, with which MACBA intends to articulate in a plural form its engagement with the concentric circles of creativity and its critical context to forge closer links between the general public, the artist and the values that art conveys.

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