Illuminations. Visionary Catalonia

“From time to time, Catalan good sense closes its eyes and lets things be”
Nicolau M. Rubió i Tudurí
(Prologue to Viatges d’Alí Bei, 1932)

 

The CCCB presents the exhibition Illuminations. Visionary Catalonia, which will run from 17 February to 17 May 2009. Curated by historian and art critic Pilar Parcerisas, it traces a map of thought and creation in Catalonia, from the times of Ramon Llull up until the present day, on the basis of visionary artists and creators.

Catalonia has been an advanced country due to the intuition and vision of its individualities, open to the trends of European thought and new revolutionary ideologies. This exhibition takes a closer look at the work of these figures in the world of the arts and literature, science and thought, who have created new perspectives and broken with the past. 

It is an exhibition about the visionaries and the impassioned whose legacy has opened the doors of modernity in Catalonia for eight centuries: 

ABAD, ALOMAR, BARBA, BARRADAS, BATAILLE, BEN, BEY, BERENGUER, BEUYS, BOFILL, BONASTRUC SA PORTA, BROSSA, BUIGAS, CASAS ABARCA, CASELLAS, CATALÀ I PIC, CERDÀ, CHOMÓN, CLAPÉS, CLAVÉ, CIRLOT, COLOM, COLOMER, COMAS I SOLÀ, CRAVAN, CRESQUES, CRISTÒFOL, CUIXART, DALÍ, DEULOFEU, DUCHAMP, EINSTEIN, EULÀLIA, FAGEDA, FERRANT, FERRER I GUÀRDIA, FOIX, FONTCUBERTA, FORTUNY Y MADRAZO, FRANCÉS, GATCPAC, GAUDÍ, GONZÁLEZ, GUAL, GUIMERÀ, JUJOL, JUNYENT, LAMOLLA, LE CORBUSIER, LETAMENDI, LLULL, MAN RAY, MARÇAL, MARINEL·LO, MASÓ, MASSANET, MASSON, MESTRE DE CABESTANY, MESTRES, MESTRES QUADRENY, MIR, MIRALDA, MIRALLES, E, MIRALLES, F, MIRÓ, MONTOLIU, MONTURIOL, NOGUERA, NOGUERAS i OLLER, PABLO, PEREJAUME, PERUCHO, PICABIA, PICASSO, PLA JANINI, PONÇ, PORTABELLA, PRUNÉS, PUJOLS, RECHA, RIBA, RIBÉ, RIERA, ROMERO, ROSSELL, RUBIÓ I TUDURÍ, SABATÉS, SALVAT-PAPASSEIT, SANTOS, SANTOS TORROELLA, SARRÓ, SAYRACH, SERRA, SIBIUDA, SISA, SUCRE, TÀPIES, TORRES-GARCÍA, VALLDOSERA, VARO, VERDAGUER, VILANOVA, VILATOBÀ, VILLÈLIA, VIURA, XIFRA, XIRÓ, ZANNÉ, ZUSH/EVRU.
 

The exhibition is divided into 13 thematic areas, each headed by a letter from the Catalan word “Il
The exhibition, in a space designed by the architect Lluís Pau, includes 800 works of art and science. Some sections are completed by an installation by a contemporary artist whose work is related to the theme and thought in question.

 

Thirteen areas headed by the letters of the Catalan word "IL·LUMINACIONS", each invoking a Latin expression, piece together a layout that is thematic rather than chronological.

IMAGO MUNDI. The Symbolic Legacy
LUX. Utopia and Utopians
LOCUS SOLUS. Places of the Spirit
UT PICTURA POESIS. Landscape, Soul and Nature
MATER CIVITAS. The City as Matrix
INCIPIT TRAGOEDIA. Premonitions and War Cries
NATURA NATURATA. Machine Art, Poetic and Ludic
AURAE. Metaphysical Landscapes
CREATIO MENTIS. The World of the Mind
ITA EST. The Imaginary Life of the Object
OPUS SCIENTIFICUM. Science and Art
NUMEN. Contemporary Mysticism
SINGULARIA. Identity, Transculture and Gender


IMAGO MUNDI. The Symbolic Legacy

There is a Catalonia that invokes myth, the marvellous and the unusual as a global explanation or image of the world. This is a symbolic imaginary which, like a collective unconscious, has taken different forms at each moment in time: a tradition that connects sacred and profane, pagan primitivism and religious iconography, occultism and cartography, illuminism and alchemy, voyage and discovery, tragic premonitions and the gift of faith expressed in votive offerings. Poetics and art: from the premedieval symbolic to the visual contemporary. From Ramon Llull to Antoni Tàpies, Abraham Cresques to Joan Fontcuberta, and Arnau de Vilanova to Francis Picabia.


LUX. Utopia and Utopians

This section explores the activities and publications of associations and fraternities of visionary new world activists and ideologists. The imprint of utopian socialism is unquestionable on Barcelona's Eixample new town, designed by Ildefons Cerdà, who clearly envisaged the city of the future with the aim of decreasing population density and enhancing the lives of those who lived there. Fellow utopians were Narcís Monturiol, who invented the submarine to improve the living conditions of coral fishermen; Anselm Clavé, who united music and class awareness, and Josep de Letamendi, a doctor who sought to apply scientific rationality to real life. The Barcelona of the second half of the 19th century brought together every variation on utopianism: anarchism, free-masonry, theosophy, feminism, spiritualism, naturism and other collective systems that worked to bring utopia within the realm of the possible.


LOCUS SOLUS. Places of the Spirit

Tenebrists, dwellers in the half-light, demoniacs and other makers of monsters. The symbolist ideal was ruled by the conception of the world as a mystery. As opposed to positivism and the modern scientific spirit, symbolist tastes viewed the cosmos as a mystery and intuition as a means of access to the truth. With Modernisme, visionary Catalonia reached its peak: art made a pact with nature, and the creator set himself up as a medium. It was a pact with great creative interest. This gave birth to strange, irreducible narratives and pictorial and photographic invocations of anomalous otherness. Together with the symbolist ideal, the modern visionary also stirred Wagnerians in pursuit of the chimera of total art and polymorphic creation.

In this delirium of form applied to life Antoni Gaudí takes pride of place. Gaudí and his organic architecture blazed a fertile trail among his contemporaries and future exponents such as Salvador Dalí, the first to vindicate him. Architecture and dreams, morphology and structure, city and nature informed a multiple binomial that was paralleled by the organic thought of Francesc Pujols and in the Gaudí-esque morphologies of contemporary sculptors.


UT PICTURA POESIS. Landscape, Soul and Nature

Montseny, Montserrat, Canigó-tangible physical referents and mythical topographies in the construction of identity. The 19th century was enamoured of the landscape, turning it into a recurring topos in literature and painting. Fin-de-siècle sensibility was obsessed with grottos, sanctuaries, legends, possessions, caves and lakes, constructing original nature into a nostalgic body of myth of primitive nature. Modern identity may have been based on the social project, but it also drew on the telling of its origins and a mysticism of the motherland.

Esoteric and occultist, obscure and telluric, the Romantic championed the drama of the intangible. A visionary among visionaries, his was a world of mountains that speak and voices that only poets could transcribe, Jacint Verdaguer the first among them. In the steep narrow valleys of the Pyrenees and in the turbulent geographies of Atlantis, a new idea of motherland took root. Following in the tradition of Verdaguer come Perejaume, Josep M. Xiró, Joaquim Mir and Nicolau Raurich.


MATER CIVITAS. The City as Matrix

Civitas was the publication of La Ciutat Jardí (The Garden City), a society founded in Barcelona in 1912 to disseminate the civic-minded construction of the city. Because the city ideal is the structuring core of the modern social project. The word "city" conjures up the concepts of civic-mindedness, mother and matrix, community, education and salubriousness. A bedrock of heterodox thought has left a variety of conceptions of the city of Barcelona and Catalan territory.

Modern Catalonia is based to a large extent on the arguments of the possible city, arguments that have been much wider-ranging and plural than the real, physical result. The garden city, an aspiration in the face of artifice; the future city, a prediction of today's futuristic, technological city; the city of the spectacle, theatrical and luminous; the functional city, a machine for living in that promotes the individual; the ecological city with its green islands; the naïf city of instinctive self-construction, and the city of new utopias, searching for other ways of living in the global city.

This section includes, among others, Josep Lluís Sert, the members of the GATCPAC and Jordi Colomer.


INCIPIT TRAGOEDIA. Premonitions and War Cries

The iconography of war began with the Events of October 1934, the year that André Masson went to live in Tossa, where he convened Georges Bataille, Henry Michaux, Dora Maar and other exponents of the contemporary imaginary of evil. Masson's view of the mountain of Montserrat, from his diary, served to illustrate the Surrealist journal Minotaure. Bataille, for his part, relates his time in Republican Barcelona in his text Le bleu du ciel (published in 1957). It was in Tossa that Masson and Bataille developed Acéphale project. In 1934, Dalí began his series of premonitions of war: alongside the actual painting, his preparatory studies are stark in the extreme. In Catalonia, where the climate leading up to the Spanish and European wars was perceived like nowhere else, a shapeless terror, a characteristic imaginary of the 20th century, manifested itself before 1936.


N
ATURA NATURATA. Machine Art, Poetic and Ludic

The audacity of belief in the future has often taken the form of a fascination with the machine, a constant in the futuristic imaginary of the 20th century. In the step from nature to machine, the latter acquired a life of its own and took nature's place: the manufactured world or creation created. In this way, aesthetic machine art and the machine-art avant-garde became new models of representation seeking to displace the old naturalistic pattern. The Dadaist spirit presented itself as a ludic dimension of art and life. Poetry experimented with the polymorphic power of the word and the labyrinth of the alphabet. The act of play opened up as a new space for out-and-out mental construction, and the virtual artefact became an infinite Borgian extension of the mind, knowledge and systems of information.

Joaquim Torres-Garcia, Joan Salvat-Papasseit and Leandre Cristòfol are some of the visionaries to have been fascinated by the machine.


A
URAE. Metaphysical Landscapes

For the Greeks, who gave us the word, the aura was an emanation or soft breeze that surrounded living beings-what today we might call an electromagnetic field or invisible radiation. In Catalonia, it has been richly represented for years. Surrealism approached it with its fluid iconographies and oneiric scenarios: Remedios Varo, Salvador Dalí, Joan Massanet... Others homed in on its structure, producing the metamorphic rocks of Cap de Creus photographed by Man Ray and objectualized by J. V. Foix in his stone poems. Later, under the auspices of the conceptual paradigm, metaphysical approaches to the idea of landscape extended to the deconstruction of other elements: material (Pere Noguera), linguistic (Joan Brossa), symbolic (Antoni Tàpies), cartographic (Àngels Ribé), and corporal or sensorial (Fina Miralles). In the waterfall of Les Escaules, Marcel Duchamp found the metaphysical essence of Étant donnés, his last enigma.


CREATIO MENTIS. The World of the Mind

Moving beyond the surrealistic orthodoxy inspired by Freud, the surrealists utilized paranoia and ecstasy, unconscious automatism and associated realities, double images and hypnagogic visions, drawings produced jointly by two or three artists, visual oracles and painted dreams. Subjectivity in its pure state was achieved by artists like Josep Maria de Sucre, who recorded the collective pain of the 20th century, and groups like Dau al Set, which, in the 1940s, right after the Spanish Civil War, explored oneiric nocturnality and uncompromising oracular logic. The invocative, mystical beings of Antoni Tàpies, the metamorphic figures of Joan Ponç, the secret alchemy of Modest Cuixart and Juan Eduardo Cirlot are paradigm examples. A world of oracles, dreams and mediums inspired by fear, evoked by Perucho in his novels. The creative instinct of the 1970s also steered the course of mental and psychedelic approaches, creating unique worlds like that of Zush/Evru while, in his clinical practice, Dr Sarró encouraged his patients to explore the free image and the creative unconscious.


ITA EST. The Imaginary Life of the Object

So it is!... says the magician to the object. In the late 19th century they called it recreational physics. Then came Surrealism. And, later, visual poetry, object poems and the conceptual avant-garde. The imaginary use of the object draws on many years of tradition in popular culture. Comparing that which exists with pure possibility, the real object with its symbolic functioning, the everyday with fantasy, the ludic and the grotesque, the irreverent and the fantastic, inventiveness and criticism. So be it!... And the object is.
We only have to look at the shop signs that filled city streets in this country until fairly recently. Umbrellas that came to life, humanized animals and everyday objects creatively turned into beings. Joan Brossa, with his object poems, became a grand master in his adaptation of this popular liking for the animated object and the soul of the object. Following in the wake of Brossa, Jordi Pablo is one of the artists to have combined the everyday use of the object with conceptual art.


OPUS SCIENTIFICUM. Science and Art

Salvador Dalí was interested in science. He was a friend of the mathematician René Thom, creator of the modern theory of catastrophe, and was fascinated by genetics, specifically by DNA and its structure. The scientific essays in his personal library (over 100) are full of notes and drawings reflected in his paintings. Another friend of Dalí and Francesc Pujols, Alexandre Deulofeu, understood that the view of specialization that fragments and divides up reality is fallacious. A pharmacist by trade, his mathematical theory of history applied numerology and mathematical proportions to the apparently unpredictable field of the history of civilizations and human life. Joan Oró a biochemist from Lleida, often referred to Dalí in his public talks. Can a specifically scientific approach be said to exist? Is there such a difference between medieval alchemy and the new theories of chance and chaos to have emerged in the 20th century? Do they not both involve control of matter? Giving life to an invisible existence? Science and art, an inseparable binomial.


NUMEN. Contemporary Mysticism

Mysticism is based on a strange dialectic: it consists in a state of absence that is also fullness; it calls for suppression but also leads to new realities or states. Thus mystical silence becomes a connecting state, a place of transit and transformation.

The town of Manresa is known to the world because of the time spent there by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, when writing the Spiritual Exercises. But Manresa is also known for the action that the artist Joseph Beuys presented at the Schmela Gallery in Düsseldorf in 1966, which takes its place in the wake of Fluxus art in the 1960s, fusing music, performance and social action. The Manresa action merged geography, toponymy, spirituality, an injection of revitalizing energy and a radical aesthetic approach that brought together art and life. On 4 November 1994, the two artists who worked together with Beuys in 1966, the composer Henning Christiansen and the sculptor Björn Nörgaard, were invited to extend the project on site: the action Manresa Hauptbahnhof (Manresa- Central Station) once again brought together spiritual revolution and the visual arts.


SINGULARIA. Identity, Transculture and Gender

In this global world, in our Europe without frontiers, much of contemporary thinking and art has been informed by reflection on identity. Identity and body, identity and gender, identity and locus in discourse, identity and culture, identity and cultural crossover, identity and otherness... It is the singular multiple or the identity singular.

Antoni Miralda brought anthropological irony to the transcultural discourse with Honeymoon (1986-1992), proposing a bond between two monuments that symbolize conquest and liberty: Columbus in Barcelona and the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Ben Vautier, beginning with his Internationale Ethniste in 1969, has continued to call for a revolution based on independent minority cultures and the languages of stateless peoples.

Gender dissent has often been expressed using the body. Catalonia has seen a whole constellation of artists who have explored the representation of the body to highlight mechanisms of power (Eulàlia), associate it with telluric forces (Fina Miralles), subject it to the condition of the gaze (Eulàlia Valldosera) or imprison it within paradox (Àngels Ribé).

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Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona