Sala Rekalde

Helena Goñi

10 Jan - 05 Mar 2017

Helena Goñi
Tell Me How Close We Are To A Riot , exibition view
© Sala Rekalde
Tell Me How Close We Are To A Riot
10 January – 05 March 2017

In the Abstract Cabinet, Sala Rekalde presents the exhibition Helena Goñi included in the barriek 2017 programme, whose purpose is to display work by artists who have been awarded Grants for Artistic Creation by the Regional Council of Bizkaia.

An edgy riot
Julia Morandeira Arrizabalaga
“This is moshing in New York City. Young people out on the floor. Tell me how close we are to a riot”. These were the words of Phil Donahue, a legendary presenter in the history of US television. The year was 1994 and the programme was about pogos, stage diving and other practices that were becoming widespread at the metal concerts of that time. The guests were young grunge and metal followers and the band Marilyn Manson, who came up against questions from the presenter and the audience sitting opposite them. There was a barrage of accusations of violence, shocked comments and looks of alarm about those pastimes that the people in the "youth" dock were defending. This clash of positions was typical of The Phil Donahue Show, which in fact was known for being the first talk show that included audience participation in programmes discussing topics that raised the hackles of conservatives and liberals. In this regard, how each element of the structure of those programmes – guests vs. audience, script and applause - was clearly focused on creating two opposing, irreconcilable and warring camps. Donahue described the pogos, literally, as hell on earth, showing blurred videos with glimpses of bloody noses, or cornered the guests with moralistic, sensationalist and condescending questions on violence. The accused defended themselves. They argued that they were ways to challenge the culture that they consumed, that they were ways of releasing anxiety and of being together in aggression, with a type of support system: “If you fall, someone will come and pick you up. You are not alone,” pointed out one of them. They explained the possibility of belonging of an “us” that does not comply with the liberal standards of happiness, permanent consensus, social norms and individualism disguised as mindfulness. Instead, their being together was fragile and with a degree of unease, that existed in a brief moment and with the threat of the disappearing. This being together is recognised in vulnerability of exposing one’s self and being affected by others: “If someone gets hurt in the process, then so be it. It’s part of the territory,” acknowledged another. And it is in that appreciation where a space of caring and trust is established, “forming a trust between them that can’t be formed in other places”. [Disclaimer: It is not a positive and uncritical celebration of violence, but rather the necessary appreciation of those bonds in a life in common]. Yet Donahue discredited those statements and instead advocated a naive stereotype of a carefree youth, but without any other pressure than that of being young; a cliché that precludes any discussion and which relegates any voice to the contrary to a category of an alienated, violent, nihilistic and lost youth. Basically, he argued for and upheld a single of non-conflictive and “good” sociability. How can they be together in aggression, how can caring exist in violence?

Tell me how close we are to a riot is an exhibition by Helena Goñi who looks at all these issues, but who takes them to another place. A pogo in broad daylight, behind the Fine Arts faculty building in Bilbao. The restroom of a bar in Calle Iturribide in Bilbao's Old Quarter, covered with graffiti during a Vulk concert, was reproduced in the artist’s studio, and which is now a sculpture in the exhibition room. The contemptuous threat of a US television presenter is here the title of the exhibition. A poster of one of the only two concerts that Kagadero would give is ten years later reproduced to cover the surface of a column. Four displacements are performed here, inherent to the logics of the re-enactment, to become laboratories of a radical sociability, to establish affinity and collusion to weave a conspiracy. Pogo, restroom, tattoos, leather jackets and other images are no longer merely elements that document a context, a belonging to a group of friends, to an urban culture, and are performance elements of style and identity. Displaced and mixed, they conspire against social prejudices and simplifying interpretations to work together to produce ways of representing intimacy, friendship, along with the turbidity that they imply. Stephano Harney and Valentina Dicen claim that radical sociability is not only a matter of friendship, love or cordiality, nor of hyper-connectivity or logistics. It is a experiment conducted between and against us, with and for others, a constant invention of the form of sociability and less about its content, fashioned in the hazard of being against society but together, conspiring. Helena’s photographs precisely point to this: to inventing ways of mutual support, complicity devices on tenterhooks and therefore unstable, that exhaust while they expose us. And many gestures that explore caring, touch and contact. This is clearly seen in the abundance of skin, hands and embraces that appear in the photographs; entangled hands as if in chain to cling to, legs that stick out and are intertwined, doting arms and much skin that touches and can be touched. They are ways in which the collective and personal are scrambled and contaminated, balanced between the intimacy of the portrait of the room and scope of landscape of Bilbao. Ways in which the shared sensitivity draws a new territory.

This exhibition is, likewise, a photograph experimentation laboratory. Helena uses a wide range of formats and techniques: snapshots, digital and (mainly) analogue photos, traditional and untraditional portrait framing, collections of leather jackets and jeans, repeated prints and contact sheets. There is something accumulative, almost devouring in all this. Yet in some way, photography is here an index of different learning processes. Rather, it is an archive that records a technical exploration, the negotiation of different vocabularies and the final confirmation of an own language. And I suppose that it is also a personal experimentation laboratory. The photographs document Helena's re-encounter with the city itself and her friends after two years away in London. They are an updating of her memories and her desires: it is easy to recognise friendships that grow through the series and over the years, or the Abra’s horizon of sea, seawalls and cranes (which is the everyday view of all of us who grew up in Las Arenas). Yet there is also appreciation of other new affinities and place, of a geography. A sensitive appreciation, where the camera does not reproduce an adversarial relationship between photographer and the sitter, but rather of complicity. The camera and gaze here also does other things: they touch, caress, cover and appreciate from the skin of the photograph, from the eye that looks and that cares. Photography is, in short, a sensor, anesthetised to its environment, whose sensorial capacity detects, records and responds to the contact, impact and influences of the environment. And at a time where sensitivity has been brought down due to the general insecurity of life, inventing new images activating it and ways proposing a radical sociability is a political battlefield. An edgy riot.

Helena Goñi (Bilbao, 1990) After completing a degree in Fine Arts at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) she moved to London, where she completed an MA in Photography at Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts, London). She graduated in June 2015 and staged her first solo exhibition at the Cosmos gallery in Bilbao in October 2015, where she presented her project Tourniquet. She was also awarded the Visual Arts scholarship of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia to continue her project Behind Blue Eyes from October 2015 to June 2016, which led her to move back to Bilbao.

This project won her prize including the publication of a photo-book at the 1st Género y Figura contest in Madrid, and at the 1st Barakaldo Foto Festival and GetxoArte 2016. In January 2017 she is to exhibit some of her works at the Gabinete Abstracto venue at the Sala Rekalde under the title Tell me how close we are to a riot.