22 Jan - 07 Mar 2009
Tubos conectores y cable de acero galvanizado, escaleras de aluminio.
420 x 1.240 x 575 cm.
Vistas de la exposición El medio es el museo en el MARCO de Vigo
January 22 - March 7, 2009
Sergio Prego: Alternative functions of space
Pedro del Llano
From Mister pequeño abandona toda esperanza (1996) up until Bisectriz (2008), Sergio Prego’s artistic project has continued to follow his desire to create situations in which the human body frees itself from its own set of rules and restrictions, enabling it to move freely inside the space and to depend on other coordinates. By means of diverse mechanisms in which the memory of the sculpture, the performance and the video make up a complex system, his works have always been characterised by the desire to challenge the limits and conventions of our habitable surroundings, with the utopian objective of creating alternative ones that contrast with those already existing. In many occasions, this desire has been directly related with the questioning of physical laws and, therefore, with objective definitions that have often been supposedly imposed on the perception of reality. This has particularly been the case on the part of the most instrumental visions of technique and scientific investigation. As Chus Martínez pointed out, referring to ANTI- After T.B (2004) – an exhibit whose main objective was to create a structure that allowed you to walk on the walls of an exhibition hall – Prego’s work consists in discovering “a world without gravity” in which “the spatial relations and movements are completely redefined”1.
Even when the specificity of each piece is taken into account, as well as that of its respective contexts of production, works like Tetsuo bound to fail (1998), Yesland, I ́m here to stay (2001), Cowboy Inertia Creeps (2004) or Flicker (2007), insist once and again upon the need to consider different ways of capturing and relating with space. That is, different ways of interpreting reality, but, also –and this is important- of interacting with it. This also occurs in his other works where the presence of the human body is less evident, but where it remains implicit in the relation that it establishes with diverse structures that transform the experience of the architectonic frameworks in which they are installed. This is the case, for example, in Winterstar (2004), Sunoid (2005) or Secuencia de diedros (2007). The artist himself referred to this question in 1998: “Instead of making the body move in a determined way, what I want to do is allow it to move in a different way; and objects or devices are techniques that facilitate this, fencing in spatial concepts to which they are unavoidably subject to”2.
Bearing in mind these features, it is important to notice how Sergio Prego’s work forms part of a time in which the definitions of our common space have been disrupted by numerous events. On the one hand, there is a process of homogenisation of our surroundings which is related to the expansion of urban life and the ways of production belonging to capitalism. And, on the other hand, we can see a series of new technologies from the digital revolution that multiply the sphere of what is real leading towards new territories where the subject projects his/ her own existence in infinite directions. The vicissitudes created to participate in parallel words of internet or the never-ending offers of audiovisual fictions are good examples to illustrate this. And perhaps the concept of “virtuality” is the one that defines best the paradoxes that are generated between these two contradictory phenomenons. According to the dictionary, “virtual” is an adjective that is applied to a noun to explain that what it designates has the possibility to be what that noun really means, but not what it really is”. And in the field of physics it refers to something “that exists as a necessary physical supposition in the production or development of a phenomenon, but not in reality”3. Virtual relates therefore with the projection or the potential of something which is imaginary, but which could become real. And it represents, in this sense, the imbalance that exists in contemporary occidental societies, between a public space that appears as being plainer and simpler through the voracity of consumerism, and a private space in which all those fantasies, roles and activities that cannot take place in the everyday reality are constructed.
Sergio Prego’s work moves between two spheres. He uses the resources of virtuality inherent to the audiovisual means, but always as a mechanism that registers at the same time as it transforms actions that really took place in generic spaces: whether they are the poor areas of a decadent and post-industrial city, the motorways of a megalopolis or the repetitive structures of the “white cube” museum piece. In all of these cases, Prego’s interest lies in building structures that bring about situations that modify those spaces, to offer, by means of technological mediation, different points of view related to these. In contrast to a conservative idea, that conceives virtuality as being a parallel and self-absorbed world that never coincides with the “real” one, the strangeness and special nature of his artistic project has a lot to do with this childlike illusion that resides in projecting imaginary realities into landscapes and everyday surroundings. A species of radical otherness of place that, on the one hand, invites the spectator to reconsider the conditions of the possibility of the impossible, here and now, whilst, on the other, it generates temporal distortions in which the past is confused with the present by means of the pre-recorded information transmitted by its actions. Between the real occurrence and it’s prolonged and reinterpreted existence in audiovisual language (in the re-presentation), Sergio Prego’s work could also be defined as a reflection about the paradoxes that exist between what has been lived and what lies in our memory; between objective facts and the linguistic and subjective elaboration that takes place inside our memory. What is considered virtual, in this sense alternative, would have more to do with the “mythic nature” of art -that is, with its ability to fantasize, to create stories that take place in history -rather than with “the remains that are left by the sign stripped of its significance during the process of representation”4.
The installation and the video that Sergio Prego is now presenting in the Soledad Lorenzo gallery, produced to illustrate the collective project El medio es el museo, (The museum is the medium) that took place in the MARCO in Vigo during the summer of 2008, (Sin título, 2008), have a lot to do with what has already been said up to now. To start with, the project consisted in carrying out an intervention taking into account the specific characteristics of the museum and the exhibit space, following the lines of research that the artist had carried out in previous projects such as ANTI- After T.B or Yesland, I’m here to stay. In this sense the idea was to question the material and linguistic conventions of the institution, with the aim of generating critical attitudes towards an environment that, historically speaking, has been used to promote a very determined type of behaviour. To question, in particular, a whole range of spatial and performative protocols which, starting from an artistic experience centred in visualization, had codified during the last two centuries attitudes that had helped to “format” the behaviour of individuals with an educative aim, a priori, but which was clearly to control them in the end. Texts belonging to philosophers like Michael Foucault, and other authors, like Tony Bennett, have examined in an exemplary way the manner in which traditional museums have contributed in a decisive way to constructing an “autonomous” and regulated subjectivity as well as a linear and teleological idea of history which was spread, from the prestige that they acquired by means of the economical and political elites that financed them, towards the other social classes.
From a more prosaic point of view silence, paused manners and an attitude to a certain extent both passive and respectful, are the main effects caused by a type of representation and a story that pretended to “educate” people that had access to museums. But perhaps the consumerist logic that characterizes the collector, as well as the alienated or distanced relation with reality, characteristic of autonomous art, were the real messages that were intended to be introduced from a determined moment onwards in the last century. There is of course a lot to be said about this subject. However this brief digression should be enough to show the interesting on-going conflict between the type of relationship with space that the museum institutions have transmitted throughout history, and the alternative proposals that may be appreciated in the work of an artist like Sergio Prego, as well as that of many others from his generation and other previous ones. As he says in his own words: “I am interested in the work processes that permit new forms of capturing space, and creating movements that the rigid social rules limit or block. That movement can only be linguistic, probably because it cannot take place inside the parameters of the idea of conventional movement. I think there is a conscience of material reality upon which representation is constructed. It is a concept which has been developed throughout this century. Language (understood as representation) creates layers which overlap that material reality”5.
In this sense a project like the one Prego undertook in Vigo puts forward a number of elements worth reflecting on. His design was made out of a self-supporting building that functioned like a bridge between the walls of a rhomboid-shaped room which, until the building had been redesigned, had actually been one of the courtyards with a sky view inside the city’s old prison. Due to the considerable dimensions of the space itself, the structure adopted an “L” form with the longest side allowing in twelve metres of light. A sufficiently large distance so that the aluminium staircases that had previously been used as a passageway between wall and wall, had to be reinforced with a series of vertical elements that, together with a system of steel cable, gave a more overall rigid appearance to the whole structure. The final result was a simple and light artefact whose mechanical appearance was half way between the typical framework of the slipway found in the city shipyards, and that of the articulated limbs of space satellites and certain architectonic experiments from the soviet vanguard (above all, those related with temporary and mobile functions). Once placed inside the exhibition hall, suspended half way between the floor and the ceiling, the bridge was used to carry out a series of actions. These progressions along the structure were recorded on video in order to be edited backwards afterwards, so that the glass roof of the exhibition hall was perceived as being a luminous floor.
As for the audiovisual documentation, the result of this working process gave way to a series of passages where two people walk facing upwards and downwards along the structure, thanks to a set of prosthesis specially designed for the occasion, which allowed them to strap their feet between the steps of the staircase. At the beginning the movements are clumsy and awkward, and appear to demand a tireless effort on behalf of the protagonists. As if we were witnessing the first trials of a radically new form of moving around space, that reminds us, in certain aspects, of images of the astronaut Neil Armstrong when he stepped on the moon in 1969. A process of learning right from scratch in which it is necessary to create a kinetic and corporal vocabulary capable of responding to conditions never used before. As time passes and although neither the video nor the action itself has either narrative or finalist intentions, the movements become more and more fluid. A relationship emerges between the space and the structure that serves to support the action, so that the gestures take on a certain “natural look”, even whilst they remain completely alien to our everyday experience. An alternative reality is established that questions by contrast the stability of the place that the spectator occupies.
Of course, the influence of modern dance, with its ability to de-automate the corporal vocabulary established, is one of the main historical references that come to mind when these images are contemplated; particularly those of choreographers that began to work in the decade of the sixties like Trisha Brown, Simone Fortí or Yvonne Rainer amongst others. However, unlike these, what the visitor contemplates here is not a “live” action, but rather an exercise carried out in an “other” moment that has been pre-recorded and is shown in the present. As is the case with most of Prego’s work, the video is not reduced to a mere eye-witnessing role, that conserves the memory of the action, but rather it is the medium and the technique that allows for its own authentic existence. A position which, at the same time as it links it to the conceptual tradition of the seventies distinguishes it by means of a critical attitude that does not consider the simultaneity between the performance and its reception a necessary factor. That would be the difference, for example, compared to certain works like those of Gordon Matta-Clark that can serve as a starting point for Prego, such as Tree Dance (1971) or Jacob’s Ladder (1977).
The aim here, therefore, by dissociating the action from the moment in which it occurs, is to achieve a greater temporal and spatial disclosure; a larger contrast between the “facts” and their projection in images, and therefore, a greater stimulus for imagination. From this point of view, the role that structure plays is neither less important nor is it secondary. For it is not simply a residue that is left deactivated from its original function, but instead it presents itself as a relatively autonomous artefact that contributes to reinforcing the interpretative challenge that is offered to the spectator. The aim of the structure, as can be appreciated in the consecutive exhibitions where it has been shown, such as the Koldo Mitxelena Hall in Donosti or the Soledad Lorenzo Gallery in Madrid, is to generate unexpected situations which contrast, both with the new conditions of the exhibition, as well as with its original location. Indeed, the variation of the contexts which the installation goes through contributes to multiplying its meaning, as well as speculating on its different possible uses. On the one hand, the structure points towards the place in which it was conceived for different reasons, such as the spatial configuration or the type of industrial elements that compose it. In some ways it conserves a certain spatial memory. But, on the other hand, it functions like an independent object that generates new perceptions both of itself, as well as of the architectonic frameworks in which it is installed.
From this ambiguous perspective, that oscillates between the close relation with the idiosyncrasy of place and its own autonomy, Sergio Prego’s work could be considered as part of the mutation that the “site-specific” tendencies have experimented in recent times. A change that has provoked that, from the deep-rooted tradition to the context that characterized the generation of the seventies, from a strictly material point of view (especially according to the phenomenological model of Richard Serra) it is now time to move on to a more independent relation that considers location as a medium and not as a purpose in itself. Of course the new social and economic conditions taking place in our globalized world have a lot to do with this displacement. However we should not forget that many of the recent institutional processes, in the world of art, have been orientated towards a gradual appropriation and deactivation of this type of experiences politically committed with the context, inside the framework of a growing self- satisfaction with reference to the identity of special features of their surroundings. The boom of biennials or museum “shows” would be a phenomenon to study, in this sense, where the “site-specific” work runs the risk of being manipulated as authentic propaganda through the media of the institution or the city. And perhaps that is where a good part of this scepticism towards the “literality” of the site lies, perhaps it is part of a more complex problem that authors like James Meyer have analyzed in depth.
In contrast with the strict identification between the work and the context of traditional practice, Meyer proposes a “functional site” which may or may not incorporate a physical place. It certainly does not privilege this place. “Instead, it is a process, an operation occurring between sites, a mapping of institutional and textual filiations and the bodies that move between them (the artist’s above all). [...] It is no longer an obdurate street wall, attached to the plaza for eternity.
On the contrary, the functional work refuses the intransigence of literal site specificity. It is a temporary thing, a movement, a chain of meanings and imbricate histories: a place marked and swiftly abandoned. The mobile site thus courts its destruction; it is wilfully temporary; its nature is not to endure but to come down”6.
All in all, this “nomad”7 attitude of the “site-specific” could also be seen from a critical point of view: like a return to autonomy that takes the work back to its previous condition of being perishable. This observation is, partly, correct: it is clear that this type of proposal does not intend to remove it from the commercial exchange, contrary to what occurred with its predecessors in the sixties, who tried to avoid economic speculation by “fixing” its position to a specific framework. However, in reality, its aim has never been this but rather to generate different relationships between the actual work and its context; to create less literal bonds, to foresee new forms of compromise between the work and the site under different and more open parameters than those of the seventies (which, as is well-known, failed in their attempt to gain independence from the market and were reclaimed in different ways). In the case of this project of Prego’s, these bonds are mainly connected to a certain memory of the places through which they travel (depicted in the videos) and, especially, with the way in which this memory acts upon them. In this particular case the aim would be to create a kind of “value of implicit use” through which the spectator puts together a series of functions both alternative and coexisting simultaneously with the space in which the work is set. From this point of view, a structure like this one could be interpreted as an enigmatic instrument capable of redefining the effective conditions of use in which it is temporally placed. A tendency that has been present in the work of the artist from the start, but which perhaps has recently become more noticeable, and is related with Prego’s interest in the contingent and utopian architectures of artists like Matta- Clark, Vito Aconcci or unclassifiable authors like Buckminster Fuller.
We could, in this sense, speak about an “organic” vision of space. An ambition to provide his works with the same metamorphic ability that exists in the human body, as we have previously seen. A desire to create elements halfway between the subject and its surroundings that by means of architectural prosthesis would bring about unexpected activities in the site itself. Works such as Generación (2009) or Sin título (2009) also form part of this research work. The first is made up of photographs of plaster casts with an appearance similar to that of a heap of intestines that blends in with the wall in order to establish its apparent continuity between the body and the architecture itself. As if the one thing was incomprehensible without the other. Guts which fold up on themselves, at the same time as they project themselves in a three-dimensional volume; curves which connect the corporal cavities with primitive topographies and organic architectures. All in all, the hopes of a fragmentary subject that flows freely around the space, without the conventional limits of the unitary body. Like a form in gestation, arbitrary and functional, that can evolve in any way inside an empty space. There is no criterion to be followed. Here, likewise the functions of these protuberances are subject to debate. They are open to speculation on a level that oscillates between the imaginary, the symbolic and the real.
The second project is in fact a quarter section of a cylinder that, in some ways, recalls the tubular structure of the previous pieces. But now it is used to identify in a material way the work and the real space inside the gallery. The end result is forms of plaster ramps that go around the room in order to establish different levels of curved continuity between the floor and walls. As if by walking on them the spectator would modify its perceptive plane and occupy another dimension of space. Without doubt, its own simplicity reveals its intentions and relates it with the previous works. The aim is not to exclusively transform the real space, but rather to stimulate the imagination with the purpose of acceding to a “virtual” or utopian existence where the number of possibilities is infinite. Once again, the contrast between the architectonic literal sense of an object and its ability to produce images inside the mind provides the work with its authentic contents.
In the sixties, the artists of minimalism tried hard to displace the level of activity of art works from the visual aspect to the corporal. This accounts, for example, for their interest in using the floor as a nexus between their works, the architectonic framework and the spectator. Rosalind Krauss set a former reference for these artists in the “bassese” (horizontality) that characterized the working process of artists like Jackson Pollock and others that were to follow8. Later on in time, the “site-specific” works and the performance were the greatest expression of this type of dedication and engagement with space, that is the ambition to fuse together “art and life”. An attitude in which the immediacy of the experience itself was in full consonance with a generation for whom the revolution was a direct action and for whom utopia had to occur “here and now”. As James Meyer wrote “Presence became an aesthetic cri de coeur among the generation of artists and critics who emerged in the 1960s, suggesting an experience of actualness and authenticity that would contravene the depredations of an increasingly mediated, “one-dimensional” society”9. Compared to these, we could say that an artist like Sergio Prego has undertaken the mission to reconcile both levels (the physical and the visual) by means of mechanisms that contrast and question the supposed objectivity or literality of the “real” space. That is to say, the identification he makes of space in a process that reinforces what philosophy denominates “the metaphysics of presence”. For this reason, works like his show us that inside the context of our itinerant and unstable contemporary experience, it is perhaps just as important to pay attention to a specific space and to direct action, as to building new layers of imaginary meaning inside it. His are fictions that, from a pre-recorded past, anticipate their own transformation into the future. In this sense, and under this perspective, the revolution would no longer be something concrete, but rather conditional. It would no longer have a predetermined programme that would have to necessarily materialise itself. On the contrary, it would be something that could exist and disappear with the same ease. A sort of utopia with no centre and no place. A utopia with only the hope of one possibility. The possibility of the impossible.
1. Chus Martínez, “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere. Sergio Prego: Caminando sobre la pared”, cat. exp. Sala Rekalde, Bilbao, 2004, p. 49.
2. Sergio Prego, “Cuerpo Under Construction”, Zehar, no. 38, Donosti, 1999, p. 23.
3. Translated here from the Spanish definition given in the María Moliner dictionary.
4. Translated from a conversation with the artist, 30th December 2008.
5. Prego, idem. 1999, p. 24.
6. James Meyer, “The Functional Site, or the Transformation of Site-Specificity”, 1995. Reprinted in Erika Suderburg (ed.), Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2000, p. 25.
7. With reference to this, see Miwom Kwon, One Place After Another. Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachussets, 2002.
8. Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious [Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1993], Translated to Spanish as El inconsciente óptico Tecnos, Madrid, 1997, pp. 257-326.
9. Meyer, idem. 1995, p. 26.