Report – Resonances/dissonances of history and memory in global contemporaneity

International Seminar – Resonances/dissonances of history and memory in global contemporaneity 

Facultad de Greografía e Historia
Universitat de Barcelona
8 January 2020

by Anita Orzes

The seminar Resonances/dissonances of history and memory in global contemporaneity sought to deepen the complex dialogues and interlinkages between the artistic, cultural and geopolitical spheres produced during the Cold War, emphasizing their persistence in today’s world.
Throughout the introduction, Paula Barreiro and Olga Fernández explained how the Cold War instituted a global geopolitical field that was a radically effective instrument for shaping our perception of reality and structuring our discourse today. It is essential, therefore, to ask how this past is projected and filtered into the vicissitudes of today’s global contemporaneity, taking into account the persistence of neocolonial policies and the active cultural and artistic world that antagonizes them.
The survival of these structural formations, of these histories and of the frictions of memory are of great importance in order to re-discuss and rethink both the configuration of our nearby present and possible futures.

The seminar was structured around two sessions: Fricciones en la representación: el Estado español y sus fantasmas, which emphasized the Spanish case, and Escenarios de la (post)Guerra Fría, on the globalized world context. Throughout the day, lectures by experts were combined with interventions by artists, in order to jointly reflect on artistic practices and their iterations in visual culture.
In the section Fricciones en la representación: el Estado español y sus fantasmas, Miriam Basilio (New York University) spoke at the conference “En un lugar preferente y de honor”: la crisis de la monarquía y el retrato oficial, along with the artists Ignasi Prat and Antoni Muntadas.

Miriam Basilio presented and analysed the representation of the royal family in relation to the legislation in force, cases of censorship and moments of monarchical crisis. She emphasized the importance of Hola magazine (founded in 1944) as a graphic seminar of information that allows us to visualize constants in the portrait of the King Emeritus Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, important turns in their oficial image used as a firewall to stop the wear of the royal family and the consequent modern and close representation of the new Kings and their daughters
Through the work of various photographers and artists, she has analysed not only how the most widely used portrait of Felipe VI is that of a businessman (Gorka Lejarceci, Felipe VI, 2014), but also the legislative position that the image of the king must occupy [1] (case studied by the artist Ignasi Prat, En un lugar preferente, 2015-2017) and the loss of the aura (and destruction of images) of the royal family accompanied by the attempt of Mariano Rajoy’s government to introduce a law to protect the royal image (visible in the work of Alán Carrasco, El jefe de Estado en la época de la reproducibilidad técnica, 2015). Finally, through the analysis of the representation of the dictator Francisco Franco and publications (Los últimos días de Franco vistos en TVE, 1975 and Los últimos días de Rey, 2014) she illustrated how a previous iconography is projected and filtered in the contemporary visuality and how the interruption in the visual narrative takes place when there is a cut, real and nonmetaphorical, of it (Ximena Pérez Grobet, Rosa, 2016).

In the framework drawn up by Miriam Basilio, Ignasi Prat, in conversation with Olga Fernández, underlined the importance of photography as a support for an archaeological activity: archaeology of the image in the case of her project En un lugar preferente (2015-2017) and Cibercracia (2017-2018) and archaeology of Francoism in the case of El mundo de los vencedores (2010-2014). If En un lugar preferente (2015-2017) goes into the town halls to give an account of the canon of the State portraits of Felipe VI and the spaces that frame them, Cibercracia (2017-2018) emphasizes how, in the context of the Internet and social networks, politicians go beyond the canons of official representation, internalizing the forms of representation popularized by the citizens and building strategies of visual identities. With respect to the project El mundo de los vencedores (2010-2014), Ignasi Prat explained that its objective was to recover the opulent aesthetics of the residences of the top people responsible for the repression, accompanied by their portraits, property lists and death certificates [2]. The incipient motivationation for this archival research, which ended up building a counter-archive, was his interest in historical memory, impunity under the Franco regime and the novel Mala gente que camina [3] (2006) by Benjamín Prado.

Antoni Muntadas, in conversation with Pablo Santa Olalla, presented his work through the prism of Cold War Media, a genealogy of his projects in which this global conflict is approached through audiovisual material as a critical language. In fact, Muntadas uses video as a space for reflection on the circulation of information on a transnational level and mediated reality, in dialogue with the specific geopolitical situation. Beginning with projects that focus on the international arena (such as Two Landscapes, Confrontation , The Last Ten Minutes, Wet and Dry, The Broad Room and Political Advertisement 1952-2012), the conversation was re-focused on the Spanish sphere with Norte/Sur/Este/Oeste (1976) and TVE: Primer intento (1989). Emphasis was placed on the role of the decontextualised television image in the search for a confrontation between the specific reality of each place, on the construction of a common media landscape and on the development of the television spot as a political strategy and manipulative marketing technique and on the first (and only) attempt to construct the collective memory of Spanish public television, which ended up being censored.

In the section Escenarios de la (post)Guerra Fría the interventions of Jonathan Harris (Birmingham City University), David Moriente (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) and the artist Lola Lasurt took us from the Middle East to the United States, through South Africa and back to Spain.

Jonathan Harris highlighted the contradictions that are generated at a glocal level, and how these encompass conflicts that remain unresolved, through the work of artists who re-examine the changes in the regions in which they live. Throughout his intervention “Negative Narratives”: Western Asia, Post-Cold War scenarios in five Middle Eastern artists presented A Stitch Time, an exhibition he co-curated at the Today Art Museum in Benijing. He delved into the work of artists such as Hadjithomas Foreige (Wonder Beirut, 1997-2006), Lamia Joreige (Objetc of war, 2013) or Jananne Al-Ani (Shadow Site I, 2010) and their creative articulation of an image, or an idea, from the concept of land as analytical theatre in the Middle East. In the case of Hadjithomas Foreige’s Wonder Beirut (1997-2006), Jonathan Harris highlighted the ambivalence of “wonderful” as a destructive spectacle and as a mental process that does not lead to thinking, imagining or questioning.
Based on this work, he proposed how certain knowledge and memories exist, how they operate, how they acquire a meaning or how they lose it. Likewise, he analysed the vicissitudes of archives which, while preserving memory, can be taken as prisoners of war, and therefore, be destroyed or transformed into juicy material to rewrite the memory of a nation.

Lola Lasurt, in conversation with María Íñigo, moved her gaze to South Africa through A Visit to the CP Nel Museum with MO, a project which was the result of a three-month residency at Greatmore Art Studios (Cape Town). During the residency she came into contact with the cartoonist Mogorosi Motshumi (MO), one of the main exponents of South African comics during the last years of Apartheid. Together with MO, Lola Lasurt visited the CP Nel Museum, the private collection of Charles Paul Nel, a businessman from Oudtshoorn. As a result of this visit, and later conversations, the comic A Visit to the CP Nel Museum with MO is produced, which gathers what was seen in this museum and contrasts and encompasses gaze(s) and temporality(s). On the one hand, Lola Lasurt’s foreign viewpoint is opposed to that of MO, a first-hand witness of the transition, who also worked as an illustrator for Learn and Teach, a subversive magazine masked under the didactic of the English language. On the other hand, the temporality of the comic (a tool to tell a story within the political process of South Africa), the temporality of MO (narration, reception and perception) and the historiographic timelessness of the museum, which confronts the official city with the unofficial one, generate overlapping and tangential layers.

Throughout his intervention Pozo profundo. Mundos polarizados, David Moriente analyzed the persistence of the frictions of the Cold War, and the idea of the past as a fantastic territory from which one does not wish to leave, in several film productions. He detailed the reading of nostalgia (a fortuitous and emotional contact with the past) in relation to the recovery of the eighties and how this entails an inverse effect of “returning to the future”. He particularly emphasized the intertextuality of Stranger Things, as well as the fact that the series is full of fleeting messages that contrast the capitalist viewpoint with the communist viewpoint. It goes from master classes, given by the girl Erika, on what capitalism is and is not, to the concept of infiltrator (the communist infiltrator but also the capacity of capitalism to infiltrate with a kind of capillarity) to conservatism (the Starcourt shopping centre that is destroying the economic fabric of the people, the corrupt mayor Larry Kline or the conversion of the shopping centre into a fortress by the Soviets). In this way, the series takes its protagonists and the viewer from a state of order to one of disorder in a persistent and interesecting way.

This seminar allowed an approach to projects that approach the global situation from a decolonial or horizontal re-reading, projects that make the continuities between the Francoist period and the present visible, while emphasizing the (dis)continuities of representation. Case studies were also presented that reflect on östalgie, the nostalgia for the disappearance of the politics of blocks and their retro-modern imaginaries. All this allowed us to consider how the logic of facts and the logic of fiction acquire a hybrid shade and how temporalities overlap, while modern myths are resignified.

[1] Article 85.2 RD 2568/1986 requires a portrait of the king in the plenary rooms.

[2] Available on the web

[3] Prado Benajamín, Mala gente que camina, Madrid, Alfaguara, 2006. “The woman in the novel, Gloria, goes down to her street, which is covered with snow, and follows some footprints that began in front of her house and that are getting bigger and deeper, until she dies on the fence of a luxurious mansion on the outskirts, in the area where the funereal trenches open in the rest of the city are no longer seen and the gardens, the pergolas, the gazebos and the swimming pools begin: the world of the winners”.