An adventure into art in a digital time going online has been a trend for some time now, but it has never been as relevant and important as it has become during the covid-19 pandemic. Simply put, it has developed into a tool to connect the world virtually in order to continue business, with the aim of replacing the physical presence. In the art world, however, it has left many people perplexed as to how to continue having a ‘normal’ relationship with others through a screen. The challenge becomes even greater when it comes to experiencing artworks, particularly those that were not originally conceived to be experienced digitally. Can the representation of an image ever recreate or reflect the experience that would usually take place in a physical encounter? SELECTIONS set off on a quest to find out. We invited 10 guests to describe one artwork of their choice, first in an objective way, but then more subjectively and contextually. The results are as unique as our participants and form this issue’s experimental catalogue.
Sabrina Amrani describes
Pasillo Hexagonal, 2019
Watercolour and graphite on paper
130 × 130 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Sabrina
The piece is titled Pasillo Hexagonal, which translates from Spanish to English as Hexagonal Corridor. The size is approximately 130 x 130 cm. It is a watercolour that is made mainly in greyscale with some red elements and it represents a tunnel that is descending and twisting. When you look at it you feel a sense of movement and that you are entering into this tunnel as if you are entering into a void. The tunnel is made out of Lego pieces, and I feel that we all know Lego pieces from our childhood, so that’s why I chose this piece.
This piece is from Cuban artist Dagoberto Rodriguez, who used to be part of the Los Carpinteros art collective. What is interesting is that if you read this piece with the context or the history of the artist, you get to understand that first of all the Lego pieces that I used to play with when I was a child were not as universal as I had thought.
Dagoberto is in his late 40s, so more or less the same generation as I am, but he grew up in Cuba and didn’t play with these toys those days. Dagoberto describes his country as a kind of place where you could only dream, in the sense that these Lego pieces were not available. The bridges or tunnels that they would see in some movies at that time were rare in Cuba in the 70s. They did not have access to many things. So, when he was a child, he was dreaming with his friends about bridges and spaceships, but they knew that even a simple bridge was something so utopian. He says that they didn’t even have the technology for this kind of architecture so they wouldn’t ever have had the possibility of crossing a bridge, or of entering a huge building in a city. For him, the Lego pieces are the possibility of building a future, of building your dreams.
When he started his practice many years ago, this idea of tunnels and bridges was an obsession and it still is an obsession in his work. There are a lot of sculptures and paintings and even videos that relate to that. So, coming back to thinking about the context of the artist and how this piece was made: when we opened the show in January 2020, we were talking about this utopian void from a Cuban artist that was dreaming about architecture and the possibility of building something.
During the confinement, I got to see the works a lot. We had to close the gallery in March and even though no one could visit it, the show was still up. It stayed on until late June, when we reopened the gallery, and rather than a second opening, we celebrated the reopening of the space and people could come and see the show again. My views on these works really changed though throughout this time. It is about this feeling that you are in this tunnel, and you can’t see what happens at the end of it. It’s like a corner, a curve. You don’t know what to expect. Dagoberto was talking about that a lot, that you don’t know if after this curve you will find disaster or you will have a happy ending. He was talking about his personal perspective of the world and how being in Cuba made him isolated by the socio-political and geopolitical aspects of the country.
I grew up in France and now I live in Spain, and one thing that is specific to Europe is the safety context; there are no surprises. Politics have been stable for quite some time: there is nothing unforeseen. However, the pandemic has changed this completely for every person like me. Suddenly everything is uncertain, the idea of the future that you imagined is at risk. I am not saying that I knew what my future held before this pandemic, but suddenly you really have this feeling that everything can take a different direction and you have no idea how it might affect you. There was a feeling that everything was possible when we first opened the gallery, and we had a solid economic context. I had the feeling that all the parameters around me were green and positive and right now it is a very challenging time for any business. I keep moving forward and I build my own positive visions but right now the politics and the context are not as favourable as they used to be so this is a huge difference for me at least.
So, during the confinement this piece made me reflect a lot on the future. Suddenly, the scheme that was the basis of our lives was no longer there and I felt and I still feel there is this tunnel, I am in it, and there is this curve, and anything can happen after this curve, but you have to keep moving. This is also a feeling that I didn’t live with before, this idea of moving towards something that can collapse, that can be danger. In that sense this piece resonates with me a lot, and I think it resonates with many people. Nonetheless this tunnel reminds me of our capacity to move forward, to keep going and our necessity of Hope. Rodriguez’s exhibition is shout out for hope and all the possibilities that the future holds for us, it is about the journey of life.
Also, this idea of being trapped; again, I grew up in Europe, where we can move freely, but Dagoberto is Cuban and Cubans cannot travel wherever they want. I mean again this is something that was beyond my reality, but suddenly during this pandemic as a Spanish resident, I couldn’t enter maybe 100 countries. And this is something that is very new for me and for many people.
‘Tunel Vision’ exhibition was made in a rather interesting way: Dagoberto works in a kind of inverted process, in which he builds digitally the architecture and then converts it into an analogical handmade drawing. A process that we had to invert again for the audience to see the exhibition virtually. We can only adjust to this digital age, acknowledging the limits of the existing technologies. The challenge with these kinds of works that are like watercolour on paper is that they are very flat when you see them through a screen but also in real life. But the shadows and the transparency in the material itself make you think that you are really in this void, and when you are in front of this series of works by Dagoberto you feel the movement. As you evolve into the space and get closer into the work, you really have a feeling as if you are entering into it and it’s so deep. So, the big challenge in the digital age is you are receiving and sharing an image that is a flat image.
This physical experience of entering the gallery space and going towards the work and having this feeling that you’re going to fall into this void is something that digitally disappears because you see an image and you’re in front of your computer, but you are not moving towards your screen and your screen is tiny. So, this is something that you lose in these digital times and we’ve been trying to share through a guided visit and conversation with the artist what we are doing now: you share the experience, and you try to recreate the experience with words.
The artist produced a video during the pandemic. It’s an animation where you have this loop of images and you are falling into this tunnel but never getting out of it. I think it’s very interesting that he had the need to create this video, which I think was the feeling of being trapped in this loop in our daily routine during confinement.
I don’t get obsessed with the digital experience of art, because in the end the greatest experience you can have with an artwork is the conversation with people and it has always been about that, at least for me. In my philosophy, it is not just about the artwork, it’s the conversations that an artwork can generate, and this is still possible. We are still talking about art, so I think in the art world the most important aspect is still the human and conversational aspect.
Dagoberto Rodríguez was born in 1969 in Caibarién, Cuba and graduated from Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), La
Habana (Cuba) in 1994. In 1992 he co-founded the collective Los Carpinteros. He currently works between Madrid and La Habana. His works have been exhibited in museums and cultural institutions around the world and are part of prominent public collections such as MOMA, Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim New York,
Centre Georges Pompidou, Tate Modern and Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, among many others. Combining architecture, design and sculpture, his work employs humour and irony to comment on core topics in art, politics and society. Watercolour forms a very important part of his creative process; it is a way of registering and revising his ideas. Often these works reflect a fantasy of a possible conceptual situation. This work by Dagoberto was part of a show called Vision de Tunel, held from January 22 to March 28 then to late
June 2020 at the gallery in Malasaña, Madrid. I knew Dagoberto’s work because Los Carpinteros was and still is one of the most important art collectives within the art world and the international art scene. This is a key generation of artists in Cuba that were born in the 60s and experienced the 70s. This is an important factor in the Arab world, because Cuba had a specific partnership with some Arab countries like Algeria and Syria. Communism was not a small thing, so I knew his work. Dagoberto Rodriguez and I met thanks to a Spanish museum director, who is a dear friend of ours. This friend was convinced that the artist and the gallery were meant for each other. Coincidentally, before we had the chance to set an appointment, we met at ARCO Madrid in 2018, Dagoberto was presenting a solo right in front of my booth, so in a way the universe conspired for us to meet. I always say that an art fair is not only about selling but in fact it’s about making contact with your collectors. It is key to have these conversations with artists, curators and fellow gallerists and institutions, and most of the job at art fairs is about building synergies and meeting people and the possibilities of future projects. You never know what can happen at an art fair.
Sabrina Amrani (Paris, 1980) has been living and working in Madrid since 2008. In 2011, she inaugurated an international art gallery in Madrid. Her programme focusses on artists from the Global South who deal with socio-political, socioeconomical and cultural subjects. In early 2019, Amrani opened a second space in Madrid, a monumental-scale dedicated exhibition space. She holds a master in sociology and a postgraduate degree in HR and business development (Sorbonne Paris – Descartes Paris V). She is a former industrial business & people strategist and developed projects in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and America
until 2009. Sabrina Amrani sits on the board of the Spanish art organisation Fundación SZ and is a member of the Selection Committee of ARCOlisboa and of the Art Market Council of the Nebrija University (Spain). She was the President of ArteMadrid (Association of Galleries of Madrid), from 2016 to 2019, having been a board member since 2014.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #54