The image of humble dwellings, low houses, with skyscrapers in the background, which look like Saturn’s about to devour them, is common to graphically tell of the change in the landscape of many cities in Spain. However, that stamp would only be like scratching on the surface of the gigantic transformation that has occurred in cities of different sizes since the eighties of last century, in the heat of celebrations such as the Barcelona Olympic Games, the Universal Exhibition of Seville, cultural capitalities. .. The exhibition delves into this In Spain. Photography, commissions, territories, 1983-2009, which can be seen at the ICO Museum, in Madrid, until September 12, within the PHotoEspaña program.
PHOTO GALLERY: Exhibition at the ICO Museum on changes in the territory
Mission: photograph the new Europe
The tour shows 11 of those cases (29 in the catalog), called surveys, with images of about 70 photographers, to whom various entities, public and private, made these orders, “freely, but with a critical sense,” explained in the presentation, on June 2, photographer Jorge Ribalta, one of the three curators of the exhibition together with Cristina Zelich and Ramón Esparza. Among the names that participated in these works, international authors such as Gabriele Basilico, Graciela Iturbide, Sebastião Salgado, Humberto Rivas, and Spaniards such as Bleda y Rosa, Carlos Cánovas, Gabriel Cualladó, Joan Fontcuberta, Cristina García Rodero or Xurxo Lobato.
The desire to document “is situated in the European context,” added Ribalta. In fact, the ICO already dedicated an exhibition in 2019 to the changes that occurred in other countries between 1984 and 2019. In the Spanish case there are three periods: “When culture is recomposed with the Transition, photographic festivals arrive and cultural organizations are born with the autonomous communities, in the eighties. Then there is the end of the industrial era and the events of 1992 and, from the 2000s, the urban economic change focused on culture and heritage ”. The photographs arrive until 2009 not on a whim. “Since then, with the great crisis, there is no money for commissions, which have practically not been taken up again. The exhibition is also a wake-up call for them to come back ”, he explained.
At the beginning of this walk through “as we were” the first survey done in Spain, that of Granollers, in 1983. “It was a project proposed by several photographers, led by Joan Fontcuberta,” says Zelich. In it you can see the abandoned and dark buildings of Humberto Rivas. In the case of The Albufera. Tangential vision, which is so titled, from 1985, “it was the Generalitat itself that commissioned it for its archive,” adds the curator.
If there are any images that illustrate radical changes in a city, they are those of Barcelona: a virtual geography, In 1990, when the Official College of Architects of Catalonia wanted to register the gigantic facelift “of a city that had lived with its back to the sea due to its industrial use,” Esparza emphasizes. There are the mountains of land that Manolo Laguillo took; the forgotten periphery, kitsch and industrial, was the goal of John Davies.
In Seville, while the mascot Curro, that bird with elephant legs, moved its multicolored crest, “the city was transformed, especially the island of La Cartuja, site of the 1992 Expo,” says Esparza. The series on display is a song “to what was being lost” for the sake of an idea of modernity. “It is a time of new neighborhoods in many cities, of a leapfrog expansion as the economy grows or shrinks.” For the work on the Andalusian capital, it was divided into 15 grids and one was assigned to each photographer. The fact that architects’ associations were behind some of these commissions was due to the fact that “they wanted to propose alternative city models to the official one”.
That of Bilbao prior to the Guggenheim is a paradoxical case. “The steel had collapsed, the city was at a very low point, but they wanted to promote it precisely at that moment,” according to Esparza. It was an initiative of a group of companies, showing photos of Carlos Cánovas’s cranes or a beautiful one by Gabriele Basilico from the Udondo Dock, which looks like an apocalyptic landscape.
The survey Salamanca was on the occasion of the European capital of culture in 2002, with the construction of buildings and urbanizations, portrayed by Xavier Ribas in the middle of secarrales; While in the Canary Islands, sponsored by the island government, seven photographers were chosen, one per island, to try to give an image of the archipelago away from the sun and beaches, and “associate this territory with contemporary art”, the curators say .
The largest project happened in the Catalan capital and was planned by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (Macba). The reason was, in 2004, the Universal Forum of Cultures. 15 photographers and a panoply of motifs were chosen, from the Seat assembly line in Martorell, the old and new gas structures, the semi-detached houses, but also people, anonymous and protagonists of Catalan society, were also portrayed, such as the then president of the Generalitat, José Montilla.
Finally, the so-called District C of Madrid is flown over, then District Telefónica, the space chosen by this company to the north of the capital to house office and service buildings. The photographers, hired by the company itself, visited the works and recorded the preparations for what was to be born with its tidal wave of plastics, tubes and cables.
In Spain. Photography, commissions, territories, 1983-2009. ICO Museum (Madrid). Free entrance. Tuesday to Saturday, from 11:00 to 20:00. Sundays and holidays, from 10:00 to 14:00.