Juan Antonio Álvarez Reyes, Juan Antonio Álvarez Reyes: Compilations (2008)
Live performances and their translation into exhibitions, or how to try to relive musical and performative attitudes in a museum space
There are two questions woven throughout the work of Discoteca Flaming Star which conceptually form what might be the starting point for thinking about an exhibition project that includes a kind of reinterpreted sample of their artistic practices. In their simplified versions these two questions relate to the ideas of compilation and exhibition. On one hand they lead us to ponder the concept of reinterpretation – playing or performing again – somewhat in the sense of compilation CDs, and on the other to ask ourselves whether the exhibition format is the best way of communicating a posteriori, of offering an event that has already taken place to be experienced again. Clearly, both questions are much more interrelated than the gap between the different cultural spheres might suggest. And in the artistic practice of DFS they are so closely linked as to fuse into a single question which, to a certain extent, pervades this entire project.
The ideas of compilation and live performance traditionally associated with bands that have a consolidated reputation and with specific marketing strategies might serve here as an initial premise. There are various reasons for this, and one of them is obviously the particular emphasis that DFS places on issues related to music and, above all, to songs – and also to the idea of reinterpretation. Hence, the description “Hardcore Karaoke” is not only an appropriate but an eloquent way of creating and subsequently distributing their proposals. Other reasons are the ideas of stopping, reflecting and selecting that are implicit to any compilation, plus the fact that, as a recording of a live performance, the end product is a return to certain milestones in order to reshape and reinterpret them for the occasion. This means that the compilation proposed here is a live recording, and also that because the songs have been sung again they are not exactly the same. They are, therefore, other songs, with added parts, new versions, omissions, and occasionally mixed together. But at the same time, as a live recording with hardly any fixes or post-production, it is possible to appreciate the live aspect of the experience in which the improvisations and mistakes are essential components in the construction of a narrative, in this case a song. Discoteca Flaming Star was founded just over ten years ago, so it was high time for a compilation. And, what is more, for a compilation recorded live.
But to top it all, the exhibition format monopolises the whole thing and criticism therefore becomes an absolute necessity. In any case, attempting to question this platform of knowledge is not the purpose of this exhibition. It does, however, underlie it. Is this the best format for showing performances? Or, in keeping with the musical and sound aspects of many of their pieces, is an exhibition the best place to listen to them? And thirdly there is a question related to the film aspects of the exhibition, to their duration and visibility conditions. Let us therefore stop to consider each of these questions concerning the exhibition format, its crisis and its regenerative potential.
If we begin with this last aspect, we shall see how DFS’s inclusion of filmic practices transcends the idea of the documentary as a genre associated with the beginnings of performance art and the first generation of video artists. In fact, the band’s filmic works also surpass those other more recent performances designed to be recorded. They somehow navigate between the two, because although the performances are not structured to be filmed, they are nevertheless captured as quasi-documentaries so that the material can subsequently be manipulated. Similarly, the staging is inspired by the filmic installations that Chrissie Iles explored in Into the Lightand, above all, by her comments on the fact that “the darkened space of the gallery invites participation, movement, the sharing of numerous points of view, the dismantling of the single screen at the front, and an analytical, detached way of viewing.” In relation to how to insert their musical and sound pieces into a museum space – a device designed and created for people to see but not listen – DFS willingly enters the current debate on how to exhibit one or more of these three basic components of contemporary creation – live art, film and sound – but then tiptoes around the issue, or at least approaches it from an assimilation based on the superimposition of layers of new meanings within a specific and seemingly amateur mechanism. But in the end, the real crux of the matter is how to insert into a frozen exhibition space the live experiences that form the basis of their artistic practice, and how the device to which these experiences are subjected is capable or not of permitting an engagement that does not destroy the spirit of vitality and experience inherent to all their collective work. Perhaps, what unites and enhances these three aspects – film, sound and performance – within the museum space is the spirit of installation, which, like memory, constructs a series of layers in what initially seems to be a random order. The installation and memory are therefore like opportunities that permit the combinations and additions that the passage of time gradually lends to the songs and performances, facilitating their public (re)presentation as if it were a compilation CD or a live performance of old tracks but within a framework (the exhibition) that is somewhat alien to these experiences and which, moreover, seeks a fairly retrospective style of presentation.
Working backwards through the title of the exhibition “mil veras, mil prinzessinnen, mil centralias”, perhaps it is best to start at the beginning, with the first piece that greets the visitor but the last one in the title. This means that, in the adaptation of the exhibition space, the journey from the periphery to the centre is reversed. There is a distinct and continual shift here motivated by a variety of geographical, social and political issues. If we abstract the works themselves and go from one title to another, that journey from the centre to the periphery would in some way resemble the journey from the city to other nearby cities and their independent satellites, becoming almost a metaphor of the actual centre hosting the exhibition. We cannot therefore forget that we are in Madrid and in Móstoles – even if the latter is the periphery of the centre – with all their geo-political and historical implications, including recent history, and despite the fact that Para Centraliais actually another city on another continent. But the related matters are there, as the Puto Poderbanner reminds us.
With a result that is highly installational, in which the sound piece, moving image and photography blend with the text that becomes the song, the work recreates a performance in a strange place. As Ulrich Beck has written, “Modern ecological dangers have only been presented as symptoms years after they began to have an impact as the invisible effects of specific actions.” To a certain extent, it is these invisible effects that DFS has tried to expose in a place where today they are extremely visible. This work, jointly produced with Michael Mahalchick and Ines Schaber, is therefore an installation of a performance which includes various media that lend the spectator a new angle on the perception of issues associated with the economy, the landscape, natural disasters caused by humanity and the consequences of these disasters on local communities.
The history on which it is based is symptomatic of what Beck has said about the risk society and the state of “organised irresponsibility.” Centralia is a small town in Pennsylvania in the United States of America which for decades has been suffering from a natural disaster caused by humanity. After a fire at a rubbish dump on an old mine, a seam of coal also caught fire and spread to the various mines underneath the town. This led to health problems among the population because, in a way, the town itself was burning, being situated above a fire, with all the attendant risks. In 1984 the US Congress decided to relocate the population and provided financial compensation. However, some of the inhabitants stayed on in the town. In fact, one of the wooden houses appears in the installation photographs, its buttresses simply serving to reinforce its sheer oddity. Nowadays, Centralia looks like a ghost town. The signs of the fire, which affects a vast seam of coal (so vast, in fact, that it may continue to burn for a very long time), are visible both in the clouds of smoke emanating from the subsoil and in the collapsed terrain, but the artists have chosen not to portray these, not to include them in their images because the memory, grief and laments are present in the music and the sound, together with a quest for new forms of action.
In the middle, between Centralia and La Vera, we see a few pieces, like songs on a compilation CD, that DFS calls Obras de Arte(in Spanish, evidence of the “hotchpotch of languages” that the members of the band use, ranging from Spanish and German to English). Like atrezzo or stage props, a series of old rugs on the floor, pictorially and textually manipulated, receive us in a similar way to the banners that the artists use in their performances and installations as hand-painted backdrops with phrases that are often cryptic or difficult to read and are written in different scripts (as well as in the three languages they habitually use). These banners refer to numerous aspects, and are sometimes textual and conceptual references that the artists work with. Alongside the banners and rugs here, the walls of individual drawings by Cristina Gómez Barrio and Wolfgang Mayer engage in a mutual dialogue, as if condensing ideas, interpretations and sensations, like sketches or ideograms, and as if digesting and then regurgitating the whole thing. As such, they propose a dialogue or invite discussion.
And to close the compilation, a project from 2004 produced in Viandar de la Vera, a town in Extremadura, which has been completely recreated here to become the installation of a performance. A large structure that forms part of a stage adopts the form of a type of walkway covered by a new banner specially made for the exhibition out of defective Manila shawls. The use of these shawls has been marked by a migration of forms, customs and cultural misunderstandings arising from colonial issues (the shawls originated in China, spread to the Philippines, and then from there to Mexico and on to the motherland, Spain), which in their journey through time and space have gradually evolved from a foreign item into the essence of Spanish culture. On the stage, two television screens reproduce, in different orders and for different purposes, scenes from the performance-concert given in the town by Discoteca Flaming Star and the local folk band El Arroyo de los Cagaos. For one night the two bands performed together in the town square. Over the course of several hours a short circuit was produced between two bands from different cultural backgrounds, from an urban location and a rural one, from a distant context and a local one. But despite these evident differences, both bands use tools and devices taken from memory, from human displacements and migrations, as well as the musical traditions of their respective environments. In the end, this installation provides the link with the spatial and cultural environment in which the exhibition takes place. Móstoles, as a town that has grown thanks to the vast numbers of immigrants arriving from, among other places, Extremadura. Móstoles, as a place of alluvium, a space where identity has been constructed out of the amalgamation of other identities, which ultimately adopt the alien as their own. Móstoles, as the historical connection between the rural and the urban, between the centre and the periphery. This is therefore a compilation exhibition, a journey from Centralia to La Vera that begins and ends with these two long, new versions, making this project a rare collector’s item.