Casabermeja cemetery and death in Andalucia

On my way home from the south I decided to stop and take photos of the cemetery in Casabermeja which I used as inspiration when I was working on this project back in 2005-6. I wanted to in some way blend these with the images of recent housing developments in the area in order to point out their similarities and suggest a coincidence in meaning. Here I have presented the photos I took in August 2015 with the photos of housing developments and some sketches I originally made in 2005/6.

d o a      casabonela 1        hgygyig

casabonela 3        death of Andalucia      whdhsd


this project was left in the air as I got taken up with working with images of people but it still resonates with me.




Just before I left Andalucia I decided to take some photographs of this development. El Castañar was a chestnut forest on the edge of Ojén, Málaga. I remember at around 2004-5ish in the middle of the real estate bubble they started to build foundations on the sight of the forest having cut many trees down. This was in itself really sad. We never saw the plans or the advertisements for the new homes which were all aimed at foreigners (and obviously not foreigners like me). I do not know how much land was sold for the urbanisation or how legal the buildings were. There were other high profile cases of buildings which were completed on protected mountain sights illegally but this one never came to my attention. What I did notice were the new signs as you drove up to the village and a new roundabout at the entrance to El Castañar presumably someone paid for this.

castañar                  DSC_0293 view of El Castañar from the roundabout.

As you can see El castañar was never finished. Worked stopped in the 2007/8 crisis as the real estate market collapsed. To this day the signs remain on the road up to the village and the mysterious roundabout. The deserted urbanisation is gated and has security warnings and I even saw some people from the village leaving and locking the gate they asked me no questions drove off and I crawled under the gate.



I wanted to see how far they got with the building and what was there. From the road you know there are foundations and the supports for buildings but no buildings. There is also a road. The road curves up the mountain and continues for a long way. I now regret not going any further, I think I was worried about being able to hide if anyone came back but what I did see was a lot of foundations and the big girder structures but no walls. Some plants have started growing over the edges but the floors are huge because to make them flat on a mountain there is a lot of cement.

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The road winds up behind the first rows of foundations which are close to the road. as far as I could go up – I went up slowly for about 10 minutes there were more curves and more foundations. I never got to the end of the road. As far as I could see the building went on and in the same way, road, foundations the supporting beams. The photos all start to look very similar. The houses would have had amazing views had they been built. They look over the village, the mountains and the sea in the distance.

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Captura de pantalla 2015-08-29 a las 12.30.22  The only photograph I could find of the drawings of the homes they proposed to build was on the poster in this street view from google maps, it has since disappeared.

El Castañar remains as a monument to the folly of capitalist greed replacing nature.

The Death of Andalucia

This excursion reminded me of a project I was doing in Andalucia when I lived there but never completed. I called it the ‘Death of Andalucia’ (La Muerte de Andalucia). It had struck me how similar the design of the new developments of the early 20th century mimicked the cemeteries of the area. So I started to morph the 2 together using layering, photoshop and painting. The developments of those years were not of course as beautiful as the cemeteries and the ‘death’ was a selling out of the culture, a literal selling off of publicly owned national park and coastline. In many ways it is easy to understand why any chance to make money would be welcome in an area which had known so much hunger in living memory. It was also a repetition of previous times in the early 20th century when the mines were sold off to foreigners who made the locals work for them for subsistence wages.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction – Walter Benjamin

I read this because I never had and really enjoyed it. I had heard a criticism of Benjamin not developing the arguments and it is true that he does just seem to hit you with every small chapter full of stuff that made me think a lot. It was a lot more pertinent to what I do that I had expected and gave me so much to think about I am reeling. Here are my notes:

Reproductions and Audience:

I knew that this would relate to my questioning about how we experience art especially to sites and how technology brings the work to new sites but transforms it. Benjamin begins by stating that reproduction goes back to copying, casting and printmaking until we arrive at photography followed by film and with which we have the most radical change. He sets up the original work of art as imbibed with authority, genuineness and existing in time and space. The original work has what he calls an aura which shrinks through the reproductive technology. He also explains how human sense perception changes with time. In the 1930s the masses had an altered sense perception of the reproduction.

The original = uniqueness and duration

The reproduction = transience and reitterability

He talks about the shattering of the aura and its singularity. He also mentions the aura’s effect of distance.

Changing Functions of Art:

Benjamin describes the changing functions of art as initially being of magical rituals then religious rituals. An ancient piece of work might live through changes of function. He saw the auric mode as being inseparable from the ritual function. From the renaissance we have the profane service of beauty (this felt a little simplified) until the invention of photography. Here Benjamin relates photography and Socialism and art for art’s sake i.e. Modernism and a new social function for art which is political. According to Benjamin reproduction freed art from being a parasite on ritual.


When art had a strong cultic value it did not need to be visible. However with the loss of the cultic value display becomes paramount. Prophetically he talks about how new technologies allow enormous shifts in displayability (in 1936 the sense perception was very different). In primeval times the cultic value preceded it becoming a work of art. He claims that the contemporary artistic value may also be less important than the display value. In his notes this alludes to Brecht, and the consideration that a commodity may not simultaneously be a work of art and should maybe drop the art label at least temporarily.

The effect of photography and displayability is to reduce the cultic value however, according to Benjamin, there is one last point where the cultic value remains, and this I found really interesting, within the representation of the human face. He claims that in early photographic portraits we catch a final glimpse of aura. This I find relevant as I am currently in the process of erasing or covering faces in my own work (based often on old photographs) to avoid this desire for recognition in my audiences. I want them to be the unknown, forgotten people who could be anyone. Benjamin sees their function as remembering absent or dead loved ones. Atget’s deserted streets for example do not have this – I am fascinated by the presence in deserted spaces and find this more powerful than replicas of specific individuals. I am wondering why and how this relates to Benjamin’s concept of the aura and cultic value.

The Moving Image:

The later chapters focus mainly on the film camera, sound recording, editing and acting and how this differs from the theatre in that the technology acts as a mediator between the audience and the filmed. Here again the aura is shattered and stardom replaces the cultic value. The masses relationship to art is changed as they become critics and they experience the work as a mass. However they are less immersed and more distracted as an audience. According to Benjamin the Dadaists, who ruthlessly destroyed the aura and aimed at provocation, were aiming at the same effect that film achieved but without aiming at the commercial marketability. It is said that Dada shocked morally and film shocked physically, this is a difficult one for us to see I think as we are not experiencing in the 1930s.

There is a really sad afterword on fascism in which Benjamin who was ultimately the victim of fascism talks of the aestheticism of fascism with some interesting quotes on the beauty of war from the futurists. He ends by saying that the left politicise art.



Summer Reading

At the beginning of the Summer I had an ambitious idea of reading not only the prescribed books but also the pile of books I had got interested in along the way last year and some new ones about work along with a catch up of books I would have assumed I should have read years ago but never managed. I therefore found myself struggling. In addition to the fact that this was probably always unrealistic I think I made some bad choices. There was also the idea at the back of my mind about the enjoyment of reading unfettered by note taking. A longing for literature as the summer is when you get to read those huge works of fiction you don’t have time to read throughout the year – the Proust, the Dostoyevsky, the Bolaño etc… as I have never studied literature it is a non academic experience thinking and feeling but not making notes.

Therefore I am regretting not making any notes whilst reading when I was away and therefore I need to reread some of the most pertinent parts of what I read. I may skip some of the more disappointing reading experiences and just summarise my reasons for dissatisfaction.

A rather long quotation that has struck me as pertinent to my own work I found in A P Thompson’s ‘ The Making of the English Working Classes’….

I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian’’ artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.

I do, of course, want to make my work relevant today, however I feel the need to read at least some historical background to the current situation in order to try and understand better how we got here. This summer has been an enormous upheaval in Europe with the Greek crisis and the migrants from Syria to name but two major issues. It is difficult not to be negative and the Greek situation gives us hope and then disappointment.


The audience and how they encounter work.

I have been reading ‘Ways of Looking’ which is on our summer reading list. I am enjoying looking at the artwork and am more or less ignoring the approach suggested, it is practical, but feel it is very limited and naturally reject a formulaic approach of having to follow a scheme of how to look at or experience work. I am not sure if the book is aimed at people like me or those who know less about art to start with. I suspect the latter. However, I am not sure that those who are completely unaware of what is happening in contemporary art would find the book that accessible. Possibly my reading just shows I am out of touch with what people are like and want.

Having said all of this the author does not seem that convinced by his TABLA RASA approach. Although he does start out by explaining it. When he gets down to looking at the artwork he usually seems to forget all about it. This is lucky as I was able to meet some new work I did not know about and others I knew less about. There are also insights and interviews which are enlightening. Maybe he felt he had to have the ‘new’ approach to sell to the publishers. However if I am totally wrong and new audiences are brought to look in new ways that will be a good thing.

‘Tabula rasa’ – to start afresh – a good, if impossible, idea.

Roughly this approach is:

Time: this is about allowing yourself to contemplate the work and trying to ignore any initial prejudices – difficult to argue with this one

Association: How do you relate to this – the meaning you bring to the work

Background: This is more tricky and involves words and bring things other than the work itself into it – title, blurb and any other knowledge such as where the author is from. This one depends so much on the background knowledge of the audience here and the accessibility of on site texts

Understanding: It is suggested that the previous 3 stages may together may lead to deeper understanding but not to worry if they do not.
Look again: This one I like a lot and it is something we don’t always do. It is also deepens my arguments for not trying to see too much at a time. Running around a gallery usually means you don’t engage with anything. Of course the look again could be listen etc
Assessment: This thankfully is left open and there is space for personal response. As Grayson Perry said – you dont have to like it all. I found this really perceptive because it made me realise that we do dismiss things very easily – even an artist whose work you have never previously responded to can surprise you.

The approach is not bad but I like to think that whenever possible I already do this – and I imagine that my cohort do too – unless we are rushed or pushed.

Art you Don’t see

We all look at most artwork online and even though I am a firm believer in how important it is to actually see the work how much can we actually look at and in some cases do we want or need to see it all? There is way too much, we need to select and maybe it will never physically be were we can be. I have no interest in rushing around museums and galleries trying to take it all in – I would rather read it in a book or see it online and then if the opportunity arises go see the things i really want to spend time with. I also wondered about the work which is impossible for anyone to see such as the performances which last a year (page 76):

Tehching Hsieh in the late 1970s spending a whole year not having any contact with the outside world or another one outside.

who saw it – does it matter? I still have never found the artist who paints small birds in Gaza that Stuart recommended to me although I love the idea. Ultimately I am asking I suppose whether it matters to me who sees my work. I feel that there is so much artwork being produced that we cannot possibly see so much and I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of all that I wont see in a similar way to how I feel when I realise how hard it is to read all the books I want to read. Part of me wants to be systematic in choosing but I have always loved the element of chance discoveries too. I suppose it is important that I don’t miss things which are wholy relevant to me but that this never takes the magic out of seeing the unexpected and this will always be the best experience. Of course I want my work to be seen but I am not so sure it has to be seen directly. I also love the siting of my most recent exploratory project but hardly anyone will ever go there. I prefer my video documentation to the photographs but still have issues with diagrams or maps.

I also love work I have never seen which is a contradiction of my idea that you have to see the work. Several artists I admire make work that is difficult to see: Santiago Sierra for example. And often in his work the whole point is the invisibility: the immigrants hidden in Doctor Fourquet (street) and in boxes within a gallery. The bricking up the entrance to the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. I have never even been to the Venice Biennale or any other Biennale for that matter. I/we also miss exhibitions that are down the road and potentially interesting.

the move from country to city

I am fascinated by this transition in relation to work and how we experience it. As I have mentioned before I am surrounded by examples of exindustrial buildings which have been recycled into museums or galleries. On the edge of the city this has not happened so when travelling out I see abandoned factories and wharehouses.

The industrial revolution happened much later in Spain than in Northern Europe and there are as many ‘literary’ sources as ‘historical’ documents. In Looking at the urbanisation of Spain or any european country it is easy to become victim to nostalgia. One of my favourite references is the Mario Camus’ film of Los Santos Inocentes of Delibes. In the film, even more than in the book we are left with an equal mix of loss and hope. As the son moves to Madrid we see him in the street in a humble neighbourhood amidst cement and buildings and feel the loss of contact with nature and his family alongside his aspirations for freedom, education and new experiences.

But what of the relationships to work? The family were more or less slaves to the landowners. They had no rights to possession or education they were illiterate and socially inferior and ridiculed. They also understood animals, nature and had skills we no longer possess. They lived in misery, unsanitary conditions with more or less enough to eat (they could grow/kill it). In the move to the city their work relations changed. In the Tabacalera women were employed long hours doing repetitive tasks, some of which were prejudicial to their health. They later gained ‘rights’ to education and health systems and even the vote – which initially did not really mean very much as it was rigged.

campo ciempo small

In these experiments I  have continued to obscure or partially cover the past with layers of paint / brushstrokes and as far as possible I have been trying to leave my people as humans (for empathy) but lack of individuality or specific identity.


tabac small

I have been using images from the Tabacalera and overlaying them with images from local areas – farming, looking after livestock and agriculture. I want to make a list of disappearing jobs. after listening to a UK podcast I realised this is much more ‘advanced’ in Northern Europe. The list there already includes: petrol attendants in gas stations, shop assistants and other service staff in retail. This will surely happen here too. More research necessary!


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exp 1

exp 2

Florentino Díaz at the Matadero (interview with Florentino Díaz in Spanish with images of installation)  (Matadero webpage in English)


In Abierto por Obras in the Matadero – (Open for works – the Slaughterhouse), Madrid (Winter Arcade)

Installation of a barack style (arcade) space made using old madrileño doors – up to 150 years old. Curious space given that it is raining when it is 40º outside. Luckily the Matadero keeps this space open until 10pm as its so hot outside. This is one of my favorite ‘gallery’ spaces. It was like a fridge where they kept the dead animals before sending they went off to the butchers or other meat makers and seller. It is ground level but feels like underground. Díaz’s installation occupies a relatively small space within the space and has a wintery shanty town look with all the doors. I spend some time looking at the variety of doors – so many that we have rejected and replaced with ugly new ones. Inside there are corridors and 3 spaces with slide shows of the photos from the albums showing as loops. All three appear to be unedited but its difficult to know for certain. The zeppelin one has some amazing ariel views and a more ‘distanced’ relationship. The travelers one from 1930s and the french one are obviously more intimate and the french one draws you in more. However I find it interesting that they are so as found and there is no intervention. Quite a restrained act to just leave them as they are – found albums in their entirety. I can’t help feeling they could have been edited – fewer images – or mixed with others.

I haven’t read the Walter Benjamin unfinished book ‘Winter Arcades’ in which he apparently begins to doubt utopian dreams – as I imagine he was trying to flee to US. The unfulfilled promises of the early 20th Century still weigh hard on us – For my generation the great advances of the second half of the 20th century being unpicked and deconstructed. Those doors are so much more beautiful than most doors we are producing now and having gone looking for a carpenter I can confirm there aren’t any left in a village where there were at least 3 in 2004. I don’t know if I should be fed up with dystopian work but I am not – I like the reminder of the unreliability of sources (because undoubtedly it relates to what I am doing). The construction worked really well although I did find myself looking at how the rain was created which is totally irrelevant to the idea and the feelings it produces. For me the combination of the doors worked really well. I am so overwhelmingly jealous of being able to use that space.



documentation and relics

At the site I have been looking for ways to document the project. I am planning to go back and film and make sound recordings when I have my friends car on Friday. If I can find someone to come along as audience even better. In addition to attempting to show what the experience of the site is like I also like the idea of bringing back things I find and playing with them in some way. The spaces are pretty empty as one can see in the photos so I have been looking at the garbage and thinking what to do with it.

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The graffiti artists leave spray cans behind they are in a variety of conditions this one is well oxidized and reminds me of a similar relic I have of the 2011 London Riots (Clarence Road, Hackney). I have used the one from the riots for printing but I also really respond to the object as historical text which in some way holds its experience. It is a found object but one which is chosen for its history and that gives it a special quality for me.

DSC_0023  I placed the two together. Of course the Ciempozuelos can is totally removed from the story of the workers or inhabitants of the space and is about the present or recent past. The Hackney can is about what happened on a very specific date from Summer 2011. They both however form a type of evidence about the places, both public and both relating to issues of (il)legality. Why are these objects significant or are they any different from any other rusty can.

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In the workshops there are chunks of building materials that were the walls like the ones I am painting on lying on the floor. These are made of brick, plaster and paint. This is literally the fabric of the building falling away. On the right is a piece of tarmac from Clarence Road, Hackney, also found the day after the riots. Here the materials are both literally part of the built infrastructure. Things which are constructed by people and are either in the process of decay (in the London case aided by disturbance). Both sites are contested and could be said to have been abandoned, they are both in a way liminal and unclearly defined. Both are possibly controlled from outside the law. These man made rocks seem to have an almost archeological function and appear a bit like specimens.

For me they contain an almost magic significance. They are pieces of incredibly common substances displaced and collected because of their location and I removed them from it but had they been the same objects somewhere else I would not have even considered doing this. One could say I picked up  the walls of the workshop because of the project, there is no such excuse for the tarmac. I was not consciously trying to document anything.


DSC_0029  IMG_0002  This is one final object for the museum vitrine. The artist who made the white sculptures left one of them on the floor so I stole it for my museum. I was pretty sure that this one was not a part of the piece as all the others were stuck down and this one was quite far away. I may be going at a complete tangent to how the world would expect documentation to be. I must record the space and show what I actually made there I realise this but this slight digression was so much fun and I love collecting ‘significant’ objects as can be seen in the 2011 photos. I also wonder how they could complement the ‘story’ in a gallery space.

Santiago Sierra

I had to remove this piece from my essay about painting histories. Although in many ways Santiago Sierra’s work is relevant to my own it does not directly relate to the past and is more of a comment on the present. I had too many word so I cut it out. I am still struggling to get the essay into a form that convinces me. I will have to complete this tomorrow.

As I am especially concerned with changes in how work and labour relationships are changing I was interested in howcontemporary Spanish artist Santiago Sierra has used controversial methods often within traditional art spaces to make the audience feel uncomfortable about our relationship to work and how the art gallery and capitalism work. He employs people in a variety of ways to ‘perform’ in his pieces. For example in London’s Tate Modern he paid homeless women a night’s hostel accommodation to stand facing the wall. These performances focus our awareness of the labour market. In a world of ever diminishing labour rights these individuals, on behalf of whom he has been criticised are possibly earning more than some of the gallery employees. As he said:
“At the Kunstwerke in Berlin they criticized me because I had people sitting for four hours a day, but they didn’t realize that a little further up the hallway the guard spends eight hours a day on his feet..¨(Margolles, 2011)
Sierra pays the performers in relation to the market value of a charge or cost relevant to their specific situation. He has been accused of ‘.. treading a thin line between detached conceptual criticism and complicity with the very economic exploitation and human objectification he is critiquing’. (Church, 2009). His work is ephemeral but also at times invisible. For example in ‘100 hidden individuals’ Dr Fourquet, Madrid 2003, he hid 100 unemployed people for 4 hours in a street in the center of the city. Sierra has also been criticised for his relationship with the artworld and cynical stance.(ephemera)