In his first solo exhibition in Austria, titled Finite Location, the Basque artist Ibon Aranberri performs a reconfiguration of the large-format photography installation Política Hidráulica (2004–2010) and the sculpture Found Dead (2007-2011), initiating a constructive dialogue between these earlier works and the new The Partial Use of Senses (2014). With a view to the idea of an imaginary landscape, he deliberately does not highlight the thematic nexus between the works or construct a compelling narrative, instead directing attention to the affinities and connections that emerge between the works. The title Finite Location emphasizes the temporary nature of this presentation, which contains the seeds of its dismantlement even at the moment it is put together.
Aranberri’s work often refers to existing structures such as buildings, sites, or works of art, which he subjects to a process of analytical decoding. He examines the various layers or “sediments” that underlie or constitute artifacts. Besides the references implicit in a work on the level of its content, these include its relation to the history of aesthetic forms and the political and social conditions in which it came into being. He often draws on aesthetic traditions and subjects that are firmly embedded in local memory but have either become illegible over time or lost their original meaning. The decryption of aesthetic signs as an artistic practice enables Aranberri to explore iconography as a visual code bridging the gap between the local and the universal and address the complex interrelations between art, society, and politics. His conceptual work on sculpture and landscape is closely bound up with his study of local traditions of art. Aranberri’s research-based works, which operate in the dynamic field between sculpture, object, and (symbolic) landscape, focus on the discrepancies and divergences from the hegemonic formal vocabulary that have arisen in the local context. The combination of documentary practices, research, and field studies with aesthetic and fictional elements is the defining characteristic of his creative process. The resulting installations are highly complex ensembles that involve a wide range of media, including film, photography, and sculpture.
Aranberri devotes particular attention to the format of the exhibition, which he regards as a highly significant aesthetic and spatial event that functions like an organism: the autonomy and individuality of the various works is subordinate to the interplay of the interconnections, affiliations, and contradictions between them. He first used the strategy of employing the interaction between works as a structural element of the presentation in his major show Organigrama at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in 2011 and now returns to it in Finite Location.
The photography installation Política Hidráulica is one in a series of studies into major infrastructure projects in Europe since the 1920s and their economic, political, and social effects as well as their environmental repercussions. It consists of ninety-eight color and black-and-white pictures of dozens of dams and reservoirs all over Spain and Portugal. Commissioned by the artist and taken over the course of several years, the aerial photographs present prosaic depictions of water management infrastructures seen in bird’s-eye views—they look like the installations’ operators might have had them made for publicity purposes. Indeed, one can easily imagine them gracing the walls at an energy corporation’s headquarters, demonstrating its technological prowess. This documentary and indexical quality is refracted in the prism of a fictional component Aranberri adds to the work: he sets the photographs against the wall in stacks, as though their corporate owner had put them into storage.
Found Dead is a sculptural installation: an obelisk has collapsed, the severed blocks of stone lie scattered across the floor like so much debris, a sight that recalls the idea of history as a ruin and the depictions of Arcadian landscapes in Romantic art. The blocks were sculpted after an architecture sketch made in the early twentieth century for a monument prototype. By presenting the obelisk in accordance with the iconography of an ancient site strewn with ruins, Aranberri deconstructs its function as a piece of representational architecture and symbol of state power. In the context of Finite Location, however, he tries “to introduce the stones lacking their original resonance, and resignified as material forms, in an open relation to the other works in the exhibition.”
The third work Aranberri has selected for the exhibition Finite Location is The Partial Use of Senses, the casting mold for a statue. Made of metal-reinforced fiberglass, the mold, commissioned by the artist, was recently taken from a statue representing a philosopher. As Aranberri notes, “the negative form is a result of a purely industrial procedure,” but—and this, he argues, is the crucial point—it “internalizes in an efficient way the absence of the strange figure.” In an earlier installation entitled Perpetual Continent he made for the Garden of Learning 2012 Busan, Aranberri had already grappled with the negative space of casting molds as an abstraction of abstractions. The real object is missing, and what the casting mold shows are ultimately vestiges of a process and the absence of a subject. And yet this negative space points to the radical modernist gesture of effacement, which broke with tradition and posited a fresh start to proclaim the utopian vision of a better world.
With his conception for the exhibition, Ibon Aranberri creates an aesthetic situation that suspends the original meanings and intentions of the works to make room for new readings and aesthetic experiences. He thus also raises the question of the nature of art, extricating his works from their original contexts in a deliberate gesture and probing their essence. What remains when a work can no longer be “read”? As the distance in time that separates us from an event or the genesis of a work of art grows, the specific codes or keys it records are no longer universally intelligible. In Finite Location, Aranberri tries to bring about such inaccessibility by the means of his art to redirect attention from the interpretation of the art to the formal and aesthetic web of relationships and invite the viewer to draw connections between the works.
Invited by the board of the Secession
Curated by Bettina Spörr