Prefacing «Domènec’s not here, not anywhere»
Prefacing «Domènec’s not here, not anywhere»
Prefacing «Domènec’s not here, not anywhere»
Prefacing «Domènec’s not here, not anywhere»
Prefacing «Domènec’s not here, not anywhere»
Prefacing «Domènec’s not here, not anywhere»
Prefacing «Domènec’s not here, not anywhere»
Prefacing «Domènec’s not here, not anywhere»

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Domènec & Maria Victoria T. Herrera

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The Mies van der Rohe Pavilion with Domènec’s intervention titled The Stadium, the Pavilion, and the Palace. Photo: Maria Victoria T. Herrera

Catalan artist Domènec describes his conceptual art practice and public space interventions as largely based on a multi-disciplinal documentation process that straddles art, anthropology, sociology, history, journalism, and activism. In April 2018, the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) inaugurated an exhibit presenting a selection of his installation and media-based works produced since 1998. Occupying three adjacent galleries, Not Here, Not Anywhere dwells on the general theme of modernity and the failure of its utopian visions. Using architecture and urban planning programs as research subjects, Domènec probes into different historical contexts of twentieth-century politics and purported social and economic development programs. His various projects have also brought him to explore other countries such as Mexico, Ireland, Belgium, France, Italy, USA, Slovenia, Japan, Israel, and Palestine. Composed of sculpted objects, videos, photographs, and printed materials, each work reveals the artist’s in-depth and methodical process, disclosing debatable intentions of the dominant stratum and their complex relationships with marginalized communities.

Two Formica chairs replaced the famous Barcelona chairs designed for the Pavilion as part of Domènec’s intervention. Photo: Maria Victoria T. Herrera
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A line of domestic laundry hangs in front of the inner pool of the Pavilion with the sculpture by Georg Kolbe titled Alba. Photo: Maria Victoria T. Herrera

For someone still enchanted with the touristic delights of Barcelona, Domènec’s practice unexpectedly revealed realities in the city’s past that have remained silent and concealed. His intervention at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, one of the icons of modernist architecture, was such an instance. Reconstructed in the late 1980s, this one-story structure is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. A visit to this site was among the highlights of my stay last April organized and supported by MACBA and the Ramon Llull Institute. Guests from the press and media were brought to the Pavilion to view Domènec’s intervention, on view concurrent to the MACBA exhibition. We were greeted with the sight of clotheslines hanging inside and prevailing over the minimalist and streamlined façade and interior. The famous Barcelona chairs Mies van der Rohe originally designed for the Pavilion were replaced by two commonplace Formica chairs.

Art interventions such as this have been part of the Mies van der Rohe Foundation programs since 1996, giving artists opportunities to dialogue with the Pavilion, thus ensuring its continued relevance. The artists featured in this program vary in their modes of practice (installations, performance art, music) and intent. These include Ai Weiwei, Antoni Muntadas, Andrés Jaque, Miwako Kurashima, Enric Llorach, Santiago Borja, and Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (SANAA).

Built as the German national pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition held in Barcelona, the Weimar Republic commissioned Van der Rohe to design a ceremonial hall where German officials would receive the Spanish monarch, King Alfonso XIII. This international event was only one among many programs the Spanish monarchy used as a propaganda device, aiming to promote Barcelona as an industrial and business city.

Domènec’s intervention at the Barcelona Pavilion, titled The Stadium, the Pavilion, and the Palace (held April 18 to June 5, 2018), is a fitting introduction to his practice. He exposed the problematic circumstances and contexts surrounding the 1929 International Exposition project and the rise of the city’s indigent population. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the commercial and industrial expansion of Barcelona required more labor, a demand which was supplied by a wave of migrants and their families from all over Spain. This predicament, however, led to problems in public housing that prevailed during most of the twentieth century. Archival research and recent historical texts disclose the plight of migrant laborers who were underpaid and left to survive in precarious conditions. The exhibition essay notes:

Maria Victoria T. Herrera joined the Ateneo Art Gallery as its Director and Chief Curator in May 2015. This was preceded by her post as Director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), Visual Arts and Museum Division, Production and Exhibition Department (January 2012 to April 2015). She was then seconded from the University of the Philippines Diliman, where she was a regular faculty for more than twenty years in the Department of Art Studies. She also lecturers at the Fine Arts Department-Art Management program in the Ateneo de Manila University, where she teaches curatorship, collections management, and other museum-related courses. She has done art consultancy work for museums and corporate entities.

They lived in self-constructed shacks on the edges of the city forming real neighborhoods such as Somorrostro or the Camp de la Bota. Due to the great growth of shanty towns, the critics in the twenties referred to Barcelona as “Barracopolis” (“barraca” meaning shack). In the late fifties, the shanty towns reached their peak with a population of between 70,000 and 100,000 people.

Since the Franco dictatorship and until the 1960s, migrant communities were relocated into the venues of the International Exposition such as the Palace of the Missions and the Pavilion of Belgium. These edifices, originally meant to showcase the growth of commerce and industry, ironically became abodes for the marginalized. The Mies van der Rohe Pavilion fortunately did not suffer the same fate, as it was dismantled immediately after the Exposition and reconstructed only later, after 1986. But by recreating the lines of domestic clothing inside the glossy and classy structure of the Pavilion, Domènec not only focused on the quandary of the homeless and abandoned, but also acknowledged the role of these laborers, who, until now, have been ignored. 

Growing up under a dictatorial regime, Domènec deems it crucial for an artist to review how the past has been misrepresented. His interest lies not in the formal and aesthetic qualities of architectural and urban planning programs. Rather, he uses these projects, mostly celebrated and deemed beneficial to their purported stakeholders, to unmask tainted and fractured histories.

Taking as his point of departure conceptual processes of reflection, Domènec (Mataró, Barcelona) has built up a sculptural and photographic body of work, along with installations and interventions in public space, which takes the architectural project as one of the most productive and complex imaginary constructions of the modern tradition. He has taken part in several projects in situ and in international projects of public art in various places such as Ireland, Mexico, Belgium, France, Italy, USA, Brazil, Argentina, Finland, Slovenia, Japan, Israel, and Palestine. He is a co-editor of the art magazine Roulotte.

This publication is commissioned by the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines in conjunction with the Spanish Cooperation through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the AECID nor of the Embassy.

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