In 1987 the late Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, doyenne and now leading ghost of global neoliberalism declared, not without some fake conviction, that «there is no such a thing as society». To recall the art of that dreadful era, we have decided to publish some of the articles that appeared in Untitled, a London based art reviewing magazine that sought to champion the great work exhibited during that fateful decade -and beyond- when powerful art was produced in spite of the absence of a society
In the spring of 1993 I started editing and publishing, with John Statathos, UNTITLED Magazine, a contemporary art publication dedicated specifically to review international and national exhibitions in the city of London. Taking advantage of the cultural richness cultivated by young artists during the infamous decade of Margaret Thatcher, when the Conservative party denied society with the Prime Minister’s famous phrase «There is no such a thing as a society,» we decided to take that idea to its logical conclusion by pretending that if “society does not exists” then culture doesn’t exist either.
The total freedom that visual artists enjoyed was due to the lack of interest of the ruling classes, seduced more by the economy than by culture. Thus, the artists -ignored by the ignorant- developed languages capable of overcoming reality. New expressive forms were added to the traditional practices of the visual arts such as performance art, installations, videos and incorporated photography into the fine arts.
London was bursting with creativity, artists were exploring every conceivable concept and transforming it into extremely original objects, words, action and even paintings, while the national press was determined to exclude cultural achievements from its pages,
Untitled was born with the intention of disseminating the exhibitions produced in London. To help to rediscover the history of that particular era and its rich cultural milieu, Perro Negro has decided to republish, in a more peridodical way, some of the articles published in Untitled.
Susana Solano – Spring 1993. Whitechapel Gallery, London.
It’s tempting to read a particularly Spanish eschatology into Susana Solano’s sculpture. Her collection of massive, iron enclosures evoke the dark, cool architectures of the Spanish tradition, and refer inescapably to a variety of ecclesiastical furniture – tombs, confessionals, high altars, death beds – with all their associations of finality and redemption. These are hushed, taciturn sculptures, enclaves of silence bound by cold, sepulchral walls: a kind of mythic minimalism. Much has been made of Solano’s post-Franco emergence and of the significance of her images of isolation and confinement in the aftermath of social and cultural repression. Her sculptures have the weight and intent of monuments, yet they are anti-heroic, provisional structures.
What they monumentalise is absence, an inner space which is viewable but unreachable, a void which unavoidably metaphorizes existential uncertainties.
Solano’s formal language continues the assault on the monolithic sculptural tradition which was heralded in Cubist construction compounded in David Smith’s high modernism, and dealt a final blow during minimalism. She does not recognise the sculptural object as volumetric mass, emanating outwards from some inner locus of energy; hers is a language of perimeters and boundaries, of shifting, relative planes in which space is demarcated, not displaced. As a sculptural strategy this is now familiar, but Solano’s strength lies in her ability to draw a delicate tension between transparency and solidity, between a sense of provisionality and an intractable physical presence, without resorting to sculptures’s traditional structural conceits such as propping, balancing, load-bearing and so on.
Objeto y causa is a massive bedstead composed of a horizontal podium with vertical screens at head and foot. It announces itself as a simple and assimilable form; yet as you walk around it, you find that it paradoxically reveals less and less of itself. The angled grilles which make up the screens confuse the view to the centre, while the exact form of the central element is impossible to gauge from the sides. This play between transparency and opacity, between the possessable and the prohibited, between screen and solid is what animates most of the major pieces in the show – from the complex confessional of Dos Nones (“Two Zeroes”) to the towering table of Eixut (“Surly”).
Although Solano’s vocabulary of elemental geometries – and her use of industrial materials and methods – affiliate her to minimalism, it is not a close relationship. Minimalism’s obsession with the simple facts, the brute externals of an object, is antithetical to the ultimately ineffable quality of Solano’s constructions. Her roots lie more in a surrealist tradition of psychologically-charged abstraction, along with Giacometti’s cages, Smith’s tabletop tableaux and Bourgeois’ hides and lairs. The lists of autobiographical aphorisms published in the accompanying catalogue throw new light on this expressive impetus behind Solano’s work.
Although Solano’s vocabulary of elemental geometries – and her use of industrial materials and methods – affiliate her to minimalism, it is not a close relationship.
Minimalism’s obsession with the simple facts, the brute externals of an object, is antithetical to the ultimately ineffable quality of Solano’s constructions. Her roots lie more in a surrealist tradition of psychologically-charged abstraction, along with Giacometti’s cages, Smith’s tabletop tableaux and Bourgeois’ hides and lairs. The lists of autobiographical aphorisms published in the accompanying catalogue throw new light on this expressive impetus behind Solano’s work.
Short sentences chronicle imperfect communication between those who should be most intimate; she describes the silences within her family, with her lovers. She realises that “distance ties [her] more to people than nearness”. The writing is also riven with the physical proximity of illness and death: the deaths of her parents and grandparents, the experience of sleeping beside her dying husband. In these writings, the image of the enclosure appears not so much as a site of oppression as a safe place, a space for introspection. She recalls long periods confined to bed during adolescence, and tells of her grandmother’s voluntary incarceration in the house after learning of her husband’s infidelity. In this context, the sculptures might be read as distillations of private emotions, symbolic sites which speak of the fear and melancholy of human relations. This exhibition reveals Solano as an artist wrestling with monumental forms – forms referring to public objects, architecture, furniture, industrial structures – which, in the end, rely on dark and private emotions for their brooding intensity.
Mario Flecha is a writer, art critic and former editor of the art magazine Untitled. He currently resides in England. Various of his books can be purchased in our virtual bookshop Tienda Perro Negro
Susana Solana exhibited between March-May 1993 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. her show was first reviewed in the Spring Issue of Untitled of the same year.
Images: Edehi, 2004 / Paisatge, 2001