Juan Bosco Díaz-Urmeneta

Unveiling Hidden Poetry

(Diario de Sevilla, 24 mayo 2010)

 

 

José Guerrero. Portfolios. 

Alarcón Criado Gallery (2010)


Sometimes photographers act as historians of spaces, tracking the marks left behind by time on places. They document decay at sites where only traces remain, gather the residual testimony of farmland or human activity that has fallen into disuse, try to capture the border zone in which new construction threatens traditional dwellings, or simply record for posterity the instant in which the viewer’s gaze achieves happy harmony with the landscape.

This scrutinising of time is characteristic of the work of José Guerrero (Granada, 1979). His wanderings through the villages along the Órbigo (a river with a Basque name that flows through a rural peasant and livestock-raising area in the Spanish province of León) highlight the meeting places between traditional and modern lifestyles. Typical rural streets have modern-looking houses, the ruins of an industrial building exist alongside ancient excavated pens on a hillside, maybe built to house cattle. This fusion of times is perhaps best expressed by the hardware store in Benavides del Órbigo. Neither the layout of its old shelves nor the mesa camilla (round table with a brazier underneath to warm the feet), which serves both as a counter and to provide warmth to tradesman and clients in the winter, have been altered in its modern incarnation.

The series Desértica is not only to do with the geography it is set in, the Tabernas Desert in Almería, but also the way in which the barren earth has once again started to appropriate the spaces stolen from it by particular human activities, the movie-making that took place there for years. In Tabernas, Guerrero does not capture the now-silent buildings used in these cinematographic fictions, but rather the effect of these activities having ceased. There are dead-end roads that avoid the place instead of leading to it, stores crumbling in abandonment, peeling adverts (that no longer have anywhere to direct the visitor to), ravaged by the extreme temperatures. This series achieves an unusual and skilful blurred definition between irony and melancholy. Something has ended, of course, but it was only ever a fiction to start with. Behind it all is a far-reaching metaphor – how many other initiatives and projects could it apply to?

Down Town is perhaps the series in which time appears most vividly. Huge buildings, not fully finished, rise up on the sprawling no man’s land at the city limits. There are still humble houses to be found nearby, small warehouses and even the odd allotment, of the kind that can often be found around cities. This creates a space in which the battle is not only between the old and the new, but also between something that once had a name and the still-anonymous urban development.  This series is also evidence of the artist’s far-flung travels: Cairo, London and Moscow all lose many of the aspects that the tourist industry presents to cover up their similar characters. They are urban settings from which certain ways of life are disappearing or are threatened by a viaduct that marches indifferently through them.

The photographs in the series California, the earliest of those in the exhibit, incorporate time in a different way. The decisive thing in this series is the instant, the very moment at which the photographer achieves a significant comprehension of his surroundings, whether natural or urban.

Lastly, the exhibition is presented in a double format. Some images appear in folders, portfolios, paired as if they were conversing with each other. But the photos can also be seen on the walls of the gallery, almost all unframed, directly mounted on the wall, as if they eschewed any kind of rhetoric. This makes them seem like objets trouvés that the artist stumbled upon and that, in some way or another, he has made speak.

In this sense, the exhibit bears a certain parallel with the work by two professors from the Faculty of Communication, Fernando Contreras and Miguel Nieto, on show at the Rafael Ortiz Gallery (mezzanine level). These are also objets trouvés: old photographs and postcards, the odd advert, an incredible envelope from the post-Civil War years. Each of these has been given a brief text, nearly always in the form of a haiku, sometimes an aphorism. They work. Not just because they make the viewer think, but also because – as with Guerrero’s photos – they provide clues to guide your eye and reveal traces of the poetic in the humdrum of everyday life.