House Call

Lillian Davies on “Everstill/siempretodavía”

Granada, Spain

Left: Laura García Lorca. Right: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, codirector of exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery. (All photos: Lillian Davies)

Last Friday afternoon, after a short flight to Granada, I followed a tour through the summer house that Federico García Lorca’s family bought in 1925. Laura García Lorca de los Rios, dressed in tailored black linen, evoked the memory of her uncle by way of a recollection of footsteps on a rocky path—the sound of Lorca and his friends as they would return to the house after an evening in town. The lively group would usually wander back around 2 AM, and Lorca would head straight to his desk to write. He would wake for lunch, then begin writing again as the rest of the house settled into a siesta. The images lingered as Laura plainly explained that we were standing inside the house that the poet was taken from before he was shot, in 1936, shortly after Francisco Franco came to power.

Opened to the public in 1995 as Huerta de San Vicente, the house has played host to a series of musical, theatrical, and literary events, but Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s “Everstill/siempretodavía” (title text and its gothic typeface care of Douglas Gordon) marks the first time the site has housed work by contemporary visual artists. Obrist introduced his project, the latest in his ongoing series of exhibitions presented in homes, as “a kind of laboratorium in which the house is inhabited by artists.” Following shows in the Nietzsche House in 1992, Sir John Soane’s former residence in 1999, and the Luis Barragán House in 2003, the Huerta de San Vicente project is meant, according to its omnipresent curator, to reconnect literature to art: “Contemporary art has so many connections with music, with fashion, with architecture, but with literature, it’s much rarer.”

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s Blue Carpet, installed in the wood-floored salon to the left of the house’s front door, provides an antidote to contemporary art’s alleged illiteracy. The artist’s plush indigo carpet, edged by stacks of books by her “reading heroes,” pays tribute not only to Lorca but also to Joseph Conrad, Jean Echenoz, and Tristan Tzara, among others.

Left: Huerta de San Vicente. Right: Isabel García Lorca and Gloria García Lorca.

Upstairs, in Lorca’s bedroom, Gilbert & George’s In Bed with Lorca, a photograph of the pair lying side by side in the poet’s single bed, hangs above his original desk and typewriter. Somehow the work doesn’t seem to approach Lorca in the same way as Rivane Neuenschwander’s Orange and Lemon alphabet or Bestué and Vives’s charming miniature marionette theater, Story of the Lovelorn Scorpion. So I asked Obrist and Laura what the response to the image, not to mention the show, has been in Spain. “Euphoria!” Obrist cried. And Laura concurred. “We had an incredible response. In Spain, I haven’t seen anything like it since maybe when the Guggenheim in Bilbao opened.” The Spanish media has fully embraced the Gilbert & George image. El País ran the photograph on the front page when the first stage of Everstill/siempretodavía officially opened last fall, and, according to Laura, “literally every person in Spain was talking about the project.”

Shortly after 8 PM, we gathered at the Alhambra Palace Hotel, a grand venue overlooking the historic town center. A buffet of Spanish tapas was set up in the hotel’s glass terrace, where a small crowd gathered for Trisha Donnelly’s performance, part of the exhibition’s live program. I’d heard that Donnelly’s work was to involve the evening’s cocktail, and I asked Isabel García Lorca and Gloria García Lorca, Laura’s sisters, whether they had heard the same. “She wants us to drink,” Isabel concluded. Overall, she said, she admires Obrist’s exhibition: “The sensitivity of the artists is the most outstanding. There’s a generosity about the works that’s very moving.” Writer Frederic Tuten, due to read his story about Lorca as part of the performance program the following afternoon, was happy for the occasion: “When I was coming into the world, writers and artists and poets all knew each other. We all knew each other, and we all went dancing together.”

Left: Poet James Fenton and writer Frederic Tuten. Right: Artists David Bestué and Marc Vives.

A little after 9 PM, Donnelly quietly asked individuals to move into the theater. Once inside the darkness of the Alhambra-inspired ballroom, Donnelly directed our attention to a series of images projected onto a screen set up on the stage. “Watch this, not me.” Her performance was in English, while many in the audience were Spanish speakers, so there was audible confusion when the artist spoke about the phenomenon of the double vortex. The murmurs quieted when one viewer stage-whispered a translation. Donnelly then approached her audience with a long braided whip, likening the dynamics of the double vortex to the crack of the tapered rope—a convergence of material, space, and sound. She ultimately signaled the end of her performance by saying, “It’s OK. I thought everyone was coming out for a drink.”

For dinner, a small group walked past the rich rust-colored walls of the Alhambra to La Mimbre. Obrist and Donnelly arrived late to the cozy restaurant, to applause from the assembled guests. Both seemed happy and shared the news that they had convinced the hotel to run the sound and images of Donnelly’s work until a wedding reception the following evening. Sitting down next to me, Obrist and Donnelly revealed a few more details on the performance: The sound in Donnelly’s piece belongs to “11/11/11—the Armistice, the sound of peace.”

As we wandered outside after dinner, artist Marc Vives, one half of Bestué and Vives, told me that he felt that the project in the Lorca house was “very scary.” “In Spain, you grow up with Lorca, you are in awe, and then you are asked to make a work in his house, in his bedroom—it is a big responsibility. For foreigners, it is much easier.” Very soon after that, Donnelly slipped into a taxi, and Obrist excused himself to work on a text. It was almost 2 AM in Granada. Time to start writing.