Joan Fontcuberta

Throughout his already long artistic career, Joan Fontcuberta has researched the nature of photography by photographing nature, investigating and questioning the supposed limits of various related concepts: nature and artifice, the object and its representation. He has explored the importance of photography as a document, as a visual proof in Western society where “seeing is believing” and he has gone further to question what happens if what we see is not true. Fontcuberta has equated photographic truth with cultural conventions and expectations that act against our real perception of facts and images—cognitive assumptions and preconceived ideas that detract from actual visual input. Using different conceptual and mental photographic experiences to question assumed facts, he has also added irony to his questioning, making the viewer his accomplice.

During the ten years the show covers, Fontcuberta manipulated and created images of imaginary exotic plants in the series “Herbarium,” 1982–85 and portrayed nonexisting animals in “Fauna,” 1985–90. In “Frottogrames,” 1987–91, he emphasized the material and tactile attributes of objects. In “Palimpsestos,” 1989–92, Fontcuberta questioned the relationship between substance and sign, the cultural manipulation of objects and thus social taste as an index of culture, education, and values, to analyze postindustrial phenomena like marketing and kitsch. In one of his latest installations, Safari, 1989–91, the artist criticized the preplanned safaris and the misleading vision presented in brochures, while also reproaching the way received knowledge is rarely questioned in a mass society.

Fontcuberta’s work deals with the ideas of originality; manipulation (and the construction of new realities to question the assumed ones); truth (and the nonexistence of such a thing); and the simulacrum (destroying all previous concepts to impose a sign, to consider things for what they seem to be rather than for what they are). Fontcuberta approaches ideas through the appropriation of images, the invention of people, animals, facts, locations, plants, materials and so on—that is, the invention of a collective memory to question it—the mistrust of collective and cultural inheritance; the concern with the nature of institutions, of recorded and recounted knowledge; the partiality of history, of the encyclopedia, and of museums.

Constructed images, sculptural mechanisms, decontextualizations, and fiction build up an evocative power to challenge things that are generally taken for granted. Compulsive images created from esthetic ideals of the shape of a woman’s body (Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, ca. 1480, pornography, exploitative representations of the body) and other images of the supposedly real body (made out of veins, muscles, and arteries, as another way of representing it) form the “Doble Cos” (Double body, 1992), his new series, in which he extends his investigation of the unreal seen as real to the subject of the body. Here, Fontcuberta experiments with the visual “noise” that prevents people from seeing clearly. In “Doble Cos,” anatomical and pornographic images are juxtaposed: the scientific reading is juxtaposed to the image of ideal beauty as it has been envisoned by several artists (Botticelli, Amedeo Modigliani), asking, Which is the real one? Is there a real one? Fontcuberta states that many observed things are to be found in the eyes of the observers and not in the image observed.

Anatxu Zabalbeascoa