Madrid

Ana Busto

Galería Oliva Arauna

This was Basque artist Ana Busto’s third foray into the controversial world of boxing. For the first, Night Fight, presented at Metrònom, Barcelona, in 1999 and at the Sala Rekalde in Bilbao the following year, she set up a ring and organized fights in each of the art spaces, the walls of which were lined with photographs of professional North American boxers. In some way this represented an attempt to draw in and juxtapose two essentially extinct types of audiences—art lovers and boxing fans—through their shared desire to experience this spectacle. To the second, Playa Girón, 2001, exhibited in Valencia, the , mist added the coneept of projection or reflection to her work by covering the two walls facing those on which photographs of the boxers were mounted with mirrors. It goes without saying that the visitors’ bodies intercepted and interfered with the effect of the reflection, becoming integrated, along with the video projection, into the ensemble of the installation.

This time, Busto’s work was based on her travels in Cuba. La Escuela Cubana de Boxeo (The Cuban school of boxing), 2001, consists of photographic diptychs and triptychs with superimposed images of sweaty boxers training or at rest. The images show the poverty of the facilities in which the boxers work out. The superimpositions sometimes produce the deceptive impression that we are looking at men with physical defects or deformations rather than celebrated fighters or valiant heroes. A loudspeaker broadcast voices and laughter, fragments of speeches by Fidel Castro, and Cuban musk along with the clamor of the fights and other sounds from the training facility. This audio element created a celebratory atmosphere suggesting an attitude toward boxing very different from that evoked in myriad movies about fixed fights and ruined boxers.

Eight rocking chairs took center stage in the gallery. Cuba is a country with a rich street life, where the arts of chatting and sociability predominate—something that has been largely lost in European culture. The rocking chairs seemed to form a conversing group, and in this case, surrounded by the photographs of members of the Cuban national boxing team, evoked the relaxed relations among the boxers, or perhaps between them and their neighbors. But the chairs were empty and immobile, as if life had abandoned them. In a text written by the artist, she cites a statement made by a Cuban physician and former boxer who expresses his bygone passion in the following terms: “I see and feel it like a rhythm, like a sound, like the excitement of those who pursue boxing, so controversial in other places, so real, so visually engaging, so liberating of energy, rage, and taboo feelings.” And yet, without being exactly melancholic, the tone of this exhibition, half documentary and half artistic fiction, indicated some ambivalence toward the way these athletes’ effort and dedication are exploited in a country governed by a dictator, even if he offers national pride rather than wealth as a reward. It is all the more surprising, then, that Busto, taken in perhaps by her fascination with the sport, omitted any reference to its macho, self-destructive aspect, discussed so astutely by Joyce Carol Oates in On Boxing (1987). In this sense Busto’s approach remains equivocal.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Michèle Faguet.