Pep Dardanyà

espaivisor – Galería Visor

We live in the information age, and that explains the growing and probably excessive eagerness of some artists to accumulate data (images, recordings, graphics, and texts) in the course of analyzing a given problematic. Supposedly, gathering such materials will provide a more complete understanding of the intricacies of the topic at hand. This sociologically informed approach has become characteristic of a large number of contemporary artistic practices, as witnessed in the last two Documentas. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between a TV documentary and an artist’s work. Indeed, some art producers, to use Catherine David’s term, do not differentiate between political activism and art.

Thus, by means of texts, photos, and video, in Módulo de atención personalizada: Historia de un proyecto (Personalized Attention Unit: History of a Project), 2004, Pep Dardanyà attempts to convey to the public “the conceptual mechanisms, the work process, and the results of a project [he had] conceived and carried out [in conjunction with] ‘Heart of Darkness’”—an exhibition organized by Barcelona’s Palau de la Virreina in 2002. That show, which took off from the Joseph Conrad novella, sought to generate a reflection on early colonialism and contemporary neocolonialism. In revisiting his original project, the Catalan artist proposes a rereading of Módulo de atención personalizada, 2002, which combined documentary material with the contributions of four separate narrators and the audience.

For that investigation of new forms of forced immigration, Dardanyà had chosen two men and two women from sub-Saharan Africa who had all made clandestine journeys north that the Spanish state considered illegal. They were also all able to communicate in two languages, Spanish and English, which was necesary because they had been hired to explain to the exhibition’s visitors the vicissitudes of traveling from their countries to Europe, an experience wholly different, needless to say, from a tourist trip. The four speakers had been stationed in cubicles designed by the artist, allowing them to meet visitors and talk to them about the immigrant experience. The accoutrements of these cubicles were very simple: a table, some stools, a lamp, and a map showing the Africans’ tortuous itineraries from places like Somalia, Ghana, and Nigeria.

In Valencia, the experiences of those four narrators were conveyed through photographs, texts, and videos. The stories that the speakers tell, of fleeing war and poverty, are filled with hardship and unhappiness; and the new lives they’ve come to lead in Spain are hardly easy—especially for women: Many African emigrants end up turning to prostitution. The personal experience of each of the speakers is kept alive though Dardanyà’s somber documentary experiment. He reminds us that the other is not an abstract term but a palpable, disturbing, daily human reality.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.