Francesc Torres

Da Capo—the musical notation directing a player to return to the beginning of the score—was an apt title for MACBA’s retrospective recapping over forty years of work by Francesc Torres. The result was vast, a sort of installation of installations. Although the Reina Sofía in Madrid held an anthological exhibition of Torres’s work in 2001, this latest exhibition has made the true magnitude of his oeuvre apparent, demonstrating his art’s ideological coherence and uncompromising formal rigor. The show was accompanied by a collection of Torres’s writings, which, until now, have been hard to find; like his art, these texts offer important reflections on art institutions, the social roles of art, and the dubious political management of memory.

Starting in the mid-1970s, Torres’s work has taken the form of a handcrafted reconstruction of metaphors about history while at the same time taking a clear stance on the role of the museum as an agent capable of both critically investigating reality and of neutralizing that critique in favor of art’s autonomy. The combination of these two concerns in his work—which cannot be considered within the conventional framework of institutional critique—makes each of his projects a double narration in which the subject matter is as pertinent as the modes and contexts in which it is set forth. The symbolic power of the construction of a critical culture is what upholds the artistic operation; hence the possibility of recognizing art as something singular, though not therefore autonomous. In other words, what happens in the museum—and Torres never works outside dedicated art spaces—should be capable of interfering in the external processes to which it refers: art as testimony of the present, as testimony of our management of the past, and as an active agent in the construction of the present.

After several years of conceptual and performative experimentation in which Torres worked on slight spatial transformations effected by chance or by the body’s basic workings, in 1975 he began working with the nascent genre of installation, of which he quickly became a central figure. He conceived of installation as a kind of multimedia collage, intimately bound to the museum space by its unique logistical capability. Torres’s installations continued to revolve around the ideological aspects of historical memory. Episodes like the Spanish Civil War and repression under Franco (omnipresent in his work starting with Belchite/South Bronx, 1988, and through the more recent Dark is the Room Where We Sleep, 2007) become the filter through which Torres scrutinizes the drives that organize Western history—how we (often violently) determine what is preserved, what is destroyed, what is recalled, and what is forgotten. Torres has also made four new works for this exhibition at MACBA, of which the most notable is Tan limpia como el alma (As Clean as the Soul), 2008, a documentary on the sanitation workers at the offices of the Spanish Congress in Madrid. This is an efficacious allegory for the need to constantly clean up democratic procedures, which too often leave behind the shadows cast by unspeakable historical foundations.

Martí Peran

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.