Madrid

Lara Almarcegui

Galeria Pepe Cobo

Broadly speaking, Lara Almarcegui’s work can be divided into two areas: her public actions (often performed under the umbrella of a biennial or other event), which involve situations or tasks that take place in a common space, sometimes before or even in collaboration with an audience; and her photographic and written archive-related work, which is usually exhibited in galleries or released in publications.

The actions Almarcegui has carried out in her fifteen-year career include digging a hole in an empty lot in Amsterdam (Digging, 1996), painting several huts in Turin, Italy different colors (Two Weeks Painting the Sheds of the Allotment Gardens, Turin 2002), and organizing collective visits to building-demolition sites in Saint-Nazaire, France, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands (Demolition in Front of the Exhibition Room, 2002; Demolitions: Opening the Interior Gardens, 1999, respectively). In Murcia, Spain, she recently exhibited an enormous heap of rubble left over from a building demolition (The Rubble Mountain, 2008), but she has also produced a work consisting of an abandoned lot in Zaragoza, Spain, that is to be protected from development for decades (A Wasteland in Ebro River Shore, Zaragoza 2008).

Like these actions, Almarcegui’s photographic inventories tend to involve ruins or urban spaces that have either been abandoned or are undergoing transformation. Often they are residual or unproductive places that glaringly contrast with the contemporary city, which privileges only things of use or exchange value. For the artist, though, these wastelands or ruins are heirs to an ancient romantic tradition, and hence have an almost mystical value. Since they are empty, they are places where, as Almarcegui says, almost anything is possible, places where citizens feel free. At the margins of social regulation, nature seems to have taken hold again in these sites, effecting a sort of utopian return to origins that predates social law.

In this exhibition, Almarcegui presented two recent series. One of them, “Ruinas de Holanda” (Ruins of the Netherlands), 2008, is a photographic guide to 154 abandoned buildings scattered throughout a country whose identity is bound up with the notion that it must make the most of limited space. As with prior works, Almarcegui has put together an authentic guidebook for the visitor interested in buildings about to collapse. The guide includes both photographic documents and information about the location of each building, as well as a warning that it is important to visit the sites as soon as possible, since the structures may disappear at any moment. The other two series shown here collect images of the artist’s projects for the 2008 Taipei Biennale: She demolished a wall of a collapsing facade (Removing the Outside Wall of a Ruined House, Taipei 2008) and conserved a wasteland located on an island (An Empty Terrain in the Danshui River, Taipei 2008). Such actions—the conservation of abandoned terrains and the gathering of rubble—have become central to Almarcegui’s art; they also bring out the paradox of her aesthetic of ruins: the desire to find things that have begun to vanish and to preserve them in this derelict state.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.