Black Tulip, New Origin (Phase 1), 2013, scaffolds, nylon belts, fabric, dimensions variable.

Black Tulip, New Origin (Phase 1), 2013, scaffolds, nylon belts, fabric, dimensions variable.

Black Tulip

Galeria Estrany - de la Mota

Black Tulip, New Origin (Phase 1), 2013, scaffolds, nylon belts, fabric, dimensions variable.

Last year was a difficult one for Barcelona: The ongoing economic recession in combination with increasing political crisis has turned the once dazzling Catalan capital into a disheartening wasteland. One of the very few glittering lights was the emergence of Black Tulip, the enigmatic umbrella under which a number of artists explore, among other things, issues of authorship in creative processes. The group has no fixed membership; each project has different participants. Early in March of last year, for instance, Black Tulip performed an inspiring action at Halfhouse, an artist’s association that has become a true space of resistance against politicians’ philistinism. On a late-winter night, a good two dozen people headed toward the woods in the hills surrounding Barcelona, where they picked up a tall, fallen tree and carried it on their shoulders back to the Halfhouse headquarters. They lay the tree on the floor, with its base in the building’s fireplace, and for the next five days, they oversaw its burning, bit by bit. Some stayed at the house overnight keeping watch; others arrived each morning with coffee and breakfast for those who’d spent the night. Together they waited for the fire to consume the tree and leave nothing but ashes. So much for the venerable art object; in this work, the vital medium was time.

Time also played an essential role in Black Tulip’s more recent project for Galería Estrany-de la Mota—an entirely different context in which to reflect on production and on the way aesthetic and financial speculation, the latter always inherent to the art market, may or may not be intertwined. The undertaking also fostered an investigation of the possible performativity of the gallery space. Titled “Nou Origen” (New Origin), it was structured in three phases, each lasting two weeks, and each preceded by two weeks of installation—a sort of workshop in which a common identity could be forged out of the individual artists’ diverse positions. But before the three phases were initiated, there was an introductory action that consisted of refurbishing the old elevator in the gallery and bringing it back to life after years of inactivity. More than a prologue to the project, this gesture turned out to have a strong relevance throughout the process, tangentially addressing the disappearance of local industries in Barcelona and metaphorically inverting this dispiriting trend.

The three phases had to do with creating different modes of experience within the exhibition space. In the first stage, a complex scaffolding structure prevented the viewer from stepping onto the gallery floor, causing everything—from hanging pieces of fabric to different sets of objects on the ground—to be seen from a distorted perspective. Walking on the scaffolding, one would find a sheet of paper with a text that, far from trying to give a clear explanation of what was at stake, only threw in a bunch of abstract and poetic clues. “We are the space between the bodies,” it read (in Spanish) in one paragraph. In the second stage, viewers could be conscious only of their own transit through the space, as plastic walls isolated them in claustrophobic corridors. Only in the last phase could the spectator feel something close to a more conventional confrontation with art—or, at least, with objecthood: This is where a number of what someone called “crying shelves,” mysterious and captivating dripping-wet wooden pieces stuck to the walls, evoked the slippery terrain into which Black Tulip’s utterly suggestive proposal took us ever deeper.

Javier Hontoria