Oriol Vilanova, Diumenge (Sunday) (detail), 2017, postcards. Installation view. Photo: Roberto Ruiz.

Oriol Vilanova, Diumenge (Sunday) (detail), 2017, postcards. Installation view. Photo: Roberto Ruiz.

Oriol Vilanova

Oriol Vilanova, Diumenge (Sunday) (detail), 2017, postcards. Installation view. Photo: Roberto Ruiz.

It has long been said that contemporary art is made from the residues of the semiotic hyperproduction that has turned culture into a giant flea market: Everything is a recycling of something that has been previously produced and abandoned, and is waiting to return to the sphere of circulation. That’s even more the case for Oriol Vilanova than it is for most artists. Extending Asger Jorn’s practice of aesthetic vandalism, Vilanova operates literally as a ragpicker. Every Sunday the artist arrives with religious punctuality at the market of whichever city he finds himself in—Brussels, Barcelona, Paris—in order to acquire postcards. He has amassed a diverse hoard, currently amounting to approximately thirty-four thousand items. Diumenge (Sunday), 2017—the work that lent its title to this exhibition which was curated by Carles Guerra—assembled about twenty-seven thousand of them. This peculiar visual encyclopedia completely covered the walls in a continuous run that at first glance seemed organized according to color, in lively vertical stripes, almost appearing to parody the work of Daniel Buren. A closer look allowed for one to discover the different themes according to which the immense array was organized. These included ships, Swiss flags, sunsets, aerial views, capitals, bananas, and so on. The most varied section was that of “inclassificables” (unclassifiables), which in a way contained the logic that produced all possible series: Each of its component images might have been capable of escaping its vague individual condition to initiate a coherent series of its own. The methodology via which Vitanova constructed this work ensured that nothing could be considered completed, although any of the series could be paused and closed at any moment or, alternately, its units transferred to another distinct series. All classification, in short, must be interpreted as an invitation to reclassification. 

As with Flaubert’s characters Bouvard and Pécuchet, here the territory between repetition and difference is consecrated as the natural place of the narrative and, consequently, the historical. An image alone is nothing more than a reference without context—Vilanova is not interested in flipping the postcards to expose dead texts or the names of their recipients—but the repetition of certain fundamental characteristics across many images (object, theme, point of view, background) restores a specific narrative to the ensemble. No fragment recalls its origin, but, thanks to its differentiated repetition, each sets off on a new account. The work evokes zero nostalgia despite the archaeological drive that pulses behind the collection. Yet each series becomes historical in the deepest sense: not so much by capturing stages or lapsed moments but because of the strict materiality of each image in which the course of time, the history of vision, and the history of printing are inscribed.

Although they could easily have gone unnoticed—as necessarily occurs with most of the postcards from the ensemble—there were other small interventions in “Diumenge” beyond the mural atlas. Installed on a stairway landing, Per ser precís (To Be Precise), 2017, collects the same number of postcards as were arranged on the wall, but stacked and compressed by their own weight. To collect is to offer a space of congregation of similarity that, as it develops, can only open new fields of narrative disintegration. Likewise, to exhibit the totality of a collection amounts to making its specific contents invisible. In one case, the collection burst into numerous stories; in the other, it was silenced by its very volume. 

Martí Peran

Translated from Spanish by Michèle Faguet.