Madrid

Pepe Espaliú, El nido, (The Nest), 1993, video, color, silent, 15 minutes 20 seconds.

Pepe Espaliú, El nido, (The Nest), 1993, video, color, silent, 15 minutes 20 seconds.

Pepe Espaliú

garcía | galería

Pepe Espaliú, El nido, (The Nest), 1993, video, color, silent, 15 minutes 20 seconds.

In 1993, at the Sonsbeek festival in Arnhem, the Netherlands, Pepe Espaliú performed an action titled El nido (The Nest). As one could see in the video documentation in this show, he walked in circles on a platform high up in a tree for eight days, taking off one piece of clothing every day until, on the last one, he was entirely naked. This was one of Espaliú’s final works. He had been diagnosed as hiv-positive three years earlier in New York, and he passed away later in 1993 in Córdoba, the Andalusian city where he was born in 1955, bringing an end to one of the most intriguing careers among the generation of artists who emerged on the Spanish scene after the fall of the dictatorship.

Twenty-five years later, García | Galería and curator Jesús Alcaide paid homage to Espaliú in this small but coherent exhibition. Although it did not include some of the artist’s most important later works—among them Carrying, 1992, in which he was carried by successive pairs of people from one point to another, first in the Spanish city of San Sebastián and later in Madrid—these omissions by no means diminished the poetic intensity of the show or the outstanding relevance of his practice. In a certain sense, these absences were even productive, in that they allowed the exhibition to illuminate many of the aspects of Espaliú’s poignantly narrative body of work that tend to be obscured by the immense shadow cast over it by the AIDS crisis.   

Circularity, portrayed literally in The Nest, was a recurrent theme for Espaliú, or rather a strategy, a sort of exercise by which he went persistently in search of the body, only to find it absent or elusive. He repeatedly used objects, such as gloves or masks, that are associated with the body yet obscure it from visibility. Significantly, some of his most famous sculptures are palanquins. These covered litters, carried like stretchers, evoke a worn-out body, if not a dead one. For Espaliú, circularity is paradoxically a drive toward reduction, as the increasing nakedness in The Nest conveys—an inevitable stripping down to the essential. This is not to say that his work evolved toward silence. It was in tune with the new sculptural trends of the 1980s, when many artists abandoned Minimal muteness and foregrounded the expressiveness of material. His work was propelled by sexuality and the need to amplify the fears and desires that informed both his own experience and the times in which he lived. He played a political role in the aids years, putting forward bold statements in the media, but his vehemence never eclipsed an incorruptible inclination toward affect and love (spoken with the kind of Latin American accent he had come to know in New York). In what is now considered a historical article, which he wrote just months before his death, he spoke of himself as desahuciado, “done for.” But the same word also means “evicted”—which today inevitably reminds us of the recent economic crisis, one that echoes the moral crisis of the 1980s. Legend has it that after he was found to be hiv-positive, he talked on the phone all night to his friend the artist Juan Muñoz. Both artists were fascinated by the space surrounding the body, but while Muñoz was ultimately a playful trickster, inclined to work through the tradition of trompe l’oeil, Espaliú perceived the body above all as a subtle cavity inhabited by love and pain, presence and absence, life and death.