Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, Promised Lands, 2015–18, video, color, sound, 20 minutes. From “El sauce ve de cabeza la imagen de la garza” (The Willow Sees the Heron’s Image Upside Down).

Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, Promised Lands, 2015–18, video, color, sound, 20 minutes. From “El sauce ve de cabeza la imagen de la garza” (The Willow Sees the Heron’s Image Upside Down).

“El sauce ve de cabeza la imagen de la garza”

“Utopias, which incidentally are a European invention, are almost invariably settler colonies. Achieving utopia involves going to a place where other people already live and displacing them,” says Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa in her video Promised Lands, 2015–18. She is one of the twenty-eight artists included in “El sauce ve de cabeza la imagen de la garza” (The Willow Sees the Heron’s Image Upside Down), curated by Catalina Lozano. (The show’s poetic title is taken from a haiku by Bashō by way of Chris Marker’s 1983 film Sans Soleil.)

In Isla, 2009, a video by Gilda Mantilla and Raimond Chaves, the silhouette of an island gradually materializes and blurs on a foggy horizon. Islands have been the emblematic mental geography of utopias since the time of Thomas More; the one featured here might allude to the local Canarian legend of the island of San Borondón that materializes in the “real” world only once every hundred years and spends the other ninety-nine in the map of our imagination. And its appearance might also be an invocation of the ghostly image that overlaps the “real” image of the Canary Islands: that of the indigenous culture of the Guanches, exterminated after the arrival of the Spanish. The process was a sort of prelude or trial run for the European colonial capitalist enterprise that began in the fifteenth century and led to the general global ruin we are witnessing in the twenty-first.

The ruin—its poetics and aesthetics (and perhaps a new ethics)—is the theoretical tool that Lozano proposes as a guiding thread through the exhibition. The works in the first room reflect on the hidden structures devised for natural-resource extraction, wealth accumulation, and social control, in which utopian dreams often end. In the photo-text piece Eudaimonia porvenir (Promising Eudaimonia), 2020, Adrián Alemán shows the landscape of Tenerife replete with intimations of the sublime in the frescoes that decorate the lounges of the luxury hotel where the local elite gather. Here, the natural setting of the island is turned into an embellished backdrop for an apparently informal meeting place where political and economic decisions are discussed. Marine Hugonnier’s video The Last Tour, 2004, proposes a genealogy of the Romantic imagery of the sublime in its snowy alpine Northern European variant. And in the photographic installation Perejil, 2015, Xabier Salaberria shows pictures of the islet of that name, populated by goats, which in 2002 was the setting of a ridiculous border altercation between Spain and Morocco.

The works in the second room focus on the ruin of the urban and postindustrial landscape that is the ultimate legacy of the extractive colonial enterprise, both in the colony and in the metropolis. The carnage is embodied in stories of the English countryside landscape as narrated by the voice of Vanessa Redgrave in Patrick Keiller’s essay film Robinson in Ruins, 2010; the desolate or defeated urban landscapes in the photographs of Berenice Abbot or Brassaï; Harun Farocki’s tour through “old” and “new” German architecture (pre- and postwar, a separate set of political connotations inherent in each style) prior to reunification in Stadtbild (View of the City), 1981.

In the third room, as an epilogue and also as a proposal to open up a new understanding of the devastated postcolonial landscape, Lozano brings together works that propose active and combative rereading and reappropriation. The aforementioned qualities are apparent in the attitude of the woman who dances defiantly before a postindustrial landscape in Michele Horrigan’s 2014 video What a feeling!, and, in another register, in the hooplike shapes of the huge traditional fishing nets of the department of Antioquia, Colombia, seen in Carolina Caycedo’s sculptural installation Plomo y brea (Lead and Pitch), 2018, whose forms are echoed in her eloquent drawing Una represa es como un nudo en el ano (A Dam Is Like a Knot in Your Anus), 2016.

Perhaps this entire show can be read as an articulated attempt to propose ways to cut the Gordian knot that colonial imagination has tied into our perception of the landscape, and to suggest the possibility of testing new urgent forms of life among its ruins.