Eulàlia Rovira, Esmorteir l’esmorteït (Deaden the Deadened), 2020, wooden beams, nylon ratchet straps. Installation view.

Eulàlia Rovira, Esmorteir l’esmorteït (Deaden the Deadened), 2020, wooden beams, nylon ratchet straps. Installation view.

Eulàlia Rovira

In his famous 1967 lecture “Des espaces autres” (Of Other Spaces), Michel Foucault stated, “Heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.” I was reminded of this definition when I read the introductory text to Eulàlia Rovira’s exhibition “Esmorteir l’esmorteït” (Deaden the Deadened), which recounts a story at once macabre and funny. In mid-nineteenth-century London, a dance hall was created in a former chapel with a burial vault beneath the floor. The owners advertised “Dancing on the Dead—Admission Threepence.” Shoes and stockings were strictly required.

Rovira’s project made use of the architectural characteristics of the early-twentieth-century industrial building that houses etHALL to create a strange space where points of reference that would normally serve to orient the spectator became distorted and confused. What first caught one’s attention were a number of large raw-wood beams attached to the roof truss of the building with nylon ratchet straps. These columns were “useless,” in that none of them touched the floor, which created a sensation of enormous tension along with a paradoxical impression of lightness. They all seemed about to touch the ground, about to be “structural”; only the sturdy straps held them back. The small space between the columns and the floor not only contradicted any implication of functionality but also seemed to create a burden on the structure of the building, to disquieting effect. But when one stood back to take in the installation as a whole, a kind of undulating rhythm produced by minute differences in the size of the interstices made the heavy wooden beams appear to float gracefully.

From such a vantage point one might have first noticed the small photographs arrayed on the walls of the gallery at eye level, each depicting a single floor tile protruding horizontally from a wall and all photographed from different angles. This was as if to say: Your feet are firmly planted, not on the ground, but on a plane beneath it. With this, the exhibition shifted into another space: We thought we were in the ballroom, but we were actually in the crypt. The columns, seen as it were from their subterranean, hidden foundations, could now serve to guide us back to the surface.

We should not have been surprised that this interpretative shift occurred through photography, the discipline that Barthes described as a kind of thanatopractice (“that rather terrible thing which is there in every photograph: the return of the dead”). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Rovira’s proposal was the semantic complexity she succeeded in articulating around so few elements—just a few timbers with straps, and unremarkable photographs. It is admirable to be able to say so much with so little.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.