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The language that I have cultivated throughout my artistic trajectory comes from a multiplicity of signs, icons, micrographies, calligrams or benigrams without a code, unrepeated and unrepeatable, that coexist, articulate and manifest themselves in a manner that is always unique, always reinvented, and that in the end forms a micro-theater or calligraphic representation of the great micro-theatre of the world.
This exhibition of the work of Benet Rossell (Àger, 1937) concentrates on two strains of this multifaceted artist’s vast production: his films and his calligraphies or micrographs. The show offers an interrupted, fragmented vision of his work, one that avoids the conventions of the chronological retrospective and provides several ways into a work constructed as an inter-crossing of languages and media. Though early on he studied law, economics and sociology, Benet Rossell soon took an interest in art. His work includes an array of disciplines, from drawing and signic writing, painting and the occasional tapestry or ceramic piece, to art action and performance, experimental and commercial film, poetry and theatre, and others. His approach to all of these languages is highly personal, and his unconventional production includes optical objects, work with crops, drawings and interventions on films, dibuixos amanits (oiled drawings), affidavits, wordless comic strips, film scripts and dibutext (drawing-texts), to name a few.
In 1964, he moved to Paris, where he lived for many years. While based there, he travelled widely and spent long periods in other countries, including India and Nepal. Also in Paris at that time were Joan Rabascall, Antoni Miralda and Jaume Xifra, close friends of Rossell with whom, despite differences in professional background, he worked on a number of projects. With them, for instance, Rossell filmed Cerimonials (Ceremonials) (1974), part of the MACBA Collection, celebrations and rituals in which Dorothée Selz participated as well. In Paris, he took film classes with Jean Rouch at the Comité del Film Etnográfico. During those years, Rossell also studied at the Université du Théâtre des Nations, a crucial experience where he first heard of total theatre, understood as an action that brings the concepts of celebration and ritual to bear on the dramatic arts. Rossell himself described these experiences as ‘closer to signic representation than text. I came into contact with languages whose codes I was wholly unfamiliar with, languages without codes for me. I found them fascinating, and they were quite possibly the origin of the language that I have cultivated throughout my artistic trajectory, which comes from a multiplicity of signs, icons, micrographies, calligrams or benigrams without a code, unrepeated and unrepeatable, that coexist, articulate and manifest themselves in a manner that is always unique, always reinvented, and that in the end form a micro-theatre or calligraphic representation of the great micro-theatre of the world…’
This exhibition presents a great many works that have never been exhibited before. It also pays special attention to Benet Rossell’s cinematographic work, which is tightly linked to his signic and calligraphic drawings. In so doing, the show establishes a dialogue between the different media used in works produced from 1965 to the present. Though abstract in appearance, his work partakes of narrative. Like some of the imaginary characters who appear time and again in his drawings to create micro-stories, Benet Rossell is a tracker: the insistence on micro-worlds (micro-theatre, micro-opera, micrography, micro-action...) is a constant in his production. But within these small gestures lie large stories, street characters, unlikely occurrences and new paths to explore. With its diverse formats, Diari residual (Residual Diary) (1965–69), for instance, consists of a recompilation of references and discoveries derived from the artist’s daily work. As part of the explorations of the city that are a constant in his work, Rossell’s polyester resin cubes become transparent containers of objects and images. Initially, Benet Rossell carried them in the pockets of his coat and used them for his micro-performances.
The artist’s interest in small things, things not readily perceived or hidden from vision, is manifest in his frequent use of tools and instruments that he himself creates, like the glasses or the magnifying glasses he made to observe hidden drawings. A collaborative work with Jaume Xifra, Calidoscopi (Kaleidoscope) (1971) is a film of the shifting drawings in a kaleidoscope, transformed before the camera by a mirror play. For Benet Rossell, film is a way to approach the human and to ornately write movement. As in his work Holes (1969/2007), Rossell’s micro-film can be camera-less, painted or perforated film. He also draws directly on film, delineating the micrographs or benigram so characteristic of his work, elements presented alone, with texts by the artist or by others, collages or die cuts and holes in the support. Sometimes, the paper is folded, and we never know if drawings lie hidden in the folds. This exhibition also includes the work Micro-òpera 2 (Micro-Opera 2) (1984), an installation that consists of a film that narrates how Benet Rossell builds a paintbrush using his own hair and paints photograms. The instruments used in the process are exhibited in display cases, and on the walls are photographs documenting the process. The work is completed with two light boxes that show the resulting drawings.
This show presents Rambla 24 h (1981/2009), a collaborative piece made with Antoni Muntadas that has not been exhibited since 1981, the year in which it was made, when it was shown in the context of the XXIII International Film Week in Barcelona. This video-installation originally consisted of several elements: monitors showing people walking up and down the street; a tower of monitors showing fragmented images of the ramblaires – or passers-by – their heads, bodies and feet; and the filming of a still shot of the first minute of 24 consecutive hours. In order to show the changes that occurred on this street over time, in September 2009 Muntadas and Benet Rossell filmed it once again. Parallel Benet Rossell shows both films, along with documentary material from the earlier project.
One of the never-before-exhibited videos included in this exhibition is Microfàcies (2010), a theatrical work that deals with the analyses of geological stratums and sediments that Benet Rossell uses in some of his works. The film consists of applying a sort of textural analysis to the geography of his own body as represented in Auto di ritratto (2008). This is not an abstract work, but a calligraphy that toys with the il/legibility of realities, with the im/possibility of things. Humour and irony also run through this artist’s work, as is evident in the films Miserere (1979) and Vetlla (Wake) (2007), which deal with the world of military paraphernalia and criticise dictatorships, and totalitarian and hierarchical forms of power.
A pictorial element that appears in his drawings using perchloride or the strokes on marouflés paper becomes very evident in the film Pound (1985/2009). Penso amb la punta del pinzell (I Think with the Tip of the Brush) (2010) was conceived specifically for this exhibition. It presents the actual depository of the artist’s pictorial works, where all the paintings are packed and labelled with an inventory number, which, on a computer, provides access to all the information about the work except its image. This installation places the idea above the object, prevents the viewer from looking at the work and questions the role of painting in contemporary art, as well as the role of the museum as an institution in the presentation of art. The physical space of the exhibition comes to an end with Paral·lel, paral·lel (Parallel, parallel) (2010), a new project also designed for the occasion. This piece revolves around the old cabaret theatre El Molino, on the Barcelona street Paral·lel, though the broader concerns of the project are the neighbourhood and the transformation that it has undergone since the 1950s. In addition to silk screens of the maps of the three cities where Benet Rossell has lived – maps on which the route from his home to El Molino is highlighted – the work includes the cabaret theatre’s original sets, which Rossell found in a dumpster while the theatre was being demolished. A film registers the destruction of the original building and the construction of the new one, which is still underway. Lastly, an e-mail address is provided for access to opinions about the project. Paral·lel, paral·lel is a work in progress, a sentimental and sociological chronicle of the transformation of grimy Barcelona and its current institutional ‘renovation’ through private-sector initiatives.
Curators: Bartomeu Marí and Teresa Grandas.
Organisation and production: Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).