Jorge Ribalta. Monument machine

Texts: Jorge Ribalta (excerpts)

Petit Grand Tour. Tarragona, 29 agosto – 6 octubre 2007
(Petit Grand Tour: Tarragona, August 29 – October 6, 2007), 2007
51 gelatin silver prints, framed 50 x 50 cm, silkscreend texts on matts
Collection Banco de España, Madrid
Produced with the support of Caixa Tarragona
Tarragona is located 100 km to the south of Barcelona, at the Mediterranean Sea. During the period of the Roman Empire it was one of the main cities of the Iberian Peninsula, and the capital of the Roman province Hispania Citerior or Hispania Tarraconensis. Due to its important archeological remains of the Roman period, UNESCO declared the city world heritage in 2000.
This series depicts various processes or situations in the production of history in a city that is over-coded by Roman antiquity: the everyday labor of the production of a brand new antiquity. Those processes or situations are: some Roman remains downtown, particularly around the Via Augusta and the Roman amphitheater; the works of excavation, restoration and preservation of some monumental areas around the amphitheater; the both public and internal activities of the Archeological Museum, including the main building and its branch in the old paleochristian necropolis; the theatrical re-staging of Roman everyday life by a group of Roman history amateurs;  and the main touristic monumental routes downtown.
The method of the urban walk adopted in this series refers to the tradition of modernist street photography, but also to both a repetition and a parody of the classic early modern journey to Rome and Italy, the grand tour experiences of Goethe, Stendhal and even Flaubert on his trip to the Mediterranean East. These grand tours are the intellectual grounding for the first photographic monument surveys of the 1850s and 1860s, the rise of the “golden age” of photography, including those by Du Camp, Frith, Salzmann, Stillman, Sommer and the photographers of the Mission Héliographique.

Carnac, 1 agosto 2008 (Carnac, August 1, 2008), 2008
15 gelatin silver prints, framed white wood 20 x 25 cm
Collection Banco de España, Madrid
The series starts as a loose reportage of a guided tour (history lesson) at the Le Ménec alignments, one of the megalith fields in Carnac. The Carnac megalith site dates from 5.000-3.000 B.C. and is among the biggest and best preserved ones in the French Bretagne. This region has a concentration of Neolithic monuments on both sides of the English Channel. The vicinity of such monumental vestiges in what are currently French and British territories suggests this was a same historical area of influence and exchange. The meaning of prehistoric stone circles and alignments remains open to interpretations, even if the ritual and astronomic theory prevails.
Today, the enigmatic presence of those aligned stone fields appears as music scores offered from the remote past for its future interpretations. The succession of such interpretations is what we call history.
In 1903, Aloïs Riegl established that the monuments are the fossilization of the Kunstwollen of their time and that esthetic experience is rooted in historical memory: it emerges from the observation of hand-molded stones that have been deformed by time and wheather. Monuments are documents.

Laocoonte Salvaje (Wild Laocoön), 2010-11
200 gelatin silver prints variable dimensions (from 13x18 to 30 x 40 cm), framed 50 x 50 cm, silkscreend texts on matts
Collection Helga de Alvear, Cáceres
Produced with the support of Cajasol Obra Social, Seville
In November 2009 Ribalta was invited to participate in a program on flamenco and contemporary art. He articulated his project as a repertory of photographs that update the visual geography of flamenco from the hypercodified icons derived from postwar Neorealism. The resulting series is an intervention in a system of representations heavily determined by the identitarian discourse of Spanish national culture, but also by forms of popular and “anti-systemic” production. The dominant narrative about flamenco is that it constitutes the emblematic art form of Spanish national-popular culture. Significantly, flamenco was declared world heritage by UNESCO in 2010, precise while Ribalta was working on this project. But historically, flamenco subcultures have simultaneously existed in opposition to the hegemonic national-state culture, as expressions of subalternity and anti-state forms of resistance. It is both, hegemonic and counter-hegemonic. The historic-political reading of flamenco and the critique of the identitarian-nationalist discourse proposed here can only be based on the recognition and analysis of this structural ambivalence in the concept of nation, between the State-form and popular culture.   
The series consists of the photographic documentation of a selection of historically significant places. The network of spaces includes museums and art centres, academic institutions, public administrations, festivals, schools, record labels and recording studios, musicians’ agencies and musical impresarios, tablaos, commercial premises of clothing and other products, communication media, rehearsal rooms, tailors’ workshops, workshops for the manufacture and sale of instruments, fairs, popular tourist venues, theatres, flamenco clubs, associations, bars, neighbourhoods, landscapes, historical places, etc. Those places visibilize the historical, economic, social, administrative, and political structure of the institutional-popular culture of flamenco in Spain. The photographs include both, the places and the activity produced there. The title refers to a poem by Federico García Lorca.

Scrambling, 2011
78 gelatin silver prints, framed 30 x 35 cm, some matts include silkscreened texts, wall text
Produced with the support of Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona
Courtesy angelsbarcelona gallery, Barcelona
This series, whose title refers to Charles Clifford’s Photographic Scramble Through Spain (c. 1864), was produced at one of Europe’s most famous monuments, the Alhambra in Granada. It reflects the fabric of everyday relations and processes involved in the work of the production / reproduction of a monument: the offices and the employees of the Alhambra, the management and administration, the activities of upkeep, cleaning, conservation and security, as well as marketing, the programming of activities, educational programs, the routes and guided tours.
The monument is understood as the result of the intersection of (at least) four discourses: 1) the monument as a constructed site, as architectural-landscape-territory, 2) the monument as enterprise, as post-industrial factory, 3) the monument as public space, as city, and 4) the monument as icon and as a space of identitarian-national devotion.
The photographs were taken over eight consecutive days, from May 9th to 16th 2011 – that is, during the period of the final stage of restoration of the hydraulic system in the Lion’s Court (2002-2012), which was a crucial intervention in the most characteristic space of the monument, constituting in itself a decisive turning point in the public image of the Alhambra. Thus, the iconic place par excellence of the monument is relatively invisible or unrecognizable in these images. It appears in an abject manner, literally like a body opened on the dissection table.
The series consists of seventy-seven photographs presented variably in ten groups or segments.
The first corresponds to images from the Alhambra archive; the second deals with the Torre del Vino and surroundings; the third refers to the security system in the monumental complex; the fourth is a short series of portraits of people with various posts, responsibilities and tasks, and it attempts to synthesize the intersecting system of labor relations involved in the everyday operation of the monument, based on the work of specific people; the fifth consists of images of gardening tasks; the sixth links to the preceding series through irrigation activities and shows the water circuit in the complex; the seventh is a short series on work in the plasterwork restoration workshop; the eighth concerns the Lion’s Court during the renovation of the hydraulic system; the ninth is about the public reception areas, entrances and ticket sales; and the tenth is about the marketing of the monument.
There is one other image, number seventy-eight, which is in fact prior to all the others, although it was made later. This is a reproduction made in my studio in Barcelona of the double page of Roland Barthes’s book Camera Lucida showing Charles Clifford’s image of the Torre del Vino.

Imperio (o K.D.) [Empire (or K.D.)], 2013-14
196 prints, white aluminium frames, framed 3 different sizes, combined: 50 x 60, 30 x 36 and 18 x 20 cm, vinyl wall texts
Produced with support of Centro José Guerrero-Diputación de Granada, and Fundación Helga de Alvear, Granada and Cáceres
Courtesy Casa sin Fin gallery, Madrid
The photographs of this series were taken at a number of locations in Spain and Europe related to the abdication, retreat and death of Charles V (1500-1558), the first King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation. This places include Yuste and Cuacos de Yuste, Madrid and El Escorial, Granada, Barcelona, Brussels, Bolonia, Lille, Cambrai, Le Cateau-Cambrésis and Lens. The series is arranged like a play in three acts, with several scenes in each act.
The first scene of the first act is a walk through the wood surrounding the Yuste monastery, where Charles V spent his last years and died. It finally leads to the compound itself. The next scene takes place around the pond across the palace and ends with the view from the upper pavilion of the palace over the landscape of the Sierra de Gredos. The last scene is a tour through the interior of the compound, including the palace and living quarters of Charles V, the church and the monastery cloisters.
The first scene of the second act corresponds to the return from the monastery to Cuacos de Yuste. It includes a moonrise sequence in the German Military Cemetery referring to Ansel Adams’ famous photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941) and an image of the Plaza de España in Cuacos. It was taken in the same direction as the photograph made by Charles Clifford in 1858, but from further back. The last images were shot at Autoservicio Eva, a grocery store, and show shop-windows with tins of Carlos I paprika, a typical product of Cuacos. The second scene takes place in Brussels during winter and summer. The winter images begin with a brief staging of the author drinking a Charles Quint / Keizer Karel beer at the terrace of Le Rubens brasserie at Place Agora. The other images correspond to the places associated with the abdication and funeral of Charles V, such as the remains of the Aula Magna of the former Palace of Brussels or Coudenberg Palace (where Charles V pronounced his famous abdication speech on October 25th, 1555). The group of summer images were taken during the celebration of the Ommegang, a procession held annually in Brussels in early July, whose origins go back to medieval times. It is now a tourist attraction that reenacts the grand procession of 1549 in honor of Philip II, when he came to Brussels to be reunited with his father, Charles V.
The first scene of the third act is arranged as a flashback or daydream by Charles V in his retreat, remembering some of his outstanding moments of hegemony. The second scene begins with a set of images taken in the Charles V Palace in the Alhambra during the rehearsals for the opera I pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1892). It is followed by a group of images on the uses of the figure of Charles V as merchandising for consumer products, such as paprika from Extremadura, Belgian beer, Mexican chocolate, Brandy from Jerez, or tourism in Extremadura. Also represented here is the use of the figure of Charles V as source for the imperial idea in Spanish fascism, as in the cover of a book of photographs of the Alcázar de Toledo taken during the Spanish Civil War.
The last images are of Le Cateau-Cambrésis and Lens, now French cities located on the border area between France and ancient Flanders. Some of Charles V’s last military campaigns took place here in the 1550s. The palace where the 1559 peace treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis was signed no longer exists. It was situated in the present gardens of the Palais Fénélon, home to the Musée Matisse. The last image shows a portrait of Charles V’s banker Anton Fugger painted by Hans Maler (c.1529) and presented at the new Louvre-Lens museum. This art museum opened in late 2012 and was built on the site of an old coal mine in the region of Nord-Pas de Calais.

Renaissance. Scenes de la reconversion industrielle au bassin minier du Nord-Pas de Calais (Renaissance:Scenes of industrial reconversion in the Nord-Pas de Calais coalfield), 2014
176 prints, framed white wood 30 x 36 cm, vinyl wall text, separate text
Produced with the support of the Centre Régional de la Photographie Nord-Pas de Calais, Douchy-les-Mines
The Nord – Pas de Calais coal-mining region crosses the French-Belgian border and is part of the historical Northern European heavy industry core, which extends into the quite near German Ruhr area. The coal exploitation started in the 18th century, peaked in the mid-20th century and lasted till the 1980s’ Mitterrand presidential mandate, when the French Northern region around Lille was designed to develop a “new economy” center for culture industry related activities, strategically located between Paris, London and Brussels, with the new business district Euralille as its symbolic center. After de-industrialization and the foundation of a mining museum in Lewarde that opened in 1984 as a pioneer “écomusée” institution, the region has participated in industrial heritage policies and campaigns, following the model of the Ruhr industrial region. A few of the former mining sites have been preserved and they define a historical industrial region that was declared world heritage by UNESCO in 2012. The most recent last step in this process of transition from industry into cultural and leisure economies is the opening of Louvre-Lens, a Louvre museum branch in a former mining site in Lens, in December 2012.
This photographic series is a tour of the monuments, an observation of such historical industrial landscape. It is organized in eight scenes, composed of a variable number of photographs each.
The first three scenes are historical excavations or “memory scenes”. They attempt to visibilize the longue durée, how the current Nord – Pas de Calais mining region is part of a longer European history that traces back to the rise of the modern capitalist nation-state system in the 16th century. The other scenes are organized around aspects of “Becoming Heritage”, the entanglement of new and old industries, or of leisure.

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