One hour south of the silvery Guggenheim Bilbao is Centro Cultural Montehermoso, occupying both a Renaissance palazzo and 19th century water tank. In October 1997, it became a space for exhibitions and production, but only reached international attention in early 2007 when Xabier Arakistain was named director, introducing an entirely different programme.
Montehermoso then became the only contemporary art centre in Spain devoted to a political framework, focusing mainly on feminism and gender issues.
Montehermoso’s current show, Living Together, curated by Arakistain and Tate’s Emma Dexter, explores the foundations of the relationships between people in contemporary societies and aims to establish a common space for us all. In our daily quotidian, social, emotional and economic issues are dealt with through negotiation; relations arise, grow and die at all times. The exhibition points to the very essence of coexistance and does so by eschewing fundamentalisms and stiff readings of recent history. A quick look at Montehermoso’s archive of exhibitions and activities helps understand its strong will to stand aside from homogenic perceptions of the art, history and society of the last decades. Minorities, exclusions and margins are, therefore, at stake.
From this perspective, Living Together comprises the work of 14 international artists who build a discourse that is, in this geographical location, as relevant as it can be. It is important to state that this is not a politicised approach to the topic and that local conflicts are never mentioned, but it is equally important not to overlook the social and political reality of the Basque country. The possibility of living together peacefully is undoubtly the most important goal for the new lehendakari (the Basque country’s president), the first non-nationalist in 30 years who on the very day these lines were written, was publicly threatened with death.
Daniel Baker’s work can be seen in the steep, mirrored corridor through which the palazzo and the old water tank are joined together. It’s an unstable scene, just like the social situation of the gypsies he succeeds in portraying. In Artur Zmijewski’s ‘Them’, four very different polish social groups live in a room where negotiation is the only valid weapon to achieve a decent coexistance. In both works we feel the absence of peripeherial issues, these having become the very centre of their discourse.
Other works share a critical approach to the techniques of domination inherent to power and also the subtle repressive strategies of capitalism (through fetishism). Such is the case in the work of Claire Fontaine and Josephine Meckseeper.Spain’s Eulalia Valldosera takes the concept of ‘constellation’ to trace relationships in the context of work, while Marcus Coates deals with a disturbing neighbourhood with his shamanic procedures.
Paula Trope’s photographs of Rio de Janeiro, the dark administration of emigrant flow by first-world countries in the work of Société Réalist, or Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s portraits all touch on issues of authorship, colonialism and the construction of the self and are many of the best examples of how, as Emma Dexter and Xavier Arakistain put it, ‘groups and communities are created to progress together against the unnerving backdrop of political indolence’.
Javier Hontoria is a writer based in Gijón