Miró-Portabella. Poetics and transgression

This exhibition was inspired by the impressionthat the documentary Miro l�altre byPere Portabella made on me when I saw it on cinema screen. After that, the ideakept going round and round in my mind that I had to find a singleexhibition format that could link in both creators� transgressive work. In both casesthey stand out for the deliberate subversion of their respective artisticlanguages, sharing many points in common. Their mutual attitude of intellectualdefiance, combined with each one�s respective poetics, had to have aprovocative effect on spectators, forcing them to reflect once again on the keys to contemporary art.

 

The project was given a definitiveboost when I explained the aim of the exhibition at the Fundaci� Pilar i Joan Mir� in Mallorca to the filmmaker and was able to confirm hisinterest in the envisaged exhibition format. After the idea had been allowed to mature for a time, theexhibition Mir�-Portabella. Poetics &Transgression began to take shape. Following subsequent efforts inconjunction with the team from the foundation, several new ideas were added tothe initial proposal until the planned exhibition we are presenting today wasrounded off.

 

Pere Portabella holds an unusual position inthe field of contemporary creation. His cinematographic work is highly valued and in popular demandon major contemporary art circuits. His films form part of the art collections of leadingmuseums like the Pompidou Centre in Paris, New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)and Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA). In 2001, the MACBA organized amajor retrospective of his work entitled Hist�riessense arguments, which more than reaffirmed Portabella�sintention for his work tobe regarded as fringe cinema. He was the only spanish artist to take part in Documenta11 in Kassel and the Pompidou Centre in Paris paid tribute to him at an eventwith showings of his films. His work continued to feature at different exhibitions,leading up to the final consolidation of his recognition as a member of the contemporary artscene in the form of a retrospective dedicated to Portabella by the New York MoMAin 2007.

 

Consequently, we started out with a clear idea:Portabella�s documentaries had to be presented at the exhibition as works ofart, as four more works of art alongside Mir��s own art. Portabella�sdeliberate intention to break the boundaries of a strictly cinematographiclanguage and situate himself in the world of artistic creation is evident, asis his interdisciplinary nature at the crossroads of different disciplines likemusic, cinema, photography, poetry and contemporary art, which all determinethe uncomfortable hybrid mix that characterizes his artistic language. Theexhibition we present is aimed at demonstrating how cinema and painting havebeen contaminated by poetry and music, generating a melting pot of the mostdiverse of contemporary languages.

 

What I have done is tostart out specificallyfrom the concept of cinema as a languagecontaminated by numerous different artistic disciplines, lending moreimportance to the language itself than to subordinating it to telling a storyor event.

 

Before I used tocomment that I have a foot in each door: in cinema and museums. Now I thinkthat I have both feet in the world of contemporary art and both feet in that ofcinema. This is a source of great satisfaction because what I make is cinema,with no added frills. The thing is, because of the different way I structure films and my own particular formof narrative, I�ve come under the scrutiny of contemporary art museums, with mywork being included in their

art collections.

Re-reading statements and ideas formulated byJoan Mir� and Pere Portabella, you reach the conclusion that in many respectsthey coincide, to the extent that sometimes it is hard to distinguish theperson making the comment. Time and time again, both creators express theirstrong rejection of existing conventions and their firm intention to seek a language capable ofinfringing the established rules. It is a question of �murdering� thetraditional language and starting out from zero in a search for freedom ofexpression through transgression and insubordination.

 

Losing any fear of theunknown and discovering adventure as a way of life inseparable fromrisk-taking. The price of freedom. Joan Brossa formulated this idea, based onan Oriental saying: �If you wish to reach an unknown place, you must begin tojourney along unknown pathways.�

 

I know I am treadingvery hazardous pathways and I confess that, at times, I feel a panic typical ofone who journeys along hitherto unexplored roads [...].�

 

On this journey of constant exploration, theimportance of teamwork, a respect for a craftsman�s skills, and the need to immerseoneself in other disciplines that can enrich the final language areall highlighted.

 

Teamwork or jointwork, without this being confused with the impersonal standardization of agroup, is a necessary discipline, coherent with the materialist conception ofartistic production.

 

...the artist is a manwho must overcome the individualist stage and strive to achieve a collectiveone. He must excel himself, abandoning, rejecting, and shedding individualismin order to sink into anonymity.

 

Anonymous work must beboth collective and highly personal. Each one must do what they want to do,just as naturally as breathing. But there must be no underlying intentions ordesire to place one�s own signature on the work.

 

Additionally, both creators emphasize theimportance of silence and the values of emptiness as driving forces behind thecreative act in numerous different written and spoken references, as also confirmed by their respective work.

 

 

 

The process itselfmakes me seek the hidden noise in silence, movement in immobility, life ininanimateness, infinity inthe finite, shapes in emptiness and myself in anonymity.

 

Feeling the silenceand sounds, inseparable from the images, as they find their place in the emptyspace of the screen.

 

Anonymity allows me torenounce myself, but by renouncing myself, I come to affirm myself even more strongly. Just as silenceis a negation of noise, although the slightest noise,in a context of silence, becomes immensely noisy.

 

You need to be facedwith an empty space, in silence. From that point on, its breath drives you�

 

In our analysis of the two protagonists� sharedphilosophy, we cannot overlook Pere Portabella and Joan Mir��s sense ofpolitical commitment, with the filmmaker being much more active and militantalthough Mir��saesthetic rebellion was equally radical and committed. In the historic contextof Franco�s Spain, both creators suffered from being condemned to an innerexile for their transgressive, defiant stances.

 

With the triumph of the Franco dictatorship,Joan Mir� was forced to undergo a period of isolation, taking refuge first inBarcelona and then in Mallorca.This was a period when any sign of his presence on the Spanish cultural scenewas erased for decades. The innovative joie de vivre of the 1930s, with ADLAN(Friends of New Art) and the GATCPAC (Association of Catalan Architects forProgress in Contemporary Architecture) acting as the driving forces behindintellectual life in pre Civil War Barcelona, was buried by the Franco dictatorship.Despite the fact that Mir� had been internationally recognized for decades, itwas not until the late 1960s that the first big official exhibition ofMir��s work was organized, in this case at Santa Creu Hospital in Barcelona in 1968.

 

After co-producing Viridiana (1961) by Luis Bu�uel, Pere Portabella fell into disgracewhen the Osservatore Romano dedicated one of its most ferocious criticisms tothe film. it was awarded a Palme d�or at the Cannes Film Festival, leading to theimmediate dismissal of the director General for Cinema who had collected theaward. From then on, the filmmaker remained on the fringes of culturallife, which in the longterm has been highly positive in terms of the freedom that has characterizedhis approach.

 

MIR� AND PORTABELLAMEET

Mir� and Portabella met in the late 1950s and afriendship and collaborative professional relationship were forged that lasteduntil Mir��s death. Although their relationship was an intermittent one, it featuredhighly prolific, generous periods, as reflected in the following description.

 

 

 

 

 

Portabella entered into contact with JoanBrossa in the early 1950s and the poet�s provocative, creative approach setPortabella on the most unimagined interdisciplinary of pathways. one ofBrossa�s greatest successes was to introduce J.V. Foix, Joan Prats and Joan Mir�to new informalist, Conceptual generations.

 

It was the first time I had had a transgressive orrevolutionary relationship. In the early years of the1950s, everything we learnt about poetry, avant-garde movements, all basicreferences from Mir� and the earliest paintings by T�pies, all the poetry fromFuturism to Surrealism to Dadaism, it all began with Brossa. He played a keyrole. If you were already receptive to new ideas and questioned the establishedlanguage, Brossa encouraged you to continue and he constantly reminded you:�This is the pathway�.

 

In the late 1950s, through his relationshipwith Brossa and Prats, Portabella was able to meet Joan Mir�. When the artistwas in Barcelona on his way to his estate, Mas Mir�, Prats organized an almostclandestine meeting with him at his hat shop in the Rambla de Catalunya. Theyoung filmmaker was able to take part in a long conversation with Mir� (the pride ofBarcelona�s intellectuals) who had been living in Mallorca since 1956.

 

From then on, we can trace meetings andcollaborations between Mir� and Portabella with one common denominator: a loyalsense of political commitment and Mir��s generosity in collaborating in artistic,social and political causes suggested by Portabella and considered just by Mir�.

 

One such example was the commemoration of theday of the Worker, which gave rise to a famous poster for the trade unionComissions Obreres to mark may 1st 1968. Portabella took a very active role in hiscapacity as a cultural agitator and in the consolidation of an opposition tothe Franco regime through different political and cultural strategies. in thiscontext, in 1964, the first branches of Comissions Obreres were founded in Cataloniaand, four years later, Portabella, accompanied by Xavier Folch, asked Mir� tocollaborate in supporting this newly created trade union.

 

In 1969 the relationship between Mir� andPortabella bore its most spectacular fruit, with the production of three films tofeature at an exhibitionorganized by the Catalonia and Balearic Architects� Association, entitled Mir� Otro, and with a controversialsubversive happening consisting of the creation and destruction of a work by Mir�on the windows of the headquarters of the association.

 

They met again the following year in 1970 onthe occasion of a protest by the Permanent Assembly of Catalan intellectuals,who locked themselves inside Montserrat Monastery. Some 300 intellectuals, professionalsand artists protested at death sentences meted out at a summary trial inBurgos, demanding the restoration of democratic freedom. Joan Mir� hadtravelled to Tarragona with his wife, Pilar Juncosa, and found out about theprotest at the monastery. He decided to visit the protestors with his wife. Hewas received with applause by the assembly, although given the dangerouscircumstances it was considered best for him not to remain inside themonastery.  

 

Later Portabella asked for Mir��s collaborationonce again, this time in designing a poster for his film Umbracle in 1972. Joan Mir��s generosity to a young creator who wasthen undergoing serious financial difficulties was not only reflected by the creationof the said poster butalso by the gift of a series of lithographs of the poster to help financedifferent film projects.

 

A year later, once again through Mir��smediation, Portabella was commissioned by Gallery Maeght to make two newdocumentaries about Mir��s work, in this case about the creation of a tapestryand bronze sculptures. The films were to form part of a 1974 exhibition being organized at the time at theGrand Palais in Paris.

 

The creation of the documentary Mir� tap�s also gave rise to the only cinemascreenplay by Joan Mir� for his friend Portabella. The filmmaker explained that the requestworried Mir�,  who did not know how to goabout the task. A few weeks later, Portabella received a phone call fromFrancesc Farreras, the director of Gallery Maeght in Barcelona, announcing thesurprise of an unexpected gift: the screenplay Mont-roig-Mas Mir�, which wewill come back to later on.

 

Their final collaborationconsisted of an interview with Mir� by Portabella in Mallorca in 1974 for a film byThomas Bouchard. Mir�was not keen on speaking. His silences were legendary, because he consideredthat his work was more eloquent than his words. Maybe that is why filmmakerBouchard had to ask for Pere Portabella�s collaboration in his filmed interview toput Joan Mir� at ease as he talked in front of the camera.

 

THE EXHIBITION SPACESOF MIRO-PORTABELLA. POETICS &TRANSGRESSION

The exhibition Miro-Portabella. Poetics & Transgression uses Pere Portabella�sshort films as a nexusto create an itinerary for visitors. in the late 1960s and early 70s, the filmmakermade a series of documentariesabout different facets of Joan Mir��s creative work (cast bronze sculptures, atapestry and an ephemeral work of art) and about their shared politicalcommitment.

 

Each exhibition space ties in a documentary byPere Portabella with works by Mir� associated with the film andwith different documentaryand photographic information. There are four different exhibition spaces, eachmarked by the title of one of the films, plus a fifth one that documents and presents the screenplay Mont-roig/Mas Mir�. The aim is to createan itinerary that highlights the intense, shared vision of the filmmakerand artist.

 

EXHIBITION SPACE 1:MIR� L�ALTRE (THE OTHER MIR�)

The 1960s represented an opportunity for Spainto open up financially and culturally to the outside world against the arid backdrop of theFranco regime. In this setting of timid new developments in Spain�s culturalpolicies, the Ministry for information and Tourism decided to take advantage ofMir��s name and it organized the first official exhibition of his work, presenting a retrospectiveat Santa Creu Hospital in Barcelona that had already been shown at the MaeghtFoundation in Saint Paul de Vence. Although he was in Barcelona, at the last minuteJoan Mir� decided not to attend the opening on November 19th 1968 so as not tohave to rub shoulders with authorities from the Franco regime.

 

In response to the big officialexhibition in Barcelona, young architects from the Catalonia and Balearic Architects� Association decided toorganize an exhibition in 1969 that aimed to offer a panoramic view of Mir��swork from before and after the Spanish Civil War. The exhibition Mir� Otro (the title was inconceivablein Catalan) intended to draw attention to the way in which the above ministryhad wanted to manipulate Joan Mir��s name. The initiative counted on theartist�s full involvement, to unimaginable limits.

 

The young architectswished to organize a provocative, shocking exhibition, unlike the official anthological exhibition that had alreadybeen held of an artist whose work features inmuseums. I did not go to the officialopening. I was in Barcelona, but at the last moment I hadit announced that I would not go in order to avoid Franco�s authorities.

 

 PerePortabella was commissioned by the Architects� Association with making a film as atribute to the artist to be shown at the new exhibition. From that point, the idea forthree documentaries dedicated to Mir� was born: Aidez l�Espagne, Mir� l�altreand Premios Nacionales, all made in1969. After mulling over the idea, the filmmaker suggested that the artistshould star in a film that showed the final destruction of a mural he had been askedto make on the windowsof the headquarters of the Architects� Association in Pla�a de la Catedral. Onlythus would it make any sense to shoot the film.

 

This subversive, controversial act fitted inwith the dynamics of the conceptual art movement of the time and with theradicalism that Portabella needed to express in his own language. It respondedto the idea of a happening, highlighting the importance of the process andephemeral nature of the act. Needless to say the suggestion immediately wentdown well with the artist. Mir� was very categorical when he looked back on theevent: it had to be done like that, despitegeneral opposition by progressive intellectuals of the time, who saw thehistoric opportunity of having a new mural by Joan Mir� under an existing oneby Pablo Picasso disappear.

 

Even critic Jos� Mar�a Galv�n, who collaboratedwith the progressive magazine Triunfo,expressed his deep deception.

 

Never again do I wantto see the spectacle of Joan Mir� destroying a work of art that he had createdwith his own hands.

 

Nonetheless, Moreno Galv�n intuitivelyunderstood the importance of that revolutionary gesture by the protagonists.

 

They aimed to dosomething that also has a certain majesty: they aimed to do nothing less thanto destroy it, like a holocaust, like a protest act against a consumer society,like a sacrifice in which, inversely, on the negative side, Mir��s non-participation in thefinancial game was demonstrated.

 

Despite all that, Icannot help but acknowledge that something captivated me about that gesture byMir� and the young Barcelona architects. Destroying half a million dollars inthe full light of day is splendid�

 

Finally, on the morning of April 28th 1969,protected by a humble shopkeeper�s coat and wearing an expression of creativeconcentration, Joan Mir� painted the forty-four-metre-long windows of theArchitects� Association using an unorthodox set of tools. Two months later, onemidday in late June, the artist, spatula in hand, set about to destroy his own work.Pere Portabella recorded this provocative act from beginning to end in adocumentary that would constitute the only remains (in addition to severalphotos) of anact that invites us to reflect on the complexity of contemporary creation and theartist�s social responsibility.

 

As befits the radical nature of the act, Portabella�s film Mir� l�altre contributes by totally subverting the language ofcinema: eliminating narrative completely and playing with images that areinsistently repeated, combined with the irritating repetition of a soundtrackby Carles Santos. Above all, it takes a different approach to Mir� the man, ina unique documentary film by Portabella where the image of the artist isshown. it portrays Mir�without the image of a great artist. He is a simple man, standing in the streetshoulder to shoulder with other citizens who are also workers, carrying out hiswork with total modesty. The words that Mir� wrote in his notes in the early1940s are brought to fruition:

 

Working very slowly,with the professional dignity of an ageing worker, only thus shall I achievethe beauty and consistency of materials.

 

Louis Aragon dedicated an extraordinary articleentitled Barcelone � l�aube to the performance at theArchitects� Association, published in LesLettres Francaises on June 11th 1969, highlighting the political connotationsof the gesture by the artist and looking back on Joan Mir��s revolutionaryartistic stages.

 

At the exhibition Mir�-Portabella. Poetics & Transgression, part of the destroyedmural on the windows has been reconstructed, as you can see in the fold-outsection of this publication, based on a series of hitherto unpublished photosby Toni Catany, blown up and placed on the windows of the big corridor of thefoundation�s Moneo building, leading to the exhibition space where Mir� l�altre is shown.

 

The destruction of Joan Mir��s mural led to oneof the bitterest controversies among intellectuals of the time, faced with theunmoving convictions of the protagonists, since what Mir� and Portabella consideredto be most important was for seeds to be sown by the act from which otherthings would then germinate,leaving behind forever more:

 

....its irradiation,its message, what it will do to transform people�s spirits a little.

 

EXHIBITIONSPACE 2: AIDEZ L�ESPAGNE OR MIR� LA GUERRA (HELP SPAIN OR MIR�, THE WAR)

This film was conceivedto tie the pre-war Mir� in with the post-war one within the context of the Barcelonaexhibition Mir� otro. The startingpoint was documentary material about the war that a film library in Toulousse had givenPortabella. At the exhibition Mir�-Portabella.Poetics & Transgression, the film Aidez l�Espagne is shown alongside a selection of sixlithographs from the Barcelona series(a series of 50 lithographs that were made public in 1944).

Using a visual collage, Pere Portabellacontrasts a series of images of the Spanish Civil War: exploding bombs,destroyed buildings, Republican demonstrations, military parades, the religiousacts of a church involved in the Fascism, the fleeing of the defeated etc. Portabella manipulatesthese images of war and contrasts them with chosen fragments of the Barcelona series, which violentlyexpresses the horror of war and human violation. The film concludes withan image of the colourstamp that Mir� designed for PosteFrancaise in 1937: an image that synthesizes the artist�s political rage,encapsulated in the huge fist of the Catalan peasant. An edition of thestamp in a larger formatwas made to raise money for the Spanish Republic, to which an inflammatory anti-Fascist text in Frenchwas added by Mir�. This text was shown, at least during the early days, at theexhibition Mir� otro in Barcelona:

 

Dans la lutte actuelle, jevois du c�t� fasciste les forces p�rim�es, de l�autre c�t� le peuple dont lesimmenses ressources cr�atives donneront � l�Espagne un �lan qui etonnera lemonde.

 

PREMIOS NACIONALES  (NATIONAL AWARDS)

As part of the trilogy conceived for theexhibition Mir� otro, Portabella createda film that was not directly linked with Joan Mir�, although it was aimed at offering a contrastwith Mir��s work. The film contains images of the basement of Madrid�s NationalLibrary, where work by

the prize-winners of the National Fine ArtsAwards is stored from 1941 to 1969. Accompanying expressions of the Francoregime�s artistic taste is a soundtrack of Spanish opera from the period,designed to constitute a kitsch contrast to Joan Mir��s transgressive art.

 

In the end Pere Portabella�s trilogy came upagainst an unforeseen problem: none of the three films was showcasedat the exhibition forwhich they had been created. According to Portabella, none of the threedocumentaries was shown because the Cultural Committee of the Architects�Association considered that Aidezl�Espagne jeopardized the exhibition.

 

They asked me to tone it down and I refused andwithdrew the films.

 

TWO NEW SHORT FILMS: MIR� LA FORJA AND MIR� TAP�S (MIR�, THE FOUNDRYAND MIR�, THE TAPESTRY)

Four years after the first documentaries,Pere Portabella made two films that bear witness to the effort and close collaboration of craftsmen in thecomplex process of creating a work of art by Mir�. The purpose was todemonstrate that, as well as the artist�s creative inspiration, craftsmen(whether they cast sculptures, make ceramics, tapestries or prints or work inany other field) intervene in an important way and contribute with theirskills to the final artistic outcome. Both films tie in with Joan Mir� and Pere Portabella�sshared philosophy about teamwork, interdisciplinarity, a deep respect for thework of craftsmen, and an aspiration for anonymous collective creative works.

 

Enjoying anonymity isthe driving force behind collective work. That is why I adore making ceramicswith Artigas. I work on my prints with foremen and workmen. They give me ideasand I fully confide in them.

Teamwork or jointwork, without this being confused with the impersonal standardization of agroup, is a necessary discipline, coherent with the materialist concept ofartistic production.

 

Anonymous work must beboth collective and highly personal. Each one must do what they want to do,just as naturally as breathing. But there must be no underlying intentions ordesire to place one�s own signature on the work.

 

I have a compulsive,promiscuous tendency to choose collaborators from disciplines other than my own.

 

In keeping with their shared idea ofdesacralising art, doing away with the artist�s role as the star protagonistand instead aspiring to work toward collective art, in the two documentaries atno time can we see the figure of Joan Mir�. In contrast, theprotagonists are the craftsmen;a surprising factor because in the history of art, craftsmen have remainedtotally invisible. The close relationship between craftsmen and their tools,which was so highly venerated by Mir�,

is extolled by Portabella as a tribute to theircraftsmanship and in recognition of their skills.

 

EXHIBITION SPACE 3: MIR� LA FORJA (MIR�, THE FOUNDRY)

At the exhibition Mir�-Portabella. Poetics& Transgression, the whole process leading up to the casting of a sculptureby Joan Mir� is reflected, since objects chosen by Mir� to create thesculpture AssemblatgePorte I are exhibited. They are objects shown for the first time (a hat fromCa�n Prats, a wooden clog, light bulbs, bottles and different instruments),exhibited alongside the lovely Mallorcan doors that were worked on directly by Mir�,which have also hitherto never been shown to the public.

 

All the different elements, from the imposing Mallorcandoors to the objects, film, drawings, photographs and sculpture,interrelate and enhanceone another in a shared exhibition space where the concept of the creativeprocess and reflections on the authorship of works of art are staged like neverbefore. In conjunction, they combine to offer an itinerary that culminates withthe presence of the final work � the sculpture Porta I- which seems to issue forthfrom the short film by Portabella, shown on cinema screen.

 

Autor:Magdalena Aguilé
Volver