THE EVOCATIVE LANDSCAPE

It seems that contemporary art has reflected on the individual's relationship with the environment, focusing on the modification of nature, the invasion, the occupation, the appropriation and the limitation. The construction of walls, the erection of buildings, the urbanisation of the scene... are themes today intimately connected with other major concerns of our time, such as global warming or the overexploitation of resources. This trend shows an adaptation of artistic language to the technological dictates of our time, and recurring use of materials, disciplines and techniques that incorporate a great visual load while delving into a message of denunciation, which goes beyond aesthetic impositions.

Wilbur Streech, “Hidden Lagoon”

The prioritisation of discourse has displaced the traditionally reigning composition. We are in the era that formalism has lost its validity, and attention shifts to eclecticism, reuse and narrative value. The majority of contemporary art appears as a medium that channels the criticism of our time, which condenses the concern of the new generations, the pessimist vision before an uncertain future and the questioning of the values of a conformist, well-off and consumerist society.

Hiroko Otake, “Memory of red rose”, 2008

Despite this, some authors continue to resort to more traditional elements to condense their expressive desires. The banishment of beauty as a motive and purpose in art has given way to creations that, while incorporating technologies available to everyone and employing a closer language, do not have the aesthetics among their discursive priorities. However, the commitment to more classic scenes and compositions is a rara avis that renews the inherited pictorial legacy and is a way to recover a less intervened approach to the environment. At the same time, the return to the landscape serves to value nature and generate a sense of responsibility for its care and conservation.

Wilbur Streech, “August Sun”, 1980

The work of Wilbur Streech (Fullerton, California, 1914) and Hiroko Otake (Tokyo, 1980) explores this trend. Although for the latter, the influence of traditional Japanese art is somewhat expected, we can also see Japanese reminiscences in Streech's work. In both cases, the landscape and flora become the central motif for artistic proposals that seek serenity and the balance of spirit through natural contemplation. The predominance of transparencies, the superposition of layers and soft tones create an atmosphere of meditation and mysticism. Their work invites us to enjoy direct contact with the environment, the pure experience of observation and silence.

Hiroko Otake, “The form of beginning”, 2016

 

We embark on a journey that crosses our country from end to end, which crosses the capital as an obligatory step, as one who threads the needle and tight its ends towards the corners of our territory to die to the sea. From the coast to the nerve centre of this vast space we travel asphalt and dirt ways, paths transformed into roads that attest to the passage of time and the evolution of our history. We pass through villages that were once the cradle of the great events of a common story. We recognise the names of places we study as essential enclaves of our legacy. Others arouse rather surprise and perplexity, curious, strange and bombastic, but already devoid of a genuine sense as a population.

José Manuel Navia, La Alcarria de Cuenca, parada coche de línea en Olmedilla de Eliz, “Alma tierra”, 2019

The desolate places of a progressive and unstoppable rural exodus resist oblivion thanks to road signs and an isolated tavern that remains open to quench the thirst of the traveller. The kilometres and the time surrender to our passage and throughout the route we see a bitter reality: the depopulation affects today 80% of the territory, while the big cities attract more and more people and concentrate 80% of the entire population. The image has certain similarities with the metaphor of "The Nothing" of The Neverending Story, where the emptiness was invading the kingdom of Fantasy because children did not read or let their imagination fly, which is what feeds the stories of the fairytales. In real life, these same stories are lost in the domains of oblivion, confined in a past that seems remote and obsolete, subjugated to the impositions of progress and urban life.

José Manuel Navia, Angelines en Susín, Sobrepuerto (Huesca), “Alma tierra”, 2019

However, it should be borne in mind that the place we are in today is in debt with our villages. The evolution of events cannot be explained without a shared history marked by milestones that have taken place throughout our land. We also face a serious social problem that must respond to the need to reconquer our spaces, preserve our traditional culture and take advantage of the resources that our land offers.

With the desire to value this immense wealth, unknown and helpless, Acción Cultural Española AC/E has launched the Alma Tierra project. This photographic journey through the work of José Manuel Navia offers a wide panorama of landscapes, situations and environments where there is always room for feeling, nostalgia and hope for the future.

José Manuel Navia, Belén, ganadera del valle del Corneja (Ávila), “Alma tierra”, 2019

“These villages died so that we can live and from their misfortune comes our luck. The rich manage differently, the poor are always guilty." Luis Mateo Díez, “El espíritu del páramo”, 1996.

The project brings together a total of 158 works, gathered in a book with texts by Julio Llamazares, who explains that the initiative is "an elegy, a plea against the marginalisation of some Spaniards by the rest and a call to reflection." An exhibition in the Diputación de Huesca collects a selection of photographs and gives us some of the most poetic images of interior Spain.