There are other americas, but they are on Florida Avenue
Florida Ave. Exhibition
Washington DC, December 2022
Alfredo Puente, FCAYC- Curatorial Area
AGAINST ALL THAT GLITTERS: EFFECTS OF TIME
Catalogue and Exhibition "Against all that glitters: effects of time". Alfredo Puente, FCAYC- Curatorial Area
Madrid, May, 2022
There are other americas, but they are on Florida Avenue
Florida Ave. Exhibition
Florida Avenue runs through the heart of Washington, DC, as if the State of Florida had shot an arrow diagonally to Washington State -the other Washington-, leaving the beach and the crocodiles behind and heading for the cold of Seattle, making its way through the heart of the country. However, at the beginning of time, or at least at the time of Washington city’s founding (1791), that street went by another name, quite different from that of the state where you go to retire and take aquagym lessons with people who use dentures, just like yours. Boundary Street was its original name, because it marked the end of city limits, the place where the city ended, the border. And in 1890, when it was about to turn 100 years old, the poor thing was given another name. The city limits had now changed due to the expansion of the city, and the people who lived on this street protested because they were not happy with that name, which was synonymous with border, as they felt it depreciated the value of their properties. And, as if Ponce de León had made a leap to the north, Boundary became Florida, but this did not mean that homeowners would see the price of their house magically go up, nor that palm trees or retirees would suddenly pop up out of nowhere, nor (thank God!) that people would turn up there looking for a theme park.
There are other worlds but they are in this one Baudrillard solemnly stated one day, not knowing that his words would be used in a perfume ad. There are other Americas, but they are on Florida Street, as Juan Baraja aims to highlight in this wonderful series, a project that is at the same time multiple and univocal, diverse and compact. Because his stroll along Florida Avenue seems like a cross-country jaunt, a classic road trip, as if this avenue contained in itself, -in the same way as Whitman contained multitudes-, the nuances and boundaries of this country that is truly a continent. A country that, as we can see in some of the photos, is still unfinished, under construction, encompassing the urban and the rural, the classy and the trashy, the commercial and the residential.
From the traditional townhouses found in some of DC’s upscale neighborhoods to the gas station that seems to have been taken out of the Midwest, from the industrial zone to an area that is studded with small stores, for Juan Baraja, Florida Avenue is indeed a whole country by itslef, and he keeps his clear and attentive gaze on detail, on a corner, on a face, on tomatoes, moving from portrait to still life, from landscape to architecture. Muñoz Molina refers to him as the photographer of the right angle, and when he speaks about his photographs, he reminds us of a quote by Diane Arbus, who said: “there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them”. That same right angle is applied here to a street that is diagonal and, at the same time, curved, that appears and disappears, and which you may stumble upon while wandering around DC when you least expect it. And when he watches carefully and he sets his gaze on something, that thing comes to a halt and becomes ennobled at the same time; it is frozen and elevated. And, for the sake of contradicting Arbus, it is not so much that you have not seen whatever he photographs, but rather that as soon as he photographs it, you suddenly see it in another way; and now, not only do you notice that new reality, but that reality suddenly takes off. As Master Truffaut said, framing is a moral choice; and Baraja knows this very well. However, the second part of his approach is also a moral choice. The first one is where to put the focus on while the second one is how to reflect it. And this is where expertise comes into play: the photographer’s impressive capacity to stop time for some tomatoes on a street stall, in a swimming pool that looks at the sky and sees its reflection, or in a passerby that suddenly becomes a portrait, with a light that seems to have come out of its lens alone. Throughout the years, Baraja has been polishing his voice, a voice that finds beauty where others do not see it; a voice that in the apparent coldness of the right angle catches a glimpse of the space so as to elevate and enhance everything it frames.
When we invited Juan to come to Washington DC and inaugurate the DC.es project, A gaze of Washington DC by Spanish photographers, organized by the Cultural Office, in which former scholarship recipients from the Academy of Rome share their vision of this city, we knew that he would keep his eyes on detail. We also knew that he would wander through the city; and that he had read Benjamin, who wrote: “to lose one’s way in a city, as one loses one’s way in a forest, requires some schooling”; we also knew that he has indeed such schooling and that he knows how to lose his way. What we did not know, however, naive as we were, is that he was going to give us and the city such a gift: a new Florida Avenue, renamed by him one hundred and thirty years later.
AGAINST ALL THAT GLITTERS: EFFECTS OF TIME
Catalogue and Exhibition "Against all that glitters: effects of time". Alfredo Puente, FCAYC- Curatorial Area
A house, wood.
A building never completed,
one almost dismantled.
A factory on the outskirts,
A greenhouse for harvests
that will not take place.
The solidity of an era cracked in the dust.
A list is written line by line.
This is not over,
it takes in much more.
Residencies, commissions and projects of his own structure the work of Juan Baraja
(Toledo, 1984), based as it is on nomadic moments and numerous geographies. The year 2014 can be immersed in 2010 or projected into 2022; Iceland can be a place in which to return, years later, to the land, to the landscape, to Galicia. Norlandia, Banana Experiment or A Rapa,(1) they all contain axes of his work that point to the primary sector, to spaces and to ways of life and of work that follow a logic — ortrayed with a human face or other natures — of their own, even chimerical. They build up a series of images begun in one place, interrupted by his work on others, and taken up again years later, some of them never quite finished. A getting to grips with the geography, a struggle whose course is never known in advance. Juan Baraja’s roots in Noblejas are not far from these axes.
Almost a decade has elapsed between Norlandia (2014), the earliest of the series that make up this book, the most complete selection of Baraja’s projects published to date, and the latest, Y vasca / Euskal Y / Basque Y (2022, in progress). This period — in his case an early stage, fundamental in the evolution of every artist — has been shaken by various socioeconomic and ecological earthquakes all over the planet.
Those that have had the greatest abiding impact on the western region of the northern hemisphere have been the systemic crisis, intensified from 2008 on by the subprime mortgages collapse in the US, and the COVID pandemic. The former led to all kinds of cuts in public services, adjustments and erosions of social conditions, manifested in different ways at the local level, and widened the gaps between South and North, with specific features in different countries. The latter has led, among its interlinked effects, to a disruption of global supply chains. In this context, photography has not abandoned its hegemonic position in the capturing of realities, as Thomas Ruff has written.(2) Juan Baraja is one of the photographers who completed their academic training in this period and have gone on to question what premises construct or deconstruct that hegemony: where to walk and where to get off the track.
With a perspective that led him to study German photography since the 1970s, and in particular the work of alumni of the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie such as Candida Höffer, Thomas Struth and the aforementioned Thomas Ruff, Juan Baraja introduces wide temporal arcs into his series. There are plenty of examples of this: Águas Livres / Parnaso, a series materialised between 2014 and 2022, takes as its focal point the year 1919 and the turn towards the Modern Movement in architecture at the moment when, in the pages of L’Esprit Nouveau, Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfant were intuiting the machine for living in. The local neighbourhood life of Águas Livres and Parnaso, apartment blocks built in the 1950s, still continues today. In Lisbon, and in Porto some years later, working on this series afforded the photographer the time to undertake with his camera an in-depth subjective study of light, composition and colour, as he has also done in other projects. In this series he explores the way in which these spaces are inhabited by their occupants. Silence, places and matter. Subtle fragments here that suggest the essential features of a way of life for middle and high income brackets, connoted by the architectural language of the Modern Movement.
Juan Baraja is a collector of minor architectures. In his series, materials and forms sharply pick out masters and minorities, enunciating all kinds of abstract forces in the light of different eras. Image by image the architecture is broken down. Any preoccupation with making buildings a major discipline — so-called Architecture with a capital A — is overwhelmed by its worn-down details. Jill Stoner speaks of the need to think of ourselves and to live as complicit in a lesser architecture, in its symbolic and political capital, in a book whose title explicitly asserts this.(3) Stoner asks where architecture is headed, what those forces — masters and maestros — that drive it have become today, what new codes we must insert in our lives by means of this discipline. She notes that minor architectures ‘employ subtractive mechanisms that dismantle the overwrought, manufactured, “meaningful” objects of culture’, while redundancies proliferate ‘in the form of repetitions (elemental) and vibrations (visual). These contribute to reframing familiar territory, to making the familiar strange.’(4)
The prospective dérive in Baraja’s work is amplified in series such as Utopie Abitative, the production of which commenced in 2018 with first-hand research on Italian social housing built between the 1960s and 1980s and marked by the Modern Movement. The same dérive is also evident in Y vasca / Euskal Y / Basque Y, a series Baraja began in 2021 and does not expect to conclude before 2028, which examines the radical transformation of the landscape brought about by the construction of a high-speed rail link connecting Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastian. An engineering work of planetary ambition, the new infrastructure is opposed by many sections of the population on account of its impact on the ecosystems it cuts through and the changes to the way of life it will usher in, triggered by the change of millennium.
We cannot always escape the temptation to remember, Juan Baraja seems to tell us with his work. At times his projects lend prominence to traces of what could have been, the vestiges of utopia covered over by time’s patina.
Transients in our own routines, we still pursue some gleam of splendour among those places that filter into our sensory experience of the world. Apartments overlooking the sea haunted by a yearning for modernity; social improvements in Italy, dismembered by the sharp teeth of the economy and rewritten; primary sector lifestyles in Nordic communities, their bare hillsides and their industries blanketed in snow and silence; old new infrastructure that leaves stitches in the territory and seams between those who inhabit it.
The triggering of silences and voices to collect and detail the images they give off is to cease to see them in one way and start to see them in many others. It drives us to ask ourselves how to find our way back to that future silence which Nietzsche bestowed on the philosopher,(5) in a cyclical and fragile sense of thinking. A silence that is present, as if just another protagonist, in Baraja’s series. He sets out to find the reflection that wraps around everyday matter, deep and hidden, opposed to all that glitters,(6) rather than be dazzled by some superficial flash. The passing of time and the wear of hands. Antonio Muñoz Molina says it is there that he imagines Juan Baraja,(7) in that twisting turn that connects silence and image: forgotten by time, between light and shadow, far from what shines.
Silence, waiting, light and non-light, with each fragment, we approach a compositional threshold in this photographer’s work, in which what is disperse finds correspondences in lines, symmetries and chromatisms of nuanced sensuality. He invites us to be attentive to the possible existence of overshadowed places and spaces, irreducible despite their neglect. It is here that all kinds of images, tangible encounters that had gone unnoticed, insinuate relationships in which stock responses have no place, where space emerges to look for signs of time, of its layers, which have otherwise been camouflaged.
In his studio in Madrid, separate stacked-up fragments circulate, collections of images and temporalities. All kinds of material witnesses are present and reaffirm the different scales and mutations of the word ‘place’: concrete, wood, frost, glass, people, photographic paper, horses, ficus, ironwork, foamcore, boxes, banana trees, plate cameras… Remains torn from the history of minor stories, reunited, seeking one another out. In the fissures between some of these fragments others appear: a tangle of tunnels in time, between different worlds, confounded by geographies at once distant and familiar.
In a series of conversations with students, Rem Koolhaas acknowledges that architecture is a dangerous profession, a mix of impotence and omnipotence.(8) The Rotterdam-born architect has observed the changes of scale in contemporary metropolises to an extent few others have, and has analysed the processes that occur ‘when a building, through its size alone, enters a completely different realm of architecture’. In one of his first observations, Koolhaas suggests that ‘in a building beyond a certain size, the scale becomes so enormous and the distance between center and the perimeter, or core and skin, becomes so vast that the exterior can no longer hope to make any precise disclosure about the interior. In other words, the humanist relationship between exterior and interior, based upon an expectation that the exterior will make certain disclosures and revelations about the interior, is broken.’(9) Juan Baraja sets up his camera in that uncertain terrain, among those distances to be recomposed. From A Rapa to Utopie Abitative there is a succession of scales, economies, chimeras and architectures S, M, L or XL. From the viscous spectacularity of buildings for thousands of people in Trieste or Naples, provocative in their political charge and their materiality, or endless infrastructure with a planetary resonance, such as the Basque Y, he proceeds to series centred on mute witnesses to a derelict industrial fabric, as in Banana Experiment. He engages in protracted monitoring of work on site, as in Cerezales, meticulous and attentive to the materiality that constructs encounters between exterior and interior. He also addresses Nordic domestic spaces, workplaces and landscapes in Norlandia.
Paused by the shutter, the sum of superimposed temporalities expands and gives meaning to buildings, occupants, myths, utopias, material and design. The order is suspended for an instant in front of the photographer. Observer and observed contaminate each other. Every shadow is now a sharply defined mark. The lines of the landscape seek their centre of gravity. Different portraits contain the voice of a known world and a reflection of those same landscapes, of their economy. Still lifes and nature — fish, crops, forests — are laid down. Silence is personified in places. The deep veins of projects called on in their day to change the arrow of time, to herald a future and define new paradigms, are exposed to the eye. The sequence of images that accompanies these places opens an evolutionary path that is never linear. An asymmetric way of being, in which we find not a systematised and productive constant of progress but a natural and discontinuous process of overlapping learnings and a relationship with what is observed. There and back again. That way of placing oneself before each project, of returning to it or letting it rest, makes it possible to perceive the different levels of maturation in each series. The complexity varies with the intensity of the immersion during the research period. By bringing together scattered material flows and peering into that kaleidoscope, the relationship with the images is transformed, the result of increasingly solid assemblages. Claude Lévi-Strauss analysed the bricoleur as an active component of a genealogy of the fragmentary,(10) in which the materials, images and the figures offered by the signs that the bricoleur has picked up here and there are articulated in a new form. This action is a way of creating the new with the old. The bricoleur, Lévi-Strauss tells us, ‘addresses himself to a collection of residues of human works, that is, a subset of culture.’ As in the kaleidoscope, the fragments handled in this process come from a process of ‘breakage and destruction’. Bricolage thus constitutes a science or way of thinking that is not ‘primitive’ but ‘first’, which challenges certain already established or even fixed forms. The bricoleur does not mobilise raw materials but finished works, products of history — the Modern Movement, rationalism or mythology are such — which are turned away from their initial purposes and often disassembled to allow their assorted parts to be used in the production of a new object of meaning. Jean-Marie Floch pointed out that bricolage presupposes attention to the world of the senses, albeit a world of the senses already shaped by culture and history.(11)
An updated Short History of Photography should consider the possibility of welcoming those images — the fruits of patience — that strive to bring forth from the darkness fragments of the dérive, seemingly inconsequential parts of a whole.(12) The most important thing for photography, Henri Van Lier said, is darkness.(13) On rolls of film and on blank paper, in the camera, in darkrooms and in printing laboratories, what is fundamental has to do with night, with dark granularity and with non-light. That night also has to do with the gaze itself. Lucidity, in which the image is revealed, emerges briefly from the shadows before returning to them. For Van Lier, history is dark, and memory is its light.
To strain the gaze in this way is to move onto shaky ground, to run the risk of summoning spectres of oblivion such as nostalgia, to once more draw a veil over that which we find it so hard to look at directly. It is in this visual dérive to capture a just order — Alberto Ruiz de Samaniego has addressed this —(14) between clarity and the maximum darkness of the images that the observer’s judgment will take place.
Almost dark. The stairs are deserted, the steel pergolas are deserted, the scaffolding and the different passages are deserted: deserted dusty places covered in light and shadow. The dust that has settled on every surface, on the light itself, unifies everything. It becomes another substance, a raccord. ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ T. S. Eliot declares in The Waste Land.(15) At every step we find innumerable proofs — houses, cement plants, vacant lots, so many others — of industries we once knew that are now ruined cathedrals of the present,(16) covered by the dust of oblivion. Enemy of updates and random reboots, dust has a story to tell us from the other side.
Although framing the forgotten is perhaps a contradiction, the effort may be worth it. After all, the fields of thought are pierced by all kinds of effects of time, by what appear to be contradictions and, almost always, signs of wear. To travel through a smaller world equipped with a large-format camera is to approach its bends and corners with a different lens, to display a particular sensitivity for what slips away into the darkness. Disregarding for a moment our tendency to morbid retinal bulimia, in the realm of photography it is still possible to find series of images with an unhurried metabolism, far removed from systematic consumption. Having imbibed that methodology, Juan Baraja holds to his own pace, place by place and shadow by shadow. The static picture once composed by photographer, plate camera and tripod is today the fragmented image of another time. A way of knowing that goes so far as to require a certain physical presence in space: a motionless choreography.
The magnetism that resides in such images thus underscores the absence of a whole to hold on to. Baraja discovers framings that place us in front of something, only to outline it with another composition: calculated shots that mobilise deeper, latent and imperfect architectures, far from the certainty that makes of the material, the complete, something indisputable and finished.
(1) A Rapa is a photographic series made by Juan Baraja in 2008 whose theme is the ritual of ‘a rapa das bestas’. It takes place in Galicia, and more specifically in San Lorenzo de Sabucedo, a parish south of the council of La Estrada, in Pontevedra. In this population, there are two petroglyphs dating from the 8th century BCE which depict various horses (bestas, in Galician), some wild and unmounted, others with riders trying to dominate them.
The history of the annual festival of a rapa das bestas in this part of Galicia seem to be linked, according to a later oral tradition, to a votive offering to their patron saint by some of the villagers of San Lorenzo, intended to ward off or at least mitigate the effects of the bubonic plague. There are records of several outbreaks of the plague in this area from the mid-sixteenth century on in the ancient book known as ‘Tumbo E’ in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
The event begins with a prayer beseeching Saint Lawrence to protect both people and their livestock. Locals and visitors then form groups of three and go off into the hills to herd the wild horses — greas, in Galician — and lead them down to the village the next day. There, in a circular corral with stone walls and a floor of beaten earth, the aloitadores wrestle the horses in a test of respective strength. The task the aloitadores aim to perform involves cutting the horse’s mane, purging them of parasites and treating any sores they may have. After the rapa the horses are returned to the hills.
Currently, the festival of A rapa das bestas is celebrated each summer in various localities in the provinces of La Coruña, Orense and Pontevedra. In 2010, Juan Baraja decided to turn his camera on the preambles to this ritual event, following in the wake of photographers such as Rafael Sanz Lobato, in 1967, and Cristina García Rodero, in 1981. Baraja chose as his protagonist the mist that typically blankets the Sabucedo hills at dawn. Its diffuse light not only accompanied the photographer’s encounter with the rapa and those involved in it but also alludes to the misty origins of this struggle between human and non-human, which permeates the pages and the formal and conceptual materials of the photobook of the project.
Some of the images from the series, not included in the present publication, are available at https://juanbaraja.com/proyecto/a-rapa [last accessed February 20, 2022].
(2) I think photography is still the most influential medium in the world, and I have to deconstruct these conventions.’ Interview with Thomas Ruff by Michael Famighetti published in the Summer 2013 issue of Aperture with a digital version in Aperture Magazine. Available online: https://aperture.org/editorial/thomas- ruff-photograms-for-the-new-age/ [accessed 1 February 2022].
(3) STONER, Jill. Toward a Minor Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.
(4) Ibid. p. 17.
(5) )“Wax in the ears” was then almost a condition of philosophising; a genuine philosopher no longer listened to life, in so far as life is music, he denied the music of life – it is an old philosophical superstition that all music is Sirens’ music.’ See NIETZSCHE, Friedrich. The Gay Science, trans. Thomas Common. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006, p. 189
(6) TANIZAKI, Junichiro. El elogio de la sombra. Madrid: Siruela, 2014, págs. 30-31.
(7) See MUÑOZ MOLINA, Antonio. ‘El fotógrafo del ángulo recto’[The right-angled photographer]. Available online: https://juanbaraja.com/textos/ [accessed 2 February 2022]
(8) KKOOLHAAS, Rem. Conversations with Students. Rice University School of Architecture & Princeton.
(9) Ibid., p. 13-14.
(10) LÉVI-STRAUSS, Claude. Wild Thought. A New Translation of “La Pensée sauvage”, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman & John Harold Leavitt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020.
(11) ZUNZUNEGUI, Santos. ‘Al acecho del mensaje. El pensamiento estético de Claude Lévi-Strauss’ [Lying in wait for the message. The aesthetic thought of Claude Lévi-Strauss]. In Trama & Fondo, 26. Segovia: Ed. Asociación Cultural Trama & Fondo, 2009, p. 31. Available online: http://www.tramayfondo.com/revista/libros/109/Trama_y_Fondo_26.pdf [accessed 1 February 2022].
(12) B) BENJAMIN, Walter. A Short History of Photography, trans. Stanley Mitchell. Kindle Edition, 1972.
(13) VAN LIER, Henri. Philosophy of Photography. Available online: http://www.anthropogenie.com/anthropogeny_semiotics/philo_photography_
ch6.pdf [accessed 1 February 2022]
(14) See RUIZ DE SAMANIEGO, Alberto. El orden justo [The just order]. Available online https://juanbaraja.com/textos/ [accessed 2 February 2022].
(15) See ELIOT, T. S., The Waste Land. A facsimile & transcript. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1971, p. 7.
(16) Between 2009 and 2012, over the worst of the financial crisis that affected much of the world and hit the countries of southern Europe with special intensity, Juan Baraja took his camera to some of the principal sites of industrial production related to the construction sector. The result of this is the Cathedrals series, in which cement companies in La Robla, Morata de Tajuña, Noblejas, Toral de los Vados and Murcia take centre stage.
On this occasion the photographer sought first and foremost to capture the distinctive character of these industrial spaces as embodied in the conditions of their own construction. The cathedral-like quality signalled by the title of the series oscillates between hyperbole, in allusion to the exaggerated importance that attached to the economy of bricks and concrete, and the way in which the light takes possession of these great factories and exalts them. The built form of this type of industrial space, characterized by the openness and height required for large-scale production tasks and massive pieces of plant, has much in common with the characteristic architectural solutions of Gothic churches. The elevated walkways that provide access for the maintenance of factory infrastructure can be seen as formally close to the triforium found in the great cathedrals of the 12th century. That said, here once again it is the use of light as a construction material that truly establishes the relationship between one and the other, above and beyond any idea of historical style.
A selection of images from the series is available at https://juanbaraja.com/proyecto/catedrales/ [accessed 20 February 2022].