Beniamino Foschini, Turin, September, 2009
In The Sleepers, Daniel Barroca sets up a meta-narration made up of signs which transmute themselves into an open allegory. The exhibition is centred on the video installation … a hazed and confused landscape, as the last passage of an ideal path which starts with Verdun (2003) and continues with Soldier playing with a dead lizard (2008). The artist carries on and goes deeper into the questions of the manipulation of the found object – either photographic or filmic – and of the linguistic refoundation of form and meaning. … a hazed and confused landscape is based on an 8mm original movie, a German propaganda document about the invasion of Crete by the Wehrmacht in May 1941. The video gains a new horizon of sense: from a condition of abandonment – the film was discovered in a flea-market in Berlin – through a meditation on language and on “other” possibilities, existential and aesthetical. An anonymous document – in its official historical value – gains the status of a necessary source, when it is found and re-elaborated through the artist’s filter.
A meditation on History – as the field of collective memory and therefore of shared identity – is the core of these series of works. History is a cauldron, but not of styles one can cling to. It is rather an assembly of events, apparently marginal, that establish an interpretative discourse aiming to be wide and critical about our present, while flowing through the hypothetical great narration.
Thinking about a dominant way of interpreting History reminds me of Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus, as interpreted by Walter Benjamin in the ninth of his theses Über den Begriff der Geschichte. The Angel of History hovers with eyes wide open over the ruins of the past, violently transported by the wind of progress. He is a tragic and totemic figure of the relationship between humankind and its past. A prophetic and lyrical vision of the German philosopher of the present and near future – the theses were published in Spring 1940 –, it is a warning against progress and the contradictions of linear History. The act of pointing is inherent to the substance of the found object and thus it offers the privilege of recovering the fragments of History in order to give to the subject a more universal (and therefore a more doubtful) sense.
At this point, one may consider Barroca’s work from a more specific point of view and especially from an aesthetical one. It shows constantly a sense of precariousness, of standstill on the brink of a cliff. The work never gives itself as an accomplished object, neither as a concrete epiphany nor as a simulacrum. The work gives itself as a filter – as a further filter besides the vision of the artist – as a veil between what it is – the subject of the work – and the observer. Let me consider some previous works, for instance the Lama series (2007). They are focused on manual work, on concrection, on matter, but we never see the final result. On the contrary, we see its own crystallization onto a photographic support. Questioning the notion of authoriality does not simply imply a reflection on the origin of the work of art – the found object in this case – but on how and why the artist gives shape to a vision and conveys its latent content.
Thus, in Barroca’s research the found object is an excuse, an occasion. It does not belong to the notion of archive, of a Warburgian atlas which appears to be today of great appeal among his generation. Furthermore, it is not the paratactic juxtaposition of images that gives value to the subject. Value is rather given by the manipulation and the refoundation of images due to a process of subtle and critical linguistic transformation.
The critical attitude of Barroca’s works is not primarily a socio-political one. The field of interest is still the image: for this reason, it is interesting to analyze the drawings that usually accompany his installations. They are not preparatory sketches, nor do they represent a logical argument on the notion of drawing. They show a manual need in the creation of the work that goes beyond the manipulatory one in the making of the video. It is the underlining of an alternate process between two different languages, which will become synchronic because they play on the same field.
Does not drawing – as an artistic technique – represent the daily discipline of thinking and making art? Barroca puts in this series, entitled The Sleepers, the whole experience of exhibiting in order to suggest its illogic and intuitive journey as an artistic process – not to underline didactically its planning. In this way he is able to transfer onto two different levels the role of the artist as “author”, as manipulator and as artificer.
Here the artist grafts two figures poised between history and legend, Western and Eastern Europe, who mystically represent a popular need of rebirth in periods of crisis. On one side we have D. Sebastião, the child king of Portugal, the last of the Avis dynasty, defeated in 1578 by the Moors in Morocco while he was trying to conquer it and then gone missing; on the other side, Constantine Palaiologos, last emperor of the Byzantines, killed during the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Both being “sleeping kings”, after their deaths they were surrounded by a messianic halo as saviour characters who would come back in the moment of need from their state of sleep, from fog or marble. These kind of suggestions become mixed together in the experience of knowledge made by the artist, and appear cyclic and periodic.
At the same time this circularity – which means also a constant return of the artist to what happened and to what will happen, in a short circuit way – reverberates on a system of circular walks which usually outline tangential lines: the hic et nunc of the exhibition is a moment of passage during an uninterrupted flow of stimulations and sensations. It is neither an harbour nor the conclusion of a process, but rather a stage of the liquid laboratory Nicolas Bourriaud attempted to define in the aesthetics of cluster inside his altermodern project.
Just as in an allegory, Barroca does not want to give answers, rather open horizons of reflection through the force of the image and of its potential critic charge.