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For some years now I have been pointing in various directions through a subject that seduces me, that of material consciousness. Material consciousness is the way Richard Sennet uses, in his renown The Craftsman, to refer to the way in which, since the origins of classical civilization, craftsmanship has managed to overcome contempt and mistreatment through belief in its work and personal involvement with its materials.
Sennet adds the following question: Is our awareness of things independent of the things themselves? And he states: Better than getting lost in this philosophical forest would be to focus on what makes an object interesting. This is the artisan’s own field of consciousness; all his efforts to achieve good quality work depend on his curiosity about the material he has in his hands.
From the first time I read those words of Sennet, I began to wonder where the material awareness of artistic activity lies, even that which believes itself to be antagonistic to the craft. Since then, different opportunities have arisen curatorial works that have allowed me to reflect on this question, on the need to show a certain curiosity about what we have in our hands, and for that curiosity to enrich the result of what we do, whatever it may be.
In October 2018 A*Desk invited me to operate as a guest editor for a month throughout 2019, a proposal I accepted but for different reasons we have been postponing until finally it has taken place now, in December 2020. I review my initial response and, although at first my intention was to dedicate the month to analyze the weight and validity of four experiences that took place in Galicia and in its extensive exile throughout the 20th century, something that I finally did not respect, I am glad that in essence the central idea has been maintained.
However, Galicia has remained a case that, although unknown to many, represents an unparalleled milestone in the Spanish State. That is why, after recalling the text Museo Carlos Maside. O relato da outra historia that Agar Ledo had published in 2016 in the Grial magazine, I launched the invitation to translate it and reduce its length as much as possible. The Carlos Maside Museum, together with the projects to reactivate the Sargadelos ceramics industry, the creation of the Laboratorio de Formas de Galicia, the Ediciós do Castro publishing house, the Laboratorio Xeolóxico de Laxe and the Instituto Galego de Información were some of the most important and necessary cultural initiatives that would take place in Galicia, in a scenario swept away by the dictatorship and by a war – not of trenches, but of almost three decades of active resistance in the mountains.
Accompanying this research, I decided to propose a conversation with Gareth Kennedy and Claudia Fernández, two artists whose line of work is not only based on an obvious interest in the processes and artisan communities of their respective countries, Ireland and Mexico, but also on a collective vision that has been taking shape in some of the projects they have developed over the last two decades. Those of Fernandez armed with a strong social involvement that has put her in contact with the most flagrant inequalities of her country, and by extension of the Latin American reality; and those of Kennedy based on an almost theatrical revision of the artisan and communal processes that have been diluting in a socioeconomic scenario as particular as it has been in the last decades the Irish.
As a colophon, the artist Xavier Arenós assumed a commission initially launched to the also artist Teresa Lanceta, Arenós’ partner for years in the teaching team of Escola Massana (Barcelona). The commission was based on some shelves that Alberto Sánchez would have designed and built to display the ceramics in the popular art exhibition that was included in the Republic Pavilion of the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937. The reasons were clear: to analyze in that symbolic act the role of art in relation to the artisan and to vindicate a little more the work of Alberto as a key and binding figure in that process. If Lanceta, who due to lack of time had to finally refuse the invitation, had not news of Alberto’s shelves until then, Arenós had already them on the table for some time, and this proposal was enough for him to assume the commission that he himself had been in charge of illustrating.
At this point, one might ask what the creation of a museum of the artistic exile in a Galician village has in common; the social and environmental projects of a Mexican artist; the research of an Irish artist on the concepts of tradition and fiction in rural communities; or the shelves that an artist made in Paris in 1937, to be occupied by handicrafts. Returning to Sennet’s words, all these experiences, far from a hypothetical interest in perfecting some technique, are born of a desire to investigate and maintain that curiosity about what one has in one’s hands. Here, the material conscience seeks to take on a broader meaning, detaching itself from that terrain to which Sennet limits it and seeking to investigate in multiple directions its possible fields of action, appealing of course to an emotional question that operates as the engine of that search.
(Featured Image: “Luis Seoane and Isaac Díaz Pardo in O Castro, with the masks designed by Seoane for the play “Castelao e a súa época” by the theather writer Ricard Salvat. Courtesy Fundación Luis Seoane)
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)