Although we all realise that 2020 has involved major disruption in our lives at all levels and that, unfortunately, it will be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic and all its health consequences, we should also be aware that there is a creative logic which, in Figueres and Alt Empordà, we cannot and do not wish to ignore. Looking forward is not only legitimate but is also an obligation, and resuming cultural activity is, undoubtedly, an
incentive for sensitive souls.
Despite the setbacks and some fears that cultural life would never resume, this catalogue belies these concerns. And the fact that it has resumed with Empordoneses is somewhat pleasantly and magically prescient. Thirty artists – inspired by the ideas, memory, mastery and skill of a distinguished son of Figueres, Narcís Monturiol – have applied this creative logic that enables us to enjoy this catalogue of the exhibition held at L’Escorxador in Figueres. This group project has also been possible thanks to the collaboration between different authorities, especially Figueres City Council and Alt Empordà Regional Council. We firmly believe that this spirit of partnership will eventually yield further results.
Since it was first held over 10 years ago, Empordoneses has been a multidisciplinary project, artistically speaking, and in its recent editions has expanded its geographical scope, two aspects that are now fully integrated into its essence.
The bicentenary of Narcís Monturiol’s birth has enabled a narrative in which the inspiration of each one of the participants reveals to us an aspect of the unique personality and career of the inventor of the first submarine prototype. The event has coincided with an extraordinarily turbulent moment for all due, first, to the health crisis caused by the pandemic and, later, to the consequent economic and social crisis. Just as Monturiol overcame his many problems to progress with his projects and inventions, those involved in Empordoneses have also persevered in their efforts and the commemorative exhibition can now be publicly presented and immortalised in this catalogue.
What should art’s role be today? Because, just as it was a few months ago, it must be exhibited, put within everyone’s reach, like all cultural events. Art creates emotions, feelings. It always conveys something to us, or provokes a reaction. In critical times like the present, it must continue to be energised, in our case with the support of the public institutions. Because we should not forget that art, culture, can also save us.
Alfons Martínez i Puig
Culture and Tourism Councillor at Figueres City Council
Josep Maria Bernils i Vozmediano
Culture and Historical Memory Councillor at Alt Empordà Regional Council
A PERISCOPIC ART
On 28 September 2019, at the Auditori dels Caputxins, we inaugurated the Monturiol Year to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of this distinguished son of Figueres. Little did we imagine what would happen a few months later, reducing the celebration to a few events, one of them the exhibition and this catalogue, jointly published by Figueres City Council and Alt Empordà Regional Council.
Over the years, Empordoneses has become a community of artists that includes painters, sculptors, performance art practitioners, writers and poets. With the mediation of Pilar Farrés and Enric Tubert, the souls of the project, in each edition different aspects of current events are analysed through art, from climate change to smartphones, from the community itself to illustrious figures like the man who is our focus this year, Narcís Monturiol.
Monturiol has gone down in history as the inventor of the first manned submarine, although he also excelled in other fields, such as journalism or politics. At the same time, he tried his hand at painting, following the lessons of Ramon Martí Alsina in Cadaqués.
The 30 artists in this year’s Empordoneses have been inspired by different aspects of Monturiol to pay homage to him with their pieces. The exhibition naturally takes us from the seabed to a reflection on utopia, while also embracing landscape or portrait through painting, installation, video creation and sculpture.
Empordoneses is a space for working together through creativity, a project forged from passion for art and designed for reflection. The eye of the artistic periscope emerges in L’Escorxador exhibition hall in Figueres and gives us the opportunity to discover the works of some creators who all drink from the same fountain. Through them, Narcís Monturiol comes alive in all his facets.
Eduard Bech i Vila
Director of the Museum LEmpordà de Figueres
HOMAGE TO NARCÍS MONTURIOL
Possessing an idea, however great it may be, is irrelevant. We must try to transform it desperately into ‘actions’. Only in this way will we manage to possess it.
These words by Robert Musil (1880-1942), a trained engineer, psychologist, editor, utopian thinker, writer of reference and creator of the legendary antihero Ulrich, directly evoke the attitude that guided Narcís Monturiol’s life with the twofold objective of dominating nature and improving the human condition.
In fact, ‘truly’ possessing an idea may seem to us an unattainable goal, as some of the objectives pursued by artists usually are, although they know very well that they will only manage to have an impact if they persist in their endeavour. Therefore, as Musil says, the key to achieving something truly relevant consists of taking action, transforming the idea into something concrete.
However, the issue is that when those taking action are the artists, they seek to achieve the twofold objective of questioning the viewer and having a repercussion. And this involves accepting what the artist Antoni Llena (Barcelona, 1943) so accurately describes when he says: ‘Things made with an artistic purpose will eventually only be art if they become a crossroads; that is, a point both of meeting and vertigo. Beauty of the meeting, fear of the origin.’
By accepting this paradox, for 11 years now EMPORDONESES — the project launched and managed by Pilar Farrés — has continued in its vein of proposing a challenge to the group of artists selected. This time, under the title IMMERSION! A Homage to Narcís Monturiol, the objective chosen is to delve into the multifaceted personality of this distinguished Figueres-born man while reflecting on the role of art as a tool of homage, as a factor of memory.
With this common goal the exhibition brings together, through very diverse perspectives and disparate languages, 30 visual approaches to the figure of Narcís Monturiol. The result is a set of ideas transformed into action and constructed with the aim of becoming the crossroads of which Antoni Llena speaks. A collective immersion into the character and his particular vision of the world and the challenges with which EMPORDONESES hopes to contribute to updating and promoting the figure of Narcís Monturiol. This project also aspires to continue as a reference on the cultural agenda of the Empordà and a way of taking the pulse of the artistic life of this region.
Alfonso Alzamora’s sculpture The Staircase of Understanding, comprising 36 aluminium cubes, compares Ramon Llull’s contribution to the world of European science and thought with Narcís Monturiol’s, a scientist of enormous humanistic value.
Ester Baulida presents Fado, a video bursting with lyricism that deals with the great distance that usually exists between what Monturiol did, driven by the hope for a revolution that could improve humanity, and what the world gave back to him. The popular Portuguese song of the soundtrack cries out against this injustice.
With Dreaming the Possible, Laia Bedós Bonaterra has created a piece using a colourful and expressive language, in which Monturiol, sitting on a chair, contemplates how the initially utopian idea he imagined has materialised.
With Sea and Letter, Gustau Carbó Berthold addresses two facets of Monturiol’s personality, that of inventor and editor. The piece reveals a great command of textures and collage using unusual materials, while evoking this dual scientific and humanistic dimension.
Joan Cardosa, interested in 1960s iconography and pop culture, references the world of The Beatles and their popular song on a yellow submarine. With this element and under the title We All Live in a Yellow Submarine, he creates a silk-screen print/homage to the inventor of the submarine.
The sculptor Narcís Costa uses as a pretext the shape of the first prototype made by Monturiol and creates Ictíneo I, with an approach dominated by verticality and subtle oak woodwork. His work emphasises the non-military intention of Monturiol’s project as well as the idea of moving forwards with the propulsion of the machine itself.
Attracted by the different technical artefacts designed by Monturiol to make everyday life easier yet endowed with an aesthetic of his own, Quim Domene presents an installation entitled Submersion/Emersion, an ironic proposal, typical of an artist-inventor who creates pieces in motion and is fascinated by the magic of the plays of balances.
In Plus Intra, Miquel Duran, conceptually dense, formally elaborate and always surprising in his work, evokes issues such as the red coral, the fish-vessel and the figure of Monturiol the typesetter and printer or the utopian fighter friend of Étienne Cabet. With a highly personal use of colour, he achieves a piece of great impact.
In The Wreck of the Utopians, Xavier Escribà expresses the idea that, faced with a situation in which the sky begins to fall, we must endeavour to look at things differently, create new viewpoints, and give way to new Narcís Monturiols so that they invent the submarines of tomorrow and put the sky back in its place.
Pilar Farrés, faithful to her last line of work, presents an installation in which the curtain of cloth strips creates an attractive and apparently chaotic universe that encourages the viewer to delve into the unknown. A real metaphor of the attitude of constant search that guided Monturiol throughout his life.
Forceful and hyperbolic, and with a very personal language, Antoni Federico focuses on Monturiol’s attitude of research and exploration towards the world surrounding him. His work seeks to emphasise the critical and analytical viewpoint of the inventor of the submarine, which led him to discover new ways of getting closer to nature, organising the world and living.
Jordi Gispert, never one to shy away from spontaneity and inclined to explore the expressive possibilities of poor materials, pays tribute to Monturiol with Submarine, conceived with the aim of creating a powerful object with great expressionist impact.
Monika Grygier’s piece is delicate yet loaded with irony. The artist denounces the gradual replacement of natural products such as coral with plastic and other synthetic materials, and invites the viewer to reflect on how different Monturiol’s Ictíneo would be in the 21st century.
In the series ‘Landscape’, Nobuko Kihira, immersed in her usual line of work with paper pulp and minerals, simulates a seabed relief to which she adds the shadow of a moving submarine that evokes the underwater paths explored by Monturiol.
With his particular surrealist language, Claude Lambert, fond of paradoxes and plays of contrasts, sets the image of a stone Ictíneo ‘travelling’ fossilised within the sea of rocks of Cadaqués against a sea animal ‘flying’ in the sky. Hidden among the rocks, Narcís Monturiol’s spectre seems to watch over everything.
Fascinated by the beauty of the shape of the first submarine prototype designed by Monturiol, Daniel Lleixà features a piece that is a real symphony of blues and in which he represents the curiosity that fish must have had when seeing it moving in the water for the first time.
In Silent Immensity, Assumpció Mateu seeks to represent what it feels like to be in the sea. From inside to outside. With a play of transparencies and textures, she conveys this feeling of emerging perceived by Narcís Monturiol in his approaches.
Interested in reflecting on the creative process understood as a path full of fertile contradictions in which everything has a reason, Joan Mateu presents the piece Blocks. Here, the weightlessness of the volumes of the rock is an illusion. The nuances and the textures of the ‘white space’ suggest an environment.
Transparencies, light effects and reflections prevail in Maria Mercader’s piece, with which the artist expresses the feeling of immersion, of a vertical fall into the water, and pays homage to Monturiol and to all those who have risked exploring an unknown dimension.
Josep Ministral, well acquainted with Monturiol’s biography, has created a portrait in which the use of the stain, the command of brushstroke and the explosion of colours result in a piece that encapsulates the best of this Empordà-born artist and achieves a powerful visual impact.
In her approach to the figure of Narcís Monturiol, Fiona Morrison has chosen to work using her experience as an award-winning sportswoman in the field of sailing and pays tribute to the inventor of the Ictíneo with the photographic work Trophies Under the Water.
In Three Lights Under the Sea, a piece conceived as a real exercise in immersion, Mario Pasqualotto reflects on the environment and refers to the sea, to the enigma of its depths and, in particular, to the discovery of the underworld and the sea mysteries.
Always powerful, and with an endless palette of nuances and contrasts, in Immersion into Painting Xavier Casellas, Patxé, plays with the presence of the profile of the machine designed by Monturiol ploughing the depths of a sea of colours.
Mercè Riba approaches the challenge of paying homage to Narcís Monturiol from three specific angles: the formal representation of the Ictíneo evokes the inventor; the representation of a triangle and an eye makes reference to the freethinker and Freemason; and inside the piece, finally, a celestial vault painted inside the eyeball recalls the astronomer.
An interest in mechanisation and artefacts that enable the exploration of unknown territories, as well as fascination with the seabed, have meant that all kinds of submarines emerge in Josep Riera Aragó’s work. His piece involves a reflection on the sea’s capacity to corrode and the accelerated passage of time this entails.
Power and Fatigue, by Francesc Ruiz Abab, is a criticism of the representations of power and patriarchy in Western cities. Through the figure of the lion and tired eyes, the artist reflects on the durability of these symbols and questions the use we should make of them today when seeking to pay homage to someone.
Based on a drawing featuring several submarines that use spotlights to illuminate parts of the abyss, Sebi Subirós transforms the intense whites of these lights into conical plaster pieces, and at the tip of each cone he places some fishing weights that resemble and, at the same time, contrast with the submarine diving to the seabed.
Based on her own experience of setting up and taking down sculptures and her discovery of magnets, in her work in homage to Monturiol Núria Surribas wonders what led him to think, design and work constantly, without pause.
Enric Casanovas (1882-1948) and Josep Maria Subirachs (1927-2014) are the artists who posthumously complete the list of works in the exhibition IMMERSION!, in which a particular space is allocated to the two pieces created by them in memory of Narcís Monturiol. They were commissions by the cities of Figueres and Barcelona, respectively. Both Casanovas in 1918 and Subirachs in 1963, faithful to their own style, went beyond the mere figurative representation of the celebrated man and managed to evoke his human, scientific and social dimension turning an idea into an object with artistic value capable of surpassing its strictly functional worth. Today, their works are still an excellent exercise in occupying public space and act as generators of
memory and as visual references of the cities that host them.
Enric Tubert i Canada
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