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THE LEGACY OF LIGHT. Manel Esclusa

portada eclipsi BN 1999 WEBCurated by de Laura Terré
08.10.2021 – 09.01.2022

Opening, Friday 8th October at 6 p.m at Museu de l’Art de la Pell

Exhibition part of the 10th anniversary of ACVIC Centre d’Arts Contemporànies.

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With the collaboration of Fundació Banc Sabadell, Escola d'Art de Vic, Museu de l'Art de la Pell, Temple Romà-Patronat d'Estudis Osonencs and Revela't

Photography: Manel Esclusa. Eclipsi, 1999. © Manel Esclusa, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2021



Every time the sun rises, a wish is fulfilled. With each dawn comes a revelation, generating the soft dissolution of the fear of darkness. It consummates the evidence of the exact law of the cosmos that has never failed, nor will ever fail with its inexorable chronometer. Every sunrise bears witness to the inescapable passage of time that causes the calendar to advance, as an abstract representation of what is the true and incomprehensible vertiginous rotation of the spherical planet on which we live.

All our knowledge is the consequence of a position with respect to a focus. The melancholy of autumn or the joy of summer. The cold despair of winter that yearns for spring. Slants of lightning strike on the solid matter of the planet's crust, passing through more or less thick atmospheres. Everything is submerged in shadow at a certain time of day. The hour of shadow is possible, because there is a light that hides, a light that will never cease to exist. The light hulls the long minutes of twilight as the shutter follows its path to catch shapes. Light is fixed upon matter, and fecundates plants. Light also fecundates memory in the retinas, fecundates emotion. A blind child follows a crack of light on the wall, because the lights’s energy is not only visible to the eyes, but is also perceptible to the touch. Light is the only immovable truth. A truth that has become powerful as the earth turns in its eons-long journey around the sun. A truth that reduces our human presence on the planet, the anthropocene during which we reign, to a fleeting season, a sigh in the long history of the trees, our fellow travellers, more admirable for their resistance as a species than for their captivating beauty.

It is said that in the 21st century, we can no longer speak of "photography". Photography is a genre that excludes other categories which do not have light at their foundation, which is why the nomenclature requires the mention of "images" in order to refer to all meaningful surfaces. What has been lost along the way? Why not put light at the centre of the process of the representation of photographic images, as it had been until then? Perhaps the magical function of the sensitive medium, whether digital or photochemical, has ceased to amaze us to the point where the analysis and observation that the medium provides has been supplanted? Or have we achieved a sufficiency of understanding and are moving away from meditation, or maybe we are already bored of philosophising around the theme of the imprint of energy that is a mysterious mark of time and space?

It must be said at the outset that Manel Esclusa is a photographer in every sense of the word. A midwife of light. The analysis of his body of work cannot be approached in any other way; his raw material is light, his subject matter is light, his visual art is light. And this does not only mean procedural matters regarding image capture using cameras or photometers. Nor does this mean virtuosity in the illumination of scenes. Light in Esclusa’s work is his central concern, the key to his artistic enquiry and his subject matter. All other elements are anecdotes and simple media for light, whether these are landscapes or portraits of mannequins, still life or fish in motion. Throughout his career as a photographer, his creative passion has been to understand and to communicate the living relationship that exists between light and the eye.

This back and forth trajectory between science, technology, art and poetry connects with the experiences and reflections of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great mystical poet of science who, after having completed his scientific research regarding the colours of light, and having lingered so long in the strange regions of observation and experimentation, realised that everything had been art, thanks precisely “to the physiological colours and their moral and aesthetic effect" [1]. In the same way, the art that emerges from Manel Esclusa’s photographs has its origin and its reason in the physical register of light. His work is therefore a legacy of light.

Biographically speaking, it was predetermined. In the account of his origins, he seems to have made use of poetic resources, such as those used by the prophets in order to communicate the mysteries of the times to come. But the data are verifiable. Thus it is true to say that Manel Esclusa was born into a family in Vic, where his father was a photographer and lab technician, fond of spelunking and cinema. As if to evoke the teachings of the myth of Plato's Cave, all three activities take place in the dark, where the shapes are illuminated in each case by the clear light of the magnifier through the negative, the torch following the damp cave walls, or the projector causing the moving images to flicker against the white screen of the movie theatre. But beyond these facts, Manel’s biography is filled with magical and almost incredible moments that help us understand the transcendence we experience through his work. Although his repetitive testing as a scientist in the laboratory may seem cold to us, the emotion cuts through and binds the images over time. During the decades in which he has been photographing, in each new series, in each photograph, Manel repeats like a mantra, over and over again, the magic of the unpredictable friction of light, the persistence of light within darkness.

He has given the title "Vinc de Vic" (I come from Vic) to the series dedicated to his hometown. A gesture to autobiography, in order to reinforce his point of view as a child and adolescent. Shadows trim the shapes, absolutely covering areas, streets, buildings, objects that would help us identify the town’s spaces. Filling them with black makes them unsettling. In the photos of  Esclusa, the town of Vic hides its unknowns in darkness. The clear beauty of the façades and the cut-back sky shine more in contrast to the dark shadow, as Jun'ichirō Tanizaki expresses in his booklet on shadows [2].

His early work was full of poetic and allegorical intentions. Paradoxically, after all that has been said about the importance of light, the surrealist themes of the first youthful stage of his career represent blindness (“Els ulls aturats” "Arrested Eyes" 1978), or happen in the dark, with the characters almost cut out like silhouettes against the illuminated background (Sil·lepsis  1979/1981). The human being is seen as a metaphor, always, through the portrait of one particular woman. We sense that in Sil·lepsis Esclusa began the nocturnal search for something disturbing that he has not yet been able to find. Things are not just what they seem, they hide a function that unfolds in the image once revealed.

In search of this interplay between appearances and meanings, little by little, his attention evolved towards naturalistic observation and quasi-scientific experimentation, the confirmation with the methodical recording of the persistence of light, while at the same time increasing the degree of penumbra. He experimented with long exposures of the movement of ships, in the dark, in the port of Barcelona (“Naus” "Ships" 1983/1989), and with the movements of fish in deep waters ("Aquariana" 1986/1989). Almost without warning, he was caught up in a strange field, moving from the poetic play of symbols and the visual art of forms, to the documentary chronicle of light flitting past him, light cast between buildings, or light through water gushing from fonts. What had at first been a medium for the metaphorical expression of feelings and emotions, became the end of all his activity. In each experiment, which he calls “series,” he investigates the limits of light, either by testing the camera’s ability to capture the artificial light that makes the city’s night come alive (“Urbs de nit” “Night Cities” 1989). / 1996), the random traceries of water reflecting light from various sources (“Aiguallum”, “Waterlight” 2000) or the irisations caused by backlighting in a window when photographing a decorative plant (“L’arbre” “The tree” 1991 / 1997).

Passing into the new millennium, the series become even more engaged with the concept than with the image, and pursue more serious questions, which necessitate mise en scène  and intervention. Thus in “Eclipse” (1999/2005) he examines the refractions of the solar eclipse between tree branches, and as a consequence of this observation, he continues to follow the shadows of leaves and grasses cast over the landscape (“L’ombra del paisatge” “The shadow of the landscape” 2006/2008) or, finally, using the changing skies in order to interpolate the form of a dead tree top, long gone (“L’arbre de Masferrer”“The Masferrer Tree “ 2020). Esclusa has been photographing Masferrer’s skies during the pandemic with the same intensity as Alfred Stieglitz, with his “Equivalents”; as a summary of his photographic career, and as a link to his philosophy of life. The photographed clouds express pure emotion, parallelling the artist's own inner state, and Stieglitz's words resonate in the skies of Esclusa: "Through the clouds [I wished] to express my philosophy of life, to show that my photographs were not because of the theme. No special trees, no faces, no interiors, no special privileges. The clouds were there for everyone, for free" [3]. In the same way, The Masferrer Tree captures the most ductile forms, the most vivid and creative for our minds that adapt themselves imaginatively to changing forms, in a psychedelic state. A gratuitous happiness that helps us to escape our problems. Colorful images, always framed within the same point of view, anchored by the interposed form of the dead tree buried in the sky. The tree, attached to this form of death, and with its new atmospheric crown, expresses another speed in the passage of time. It is the only series that Esclusa wished to present on screen in the exhibition, in order to underline the intangibility of moments in continuous, incomprehensible dissolve. Death is the only unchanging truth, everything else is a fleeting contingency.

In “Scantac” (1995/2000), Esclusa experiences in himself the capacity of light to delve deeper into form, beyond what is visible. Now, like The Man with the X-ray Eyes in Roger Corman's science fiction film (1963), Esclusa experiments by shedding light on his inner self, to the point of delivering an almost apocalyptic vision of his own body.

In all his series, Esclusa works in the most concrete terms. His photographs are not beautiful abstractions, nor are the grasses or bushes mere pretexts for illuminating and creating new forms. "Water Moon" (2021) is an accurate portrait of the humble and bedraggled specimens he found in the woods around his house. Form is the only truth, which contains all revelation, and it must be assimilated without much interpretation, given that we do not have enough elements in order to lend meaning to that which does not make sense. The only thing that is certain is diversity, the complex fabric of nature. Esclusa does not pursue a botanical classification of perfect specimens in order to distinguish species for a taxonomic study. His types are all twins, almost identical, differentiated by very subtle traits. Illuminated by flashlight, luminescent, reminding us of glow-worms, the tiny sparks of light hanging from the trees that surprised us as children. Night simplifies the process of searching. Light is like the radioactive contrast that doctors inject to highlight the forms of veins, of organs. It seems projected from within, irradiated, to achieve the instantaneous trace of a calotype with the same experimental intention as William Henry Fox Talbot, using the ancestral pencil of nature. They are not photos to stare at. These are photos to consider. They are not metaphors of any feeling or emotion, they are proofs of that which is seen, which in their redundancy make existence more probable.

Are we human beings able to comprehend this information that provides us with elements that affirm existence and the revelation of reality? According to Stanislaw Lem, humans constantly fail to understand the messages of the outer universe. Faced with the mystery of existence, every human being must confront a trial by fire; “What, in fact. is being tested? And, how do we know whether we have passed or failed? What is ‘understanding’?” [4]

I see Manel Esclusa as a good Stalker, who goes out every night to take photographs in an apparently inoffensive "zone" next to his house, in order to face his test of knowledge; a zone that at night turns into a mysterious and forbidden cemetery of seemingly insignificant but powerful waste. Stalker Esclusa photographs as if he were indifferent to ideology, as the free man he is. He retains a kind of moral purity. He subverts any social convention through imagination, with his conviction of the resource of syllepsis in order to explain the world: things carry within their transcendental function, and words have lost their ability to express concepts. The blue-eyed Stalker must put himself at risk of falling under the influence of alien forces in order to search for artifacts whose laws are unknown to him. He tries not to think about this too deeply. Like the Stalker Rex, the protagonist of the Strugatsky brothers’ novel, Esclusa faces a powerful, incomprehensible, and invisible presence that is surely in front of him. He pleads mechanically and desperately: “I don’t have the words (...) but if you really are … all-powerful … all-knowing … then you figure it out! Look into my heart. I know that everything you need is in there. (...) Figure out yourself what I want, because I know it can’t be bad! All I can think of is, "Happiness, free, for all!" [5]. And at that moment, the sun will rise again.

Laura Terré
Curator of the exhibition

 

[1] Goethe, J. W.; Teoría de los colores. Colegio Oficial de Aparejadores y Arquitectos Técnicos de Murcia, 1999.
[2] Tanizaki, J.; Elogi de l’ombra. Angle Editorial, Barcelona, 2006.
[3] Stieglitz, A.; “How I Came to Photograph Clouds”, Amateur Photographer and Photography 56 (1923), reeditat a Richard Whelan, ed., Stieglitz on Photography: His Selected Essays and Notes (Aperture, 2000), (p. 237)
[4] Le Guin, Ursula K.; Pròleg per al llibre Stalker – Pícnic extraterrestre, d’Arkadi I Borís Atrugatski. Edicions Gigamesh, Barcelona 2015. (p. 14).
[5] Strugatski, A. i B.; Stalker – Pícnic extraterrestre, d’Arkadi I Borís Atrugatski. Edicions Gigamesh, Barcelona 2015. (p. 286)



THE LEGACY OF LIGHT. MANEL ESCLUSA

SPACES:

VINC DE VIC. (I come from Vic)
Temple Romà
(Pare Xifré, s/n. Vic)
8/10 – 7/11/2021

Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Tuesday to Sunday 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

HUMUS GARDEN
Escola d’Art de Vic
(Rambla Sant Domènec, 24. Vic)
8/10 - 27/11/2021

Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

THE LEGACY OF LIGHT
Museu de l’Art de la Pell (Arquebisbe Alemany, 5. Vic)
8/10/2021 – 9/01/2022

Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and  4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday and public holidays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

24th and 31st  December 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Closed on 25th and 26th December, on 1st and 6th January

MOON AND SHADOW
ACVic Centre d’Arts Contemporànies (Sant Francesc, 1. Vic)

8/10/2021 – 9/1/2022

Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m to 7 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.. Closed on public holidays

Exhibition part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of ACVIC Centre d’Arts Contemporànies.



Manel Esclusa
(Vic, 1952) He started in photography at the age of eight in his father's photography studio. In 1974 he was awarded a Castellbach Art Photographic Scholarship Grant, and took part in the Stages Internationaux de la Photographie in Arles. His first exhibition was in 1973 at the Sala Aixelà in Barcelona, and since 1975, he has been teaching photography. He currently combines the development of his personal work with teaching activity in the field of visual creation at the EINA University School. In 2013 he was named a Merit Member of the Board of Osona Studies. The Gremi de Galeries d'Art de Catalunya awarded the GAG - 2016 Prize for the best exhibition by an established artist, for "Selection of photographs 1977-2014", Eude Gallery, BCN. His photographic work forms part of various international public and private collections.

Laura Terré (Vigo, 1959) holds a PhD in Fine Arts from the University of Barcelona, with a doctoral thesis (1998) on Grupo Afal. Retired professor of secondary education (1985/2019) and lecturer in the master's degree in photography at UV. A photojournalist and a curator of exhibitions, she has studied the archives of the most important photographers in the recent history of Spanish photography. She curates the archive of Ricard Terré, her father. She has collaborated with the MNCARS (2014/2018) in organising a collection of Spanish photography from the 50s and 60s. She was the director of the TRAFIC festival, a photographic experience (2007/2009) at the CCCB in Barcelona. She has been an advisor since 2013 with the National Photography Plan, promoted by the Ministry of Culture. She collaborates with the Mapfre Foundation, for which she designed a series of conferences which will take place later in the year at the KBr Photography Centre in Barcelona.



Organized:
ACVIC Centre d’Arts Contemporànies

With the collaboration:

Fundació Banc Sabadell
Escola d’Art de Vic
Museu de l’Art de la Pell
Patronat d’Estudis Osonencs – Temple Romà
Revela’t

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