© Juan Fabuel

year: 2008-2016

sizes: 155 x 189 cm  / 106 x 129 cm /  85 x 104 cm

archival pigment print on dibond

Migratory movements are brought into play as inception to work, through photography and video, about the perception, construction and the notion of space and place.

The Mediterranean Sea has always been linked to the idea of origin of culture, trade, movement and leisure. As a key location in the human development, the privileged scenarios of this mild area emerged as one of the most crowded places on earth in terms of population density. The present work is inspired by the idea of time lapse, origin, destination and the notion of journey, in which the photographs show different night scenes of some Mediterranean beaches. These beaches symbolize leisure and free time for most of us; open spaces where the sensation of stillness blocks out other latent meanings among the elements. But also, as we can constantly see on the news, these are “arrival” places as well for some people craving for a new opportunity that leaves behind, among other things, situations of political, economic and social chaos.

The poetic component of the absence of light and the nonexistence of recognizable characters through the images lead to a reflection from a different point of view where, to me, the most interesting aspect is the multiplicity of meanings. To work on a fundamental issue like human movements from the conception of space and place, confers some conceptual, aesthetic and dynamic dimensions that escape to the obvious. Empty landscapes leading us to a deafening dialogue with the viewer through silence and thought.

Through these images the same scenario is subject to different interpretations, causing the conflict, originated by the diversity of possible readings dealing with what is represented, to fluctuate within the shapes, colors and meanings. As a result of the lack of light these places are transformed into unknown spaces, without any referents, making difficult to take position as an anthropological subject. For those people who arrive, on the contrary, these unknown spaces contain the ability to mutate and turn themselves into places where to settle down, trace a vital history and develop new identitarian silhouettes in which photography is shown itself as a document that can suggest new contexts of understanding.

This approach allows to express the oneiric element that contains the will to seek out and the risk and metamorphosis that any trip embeds. Each one of the images needed a very long exposure time, usually more than an hour, behaving as a parallel dialogue to the physical trip. This time experience, in which a specific beach is registered, contributes to adding a new meaning to the understanding of all the photographs emphasizing the idea of the relativity of time; either the one referred to the materialization of the own image, the one referred to the reading by the viewer or the one referred to the time of the trip. And this is the main aim: a visualization of images that later on is chopped off and transformed into something unexpected and extraneous.

During centuries men have used the light coming from the stars to guide themselves through the sea at night. This information allowed to make visible the invisible and has facilitated the migratory flows throughout the planet. At present, the migratory flows are related to causes much more violent that the wish of stepping foot on terra incognita and finding new settlements for the human species.

The body of work that I suggest also includes photographs of the constellations, stars and celestial bodies that have made possible and have guided these human movements, specifically in the Mediterranean Sea, in the past as well as today, complementing and completing the images of the Mediterranean coasts. I am interested in the visual information and the data obtained about the stars and its life. Color changes, the intensity of its light or the alterations that these celestial bodies could have suffered along the history, are the source material that I use to work and complete the project.

14,24 is anchored in the Mediterranean Sea as a place of origin and destination, therefore, instead of an obvious look to the sea, I am also interested in all the information that concerns the skies that the migrants have above their heads and observe in their trips. Today we have many advanced navigation tools that complement the knowledge that we possess about the stars but, even if we have them, this information is also an essential part of a trip through a potentially mortal sea. Taking pictures of the celestial bodies that inhabit the sky of the Mediterranean Sea is an essential work for 14,24, as important as the capacity to work with the loss of light of these bodies, stains, miscalculations or lighting differences between the past, present and, why not, the future. All the images of the project 14,24 are taken with moonlight during the phases of the gibbous moon and full moon. For me, the possibility of conceiving a visual landscape that is placed between the imaginary and the real propels this project and enhances its social quality.

14,24 began in 2009 and, in addition to the photographs, it contains a video installation made out of ice. Since I started it, time has reshaped the project several times, turning us into observers of the human drama of immigration. I have photographed various locations in the Mediterranean coast over the years but 2015 has been a particularly tragic year in which we have witnessed an unraveling of the structures that used to support the idea of a solid Europe. Obviously, it is no longer solid and it doesn’t work as good as expected.

The video installation arises from the will to add dynamism to the project; the dynamism that the photographs can only suggest. Video is essentially dynamic. Photography is born when time and space are sliced up. To combine these two media in the same Project allows going through that space-time cut, offering a more holistic interpretation that comes from a look that is sensory amplified.

The construction of a wall and the use of ice as main material comes from the observation and analysis of the European anti-migrant policies that obstruct, and even prevent, the movement of people. The wall works as a powerful symbol. Walls prevent access but also protect. When we build a wall we do it as a measure of protection, even though it is our own fear that causes us to protect ourselves. In this way, we end up protecting ourselves because of fear to the otherness and because of our own fear.

This wall is a fragile one. A wall that crumbles because it has been constructed inverting the quantities of the materials. Usually, walls are made out of stone and water, used as binder, and here we offer a liquid wall in which the amount of water is larger than the amount of stone.

Water is commonly understood as the symbol of origin and purity. Purposely, the water that is frozen for the construction of the wall comes from the Swiss Alps, exactly from the Saint Gotthard Massif, which is sometimes referred to as “The Water Tower of Europe”. Four of the biggest European rivers, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Ticino and the Reuss, which flow and nourish the continent up in the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea via the Danube are born from it. In addition to being the birthplace of the Confederation of the Cantons, Gotthard acts as a reserve of water for the majority of the countries of Europe. Water knows nothing about borders despite the fact that Switzerland is one of the countries with very restrictive immigration policies in the world.

The wall is formed by a certain number of blocks of ice and each of these blocks contains a stone inside. These stones refer to people who lost their lives in the sea. The sea, the water, as a liquid tomb and the stone acting as a symbol with a double sense; on the one hand refers to the mineral, which is the source of life, and on the other stands as an element used in funerary constructions. On the wall of ice made out of water coming from the Saint-Gotthard Massif, a video of a sea is projected. Through this projection we transform the wall of ice in an infinite sea, and we allow ourselves to imagine another horizon, an endless horizon. A horizon that allows movement and that contains water in a continuous movement. As the wall melts, the stones are falling in a basin that contains the water thaw. The stones hit the ground and makes it impossible not to hear the crash. Through this installation we aim not only to generate the movement that is missing in the photographs, but also to cause a feeling of emptiness, silence, cold, moisture and non-sensory control. The viewer enters the installation through a passageway that is lined with curtains that absorb the sound, which immerse and slide him down to a truth as uncomfortable as real.

14,24 is the distance in kilometers that separates Africa from Europe.

Installation views Bancaja Foundation 2017


Exhibition curated by Tana Capó
Illustrations by Maria Wedel Søe

Installation views Pascal Janssens Gallery 2018