Homeward Bound at Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid :: Feb 11 - July 13, 2015

02/17/2015 Screen_shot_2015-02-17_at_6.27.06_pm

At the height of the housing crisis in 1988, a group of homeless New Yorkers (many of them with jobs) set up camp in City Hall Park for several months, forming an organization called Homeward Bound Community Services. Liza Béar's short filmic portrait of the camp, Homeward Bound, 12:30, 1989, is being screened at the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid as part of a survey show, Not Yet: Reinventing the Documentary and a Critique of Modernism. It opened February 11th and will be on view through July.

by Visual Arts News Desk

Reina Sofia Museum to Display NOT YET Modernism Exhibition, 2/11

Not Yet. On the Reinvention of Documentary and the Critique of Modernism sets out from the discovery of the working class photographic experience in the 1920s and 1930, but within the social and intellectual context of 1968 and is of a predominantly urban nature.

The exhibition puts forward a thematic journey, in accordance with specific conceptual areas, with the aim of making a complex understanding of historical transience visible. Together with photography and its printed forms - magazines, books, posters, films -audiovisual productions are also included, some of them of an amateur and experimental nature. Thus they illustrate the theorisation of new anti- naturalist documentary, primarily developed in film and video work.

This exhibition looks from different angles at the debates on photographic documentary, which took place in the seventies and eighties in a context of ideological critique of modernism and its institutions. These debates proliferated globally in a context of rapid structural transformation in photographic culture. New photographic institutions started to appear at a moment when the prolonged phase of stability and economic growth after World War II, whose turning point came with May '68 and the onset of economic crisis in 1972, arrived to an end.

During the Cold War, the historic narrative of the emergence of documentary art around 1930 had undergone a liberal resignification. The Family of Man, the great 1955 exhibition at the MoMA, had institutionalized pre-war documentary culture in humanist terms. This erased the revolutionary edge of its original ideological impulse, which was bound up with the worker-photography movement. Such logic ceased to hold sway in the seventies, when a new generation of politicized artists came on the scene, rediscovered the political origin of documentary culture, and set about its reinvention, understood as running parallel with a critique of the stagnant and falsely conciliatory premises of postwar modernism. The key text for these new practices was Allan Sekula's 1978 programmatic essay Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary.

This essay constructed in the political and aesthetic ideology of a new generation of politicized artists who placed the reshaping of documentary projects at the centre of their activities, forms one of the core theoretical premises of the exhibition. The reinvention of documentary formulated by Sekula reflects a critique of the photographic concept of modernity: hyper-coded, depoliticized and institutionalized. Equally, it upholds the epistemic and archival nature of the document and its instrumentality in social struggles. It was precisely this will to politicise representation that turned the working class photographic project of self-representation in the 1930s into a reference point for the new fight against repressed memory in the official history of the upsurge of modernity, and specifically the revolutionary experience.

The exhibition

The first part of the exhibition presents some of the scenarios for this rediscovery in the seventies of the memory of pre-war worker-photography, which became the starting point for a reinvention of documentary discourse and the links between avant-garde and social movements. It includes works from the second wave of German workers-photography, which arose in 1973 around the magazine Arbeiterfotografie, and its reception by the London circle of Jo Spence and the Photography Workshop, and the activity of the San Diego group including Allan Sekula and Martha Rosler, among other cases.

The second part of the exhibition surpasses the geographical and cultural boundaries of Europe and North America. It examines documentary practices linked with various social and political struggles. In the seventies, the geopolitical opposition of center and periphery in the world system was conceived in terms of the opposition between the First World and the Third World, an image constructed through the processes of colonization in the industrial era and the consequent struggles for decolonization, still continuing and at that moment very much in the public eye owing to the Vietnam War. Among the work on show is Joris Ivens' documentary film made in Vietnam, the visual production centered on the Black Panthers, anti-apartheid photography in South Africa, and the critical photojournalism of Susan Meiselas in Nicaragua.

The third section of the exhibition shows some cases of convergence between documentary photographic activity and the rise of the post-68 new social movements and the new urban struggles.

1968 brought a reorientation of social vindications described by Henri Lefebvre as a displacement from the revolutionary subjectivity based on the industrial worker, to the new social movements and their "right to the city". For Lefebvre, the "urban revolution" entailed new micro-political subjectivities, forming part of a series of transformations in contemporary society that determined a shift from a period dominated by problems of growth and industrialization to a new era characterized by the search for solutions and models for an urban society.

This final part of the exhibition includes documents on a variety of urban struggles, such as the neighborhood movement in Barcelona during the years of the transition to democracy, the occupation of Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam and its repression in 1975, the photojournalism linked to the '77 movement in Italy, and Martha Rosler's collaborative project If You Lived Here..., an artistic response to the homeless crisis in New York in the eighties.


For this occasion, the Museo Reina Sofía has brought out a catalogue in Spanish and English with reproductions of works on display and texts by the curator, Jorge Ribalta, and a conversation between ten authors.

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