Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Pulling at the Threads: notes from Barcelona

by David Greenhalgh

28 Jul 2011

Here in Barcelona, the young artists of the city have taken issue with tradition and seem to be pulling at the loose threads of the papal robe which covers this traditionally Catholic country.

In many ways Catalonia seems to be a forward thinking nation full of semi-legalised marijuana and equality ordained upon its gay and lesbian communities, but the reality is that much of the country is still deeply Roman Catholic at heart. Sundays here are deathly quiet. Condoms are expensive. The most punctual reminders of this are the church bells welcoming each passing hour in this siesta-loving part of the world. Indeed it is a part of the world that seems as if awakening from a long slumber. I have been regaled with tales of how the neighbourhood in which I have been staying welcomed, with curiosity, its first African migrants less than two decades ago, despite the close proximity of the two nations. The art of young Barcelona is nipping at the heels of established sensibilities. While the old are apparently signing away the deeds to their property for the church, the young have assigned themselves the task of pushing new ideas into the public consciousness.

On my way to N2 gallery for an exhibition opening, great contrasts were thrown before me: church youths loitered outside the church on a friday night while a few blocks onward a grandiose paste-up of a vulture adorned in the robes a bishop diligently thumbed worry-beads through its hands.

Awaiting me at the gallery, by far the most striking work was David Moreno's Portable Habenus Condon, a handmade bible with the crucifix on its cover sheathed by a condom and, inside the hollowed out book, in case of emergency, another one for when only immaculate conception will suffice.

For a city where the most recognisable monument is Antoni Gaudi's Sagradia Familiar, it will be captivating to see what the city's artists will do next to capture the eye or dominate the skyline. Perhaps the most telling element to the city is Gaudi's semi-complete monument to his unswerving Christian faith, which in many ways, is now strikingly kitsch and smacks of Carmen Miranda's fruit bowl hats.