Prints of the future, ruins of the past. Jordi Font i Agulló

(text from Existenzminimum, Fundació Espais d’Art Contemporani, Girona 2002)


La position d’un agent dans l’espace social s’exprime dans le lieu de l’espace physique où il est situé (celui dont on dit qu’il est “sans feu ni lieu” ou “sans domicile fixe” n’a –quasiment– pas d’existence social) […]

Pierre Bourdieu, La misère du monde.

Presentation 1

Someone is walking aimlessly in the middle of a leafy wood. We cannot see him, we can only detect his passage by the movements of the branches and the sound of his footsteps. The rustling of the vegetation as it is torn and broken by the weight of the invisible walker can be heard faintly, but it is so incessant that it produces a feeling of anguish. The persistent action of the passer-by places us in an unnerving situation. As we gradually become aware that in the images we cannot identify anyone in particular, our insecurity increases to such an extent that the impossibility of distinguishing any sign of individuality creates a great uneasiness. In fact, the contemplation of the walk through the wood is not pleasant for us because, on the one hand, we are faced with something which implies a loss and, on the other, because it alludes to a displacement undertaken without the suitable provisions. Nowhere is there anything to suggest to us that the passer-by will find a clearing in the thicket which will make his situation more bearable. On the contrary, the behaviour of this enforced nomad –who acts as a kind of mediating self, and therefore extends its needs to others (us)–, which refers us to a setting of helplessness and exclusion, becomes a revealing symptom of the ideological and cultural crisis which the modern narratives with a desire for emancipation are undergoing at the present time. Habitar sense deixar rastre (Inhabiting without leaving traces) is a videographic work by Domènec to which these brief impressions belong. Filled with an ambiguous lyricism, it announces the construction of a powerful parabola of our contemporaneity, more determined than ever by the dangers of globalization, or to be more exact, by those of capitalist universalization1.


Friedrichsfelde Cemetery of Berlin: a history of the twentieth century

At the beginning of February, 1919, the political programme of the Spartacus Group was published in the pages of the Spanish newspaper El socialista2. It consisted of a posthumous homage –almost in real time– to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, principal leaders of the proletarian revolution in Germany during the winter of 1918-1919, which had had important international resonance. Both of them, together with hundreds of other supporters of the revolution, had been the victims of the brutal homicide by the parapolice forces at the service of the Ministry of the Interior headed by Noske, a member of the right wing of the social democracy. In the year 1999, in a Germany completely under the spell of the democratic market plays, six thousand people gathered in the Friedrichsfelde of Berlin around a monolith inscribed with the significant words: “The dead warn us”. That ceremony, which consisted of a homage to Rosa Luxemburg eighty years after her death, reactivated the myth and connected it to the rebellious spirit of the alternative social movements of the reunified German society. In this way, the memory did not only return, but rather it clashed with the unhappiness of the present, with the moment of danger evoked by Walter Benjamin3. In the middle of this long period, the passage of time and political convulsions had wiped out significant moments of the past. In short, the discontinuous continuity of the History of the vanquished had become apparent.


In fact, in the year 1926 in this same location –which in 1946 became a posteriori a place in memory of the “really existing socialism” of the extinct German Democratic Republic– commissioned by the KPD (German Communist Party) Mies van der Rohe had erected a funerary monument to honour these leaders of the workers. Nothing remains of the austere and moving work by the famous architect in the Friedrichsfelde. As is well-known, when Adolf Hitler became the new chancellor in 1933, this unique construction of rationalist architecture was demolished. Without a doubt, one of the unquestionable reasons for this destruction was political animosity. However, this emphasis on sweeping away the traces of the recent past could also be partly explained by the formal defiance suggested by Mies van der Rohe’s block of resistant bricks to the neohistoricist architectural aesthetics of Nazism. On the other hand, the asymmetrical forms which recalled constructivist sculpture did not greatly interest the new socialist bureaucracy which achieved control of the state in the eastern half of Germany at the end of the Second World War. The reconstruction of the monument to Liebknecht and Luxemburg was put aside and a place of remembrance was designed where concentrations of the masses could be orchestrated from above, with the propagandist objective of emphasising rhetorically the collective nature of the working-class struggle. Then was not the opportune moment –at the height of sovietising German communism– to evoke former illustrious individuals. Especially in this case, in which those who were paid homage did not fit into the Stalinist orthodoxy. In this way, the memorial stone and a group of headstones and urns with the names of the martyrs of the revolution and the struggle against fascism became the symbol of the unification –forced and traumatic– of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) and the KPD (Communist Party) into the new institutionalized party, the SED4.


Presentation 2

A lorry carrying a prefabricated mobile home is driving along the road. We do not know its destination nor do we have any way of discovering it. The videographic montage in loop suggests some-thing endlessly provisional. The anxiety induced by the man in the middle of the vegetation we find once again in Sans domicile fixe, another of Domènec’s works. The monotonous harsh and strident sound of the lorry engine intensifies our uneasiness to the point of having to turn our eyes away from the moving image. As there is no enclave which refers us to an origin, nor, what is worse, a place of arrival, it represents that historical time has disappeared.


By a studied simplicity of means, Domènec evokes one of the fundamental cultural features of our time. However, the metaphorical gesture of the artist contains two implications. In the first case, it may seem that he only bears witness to the tedious and worn out (anti)thought of the end of the ideologies, of History or of the great stories which usually involve the celebration of a “continuous present” associated with the inevitable deterritorialization of the subject. In this sense, even though the truth of the hegemony of the post thought is reflected, it is necessary to affirm that in this visual confirmation Domènec does not descend to the levels of paralysing scepticism. On the contrary, and this is the second implication, Sans domicile fixe does manifest an affliction, a great uncertainty because it is evident that the “continuous present” is nothing more than a mystification which hides the fact that the “living present”5 is in no way as self-sufficient as it seems. After all, History has not finished,6 and we are witnessing an “advancement” which is obvious enough in daily life: the unquestionable and universal consolidation of globalized neoliberalism.


Existenzminimum: critical readaptation and signs of resistance

In an already considerable part of his evolution as an artist, Domènec has worked around the great architectural paradigms of Modernity. Works such as 24 hores de llum artificial (1998-1999), Un lloc (2000), Ici même (dins de casa), Domèstic (2001), in which there was a very careful re-elaboration of a critical-poetical universe around the highly symbolic constructions of the architects Alvar Aalto and Le Corbusier, made evident the capacity of the artist to identify architecture as a “political unconsciousness” of Modernity. That is, as Walter Benjamin7 already noticed, the projects of the architects-artists would constitute the best incarnation of all those dreams of a Modernity powerless to fulfil its promises of progress and well-being for everyone. In this same sense, with his recreation of a room in the sanatorium of Paimio of Alvar Aalto or the replica made to scale of the Unité d’Habitation of Le Corbusier, Domènec demonstrated the contrast between the proposals of the architectural utopias for inhabiting the world in better conditions and the reality of a Modernity imprisoned by the fetishism of merchandise driven by the “real capitalism”, or in another of his versions –as Modernity is not univocal and neither is Post-Modernity–, lost forever after having undertaken the construction of a false socialist “paradise”.


In Existenzminimum (minimum existence), out-wardly, the artist has worked in a similar direction. In fact, the two videographic productions, presented in this same text and also forming part of the exhibition, offer a reliable diagnosis of the consequences of the crisis of values of Modernity, like the works which take Alvar Aalto and Le Corbusier as their greatest reference. Certainly, in both the earlier productions and Existenzminimum an accurate use of the possibilities arising from the expansion and explosion of the field of sculpture8 can be observed, and everything this phenomenon has involved during the last two decades as far as the revaluation of the commonplace, the validity of micronarrations and the relevance of the procedural factor in the work of art.


However, despite the existence of many coincidences in the creative process, in the project Existenzminimum, the artist operates with a more interventionist attitude on the real world. To understand this it is necessary to return to the Friedrichsfelde cemetery, because it is there that Domènec began his performance, when he recovered the traces and fragmentary ruins of the “unconscious politician” of the former monument by Mies van der Rohe. Even so, we are not attending an “archaeological” and artificial re-construction of the original mausoleum. Quite the contrary, the work carried out by the artist provides us with a new construction which is made obvious in the prototype of the mobile home inspired in the commemorative work of the architect. This strange house possesses certain extraordinary symbolic characteristics. In its fragility are fused the revision of the concept of “minimum existence” –debated in the CIAM congress of architecture of Frankfurt in 1929, to establish universal guidelines to make a fitting home possible for everyone– and the importance of the return of the tragic traversed by violence. As a result, Domènec creates a gimmick which, starting from the critical readaption, becomes a mechanism loaded with political significance. Obviously this affirmation does not mean that the new artefact contains implicit programmed or pamphleteering instructions. On the contrary, we find ourselves with a work of extreme sensitivity and depth of historic thought which condenses a tragic-poetic-political conception of real experience. Therefore, the irony with depolarising pretensions –which also hides a political operation– so characteristic of some critical attempts, which in a frivolous way focus on the collapse of modern utopias, is not Domenèc’s choice. This does not mean, however, that he renounces to playful approaches to bring about symbolic influences in a concrete place and to produce an interference in real time. In this sense, the action carried out in Girona, which consisted of placing the nomadic home “Mies van der Rohe-Domènec” in the middle of Devesa Park so that a group of people could carry out the tasks of daily life out in the open, is an example of this striving for a playful spirit, of situationist re-miniscences. The uncertainties of the game can also be a subversive defiance to the system of rules and regulations which governs our lives. Nevertheless, as we have insisted before, Existenzminimum gives off a much higher content of allegorical potentials, which are demonstrated in the exhibition space, starting from a symbiosis which is created between the powerful presence of the microarchitecture and the (post) performance exhibition on a monitor of the action taking place in Devesa Park9.


We have commented that a greater degree of interference towards the real world could be seen in Existenzminimum. Without a doubt, that is not by chance, if we take into account that the inspirational source of the project had a strong political connotation. A strange work in the evolution of Mies van der Rohe, a man little inclined to demonstrating an explicit militancy in public. Even so, the monument of blocks arranged at different heights and depths and fashioned from thousands of industrial bricks, which symbolize the unity of a mass of people10, is an extraordinary example of poetical potential applied to politics. In a time like the present, in which the beginnings of a false neoliberal totality, which could well be qualified, as Pierre Bourdieu indicated11, as “progressist” restoration –granted that it shows what is considered a regression as a form of progress–, are hegemonic, the signs of resistance discovered in Existenzminimum are extremely suggestive. This discovery is possible thanks to a line of work that is fully conscious of the fact that during the twentieth century Modernity was not created as a block without cracks. The same short history of the Friedrichsfelde reveals to us its polyhedral nature, and in addition, warns us that it housed strong counteraccounts which allow critical remodernizations. In fact, by now the revival of certain proposals which question the neoliberal global order, for instance, show the effectiveness of performances of this sort. In this way, and taking these factors into account, it is relevant to state that from the (de)monumentalization of the work of Mies van der Rohe, Domènec has carried out a symbolic assembling of utopian remains on small scale in order to reintroduce them into a social landscape in which the great majority are exposed to the elements. Also, we cannot forget that this entire creative process is impregnated with an acute critical sense and a vigorous poetic intensity.


In this inclemency, which implies a philosophical orphanage to interpret the world from subalternity, Domènec’s nomadic home becomes a deleuziana war machine12, which seeks to occupy and fill this space-time framed by continuous displacements13 of post-Fordian capitalism in areas of difficult categorization and identification. These are places which allow the dominant system to evade disapproval and at the same time, in a paradoxal manner, to subvert the existing order by means of its reproduction. Even though the artist –like the majority of present-day criticism– shares with the hegemonic directives of capitalism, details of the representation of the world which have come from displacements, this option does not come from a non-critical acceptation of the iconography of discontinuity, of the fragment or of deterritorialization, nor of a “glamorous” vision of the homeless14 as the only subject in a position to achieve social change. After all, one thing is the image which capitalism creates of itself and the other is the unity which reigns in the upper levels of the system. In spite of this, this appearance has some real effects on everyday life. It is in the gaps of this ordinary normality –mediatized by the mythicized delocalization– where the artist places his construction metaphorically. This manoeuvre is enlightening. The nomadic home, as if it were a precarious tank15, provides the tools for adaptation in hostile surroundings: mobility, relative speed and the covering its armour offers in the open. However, in parallel, the symbolism of its “bunkerized” forms becomes a cry of alarm. As we have said, displacements are not univocally ideal, and therefore, they can also contain elements of danger in becoming a false movement towards nowhere, in stagnation, like a prison.


Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari16, showed that a work of art could also become –like the antisystem movements– a potential war machine in the sense that it can draw a line of creative escape. In Existenzminimum, Domènec has known how to find this path by inventing new time-spaces –self-construction, parasitic architecture and the creation of small spontaneous communities…– which are events that defy the mercantilist displacements of “real capitalism” and, at the same time, follow a ground where the signs of future prints are visualized. In short, a contribution to the daily struggle to construct a horizon of hope. Habitar sense deixar rastre, Sans domicile fixe and Existenzminimum are works which collect the fruit of tightening the limits of Modernity in a precise operation of intellectual recycling and “protoarchitectural bricolage”. By this action, Domènec has achieved a profound reflection on aesthetics which can correspond to the resistance17 and, at the same time, has brilliantly re-presented how resistance can be appropriately transformed on the aesthetic plane.


1 Samir Amin, Los desafíos de la mundialización, Mexico, 21st century, 1997.

2 Luis Gómez Lorente, Rosa Luxemburgo y la socialdemocracia alemana, Madrid, Edicusa/Cuadernos para el Diálogo, 1975.

3 Walter Benjamin, “Tesis de filosofía de la historia”, Discursos interrumpidos I, Madrid, Taurus, 1990, p. 180.

4 Peter Reichel, L’Allemagne et sa mémoire, Paris, Éditions d’Odile Jacob, 1998, p. 101.

5 Fredric Jameson, “La carta robada de Marx”, in Michael Sprinker, Demarcaciones espectrales. En torno a Espectros de Marx, de Jacques Derrida, Madrid, Ediciones Akal, 2002, p. 48.

6 Eduardo Grüner, El fin de las pequeñas historias. De los estudios culturales al retorno (imposible) de lo trágico, Buenos Aires, Paidós, 2002, p. 55. The author’s observations are inspired by Perry Anderson.

7 Eduardo Grüner, op. cit, p. 158.

8 About this subject see the article published in 1979 by Rosalind Krauss. The Spanish version can be found in Rosalind Krauss, “La escultura en el campo expandido”, Hal Foster (Ed.) La posmodernidad, Barcelona, Kairós, p. 59-74.

9 The text which deals with (post-performance) by Fernando Castro Flórez, “Coses que passen” of the exhibition catalogue (Post)performança i altres esdeniments paradoxals, Girona, Fundació Espais, 2002 is most illustrative.

10 Josep Quetglas, El horror cristalizado. Imágenes del Pabellón de Alemania de Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona, Actar, 2001, p. 104-111.

11 Günter Grass-Pierre Bourdieu, “La restauración ‘progresista’”, in New left review, nº 14, 2002, p. 59-74.

12 Gilles Deleuze, Conversaciones, València, Pre-textos, 1995, p. 263-276.

13 Luc Boltanski, Ève Chiapello, El nuevo espíritu del capitalismo, Madrid, Akal, 2002, p. 599-655.

14 Tom Lewis, “La política de la ‘fantología’ en Espectros de Marx de Derrida”, in Michael Sprinker (Ed.), op. cit. p. 157-197.

15 Heiner Müller, “Le char-personnage et la guerre de nouvement” in Heiner Müller, Alexander Kluge, Esprit, pouvoir et castration. Entretien inèdits (1990-1994), Paris, Éditions Theatrales, 1997, p. 45-49.

16 Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Mil mesetas. Capitalismo y esquizofrenia, Valencia, Pre-textos, 1998, p. 359-431.

17 Knopf, “Esthétique et destruction. La fin des histoires et de l’histoire dans L’Esthètique de la resistance”, a M. Hofman et M-C. Méry (dir.), Littérature, esthétique, histoire, dans l’oeuvre de Peter Weiss, Presses Universitaries de Nancy, 1993, p. 125-135.

Domènec 24 hores de llum artificial. Pilar Bonet


Aquesta vida és un hospital on cada malalt es desficia per poder canviar de llit. Aquest voldria sofrir cara a l’estufa, i aquell creu que guariria al costat de la finestra. Sempre em sembla que m’haig de trobar bé allà on no sóc, i aquesta qüestió dels canvis de lloc és una de les que discuteixo contínuament amb la meva ànima…El petit poema en prosa de Baudelaire, titulatAny Where out of the World (A qualsevol lloc fora del món) en honor al seu mestre Edgar Allan Poe, sempre m’ha semblat molt a prop de les peces i instal·lacions hospitalàries que Domènec (Mataró, 1962) ha realitzat en els últims anys. Si les seves darreres obres exploraven els espais absents i les formes mòrbides al temps seductores i abjectes, ara el treball que presenta a l’espai de la Sala Montcada de la Fundació “la Caixa” sublima l’estàtica presència del viatge existencial, la fugida vers els països que són analogies de la Mort. Com reclama el poeta a la seva ànima en el text de la capçalera: anem més lluny encara; encara més lluny de la vida, si això és possible: instal·lem-nos al pol. Allà el sol només frega molt obliquament la terra, i les lentes alteracions de la llum i de la nit suprimeixen la varietat i augmenten la monotonia, aquella meitat del no-res…

Una meitat del no-res que l’artista corporitza en la construcció a escala natural d’una cambra del sanatori finès de Paimio, obra de l’arquitecte Alvar Aalto (1933). Un espai on reposa i guareix aquella “ànima morta” de Baudelaire, Kafka, Mann, Beckett, Artaud, Plath o de Bernhard, dels qui prenen llargs banys de tenebres, mentre, per distreure’s en l’etern viatge cap el silenci del nord, admiren les garbes roges de les aurores boreals, els reflexos dels focs artificials de l’Infern!

Una cambra amarada de gèlida llum artificial, lluny del món, un espai per a poder llegir els llibres més bells que Proust sabia escrits en llengua estrangera i on viure l’art com una iniciativa de salut a la manera de Deleuze. Un espai fora del temps que el comissari de l’exposició, Martí Peran, mira A distància –títol del cicle- i que no vol dir altra cosa que mirar el fora des del distanciament, des del dins més entranyat de la blancor neutra de les idees i les paraules: Si amb el pensament volíem atrapar el món, en realitat el llencem lluny del nostre abast. Si amb l’anhel de construir una casa volíem ser en el món, en realitat ens n’amaguem.

Als primers anys trenta l’arquitecte Aalto construí un sanatori anti tuberculós, Domènec ara caracteritza aquella primera intenció racionalista i fragilitza fins a l’extrem la distància entre l’habitabilitat –el confort racional de la modernitat- i la malaltia de l’ésser contemporani –l’exili. L’espectador ha d’entrar dins la cambra, integrar-se a la blancor de la llum artificial, tocar amb els ulls el mobiliari de la sala en la seva metamòrfica i asèptica quietud –peces orgàniques, pròpies de l’autor, que dins la cambra assumeixen l’esperit dels armaris, llits i sanitaris hospitalaris. El factor humà és l’essència de la arquitectura i aquesta esdevé així refugi, el lloc on prendre contacte amb les coses, i entre

aquestes el propi cos, “l’ànima malalta”, el jo i l’altre, en definitiva aquella meitat del no-res. Domènec en les seves obres rebaixa la temperatura natural del món real i l’extraordinària cambra d’aquesta instal·lació –24 hores de llum artificial-, com apunta Martí Peran, “potser ni tan sols ens aixopluga, només és la forma d’un forat que dóna accés a la caiguda”.

Aquesta cambra, disposada dins l’altra cambra expositiva, ella mateixa dins la cambra d’una ciutat, potser talment l’escenari on reviure el darrer moment del diàleg entre el malalt baudelerià i la seva ànima; quan aquesta exhausta de preguntes i silencis, de propostes de viatges i territoris més benignes on guarir-se i deixar de complaure’s en el seu mal, exclama desesperada i cridant: Anem…¡A qualsevol lloc! ¡A qualsevol lloc! ¡La qüestió és que sigui fora del món!

Pilar Bonet

Sala Montcada de la Fundació “la Caixa”
Barcelona (novembre 1998-gener 1999)

The Latest News from Nowhere. Martí Peran

Nowhere, in rhetorical terms, means belonging to modernity, the utopian space. Situated always beyond the horizon, in perpetual transformation, nowhere may never be reached; in reality, this is no destination, but rather a dream to stretch the present, so today isn’t today either, but rather an episode controlled by nowhere. It has been rather vehemently stated that contemporaneity, to a certain extent, represents the moment modern beings joined adulthood, a place where they will no longer be subjected obediently to the hopeful future events which have entranced them so far. From this viewpoint, this account referring to nowhere has been one of the first to lose credibility. It is here and now where the sense of experience should be established; yet, of course, the present itself, due to the aforementioned modern inheritance, has no real contingence, either. This is no solid place, capable of being the foundation of a project, but rather any place – right here. These are the latest news reports to arrive from nowhere, those placing it, indifferently, Ici même.

Ici même (Dins de casa), (Right Here (At Home)) one of the latest projects conceived by Domènec, comprises the full range of problems gliding in the background of his works in recent years; In this direction, we meet again with his insistent critical visits paid to modern paradigms – above all in the line of architecture – to show in these their weakness; but, besides, it may seem possible for us to see a highly important added value in this project between the lines of this: the chance to formulate the same objections and reprimands aimed at modernity on top of the outline of the post experience. The result is an overwhelming harshness: contemporaneity is no longer both the conquered freedom placed upon the denouncement of modern myths, and simple acceptance of the lack of such itself, but now has no camouflage. Contemporary experience is thus the bloody paradox which turns freedom into an oppressive condition.

Let us make the proposal of advancing orderly to approach all these issues. First, let us attempt to highlight the real thread of Domènec’s latest projects: a review of modern models with an attitude of simultaneous fascination and deconstruction; later we shall be in more optimum conditions to verify to what extent the work titled Ici même (Dins de casa), despite Le Corbusier’s significant quotation, where the real contemplation revolves around the post-modern alternatives, which, as was mentioned earlier, far from modifying the analysis concerning modern news reports, enables us to highlight the same type of lacking even more.


As has been noted widely and in vastly different areas, contemporary culture has been practically forced to substitute the principle of genuine creation or production, for reading and interpretation. All speech preserves the gossip of a previous text which turns it into a simple reading; and this, far from contributing to strengthen the presence of the original text as the hard core of language, what it has awoken is the awareness of the rhetorical nature of all languages. So – and I do not wish to insist on its description as it has been widely thematised – this has provoked especially dangerous reactions – at the cost of deculturalisation due to neo-theologies – those developed on a pluralist note. What I mean is that it is not odd in the least to come face to face with postulates, according to which, given their condition of being simple remarks from all discourses, no linguistic act is therefore a speech strong enough and interesting enough to be taken into consideration. Everything is permissible in the name of a malicious tolerance which, in actual fact, hides the apolitical message whereby nothing is important enough.

Naturally, the only possible reaction to this relativism and eclectic-like pluralism typical of the worst postmodernism, should not be able to consist of rescuing the myth from certain universal categories; Though it should, despite accepting the soft nature of thought, attempt to separate which texts are more interesting than others so as to, by reconsidering them, write a note-book of the present. In this difficult tessitura, contemporary culture has spoken out unequivocally and gone much farther beyond the innocuous aforementioned pluralism. These have been perfectly conscientious decisions, for example, to reread the philosophy from the school of suspicion as an alternative to the invitations to remain in the wake of metaphysics; or dislocate the tradition of architecture from the rationalist register with all the power of pre-modern architecture; or dampen the optimism of the visual avant-garde with the deconstruction of its illusions or, among many other operations, rescue as prototypically modern the pure literature which grows under the shadow of Flaubert or Mallarmé and even Robert Walser. It is precisely because of the direction of all these decisions that the short-sighted analysts from the academia have «discovered» that the real genealogy of post-modernity lies at the heart of modern culture. We have already mentioned this above: it may not be really such new and strident –almost frivolous- post-modernity, but actually a current modern inexpressive present in the modern-post style.

Domènec’s work in recent years should be interpreted, above all, from this perspective. It is true that his work – and even more so if we add all his earlier works with a more object-like nature to his latest projects –can also be read easily while exercising the traumatising of minimalist tradition, but this key to the reading, if it is developed, leads us to certain conclusions which are close to those earlier co-ordinates of interpretation. Minimalism, indeed, has been revisited by contemporary art with the aim of showing that all that purity and ideal concerning neutrality was an illusion which could be cracked with absolute ease if one began to put those hypothetical cases in their place as pure objects in the context of social, historical or narrative order. And what is more important and odd about all this process is that contemporary art has recovered all these parameters (such as research concerning reality, history or fiction) as if they were the fundamental ingredients of its speculation, precisely due to contemplating and reconsidering minimalist objects. To say this somewhat more directly: when the minimalist tradition erects a neutral aesthetic object, thus a series of strategies is set up to reconsider the conditions of reality of that object and in the deployment of these strategies the basic map of contemporary art is drawn up.

The more or less intermittent references made by contemporary culture in the architecture of the modern movement, of course, must be read from the post situation which critically assesses emancipating utopias given the fact that architecture, due to its obvious condition, represents the most elaborate model of those aims; but it is also true that, in the world of contemporary art, the use of modern architecture must be interpreted with an added value: it also represents a strategy for submitting the aims of minimalism to the conditions of reality. It is in this way that two lines of research are built rather easily which, despite the obvious differences, in reality, bear a powerful relationship …In any case –from one way or the other, or from the whole of both as Domènec’s work could be represented –this appeal to the modern movement’s architecture acts as reliable proof regarding the hierarchy of certain accounts so as to feed the remarks which constitute the present.

In Domènec’s case, this reading of the modern tradition of architecture is clearly visible; Alvar Aalto is clearly present in 24 hores de llum artificial (Twenty-four hours of artificial light) and Le Corbusier in Un lloc (A Place) and the aforementioned Ici même (dins de casa). The direction of this review also becomes directly explicit: on turning the warm and comfortable interiors of a hospital in Paimio into an artificial and unbreathable space; or when reducing such a paradigm as l’unité d’habitation into a piece of furniture in an impersonal room or into the motive of an advertising image, the whole of modern utopia is reduced to a nightmare. All these pieces are, above any other consideration, the construction of specific areas; but it is obvious that the foundations of these works finish up in this harrowing irony – in the Beckett-like nature we have mentioned on earlier occasions – with which the reference point of modern architecture is used.

In the case of the latest work, Ici même (dins de casa), the creation of a willingly equivocal climate around the work of Le Corbusier is highly emphasised. Firstly, in the meaning of the firmness that unhesitatingly turning the most optimistic and humanist aims of modernity– and l’unité d’habitation is such – into a vulgar advertising message; but the crudeness is emphasised even more so if we add to this pitifully insignificant new condition of the alleged canon, by turning it into archaeological remains, a remote ruin swallowed up by nature.

Modern aims of fitting out a truly inhabitable place, embedded in the projects of Aalto or Le Corbusier, are damaged in their contemporary deconstruction, highlighting the fact that they merely serve to provide a promise of a useless future for the experience of here and now.


In a general and indeed panoramic way, this same recrimination towards the modern movement based on an excessively anticipatory conception of architecture – whereby it was supposed that certain previous formal guidelines should be enough to guarantee the happiness coming from the experience to be developed inside these shapes – is what has led research on contemporary architecture to the land of the event, of the greatest versatility of shapes and functions and, even, to the more or less explicit recovery of clearly pre modern notions and types – the idea of the picturesque or pavilions – leaning more towards the conception of architecture as an available space, of a flexible nature, capable of acting like a container of situations, experiences and multiple uses. Ici même (dins de casa), as we have attempted to explain, is a project which, along the lines as the earlier works made and based on Alvar Aalto or Le Corbusier himself, clearly exemplifies that critical conclusion of modern items; but way beyond this, it highlights a review up to the contemporary alternatives themselves. In the first instance, and given the fact that it involves a life-size bus shelter for waiting at a station, the project is offered as a space for occasional use, absolutely ephemeral and concerning wasted time; on the other hand, its hypothetical use leads us to mobility and covering distances; from another register, we could even interpret this peculiar area as a kind of pavilion in the same perspective we mentioned before. The change of scenery as regards earlier projects is thus evident; we are no longer reading a story organised according to the typically modern principle of a life which is focused, illuminated and becomes sedimentary but rather the complete opposite, now all that universe of values has been substituted by a number of parameters more in line with the late correction of that modern myth. The built area is now a space to be used in the most practical sense of the word, devoid of any pretentious ontological nature and, in its place, with an outline of a nature much more emphatically experimental. In light of this, it seems that we find ourselves with a project which has invented the optimum conditions to reinforce its objections to the modern account; but, in reality, the most interesting thing is that the ontologically weak character of the new post architecture is not used to facilitate opposition to Le Corbusier but to submit it to critical reading itself.

Having reached this point we should be rather careful about how we consider the question. We are not reducing the problem to a simple statement, according to which, the only difference between modern dreams and the contemporary horizon consists of the fact that the former aims to build a home and fails in the attempt, while nowadays, far from clearing up the procedure by which we could satisfactorily achieve the same dream, what we actually do is accept that condition of inclemency. All this actually floats around behind the whole series of Domènec’s projects which leads us to Ici même (dins de casa). In this, his latest project there persists an emphasis on the impossibility of establishing a living space in a complete sense; the idea of home – specified, as on other occasions, in the title itself – again showing its weakness when it becomes awkward shelter – a shed- which, on the other hand, could never fulfil the prospects of being a personal place, but rather, imposes its condition of being a place where strangers are doomed to meet each other. All this, shall we say, is indeed present in this project, but the most important thing, to say this in short, is that it appears to be based on a post space –not utopian any more but weak –which is also submitted to its own peculiar deconstruction and which, in this operation, instead of being celebrated as a space which is easy to handle and experimental, what is acknowledged is the ease in which the contemporary experience becomes perverted into an absolutely banal experience.

The mosaic of all the elements entering into this game is already laid down. The sequence we are attempting to organise would be like this: first it would be necessary to introduce a correction for formal ideals which guide and predetermine experience as, far from their pretensions, never managed to construct a space for happiness. This is what 24 hores de llum artificial (24 hours of artificial sun), Un lloc (A Place) or the photograph of the bus shelter in his latest work show. The second moment consists of adapting other models that are more inclined towards the unforeseeable value of the use of space and the construction of meaning based on real experience; Certain co-ordinates which do not allow a conventional home to be built either, but which at least respond to nature itself diffused of things. This is what drives the development of Ici même (dins de casa) based on a post construction, such as the pavilion represented by the bus shelter. The last episode begins when this kind of spatial alternative which hoards the value of the possibility of being used and of being a real experience, when being deconstructed, shows that, nowadays, the only real experience is that of absolute banality. In Ici même (dins de casa) this latter idea – that which is still not shown, banality- we think is expressed clearly in reducing the experience capable of containing the bus shelter into one possibility only: to be an experience of advertising and pause.

The shelter, given the fact of its typology and hypothetical function, is offered as a public space. In its condition of being a real space – a vulgar urban bus shelter – and being such a space for public use, is decorated likewise by a lighted box suitable for advertising. The image in question is one which makes the l’unité d’habitation appear as if it were a mysterious real estate promotional activity which, when read carefully, would invoke everything we have set out in the first part of this text; but beyond these tones which lie behind the image, it is obvious that only a religious obedience may be kept with this. It is such a technologically mediated image however it is considered, but its light and arrangement- an altar-, is the typical advertising image is absolutely aura-like before which we are urged to develop the real, the true, contemporary public activity: shopping. This is what is left of the world of experience.

From a viewpoint quite close to the one above, the only use that can be made of this area, apart from using it to become acquainted with advertising messages, is to use it in a totally negative way. It is no longer the aim of trying to substitute constructive activity so full of promise which praises modern morale due to a more occasional, ephemeral action, but with the value of liveliness and authenticity. In this shelter time is, put simply, inactivity; it is the pause of waiting for a bus that doesn’t exist, wasted time. The shelter is a low area, a low intensity space and not, as we may suppose from an easily post-modern rhetoric, a hot space due to its open availability. The atmosphere again becomes, as in other works, that of a pause; the same tempo of monotonous and absurd rhythm which hammers us, due to the praise of the everyday gesture, in the video With the cold inside home.

Building, Waiting, Thinking. Domènec, beinahe nichts. Xavier Antich

Less is more, the phrase made famous by Mies van der Rohe, has been repeated so many times out of context that it has ended up often serving not only to remind us of what is specifically modern in 20th century architecture and thus offering the theoretical key of minimal art, but even to grant aesthetic legitimacy to new forms of gastronomy offered by restaurants or to influential trends in fashion clothing, not to mention the deideologisation of certain political projects or of a weakening philosophical discourse. However, we have not been reminded, with the same insistence, of that other phrase with which Mies used, in perhaps a more incisive way, to consider his own architectural adventure: beinahe nichts [almost nothing]. This neglect towards selective quotes is not really innocuous: it reveals the conclusion that has usually been reached, concerning the modern movement in architecture, in terms that are rather esthetical, such as a determined formal purging of ornamentation and like a more or less geometrising abstraction of constructive materials: in summary, like an essentialist and emaciated decision sheltered by a certain artistic aestheticism. From Nietzsche’s criticism of aesthetic ideals, however, we know that any asceticism leads to turning the outward appearance into nothingness, turning it into a desert by deploying the inward appearance: that is probably why art is, as Nietzsche also thought, the most radical form of subversion of ascetic ideals or, formulated in a positive way, the way to recover the outward appearance.

And, in spite of this, with this essentialist and ascetic characterisation of the modern movement, perhaps the constitutively dangerous component of this contemporary Abgeschidenheit [detachment] has been thought little of: its approach towards those confines in which even the work could disappear, skirting silence and emptiness and getting closer to nothingness to the extent of becoming almost nothing. Without running this risk, this undressing runs the risk of becoming just another formal resort, a new way of ornamentation. Adorno warned us of this in a lucid way when he pointed out that radically modern pieces of art are those that come dangerously close to silence: namely, those that run the risk, in the process of applying the logic of decomposing, of getting close to the place in which the work itself runs the risk of failing to be such, namely the danger of not existing.

It is not irrelevant to begin with this deviation so as to pose some reflection upon the work by Domènec, marked from the start by a recurrence of themes based on dialogues with architecture from the modern movement (in particular with Alvar Aalto and Le Corbusier) and by a close proximity of the dangerous limits of silence of which Adorno spoke. I am thinking, in particular, of two of these works by Domènec which, in a certain way, concentrate, in my opinion, a large part of his artistic concerns: 24 hores de llum artificial (24 hours of artificial light) and Ici même (dins de casa) (Right here (at home)), which are two projects that, on the other hand, include and carry on with, as if in a way of advancing and retrogressing, other works arising from the concern itself.

24 hores de llum artificial, as you know, recreates, on a real life scale, a room in a Paimio hospital by Alvar Aalto, reduced almost to a pure abstract structure, in an area which is illuminated constantly by a white light which configures a space with no shadows and no voices or noises: a clinical place in its purest state. It is true that this work is an architectural redefinition in an artistic key and, to a certain extent, also, sheltered by the strategy of quotes, a palimpsest: in this sense, he goes back to Aalto and, at the same time, he erases him. This paradox does not appear to me to be gratuitous: it is precisely the work by Aalto, seduced by the world of live nature like a metaphor of architecture, it is the area chosen by Domènec to set out a work in the nearest place to the idea of somebody’s ectopia, of one such, shall we say, Peter Eisenman. the clinical place in Paimio, a world within a world, a place within area, becomes, through Domènec’s radical intervention, a clinical intervention upon the clinic, a non existent place which is asserted precisely through the thing which it denies: we have, here, in an exemplary way, a very close impulse due to the implosion of contradictions, Hegel’s Aufhebung, even though, more than discussing dialectical excellence of the here and now in a higher synthesis of area and time, we should refer to it in terms of the deconstruction of here and now through the pure indication of a place with no area and beyond time. The difference is by no means banal: since Foucault’s time we have known that the appearance of the clinic leads to a subversion of the expression and the new creation of an area.

Nowadays we know that any work of art is also, in addition to many other things, a discourse on art: that all works are enigmatic scriptures (the code of which has been lost and the sense of which is based, above all, on this loss) and, at the same time, a reading, namely, a review, an interpretation. Domènec does not hide, but rather converts the reading into an explicit activity and, due to the distance used as regards what we are talking about, we could even call this, in actual fact, ironic. A type of irony like the one that beats in the silence used by Beckett, when words are quiet or when, precisely due to the fact that they are unspoken words, they speak more: like those silences that occupy, in his theatre works, more time –and more space –than the words actually spoken. On the other hand, there is, as in all reading, a vocation of commentary (reading is interpreting, legen is aus-legen), but which does not lead to a substantialist sacralisation of what is commented (the book, the work of art), but rather its erasing: in fact, all readings erase the book that has been read, like the room in 24 hores de llum artificial erases the rooms in Paimio. Each reading is inscribed in what has been read until it erases it. Maurice Blanchot knew this and Marc-Alain Ouaknin reminded us of this recently,: consubstantial Judaism in any act of reading. The first attitude before tradition is objection.

Foucault formulated this, also with precision, in actual fact in the prologue called The Birth of the Clinic. Archaeology of the Clinical Expression, a text which does not seem arbitrarily chosen to be remembered here: “In our times, [the chance of criticism and its need] are linked -and Nietzsche the philologist is a witness of this – to the fact that there is a language and that, in the innumerable words uttered by man –whether these are reasonable or irascible, demonstrative or poetical- a sense which befalls us has taken shape, which leads our blindness, but our conscience lurks in the darkness waiting to come into the light and start to speak. We are historically consecrated in history, to the patient construction of discourses on discourses, to the undertaking of listening to what has already been said. Is it so awful, for this very reason, that we do not know any other use of the word than that of commentary? The latter, in fact, questions the discourse on what is stated by this and what is meant by this, it attempts to bring out this double meaning of the words, in which this finds itself in an identity with itself, which it is supposed is closer to its truth; it thus involves declaring what has been said, repeating what has never been uttered”. Therefore, commenting, exercising this form of criticism that is every type of reading as a rereading, it is to admit a residue, necessarily a non formulated one, of the thought that language (also the language of the work) has left in the shade; and, therefore, commenting means that the things that are left unspoken slumber in the word of the work and that, by questioning it, we can make it speak although this is not specifically meant.

In this sense, eliminating the shadows is, in 24 hores de llum artificial, an artistic strategy to force what has already been said (by Aalto, by the modern movement, by the clinical architecture of the century) so that it states what is not uttered. In this sense, also, there lies in the recurrence which leads Domènec to turn and return, over and over and again, to the areas in Paimio, to the conscience of an unexpressed individual that does not allow itself to be revealed once and for all, but rather a background or residue which, only in the interminable rereading, may be explored in its enigma. Domènec’s work is, therefore, a lucid exercise of criticism and, therefore, of artistic writing of a sense that only allows itself to be travelled over in its deployment as a work. If the appearance of the clinic means subverting the expression it is because it goes beyond the limit between what is visible and what is invisible (up to that time): when Domènec goes back to the Paimio sanatorium –and he does so as if he were intervening clinically in the clinic – he subverts, once more, that distinction, redisplacing it towards other places and making other areas emerge there. The area given to 24 hores de llum artificial. If with the appearance of the clinic, evil, the anti natural and death come into the light, they are brought to light in a new area which allows a new expression to be born (“that which was fundamentally invisible is offered suddenly to the brightness of the expression” -writes Foucault), Domènec, with his intervention, which is a rereading that erases the text and the work in which his work, as a text, is inscribed, knocks off balance, that background on which the clinic itself again,–as a metaphor of the modern expression – is based. With this, due to the area’s idleness and the confrontation with silence, he provides a view of what is not seen, he provides a reading of what is unwritten. From here, perhaps, from this displacement of the limits, emerges a new, certainly disturbing, area and a new expression. The clinic within the clinic, the area within the area, the light within the light: the expression within the expression. Rewriting which is erasing.


* * * * *


In Contre Sainte-Beuve Proust wrote that the writer invents a new language within his own language, a language which is foreign, since it leads his language to the extreme in which the language becomes delirious, making one see through it, something which had never been seen before, even though man had never stopped looking at it. Therefore, the writing of delirium is a writing of vision, in the same way that the vision of delirium, which carries the images (already seen) to the extreme that they also become foreign images, is a vision of the writing. From this, therefore in Critical and Clinical, Deleuze was able to take a lesson: when language carves a foreign language in its interior, it produces an explosion within the confines of language. Thus, “when delirium become a clinical condition, words no longer lead to nothing, one no longer listens to nothing nor sees nothing through it, except for a night which has lost its history, its colours and its songs”. The white night in 24 hores de llum artificial, devoid of history because it has been erased, devoid of colours and sounds: like the writing in artificial light by Derrida, the only way to reach the outside is through withdrawing into the writing of the text, the image. Pure emergence from the outward appearance in the inward appearance of the work (the writing). Paimio was brought to its own outward appearance by a withdrawal into the inside of artificial light, it appraises it from within. Even Deleuze: “Any work is a journey, a trip, but one which only travels such and such an outer way by virtue of the inner roads and ways which make up this trip, which constitute its landscape or its harmony”. Domènec: writing on writing, images on images: movement.


* * * * *


Reflection on architecture, that of Domènec’s, which is also an approach towards the silence of area: where area is turned into an invocation of shapes and other areas, a utopian breath, also, having become, through the passage of time, pure undressed political structure. The policy –that in the sanatoriums, that concerning the discourse on health – on the areas which substitute the politics of areas: areas built to be lived in and which end up being areas of confinement. Areas of confinement full of an annoying noise of eccentricity: from here, the recovery, by Domènec, of the silence of certain areas that time has turned into mutes. From here, the artificial light to write (Derrida) and to convert the text and work into a deconstructed area: the only chance to inhabit, during the waiting, areas which demand to be reread.

Displacement towards the inside of areas of modern architecture to open other areas: the chance of an image which is born out of the displacement and which inaugurates a new temporality for these areas. Temporality launched forward by a return to the past, as if it were a rewriting and erasing of the past. The outward appearance is already present in 24 hores de llum artificial, pure deconstructed inward appearance, pure displacement. Un lloc (A Place) and Ici même (dins de la casa), on the other hand, provoke the explosion of the inward appearance in the outward appearance which they inhabit, opening up a static area, paradoxically, in the circuit of displacement. Domènec’s paradoxes: cartography of certain works which overturn the real cartography of areas and times in the works.

* * * * *

Domènec’s dialogue with Le Corbusier and his unité d’habitation is the core of the works that surround Un lloc and, in particular, Ici même (dins de casa). In the intervention of the bus shelter in a waiting area, Domènec has brought to the outside the reflection concerning the inner area, the clinic, in artificial light, which he has unveiled in 24 hores de llum artificial. With this he has returned to the Lebenswelt [the world of life] his deconstruction of space based on modern categories. And he has done so, also here, and perhaps even in a more emphatic way, with a certain ironical distancing: having turned it at the same time into an advertising panel and a waiting place. Again, the space of silence, here amid the urban noise, like a space within a space which inaugurates a time within time: the waiting time through the construction designed for living in.

Heidegger wrote, in a basic text called Construct, inhabit, think, that space is not an absolute and neutral constant in which things are contained, but rather the things that open it up. Works that are constructions do not take up space, but rather open it up: they make it and they unfold it from that artistic strategy which is purely spatial. The work sets in place an opening of the space from the work, because space is only visible and, as such, comprehensible, in all its difficulty, as one thing (here the work) shows it, making it emerge from its non existence and from its invisibility. Ici même (dins de casa) shows urban space confronted with its own paradoxes: space to live in which is a pure junction without any inhabitants, a place that leads to nowhere, utopia as a type of propaganda, an outside that is an inside, within which hiding can only be shown on the outside. Constructing to wait, which is a way of living, and to think, which is also a way of waiting.

A bus shelter for waiting in the place that makes waiting impossible: to live there where thinking is harder. And arriving, from the ontological viewpoint of the work, at an almost nothingness: there where the work aims to be inconspicuous as a work, there where the glance is calling out to be taken, also he is, as far as its deconstruction.

And, in the last instance, with a precise and metronomic recurrence, just one sound, also an almost nothing which ends up being a sound of absence, the sound of a scheme. The absence of bodies in 24 hores de llum artificial, the absence of people waiting in Un lloc and in Ici même (dins de casa). Absence and pure scheme of nothingness which just cannot make its presence but which, in spite of this, is quite visible. Just a sound: the liquid (milk) poured into a glass, the swallowing, the gulping, pouring, swallowing, gulping, pouring, swallowing, gulping, pouring, swallowing, gulping, ….

Xavier Antich
(Domènec. Domestic, 2001)

24 Hours of Artificial Light. After Alvar Aalto. Martí Peran

In exploring the present in order to uncover its origins, contemporary literature paints a blurred portrait of our time. There is a sort of tacit consensus whereby a description of now can only be approached from a negative angle. Although frequently misinterpreted as a banal incitation to fearful pessimism, it is actually the conviction that only by shaking up our universe and recognising that its principles and values are vulnerable and headed for obsolescence can we find the right words for today. A negative approach marks the distance between the present and the world it is leaving behind.

Although this implies moving forward and striving to overlay the past with a new vocabulary for the present, the shadow of our origins still hovers over the scene; we still hear the murmur of what we are fleeing. In attempting to break our links with the past we inevitably define the present as its opposite. Indeed, rejection of what has gone before is just one more symptom of its intrinsic fragility.

In 24 Hours of Artificial Light, Domènec constructs a stage for an experience of the here and now but, as posited above, it can only be the result of a thorough exploration of the past. Domènec’s installation is an architecture that does not bury earlier forms, but simply turns the walls of ruined rooms inside out. It does not reject the original structure but seeks its identity through its very refusal to remain there. Thus the first home must be explained in order to mark the distance between them, revealing the subversion implied by creation of this new shelter.


The latest modern dream, filled with enthusiasm and confident of its power to change, is expressed in different forms. Sometimes it consists of incidental parcels as, for example, a mere renewal of the language of the arts. At other times it involves a programme to be generally applied and intended to provide a full structure of meaning. It is on this ambitious scale that the apparently strict architectural register of the Modern Movement must be interpreted. Beneath its machine- age rhetoric, the earliest forms of rationalism shaped a firm ideal that involved pragmatic and functional reasoning with the aim of adequately satisfying all the basic needs of modern man. The objective was so specific that early rationalist discourse was found to be barren and often bordering uncomfortably on doctrine. It lay down principles with pretensions to universality, making no concessions to any particularity which might deflect it from its stated aim of constructing a new world appropriate for the new man. Nevertheless, the normative character of this approach was soon to be shaken to its very core.

Architectural history has chronicled different crises in the Modern Movement, but rather than remaining loyal to the orthodoxy of academic analysis it needs to describe the essential adjustment that was soon made to early rationalist theory. It is crucial to look back and pinpoint this deviation from the rationalist norm, to tone down the original programme’s fundamentalist approach, detaching it from its rigid dreams of universality and cosmopolitanism and making it more human. Doing this involves three steps: first, we must overcome the idea of an archetypal modern man and resuscitate the concept of individuals with their own particularities and identities. As a logical consequence of this, the idea of a stripped-down space guaranteed to meet the needs of every individual must give way to a rediscovery of the specific features that mark each local and individual experience. Lastly, and as a recapitulation of the entire process of revision, we must rethink the very idea of housing in order to make it not only mechanically perfect but a true life shelter for the individual subject.

The first step in this corrective process – re-establishing identity as the core of architecture – soon becomes an organicist proclamation. By making the human factor the essence of architecture, the allegory of the machine is replaced by a call for organic, living spaces. This change means that new spaces will not be laid out only in accordance with a technically defined function but will be subject to all the vicissitudes of emotion. In short, this new approach to architecture is an attempt to reconcile the individual with the world of technology, thereby ensuring an added value of humanism. As Aalto pointed out, it is simply a matter of saving man, who is condemned to live in a meaningless ant hill. Man is not an abstraction within a theoretical programme, but the living reality around which research must gravitate and the leading figure at which reasoned speculation must be aimed.

Because the individual subject is the new imperative for action, it is essential too to reestablish the semantics of the particular place, the concrete space in which man’s life experience will take place, In architectural terms, we must move from mechanised modular models to a more voluble repertoire of forms and typologies so that quality of life can be based on the opportunity to live in harmony with things. In short, architecture must aim to construct spaces that are literally “living”, and this involves providing a place in which individuals can develop a fruitful relationship with their surroundings. Aalto –who embodied the idea of this renowned “regionalism” that was introduced into the rationalist programme– expressed it eloquently: habitats are found in millions of different places, the peculiarities of which are constantly changing. You cannot standardise surroundings as simply as though they were machines. With this clearly phenomenological attitude the Finnish architect gave considerable importance to tactile objects. The individual truly appropriates a space when it is filled with things to be touched and physically used. Indeed, when architecture shapes a tangible environment, it no longer simply creates a space for man –the first step in architectural correction– but constructs a true centre of his very existence.

The maximum expression of this refocusing of early rationalist orthodoxy is the emphatic declaration of the idea of the home. The problem of housing –as an essential module of the urban structure– and the problem of habitat –as a functional cell on a domestic level– were priority issues in the Modern Movement’s original programme. Within the framework of that programme, the accent is now on making that perfectly reasoned space into a genuine home. In line with Heideggerian analysis, building houses is not enough. What contemporary man genuinely needs is to elude spiritual poverty and rediscover a home, a place of his very own where he can touch and interact with tangible objects and build a world. This is the true meaning of a home: the place where man discovers his genuinely human properties.



The revised rationalism summarised thus far really aimed to improve the movement’s initial premises. It is not a rebuke born of suspicion. On the contrary, it aims to be a constructive contribution. It fosters no dreams of radical change; it is simply an attempt to revise the original idea in order to make it yet more effective. But although this is obvious, revision reroutes the dream, channelling it towards reality, and this change almost inevitably awakens an imagery that is diametrically opposed to rationalism. Indeed, during the same period that Aalto was rethinking the rationalist discourse from a humanist angle an entire group of thinkers conceived of contemporaneity in terms that can now be interpreted as a sudden interruption of that dream and an explicit awareness of the darkness that envelops it. If rationalism can be made more human by refocusing on the individual, by creating surroundings where he can live together with objects and, in short, by building him a spiritual home, the reverse is also true. Thus, the search for a particular, subjective identity can become a cruel exposé of a precarious and vulnerable body; the effort to shape surroundings filled with things can mark the boundaries of an arid territory and, lastly, the need for a home can be confused with simply Finding an adequate shelter.

In order to accurately depict the way the humanist ideal can become a portrait of an exiled subject, we must take our model from literature. Domènec’s work constantly refers to Beckett’s characters, who weave a sinuous tale of the poverty that stands in the way of life’s sole undertaking: finding an identity of one’s own. Their search is stubborn and persevering but based only on the flat statement; I exist and survive in my own fashion. In Beckett’s universe the need to acknowledge a singular subject (the same objective sought by the organicist version of rationalism) forces a changeover that ends up reducing the subject to the category of a feeble organism characterised by its vulnerability to pain. As noted earlier, the idea of a subject is not a rhetorical abstraction but a living reality. If one is totally immersed in the search for its specificity, we must necessarily acknowledge its fleeting state. Loyal to Aalto’s watchword and following it to the fullest, we make an unexpected discovery: the ultimate basis of identity, what really makes man inextricable from the very instant of existence, is pain and illness. Jünger, Bernhard and Sontag have all acknowledged this, though with different degrees of acceptance.

The recovery of phenomenology was the second thing new humanism introduced in its attempt to correct rationalist ideology. This involved rescuing the world of objects for man’s experience. Still according to Beckett, this also has its cruel side. Indeed, far from describing a world consisting of interplay between subject and objects, the author chronicles the constant inaccessibility of the most elementary and necessary items. Molloy, Moran and Malone –the characters in the author’s trilogy of novels– fight vainly to get their hands on things which, though trivial, are essential to their survival: a basin in which to cough up phlegm, a cane with which to grope one’s way in the limited confines of a room, or a notebook in which to write a miserable testimony of thought. They all hide and vanish at the crucial moment when they are needed. This utter physical solitude depicted in Beckett’s novels, this failure of the principle of tactile objects proposed by Aalto, is exactly the same vacuity in which figures sculpted by Giacometti (a good friend of Beckett’s and another reference in Domènec’s work) attempt to exist. They are characters cast out into the void, with no prospect of existing among objects of any kind.

While the axiom of individuals needing physical contact with things enabled man to dream about a home, this same man, turned into a fragile figure groping with empty hands, can do no more than hide. A light-filled home is the cavern of man’s dreams. In the rationalist utopia, and even more so when it is toned down by the organicism of humanist thought, the aim was to construct a residence of feeling for the complete individual. Now this living space must become a place in which to withdraw, to lick one’s wounds and preserve one’s fragile identity. Applying that same criterion of preservation, it must be an aseptic place, barren, shorn of objects. And although such surroundings claim to be comfortable, the home actually becomes a sanatorium.

Thus far we have consistently referred to Aalto’s work as a symbol of a particular idea of modernity and Beckett’s fiction as the embodiment of the last horizon, where that same idea is shattered. So it would not be fair to insinuate that Domènec’s 24 Hours of Artificial Light deliberately refers to Aalto’s sanatorium in the Finnish town of Paimio (designed in the early 1930s) as a strategy that involves reinterpreting Aalto until an essential proximity to Beckett is revealed. This is not a matter of complicity between architect and writer. One has only to read Aalto’s description of the sanatorium to realise this. Aalto’s report stresses the need to do everything possible to guarantee that the building will be both functional and user-friendly. Indeed, he underscores his desire to create rooms with abundant light, balanced acoustic qualities, a use of colour that ensures a generally tranquil atmosphere, and even equipped with special hand basins that would be as quiet as possible to use. All this is unquestionably far removed from the anguished spaces of Beckett’s literature. 24 Hours of Artificial Light proposes something very different from this manifestly absurd analogy.

Domènec’s installation proposes to place the viewer precisely in the midst of his own story in order to reveal internal tensions rather than polishing the rough edges and presenting it as a happily coherent tale. The core of this work is not an attempt to undermine Aalto’s ideas. By taking the sanatorium in Paimio as a model, Domènec aims to demonstrate that the very roots of the most optimistic modernism contain the seeds of its own deviation. Indeed, Paimio is exemplary in its zealous approach. It is a paean to civilisation filtered through a humanist ideal. Nevertheless, it cannot hide the fact that its final destiny is simply that of taking in and attempting to comfort the ill. In other words, it is the very descent from early rationalist theories to individual reality that allows us to acknowledge that misery and pain are its only constituent elements. Though the rooms in Paimio are flooded with natural light whose healing effects were scrupulously studied, they nevertheless fit into a story that could end up in the artificially-lighted existential spaces inhabited by Beckett’s characters-inmates: I must frankly say that there is never any light around me, never any true light.



I have attempted to reconstruct the essential points of the story that literally hovers over Domènec’s work. A number of sculptures and installations recreate Aalto’s repertoire of forms, now transformed into furnishings for a Beckett set. Pillow cases and hand basins become assaulted objects, banal items are presented as therapeutic instruments and, paradoxically enough, ergonometric forms deny all possibility of comfort. 24 Hours of Artificial Light explicitly develops the rumours behind Aalto’s work, culminating in its definitive subversion. Indeed, all Domènec’s work can be viewed from this angle. It really seems that his work stands at the crossroads which lead to Beckett’s world. In fact, although Aalto’s spirit is evident in 24 Hours of Artificial Light, it could perfectly well be the room in which Malone awaits his death.

Domènec’s work always explores the strain caused when two spheres of interest collide: his fascination with the natural organic world, expressed in biomorphic forms and the use of materials like wood or leather, is offset by always neutral settings with a strictly cerebral atmosphere. Still, this Hybrid balance –which recurs in a number of the artist’s works– has gradually become ever more tilted to one side.

In an earlier and quite numerous series of works, the most striking feature was Domènec’s insistence on cataloguing and conserving organic forms which were so vague and ephemeral that they could only be preserved by freezing. Titles like Freeze indicated that our only relationship with the world of objects involves chilling them down in order to protect them. And even though lowering the temperature of the real world aims to save it; it is actually the first step towards acknowledging its disappearance. This form of resignation, irreversibly determined all Domènec’s subsequent work. From then on he abandoned the last bastion of sentimentality and turned all his efforts to constructing a space for the withdrawn mind. Deprived of the real world of objects, we witness his retreat into an absolutely artificial space. El rostrè aliè (The Alien Face) and Sota Zero (com a casa) (Below Zero (just like home) were already rooms inhabited only by banished thought. Despite their similarity to rationalist –and minimalist– severity, the starkness of these installations does not hint at the possibility of staking out a real territory that can be taken over and turned into a frame for a life experience. Instead it marks out a space for solipsism and poverty. The progressive accentuation of this process culminates in a sort of mockery of the transcendental idea of the home. In Blanc com la llet (White as Milk) only the title maintains that balance between the coldness of thought and the warmth of the organic world. The work itself shakes the distant dream of the individual house, repository of our possessions, to its very foundations, turning it inside out once more. Because it is purely visual –it’s a photograph– and because of its soft, crude structure, this architecture is no longer a house but the very longing to seek shelter in a cave. It may not even be a shelter: perhaps it is only the shape of a hole, the starting point for the downward fall.

Martí Peran, 1998

Domènec. De lo moderno usado. Martí Peran

Domènec. De lo moderno usado. Martí Peran

A lo largo de poco más de una década el trabajo de Domènec ( se ha concentrado en gravitar, con órbitas distintas en cada ocasión, alrededor de las paradojas, los desatinos y los fracasos de la arquitectura moderna. Esta prospección crítica de la modernidad – como se demostró recientemente en la exposición “Modernologías”- se ha convertido en uno de los relatos más interesantes entre los que componen la partitura del arte contemporáneo. La justificación de esta deriva ha de ser necesariamente compleja, pues responde a numerosos elementos. En primer lugar, representa una oportunidad idónea para someter los presupuestos utópicos a una severo correctivo; por otra parte, la modernidad revisada allana el camino para desarrollar un arte crítico desde la memoria colectiva con todos sus negativos intrínsecos; finalmente, y quizás más importante todavía, la constatación de las fisuras que atraviesan al proyecto moderno, permite diagnosticar con notable precisión muchos de los desajustes y desamparos ideológicos propios de la contemporaneidad heredera de ese mismo proyecto. Todo este abanico de narraciones son puestas en juego en los proyectos desarrollados por Domènec aunque, como veremos, con una serie de matices y añadidos que otorgan a su propuesta un valor singular.

El modo habitual de exhibir la caída del ángel de la Historia lo resuelve Domènec mediante dos gestos de talante bien distinto. El primero consiste en sintetizar los contenidos del programa moderno en maquetas a escala, al modo de objetos escultóricos con una función contra-conmemorativa. A su vez, la segunda operación consiste en instalar estas mismas maquetas en el interior del mundo real para que reciclen sus funciones y propósitos y, ante todo, para que los supuestos teóricos que contienen se sometan a la experiencia y al uso. Con este doble movimiento, los proyectos se convierten en operaciones de recontextualización, en las que los espacios y los tiempos se repliegan y desdoblan, denotando en cada movimiento lo que podría conservarse de la historia, lo que debe cancelarse y, sobre todo, lo que cabría reformular y adecuar a las necesidades reales.

Los ejemplos de esta suerte de metodología de trabajo son numerosos. En Existenzminimum (2002) el monumento que Mies van der Rohe dedicara a Rosa Luxemburgo, se convierte en un habitáculo portátil con un pequeño manual para su automontaje; la Taqueria de los vientos (2003) reconvierte la torre original de Gonzalo Fonseca para los Juegos Olímpicos México 1968 en una taqueria ambulante que, más allá de dispensar comida y simbolizar los derroteros de la economía informal, evoca la represión gubernamental que precedió a la inauguración de los Juegos que habían de modernizar el pais; Unité Mobile (Roads are also places) (2005) convierte una maqueta de l’Unité d’Habitation en un camión teledirigido que circula, ante la sorpresa de los habitantes del emblemático edificio de Corbusier, por las distintas dependencias del complejo habitacional en Marsella. En una perspectiva muy cercana, en Sostenere il palazzo dell’utopia (2004) los usuarios reales del edificio romano de Corviale, inspirado en las soluciones tipológicas del urbanismo moderno para higienizar las zonas periféricas, aparecen retratos sosteniendo la maqueta, de nuevo, de l’Unité, reivindicando así, como sucediera con la iconografía tradicional de los mecenas sosteniendo las maquetas de sus promociones eclesiásticas o palaciegas, su verdadero protagonismo y su legitimidad para modificar el edificio en función de sus reales necesidades. Todavía operando con esta misma lógica, y entre los trabajos más recientes, Superquadra casa-armário (2007) reinterpreta los bloques habitacionales de Lucio Costa en Brasilia al modo de prototipos de refugio.

Una cuestión fundamental en todos estos proyectos es su vinculación con el contexto específico donde se formulan y se ejecutan. En efecto, esa revisión de la modernidad no se resuelve de un modo abstracto y desde el horizonte de lo teórico sino que, por el contrario, se encarna en cada ocasión acorde a determinados episodios modernos propios del lugar. Así, por ejemplo, la taqueria se concibe y se ejecuta en México D.F y la casa-armário en Brasilia. Este detalle no es anecdótico sino todo lo contrario; es lo que permite, no solo interpretar el paradigma moderno dentro de un marco histórico y social específico sino también, y mucho más importante, acelera el cortocircuito por el cual lo moderno ideológico y programático desciende hasta el efectivo valor de uso que, necesariamente, lo subvierte en función de los imaginarios reales y las expectativas mundanas. Con ello, esta prospección de la modernidad acentúa el valor de la experiencia real como el lugar desde el cual articular la crítica e, incluso, concede al conjunto de trabajos una efectiva dimensión pública.

El determinante papel del contexto real es precisamente lo que se convierte en el núcleo de trabajos como Real Estate (2007) y 48_Nakba (2007). En esta ocasión, sin referentes modernos al uso, Domènec describe de forma copiosa la dimensión arquitectónica de la colonización sionista de las tierras palestinas que convierten al urbanismo judío en una arma de guerra. Ahora, de algún modo, todo ese bagaje adquirido en la revisión de la modernidad histórica, se pone al servicio de un documentado retrato de uno de los episodios más infames del presente posthistórico perfilado bajo un modelo único. Los últimos trabajos de Domènec, tras esta inflexión, en lugar de conceder el protagonismo a aquello que no aconteció, acentúan su aproximación hacía aquello que, como acción imperativa de supervivencia y de justicia, acontece por encima de las previsiones. Motocarro (2010), una reconstrucción del artefacto con el que el Plácido (1961) de Berlanga intentaba soportar las penurias de la posguerra, circula ahora por las calles de la misma ciudad en las que se rodó la célebre película, pero como un dispositivo móvil puesto a disposición de aquellos que lo requieran y como evocación de otros tantos lugares donde los motocarros continúan simbolizando la respuestas imaginativas a la carencia.

(Exit Express # 45, Junio 2010)


Domènec. Domestic. Manuel Guerrero

Text for the publication Domènec. Domestic. (Lleida City Council, Mataró Cultural Board and ACM, 2001)

Living among ruins. Living among objects, in one’s own and others’ spaces. Building upon the ruins of history. Abolishing the error and the horror? Building upon the projects of modernity? Beginning over and over again. Building upon poverty , upon silence and emptiness? No aesthetics without ethics. From the city’s desert following the battle, Berlin levelled by the bombs, expertly set by Roberto Rosselini in Germania, anno zero (1947), to the contemporary city’s opulence based on everyday speculation, for instance, the Barcelona in the devastation of one’s memory, reliably documented by José Luis Guerin in En construcción (2001). The transformations of urban space, changes in the ways of everyday life erase the moral memory of collective history, but also one’s own experiences, the mute presence of everyday objects, the invisible trace of public and private habits. In the devastated landscape of our individual and collective memory, the presence of architecture and everyday objects, the inner space, domestic space occupies a supreme territory in building our personal imagination, in building our shared life. “Architecture is the genuine battle ground of our spirit”, wrote Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, in 1950.

In a scene from Ordet (The Word) (1955), the great poem set into a film by Dreyer, Johannes, the fool, the mystic ¾who, through his faith will make the miracle of life come true¾, in a conversation with the pastor, who feels perplexed, who enters Borgen’s house and states: “I’m a builder… I build houses, but man doesn’t want to live in them… They want to build them themselves… But they can’t no matter how hard they try. And therefore some live in half-finished huts… others in ruins… but most wander about without a house or a home.”

Around the time when Dreyer was filming Ordet, in August 1954, Heidegger, who had never uttered a word of criticism about the nazi barbarity, was completing a volume called, Conferences and Articles (Vorträge und Aufsätze), in which, among other papers, he mentioned his famous text “Build, inhabit, think” (Bauen Wohnen Denken), from a conference he presented in 1951. The philosopher stated: “The genuine penury of residing lies in the fact that we mortals must first seek to discover once again the art of residing, we have to learn first how to reside.” Because “only if we are capable of residing may we build.”

Around the same time, Maurice Blanchot, in L’espace littéraire (Literary Space) (1955), wrote that, in literary work, in the work of art, uncovering the truth will not lead us to see the light, unlike what Heideggaer stated, but rather will lead us into darkness, to the nomad’s desert, endless wandering, the anonymity of nowhere. Huts in the desert.

It may be cinema that is the art through which the difficulty of modern man to inhabit the world has been shown, in a more direct and diverse way, in a sustainable way, in balance with nature, and holding a conversation with the other, following the contemporary ways of life governed by speed, violence, usury, consumerism and the loss of individual and collective identities. The need of a house, one’s own home, a domestic space where it is possible to find privacy, even if this is set in a nomadic way of life, which beside spaces that are really public, allow a free, sovereign and supportive subject to become, in our society which is far too obsessed with show business, one of the primary needs of the contemporary individual.

One of the most moving scenes in the world of cinema at the end of the 20th century is the one shown in Offret (Sacrifice) (1986), Andrei Tarkovski’s cinematography testament. It concerns a six-minute sequence which shows how Alexander, the film’s main character sets light to and watches, silently, while his wooden house burns, situated beside the sea, on an island. This is no gratuitous or nihilistic feat, but rather a real sacrifice. It is a radical and solitary gesture, Alexander decides to get rid of everything, even his own home and his beloved son, so as to save humanity, his family, from a possible world catastrophe. Alexander’s house, the Offret house, makes up the symbolic centre of the extraordinary parable by Tarkovski which decries the materialism and nihilism of the western world and calls for a spiritual or religious experience, the individual’s responsibility, as the only ways for us to escape from destruction. The initial image and the end of Offret which are shown by Alexander’s son watering a wilted dry tree — symbol of faith, according to Tarkovski — symbolise hope in the future which the author of Andrei Rublev or Stalker wishes to convey.

Beside these messianic examples, the utopian dream of a modern project is built dealing with rational architecture which has also been inherited from the art and thought of the 20th century, which has struggled to project, with some obvious success and failure, a new way of life, a new way of residing, with the will, even, of succeeding in changing society. It is the tradition of the illustration project, of architectural modernity, majestically represented by Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe or Alvar Aalto, whom Domènec has reclaimed and revised in a number of the most outstanding works in recent years.

Domènec (Mataró, 1962), with admirable coherence and honesty, has focused his artistic work on critical and lyrical thought concerning the paradoxes and mysteries of modern life, concerning our way of residing, based on our relationship with space and objects. Based on conceptual processes of thought, Domènec has gradually created a pictorial, sculptural, object-oriented, photographic and video-graphic work which takes the project of object-oriented and architectural design as if they were one of the most productive and complex imaginary constructions of modern tradition. Domènec extracts ambiguous objects, disturbing facilities and perplexing visions from the contradictory results and the multiple fissures of the project of architectural, artistic and philosophical modernity, all of which raises the question concerning failures in political, social and esthetical utopias while addressing the spiritual misery and the existential absurdity of our everyday lives, our domestic lives. The cultural and social alienation of the individual as one of the clearest consequences of modern capitalism in the Western world becomes one of the most recurring ideas in the work of Domènec.

In an intuitive and gradual way, and thanks to the possibilities gained through recognition of his work, Domènec has gradually widened the scope of his artistic exploration, ranging from the creation of small-sized paintings and sculptures to the building of areas where one may walk through or even works of large scale facilities.

During the nineties, Domènec concentrated on the world of sculpture, always from a highly original practice, mainly working on series of exhibits with small dimensions which have gradually grown. Characterised by their sensuality of touch as well as being formal, the sculptures from the Freeze series (1994-1996), made in wood and nails, surprise one due to their capacity of creating fascination while at the same time, rejection or, even, disgust. As the fetishes of African cultures, the sculptures in the Freeze series do not leave us unmoved. These works, whose abstract organic shapes come from the subconscious or remind us of animal shapes or everyday objects, such as larvae or cushions, constitute single colour sculptures, an off white, covered, in some cases with nails or thorns, such as cacti, sea urchins or hedgehogs.

The works in the Freeze series provoke, voluntarily, distance, coldness. They are ambiguous sculptures, between the everyday object and fetish, which, because of their crafted finish and their organic shapes, become distanced equally from the pieces of a minimalist type and those of a conceptual origin. These characteristics are highlighted even more in the series titled Híbrids (1996-1998), sculptures also made of wood, hand turned on a lathe, equally monochrome, in white, in which the possible functional or aesthetic features of the object are mixed. Hybrids, mysterious enigmatic objects, which begin by showing holes, or opening up their inner sides until they form inhabitable spaces. Pieces which evoke the idea of a nest, the idea of a cave, the idea of the mother’s womb. The lack of communication, isolation, which the works from the Freeze series seemed to transmit, begins to become clear in the pieces from the Híbrids series, which appear to long to open themselves up to space and to hold a plausible dialogue with the other.

El rostre aliè (Someone else’s face) is the title of two different pieces which, in my opinion, highlight certain milestones in the evolution of Domènec’s work. As a result of a joint workshop held with the Portuguese artist Cabrita Reis, held in Montesquiu, in 1994, Domènec created an ephemeral installation titled El rostre aliè. This concerned a rectangular wooden structure placed outdoors, exposed to the wind and rain, hollow, and painted white, where the only thing highlighted was the appearance of a mantelpiece, also painted in white, which bore no object or thing. Like an empty secular temple, like an anti-monument, El rostre aliè (1994) was the first sculptural piece with an architectural structure created by Domènec. The opening to a dialogue, before someone else’s face, however, does not appear to be the functional aim of this construction at all, which fails to turn into a confessional or an area for transcendental meditation either. With the same title of El rostre aliè, in 1997, Domènec created a sculpture which had the shape of a mask but devoid of the openings for the eyes or mouth and which was meant to be placed on a wall, thus the likely wearer of the mask ¾as the creator himself has shown in a series of photographs¾ has to be placed facing the wall. It is the impossible task of striking up a dialogue, the impossible task of the glance, the rejection of the other. But, also, the need for otherness. Je est un autre, wrote Rimbaud. Our face is someone else’s face, the other myself. The dialogue, as Freud has shown us, begins in oneself. Without the inner opening, without the opening up to the other, dialogue cannot begin. It is based on this need for a dialogue, of this need for opening up, that the area opens up, where architecture appears like a place, a living space, a place where one can exchange things and a place for communication, or for a lack of communication, providing isolation or silence.

In an excerpt from the outstanding text titled “Ablèpsia, l’artista cec” (Ablepsia, the Blind Artist), dating back to 1997, Domènec reflects on a photographed portrait of Buster Keaton, who appears sitting with both his hands open covering his eyes. It is a still from the movie titled Film (1964), the only incursion into the movie world by Samuel Beckett. As if he were referring to El rostre aliè (1994 and 1997), Domènec wrote: “The difficulty of understanding what we see, the impossibility of the look. The artist is like a blind man within a totally white cold storage room, overtaken by a feverish dizziness, whom in an effort of dubious usefulness attempts to make art become a skin which wraps the chaos, the materialisation of a large hole. Petit vide grande lumière cube tout blancheur faces sans trace aucun souvenir [Samuel Beckett, Sans]. The white blindness, a nowhere place.”

The series of photographs titled Blanc com la llet (White as Milk) (1998) is the witness of the appearance of a number of fragile and delicate organic shapes, parallel to the latest works from the Híbrids series. This deals with enlargements of photographs of small ephemeral models, made in white plasticine and later destroyed. These are totally ambiguous from which may be compared to body organs or precarious living spaces, clay huts, the dens of several different animals. We may also evoke the irregular shapes of a cave. The danger and the strangeness of these mysterious and particular areas, elemental and simple living spaces, express a nomadic existence, exposed to the elements, reduced to the minimum expression. In Höhlenausgänge (Departures from the Cave) (1989) — as Franz Josef Wetz remarked in his study concerning the German philosopher —, Hans Blumenberg features man as a visible being who escapes from reality by sheltering in the invisibility of the cave. The visibility of the cave obliges man to become aware of his nakedness and his defenselessness. “There is only one way out of the cave — states Blumenberg —, the one that is in ourselves.”

In the midst of a culture obsessed by show business, by audiovisual simulations of the virtual image, opening oneself up to a new critical look, building up once again from poverty, from the realities which we experience. A new primitivism, a new humanism, which places man above technique. If the experience of progress has led us to war and destruction, experience and poverty bring us back to everyday life, back to the pleasure of a simple and free life. This is what Walter Benjamin experienced in Ibiza, and where he set his article in 1933 titled “Erfahnung und arumt” “Experience and poverty”, some years before his tragic death in Portbou, in 1940, as recalled by Vicente Valero in his biographical essay Experience and Poverty. Walter Benjamin in Ibiza, 1932-1933 (2001). “A poverty which leads us to start all over again, to think all over again from scratch, to get by with very little, to build with almost nothing, without turning one’s head either left or right. Among the great creators, there have always been impeccable spirits who began from scratch,” says Benjamin in his article “Experience and Poverty”, in which he mentioned, for instance, the works by Paul Klee or Adolf Loos.

It is the tradition of modernity, of the avant-garde, always beginning again, which sought other ways, in the return to our origins, to primitivism, to the essential things, the freeing of the academia, the freeing of an accumulation of history, of being free from the dependence of technique. And if, from among the constraints and weaknesses of minimal art and conceptual art, arte povera was to arise, at the same time as the excesses of the most frivolous post modern art, there has emerged a more critical post modern art, and more politically compromised, which has taken up again and reordered ideas, attitudes and proposals of conceptual art, minimal art, of arte povera. Domènec places himself, with his unusual work, within this critical post modern art which, by critically going over the tradition of modernity, does not renounce, here and now, hic et nunc, the fact of building a livable area, both individual and collective, from the most extreme poverty and lucidity.

In the last years of the nineties, Domènec began to work on projects which are based on precise architectural references. The installation titled 24 hores de llum artificial (24 Hours of Artificial Light) (1998-1999) recreates on full scale a room in the tuberculosis hospital in Paimio (1929-1933) made by Alvar Aalto —considered as a model due to its open relationship with natural elements—, which becomes a large wooden model on a full scale, devoid of windows, where the beds and the hospital equipment become monochrome sculptures which have nothing to do with their original function, useless objects, lit up excessively by the blinding light of neon lights which dazzle the view of the visitor. The project by Aalto concerning Paimio, in the recreation by Domènec, no longer exists, it has been deleted, neutralised, annihilated. The place in Paimio has become a nowhere. Heterotopia has become displacement. Domènec brings us face to face with the transformation of a utopian space of a modern project in a displaced space, devoid of personality, lifeless. Domènec’s negative critical reinterpretation is no criticism aimed at Aalto, but rather, it is obvious, a criticism of the evolution of our society which has blinded, annulled, impaired modern architectural projects. As if Domènec has reinterpreted Aalto based on Beckett. As Martí Peran mentioned in his article “24 hores de llum artificial. After Alvar Aalto” (1998): “the installation, in spite of Aalto’s accurate shadow, could easily be the room where Malone lay in death’s agony”. Have we really ended up living in a universal cloned clinic?

Un lloc (A Place) (2000) and Ici même (dins de casa) [Ici même (At Home)] (2000) share the presence of a model, and the photograph of this model in the woods, in one of Le Corbusier’s most renowned works: la Unité d’habitation in Marseille (1947-1952). The emblematic building of living quarters designed by Le Corbusier in Marseille which studies the creation of a rigorously new way of residence and of constituting veritable communities, converted into a furniture-model (it could also be a mini-bar) made in wood, painted white, becomes the fetiche, the curio, the absent centre of a single room in the installation of Un lloc (A Place). Beside the model of the Unité d’habitation, a bed, a chair and a bookshelf make up the austere and monochrome furniture reduced to the minimum expression. The contrast between the presence of the furniture piece-model and the absence of dialogue with the other inexpressive elements in the room, considers inverting one’s own place, from the private place, into the no-place of the impersonal space of contemporaneity.

What does the simplifying and trivialising model of Le Corbusier’s building stand for in the installation titled Un lloc? It is true that —as was explained by Stanislaus von Moos in his biography on Le Corbusier— the Swiss architect sets out formally from the idea of a case of bottles. The separate houses are placed in the reinforced concrete structure like bottles in a case. But Domènec is not so interested in the wealth and formal and structural complexity of the work as in the paradigmatic character of the building when considering a utopian housing project of, as an emblem of modernity as well as an aesthetic, political and social project.

In the work titled Ici même (dins de casa) (2000) the photograph of the model of the Unité d’habitation has become a simple iconoclastic advertising slogan placed in an area reserved for publicity inside a shelter built for a bus stop. Domènec has even edited the image of the model of Le Corbusier’s building in a serigraph, photographed in a forest, to make it into a simulation of a commercial which had been placed in different places for urban exhibits designed in Mataró and Banyoles. The recreation of the emblem of modernity has become a make, a logotype, a simple advertising slogan devoid of all real aim save one’s own critical referentiality which is proposed by Domènec’s project. Like a post modern ruin, like a boat adrift, the image of modernity offered to us by Domènec is frankly pessimistic, between the pure propaganda and the theme park the remains of the wreckage of modernity arise. Faced with banality and simulation, just an archaeology of knowledge, a profound and critical look, can bring us back, even though it is with sincere scepticism, the spirit of utopia.

 As a precedent of the work and urban involvement Ici même (dins de casa), Domènec, in the framework of the project of an exhibition called Segona estació (Second Station) in Benifallet, built the installation titled Ici même (1999). The same prototype of a bus shelter he designed for Ici même (dins de casa), made of wood, painted white, with a long bench to sit upon and a roof to protect the user from the elements, was placed in the middle of the countryside, in a place where no means of transport existed. The difference is that the bright space reserved for advertisements is empty, it only projects white light on the visitor to the exhibition. Ici même, here and now, hic et nunc. Domènec created a place, an area where time stood still, a new area for relationships, for exchanges, for dialogues, for conversation, for thought, which, above all because of its brightness, has been used at night in several public festivals, as a number of photographs and videos prove. This public place, which has also become a no-place, a place in white, hollow, devoid of all type of added symbols or images, an available place, a free place.

The video titled Amb el fred dins de casa (With the Cold within the House) (2001), he shows us how a common glass cup is filled with milk and how a hand takes the cup and straight away swigs the liquid down. This is a type of endless video, recorded with just one fixed camera, with a complete technical austerity. The raised volume of this daily occurrence and the infinite repetition of this anonymous gesture of filling and drinking the milk offer us an ambivalent and ambiguous reading. On the one hand, it makes us think of the need to value more deeply our usual actions, our everyday gestures; on the other hand, it brings us face to face with the repetition and the banality of our lives. As the shocking memory of a glass of milk gulped down every morning, the recollection and the presence of the apparently simplest and most insignificant actions also form part of our deep experience which make up our present and our future.

Like silent witnesses of a unique and enigmatic existence, the works by Domènec appear to us like anthropological objects, like anthropological places or like anthropological thoughts concerning the present from the field of art. The inside and the outside, the house and the street, before the workshop, the gallery or the museum, become the places where works of art are shown. Like the uninhabited area which was created by the burnt down house of Offret (Sacrifice), the film by Tarkovski, Domènec considers the work of art as a continuous new beginning from white, from emptiness, from nothingness. “In the true reality of our world today, the places and the areas, the places and the nowheres become intertwined, become penetrated among themselves”, states Marc Augé in Non-lieux. Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité (1992). Building the place for art is opening the area of thought; going deeper into the complexity of our existence; opening up our freedom, both individual and collective; preserving areas of privacy, the most particular things belonging to areas and cultures; while, at the same time, freeing the areas, the places and the nowheres, from political, economic, social and cultural borders which are limited by the physical and mental maps of our world.

Manuel Guerrero

Domènec. Unité Mobile (Roads Are Also Places). Martí Peran

When a hermeneutic aesthetics is obliged to intelligibly describe the premises according to which works of art have an essential raison d’être, but one that only manifests itself when those works are put into practice by interpretation, the most relevant example to draw on is the game. In effect, thanks to a long tradition of examining the impulse to play, this appears as a paradigm of the truth of aesthetic experience, that which occurs only and exclusively through the act of putting the works in play. There can be different rules and norms, instruments and player, but the game as such only comes into being in a here and now, through the action that sets this whole compendium of elements in motion. This reflection gives aesthetics the pretext it needs not to hold on to certain idealistic bases that have already entered into irreversible crisis and thus to continue to cling to the belief that art has an essence, which may be meagre and fleeting (only revealed in the instant of playing/ performing/ interpreting), but still effective for all that.

But the game is something more than a lovely trick for rescuing idealistic suppositions. Together with that almost desperate interpretation, the game can also be conceptualized as a direct product of homo ludens – in the line in which this was reworked by Huizinga and then taken up by the Situationists – and seen more as a way of consummating a real experience rather than as an (aesthetic) experience of truth. This may seem a very minor adjustment, but it is crucial. While hermeneutics seeks to maintain the idea of art as a means of access to a profound truth, the new game theory is solely committed to the value ofthe experience in real time, not oniy alien to a possible universe of categorical principles, but also free of any productive obligation. The game can thus be converted into an effective strategy, not for maintaining an antiquated epistemology, but for toppling it once and for all. After suitably amending its Surrealist antecedents (the game, like the dream, has always been a mirror in which to observe deep unconscious impulses), the Situationists played to create situations with this new perspective: convinced that only the freedom ofthe game permits the construction of an equally free subject, capable of accumulating real experiences instead of getting lost in the search for an ineffable meaning.

Unité Mobile (Roads Are Also Places) is, in the first instance, a toy; a remote-controlled truck that can be driven at one’s pleasure. It would be wrong to call it a sculpture, or even a mobile sculpture that, once set in motion, is reinstated as such. It is a toy – to continue with the dichotomy we have established here – that is not idealistic but Situationist. The clearest proof of this is, of course, the use of a model of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation as the truck’s container. The gesture is eloquent: the modern architectural paradigm for the happy dwelling, conceived as universal solution on the basis of excessively predetermined and utopian premises, has now been converted into a mere playful instrument, restless and absurd if it is not handled with freedom. The proposition expresses a dual intention: play as a paraphrase ofthe value of real experience, flexible and non-productive and, in addition, a game that subverts the illusory pretensions of modernity, taking the place of dreams by constructing a solid anchorage in the world – and the Unité is a paradigm in its forms of resolving, architectonically, this epistemological illusion of being in the world – with a mobile toy that is domestic, actually usable and vulnerable.

The video recording ofthe remote-controlled unit circulating freely in the corridors ofthe Unité d’Habitation in Marseille redoubles the intentions ofthe project. It is in the self-same static space designed as a universal container of habitation that a ludic mobility – the same ludic mobility that Constant expressed in “The Principle of Disorientation” – 1 is now imposed: a ludic mobility capable of managing its own trajectories, in much the same way as the inhabitants of the Unité ended up modifying the archetype by constantly adapting it to their needs.

Martí Peran
“Mira cómo se mueven”. Fundación Telefónica, Madrid 2005

1 “There will no longer be any centre to be reached, but instead an infinite number of moving centres. There will no longer be any chance of getting off track in the sense of getting lost, but rather in the more positive sense of finding previously unknown paths.” Constant, “The principle of disorientation” in X. Costa / L. Andreotti (eds), Situationists. Art, Politics, Urbanism, MACBA/ Actar, Barcelona, 1996, pp. 86-87.

24h de llum artificial. David G. Torres

Hace ya tiempo que estamos un tanto desengañados. Desengañados de nuestro mundo, conscientes que no nos queda lugar para las utopías. En fin, llevamos algún tiempo habitando el fracaso de la modernidad. Y sin embargo esta condición que afecta tan de lleno al arte, si bien ha calado en el discurso, no lo ha hecho tanto en la actitud del artista. Me refiero a la imposibilidad de seguir pensando en la radicalidad, y en la necesidad de encontrar soluciones que no se conformen con la mediocridad cotidiana o la mezquindad de mi yo y mis circunstancias. Domènec es un artista que no piensa en los extremos sino en los cruces de esos extremos; que no ofrece una obra basada en la seducción (atrapando al vuelo los discursos a la moda) sino que en su pensamiento artístico por esquivo y complejo podríamos hablar de una mecánica seductora. Y una vez más, que nadie se equivoque, que parta de la complejidad no significa que sea difícil, sino que su obra puede resultar todo lo contrario. A fin y al cabo, su propuesta principal en esta exposición es muy sencilla: la reproducción de una habitación del hospital antituberculosis de Alvar Aalto en Paimio (Finlandia).

Aunque no se trata exactamente de la reproducción de la habitación diseñada por Aalto. Más bien es la reproducción de la habitación “ideal” de Aalto. En palabras del arquitecto: “una habitación con gran cantidad de luz, con equilibrio de sus características acústicas y con un uso del color que garantice un ambiente general tranquilo”. Aalto pensaba en una arquitectura que desarrollase el funcionalismo hacia una dimensión humana, casi íntima. Sin embargo, cuando Domènec convierte su habitación en un verdadero lugar ocupado por la luz multiplicada por fluorescentes (“24 horas de luz artificial” es el título de la exposición), totalmente blanco, con todos los objetos hechos en superficies suaves de madera y una fina capa de yeso, sin esquinas; no estamos muy seguros de encontrarnos en “casa”. Catherine Millet en una conferencia comentaba que no creía que el fin de la modernidad coincidiese con su fracaso, sino tal vez con su éxito, cumplimiento decía ella. En la medida en la que el arte había ocupado la ciudad en espacios públicos e inimaginados hasta la fecha y en la medida que la imagen que los artistas modernos habían creado ocupa nuestras vidas en la televisión, las tiendas, el diseño etc. Su conclusión venía a ser que vivíamos en el paraíso prometido por los artistas modernos, y sin embargo si echamos una ojeada a nuestro alrededor nos damos cuenta de que tal paraíso se parece demasiado al infierno. La habitación de Domènec, la habitación de Aalto, tampoco es demasiado cómoda.

El trabajo de Domènec plantea una incomodidad física: esa habitación, el colmo de la medida humana, es casi cruel en su calidez, en la luz sofocante que oculta los contornos. Y plantea una incomodidad intelectual porque ya no trabaja en los extremos, no busca un contra-argumento frente a la modernidad, no quiere subvertirla, no desvela sus errores, sino que la subraya, la sigue al pie de la letra y entonces muestra que no funciona. ¡Qué no funciona!, ¿qué es lo que no funciona? No será que la habitación de Aalto en Paimio es una excusa, un punto de partida y no el núcleo de la reflexión. Y si ni tan sólo se trata de reflexión sino de la presentación directa de un conflicto irresoluble con los objetos, con nuestros objetos, con nuestras casas y vidas. Porque los objetos, habitaciones y casas de Domènec funcionan perfectamente en cuanto tales. Nos atraen y nos rechazan, hechos de madera y yeso son cálidos y fríos al tiempo. Naturales y artificiales delatan nuestra incapacidad para sostenerlos, en un paraíso que se parece demasiado al infierno. Frente a esa habitación tan segura de si misma que nos expulsa, Domènec tan sólo presenta un díptico fotográfico: “Blanco como la leche”. Un agujero, una caverna, una mísera casa hecha en plastelina, que se desmorona, que es precaria. Entre contradicciones la obra de Domènec está hecha de objetos híbridos.

Esta idea, esta palabra, “híbrido”, es central en el trabajo de Domènec. Cuando al principio escribía que su pensamiento artístico se sitúa en un cruce de extremos, en realidad me refería a una condición híbrida. Pero no es que esa palabra sea imprescindible para explicar la obra (que a diferentes niveles se explica por si sola) sino que muestra una adecuación extraña de encontrar entre el aspecto puramente formal de la obra, su recepción y sus argumentos conceptuales. Al final no nos importa si vivimos el fin de la modernidad o no, sino que entre el desengaño y la mediocridad encontramos retratadas nuestras limitaciones en objetos híbridos hechos de un pensamiento híbrido. Y lo más importante es el control que sobre ello tiene Domènec al medir con precisión lo expuesto en la sala de la calle Mocada, solamente dos obras.

David G. Torres
Barcelona, diciembre 1998

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