Centre de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona,|
Nov 09, 2010 - Feb 27, 2011
The Baroque D_Effect
by Joaquín Barriendos
THE (ADAMANTLY) BAROQUE IN THE LABYRINTH OF LA HISPANIDAD
On the eve of what Ibero-American diplomacy agreed to call the Fifth Centennial –Encounter between Two Worlds, the Catalan writer Xavier Rubert de Ventós published a book titled El laberinto de la hispanidad (The Labyrinthof the Hispanic World, 1987). In it he defines the Spanish Baroque as an adamant classicism (clasicismo numantino), i.e., as the style of a nation that seeks to modernize by perpetuating a classic model that, trapped as it is in a counter-Reformation traditionalism, only succeeds in securing a distorted, temperamental, heraldic, centralist and anachronic political agreement. From this perspective, the Spanish Baroque is the opposite of a Calvinist rational modernity: a peninsular baroque style of politics that is so obsessed with the Pyrrhic restoration of its classicism that it can only be lived as a fantasy. As the author states, "In El laberinto de la hispanidad I understood the baroque as a way of continuing to be classical in a world that was not." The pathology of the Spanish baroque would therefore consist of concentrating Colonial power (not just political and mercantile, but cognitive and semantic too) through the farce of inclusion, crossbreeding, self-reflection and the critique of individualism. Rubert de Ventós states: "Personally I should recognize that the admiration I feel as a classicist for the enormous figurative and interpretative drive of the Spanish Baroque is mixed with the fear that its fundamentalist, all-encompassing drive to dominate awakens in me as a liberal". An all-encompassing drive that, as Ventós himself rightly points out, did not end with the fall of the Franco dictatorship, but continued beyond the period known as the transition.
As we know, it was by affirmatively sublimating the Hispanic world as a universal race that the francoist regime promoted an expansive cultural policy designed to solve the problem of the negative uniqueness of the Spanish. This uniqueness was based on the idea that in the concert of the world’s nations, Spain distinguished itself through a defect: its irrational temperament, which made Spanish aura attractive as a literary allegory but deeply inconsistent as a political identity. Christian-Francoist Spanishness therefore spoke of overcoming certain negative Spanish traits so that the real Spanish way of being could be liberated and projected universally. Spanish-Man, dominated by an irrational temperament, would therefore be followed by Hispanic-Man, guided by reason. In his Nueva Visión de la Hispanidad (1947), Rafael Gil Serrano sheds light on this ideology: "When not properly channeled and directed, the Spanish temperament and its explosive passion is, we insist, the cause of all the Defects of the Men of Spain […] This phenomenon is typically Spanish, that is to say decidedly Spanish or non-Spanish, but by no means genuinely Hispanic". This is a complete paradox, since controlling unbridled passion is in fact the antithesis of the baroque. Gil Serrano’s vision of a new Hispanic Man would in this sense be an anti-baroque man of universal scope. As can be seen, that Spanishness was an attempt to blur the "Spanish issue" by ecumenically disseminating it, which meant foisting the dilemma of being Spanish throughout Hispanic America: it had to be experienced as an immanent issue in the whole Hispanic world. Gil Serrano himself suggested that the name America be replaced by Neohispania.
Rubert de Ventós attempted in El laberinto de la hispanidad to perform a vasectomy on the legacy of that Christian-Francoist Spanishness. This is how we should interpret him when he says the following (in a chapter symptomatically called Encounters in the Labyrinth): "May these notes serve, if nothing else, to show that the pathetic Spanish reflection on its identity can be complicated all the more by Catalan and Ibero-American reflection". In other words, he warns us that if we let a traditional Spanish point of view alone ruminate on the problem of being Hispanic, the flawed uniqueness of Spanishness will end up turning into a monstrosity of truly Hispanic proportions. Without meaning to do so, El laberinto de la hispanidad reminded us that we should be careful at the moment of celebrating the "encounter" between two worlds.
Almost a quarter of a century after its publication, the exhibition El D Efecto Barroco. Políticas de la Imagen Hispana (Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona, 11/2010 - 02/2011) attempts to blow the dust off Rubert de Ventós’s warning and proposes a new tour –riskier, more entertaining and enticingly controversial—through every last nook and cranny of the labyrinth of la Hispanidad. A labyrinth in which the Hispanic, what is Spanish, the Spanish itself, Hispanic America, Ibero-America –among other geographical, political, and linguistic speculations stemming from Spain’s colonial and imperial drive - are lumped together and used interchangeably despite their obvious historical and geopolitical differences. From the scenographic point of view, El D_Efecto Barroco is an 11-part suite that is well structured in terms of logic but fails to provide much continuity: between Luis Figueroa’s Mexican barrokitsch, the monumental opacity of Pedro G. Romero’s Archivos F.X., and the extracts of an interview of Rubert de Ventós and Harun Farocki’s video Die Schöpfer der Einkaufswelten there are as few or as many connections as meet the eye of the beholder. If we accept this as a virtue rather than a defect, then we must address this comment more to the exhibition’s suggestive terminological speculations than to the consistency of each artwork in regard to the curatorial discourse (the show includes dozens of hours of interviews of such a diverse group of individuals that it is difficult to think of a common thread running through them).
Our general perception is that El D Efecto Barroco fluffs out the idea of adamant classicism set forth by Rubert de Ventós to such an extent that it swivels 180 degrees on itself and ends up turning into adamant baroque politics, i.e., an account of the politics of the Hispanic image, in which everything that is defective, crazy, deformed, populist, kitsch or gimmicky tends to be interpreted as being baroque, even if it is expressed in classic forms or as a denial of the baroque. From this perspective, King Juan Carlos of Spain’s headline-grabbing, tasteless "Why don’t you shut up?" comment to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez during the XVII Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State should be read as the "classic" expression of flawed baroque policy in the Hispanic world. In other words, it should be understood as the most accomplished Churrigueresque style of the Iberoamerican aid policy started by Spanish ex-president Felipe González.