Francesc Torres (Barcelona, 1948) worked as an apprentice in his father’s printing workshop and trained as a graphic artist. In those years, the poverty of the cultural and artistic scene in the Spanish dictatorship stimulated many artists to leave the country: Paris and New York were the most desirable destinations. In 1967, Francesc Torres moved to Paris to continue his studies at the Ecole des BeauxArts and he became an assistant to the artist Piotr Kowalski. During this time, he began producing non-functional, industrial work that followed the strategies of Minimalism in its formal and material basis. Yet, the tumultuous events of May 1968 redirected his activities and he worked on posters for the movement of workers and students until it collapsed under the force of de Gaulle’s conservative government. He moved back to Spain to do his military service, something, which as he stated, provided him with “first-hand insight into military behaviour as well as a great deal of information for my subsequent work”. Shortly after, he moved to Chicago and then to New York, where he has lived since 1974. He has had numerous solo exhibitions in institutions such as the International Center of Photography (New York), the Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofía (Madrid), the Institut Valencia d’Art Modern (Valencia), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, List Visual Arts Center (Cambridge, USA), Sala Rekalde (Bilbao), Arizona State University Art Museum (Tempe, Arizona), Queens Museum of Art (New York) and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (Ithaca, New York).
Living a political exile, the social repression that Torres encountered during the Franco regime influenced his later artistic production. The artist took a local conflict as a paradigm: the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship as an expression of universal and timeless violence. This thematic line has continued until the present, and is expressed in works such as Residual Regions (1978), Belchite/ South Bronx: A Trans-Cultural and Trans-Historical Landscape (1988) and Oscura es la habitación donde dormimos (2007).
Torres associates the familiar experience of resistance against fascism and the Franco dictatorship with the problem of collective memory and the major role of the war as an expression of the confrontation between ideologies. He considers speed as a condition of the battle, competition as sublimation of enmity in times of peace, and the symbols and signs of masculinity as expressions of threatening, dominating and destructive armament… Later, he turns back towards archaic symbols and archaeological remains that denote civilisation and lack of civilisation, speaking of the rationality or irrationality rooted in human beings.
(Shkoder, Albania, 1969)
Real Game, 1999
Autobiography is the starting point of many of Adrian Paci's works, but rather than trying to describe the experience of immigration through his own eyes, the artist decided to use those of his daughter Jolanda.
Real Game is the sequel to his video Albanian Stories (1997), a spontaneous ready-made, which simply records an innocent, childish game and a development of its reflections. Games and fairy tales historically played a key role in people's lives, bringing out uncomfortable truths only partially camouflaged by fantasy. Under the appearance of another common game – the artist pretends to be a teacher, with Jolanda the pupil – topics such as immigration, isolation and homesickness are raised again. Only in this instance the language is far more ripe, the story is better defined, and the references to animals and other fantastic tales left out in favour of a primitive form of self-consciousness and dry optimism.
(Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union, 1933 & Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union, 1945)
Model of the ‘Ship of Tolerance’, 2006
115 x 186 x 52 cm
Bamboo, hot melt, rope, textile
Inventory number: 3105, acquired in 2012
donation Ilya & Emilia Kabakov
Ship of Tolerance is a project by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov that started in 2005 in Siwa, Egypt. Its goal was to engage children and young adults from different cultures and backgrounds in a conversation about the meaning of tolerance and the appreciation of differences in cultures and ideas. With the help of local artists and art teachers, they translated their ideas into drawings that were used for the ship’s sails. The ship itself was built by student carpenters, guided by carpenters from Manchester, UK.
From 2006, the ship travelled to cities like Venice, Sharjah, Miami, Havana, Moscow and New York. Each time local children and young adults were invited to participate in workshops, discussing, drawing and contributing to the creation of the sails, while hundreds of visitors came by to learn about the project and view the construction. Using the tremendous media coverage of their project, the Kabakovs were able to show how art can contribute to a world of people that are curious about each other, respect differences and are able to learn from each other. Born and educated in the Soviet Union in 1933 (Ilya) and 1945 (Emilia), the art of the Kabakovs is deeply rooted in the Soviet social and cultural context. While Emilia immigrated in 1973 via Israel to New York, Ilya only moved in 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism. Their collaboration only started in 1988.
Ilya Kabakov started his career in the 1950s as an illustrator of children’s books. He was a member of the Union of Soviet Artists and as such he was secured steady work and income, but had to accept censorship. Besides his ‘official art’, he started to produce ‘unofficial art’ credited to an alter ego. His work has always been inspired by daily life and the kafkaesque situations he experienced. Questioning and analysing ideologies, convinced him that authoritarian will to power always makes projects fail. Against this background, the Ship of Tolerance project is a beautiful call for inclusiveness, open-mindedness and respect as the basis for a shared world to live in.
(Lerik, Azerbaijan, 1959)
In 1980, Badi Badalov moved to Leningrad in the Soviet Union where he lived until 1990. He was active in the city’s unofficial art scene and became a member of the independent artist group TEII, the Society of Experimental Visual Art. Now he lives in England. Badalov’s work straddles the boundary between visual art and poetry. Indeed he sometimes presents his work as ‘visual poetry’ and works with painting, installation and performance as well as with experimental and improvisational literary formats. The mixing of different languages and orthographic systems and the combination of words and images is a signature of his work in all genres. Badalov is dedicated to exploring the limits of language and the limitations it imposes upon its users. People leading nomadic lives – artists, but also economic migrants or political refugees – will experience the struggles and rewards of cultural adaptation, but can also find themselves prisoners of language. Badalov plays with such situations to hint at broader geopolitical issues. M HKA acquired Badalov’s installation VOAIZOVA (War is Over) (2010) in connection with the exhibition series Europe at Large. The work consists of plastic fragments from glasses and ballpoint pens arranged in two areas on the floor, a colourful visual poem based on a sequence of capital letters (VOAIZOVA) and a voice rendering of the same sequence that (almost) sounds like the English phrase “war is over”. There is also a sketchbook, displayed on a podium, with additional visual poems, many of them based on a refined doodle aesthetic.
(Santiago de Chile, Chile, 1940 – New York, USA, 1993)
Video Trans Americas, 1976
Video installation: dimensions variable, edition 1/3
Betacam SP, black and white, sound
Fourteen-channel video (Yucatán, 1973, 28'22"; Guatemala, 1973, 27'30"; New York/Texas 1, 1974, 20'; New York/Texas 2, 1974, 20'; La Frontera I, 1976, 14'18"; La Frontera II, 1976, 12'45"; Lima, 1975, 28'; Machu-Picchu, 1975, 28'; Uros I, 1975, 20'; Uros II, 1975, 20'; Nazca I, 1976, 10'08"; Nazca II, 1976, 10'08"; Inca I, 1976, 20'; Inca II, 1976, 20'; Betacam SP and DVD) and silhouette of the map of America. Inventory number: AD04012
Juan Downey (Santiago de Chile, 1940 – New York, 1993) focused on art’s approach to life, steering his work closer to experience than to the production of objects. His installation Video Trans Americas brings together a selection of videos he recorded on the first stage of the trip he carried out around the American continent from 1973 to 1976, with stops in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. In this project, Downey sought to identify the common values in different American cultures, offering the viewer an interconnected map of America and a mirror to discover some of its communities.
Pinochet’s coup d’état and the death of President Allende in 1973 had a profound effect on him at the outset of the journey, and his output took on new interpretations governed by the political situation. Despite the feeling of dislocation he experienced and the dualism shared with exiles and immigrants, Downey, who settled in New York at the end of the 1960s, remained strongly bound to his identity as a Chilean and maintained close contact with the artistic and socio-political reality in his country.
(Santiago de Chile, Chile, 1940 – New York, USA, 1993)
Still from the video installation Video Trans Americas