What would I mean if I were to say that something happened a moment ago?
Where could the event be to which I refer?
What would it mean if I were to say I am free? Where could I be in my freedom?
I am sitting in her studio, speaking with Margarita Andreu. She has not posed these questions, but somehow they pose themselves as I listen, and find myself formulating a proposition that would embrace the body of Andreu's practice. That proposition could be simply expressed as taking the measure of the distance we experience, and the proximity we feel. And because, after all, Andreu is an artist, the field in which this proposition functions takes two quite tangible forms - the screen and the curtain. Tangible, but not necessarily evident, and I want to look at the evidence in order to explore the tangible.
Let us say I brush past you on the street. What does Andreu mean when she tells me that all her work could be contained in that simple moment of contact? And what does she mean when she says that to speak about space is illusory, that more precisely we can only speak within time, in stories, rather than in space?
What I take her to mean is that I can only be in one place at one time – I can only be 'here'. I cannot get closer to spatial reality - I will always be apart from it as it recedes into another reality as meanings shift around me: I can never be conscious within space itself. If I cannot 'get closer', I can however tell a different story. Like Arthur Schnitzler's Leutnant Gustl, you will tell a story about my brushing past you. The contact will remain a 'time when', in which the space of that time is only a subject. Space will be subject to the stories you will tell, just as your
stories will be subject to the rules of tense - the limits established by language.
I brush past you on the street, then. There are particular sensations attached to this act: feelings of transgression, the fluidity and resistance of bodies moving in space, the suspended quality of a momentary action neither anticipated nor subject to consequence. In short, it is an event whose significance rests on its construction of a reflexive moment. It is important to look at this question of reflexivity, and in particular its relationship to Andreu's tangible forms.
There is a central paradox concerning the nature of these forms that is deliciously apparent in the cinematic play acted out at the opening of every film screening. As the lush curtains slide away, signaling the origins of this experience in sexuality itself, the screen on which we are to watch the film is gradually and enticingly revealed to us as both a passive surface and a site of re-enactment. Indeed, because the film is projected even as the curtains part, we enjoy a thrill of passage as disguise gives way to, and colludes with disclosure. The thrill is more than that of passage alone: what constitutes the separate identities of the curtain and the screen is thrown into doubt, and the conundrum involved in parting the certainties of identification from those of identity sets the stage for our collusion with the make-belief stories which, after all, we came to see. This same paradoxical position - curtain and screen as definitional collusions - occupies a similarly central role in Andreu's practice. Moreover, just as the sliding curtain is 'lightly touched' by the intangibility of the projected film, Andreu's work depends as well on our recognition of two intangible elements implicit in both curtain and screen. These are the window and the mirror, and it is these subliminal elements which act to transport us, as in film, into the reflexive state Andreu calls 'beyond reflection'.
Curtains conceal. Yet in their concealing, they imply that which must be somehow concealed. In fact, in normal life, we know exactly what they conceal: the window. And why? Because it is ourselves who need to be concealed - from the gaze of others, those beyond the window. So the curtain, in its logic, acts as mirror to our own image.
Screens may conceal, but they also reveal. Again in normal life, we know the history of the screen as a decorative, even teasing division between subject and viewer, object of desire and unconsumated voyeur. The screen, too, acts like a mirror, returning us through our desire to our own 'reflections'. In contemporary life, of course, we know the screen as a site of projection, and here the screen becomes a window and ourselves, now, the consumated voyeur.
These, I believe, are some of the elements that constitute the ground – or perhaps it should rather be said, the narrative - that comprises Andreu's practice. A work from 1997 can serve as an example. In Movement, Andreu gives us the image of an office. The image is sensual, carrying that sense of intimacy associated with the stillness of shadows and filtered light. In the duration established through a series of four large-scale colour photographs, we notice in 'reading' from left to right certain slight shifts: the light from the window moves, and the room becomes noticeably darker or lighter, more mysterious or less mysterious; spatial relations between objects in the room change: a table's leg appears closer to a chair, a filing cabinet now hides the radiator. The framing of our view into the room itself is arranged differently too, as the position of the camera - and therefore ourselves - takes on an episodic fluidity. These shifts separate the experience of memory from the experience of space, prying apart our sense of engagement from our sense of order. Viscerally connected by virtue of their representation of a common place, each of the images establishes a different story, destabilizing the certainty of space through the instability of time.
Movement represents in photographic form Andreu's concern with passage and shift in her earlier site installations. In the 1996 work Mirador at Pamplona and Lleida, Andreu worked with these intangibles within the very tangible environment of large-scale architectural sculpture. In Mirador, one entered the space of the exhibition to find oneself facing a blank white curtain wall whose structure presented the visitor with three large windows - negative screens - beyond which a glass wall formed a barrier between 'here' and 'there'. In the catalogue, Annamaria Sandoná describes it this way:
The white structure with three openings which obliges the visitor to cross it, passing through a darker area, is the obstacle, the dark initiatic path towards the light, within the work, towards a new obstacle, a magical one this time, the surface of the glass on which the reflection of your own image and the architecture can barely be seen. The alteration - caused by the work - of familiar and known space is a means by which a moment of sensorial hyperaesthesia is created, from emptiness into silence, from the confusion of life to the regressive and indistinct self, like the shadows of Plato's cave.
I noted earlier that Andreu, in insisting on the primacy of narrative time over space, necessarily confronts us with the limits of language, and especially those imposed by tense. The questions I playfully suggested at the head of this text are cast in the subjunctive and conditional, and it is this mode of existence with which Andreu works. Perhaps it is not even that these specific questions matter, but rather that it is their natural proximity to conditional experience that alligns them with Andreu's practice in my mind. If language requires us to specify our place and time
in the world, the conditional tense is our only permitted evasion.
Freedom, and our response to its terms, remains one of our oldest and most persistent stories, as Sandoná implies in her reference to Plato's cave. In Leutnant Gustl, Schnitzler's parody of Viennese life, a young officer is consumed by agony and confusion as he debates within himself whether he must challenge the man who has brushed against him on the street, or alternatively to simply commit suicide. Andreu takes up that same event, not as parody, but as a kaleidoscope moment of situational improbabilities. For both, what happened a moment ago can only be a story we tell ourselves, and freedom is locatable only in doubt. In Andreu's words: "I thought I was free, when I was only being precise". In her work, Andreu's precision parts a curtain, revealing the hesitant stories which constitute the projections of our freedom - as we brush against one another for a moment in passing)