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THE VOICE OF L'OLIVAR


La nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois surtir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des fôrets de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.
Charles Baudelaire, “Correspondances”, Les fleurs de mal, 1875.1

 

Nature speaks. It has a secret eloquence; un-codified, accessible by empathy. In order to listen, to receive it’s teaching, it’s consolation, we should discard all arrogance, abandon pretensions to interpretation, and practice a more humble but, at the same time, more audacious way of listening. One of the surprises that await us upon visiting Pladevall’s L’olivar is that some of the sculptures have, in this natural setting, sound-producing qualities. The Tramontana wind or the lightest breezes draw forth a subtle sound from his totemic pieces; they penetrate deep inside, searching out intimate labyrinths and project a far-away hum.


August Strindberg, the Swedish playwright, close friend of Edvard Munch (who was fascinated by the undulating echoes of  the countryside) and of Nietzsche (who thought and wrote while on walking trips in the mountains) produced a remarkable and fascinating body of visual work, with photographic experiments capturing the light of the stars and abstract landscapes carved with a spatula.


In 1894 Strindberg wrote a visionary essay entitled “New Directions in Art! Or the Role of Chance in Artistic Creation.” It opens with the following reflection – “It is said that the Malays cut orifices into bamboo stalks growing in forests. Then, when the wind blows, the savages lie on the ground and listen to the symphonies played by those colossal Aeolian harps.” And concludes that the art of the future should “imitate, before all else, nature’s manner of creation”.


This is an example of what Enric Pladevall achieves with rare insight: a dialogue with nature. Not only for the bringing together of natural forces but also, like the romantics, as a means of self-discovery and self-positioning in the world. Despite these revealing coincidences, if we had to place Pladevall in an artistic tradition, it would not be a Nordic one but a Mediterranean one springing from Gaudí and Miró.  
Enric Pladevall has a workshop, a garden, where he tests out this celebration and pilgrimage of form and surroundings. L’olivar, located in the Alt Empordà region of Catalonia, will be somewhat different from Chillida-Leku in San Sebastián or the Zen Garden of Isamu Noguchi in Takamatsu, Japan. Neither a museum nor a garden with sculptures, it will be a setting where sculptures will attain the space they require and will be understood in symbiotic union with the landscape, where the pieces will acquire meaning from their natural surroundings. Pladevall has conceived many of his pieces as landmarks or signposts which create a space around them and, at the same time, command and focus our attention. We establish with these pieces a certain sense of territory - they invite us to approach and make physical contact. We move through space to reach the object. To a certain extent, for Pladevall, sculpture is a game; a meaningful game, both imaginary and real which, since it requires our presence and our participation, becomes a locale for experience.


Along with the intuited space and object, between which is situated the conscious subject, appears another essential dimension: time, which for Pladevall is deeply personal. It comes as no surprise that for him the spindle, or elongated lens, is a type of archetypal form. While it may at times make us think of an eye with connotations of sight and knowledge, in a more direct way it reminds us of Velázquez’s spinners and harks back to the ancient spinners of destiny. More schematically – as those elongated lens shapes which make up the projections of some world maps – it can show time zones around the world and again allude to the structure of time.


Oblivious to the rush and driving forces of today’s mass movements, Pladevall’s style of working is measured and rigorous. He produces very little; a fact which indicates both respect and intelligence in these times of almost obscene superabundance. For many of his pieces he uses African bolondo – an extremely hard wood, impervious to the elements which despite accumulating moss is more durable than iron. There is a desire for permanency but through the use of natural materials.
It should also be pointed out that artifice and technical skill play an important part in Pladevall’s work. Such large works of art require superior technique. In Pladevall’s case this skill is necessary both in the undertaking of such titanic pieces, as well as in the finishing of the smallest details, all of which amply demonstrates the wealth of resources available to him – from the refinement of the patinas and range of colours to the violence of saw-cuts. There is a physical and energetic vigour in many of his pieces which is also present, in a more controlled form, in his ink-drawings and paintings. This contained vehemence stands in contrast to the undulating and fecund delicacy of other pieces. The polish of the surfaces does not work as a mere finish but seems to fluidly generate the overall form of the piece. Its apertures and shadowy fissures often fascinate with organic and corporeal resonances. At times they are hollows which hold a type of seed. Pladevall’s sculptures hold something inside. Their physicality is not dark material; it allows for a living and breathing interior.

 


Àlex Mitrani

Translation: William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

 

1 Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.

 

 

THE DREAM OF AN INSTANT OF PERMANENCE

  

Lightning rods have to be connected to the ground. Even the most abstract and speculative ideas have to be anchored to reality, in the substance of things.

George Steiner 1

 

We owe one of the beginnings of the history of the occidental thought, possibly the most demolishing one, to a brief Nietzsche’s essay 2. “In some remote corner of the sparkling universe, spread in innumerable solar systems, there was once a star which intelligent animals invented knowledge. It was the most arrogant and most fallacious minute of the Universal History: but, after all only one minute. After short breathings of nature the star froze and the intelligent animals had to perish”. The subsequent silence to this disappearance, we can imagine, would have been as unfathomable as the vertiginous blackness of the universe and its icy indifference.

With everything, after the cataclysm, once the “minute” that Nietzsche grants to mankind would finish, the remains of the shipwreck would continue claiming the memory of an impossible gesture, the dream of an instant of permanence that, in the end, turned out to be a great metaphor. And is that, the philosopher of Leipzig affirms, this impulse towards the construction of metaphors is fundamental in mankind: it can not be done without, among other reasons, because we owe it the concepts, foundation of much more regular world that finds in the myth and, especially in the art, the place to unfold in a more powerful way. Once the metaphor has been annihilated, as we said, the definite silence happens: without human viewers, the works of art would only be mute witnesses that the extraterrestrial archaeologist (supposing that there are any) should decipher just guiding themselves for what they have of non deferrable. That is: life, death, eagerness for reality, the pursuit of what is ineffable, the memory… they would be the arguments of a story marked by the sign of defeat.

Continuing with this Martian game, the possibility to imagine what our galactic historians of art might in front of the sculpture of Pladevall is also seductive (it is not necessary to say that sculpture, more than any other artistic discipline, would be, together  with architecture, a privileged interlocutor): like atavistic and proud totems, the works scattered over his Olive Grove in l’Empordà would stage a dialectic process which, fortunately for the imaginary researchers, the sculpture decided to be open. On the one hand, the matter in original state, whether stone or wood; on the other the form, born of the concept and its games of seduction: world and civilization confronted in a dialog that keeps its poles intact but that points out the fissures, the contradictions and, also, the happy marriage understood as a possibility to solve that dichotomy that may take us to extinction.

In the end, as opposed to the pessimism of Nietzsche, we will always have left the optimism of the scholar Steiner: “The greatness of the homo sapiens consist exactly of this: tha attainment of wisdom, the research of the selfless knowledge, the creation of beauty”. Nothing less: the creative adventure of Pladevall bases itself on a process of permanent synthesis deeply rooted in the world, which is projected towards the immateriality of the ideas. It is the metaphor of lightning rod…

 

Eudald Camps

1  Steiner, G.: La idea d’Europa. Ed. Arcàdia. Barcelona, 2004. Translation by Victor Compta.
2  Nietzsche, F.: Sobre verdad y mentira. Ed. Tecnos. Madird, 2001. Translation by Luis Ml. Valdes and Teresa Orduña.

 

 


THE MYSTERY OF ELEMENTS

 

Gesture

In 1980, Enric Pladevall presented his Spring Museum at the Joan Miró Foundation in what was then called the Espai 10, the space reserved for experimental, unorthodox works by artists starting out on their careers.

Many years have passed and Pladevall has produced many works since then, but the essence of Spring Museum persists: the apparent simplicity of gesture, inviting the viewer to take part in the work. It is not easy, however, to reach this point of giving the appearance of simplicity, since it involves a degree of paring down that is similar to what led Joan Miró in the early 1920s to eliminate any references to reality in order to arrive at poetry.

At first glance, when entering Pladevall’s installation at the Joan Miró Foundation in 1980, what attracted the viewer was the memory of childhood and its street games. Far from nostalgia, our attention was drawn to how the children’s hands gave just the right shape to a gun fashioned from a few bits of wood, or the ingenuity of a revolver made from clothes pegs. The most spontaneous gestures could be just the right ones.

This subtlety that Enric Pladevall has always known how to capture, whether in a toy or in a Polynesian mask or a ritual African object, is what he manages to transmit in his sculpture. In his work in wood, we often find complicated torsions, gestures that seem to defy the laws of physics, but never any signs of aggression or violence. On the contrary, we find female sensuality in some cases, or the male protective instinct in others, like a kind of cosmic equilibrium transmitted through the shape of each piece.

 

The four elements

If the correct balance between the four elements is reflected in nature, the imprint of these elements – air, water, earth and fire – is also reflected in the work of an artist who, like Pladevall, works at all times in close touch with his surroundings.

But saying that Pladevall is closely linked to his environment does not mean that he is an artist tied to a specific place. It is true that his work is intimately related to landscape: he uses elements from nature and much of his work is intended for natural surroundings. It is perhaps for this reason that his interest in nature is so deep and so receptive.

Of the four elements, earth is the one that offers him the most possibilities. Firstly, because he can obtain from it the stone or wood to be used in his sculptures. And secondly, because the land, as a place of settlement, has enabled him to materialise installations such as Cromlech Titan (2000-01) or the splendid work-in-progress l’Olivar.

If we want to single out a precise place as the topos in an open space, a large-format sculpture such as Titan Amantis could well meet this challenge. This is what the artist chose when considering the form he wanted to give to some of the works for the open space at the Nirox Foundation. The challenge is a difficult one: the piece has to maintain a perfect balance with the personality of the surroundings; it needs to enter into a dialogue with them rather than try and compete. Pladevall passes the test with flying colours, whether it be a cubic, ferrous, masculine block that demarcates a territory, or a subtle, delicate, ethereal, feminine form that seems about to take off into the air.

His allusions to water are subtle. In the open space, which is shared by the large-format sculptures, the local vegetation – olive trees and holm oaks – and the architecture that is so respectful of the environment and that the artist uses as home or studio, there is also a stream. It doesn’t always have any water in it – for this depends on the time of year – but it’s there. This presence, albeit circumstantial, makes it a part of all the various works, in the same way as the rain, the dew, the damp and the summer droughts.

However, water – the source of life, a sign of change – has gradually acquired a more relevant place in Enric Pladevall’s art. It plays a leading role in three of his latest works on show at the Nirox Foundation and Circa Gallery. And as if each of them were a story about a mythological, ancestral, ritual or religious subject – not to mention any religion in particular or any precise ethnic group – he once again refers to man and to nature.

And air? Is it also part of his work? Not always, but it does play some sort of role. Certainly, living as he does in a land battered by wind, the sculptor was unable to resist the challenge of producing a piece involving this element. It plays with Romanesque like the wind plays with the canes in a river bed or with the branches of a copse. It creates a mystery. It is perhaps that mystery of which Einstein spoke and which he defined as “the most beautiful thing we can experience”, situating it at the roots of real art and real science. Pladevall always finds a reason to marvel and to ask questions that emphasise the value of what is most remarkable as well as what is most simple. He makes us aware of the beauty of simple things.

Fire, a sacred element by definition, and at the same time both terrifying and necessary, has been present in Pladevall’s work for many years with very different appearances. Probably the most solemn manifestation in which fire appeared – on account of its size and the place in which it was produced – was the Ring of Fire. This ephemeral action was conceived in 1988 and produced in 2002 in the Plaça Major in Vic. The vast market square in the artist’s birthplace, the equivalent in our cultural tradition to the Roman agora, was the setting for this circle of chestnut, pine and oak trunks measuring 30 metres in diameter by 3 metres high, which was set alight on the eve of the feast of St. John in 2002.

Once again, fire – that magic, universal value that is present in every culture - and cultural points of reference – the main square in Vic, Midsummer night - was what gave meaning to Pladevall’s work.

On another scale, Pladevall – an artist who is attentive to and curious about the possibilities offered by the materials he works with – knows the qualities of the patinas he can obtain with fire and how this can be combined with colours or other materials. It is for this reason that we find the imprint of fire in many of his pieces.

Certainly the combination of fire and water at the Nirox Foundation will mark a new milestone in Enric Pladevall’s career with his Niroxpirox (2010).

These two ritual elements, symbols of life and death, will be situated in a space in contact with nature that allows visitors to participate in a magical experience, only the memories of which will remain.

 

The concept

Although Pladevall masters all the techniques he uses, whenever he makes a mark with Indian ink on Japanese paper or a collage on a piece of wood, he always starts with a spatial concept that is marked by sculpture.

Much like the work of the Tibetan ascetics, in Pladevall’s art the void is as important as the solid areas. The empty space around the piece is as important as the space occupied. This relationship is what determines the proportion and the connection with nature in his open-air works, and it is what conditions the proximity to and coexistence with human beings. And, contrary to what might be expected, his large-format works are certainly not lacking in subtlety or humanity as a consequence of their monumental size; on the contrary, the artist is sensitive enough to know how to magically maintain their relationship with human beings and with their surroundings.

This situation is accentuated and acquires a poetic expression in intimate small-format sculptures such as The Artist’s House (2002), which are closer to a ritual or meditational object than what is strictly classified as a work of art.

Like music, Enric Pladevall’s work touches a human being’s most sensitive chords, irrespective of his or her origins or culture, because it speaks to us of universal values. Shunning fashions and trends, he has been able to find a path along which nothing is gratuitous, nothing is excessive – everything is temperance and, above all, warmth.

Rosa Maria Malet

 

 

ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE WOODS

 

Choosing the rules of game

The woodcutters have brought the trunks in from the woods. The smiths have brought their iron tools. Working with them there in Vic is Enric Pladevall, in whom we find a rigour, a strictness, that contrasts vividly — and usefully — with the flabby sloth of so many people who are content to rub paintbrushes over canvas without rhyme or reason. As against those whose only trump card is a spontaneity which they seek to equate with freedom, Pladevall is an affirmation of the superiority of those who know that freedom is something else. Following the down-ward path of what is produced effortlessly is merely contributing to the disorder of the world. Serving the death instinct. Freedom means choosing an option and sticking to it with scrupulous faithfulness, precisely because it is chosen, above all interests or utilitarian ends. Even when it is a question of a social "functionality", this arbitrariness will have given it the difficult hardness on which it will be possible to build something. We can, therefore, compare this artist's work to the hard quality of liturgical ceremonials, of a Japanese Noh play, of the rules of chess.

 

Acceptance
His work is based, to a large extent, on elasticity, on the interplay of stresses and strains. He takes trunks of ash, beech or hackberry, trunks just stripped of their bark and with all their vital forms still nakedly apparent. He takes them, I say, and then subjects them to an artificial treatment that reduces them implacably until it has accomplished an intellectual purpose which has no connection, in itself, with the functional character of the ligneous cell tissue.
The work does not consist solely of the wood subjected to this ceremonial, since it also includes the mechanical iron elements that are the agents of its or-deal. As supporting bases, tighteners or clasps, visually stabilized by their coating of rust, they coexist with the living form, not in a dialogue but in a conventional bloodless combat, like those of erotic relationships or the nocturnal clashes of the warriors in Chinese opera.
The mental world of the ritual sacrifice becomes visible when the stripped trunk, which the steaming process has helped to accept its loss of rigidity, has been brought to the point at which it opens out and lets the light and the human eye penetrate to its very entrails, formerly doomed to live and die in the perpetual darkness of the heart of the tree.
Now the trunk — opened out, raped, definitively forced to abandon all shame — arouses a feeling that is at once of pity and admiration. Noble in its acceptance of the rules of the game and in its gratuitous abdication of its vital function, and even of its vital structure, it attains the nobility of the sacrificial victim. The iron is not cruel. It is simply brave enough to accept its ritual role of violence, imposed on it by a law to which both iron and wood submit. The iron performs the rite of sacrificing the values it esteems, and in this trampling it humbles itself before the wood and confirms to the latter the yearning for unity that it feels. It is like two lovers castigating and humiliating each other. Like chess players who both want to win but, above all else, want to participate. The wood and the iron, like the lovers or the chess players, are performing rites of losing or winning that have no sense unless they are performed by two.

 

Dedication
It is useful to consider the entire ensemble of the works from this angle of love and law, each of which pursues its own separate purpose. The law here is not that of ease but that of difficulty. It is the relationship of knives and forks to table manners, of the tie to the neck, of rhyme to verses or the tightrope to the tight-rope walker. When you feel this you are moved by the sight of the trunk cut along its whole length. In the surface of the cut each of the two half-trunks that remain expresses the lack of the other half. Bound to the centre — one beside the other, but without managing to touch each other — and implacably separated at their ends, they are the expression of desire, of the exacerbation of the feeling of lack, of incompleteness. Equally poignant, if not even more so, is the trunk that has its ends bound together by iron rings but is split down the middle, so that tighteners may open out the splits by stretching the four sectors into which it has been divided. The consciousness of the dialogue between stress and strain gives this visual effect the power of suggesting a sort of emotive throbbing.
Other pieces give rise to other experiences. When the iron plate violently pierces the trunk and remains caught in it, because the two halves it separates continue to press upon it, as though seeking to close up again, something important is taking place in this very invisibility. Unlike the situations described above, which we might classify as shame-abandoning or sacrificial, this is a recondite, cryptic situation, one that partakes of the darkness of initiations, of cthonic rites, like the intersticial cult, the food offenings of the Athenian women of the Eleusinian mysteries.
It also makes one think, more simply, of the culmination of the sexual act, which takes place at the very moment when the sexes become invisible.
In some cases the fact that even the screws used to effect the opening of the trunks have been retained as part of the work may seem to create something of a sadistic atmosphere, as though it were a question of torture rather than of sacrifice. But the context is more eloquent of the self-immolation of love than of tyranny and hatred. It recalls the voice of Ivan Goll's Malaysian girl, who said: "Sweeter than the green pistachio, your teeth will delight in eating me", and "I have told you seven lies so that you may annihilate me seven times".

 

Theatre of cruelty
It is impressive to observe the sculptor's work on planks, in which he has succeeded in obtaining considerable anfractuosities, like the perfectly semicircular distortion which is encircled and closed on the outside by a half-hoop of iron, and tautened against itself by a strut joining its ends.
The geometrical perfection of an iron-bound piece like this contrasts with the hesitancy of form of an abandoned twisting, like that of the plank which appears in a slackened position, bereft of any iron. This latter is a good piece for comparison because it shows that, without the conventional but rigid law of a deliberate regulation, far from all living reality and without that sort of theatre of cruelty introduced by the use of iron, wood that is left to the spontaneous action of damp and heat can still twist, but it twists without any possibility of metamorphosis, as a mere phenomenon peculiar to ligneous material. It falls into naturalism and the very sadness of its immanence heightens the impact of the rigid, iron-bound semi-circles, full of ritual beauty, that contrasts with it so violently.

 

Expectancy and surprise
Some pieces, like the planks bent at one end, contain an allusion to movement. Even a superficial observer will see an anecdotic dynamism in them, when he thinks he recognizes the outline of sleighs, of luges, of skis; but there is a more profound structure in them which also speaks of movement. The artists ha, in effect, been at some pains to make the straight plank, fresh from the sawmill, represent the calmed homeostat, the very image of stability, by laying it on one of its broader faces.
Imagining the operation prevents us from forming the idea, which a malicious spirit might foster, that instead of a beam bent at one end it might be one wheel flattened by the other. The exception is the bending. The bending is subsequent to the straight sawing. What is straight here, is straight. Like an essence, if there were one. Like a subject. What is curved, on the contrary, has been curved. It is not the subject itself, but the object of an outside action that has made it what it is.
If we look at the whole like this, the long, flat surface of the plank will be seen as an expectancy of what is subsequent to it: the act of being bent at the end.
The notion of expectancy is fundamental here. As in sacrifice. In an execution. In the mind of the man who said that the most exciting moment of love was the act of going upstairs. Expectancy is everything in music, which is wholly made up of the tension of anticipating a sound or a silence that will or will not be heard. In the cinema, where it is what builds up the suspense. In a sneeze. In an orgasm. The long, smooth expanse is like a procession, for it leads to the erectile piece that will only be found at the end.
We must accept the fact that it is not a legible sign. It is neither the icon of anything nor the symbol of anything. It is the mere presence of an accident brought about by a coldly external coercion. The only emotiveness it possesses is that very hearty kind with which any child in the world will jump and then laugh when you hide behind a door in front of him and, at the most unexpected moment, suddenly stick your head out again.

Imminence
There is a lesson implicit in this. From so much wanting to satisfy ourselves as to why, for what cause, the elements of reality appear and disappear, we perceive them under a positive midden of causalities, logic and experience. We wipe out the immense mystery of the presence and disappearance of phenomena, and we lose the clear-eyed capacity of children for the marvellous.
Going slowly round these forms is like recharging one's batteries. Confronting their end would be like sparking them off. But the end is not there, because the bent planks are ¡n the middle of their bending. They neither grow to a point, nor interlace, nor turn round. They remain in a state of expectancy, accelerated but suspended by a sudden cut.
They bring to mind that imminence alluded to by Benjamin Péret when he wrote:
«.... the anguish of a very pretty woman
In a mink coat
Is naked, under the coat
Is beautiful, under the coat
Is voluptuous, under the coat
It is pleasure, all pleasure, the only pleasure,
The pleasure children expect to find in the woods.»

Alexandre cirici
Autumn 1982

Translated from the Catalan by Kenneth Lyons