Seeing Carles Congost video creations, a cross of film and television genres for a moment confuse us, more if several of them come together in the same exhibition space, forcing us to rewire our cognitive habits, our audiovisual imaginary, after that initial flicker our senses are sharpened.
The conceptual palimpsest is not far behind the formal experiment. Thus, in Simply the best (2016), a Swiss firefighter who loves his work as much as African-American music, speaks about negro spirituals and the distorting of its message by Christians, since originally they were songs of freedom that the slaves sang in the plantations. A gospel choir played by whites men and women interrupts firefighter explanations glorifying another type of freedom under the slogan “Financial Independence, Retire Early” (the abbreviations FIRE are not going unnoticed).
The figure of Tina Turner, whom our hero admires, guest of honor in a festival that involves the fire department, is the icing on a chain of concepts and its multiple prospects: first, the elasticity of the term freedom, which oscillates between altruism and pragmatism, between solidarity and individualism.
This tension between opposing parameters, often related to the inevitable domestication of the seemingly indomitable, is also expressed in The Wolf’s Motives (2017), in this case, related to adolescence and the vampiric proceeding of late capitalism that delivers its potential transgressor to promote their brands. The contemporary phenomenon of the influencers, together with the sophistication of a technological tracking and remote surveillance, is analyzed in film terms. Being the forest a common element of a certain type of suspense and mystery movies, a trend hunter appearing in the guise of a contemporary samurai and dowser qualities, will be implanting his chips in the bodies of young people who believed to find in the thick forest a virgin soil to explore their personalities.
In young people, there is also the trust in the “new”, the belief in a “new paradigm”. This is the title of one of the pieces (Paradigm, 2012) that with nods to cop movies unexpectedly turns into a sort of ode to the messianic youth. Paradigm breaks down expectations, disrupts “paradigms”, and by frustrating easy readings, it leaves room to re-fill the empty statement with new meanings. We sense a subliminal criticism of tired expressions, to the pompous rhetoric that tarnishes cultural studies.
Music plays a fundamental role in the work of Congost, either as a soundtrack (for creating atmospheres and overlapping registers) or as a subject of study. In this second case, we can include Abans de la casa/Un unstable biopic through sound Sabadell (2015) and Wonders (2016). In the latter, he takes up the history of the Musical Youth group to deal with a phenomenon characteristic of the music industry, the “one-hit wonder”, although it can be extrapolated to any cultural field. Again, the musical biopic is intercepted by other languages, so that the singers remember their past, narrate mythical encounters with other musicians … as in a typical documentary, but suddenly it seems that their voices switch over or change the channel, as Eloy Fernández Porta would say.
They are precisely texts of this essayist that Dennis Seaton (former member of Musical Youth) recites interspersing with his child prodigy memories. Texts that link together metaphor, poetry, cultural criticism, William Blake and the debt collector. The musician speaks of collective hysteria, of the schizophrenic reception of an artist, when he moves from light to darkness without nuances, as he and his group whose theme Pass the Dutchie put them at the top and then fed away. They were barely teenagers when their career had already been.
But the song kept playing. The monster emancipated from its creator, as it literally happens in The Spin-Off (2010), one of Bad Painting episodes. Its humorous tone provides a counterpoint (with nods to the B-series cinema) in an exhibition that in general moves away from the irony that characterized the first works of Congost. In this video, a painter is afraid of her own creation, and only upon a friend insistence who has come to visit her, she agrees to uncover the painting.
The secrecy surrounding a painting, the expectation, the act of removing the white cloth that covers it … reminds us of the plot of Balzac’s Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu: the painter Frenhofer, overestimating his own capability to breathe life to his figures, believing himself a kind of demiurge, goes crazy. The beautiful shape becomes a jumble of lines. Obsessions produce monsters.
Carles Congost, A Sense of Wonder
until 22th July 2018
Fabra i Coats, Centre d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona