When the temperatures are around 45 degrees, Extremadura is napping until sunset. Shutters remain closed, the streets empty… We have just left behind the small town of Malpartida and we already drive on a path of gravel crossed by capricious granite formations that precede what a little further will make up the curvilinear “skyline” of Los Barruecos.
Erosion, a patient sculptor, has been modeling this stone universe over the centuries. When reflected in the pools, the lithic profile gives the impression of a false mirage. But everything is true, although the illusion is not lacking either.
Wolf Vostell succeeded in achieving a utopia in this place: setting up an open museum that instead of mummifying art invigorated life, and where native breeders and avant-garde artists learned from each other, where creation was collective and there was no split between nature and culture.
When he settled in Malpartida with his wife, the Caceres-born Mercedes Guardado, the German artist had already pummeled a number of televisions, immobilized trains with cement, buried cars, gathered people for his Berlin and New York happenings with other members of Fluxus.
Being the “decóllage” the leitmotiv of his creative-destructive processes as an artistic technique referred to the action of scraping, detaching, displacing… and re-sedimenting…, it is not surprising his fascination with this granite landforms, because erosion is also destruction-creation: weathering, movement and new sedimentation.
The washer of wools of the XVIII century that preserves Vostell’s legacy, hosting works with titles such as “Transhumance” and many others in which the recollection of migrations, exile and nomadism resonates throughout history, could not be better container for a content that integrates the local transhumant rituals with Vostell’s and Fluxus experiences.
The inclement heat made as to enter the cool vaulted rooms. From the silence of the stones, we moved to a mixture of electronic and mechanical noises overlapping with television broadcasts or the tinkling of porcelain plates. A piano fitted in the hood of a car, another car surrounded by pieces of bread wrapped in newspapers, or modified with hammers … They are testimonies of violent and festive happenings, but they are also, by themselves, installations with a strong visual impact.
The car, a symbol of the consumer society, extends its tentacles or becomes an arachnid that with its desire to speed up changes destroys everything. Bread and dishes allude to those who are left out of a “progress” that sows barbarism.
A museum guard draws my attention to a large mural dedicated to Berlin. The Wall had not yet fallen when Vostell painted this work: on both sides of a concrete ingot there are body parts; on both sides, a television monitor, each inventing its own “reality”. Before the vehemence with which the girl talks about Vostell as a visionary, I ask her if she knew him. She replies that she was a child when the artist arrived in Malpartida but that her mother keeps telling anecdotes about that strange person that caused a stir in the village.
What really went beyond the anecdote was that kind of black box of local people’s fleeting thoughts, stored on the top of one of the beautiful rocks that we see from the door that this kind girl opens us in what was once a weighing wool room.
In a place where anything that may disrupt the daily rhythm is noticed, we imagine one morning in 1978, Vostell dragging his lead box to the town square and inviting passers-by to “pour” their thoughts inside. The volunteers put their heads in the box one after the other, then it is sealed and inserted into a cylinder lined with plates (spiritual food?) on both sides of the drum form. Placed in a privileged place of Los Barruecos, it contains instructions to be open after 5000 years, enough time for science to have learned to decipher the mental energy.
Along with this sculpture-environment, The dead man who is thirsty, from our vantage point we see another of his pieces dialoguing with nature, VOAEX (1976), but we will wait at twilight to skirt the reservoir and climb on some rock from where we can Travel with concrete across Alta Extremadura, as co-pilots of Vostell.
Meanwhile, we continue visiting the exhibition, where the idea of indoctrination (school desks with televisions fossilized with concrete and bird droppings), travel and catastrophe (complex assemblages where merges allusions to international airports and mass deportations, expulsions of Sephardic Jews and contemporary shoahs) leave, however, gaps where some hope can dwell.
To fill the gap between modernity and atavism, to extract the good and the bad from both worlds, to find his own place between the excessive immobility of ones and the blind celerity of others, to extrapolate international events “to the extreme of the Douro” (Extrema Dorii), to dig tunnels between the center and the periphery, between the past and its present, between his childhood and a universal sense of uprooting.
Evening falls. We walk the path following the yellow markings that will take us to the car covered with cement. VOAEX, despite its powerful visual charge, harmonizes with the landscape as if it were a batholith more. An immobile trip between migratory birds.