There can be no a community without rites. There has never existed. Amid apelike howls, our ancestors performed already funerary offerings. Before worrying about building houses for the living, they already buried their dead.
Shared symbolic thinking gives meaning to life, aiming to unite the people, to frighten the fear of emptiness by inventing a social order within natural chaos. It is an order that does not come from the law but from magic, it does not impose itself explicitly but it filters to the core of the social body. Its irrational essence, because it is not reviewed over the years, often falls into empty formulas.
Pilar Albarracín has spent years analyzing the forces involved in the manipulation of rites, beliefs and customs, the mystification of folklore and identity. Many of her gags, parodies and allegories condense (from her own experience but without autobiographical intention) contradictions of life being an Andalusian woman in the 21st century.
When we enter Tabacalera, the inverted sacred symbols (El Capricho 2011), the idols going down from their altars and the virgins murmuring their sorrow to each other predispose us to observe the liturgy from an unusual perspective, from an imaginary proscenium or, more likely, from the point of view of a child who held her mother hand in the Easter procession, only could see the legs of the bearers. Among the crowd she glimpses veils and weeping eyes; it’s enough to impress her and imagine her own puppet show with these giant dolls.
Inverting a processional cross is not so much a satanic gesture but a vindication of the irreverent and captivated spirit of a child. It is likely that Choreography for salvation to be inspired by childhood memories in Pilar hometown, Seville.
In the next room, the ceiling is covered with hundreds of flamenco dresses and, like the mandalas made with worn panties of many other women, both pieces involve donations, the first in the religious field of the votive offering in Marian chapels (from woman to woman), and the second, requesting underwear to anonymous women of all ages and conditions. The will to humanize the sacred and to sacralize the profane acquires here its best expression.
The feminine complicity expressed in these and other works of Pilar finds a perfect place in what was a tobacco factory in Madrid, where the cigar makers of the last century only counted on mutual aid, and were pioneers in their claims as for working women (see LaLiminal research).
The cigar makers of Seville and Cádiz were also emancipated from the men but their union achievements were obfuscated by the reduction of their figures to literary clichés because of Merimée, who created a mold for the southern brunettes that would not be easy to break.
After Carmen, came Pierre Louÿs’ Conchita, a writer whose voluptuous pen would transform the inside of the factory into an “immense harem of four thousand and eight hundred women, scantily clad and loose-tongued”: “I had the impression that all those active hands were making hastily tiny lovers with tobacco leaves “(Le femme et le pantin, p.154).
It is not trivial to remember this kind of French literature while we see this exhibition, because both romanticism and decadentism left an indelible mark on the image of the Andalusian woman. Then the national-flamenquismo came to worsen regional culture, followed by the tourist image of promising smiles behind mantilla veils. The artificiality of these images is embodied in the canned olives that serve as pots for the fake flowers of “Walls of geraniums”.
And in front of this papier-mâché world, Pilar warns of fundamentalism and violence hidden in the dark corners of the idyllic Andalusian patio (¡Viva España!). At the same time, the industry of “Spanish dolls” is juxtaposed with women full of life she incarnates: Bacchic gypsy or street maenad (La Cabra), bailaora whose indomitable tap dance a bailaor tries in vain to subdue with his refined technique (Bailaré sobre tu tumba), a flamenco singer shouting until ripping her heart out (Prohibido el cante), or the one that is poking her skin with needles while dancing, so her white dress ends mottled with blood (Lunares).
The polka dots give the dress an appearance of Seville Fair garment, revealing the sexist bias mirrored in the most old-fashioned folklore. All these performative pieces, as well as the photographs of the Anatomía flamenca series, take to parodic extremes aspects of Lorca’s reflexions about the duende, although it is a parody without burlesque intention. On the contrary, what it translates is a feeling of saturation and anguish before a status quo that can only explode from an alienated histrionism, bringing out a catharsis.
For Lorca, the duende (charm) was a kind of inner demon, which unlike the muse or the angel, it hurts and burns to the rapture leading the dancer or singer to forget the forms, the techné, and what “oozes” is a wound that never closes.
When Pilar screams at the top of her lungs, when she breaks the platform with her heels or slips between puddles of wine, she puts on the stage that fights inside each body, each woman, in front of the rigidity of the forms, in front of certain daily rites that are not innocuous.
The Christian iconography of the Dolorosas, with its crystal tears and seven swords, together with other similar devotions and patronages, echoes the traditional belief about the suffering and resigned woman. The photograph “No comment”, where Pilar smokes impassively, oblivious to the ten knives stuck in her back, seems to ironize about it.
With sarcasm, Pilar stages the varied contemporary ways of denigrating a woman, showing how the androcentrism affects all areas: the labour field (the “Graduated”, as a last resort, open their legs as Valie Export), the domestic and the crimes that are only dealt with by journalistic sensationalism (see the urban action “Blood in the street” of the 90’s), or advertising (in “A point“, a blanket covers a body that hangs as a ham).
There is a clear parallel between the burden that carries the figure of the exotic “otherness” and that of the eternal feminine. Pilar kills both caged birds in one shot.
Pilar Albarracín, Que me quiten lo bailao
Tabacalera, Promoción del Arte, Madrid
curator: Pia Ogea
until 27th January 2019