The Initial Gallery in Vancouver recently exhibited a fairly small body of work by Jorge Mañes Rubio, a Spanish artist and photographer based in Amsterdam. His practice mainly concerns political-social interventions, fictional narratives and installations. He also holds a TED fellowship. The photographs were taken in the Parco Nazionale del Cilento in the province of Salerno, Italy.
Rubio’s oeuvre depicts the beautiful churches in this region which were destroyed by a series of earthquakes and landslides and subsequently stripped by looters of the paintings and sculptures and other sacred relics that were housed under their roofs.
Although this exhibition is a not what David Campany calls ‘late photography’, it does document the aftermath and traces of what once was. It is the ‘photographing the aftermath of events – traces, fragments, empty buildings, empty streets, damage to the body and damage to the world (Campany, 2003). In this case, Rubio has photographed the aftermath of earthquakes, not war. Some of the photographs were quite large and taken with a straight frontality. The lighting, strangely evocative, in the ruined buildings, brought out a sense of loss for me. These buildings still manage to retain their traces of their former glory and beauty as they stand serene and dignified even after the rape and plunder of their contents.
The photographs’ objective point of view draws the viewer in closer to examine the buildings up close, yet ‘at the same time they refuse to be overtly ‘creative’, deploying the straight image with a mood of deliberation and detachment that chimes with a general preference in contemporary art for the slow, withdrawn and anonymous (Campany, 2003). As in the works of Edward Burtynsky, the interpretation is left entirely open to the viewer. Memorable, thought provoking work indeed. Sadly, restoration of these devastated buildings has not happened due to government corruption. All that will probably remain of them as time goes by will be the traces left in these photographs.
Campany, David, (2003). Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problems of ‘Late Photography’. [online] Available from: http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/ [Accessed 17 April, 2015]
Azzarello, Nina, (2014). Buona Fortuna documents Italian chapels abandoned after the Irpinia earthquake [online]. DesignBoom.com. Available from: http://www.designboom.com/art/jorge-manes-rubio-buona-fortuna-italian-chapels-abandoned-irpinia-earthquake-05-25-2014/ [Accessed 27 May, 2015]
Mañes Rubio, Jorge. See This Way [online]. Available from: http://www.seethisway.com/seethisway/work_menu.html [Accessed 27 May, 2015]