Avelino Sala. Distopia: Right now

Avelino Sala (born in Gijon, 1972 – he currently lives and works between Madrid and Barcelona) is a subversive artist, the kind of artist who can shake you from within, without losing sight of the fact that though modern art is tasked with social criticism, it remains by definition a poetic language.

In our contemporary setting – the historical, political, and economic contingencies of which are well known to all – the duty of an alert artist such as Avelino Sala, who inquires into the role of art in the urgency of our time, can be none other than that of opening our eyes.

His work has asserted itself starting from his London education in History of Modern Criticism – purely theoretical studies which led to the founding of the journal of modern arts and culture “Sublime arte + cultura contemporanea”, and of the curatorial group “Commission”. His artistic activity runs parallel to the university’s courses, and expresses itself through the languages of video and watercolours, means by which Avelino Sala embraces the artist’s role in modern society as he considers it: a poetic mission in fact, which he carries out in his Barcelona studio or in the venues in which he is invited to work as a grant recipient.

Avelino Sala’s artistic production is monadic: perfect and complete, yet fully interactive. Each piece is borne out of another: one need only think of the pieces produced in recent years, such as “Culture,2008”, on display within the exhibition, a video in which the word “culture” – ripped to shreds of ground meat – is greedily gnawed at by ravenous dogs. It is important not to forget the background of this Spanish artist, born a few years before the fall of Franco’s totalitarian regime (1975). Avelino Sala has endeavoured to chart and thus erase monumental symbols of power, in works such as El enemigo está dentro, disparad sobre nosotros (derrocar el poder), a performance from 2008-09, inwhich four young men struggle to tear down a Franchist eagle using ropes.

The charting of such symbols of power – eagles especially – and his battle against monumentality move from Madrid to Prague (Serie A, 2008-09) and then on to Rome (Fascist eagles), during the artist’s residency as a grant holder at the Real Academia of Spain in 2010.

Though Avelino Sala’s work sets off from the destruction of a crushing national heritage and the will to be reborn from below, and from youth, which spread through Spain from the 80s to the 2000s, recent economical and political  events have spurred the artist’s reflection upon the urgency of current-day world issues. 

The collapse of the capitalist system, financial and cultural crisis, and the decline of the western world are elements that tie our modern-day society to that of the late empire of Rome – the pomp, squandering, lavishness and opulence of which were matched by moral and cultural levity, an omen of the decay of Roman civilization.

Avelino Sala proposes a cultural battle against our own decline, as exemplified in one of his recent works, composed of a barricade of books (Concedo Nulli, 2012).

Such credentials should clearly explain the considerations which guided our selection, in the pursuit of an artist capable of reinterpreting the Anarchist Movement of Carrara from a new point of view, rendering it up-to-date and comparing it our modern-day setting.

Tied to the aforementioned production, and to a strong element of criticism towards modern society, the work by Avelino Sala on display in AVELINO SALA. DISTOPIA: RIGHT NOW unfolds within the Museum‘s  collection, coexisting and interacting with it. The objective of the DATABASE project, we wish to stress, is that of prompting contemporary art to reinterpret the historic and artistic heritage of the city of Carrara.

We chose the works created by Mario Sasso for the 14th Biennale of Sculpture of Carrara as our starting point; donated to the city, these works were entered into the Museum’s collection.

The Italian “digital painter” – Marco Sasso’s portraits have been defined by Marco Maria Gazzano as  “paintings made with a digital paintbrush” – renders homage to the people of Carrara through an artistic operation which immortalises their gestures and features, turning them into emblems of our culture of stone.  This work is set against the work by Avelino Sala: in Mario Sasso’s production (Burattini and Ritratto di Gruppo) each character is a highly connotated individual subject, whereas the men in Avelino Sala Distopia: Right Now are anonymous presences captured from behind.

Direct reference to the Anarchist Movement of Carrara (city in which, it should be remembered, the anarchist Pinelli was laid to rest) is absent in Sasso’s work, yet it is clear to the viewer that such a step is implied and understood: it was the quarrymen who gave rise to this movement, which on one hand was an expression of the urgent need for more acceptable work conditions, and on the other hand materialized into a significant force in the resistance against Fascism.

When compared to the strong attention to detail in Sasso’s corresponding subjects, the lack of identity of the two characters portrayed by Avelino Sala emphasizes the swarming movement of modern protesters and revolutionaries. Faceless and often masked, they form a terrifying, homogeneous and anonymous mass, which may be able to escape the looming system of surveillance and control in which we have been reduced to lead our lives (Camuflage). The video-cameras displayed are made from marble, thus representing a paradox: they are in fact the symbols of our era, they are our monuments.

From the Arab Spring, to the uprisings in the Middle East, and to Spanish and Italian Indigñados: all expressions of subversion, different in nature and yielding different results, united by the anonymity of the individual, which are indicative not only of an evasion from control, but also of the need for the democratic achievement of a sustainable compromise of political and economic nature.

An anarchist utopia?

Distopia, the title of the exhibition, contrasts the concept of Utopia, a concept which, due to its very nature, positions itself on an inexistent plane, not a physical reality but a mental one. Dystopia is the exact opposite: a negative Utopia, located in a catastrophic dimension, forewarned by the analysis of our own reality.

The video screened in the exhibition, Cacotopía, foretells a risk and cautions us against it: the Utopia of anarchism can lead to complete decline, to our demise, to our death. Man must instead build his world following an ideal (that may itself be utopistic) which will lead to its improvement, which will allow hope. No good will come by responding to revolution with repression and control. The answer may be that of taking back our identities, establishing a dialogue between equals.

Federica Forti


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I’m speaking to walls

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