For her third solo show at Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, Spanish artist Pilar Albarracín continues her insatiable exploration of the meanderings of yesterday and today Seville, her birthplace where she still lives and works. For more than twenty years, she has been dissecting the traditional figures of Spain, with works never deprived of caustic humour. Through a great variety of expression modes, such as performances, videos, installations and photographs – which she makes the most of – she questions the patterns of cultural identity, as well as the notion of genre and the feminine identity.
Pilar Albarracín today resumes her ferocious yet sweet attack in a new ensemble of works inspired by popular celebrations. During the Feria de Abril in Seville, a vast and ephemeral compound is erected to entertain youngsters and adults. It is named after the deafening noise made by the rides, la calle del infierno, “hell’s street”. Pilar Albarracín re-appropriates and gives life to two of these machines: one represents an animal recurrent in her works, the bull, the other represents a stereotyped vision of the macho man, Mr Muscle. Both colourful strength games invite the gallery visitors to an unusual fight: may the strongest win, in a burst of strident and electronic sounds. Suddenly the mechanical cogs make themselves more pernicious. The game, which measures physical strength, implicitly determines archetypes of force and weakness. The fun fair appears both as a place of entertainment and as an opportune place for the divulgation of human quirks. Pilar Albarracín, a moralist as penetrating as Francisco de Goya, hands to her fellow citizens a mirror of their own humanity.
The fun fair, this world of machines, also implies the staging of bodies. The source of the entertainment rests on the gap with the norm: before, in street parties, the public would be amazed by freak shows full of monstrous bodies. In a series of drawings inspired by the experience of the distorting mirror, Pilar Albarracín questions the potentialities of a self-centred laugh, only partly hiding the reaction towards what is strange and different.
The artist likes to tackle stereotypes and this is what makes her embroidered series, which have accompanied her throughout her artistic journey, even more interesting. Pilar Albarracín prolongs her reflexion on appearances in the feminist connoted and ornamental universe of textile works. This is where the artist spreads her flame. In fact, one of her last series is dedicated to flames of pyrotechnic visions. These embroidered works are inspired by the colourful explosions of fireworks and of other illuminations found in popular celebrations, in Seville or elsewhere. This sky set on fire pushes the public to look up to the firmament, while their feet walk through Hell’s street. Such works deliver a kaleidoscopic vision of entertainment and weave links between the sacred and the profane.
At the Théâtre National de Chaillot, images of religious fervour, always in the context of Andalucía’s folklore, constitute a corollary to the profane jubilation found in the works presented at Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois. Pilar Albarracín takes over the theatre space for the Second Flamenco Biennale. An essential part of her work dedicated to dance is presented through a selection of videos. The choreographic dimension of religious rituals, such as they are deployed in the streets of Seville during the Holy Week, works as a background for her new creations. The installation El Capricho (2011) thus reconstitutes one of the altars traditionally carried during procession. Pilar Albarracín operates a subtle inversion: this support of faith is hung upside down from the ceiling. This gesture could appear as blasphemous. Yet solemnity and mystery emanate from the work. The objects the artist creates, appropriates or transforms, are just as many milestones in her questioning of community and its foundations, but also reflect on the role of tradition in a contemporary society in constant mutation.
Text by Sarah Ligner