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An edgy riot

Text by Julia Morandeira Arrizabalaga

 

“This is moshing in New York City. Young people out on the floor. Tell me how close we are to a riot”. These were the words of Phil Donahue, a legendary presenter in the history of US television. The year was 1994 and the programme was about pogos, stage diving and other practices that were becoming widespread at the metal concerts of the time. The guests were young grunge and metal followers and the band was Marilyn Manson, who came up against questions from the presenter and the audience sitting opposite them. There was a barrage of accusations of violence, fearful comments and looks of alarm about the pastimes defended by those in the “youth” dock. This clash of views was typical of The Phil Donahue Show, which was, in fact, known for being the first talk show to include audience participation in programmes discussing topics that raised the hackles of conservatives and liberals alike. In this case, it was especially clear how each element of the structure of these programmes – guests vs. audience, script and applause – focused on creating two opposing, irreconcilable, warring camps. Donahue described pogos as, literally, Hell on Earth, showing blurred videos with glimpses of bloody noses, or cornered the guests with moralistic, sensationalist and condescending questions on violence.

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An edgy riot

Julia Morandeira Arrizabalaga

 

“This is moshing in New York City. Young people out on the floor. Tell me how close we are to a riot”. These were the words of Phil Donahue, a legendary presenter in the history of US television. The year was 1994 and the programme was about pogos, stage diving and other practices that were becoming widespread at the metal concerts of the time. The guests were young grunge and metal followers and the band was Marilyn Manson, who came up against questions from the presenter and the audience sitting opposite them. There was a barrage of accusations of violence, fearful comments and looks of alarm about the pastimes defended by those in the “youth” dock. This clash of views was typical of The Phil Donahue Show, which was, in fact, known for being the first talk show to include audience participation in programmes discussing topics that raised the hackles of conservatives and liberals alike. In this case, it was especially clear how each element of the structure of these programmes – guests vs. audience, script and applause – focused on creating two opposing, irreconcilable, warring camps. Donahue described pogos as, literally, Hell on Earth, showing blurred videos with glimpses of bloody noses, or cornered the guests with moralistic, sensationalist and condescending questions on violence. The accused defended themselves, arguing that these were ways of challenging the contradictory culture that they consumed, ways of releasing anxiety and of coming together through aggression, with a type of support system: “If you fall, someone will come and pick you up. You are not alone,” one of them pointed out. They explained the possibility of belonging to an “us” that does not comply with liberal standards of happiness, permanent consensus, social norms and individualism disguised as mindfulness. Instead, their togetherness was fragile and involved a degree of unease, which existed for a brief moment and threatened to immediately disappear. This togetherness is recognised in the vulnerability of self-exposure and of being affected by others: “If someone gets hurt in the process, then so be it. It’s part of the territory,” acknowledged another. And it is precisely in that appreciation where a space of caring and trust is established, “forming a trust between them that can’t be formed in other places”. [Disclaimer: This is not a positive or uncritical celebration of violence, but rather the necessary appreciation of the bonds of a shared life]. Yet Donahue discredited those statements, instead advocating a naive stereotype of carefree youth, lacking any other pressure than that of being young; a cliché that precludes any discussion and which relegates any voice to the contrary to a category of an alienated, violent, nihilistic, lost youth. Basically, he argued in favour of, and upheld, a single form of non-conflictive, “good” sociability. How can they co-exist in aggression? How can caring exist in violence?

 

Tell me how close we are to a riot is an exhibition by Helena Goñi, which addresses all these issues, but takes them to another place. A pogo in broad daylight, behind the Fine Arts faculty building in Bilbao. The bathroom of a bar on Calle Iturribide in Bilbao’s Old Quarter, covered with graffiti during a Vulk concert, was reproduced in the artist’s studio and is now a sculpture in this exhibition room. The contemptuous threat of a US television presenter is the exhibition title here. A poster from one of the only two concerts that Kagadero would give is, ten years later, reproduced to cover the surface of a column. Four displacements are undertaken here, inherent to the logic of re-enactment, to become laboratories of radical sociability, to establish affinity and collusion to weave conspiracy. Pogo, bathroom, tattoos, leather jackets and other images are no longer merely elements that document a context, a sense of belonging to a group of friends, to an urban culture, performance elements representing style and identity. Displaced and mixed together, they conspire against social prejudices and simplifying interpretations to work together to produce ways of representing intimacy, friendship, along with the turbidity that they imply. Stephano Harney and Valentina Dicen claim that radical sociability is not only a matter of friendship, love or cordiality, nor of hyper-connectivity or logistics. It is an experiment conducted between and against us, with and for others, a constant invention more of the form of sociability and less of its content, fashioned in the danger of being against society but together, conspiring. Helena’s photographs point exactly to this: to inventing forms of mutual support, devices for complicity which are strained and, therefore, unstable, which bear our weight whilst they expose us. And a great deal of gestures that explore caring, touch and contact. This is clearly seen in the abundance of skin, hands and embraces that appear in the photographs; entangled hands, as though clinging to a chain, legs which protrude and intertwine, affectionate arms and a great deal of skin that touches and is touched. These are ways in which the collective and the personal are muddled and contaminated, balanced between the intimacy of the portrait of a room and the vast scope of Bilbao’s landscape. Ways in which shared sensitivity draws new territory.

 

This exhibition is, similarly, a photographic experimentation laboratory. Helena uses a wide range of formats and techniques: snapshots, digital and (mainly) analogue photos, traditional and non-traditional portrait framing, collections of leather jackets and jeans, repeated prints and contact sheets. There is something accumulative, almost devouring in all this. Yet, in some way, here photography is an index of different learning processes. Rather, it is an archive that records technical exploration, the negotiation between different vocabularies and the final confirmation of the artist’s own language. And, I suppose, it is also a personal experimentation laboratory. The photographs document Helena’s re-encounter with her city and friends after two years away in London. They serve to update her memories and wishes: it is easy to recognise friendships that grow over the course of the series and over the years, or Abra’s horizon of sea, seawalls and cranes (the view seen every day by all of us who grew up in Las Arenas). However, there is also appreciation of other new affinities and places, of geography. A sensitive appreciation, as part of which the camera does not reproduce an adversarial relationship between photographer and sitter, but rather one of complicity. Here, both camera and gaze also do other things: they touch, caress, cover and appreciate from the “skin” of the photograph, from the eye that looks and cares. Photography is, in short, a sensor, anesthetised to its environment, the sensory ability of which detects, records and responds to the contact, impact and influences of its surroundings. And, at a time where sensitivity has been worn down by the general insecurity of life, inventing new images to activate it and new proposals for radical sociability is a political battlefield. An edgy riot.

Tourniquet

Text by Érika Goyarrola Olano

 

Reflecting intimacy in works of art has been a constant amongst contemporary artists since the 60s. From a Feminist perspective, private life becomes a topic of public vindication, and the photographic camera serves as the perfect means to make this visible. Parallel to the development of this theme, critical voices emerge which question art’s ability to convey these kinds of experiences.

Helena Goñi’s exhibition Tourniquet offers a new approach to spaces of intimacy. Modern-day society has developed the urge to create an unnaturally personal image with the pretence of portraying everyday life. In an age when online relationships prevail over physical ones, the artist questions the dominant models surrounding this issue.

 

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Tourniquet

Érika Goyarrola Olano

 

Reflecting intimacy in works of art has been a constant amongst contemporary artists since the 60s. From a Feminist perspective, private life becomes a topic of public vindication, and the photographic camera serves as the perfect means to make this visible. Parallel to the development of this theme, critical voices emerge which question art’s ability to convey these kinds of experiences.

Helena Goñi’s exhibition Tourniquet offers a new approach to spaces of intimacy. Modern-day society has developed the urge to create an unnaturally personal image with the pretence of portraying everyday life. In an age when online relationships prevail over physical ones, the artist questions the dominant models surrounding this issue.

On the one hand, she reverses women’s passive role by portraying the male figure within the framework of her own day-to-day life. The lightbox that shows a screenshot of a Skype conversation confronts us with the duality between the closeness of an intimate setting (her partner lying in bed) and the distance inherent to that tool for communication.

On the other hand, in contrast to this distance, Goñi aims to show the need for physical contact. For this reason, she chooses the hand as a symbol to represent the sensory experience necessary for any intimate relationship. With a minimal gesture, she breaks away from and challenges the previous feeling of distance. By doing so, she expresses the fragility and instability of contemporary relationships, marked as they are by violent speed. All this can be seen in the videos, the texts displayed in the screenprints -“BABE, BABE, BABE….. Baby I’m gonna leave you” and “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER…… Never Gonna Leave You Baby”- and the pictures of vulnerable bodies and of vehicles needing patches to remain whole and to last, which evoke precisely the constant possibility of rupture which, although present in all stages of life, is most evident in youth.

Tourniquet reflects the etymological meaning of the word ‘intimacy’, related to intimidation and, through this, to fear. What appears to be familiar and safe, alongside the need to create bonds with others, can generate unrequited expectations and cause unease and a certain fragmentation of the subject. This idea is reinforced by the artist tearing apart one of the images, physically splitting up a couple.

By means of this multi-disciplinary work, Goñi shows the dichotomy between proximity and remoteness in relationships. The exhibition, which sets out to rethink the art of stirring up feelings through photography, reflects what is intimate and its necessary link with affections. The artist, without establishing a biographical connection, successfully delves into in self-experience, translating this to a more universal scenario which is closer to the viewer.

 

 

And yet the keen air acted violently on my nervous system; sky, earth, all seemed to swim round, while the steeple rocked like a ship. My legs gave way like those of a drunken man. I crawled upon my hands and knees; I hauled myself up slowly, crawling like a snake. Presently I closed my eyes, and allowed myself to be dragged upwards. “Look around you,” said my uncle in a stern voice, “heaven knows what profound abysses you may have to look down. This is excellent practice.”
Journey to the centre of the earth, Jules Verne

 

 

 

Helena Goñi (Bilbao, 1990)

With a BA in Fine Arts from the University of the Basque Country, she moved to London to continue her studies, completing a Master’s in Photography at Central Saint Martins. After graduating in June 2015, her first individual exhibition was shown at the Cosmos gallery (Bilbao) in October of the same year, marking the début of her project Tourniquet. Between October 2015 and June 2016, she worked on her project Behind Blue Eyes, made possible by a Visual Arts grant from the Provincial Council of Biscay. This second project was published as a photo-book, after she won the first edition of Género y Figura.

She has won numerous awards, among them: Ertibil 2016 and 2018, Barakaldo Foto Festival and GetxoArte 2016. Her work has been collectively exhibited in several different countries, such as Germany, Malta, the UK, Switzerland and Spain. January to March 2017 saw her second individual exhibition, when she presented Tell Me How Close We Are to a Riot at Bilbao’s Sala Rekalde, as part of the Barriek programme. Her work can be found in private and public collections, at the Basque Museum-Centre of Contemporary Art (Artium) or the Bilbao Contemporary Photography Centre, for example.

Although her creations are predominantly photographic, they are deeply influenced by music, which is integrated into her work itself, alongside other devices such as video, screen printing, etc. She draws on her surroundings, paying particular attention to her experience through expectations, failure, utopia or encounters with the Other.