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ANA TORRALVA: THE ALBUM OF RESTLESSNESS
By Alfonso de la Torre
Texto publicado en el catálogo
ANA TORRALVA, TEORÍA Y JUEGO DEL DUENDE
Cartagena, 2017: MURAM, MUSEO REGIONAL DE ARTE MODERNO, pp. 22-33
Ana Torralva, (San Fernando, Cádiz, 1957) walks in the world with restlessness.
I must write about appearances, she believes, as I reflect upon her images. I just finished an essay on artist Juan Muñoz, and I immediately go over Torralva’s images that so powerfully bring to me the horror of the world’s murmur. Our artist’s characters are portrayed in an instant that appeared like silence, seemingly static at times, at times challengingly looking beyond the image; some close their eyes as abandoned to their own trance, and some expose their eyelids to nothingness. Like images of a geography, Torralva manages to compose faces like fields or buildings in ruins that show their wounds or furrows on such faces left by the passing of time. I work in search of truth, our artist remarks meaningfully (1). She is in search of the elusive truth, we add.
Here come appearances. In the end, Art History has always been a constant story telling wondering about representation and construction of images (appearances) as the story telling itself, its construction, becomes Art History. Such a story telling is not, by the way, a narrative of the revealed clarity, but rather the former has often been visited by an association of artists that made out of the restlessness of images the object of their work (dust and mist, uncertain worlds, deformity and tremor, commotion or suspension of images, fragments or intense glance, just as it happens with Torralva’s). Obviously, the way our artist looks upon the world’s stage is self demanding and bare, radical and complacence free: this is her way to attempt an access to that truth. “Enchantment has gone through” her images, especially through the real intensity of her portraits that are the impressive corpus of her work where we find that constant intent: a firm willingness to go beyond appearances.
I see in Vuillard’s blind interiors the doubt over the presumable shining of things, and I recall Celan’s, whom I often quote, idea about dust as your bodyguard. Great visual artists whose works have been kept in museums are those who have stabilized a particular connection, a different relationship with beings and spaces of the times they lived. And this is our time, a blocked time by stupidity of a profusion of images, and we imagine Torralva met by the dizziness of the abuse of these images that devastate her days, and then getting rid of them in order to focus on her laborious task (3). Torralva portrays the world. as Yves Bonnefoy remarks, portraying means to recount time, which equals saying that portraying means to exert an active consciousness of transcendence (4). Her art is elusive to visual hierarchies, it is an art of suggestions and intensity; it is the exercise of the powerful plasticity of symbolic representation. Torralva focuses on creating her particular “Atlas” of reality-faces and places of ‘cante,’ gestures and geographies, landscapes and figures that are expanded onto a singular and gigantic atlas that in a Warburg way, before rising the certainties of the creative territory is capable to make out of creation a vast space for questions- an unusual space of oddities, in her own words- , an album of beautiful amazement (5).
“A face must respond to all names in the world,” the surrealists said. (6).
Torralva elevates her portraits by attempting new ways of looking, different ways to express what is represented. I can see an oriental bias in this artist’s inquisitiveness, since despite her art being an art of images, she won’t stop temping the emptiness in her swaying as she explores in her portraits a search for the essential, the zen in them, the ineffable instant, the summit of her glance. Some of these portraits emerge from the deep and crop up their way from a kind of epic of the noir (such is the case of the stark portrait of ‘Manolete’, for instance). At times, as in the case of the stunning “Tony el Pelao” or “Mujer con moño”, the artist sets out the presence of a double portrait – front and silhouette, approaching, thus, the taxonomy of crime or the pathological file card(8).
Other times she makes obvious the means used in her portraits in an attempt to show a bare world that rejects scenography-preexisting background staging, – some silence that provides for reflection. Frequently also hands or faces stand out, like popping up from the darkness; furthermore, Torralva manages to accomplish a kind of anti-portrait, as she shifts toward the negation of a full revelation of the features of the persons being portrayed. We can see such invasion of shadows throughout some of her portraits such as “El Cigala”, or one of my favorite ones, the splendid “La Paquera de Jerez”. Her closed eyes bring immediately to my mind the beautiful drawing by Odilon Redon that I saw at Musée d’Orsay (10). Women’s eyes are frequently half-shut in our artist’s portraits as if directing their gesture inwards, maybe towards the ‘jondo’ and inapprehensible. Aurora Vargas, La Macanita, Dolores Agujeta, Carmen Cortés, and Marina Heredia: their eyes are shut, almost in a trance. These are portraits in which dates are often missing, appearing thus not to care about time in her patient construction of this atlas that she will never conclude.
Silence times. It appears that the clepsydre has stopped in many of her images where the hours and that world of voices remain now suspended. This is somehow symbolized in the still life “chairs and guitar trio” metonymically and ironically entitled “Bodegón flamenco” (“Flamenco still life”). Quest of a kind of focus that explores that askesis (12). Silence. Torralva also portrays, from some sort of metaphysics, a no man’s land as she becomes, herself, a no man’s land since her work is a cosa mentale, an art of suggestions. All her work radiates some kind of “state of mind”, in a Duchamp’s way. In lieu of evidences, she always focuses on a lonely activity, the quiet task of creating devoted to the need of repetition, mysterious and intriguing portrait of a frozen moment, something that, having fled, is unrepeatable, and in the end, a reflection on art history, the sublime catharsis or the construction of the glance.
Our artist acknowledges using fragmentation as an essential method of work: namely the sample of different images. It does not matter whether they are portraits or landscapes, a diversity of views, fragments, features or gestures that could attempt to compose a whole of what is being represented (14). At this point the multiple portraits of “El Bongui” or “El Capullo de Jerez,” might be flagship examples of what we are writing about (15). It is necessary also to call the attention to the beautiful sequences on zapateao (tapping) or María Pages’s hands. From an emotional geography, Torralva’s work becomes a narrative; the temperate and freshly focused vision allows for the construction of her stories (among which I prefer, due to its ability to travel towards intimacy, the beautiful sequence of intimate portraits at Estrella Morente dressing room, far from the world, focused on her own being).
Her landscapes, many of which are featured in the beautiful book “El cante y la mina”(16), appear to glide towards a certain mysterious essence, an instant of hallucination that from Murcia and its mines move towards territories as described in Faulkner’s novels. Torralva finds in the wasteland her fictional space. A wasteland (how beautiful the image of “Mina Obdulia.Portman”) that she has contemplated with melancholy since her childhood family summer trips and has now become the object of her reflection as an artist. I go back to Torner’s idea on style that applies now to Torralva, whose thinking style undoubtedly exceeds the usual photographic narrative and leads her to meet the intensity of an authentic artistic language.
Meditative and symbolic, Torralva owns an active or visionary imagination- creative and transgressive. She is able to go beyond appearances as she plunges into a journey to the other side. Her corpus, regarded with the distance of many years of active creation, recalls a sort of unrestrained derangement after the walk through the vestiges of that time of The Mines- testimony of the scars in the land, skeleton of the machinery, dimmed lights, barren lands, dirt flatlands… something that remains symbolized in her findings; a journey both external and interior. The walk through that stage meant somehow a trance experience. It was not only an outward journey but also allowed for Ana Torralva to transubstantiate it into a transit with a hallucinatory bias that became knowledge.
As I look at these photographs, I think, of course, of the contemporary representation of flamenco, and I recall Vicente Escudero, dancer and draftsman portrayed by Man Ray next to his shadow (and again I refer to the stage backgrounds- the latter portraying Boiffard). Strange dancing Escudero makes me think about his revering Paul Klee (17) or his liking to be close to “El Paso” (18).
I also think of José Menese- visiting abstract Cuenca (19) or attached to Juana Mordó gallery- from La Puebla de Cazalla, Moreno Galván’s hometown. I quote Manuel Viola, the Saura brothers or Bonifacio Alfonso, and at this point I am bound to thinking of the essential burlap “Galería de la Mina”(1965), Millares artwork at the Cuenca Spanish Abstract Art Museum, a reference to a journey to the depth. I recalled this as I read a text by our artist: ” For miners, usually sun bathed south eastern country men, the traumatic vital experience is that of the pits. That is why they lament over darkness like no other mining population does. The lives of miners in the bright south east is engulfed by such darkness, such potential death that overpowers their cante“(10).
Torralva’s work makes her immortal since it is a work of memory and such memory is a testimony. Not only is she a witness of an era, but she is above all a photographer with remarkable lyric echoes- an artist and a poet through her camera.
Torralva appears to end up exploring in others her own being, her own restlessness. Ana Torralva pulls back her hair in a beautiful “Self Portrait” to which I am looking now, and her eyes -wide open here- look at the world. It reminds me of Gustave Courbet’s self- portrait in despair. Does it show amazement or panic in front of what he sees?
- Torralva, Ana. Ascension to the Dome. From Water to the Sky. Salamanca, 2017. Unpublished. In artist’s file. “my photographs are austere, black and white, no tricks. They look for the light as an allied in order to achieve contrasts between lights and shadows that enhance expression. They point out the spirit and personality of each individual. I do not attempt to embellish people (…) to work in search of truth, what they have inside and does not show- what is in front of the camera and is so obvious that at times it is so difficult to define and capture.
(…) I look within the people” In ib.
- A series of photographs of which there is a precedent in 1985 (“Portrait of Camarón”).
- The fact that life is an open window to the world (…) makes me somehow dizzy. Ana Torralva, conversation with the writer, 4-13-2017.
- We refer to BONNEFOY, Yves. Observaciones sobre el retrato. Version in Spanish in “La nube roja” Madrid. Editorial Síntesis, 2003, pgs 139 et al.
- ” Photography amplifies the concepts of beauty, art and truth or substantially changes the place for all of them. For Susan Sontag surreal is immersed in the very core of the photographic process, and may serve for us to collect the world, as a collection of oddities. The photographer -and the photograph consumer- follows very closely the peddler, one of Baudelaire’s favorite images to talk about the modern poet, (quoting Baudelaire): all that the big city got rid of, all it lost, everything it rejected, everything it stomped on, he catalogues and collects (…) Classifies things and accurately chooses them; he collects, like a miser watching over a treasure, the leftovers that become useful and satisfying objects between the jaws of Industry goddess. (…) The surrealistic peddler’s sharpness was devoted to finding beauty, importance or interest in what others did not (…)” Torralva, Ana Ascension to the Dome. From Water to Sky. cit. This quotation by Torralva belongs to Susan Sontag’s On Photography.
- BRETON, André-ELUARD, Paul. Dictionnaire Abrégé du Surréalisme. Paris: Galerie des Beaux Arts, Paris Spanish version in Madrid: Ediciones Siruela. Diccionario abreviado del surrealismo, 2002, pg 90. This definition is signed by Eluard.
- The author’s work is not any longer valid in the way it was for the great masters of photography in the 20’s or 70’s last century from whom present day photographers have nourished. Configuring a work is not any longer valid as the result of an number of moments, like they used to do. We still can use Cartier Bresson’s concept of decisive moment, in the sense of things happening at a decisive moment- not that the work is a series of decisive moments on different topics.
- This matter of relationships between photography and police file cards or pathological cards was analyzed in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Carmen Calvo: Doble o nada. Madrid: Galería Rayuela, 2011. Jules Auguste BÉCLARD was cited there from his Tratado de fisiología humana. Madrid: Imprenta Bailly-Baillière, 1868, pg.15.
- “(…) I enhanced the dramatic and poetical sense of a past time with a renewed glance. The plastic qualities of color did not add the significant hue I was looking for. The intent was to reflect each character’s personal existential drama. In the same way, color would sweeten the characters’ features. Color in clothing or decor in houses would distract from what essentially was meant to transmit.” In TORRALVA, Ana Ascension to the Dome. From Water to Sky. cit.
- Odilon Redon, Les yeux clos, 1890, Musée d’Orsay. At this point another memory of of another portrait by Lucien Freud, Woman with Eyes Closed, 2002 that belonged to the Kunsthal of Rotterdam.
- To these collection there should be added some essential ones like Renau’s on a mirror (1982) ot Cioran’s (1988).
- ” During this portrait sessions, a very intimate communication is developed with the person being portrayed and a lot of focus takes place in the process (…) It is kind of a simultaneous, two-sided oriental meditation”.
- TORRALVA, Ana Ascension to the Dome. From Water to Sky. Op. cit.
- CABANNE, Pierre. Conversando con Marcel Duchamp. Mexico: Alias, (1967)- 2012, pg.70 (consulted edition)
- “I am more interested nowadays in this more unusual way of looking at flamenco” Ana Torralva, conversation with the artist, 4-16-2017.
- “Fragmentation as the objective to reach a whole (…) begins by dividing portraits and landscapes in different sequences of time and space; in this way their different parts appear coherently united. This fragmentation or metamorphosis of images holds together due to an internal coherence that arises from a conceptual approach”. In TORRALVA, Ana. Ascension to the Dome. From Water to Sky. Op. cit.
- TORRALVA, Ana. El cante y la mina. La Unión. Murcia: Mestizo A.C., 1999.
- OLMEDILLA, Juan G. Vicente Escudero. Madrid: “Crónica”, Number 24, 4-27- 1930. Pg. 21.
- ESCUDERO, Vicente. Tener los pies en la tierra. Madrid-Palma de Mallorca “Papeles de Son Armadans” (dedicated to “El Paso”). Year IV, volume XIII, number 37. April, 1959. Pgs. 70-72.
- From La Puebla de Cazalla (Seville). One of the ineffable chapters of “Rito y geografía del cante” (RTVE, 1971-1973) starring Diego Clavel and José Menese, among others, was recorded at the studio of Pepe España in Cuenca, Spain.
- GARCÍA, Génesis. Cante Flamenco. Cante Minero. Barcelona: Anthropos, 1993. Cited by TORRALVA, Ana. El cante y la mina. La Unión. cit. Unpublished.
Translation by Tomás Hernandez-Rozas