Txaro Arrazola. A Magnificent Exploitation

Txaro Arrazola. A Magnificent Exploitation Image: 'Gdaim Izik'. Txaro Arrazola, 2011

From: Friday, 05 November 2021

To: Sunday, 13 March 2022

Place: A1 Gallery

It is indeed paradoxical that ‘explotar’ means three things in Spanish: ‘to extract from the earth its wealth’, ‘to exploit the work or qualities of another person for one’s own benefit’ and ‘to blow up, to make an explosion’. The title of this exhibition uses these three meanings of the verb to suggest connections between them from which to approach the idea of contemporary landscape in the work of Txaro Arrazola (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1963).

Throughout the 20th century, cinema, which has been and continues to be an exceptional catalyst for literary, pictorial and photographic landscape traditions, produced a good number of films that captured a widely shared view in the West, which was that of nature as an amount of natural resources. A number of titles made by Hollywood after the Second World War about agricultural, livestock, forestry, mining or oil exploitation stand out among this countless list of films, in which the same story is repeated. They feature a landowner, a white heterosexual male who owns, dominates and exploits the land and its inhabitants. Looking at his patch of nature, the landowner only subjectively sees a magnificent exploitation.

This Cartesian, mechanistic view of nature, which informs a worldview shared by scientific, economic and aesthetic discourses, arose four centuries earlier with the dawn of capitalism and has invariably presided over the exploitation of both colonial and metropolitan territories. This andro- and anthropocentric view, which leads to an objectifying view of nature, also objectifies animals and women, as they are considered an extension of the natural territory created to be exploited. Despite environmentalism and feminism, or even ecofeminism, this still hegemonic view is commonly found in various manifestations of the contemporary landscape.

The exhibition Una magnífica explotación (A Magnificent Exploitation) brings together a wide selection of paintings from the series Paisajes sociales (Social Landscapes), which Txaro Arrazola has been producing since 1993, when she completed her first drawings of the landscape views that could be seen from the large window of her studio in an old factory in the then dilapidated neighbourhood of Bushwick, New York. That same year, Arrazola also produced a series of patchwork pieces that she regarded as expanded paintings. These were made from second-hand clothes bought at Salvation Army shops upon whose fabric she transferred or developed images of her daily surroundings. El nuevo proletariado (The New Proletariat) is a painting from that year made up of pieces of cloth and drawings of the views from her studio.

But it was not until 1995, now back in Vitoria-Gasteiz, that she painted her first large-scale acrylic canvas in the series Bushwick, based on those drawings from 1993. The choice of representing both the window and the view from the window of her New York studio, located opposite a car graveyard, is a declaration of artistic and political significance. Henceforth, this technique, painting, and this format, large-scale, would turn the series into a discursive device, a window for contemplating windows and the world we see through them. Furthermore, Paisajes sociales is also an allegory of Txaro Arrazola’s window on the world.

With these foundations in place, the second painting in the series presents an adjusted method. Her drawings from life are replaced as a reference for her paintings by images that she takes from newspapers and magazines, which she often depicts on a real scale in order to place the viewer in the front row of the places represented. The artist replaces her studio’s window with the daily press, which she looks through to see how photojournalism and the mass media see and narrate the world. She uses this displacement to develop a method that plays with the perspective and scale of the images as in a game of mirrors and lenses. Extracting images and journalistic photographs from the news briefs conferred by their medium and transcending the everyday nature of the daily press to convert these into artistic artefacts extends their temporality and, above all, exponentially expands their functionality. Following the pattern of this initial painting, her subsequent works frequently situate the point of view at an elevated height, such as the fourth floor of that Bushwick studio, although it also occasionally descends to the same level as the landscape it depicts.

As the series developed, Arrazola would go on to produce disturbing contemporary landscapes from various parts of the world that display all manner of destruction caused by direct human action: landslides, abandoned rubble, accidents, scenes following acts of terrorism... Or by indirect action, such as the devastating consequences of climate change. Landscapes portraying situations of extreme poverty, favelas, war refugee camps or those of migrants for climatic or economic reasons. These sombre or directly dark paintings have very few colours and they depict an unhappy world in which people never appear. Although, as the artist has stated, ‘each work is a complete story, a microcosm, a state of things’, and by showing the paintings in a group, emphasising the serialisation of Arrazola’s practice, this ‘state of things’ is amplified by accumulation.

Una magnífica explotación also takes into account that the paintings comprising Paisajes sociales respond differently according to the distance from which they are viewed. A close look allows one to appreciate the expressiveness of the brushstrokes and shows the artist’s interest in the gestures of abstract expressionist painting. A distant gaze reveals figurative paintings that eschew meticulous description and reveal all the severity of the palette. But in both cases, due to their size and composition, the paintings directly appeal to the viewer. Although Arrazola’s window allows you to contemplate these landscapes from a safe distance in order to, in the artist’s words, ‘provide people with the fantasy of being in these spaces without getting dirty’. In keeping with the idea of proximity so as not to disrupt the impression that the works extend beyond the limits of the canvas, the paintings are not framed. Nor are they framed in the past.

Unfortunately today, just as 30 years ago, the works remain strictly topical. Txaro Arrazola’s social landscapes are still an all too familiar everyday scene.

Txaro Arrazola graduated in Fine Arts from UPV/EHU in 1988. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship (1996-1997) and MFA from the State University of New York, Purchase College (1996-1998) and has a PhD in Fine Arts (2012). Her work is characterised by social engagement, feminist critique of representation and research into collaborative methodologies. She combines her individual artistic practice of painting with transdisciplinary projects and group projects, including actions produced with the Plataforma A collective in public spaces. Her work has been exhibited at Galería Vanguardia (Bilbao, 2019, 2014, 2014, 2011, 2007); Fundación Pedro Modesto Campos (Tenerife 2007); Centro Cultural Montehermoso (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2008, 2005), and Kunstarkaden Der Stadt (Munich 2008), among other spaces and institutions.

Curator: Xabier Arakistain


Brochure List of Works

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