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Nathalie Rey once again proposes a visit to her personal universe, in which fables, raw realities, criticism and dreams are combined. In “Bestes en Pastura” she daringly and openly enters into a speech that refers to the classics to address socioeconomic and moral issues of today's society. The exhibition builds a rural absurdity almost taken from a work by Pasolini, which leads us to reflect on the place we occupy in the world, the role and rights we grant to the animals with whom we share it, highlighting our habits and ways of consuming their image and their bodies. With references to private property, concerning both spaces and animals, Nathalie transgresses the limits of what is correct through simple acts to re-dress the everyday life. Dynamics hidden by custom become apparent in her costumes and scenography. Maintaining a language formed by the contrast between childish and insolent elements, “Bestes en Pastura” is almost the presentation of a mythological imagery that could very well continue in a cinematographic language. The exhibited work illustrates a stage in the path of several projects and collaborations, with the artists Enric Maurí and Josechu Tercero, in which they develop photography, performance, feature films and installations among other disciplines. Rey's artistic residencies, exhibition projects, collaborations, travels and childhood memories are amalgamated in her personal fable to take us on a dreamlike journey that takes us away in order to get closer to those around us.

 

Sara Catalán

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Entering the universe of Nathalie Rey is like entering the wonderland of Lewis Carroll, a world apparently absurd and without order, in which nothing is what it seems despite being full of revelations. Setting foot in one of her installations, you have the feeling that the world is undulating, turned upside down. No longer is the logic of the real world useful for orientation. You are instead trapped in a network of tricks and turns, in a universe that is fantastical, yet somehow more real than the “real” world outside. Here you can open doors that lead to places you never knew existed. But for this to happen you have to abandon yourself unquestioningly. In a way, you have to turn back towards childhood, to rediscover a place of imagination in which you can, according to the philosopher Graham Harman, face certain mysteries more resolutely than adults. [1]

This feeling of strangeness[2]  that Rey’s works can cause is the result of her ability to bring into play different intelligences and perceptions, to unblock the processes of understanding through metaphors, twists, and associations that connect with reality without describing it. Through allusions and personal readings, viewers can register a great diversity of nuanced perspectives. Rey does not deny hegemonic knowledge; instead she presents a critical attitude towards such knowledge, which often neglects meanings essential to understanding the world in which we live.

How is it that intuition can be more accurate than calculation? What are the images that matter? Is the metaphor less true than the story? Could a chaotic world, with diverse temporalities, contradictions, and absurdities, be more real than the one dictated by bureaucracy and order? In fact, the information we perceive on a day-to-day basis is full of signs, even if our cultural framework limits the readings we can make of them and the way to approach them. So, can the Fukushima disaster be considered from the innocence of childhood?  Can the lockdown be understood as a state of siege, a city taken over by animals? Is it possible to articulate random and fanciful facts around an apparently banal lived experience in order to transcend it? Can all these apparent contradictions make up an aesthetic corpus that presages the destruction of the world?

Scenes of the apocalypse–destruction, fires, natural disasters– have been encoded into the history of images. Yet Rey immerses herself in such scenes without filling us with dust and ashes. In doing so, we are freed from divine and catastrophic messages so that we can face our own individual and collective actions, actions which, by endangering the survival of many species, have led scientists to describe our era as the Anthropocene.

Rey’s Apocalipsis now reflects on the destruction to which we are subjecting the planet and the risk to our species’ survival that this entails. Rey focuses not only on physical destruction, but also on the moral dimension of the acts that cause it. Her narrative and linguistic twists open areas of thought that are alternative to the hegemonic ideology of the dominant political and economic regimes which generate submerging situations.

In the eyes of the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, the installation is the most powerful instrument of contemporary art because it presents what is submerged (the object) and what submerges it (the place) concurrently. In doing so, it generates a situation that is only sustained by the entry of the observer into the submerging and the dissolution of the frame.[3] In this way the installation becomes a part of reality and is conditioned by temporality. In the article “Of the Installations: A Dialogue between Ilya Kabakov and Boris Groys,” Groys affirms that the installation is not, like painting, out of time, but rather has the quality of an event, because it is more a mechanism than an organism. That is to say, it has more to do with the coexistence of individual objects with their respective histories than with an organic and ideal world. [4] Thus, the immediate effect of objects and actions no longer depends on attributed meanings since by becoming stage performances, they contain the transformation and attribution of meanings in their course. This scenic character is referred to by Fischer-Lichte, who highlights the generation of spatiality as what gives these works the character of an event[5], a spatiality that is performed both by the artist and by the spectators themselves when immersed in them.

Mercè Alsina

[1] Graham Harman “Espacio, tiempo y esencia desde un enfoque orientado a objetos” 147-183, pp. 149-150. In Harman, G. (2015) Hacia el realismo especulativo. Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires: Caja Negra. (Trad.: Claudio Iglesias). This essay, among others, was previously published in Towards speculative realism: Essays and lectures, published in the UK by John Hunt Publishing Ltd., in 2010.

[2] For the philosopher Juliane Rebentisch, an image becomes aesthetic precisely when it offers resistance to our habitual access to the world. In Rebentisch, Juliane (2005), Imagen documental e imagen estética, Chile Internacional. Arte, existencia, multitud. Verlag Editions, Berlín.

[3] Sloterdijk, P. (2006 (2004)). Esferas III. Espumas. Esferología plural (Trad.: Reguera, I.) Madrid: Biblioteca de ensayo Siruela. pp. 403-404.

[4] Groys, B. (1990) “De las Instalaciones: Un Diálogo entre Ilya Kabakov y Boris Groys” (Trad.: Bernardo Ortiz) Cuartillas 5, 4, 2008. pp. 4-5.

[5] Fischer-Lichte, E. (2011 (2004)) Estética de lo performativo (Trad.: D. G. Martínez) Madrid: Abada Editores. p. 234.

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Strates + L'Ourse écorchée

Musical improvisation by Elo Masing and Vincent Laju

Performance by Enric Maurí and Nathalie Rey

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In el mar / la mer, various recurring topics in Nathalie Rey's work – such as children's imagination, shipwreck understood as failure, the denunciation of contemporary consumer society, and environmental catastrophes caused by human beings – are interwoven with a clear common thread: the sea.

 

In Nathalie Rey’s projects, the sea (la mer) appears powerful but serene, beautiful but dangerous, representing peace and calm and at the same time harboring shipwrecks, battles, and environmental disasters. It gives us shelter and feeds us, and it is the mother (la mère), referring to the mother with her child and the mother earth that nourishes us, cares for us, and protects us.

 

From these two terms and their symbolism comes the title of the exhibition: el mar and la mer, the latter when written in the phonetic alphabet represents two homophonic words in French with different meanings (sea and mother). Rey thus creates a visual play on words and uses what they symbolize for her to speak of humanity, wars, catastrophes, and – in short – of our mother earth based on her children’s imagination and through apparently innocent objects.

 

Various works that make up the exhibition evoke the artist's childhood memories of her grandmother's village in Belle-Île-en-Mer, an island off the Atlantic coast of northern France. For instance, La Danza de Los Ahogados [The Dance of the Drowned] and Tas No.10, two installations in which the artist uses objects that she found in her grandmother's house–such as life jackets and penguin-shaped bowling pins– and the memories and stories they contain in order to raise her voice against socio-environmental tragedies.

 

This is the case with the story behind TasNo.10 (2014), composed of a series of large penguin pins piled up on top of each other (hence the title Tas, which means “pile” in French). Here, Rey takes as her starting point her personal experience when coming across these penguins at a time that coincided with a tragic family circumstanceto create another branch of the Tas series (2013-2018), in which the artist refers to leaked photos of the Abu Ghraib camp after the US invasion of Iraq which showed a pile of naked bodies of the prisoners tortured by camp officials.

 

The same happens with La Danza de Los Ahogados (2020), in which life jackets hanging from the ceiling and belonging to the ship of the artist’s grandfather, a navy captain, refer to current problems of migration with the closure of borders and the drama of the pateras, a clear allusion to the sea when it comes to shelter and social, economic, and ecological misfortunes.

 

For Nathalie Rey, the sea also reflects the irreversible effects of climate change and the consequences of human footprints on the environment through the consumption of plastic. This is what she tells us in her project Naufragio (Shipwreck, 2012-2020), which was born after she read the news about twelve shipping containers that fell into the water during a storm in the Pacific Ocean, one of which contained thousands of children's bath toys that were left floating and contaminating the sea for years. Here, the artist recreates part of this adventure with an installation of rubber ducks on a beach in the Maresme that she captures in a series of photographs (Shipwreck I, 2012). Nathalie Rey also exhibits a variant (2019) of this project, composed of hundreds of these plastic ducks, yet this time piled up inside a bathtub about to overflow, which can be understood as a metaphor for the sea and consumer society with a nod towards the world of children, pure and heartless at the same time.

 

A few yearsafter the first Shipwreck work, Rey recreated the scenario but this time representing the shipwreck of thousands of differently colored Kinder Surprise eggs that invaded the island of Langeeog, on the Baltic Sea coast, in Shipwreck II (2017), an installation composed of metallic sandbanks filled with pink sand and hundreds of chicken eggs. In this case, the artist wanted to emphasize the contrast between the natural and the artificial, the real and the false, by replacing beach sand with pink artificial sand andby using biodegradable chicken eggs in place of the plastic eggs.

 

With Shipwreck III (2018-2020), Nathalie Rey has begun another active process of transformation in nature, this time not based on events such as the shipwreck of rubber ducks or Kinder eggs, but creating her own narrative. Rey symbolically contaminates different landscapes with the very material that she denounces: plastic. The artist thereby intervenes voluntarily in the different scenarios, scattering hundreds of colored plastic jars and creating a landscape that visually attracts the spectator's eye but which, in the end, denounces the harshness of reality.

 

The works of this series shown in the exhibition illustrate interventions that took place this year (2020), some of which were documented in photographs and printed on vinyl canvas, such asCap de Grillson the Costa del Garraf and Port Skeul on her grandmother's island, and others documented in video, as we can see in the action that took place in Belle-Île-en-Mer, giving the video its title (Belle-Île-en-Mer). An action consistingnot only of dispersing plastic but also of collecting it later, with the desire to awaken consciousness and set an example.

 

It is worth highlighting that the final stage of the Naufragio project has also had an educational and participatory side, in which the artist – with the intention of promoting cooperation and collective thinking around what she denounces through her projects – has worked with various collectives linked to the environment and with groups of children in collaboration with schools, making the "Taller d'Art". Sharing her concerns and her creative process, Rey has opened a dialogue between her work and the children's imagination to create works of art with them from plastic waste, taking action and transmitting her message.

 

Nathalie Rey is currently working on other ramifications of her artistic process, as in Donnant 1 (2020), a black-and-white print in a wooden and methacrylate box in which the artist intervenes in the photographic medium rather than directly in the landscape. By nailing colored pins that refer to plastic bottles into the black-and-white photographs, Rey also reinforces the contrast between the natural and the artificial. Then there is the photographic series La Balsa de Santa Susanna de Vilamajor (2020), a project she is developing with the artist EnricMaurí, and in which she once again "contaminates" the landscape – this time not with plastic jars,but with some of her fetish objects, such as rubber ducks or stuffed animals. Composed of five color prints, both this series and Donnant1 refer to places the artist has visited and that have meaning for her.

 

In Plastic Sea (2019-2020), Nathalie Rey makes visible through her inverted maps what is invisible to our eyes: the massive amount of waste that ends up in the oceans. Composed of twenty circular canvases (in the exhibition we can see four of them: Plastic Europe, Plastic America, Plastic Asia, and Plastic Africa), in this series the artist hand-stitches thousands of colorful plastic pearls that symbolize the enormous garbage dump in oceans, seas, and lakes. A meditative action that requires patience and precision and through which Rey denounces a global problem.

 

So too in Noticias 2, a series of nine black-and-white images that the artist has taken from press clippings and altered in a subtle and almost unnoticed way, alluding to the manipulation and falsification of the mass media and consumer society that Jean Baudrillard[1]discusses. In this work, as in the others, Rey alters the narrativescoming from stories and images that speak of tragedies caused by human beings (such as the Nazi Holocaust or the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) to move between the false and the real, the natural and the artificial, the beautiful and the terrible, and between innocence and cruelty.

 

A game of dualities which Nathalie Rey navigates to tell her own story of humanity from her personalpoint of view and to vindicate collectivism over selfishness and individualism, because, with intention and action, we could all turn something destructive into something constructive by recycling or reusing what we are polluting with.

 

In el mar/la mer, the sea becomes a tragic-sweet leitmotif, like the passage from childhood to adulthood, or the history of humanity, with its advances and at the same time its misfortunes. Nathalie Rey, an artist aware of the era in which she lives, therefore proposes new paths of transformation that inviteus to conceive the world from empathy and conscience.

Olga Sureda

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