The sea in the Midst of the Lands // Mare Medi Terraneum
The Mediterranean, etymologically speaking the “mare midi terra”, or “the sea in the midst of the lands”1, is presented as an apparently closed basin, which actually opens up to the west via the strait of Gibraltar. A space that has always been at a cross- roads of cultures – Mesopotamian, Carthaginian, Berber, semitic, Persian, Phoenician, Greek and Roman – and a cradle for religions: Judaism, Christianity and islam. Moreover this sea was and is the economic and cultural base of incipient nations favored by the maritime interchanges that enabled the supremacy of the so-called Western civilization. Regions of diversity, which question the idea of frontier, transforming the models of identity and political figures that emerged from revolutionary events.
Not a day goes by without the Mediterranean being referred to as a drama and not as a partici- pative or cultural space along the lines reflected in advertising leaflets. Long gone is the Mediterranean of Braudel, his wonderful descriptions of landscapes have turned into tourist destinations and the Balearic islands are no exception. Because of its location and insularity, Palma de Mallorca lies at the heart of this western and eastern sea, the accesses to which gener- ate equal amounts of attraction and rejection towards an increasingly protectionist contemporary Europe.
The aim of this curatorial project is not to illustrate the area around this sea, but to offer a profound reflection on these regions whose history stretches back over thousands of years, proposing that we become potential actors in a natural evolution and new cultural development that has taken place in the Mediterranean context. This complex climax of situations privileges reasoned observation, knowledge and negotiation, which are still the essential driving forces behind encounters between worlds that are ignorant of one another and which reveal themselves in these waters. Whilst the Mediterranean is the largest cemetery in the world, the density of fluvial and economic interchanges generates losses and profits and their ecological, economic, political and social consequences are accelerating at a frenzied pace.
The exhibition “The sea in the Midst of the Lands // Mare Medi Terraneum” contemplates the entire coast of the Mediterranean as a living being, both for those who live on it and those who pass through it. The experience of this exhibition allows us to look towards issues that have scarcely been debated, such as disillusionment in European poli- tics, the Arab spring and environmental, industrial and tourism legacies. The language of the artists selected seeks to return a certain dignity to people through the strength of observation and imagery and their everyday actions.
The incessant swaying of the flow of images in the video by Ange Leccia shows the indefinite nature of these waters in constant movement. From the gaseous to the solid state, the coast marks the limit between the dry and the wet, the balance and the imbalance that are analyzed by Lara Fluxà, whose investigations focus on elements that mainly characterize the sea, its nuances of instability and the salinity of its waters, ontologically questioned by the artist. One cannot grasp water in one’s hand, it is the anti-form by excel- lence, and the anti-form, or the amorphous, is the idea that one has already taken all possible forms.
The tourist inside of us suffers the ecological and political interferences while at the same time sustain- ing these contradictions. if we observe the misery and injustice of the worlds that co-exist, we cannot fail to verify the underlying friction there is in Lampedusa or Cyprus, as represented in the photo-montage of Marco Poloni or seen in the video by Marcel Dinahet, who has violated the forbidden lands of northern Europe, in Cyprus, where territorial disagreements give rise to unbearable situations involving both candidates for emigration and those indigenous to the coasts of southern Europe, victims of Europe’s inability to resolve their borders with its neighboring countries. Marco Poloni’s large installation is com- posed of 60 images, half of which were found from cinematographic references such as Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe, Rossellini’s Stromboli, scientific images and images taken from Google Earth.
Also, seen from the African continent, for decades now a considerable number of people have been “risking their necks”. in the form of conversa- tions, the artist Antoni Muntadas has expressed what fears are made of, the explicit and implicit personal motives of people in their desperation, people who in some cases are also relatives of the harragas2illegals, those who risk their lives to make the crossing to Europe. Tangier/Tarifa: 13 km and http://watchthemed.net. The main characters, which can no longer find their dignity, discreetly express their bewilderment.
Approached from another perspective, Rogelio López Cuenca also shares with us, using infrared cameras, those same feelings of terror that seize the “undocumented” on their Odyssean dream towards more merciful lands like spain, a stone’s throw away from the European El Dorado3. On another scale, that same gut feeling of fear is that caused by the recurrent earthquakes evoked by Ali Cherri in some areas of the Mediterranean where tectonic plates are continuously moving, much more than anywhere else in the world. Fatality or destiny, that is the history of this coastline, which is not always as welcoming as we have been led to believe. People live in constant threat. is it better to be aware of potential disasters or to ignore them?
For Hervé Paraponaris, it is a case of dreaming of a better world by imagining that the Mediterranean space could be a subaquatic metro network, with Palma de Mallorca one of the privileged stops4. To achieve this, above and beyond utopias, many crossings will still have to be made to El Dorado, as is shown by the price of the passage from iraq to Europe, which enriches
so many intermediaries. The style of the drawing is inspired by 1930’s science fiction comics as well as Christopher Wool’s paintings, which have commanded the highest prices ever for a contemporary artist5.
The solutions to this 20th and 21th-century Odyssey are on the maps too, and the guiding star sometimes accompanies some migrants on their crossing plagued with dangers and detours, as pro- posed by the video of Bouchra Khalili.
in his photographic storybook set between Palestine and israel, Yazan Khalili evokes the break- ing-up of a love story through images and texts, like a line on the landscape that continues and indef- initely projects innumerable longings and desires which are never satisfied.
After the usual disappointment, both in the sphere of love and in everyday life, the reality of the economic crisis in Greece surpasses all the limits of the imaginable to the point of triggering frantic dynamics in a supermarket queue for food rations. In extraordinarily effective film, Yorgos Zois asks us how far this situation will go.
The coast is also the eager journeys on the Algerian littoral that Zineb Sedira submerges us in with her video, faced with which spectators begin to feel uncomfortable and fascinated by the parallelism of the waterfront. At every bend in the road, the age of the vehicles and lack of light on roads with as many potholes as the carshave dents in them, coupled with the fear of never arriving at one’s destination, make anguish a permanent feature.
When we realize the legacy we leave behind us with our industrial landscapes, which we can rediscover in the photographic works of Geoffroy Mathieu and Bertrand Stofleth, and also in the in situ drawing by Chourouk Hriech, we are filled with another consideration of the Mediterranean water- front. These artists contribute a different gaze to the contemporary wastelands of our coasts, which have borne (and some of which still do bear) intense industrial activity as in the case of Fos-sur-Mer, in Marseille. Bauxite ruins the soil and the landscape forever, as occurs with the factories erected by Franco at the entrance of Gibraltar6
“La Línea is the most polluted town in spain, according to the WHO”, Manuel Planelles and Cándido Romaguera, sevilla / La Línea de la Concepción, El País, 24 May 2014, http://sociedad.elpais.com/ sociedad/2014/05/24/actuali-dad/1400953564_377787.html , which rise up like monstrous cathedrals of lights at the gates of the Mediterranean both during the day and at night. Chourouk Hriech’s site specific drawings reveal the ruins of modern times, such as unfinished houses or phantasmagoric industrial buildings all around the Mediterranean, evoking haunted places which are emblematic of the disrespectful attitude people have towards those waters… The artist has chosen to speak about the shadows of the modern ruins we are leaving behind in waterfront landscapes, dialecti- cally responding to two existing paintings, which are depicting the role that industrial boats are playing on these coasts.
“The sea in the Midst of the Lands” is also about the phantoms projected by the collection of sublime, disquieting postcards of sunsets by Oriol Vilanova, presented on endless horizons, which con- trast with the image on constant flow of Ange Leccia. Oriol Vilanova has collected these postcards since 2000, from early black and white images to the most recent ones, assorted them by color and then repro- duced them on large scale (12 meters width): from a distance they look like huge waves, while if looked at in detail, they almost look like nightmares… in another language, around the stereotypes that circulate in the Mediterranean and in an extreme reduction of representations of prominent Tunisian tourist destinations, the artist Farah Khelil has returned to the places she knows like the back of her hand through postcards gathered in European and North African street markets, as though they
were fragments of correspondence, between the message she would like to send and the difficulty of speaking of the histories, past and present, of the coastline.
“Mare Medi Terraneum” tries to give an account of the gaze of selected contemporary artists over
a space, which is that of all the civilizations of the world, come together in the shared waters of the Mediterranean. Due to the context where this exhibition is taking place, this project has been influenced by Robert Smithson’s works7. His work focuses on space seen from an exotopic perspec- tive: for example, when seen from an island such as Mallorca, the perception of continents can be viewed differently to that of mainland people. Because of an islander’s relationship with the water, it means that it won’t be looked at in the same way.
Oblivious to all this, and yet so close to it, current affairs brim over and art proposes a certain necessary distance for this crisis which has, for thou- sands of years, shackled man to the land and the sea, above or below the waterline.
Let us not forget that, as Franco Cassano points out, “this space has always been a place of genetic and linguistic mixtures that generate a culture, the result of which is also a creolization of the peoples who participate in its construction”8. And what about us? How do we experience these fusions? What are we looking for? What is in our head, in our beach bag or in our sociological or cultural stud- ies when we travel around these places?
↑ 1“La Mer au Milieu des Terres”, original title in French.↑ 2illegals, those who risk their lives to make the crossing to Europe. Tangier/Tarifa: 13 km and http://watchthemed.net↑ 3Tangier/Tarifa: 13 km and http://watchthemed.net↑ 4“Vogue la Galère, traffic des mi- grants”, by Andrea Palladino and Andrea Tornaho, p. 12, Le Monde, 6 February 2015.↑ 5Christopher Wool prices: http:// www.bloomberg.com/bw/arti- cles/2014-10-09/price-of-christo- pher-wools-apocalypse-now-soars- with-art-market↑ 6“La Línea is the most polluted town in spain, according to the WHO”, Manuel Planelles and Cándido Romaguera, sevilla / La Línea de la Concepción, El País, 24 May 2014, http://sociedad.elpais.com/ sociedad/2014/05/24/actuali-dad/1400953564_377787.html ↑ 7Robert smithson: “Photoworks”Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles and University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1993,ed by Chris Keledjian ↑ 8Franco Cassano. Southern Thought and Other Essays on the Mediterranean. spanish translation by Norma Bouchard and Valerio Ferme. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011