Saturday 12 July 2008

Hannah Collins at Caixa Forum, Barcelona

Installation view of La Mina

On show at The Caixa Forum at the moment are three multi-screen films and various photographs by ex-patriate British artist Hannah Collins, which have been brought together for the first time under the title, Current History: Films and Photographs. A former Turner Prize nominee, Hannah Collins graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in 1979 and has since come to international prominence for her photographs that are at once monumental and intimate. While the subjects she photographs run the whole gamut (landscapes, cityscapes, interiors, still lives and the human figure), her specific concerns have remained constant throughout her career: the transience of modern life, home and homelessness, marginalised groups and urban spaces of modernity.

Assembling work undertaken in Spain, France, England, Italy and South Africa, these films effectively contain the same epic yet tender quality that is present in her still photographs. For the project, La Mina, Hannah Collins spent over a year photographing and filming in the vast housing estate that is located on the periphery of Barcelona, famous for its substantial gypsy population. Describing her work as “both sculptural and pictorial”, the resulting film which was compiled and edited from nearly 14 hours of footage, is far removed from the narrative conventions of mainstream cinema or documentary film since it defies any single viewpoint. Moreover, we are offered the opportunity for immersion into this five screen-installation that spans an entire gallery wall. The spectator has to adopt a certain gaze in order to take in this elaborate and rhythmic set of moving images organized around recurring motifs, fragmented perspectives and symbols of the city space. In this way, Collins eschews a fixed and narrow depiction but instead provides a rich examination of Gypsies as a culture and as a community, of whom she has said, “create such a separate and often alienated position in relation to the dominant forces at work in an urban Spanish context today.”

In a similar vein, Collins uses a multiple screen setup in her other work, Parallel, which cites the experiences of three people who all left behind a life in Africa in search of a better one in Europe. They each represent very different versions of immigration, their individual stories forming a complex group portrait of a wider social-economic situation. The third and final installment, Current History gives us a day in the life of several families living in the village of Beshencevo on the outskirts of Niznij Novgood in central Russia who, in the face of great change, seek solace in gambling, religion and superstition. This piece invites us to reflect upon these little pocket of resistance to modernity and at the same time demonstrate Collins´ sustained interest in place, memory and history. At once poetic and political, her art enlarges our understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our time beyond the confines of language.

Hannah Collins
Current History. Films and Photographs
Until August 24th