Claudia Pagès at The Ryder / Madrid

Claudia Pagès /  Below the port sounds nino-nino and on the top I pee-pee

9 June - 30 July 2022

The Ryder, Miguel Servet 13, Madrid 28012


‘Below the port sounds nino-nino and on the top I pee-pee’ is Claudia Pagès’ first solo exhibition with The RYDER Madrid. Displaying a very recent body of work, partly commissioned for this occasion, this ecosystem of works revolves around an elusive present that dehumanises subjects violently, stretching a never-ending “now” in which we all seem to be trapped. The city of Barcelona – more specifically its port and Montjuïc mountain – is the interface through which the artist performs a series of actions, understanding language, movement and drawing as tools to draw a narration. This narrative dialogues with the gerund, a tense with no person, time or number: the tense of the state, of bureaucracy.

The intrinsic violence of this tense with no subject manifests through all her actions, resulting in a series of works forming the exhibition’s itinerary. In all of them, the port is the nucleus, the gravitational area where things occur and in which Pagès acts. However, the orbital force generated by this nucleus is tricky, trapping bodies to turn them into acting beings. Emanating from capital and knowing only about goods, this force handles bodies accordingly. Pagès allows herself to get swallowed by this force questioning its power, challenging its semantics, thereby revealing the cruelty of a system in which we can only exist by doing.

This experience of the artist with the continuous present of the city draws a landscape of works at the gallery, allowing the visitor to navigate the exhibition from bottom to top (from the port to the mountain) or from top to bottom (from the mountain to the sea). If we trace an ascending route – starting with the sea – we find Pagès’ video-installation Gerundio Circular, a work produced for the exhibition Panorama, held at MACBA (Barcelona) in 2021 and produced in collaboration with El Amor Proyectos.

Gerundio Circular is a panoramic video-installation recorded in three different places linked to both the future and the present of Barcelona’s commercial port: the World Trade Center – a business centre in the shape of a ship; the 19th-century customs building; and the pier. These three locations triangulate the economies of the port, surrounding it but never getting in directly. The film is recorded in a continuous loop with a 360º camera capturing everything around it; nothing escapes the camera’s eyes. Three performers appear in the video (including the artist herself); they sing and recite, occupying these areas with their movements and words. These words are familiar but also disturbing; they touch and repel us at the same time. The performers use a corporate language – mainly gerunds – that, sometimes, mixes with a colloquial one. This second language gets encapsulated in this dialogue by the violence of the dominant gerund. Because “there is no joyous power”, because we exist “between the shipping and the shipped”, because in the end “they isolated me”.

The circular floating screen is built up of LED panels that spit light. This mechanism reverses the recording logic to create an image that expands from the centre towards the circumference. Despite being a bright object that illuminates the entire exhibition, the viewer never gets to see the image altogether. Part of the reality recorded in the video is hidden, so we are forced to constantly move around the circularity of the screen to try and see everything. However, this is an impossible task and there will always be something missing.

The tour continues upwards through a series of works created specially for this exhibition and responds to different experiences Pagès had in Montjuïc. This mountain is linked geographically and symbolically to the port and, at the same time, it is full of history and death. The mountain delimits the beginning and the end of the port, its customs, with its coloured containers. At the peak, there is a fortress and from there a cemetery known as Cementiri Nou, built at the end of the 19th century. This mountain is also a cruising area where men meet for outdoor sexual encounters. The artist walks through this mountain as part of a research project that will result in an upcoming book as well as in a group of artworks displayed in the exhibition.

The gerund mountain – as the artist calls it – also inhabits the orbit of the port, but the dynamics that prevail here are different, darker, and with room left for resistance. Pagès takes several walks through the mountain to create a series of drawings made on dark carbon paper. This choice of paper is not accidental, since for the artist the mountain exists “in negative”, contrasting with the blinding light of the port. The drawings need an external light to be seen; their visibility is determined by the reflection of the port, but they still hold the choice of invisibility, of resistance.

The Mirador-no mirar series continues the use of carbon paper to generate works half-way between drawing, sculpture and installation. Once again, they respond to the contradictions occurring in this mountain: the official dead bodies from the cemeteries coexist with those of the murdered republicans lying in pits; the invasive species brought from overseas side-by-side with local ones. Everything is anchored to the port and its reflection is always present; nevertheless, there is still some night left here, and it is within this night that these works operate, refusing to bestow all power and creating subjectivities able to escape the violence of the gerund.

‘Below the port sounds nino-nino and on the top I pee-pee’ emerges after Pagès’ several years of research introducing new elements and materials, adding to her performative practice. Nevertheless, her way of understanding the world through language remains in this new group of works, revealing the intrinsic violence of this form of language and its consequences in our everyday. In this way, her work discloses the flaws and cruelty of language but also its possibilities, its power, and its future.