Spanish photographer Gutierrez exhibits his evocative work at Amir Taz Palace
As you pass through the gates of the Amir Taz Palace, the packed neighborhood of El Hurriya, replete with narrow twisting alleys and small cafes filled with people, immediately vanishes. In its place is a tranquil stone courtyard, save for a few plants, wall hangings, and several friendly security guards. A retrospective of Spanish photographer Ciuco Gutierrez’s works, is the latest exhibit to grace the palace. Sponsored by the Spanish embassy, the collection spans 18 years of Gutierrez’s work during the 80s and 90s. Most of the pictures are highly abstract constellations of objects and shapes set against carefully constructed backgrounds. These pictures primarily focus on Spanish themes, employing traditional Spanish objects such as bulls and matadors, guitars, and a woman in a traditional Spanish flamenco dress with fans, as well as modern shapes such as soccer balls and lawn chairs. Most of the works give a playful sense, although some have distinct political and even sexual overtones.
One series, playfully titled “Spain is Indifferent, is a group of pictures of a figurine of a woman in a Spanish flamenco dress, holding a yellow fan while surrounded by matching yellow flowers. Gutierrez repeats these same images many times, tinkering with the backgrounds, the poses, and other objects in the scene. His aim is to “explore the association between objects and memory. Powerful memories are stored within objects, making objects both transcendent and a toy.
The idea of “transcendent and a toy echoes through other playful works such as Les Vacas vamos de vacances al Carobe, (The bulls go on vacation in the Caribbean) carry this playful spirit on. This piece displays a toy bull on a beach with palm trees. The bull and the palm trees are made of plastic, which gives these “transcendent figures a toy-like feel. Shockingly, a good portion of these masterful pieces are created without digital technology. Before I saw them, Gutierrez told me that he had only started using digital techniques after winning the 1990 Kodak Award because “the award was for digital techniques, even though I didn’t use them, he explained. “They gave me the prize because they just didn’t believe that my work could have been produced with analog techniques.
He then quipped, “Ever since then, it’s like I’ve had to live up to my reputation as a digital photographer, so I am forced to adopt this technology.
After viewing them, I could see how the award committee felt. The fact that Gutierrez was able to create such masterfully constructed works, particularly with regard to his usage of color and lighting, with analog technology alone is a testament to his talent.
While he wishes the audience to ponder abstract notions of memory and objects, Gutierrez explained his true desire thus. “They say in Spain that when a song or a piece of art touches you it has payethco, ‘pinch,’ Gutierrez said. “That’s what I want my images to do.
On this score, the work is a victim of its own success in representing Spanish objects with Spanish associations and Spanish feelings. While non-Spanish people can appreciate the craftsmanship, the intriguing meanings, and the playful spirit that permeates so many of the pictures; it is difficult to feel that same payethco. This is inevitable. Spanish symbols are Spanish symbols precisely because they are deep and meaningful to Spanish people. And with this target audience, the sounds of delight made it clear that the “pinches hit home. This disconnect became most personally evident to me when I, as an American, came across a photograph with a distinctly non-Spanish symbol, the Statue of Liberty. The piece, which was untitled, showed the statue in a glass bowl in the ocean. Two small people were rowing in a boat next to the statue. Immediately I felt that pinch strike me. Political, societal, and cultural meanings swam through my head, but mainly I just felt an emotional pull towards it.
It is disappointing and frustrating that none of Gutierrez’s Egyptian work is on display. It is certain that when it becomes available, it will surely give Egyptian visitors the intended “pinch, just as he was able to do with his Spanish admirers and even, with the one picture, this American visitor. It will surely be particularly interesting because, according to Gutierrez, he became attracted to Egypt several years ago precisely because it has “such rich emotional connections with its past and the objects of the past, from Pharaonic figures to modern kitsch sold in Khan El Khalili. With such powerful material to work with, one can only eagerly anticipate what Gutierrez will bring forth.
The exhibition can be viewed from the 13th to the 27th June.