Press releases from The Cultural Department of The Cabildo are being issued at such a rate that several reach my e mail overnight, and on reading them on awakening in a morning it can be difficult to know whether the mañana being referred to means yesterday or tomorrow. Because some events are labelled under the umbrella title of 100 Years: Lanzarote And Cesar and others under their own unique title it can even be sometimes difficult to know whether we are being invited to an event we have already seen.
As Dee and I try to keep you updated of news of what is about to happen in the arts on Lanzarote and comment on what has just happened, we almost literally don’t know whether we are coming or going. We can only keep reminding you not to take our word for anything but to instead check on Miguel’s what’s on listings on his newsletter or on The Cabildo web site. However, all across the arts remain very grateful to the press offices related to The Cabildo for providing us with so much information and I congratulate them, and everyone else concerned, on bringing us a diversity of events, like the recent happenings detailed below.
In visiting several early events all across the arts has taken the opportunity to speak with authors, artists, curators and Cabildo officers.
PRECISE OBJECTIVES & PRECIOUS OBJECTS
´Warehouse 1974´ is an exhibition that runs through the first year of life of The Center Polidimensional. The store, a “revolutionary adventure” of four dreamers commanded by César Manrique, is where he and his colleagues began to create art with passion. The building is now, forty five years later, a cultural oasis of natural and fresh expression and where the door is always open.
Just less than fifty years ago, Lanzarote would have seemed almost unrecognisable to the tourists who flock here today. In fact, I bet the new, modern, bustling Lanzarote must seem incredible to indigenous islanders who can still remember 1974.
Writers of the period recall an island where literacy rates were amongst the very lowest in Spain, in an era where Miss Spain beauty contests were held annually, in August. 1974 was a year when work began on tarmacing the roads so that the first influx of tourists arriving at the airport might enjoy better journeys to the coasts. That Lanzarote quickly exerted a fascination for people all over Europe was illustrated when David Courtney, a British pop singer, featured a cover photo of Timanfaya on his band’s first album.
It was in the wake of the Franco dictatorship and the world’s first global oil crisis that, on 23rd February 1974 Arrecife, once memorably if miserably described as existing ´on the periphery of the periphery´ became a laboratory for artistic experimentation
The restoration proposed by a group of artists for a building in Arrecife centre was much derided at the time. The venue was dismissed as a “Pilgrim” thing, (whatever that might mean in translation) and an ´unprecedented occurrence´ on The Canary Islands. The group of artists behind the sudden gentrification was led by the ‘crazy’ César Manrique, and included Pepe Damaso, Luis Ibáñez and Yayo Fontes
´We are desperate,´ wrote Pepe Dámaso at the time, ´as if a strange force is calling to us from that unknown space. Its ruined facade, its popular architectural style, its location, all fascinates us and forces us, urgently, to enter´.
After Manrique and his colleagues had knocked the place into the shape of their unique vision the venue was able to hold than two hundred events and activities in its first year of existence.
Indigenous islanders, and those of us from foreign countries who are newly resident here, now acknowledge CIC El Almacen as a step out of a thriving town centre into a calmer, more cerebral world. It is a building with galleries, exhibition rooms and a small upstairs theatre / cinema. It houses visual art displays, poetry readings, music recitals, and a splendid tapas bar. It has friendly and communicative staff and it commissions the best of the islands arts and curators.
Dámaso’s contribution has been essential to the collation of its current exhibition that allows us to re-visit that store of 1974, and step into the early life of what was then seen as a very daring space.
´Activity then was almost daily, very improvised, natural, flexible, and cool running”, explains Pepe Betancort, a technician at the Department Of Culture Of The Cabildo of Lanzarote and curator of the exhibition.
´When somebody like Alfredo Kraus came to spend a few days, Cesar and his friends spoke with him to organize a talk on choral singing in the evening,´ Pepe reveals. ´If they noticed a writer in the building they sat with him and remained talking to him, until he agreed that they could put his name on the slate by the bar, telling customers he would be delivering a reading later in the week.´
Nothing was ever, quite, conventionally done in what came to be known as ´the warehouse´ and we can even see from some of the press clippings on display that the time of the inaugural event in 1974 was scheduled not for the convenient time of 7.30 pm but, instead, for ´precisely 7.20´. These press cuttings reveal the important “international relations” and cultural exchanges that emanated from the warehouse. The collation exhibits work by Óscar Domínguez, shown in the Gallery El Aljibe, Pablo Picasso bar dishes that had to be dressed with roasted pejines, tortillas, potatoes, and soups and old texts by Fernando Higueras, photos of flora and fauna and a beautiful creation that César Manrique designed for the warehouse bathrooms in acrylic panels and which many even today wish to see placed again in the space for which it was conceived. This last work was found in 2008 during an inventory, “at a warehouse in the store itself”. It will be restored and will be placed there again.
The warehouse, built from a mansion formed by the uniting of two houses at the end of the 19th century, has today become the headquarters of the school of Arts and Crafts of Arrecife (today known as The Pancho Lasso Art School). Establishing this space back then was estimated to have cost a mostly borrowed 2 million pesetas. It might have seemed at the time a lot of money for what many described as a “revolutionary adventure´ but the space has since provided two or three generations with real access to arts and culture.
In the creative heat of that store were born explosive Carnival holidays, with a few “transgressors” costumes made with humour, audacity and aesthetic sense to dress people who danced to a `perhaps previously unheard soundtrack of the island.
In many ways the early years of the warehouse echoed and mirrored and sometimes even outshone a parallel contemporary art movement taking place in Madrid. It was the generation of Pedro Paz, Paco Delgadohe and the archipelago’s first female punk-rock band amidst a long list of people who evidenced ´a way of being and sharing, very different from the conventional.´
They shared a fascinating modus operandi and creativity that seemed to, intentionally, be the polar opposite of boredom and parochialism. That first generation of Lanzarote teenagers who left their education at the Institute and moved on to study at La Laguna surely could not have believed it. Modern art, and attitudes, in Lanzarote? It could not be.
Warehouse 1974 is, in the words of its Commissioner, Pepe Betancort, a project “which aims to provide value to the circumstances and to the commitment made by César Manrique, Pepe Damaso, Yayo Fontes and Luis Ibáñez to give to Lanzarote a Centre open to experimentation and the contemporary culture.´
´In achieving that,´ Pepe feels, ´they positioned Lanzarote in the geography of contemporary art. They then opened a window that allowed us to look out to see what was happening outside and made it possible for others to come to see what we were doing here´.
Pepe believes the artists behind the development of ´The warehouse´ had a clear agenda at the time of dance, music, painting, sculpture, photo, film and theatre; food, drink, clothes and flowers in a place where books and furniture, precise objectives and precious objects make up the simple, direct and concise machinery of the warehouse.´
The warehouse has now made corporeal its creators´ vision of it as ´´a place for co-existence of art devoted to natural expression and popular knowledge´. Cic El Almacen, aka the warehouse, is always worth a visit, but with these memories of how it all began, collated in one vivid display, what do you have to lose?
LIVING UNDER THE VOLCANO
Fernando Castro Borrego, the biographer of Cesar Manrique and a Professor of Art History, recently visited the exhibition ´Almacen 1974´ part of the eclectic ´100 Years: Lanzarote and César´ in Cic El Almacen, also known as the warehouse. The author and Professor is also a member of the Editorial Board of the magazine Discover The Art, Madrid and since 1991, has been a director of the Library Of Artists Of The Canaries.
Specialising in historical avant-garde and Surrealism, Castro Borrego is the author of hundreds of articles and a dozen books on this subject, including ´Oscar Domínguez And Surrealism´ (Madrid, Cátedra, 1978), a critical anthology of the art in the Canaries and an important work on the new pillars of Spanish art, surrealist objects and Spanish painting from the nineteen eighties.
Most of the reporters in attendance tagged along with Fernando Castro on his guided tour of 100 Years: Lanzarote And Cesar, as he was accompanied by its curator Alejandro Krawietz, and it was fascinating to clearly see Alejandro´s pride in being involved in the Project. So, too, he was proud of the works produced by his fellow artists.
I will certainly be visiting the exhibition again, though, to check out the paintings, accompanied by poetry, that I didn’t have time to properly study. I know the Cabildo had spoken, at the outset of the whole Project, about involving school children in perhaps setting their thoughts on Manrique into verse,….and it did look as if these beautifully presented items might have been the outcomes of just such an initiative.
Following his tour of 100 Years, Lanzarote And Cesar, Fernando Castro happily answered questions from representatives of the electronic, digital and print media.
He gave a lengthy response to a question about Manrique’s contribution to the growth of the ´pop art´ movement and his interview with our island’s television broadcasting service lasted for about fifteen minutes.
Like so many thousands of people born on Lanzarote, and hundreds, too, of new residents on the island, I admire Cesar Manrique for his vivid colours and his ability to make the mechanical magical even as he celebrates the nature of the landscape and its ecology.
I think I have come to also admire the energy and the passion he applied to the arts and the sense of politic he brought to that art. I can recognise in him and his work a generosity of spirit which must account in some way why a whole new generation of artists in his wake seem so keen to protect and enhance his legacy. His importance to this part of the world cannot be over-estimated and yet, as someone who was just as immersed in the arts in the UK as I am now, living on the island, the fact remains that until coming on holiday over here a couple of decades ago, his name had never awakened my awareness.
I knew of Picasso, of course, and Dali and Warhol, but if his name was ever mentioned in association with them then it escaped my attention. And somehow, that cast the slightest shadow of doubt in me about his claim to greatness. Did the rest of the world not recognise the talent of a man so lauded in his own country and by his peers, and if not, why not?
Fernando Castro speaks some English and was willing to answer this for us at all across the arts, but did not wish to be recorded doing so, so I will paraphrase our conversation with as much accuracy as I am able. I put my question, hopefully not in so many words, to this man who has studied and written so extensively about Cesar Manrique and asked him if Manrique was a great artist on a global stage or whether his effect was more parochial. I hoped he would take my question as one of genuine interest rather than of mischief-making, and the way he responded suggested that he realised I was seeking verification and validation, if any were needed, for Manrique´s work.
An expert on the work of Manrique, Fernando Castro Borrego asserted that we should remember that the artist not only produced wonderful art work but used that creativity to examine global issues and discover global solutions. His work, said the author, often seemed to address very particular issues and that in thoroughly examining those issues he made discoveries that shed new light on matters that affect not only Lanzarote but the rest of the planet.
If I understood Manrique’s biographer correctly, he suggested too that we can still learn today from how Manrique applied himself to his art, and from how taking a multi-disciplinary and a frequently collaborative approach to his art often seemed to reveal benefits to his own working techniques that could be applied around the world to benefit society.
Fernando Castro’s research over the years into Manrique and his work has become a network of reference points for the artists of today in much the same way that Manrique’s body of work provides those artists with other reference points to be interpreted.
All this goes some way to explain why a lecture he gave about Manrique later in the week drew so many interested parties to hear it, and to learn from it. The talk, Living Under The Volcano, was presented at Cic El Almacen and was accompanied by a power point showing many paintings and visual art works by Manrique that held the audience spellbound.
Now, I am left to reflect on Fernando Castro’s words and to further ponder some interesting responses from Alejandro Krawietz to my questions. He speaks far more English than I do Spanish and seemed happy to talk with all across the arts, even introducing me to a colleague from the press corps who would serve as our mediator. I am very grateful to Alejandro for his time and to her for her help in interpreting his comments.
I asked pretty much the same question as I had done of Fernando Castro, about whether or not Manrique should be considered a parochial or global artist.
´He had the ability to turn this whole island into a working studio,´ Alejandro asserted, ´or an atelier, if you like. His project throughout his life was to capture, examine and reflect this island to, and for, the rest of the world, and to ask what we could all learn from Lanzarote.´
Alejandro elaborated on what global message the world today might take from Manrique’s work.
´The world can learn from Manrique about the relationship between an artist and the space within which he works. We can learn, even today, from Manrique’s search for the sustainability of that space,´ Alejandro responded. ´I said the island was his studio, but the island was also his laboratory. In fact, his laboratory was not only the island of Lanzarote, but was the whole world. It was from here, though, that Manrique first encountered and identified climate change, and this laboratory shaped his views.´
´Lanzarote was the part of the laboratory in which things always happened first, for Manrique,´ said Alejandro, before reminding us that ´It was also here on the island that Manrique identified social issues as difficulties that were being encountered all over the world. The island didn’t present him only with problems, however. It also presented him with ideas for solutions.´
So, as he had done throughout weeks of preparation and the days of the launch of this initiative, Alejandro had spoken with a passion. His courtesy, and that of our friendly interpreter, demonstrated just how much they want to share that passion and love for the island and the art it produces.
The legacy of Manrique’s work seems to inspire that passion in the current generation of artists even as that work continues to weave a synergy with the island’s development as a tourist spot and awakens people to the island’s incredible energy and resilience.
This was also demonstrated at the opening ceremony of Unpublished Manrique, held on Sunday April 14 at The Convent of Santo Domingo de Teguise.
Organized by the Cabildo de Lanzarote, through the Department of Culture, in collaboration with the City of Teguise, this exhibition can be viewed Monday to Friday from 10:00 to 14:00 and from 17:00 to 20:00 and on Sunday from 10:00 to 15:00 hours until 16th June.
It was immediately obvious that Carmensa de la Hoz, the curator of the exhibition, has arranged a stunning collection of previously unseen photographs of César Manrique, taken by Linus G. Jauslin, allowing us to “reconnect with Cesar”.
Unpublished Manrique is ´a reunion with Cesar;´ said its curator, moments after an opening ceremony attended by good turn-out of both Lanzarote public and dignitaries alike.
The Cabildo Department of Culture support claims made about this exhibition that ´We see not so much the character, nor even the artist, but rather see the person. We see him in his workshop, with the dog in the pool, with friends, such as Josephine Baker, and see facets of Cesar that we have previously seen very little of. This collection of photographs of Cesar in his daily life gives joy.´
´Unpublished Manrique´ is an exhibition framed within ´100 Years: Lanzarote and Cesar´, the important programming of cultural and social events organized by the Cabildo of Lanzarote in this centenary year.
´Never, of many exhibitions of which I have attended the official opening, have I seen such a deployment of people and media,´ admitted an amazed Ho Carmensa.
He was especially excited to see this event attended by family members of the late artist, with his brother Carlos expressing his own pleasure with the exhibition and saying that the work of Linus G. Jauslin ´captured the essence of Cesar.´
Manrique’s sister, Juana, who was in a wheelchair, surrounded by their children, also told De la Hoz how much she admired the exhibition and felt ´happy and excited´ to see such an event.
“After 20 years of looking over the same photographs, suddenly here we feel very close to César in his daily life,´ said Juana. ´We see in detail the corners of his house, and the swimming pools, in all its glory. How modern my brother was.´
Carmensa de la Hoz afterwards declared himself ´delighted by the huge support we felt today from the society of Lanzarote as a whole and by how so many people celebrated Manrique. This is the most important thing.´
“They were many surprising images,” said Oscar Pérez, Minister of Culture of the Cabildo of Lanzarote. ´Much of this was not known, and is very far from the iconic photos of these years.´ Among the images that drew most attention, according to the Minister of Culture. was a piece of napkin on which Manrique had written a message to guardians of the Timanfaya National Park asking them to ensure safe passage on the reserve to ´a friend of mine, a very good photographer” so that its wonders might be captured forever.
The Councillor feels that visitors to this exhibition will find a collection of images that are ´beyond being posed,´ and are, instead, ´full of the everyday life (of an artist) on the telephone, sun-bathing, playing with the dogs,…. everyday situations that provide another side of the artist. It is not the myth, but the person.´
VIDEO-MAPPING THE MIND OF MANRIQUE
Such centenary celebrations of Manrique’s birth are part of a seemingly endless parade and only a few days later another section of the party was declared open, at La Casa Amarilla, Arrecife. In that same week, one evening as darkness settled at about 8.30 over Arrecife, The Yellow House, as the former site of the Town Hall is colloquially known, another aspect of ´100 years: Lanzarote and Cesar´ was inaugurated. This involved startling projections of visual works inspired by the unique architecture of César Manrique being projected on to exterior walls and facades.
All this was another part of the continuing exhibition created by Alejandro Krawietz and Juan Gopar.
These pioneers of the environmental approach of arts on the island have taken climate change as one the main themes they address. Climate change remains as much a global concern as it was for Manrique. His work so often took a respectful look at the natural world and then committed to the preservation of the island environment. It was therefore good to see commitment to the cause by the number of artists involved in this production.
They included Iván Vilella Iglesias, who has been in charge of coordinating the creative team of five local contemporary artists, (Shelma Zebensui, RDF, Alberto Pérez Ortiz, Marcos García Toledo and Félix Díez Martín), who all contribute to this specialized, light and sound show of visual design and arts. Throughout this opening event a collection of images ´melted´ with live music, all specially chosen for the occasion, and presented an electrical light show of unpublished environmental observations by Cesar himself, and fellow artist Ildefonso Aguilar. Organized by the Cabildo de Lanzarote, through the Department of Culture, with the collaboration of the city of Arrecife, the display kept the crowd immersed in a game of lights, images and music for 45 minutes.
It was in 1974 that César Manrique first gathered his thoughts on the peculiarities of island architecture. He aspired to enhance the public’s appreciation for the traditional houses of the island of Lanzarote and contribute to the knowledge and the preservation of that architectural heritage. This exhibition, called Video-Mapping included Manrique´s own drawings and some text and photographs by co-workers, addressing issues such as geology and landscape, religious architecture, and popular housing, looking closely at doors and windows of the island’s homes and windmills.
This occasion delivered a previously unpublished showing in an electrical and environmental setting that, itself, referenced the influences on, and the influences created by Cesar himself, as well as the artist insular Ildefonso Aguilar.
All the photographs I took show hundreds of people on the streets, all looking in different directions in wonder at the scores images being projected at any one time.
Whilst working as a practicing artist in England for more than forty years I was privileged to deal with a couple of very enlightened and forward-thinking local authorities, like Blackburn and Rochdale, that seemed determined to employ the arts to address social issues and to offer aspiration to all. I was lucky enough to work with potters, painters and fellow poets as well as with drummers, dancers, circus acts and ceramicists but I have never witnessed such a wonderful homage to any artist as that taking place across Lanzarote at the moment. The island is very proud of Cesar Manrique, and that was obvious to me when we first came here on holiday more than two decades ago.
The true effect of all the events that combine into 100 Years: Lanzarote And Cesar is that I, and countless similarly new residents, now understand why Manrique remains so revered.