Matter, whispers of a landscape

Victoria Domínguez Ruiz / Silvia Escamilla Amarillo

Much of the uniqueness of the territory of Alentejo lies in the landscape made up by its pedreiras. The perception of these marble quarries as a metaphor for the natural and cultural panorama of their peoples is the reason why they have often been object of reflection. Like a whisper, working on them, begins by being imperceptible to human eye, unheard by the ear, underground. Then, the matter seems to emerge to the surface, breaking into different scales of the landscape and becoming, the marble, an integrative element between the natural and the man made, between the human creator will (in terms of beauty) and the wrath of the gods.

In his photographic exhibition «Architecture, the pleasure for the eye» (Vila Viçosa, 2011) Joaquín Bérchez gathered a collection of moments, spaces or architectural details of well-known works, however the reading of them possessed a very special element, a strange ability to make us look and even feel them, (re)constructing or (re)interpreting them masterfully through his tuned lens. Also on this occasion, emerges this quality that can be seen reflected in his work: the foresight, the early vision of the photographer/artist. The images of “PEDREIRAS, CARNE DE DIOSES(PEDREIRAS, FLESH OF GODS”) also reveal keys that transcend the architectonic language, procuring us, once again, the pleasure for the eye. In a recent lecture in Seville, he defined as “acasos” (“by chance”) those «so abundant situations in life and friendship that, in an unpredictable way, have the fortune to transcend and fertilize artistically». Being our first approach to his photographic work the mentioned “acaso” in calipolenses land (“calipolenses” is the Portuguese name for the inhabitants of Vila Viçosa), with this exhibition we join a cycle where different professional and artistic disciplines are connected with the various states of the soul.

His look, so exclusive and seductive, through his particular Alberti’s Window, opens us up a dialectical path where intellect and emotion travel, in an inseparable manner; the first one, incited by a provocative strategically chosen title that let us envision a further deep reflection, a stimulus inextricably linked to his work; the other, activating, first the sense of sight, and then, the rest of the sensory repertoire in a non arbitrary manner. Through that «two-dimensional window» he manages to make us look, sometimes by stealth, as it happens in Perséfone en cautiverio (Perséfone in captivity); other times, he invites us to cross, as if over a threshold, in an almost corporeal dream, visiting a Vera cavea romana (Real roman cavea) or a stage made in Cinecittà. Finally, won by the pleasure induced by this dialectics intellect-emotion, the author makes us feel, inhabit those ‘dreamy spaces» in a new world of possibilities, perceiving the smell of the stone’s humidity or the silence of the dead quarry; real works of art that reflect that (in)tangible materiality. Thus, fascinated by the image reflected in the aqueous bed from the bottom of the quarries – La Bocca della Veritá– he asks himself how much of the colossal/divine and how much of the human there is in this exceptional enclave. Discerning the silhouette of a distant paradise painted in oil in Piedra del Edén (Stone of Eden), feeling their textures and colours, hearing the sound of the stone falling into the Cenote sagrado (Sacred Cenote) in the midst of a sepulchral silence, experiencing vertigo on a Catábasis (Katabasis) towards the womb of the Earth, are just some of the routes suggested to the viewer in this catalogue.

The author recognizes «the displacement of meanings, sometimes unconsciously” provided by photography; Therefore, he does not pretend a merely realistic portrait of the material but idealize the figure of marble, full of purity and fertility, in its most original state. He shows us, with his photographic alibi, the «architectural/artistic/poetic potential» of the quarry. Luis Moreno Mansilla in his doctoral thesis “Apuntes de viaje al interior del tiempo” (published by Caja de Arquitectos, 2002) described the matter as this inert and mute substance that «(…) when scratched, when brushed by life, when being displaced, not only displays what it really is, but also what it would like to be, its vocation and its eagerness. A vocation, that necessarily expresses (and hides) an understanding of the world. An understanding that can be seen almost in physical terms… (…)”. Joaquín Bérchez, through his photography, «scratches» this natural and inert matter, marble from the quarries, showing us its latent vocation. He extracts the nature hidden in the block of stone, illuminating it to us, with delicacy and detail, in an autonomous way with the photographic brilliance of the work of art.

The marble not yet carved can hold the form
Of every thought the greatest artist has,
And no conception can yet come to pass
Unless the hand obeys the intellect.

The evil that I fly from, all the harm,
The good also, are buried and intact
In you, proud Lady. To my life’s sad loss
My art’s opposed to the desired effect.

Thus love, and your own beauty and the weight
Of things, are not to blame for my own plight.
Fate, scorn or chance can never be accused

Because both death and pity are enclosed
Within your heart, and I have only breath
And power to draw from you not life but death.
Michelangelo Buonarroti
(Translation by Elizabeth Jennings
MICHELANGELO. Sonnets. Carcanet
Press, 2003)

Translation by Silvia Escamilla Amarillo

[Victoria Domínguez Ruiz y Silvia Escamilla Amarillo, “Matter, whispers of a landscape”, Pedreiras, carne de dioses, Valencia, 2012]