The 2010 of the Arts Santa Mònica in Barcelona began with new stimuli for creativity and discussion. Fresh with new mentalities, a new spirit and new aspirations, Arts Santa Mònica, an old convent situated on the emblematic Rambla and just a stone’s throw from the sea, now passes on to a new stage in its history, which is dedicated to interdisciplinary issues connected to art, science and communication.
The new space aspires to be a meeting point between humanistic and scientific culture, a place for thought on the fast transformations taking place in a digital society where knowledge assumes an increasingly transversal character. An innovative centre that offers the Catalan capital the possibility to unite research projects with exhibition projects, theories with artistic practices, in a fluid dialogue between the different disciplines that concern art, science and communication.
The Arts Santa Mònica configuration and intentions can be clearly recognized through some of the objectives that have been outlined by the exhibition’s new direction, for example: the creation of a Science and Art Laboratory as an exhibition space and, at the same time, as a place for experimentation between scientific and artistic research; the organisation of thought-provoking activities for debates on current themes and the relationship between art, culture,
communication and science; a defined meeting place for research groups from Catalan universities who work in these fields and disciplines; a transversal exhibition program that reflects this interdisciplinary environment and that keeps pace with the uneasiness of recent times and times to come.
The agreements made with the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), with the purpose of collaborating in the organisation of various activities, answer to this need to integrate and bring together the new space in the Rambla with the more important public structures for research and teaching in Cataluña.
The exhibitions that are organised by the department of science, coordinated by Josep Perelló, professor in Quantum Physics at UB, come from a scientific-technological perspective and develop into an environment where “art, science and education shake hands”, as Perelló himself states.
Eugenia Balcells’ monographic exhibition, which inaugurated the Arts Santa Mònica Workshop and concentrated on the perception of colour and the effect that light has, was definitely among the memorable projects. The exhibited project, entitled Frecuencias, circled around three installations, (Frecuencias, Rueda de Color e El laberinto de Horta), which explored the capabilities and behaviour of light and colour during the creation and transmission of images. Frecuencias, as the Catalan artist states, “is a journey through the energy that the colours’ luminous strips create and a homage to the atoms that essentially constitute as matter”.
Cultures del canvi. Àtoms socials i vides electròniques, was the first exhibit conceived by the Arts Santa Mònica workshop. The exhibition, inaugurated on the same day as the celebration of the “Cultures of change / Changing Cultures” international convention (http://www.atacd.net), was developed around the study of cultural and social dynamics from a multi-disciplinary perspective, passing through the science of complexity and digital technologies. The exhibited works and projects came from research centres, academic institutions and internationally renowned artists from the field of research and experimentation in art and science.
The interesting projects present at the exhibition were Canvi i Temps, from the Bestiario collective, and POEtic-cubes, by Raquel Paricio García and Juan Manuel Moreno Arostegui. The first, which represented the first Arts Santa Mònica on-line project, was essentially the creation of two navigation spaces that made up an important database for themes based on the science of complexity. A series of tags give way to multiple relationships and uncover a continuous chain of new content.
The latter on the other hand is the result of a collaboration between the artist Raquel Paricio and the telecommunications engineer Juan Manuel Moreno Arostegui, and consists in 9 cubes/robots that interact with people, perceive and at the same time avoid their presence. If you come close to one of them, the cube/robot begins to move in the space in a dance-like movement, careful to avoid collision, be it with other robots or people. The cube/robot charges itself and its walls constantly change colour.
Another interesting exhibition to take into consideration that also represents transformation and the “thematic content cycle” of Arts Santa Mònica, was definitely Societats Virtuals/Gamer’s Edition. The exhibition created a narrative discussion on the reality and behaviour of online video-gamer communities and underlined the passage from board role-play games to online virtual role-play games, referring especially to the famous MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games).
The exhibition started from the creation of war games and analysed its evolution up until today; it studied the concept of avatars and their use in videogames; it confronted social issues and problems that come from some of the uses of these games, such as Gold Farmers, and it also confronted the influential possibilities of virtual worlds in the physical world.
The different exhibitions created during the first year of the new “direction” at the Arts Santa Mònica, reflect the interdisciplinary will of the centre and research for a profitable dialogue between art, science and communication. The cross-over, the collaboration with university research groups, the analysis and observation of artistic practices that cross over the boundaries and flow into different fields, all these make up the new mentality of the centre and promise a fascinating future program worthy of attention.
We spoke about all of these things with Vicenç Altaió, director of Arts Santa Mònica, a poet and idea “smuggler” who politely granted us this interview.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: The Arts Santa Mònica is now one year old after having changed direction and structure. How has this first period of activity been?
Vicenç Altaió: In this first year the identity of the centre has been redefined and a new identity has been created from the principle that this place would no longer be a simple centre, but would become a “location for locations”. Secondly, it would no longer be a monotheist art centre but rather a multiplied art space, in other words, dedicated to “art and its relationship with…”. From the electronic writings to the scientific speculations, passing through cinema without images.
All of this obviously has to do with art: therefore the arts are multiplied and are interrelated in two new fields: that of science and that of communication. In this redefinition the subject or genre is multiplied through what we call collective consciousness. The project began outside of the Santa Monica centre, asking questions to the people of the town through a work by Alfredo Jaar. These questions had no images and had no answers and began from a grade zero and are universal questions.
Then, through Carlos Santos’ path on the Rambla, from the source of Canaletas up to the Arts Santa Monica, music became a score toward the centre, a symbolic invitation, a party, love, eroticism. Once inside the building many evaluations were made and, for example, the objective analysis of new architecture was integrated into the building, considering the pathologies that the centre has in relation to consumerism and the environment: this was Enric Ruiz-Geli’s project.
We also included about 12 projects and we are satisfied about the intellectual project and, most of all, of having activated the cultural elements of the city. We are happy because it was, and is, a participatory project: from the political environment to the urban one, passing through different environments, many layers of participation have evolved.
In the field of interrelations with the cultural centres of the city, we collaborated with the Mirò Foundation, with the MACBA, with the CCCB, with theatres, Universities, social groups, etc. Then, working with the public, with all the money that is invested (as we ask that culture be a social asset just like healthcare and education are), we must be very conscious of what cultural consumption is. “Consumption” is an ugly word, it’s better to talk about “cultural formation” or “shared cultural project”. In any case, we are extremely happy about the increase in visitors and the Arts Santa Mònica can now be considered to be well-established.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: Art – Science – Communication. The Arts Santa Mònica believes and bets on multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary systems. What do you think about the strong relationship between humanistic research and scientific research?
Vicenç Altaió: Often people think that humanism initiated during the Renaissance and that in some way it can be interpreted as a model for peace and harmony: on the contrary, the medieval world is always associated with conflict. As we know, this is not true. Humanism is often an empire of a civilization and a form of knowledge that is imposed onto others. I like the “pre” state, therefore I prefer to be the heir of avant-garde, even if dealing with elements from medieval times; what seems important to me is facing challenges, being capable of asking questions.
In our times, what is important is taking science as a challenge on all levels, a challenge within knowledge, a challenge within culture. We are up against a new culture, which we are building. It’s for this reason that there are so many crises at one particular time: there’s crisis of knowledge, the so-called immaterial culture, and this is a fundamental step that we are taking. This step must be taken with three feet: the so-called culture of the arts, creation and humanism in relation to science, which is a new kind of humanism, in relation to communication, which allows us to cooperate on a project.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: Do you think that this flow of thoughts and discussions between art, science and communication can influence society and politics?
Vicenç Altaió: Undoubtedly. They can influence politics as much as politics influence all of us. All the elements are essential and the limits that exist today in politics partially come from the fact that actions are taken through models that having nothing more to do with reality. For example, I think of the fact that we have technologies for communication that would allow for a greater awareness, and I also think that we should reconstruct politics and reconstruct art and creativity and their relationship with society.
It’s not acceptable that a work, for example, can be bought by one buyer alone who contemplates it in the privacy of their own home; as it is unfair that innovative projects are only funded by the pharmaceutical industry.
We are facing a new projection of the public space, there are a lot of scientific challenges and we must teach people that there’s not just the Parliamentary vote, but we must elaborate some kind of pedagogy. This all has to do with the word “freedom”, and with the freedom of expression in general. It’s also important to redefine the concept of ethics and the aesthetic space. It seems that we no longer need moral judgment as such, but rather practice of multi-knowledge and multi-culture in the hyperpresent era.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: A Barcelonan structure, a Catalan structure, but with an international vision and outlook. What are the local and global objectives of the Arts Santa Mònica?
Vicenç Altaió: It’s the same objective. The bigger the “micro” knowledge, the bigger the “macro” knowledge is as well. It’s fascinating, how two realities work as a kind of mirror. The greater the capacity for reading one has, the greater chance they have of seeing what is invisible, in the Universe and in the Human body. Today, we have this technology that is also necessary as a metaphor in astronomy and biology, as well in the great sciences and the challenges of our era: a material that signals that everything is natural and that what we call artificial is none other than the reproduction of a model of what already exists in nature.
What is artificial has in fact never existed. From that point of view the local becomes local-global, but on the contrary also global-local. Today we are, as we always have been, inside a net. In general, the concepts of “local” and “international” are necessary for reductionist arguments, for politics, etc. In reality, everything is, has always been, too interconnected. The world of innovation, which is the world in which we move with critical thought, has always been very cosmopolitan and therefore always ultra-local, because it defends us from the risks and perils of extinction
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: The Arts Santa Mònica declares to be an open platform for research and creativity. What kind of rapport do you want to establish with young researchers on the one hand and artists on the other?
Vicenç Altaió: Well, we have a building and this building is divided into four conceptual areas that are necessary to develop programming. The archive part and the “memory” are below. The space dedicated to collective projects, the most representative of them all, are in the grand cloister. The ring, which is the place of the wise and of experience and the supra part, is the workshop for the relationship between art and science. All of this stops being an architectural building and is converted into a large Web which will have the workshop for communication media at its front.
In all of the projects we develop have nothing to do with the old material culture, or rather, this is not a place for exhibiting, but a place where works are made that generate discussions that we try to give a certain complexity to. Younger and older people take part in this project, because it is an intergenerational project, as well as an international project. When I say that the lower part is dedicated to memory and the archive, and the upper part is dedicated to innovation, it’s because we have our feet embedded in our roots and our head collocated in experience, in innovation and challenge with everything that is new.
But, the whole building must function at the same time: what is no longer valuable today is giving greater importance to one discipline rather than another. What is more interesting to me is that we know how to construct action and action is made by moving: therefore everything must function at the same time, not just the lung, the foot or the desire that we have in our head. It’s everything, the body that breathes, that makes the movement and that is manifested outside the brain.
I am definitely talking about a conceptual and metaphorical form, but there is a basis of reality in it. The projects that are developed in the upper part are those that have a greater tendency for participation, not just with artists and scientists, but most of all with the young people who are coming out of University. This is a progressive challenge, we are just at the beginning: I believe that it will take at least four years, but the project wants to spread its roots out to the University sector as a sector that is not just for training, but also for specialisation.
Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio: In your opinion what will the future hold for museums and contemporary art and culture centres?
Vicenç Altaió: You nominated three things that are distinct from one another: the word “museum”, the word “centre” and the word “contemporary”. Generally the word “Museum” refers to a place destined to that which is symbolic, where history is preserved and can be re-read. The important thing about a museum is that it contains a heritage that must be preserved. The word “centre” on the other hand is a word which gravitates around a certain “centrality”. In a certain sense, the centre is built in opposition to the museum because it does not have a heritage and follows the kunsthall model.
The “contemporary” is what is happening in a precise historical moment: therefore a centre is more contemporary because of its very nature, whereas a museum can only have a contemporary view of the past. I believe that we must work simultaneously with all of the verbal tenses, which is what I am trying to do here with the whole group, in other words working with multiple and diverse systems and so that extreme radicalism can be accepted as much as the supreme, until they meet and new realities are formed.
Therefore, multiple verbal tenses and distinct timing. That which is natural thought must be configured following the structure of knowledge, that thought which is built every moment. This is the most complicated thing: but here lies the big challenge, be it for those idea “smugglers”, be it for politicians, scientists, etc. The challenge is: if we are already here, why are we so archaic in our ways and manners? This forces us to a constant self-training, to an amateurism and an upgrade of everything.
In the course of its history, the Arts Santa Mònica was first a religious convent, then barracks, then it went back to religion, then it became a warehouse for smuggling, and it was even a dance hall. For a period of time it was an art centre and today it is still an art centre, even if I think that this place still has something to do with movement and dance and the human body.