THE FILTH OF POWER
The images that Francisco Reina brings us are true icons of the spaniars´ complex, detached times. His series EXTRAÑA uses a vocabulary of symbols to chronicle a society of absence rather than individuals. There are no characters to portray. This absence – this depersonalization – is captured in the atmosphere. Reina has created a portrait of dense and poisonous toxicity, the putrid ether emanating from this amalgam of contradictions and senselessness, bringing to the forefront what lies beneath each archetype: the filth of power.
Unsicherheiten, the German word that blends ideas such as insecurity, uncertainty and unsafety, figures prominently in the book "In Search of Politics" by the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (Poznán, 1925). These are the states that Francisco Reina conjures to perfection in EXTRAÑA, a series of photographs in which the title – the Spanish for “strange” – is just one swapped letter away from “Spain.”
Beyond wishful thinking, there is no way to amend the injustices inflicted on us as individuals and as a society. We are no match for the finely tuned machine that sustains the powers of our time, its all too familiar chicanery perpetuating the way things are. It comes as no surprise to us that we are ruled by corporate outfits tailor-made by capitalism; we are so indentured to these enterprises that anyone who refuses to legitimize their authority is cast aside, their dignity left to waste away. It is sharply visible in Reina’s work that there is no recourse, no individual to be held accountable for this state of affairs, no witness to take the stand, no one on the other end of the line, as in one of his photographs in which we come upon a faceless, ghoulish figure. Our politicians – the individuals who purport to represent us – end up as puppets perched upon armored and spiked chairs, forming a tableau of unmatched hypocrisy. Let us recall the pediment that sits atop the Congress of Deputies in the Spanish capital, an allegorical rendering of Spain as a female figure who embraces representations of the Spanish constitution and is surrounded by personifications of strength, justice, the fine arts and commerce and other facets human and divine. This STRANGE SPAIN of ours, with her bulging eyes that shine like a firefly in the night, is a ship adrift at sea, battered by the winds coming down from the North.
With characteristic precision, Bauman tells the story to us with dazzling visual clarity and simplicity: “Present-day insecurity is akin to the feeling the passengers of a plane may experience when they discover that the pilot’s cabin is empty – that the friendly captain’s voice was merely a replay of an old recorded message” (In Search of Politics, p. 20). It is beyond clear that there is no one who can give us answers about what is happening, though we are all aware that it is going on. Inside, leaders are busy taking lessons in oratory and body language, tools they will use to hypnotize us. Proof of this is seen in the artist’s photographs of hands in gesticulation in which he makes explicit the raw tyranny, oppression, corruption and threat in each gesture.
But none of this is new; all we have to do is look inside the history books to see how all societies have leaned toward despotism, carefully grouping social classes so that there can be no mistaking the top from the bottom. We see this in the totemic structure that rises into the fog, symbolically vanishing from sight as the edifice surges upward. But this structure and its pinnacle are not just scraping the sky – theyare puncturing it. The paradox could hardly be more mordantly ludicrous. In the words of don Quixote, we have indeed come to the church. We must not forget that these latter-day pyramids are built by individuals who will later be at the mercy of the same dehumanized, abstract entities whose money makes them possible. Like it or not, we are immersed in a new kind of feudalistic social system set against a much more toxic backdrop. Contemplating Reina’s image of a smokestack set against a cloudy sky we can see that when it rains, it pours, and an acid rain it will be.
The ordinary citizen, the common man, is cornered. He has been backed into a non-place where all he can do is rant in isolation, practically in silence, because if he dared to air his diatribe, he would be condemned by his peers. This muzzling of the citizenry is what drives people to anonymous action: clad in their balaclavas, silenced individuals ache to rattle society and galvanize the public into action. But even this is not without its ambiguity, and here we wonder if these masked individuals are no more than sellouts or maybe even pathological vandals looking for an outlet for their own personal barbarism. It is in this two-sided game where power wins once again: infiltration, doubt and all kinds of conspiracy both real and imagined. Social networks with nothing social about them are dead ends that isolate us, the perfect tool to keep us sedated while we are led to believe that we have some kind of control over information. But there is no piece of pie to be had; we’ve been hoodwinked yet again.
September, 2014. Seville.