PHotoESPAÑA 2021: A GUP Selection of Highlights

PHotoESPAÑA 2021: A GUP Selection of Highlights





June 2 to September 30


Madrid, Spain


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Every year since 1988, the photography and visual art festival PHotoESPAÑA has turned Madrid (and many other locations in Spain) into a kaleidoscopic hyper-museum filled with a wide variety of exhibitions — ranging from the most ‘traditional’ to the very contemporary. Both the range and the enduring character of PHE are an achievement, and this year’s edition especially marks the stamina of its organizers. GUP and PHE have been long-standing partners, and despite the circumstances that have, for far too long, kept most of us from doing what we love doing — exploring exhibitions — I was given the opportunity to go to Madrid for a few days this early June to get a sneak peak of what PHE holds in store for its 2021 edition.

It would take a full season to complete the entire programme of PHE’21, and many exhibitions and events are scheduled later this month or even in September. But within the few days that I was in Madrid, I was offered a busy schedule filled with openings of which I will highlight a few here:

Isabel Muñoz. OCE03397_baja. Courtesy of Isabel Muñoz ©

In ‘We Are Water’, a three-screen installation created specifically for PHE’21, Isabel Muñoz (b. 1951, Barcelona) collaborated with the Japanese apnea diver Ai Futaki. Muñoz has immersed herself with the essence of water, and how we are slowly but surely destroying our oceans with plastic. For the installation, she filmed underwater with a team, documenting the sinuous and entwining movements of Futaki (who expresses the symbiosis with the oceanic environment) and a male performer (who symbolizes humanity’s disconnect with the biosphere). It is an impressive audio-visual experience altogether, which is on show at Museo Lảzaro Galdiano until the end of August.

Souad Mani Sousse (TN) y Hakim Harzaoui (ALG). Immanence, 2020 © Souad Mani Sousse and Hakim Harzaoui.

At Casa Arabe, right next to the ‘Parque de el Retiro’ (around which many iconic venues are located, several of those hosting PHE-related exhibitions), the group show ‘Barzakh: Between Worlds’ holds a selection of artists that were filtered from an open call for projects. Curated by Xavier de Luca and Houari Bouchenak, ‘Barzakh’ was eventually selected by the jury for the way that various media formats are applied by different artists, all with their own approach to the issue of how two realities coexist in the Arab world today: a vibrant, energetic (rebellious) generation of youths versus an intangible inner world that incorporates the historical, the memories and movements of the past which have so strongly defined the region. Indeed, the overall vibe of this curatorial achievement is exactly mirroring the emotions, confusion, and even the frustration of getting it all across in a meaningful manner. 

Liza Ambrossio. Niño indigo, from the series “Naranja de sangre” (Blood Orange), 2020 © Liza Ambrossio

Another exciting venue to spot emerging artists is Casa de América, where Liza Ambrossio (b. 1993, Mexico/France) installed an impression of her project ‘Blood Orange’, a mix of performance and interventions giving expression to her ‘mental mapping’ and the psychological states of being in her rather nomadic life. The installation is presented together with an accompanying artist book published with Kehrer Verlag, and both the exhibition and the publication serve as a very personal investigation into what the artist herself has named ‘paranoiac dream psychosis’.

Bill Brandt. Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London. Private collection, courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery © Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

For those who are more interested in the ‘classics’ of photography (and provided that you can travel to Madrid this summer), I would recommend visiting the Fundación MAPFRE — which is hosting a thematic overview of the work of Bill Brandt (1904-1983, UK/Germany). Brandt was both an autonomous artist and a photojournalist, probably best known for his images of British society, indicating the contrast between classes. He was also a regular contributor to magazines (e.g. Harper’s Bazaar, Lilliput), and a relationship with the European avant-garde movements of the day and to a greater degree with Surrealism are also evident in his output. At the end of his life Brandt started to focus more on the formal, aesthetic aspects of the medium by way of making landscapes and nudes. All this is compactly summarized in this exhibition, which includes 200 vintage prints developed by the artist, courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive and the Edward Houk Gallery in New York.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode. Every Moment Counts, 1989. Courtesy The Walther Collection and Autograph ABP, London

PHE is always trying to find the right balance between showcasing the most traditional or ‘modern’ elements of photography, mixed with the more ‘postmodern’ issues as addressed in the twenty-first century. For this edition of the festival, Elvira Dyangani Ose (b. 1974, Spain) — director of the Showroom in London — was invited to guest curate a programme of events and exhibitions/installations within the overall programme. Inside the Circulo de Belles Artes (First Floor) she presents a fine selection of artist prints, vernacular material and books, all arriving from the renowned Walther Collection. The show is mainly concerned with the construction of identity in the context of African colonial history and its diaspora. ‘Events of the Social’, as the exhibition is titled, gives expression to the ongoing dialogue among artists and scholars who aim to reconnect with the historical context, embedding how transformation and preservation have long been the driving forces behind the formation of ‘African’ identities. 

Larry Achiampong. Relic, 2. 4K Video Still, 2019 © Courtesy of Larry Achiampong and Copperfield, London. VEGAP, Madrid, 2021

Meanwhile, at another end of the city, situated at Nave O/Matadero Madrid ( a former slaughterhouse in the Arganzuela district, which has been converted into an arts centre) Dyangani Ose curated the installation ‘Contre La Raza’ (Against The Race). Matadero Madrid is a lively, constantly changing space at the service of creative processes, participatory artistic training and dialogue between the arts; a lab for experimentation and the promotion of new cross-disciplinary formulae. It makes for the perfect setting for ‘Contra La Raza’, a multidisciplinary initiative that, as its leaflet describes, “incorporates a 4 hour (!) video-collage and live programme focusing on futuristic imaginaries expressed through the Black experience that generate new forms of global and egalitarian humanism”. Highly recommended!

Paolo Nozolino. Cullera, 1985 (L’Albufera. Visió tangencial). IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat © Paolo Nozolino

One other exhibition that deserves to be highlighted here is ‘In Spain: Photography, commissions, territories, 1983-2009’, at the ICO Museum (until mid-September). This keenly curated exhibition brings together eleven photographic commissions/surveys – extended up to a total of 29 covered in the accompanying catalogue – focusing on the recording of the (mainly urban) landscape, and the Spanish territory. For the ICO Museum, this is to be considered a logical continuation of the line of research as started in 2019, focusing on European Photographic Missions since the 1980s; the use of photography as a tool to observe and represent territories and their changes. The exhibition includes the works of almost seventy photographers, amongst whom are a number of internationally established artists (e.g. Goldblatt, Sekula, Höfer, Salgado, Graham, Fontcuberta etc.) all commissioned to map/archive the Spanish territories.

For those who will not be in the position to visit Madrid, let alone find the time to then visit all the venues and exhibitions that PHE’21 incorporates, I suggest at least to check out their website and perhaps even purchase the compact and concise catalogue giving a pleasant overview of the full programme.

The full programme can be found here, and the official guide can be purchased here.

The XXIV edition of PHotoESPAÑA will take place from June 2 to September 30, 2021.

       Credits for slider images

  • Dawit L. Petros. Untitled (Prologue II), 2016. Series: The Stranger’s Notebook © Dawit L. Petros. Courtesy the artist, Tiwani Contemporary, and The Walther Collection.
  • Carlos Cánovas. Sefanitro, Barakaldo, 1993 (Ría de Hierro). Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao © Carlos Cánovas, VEGAP, Madrid, 2021
  • Liza Ambrossio. Human milkshake, de la serie “Naranja de sangre”, 2021 © Liza Ambrossio
  • Zanele Muholi. Miss D’vine I, 2007 © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
  • Isabel Muñoz. OCE01806_baja. Courtesy of Isabel Muñoz ©
  • Kiluanji Kia Henda. Havemos de Voltar, 2017. Courtesy of Kiluanji Kia Henda
  • Bill Brandt. Cuckmere River, 1963. Private collection, courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery © Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.
  • Sonia Merabet. Séquelles bleues, 2020 (ALG) © Sonia Merabet