INVISIBLE STRUCTURES: REPRESENTING A MEMORY THAT HASN´T YET BEEN IMAGINED
by Pedro Leão Neto
Xavier Ribas studied Social Anthropology at the University of Barcelona (1990) and Documentary Photography at the Newport School of Art and Design (1993) and the author’s social awareness and background in these fields of study is well patent in his extended work covering several territories and places. His photographic projects also operate as both document and fiction, showing how an artistic approach can play an important role when analysing the modernity and contemporary transformation of the territory1.
Ribas, by integrating into the photographic representations of his projects diverse concepts and ideas coming from philosophy, art and sociology2 is able to create powerful land- scape series where art and objectivity combine to address two ways of looking towards our contemporary territory. As Lluís Sabadell Artiga has written, “In terms of our way of looking, the meeting between modernity and landscape has generated residual spaces where our way of looking diverges in two opposed paths: indifference and admiration.” (Artiga, 2007). Ribas work covers the second path making us re-examine the diverse “invisibilities” of our territories.
His work is very representative of how politi- cal and economic power can control space affecting the built environment in specific ways, as well as the lives of people and their culture. Working with the ideas of invisibility and appearance, photography images are utilized to represent “what is no longer there”, meaning that the images gain a depth that go beyond their appearance. Within this context, scopio aboveground territory,
dedicated to the territory transformation connected with land art or large-scale land- scape architecture, as well as to regional or local planning, has decided to publish Ribas project titled Invisible Structures, which is a very interesting photographic project that works with the idea of “invisible” and “hid- den”, which consistently runs through his work since the earlier series in the late nine- ties, in an unusual environment and context.
We start by explaining that this work is one of the two photographic series [Mud is the name of the other one], resulting from the project commissioned by Photo España and supported by FNAC (Fonds National d ́Art Contemporain). We are here confronted with an invisible evidence of a pre-Columbian Maya civilization buried in the Petén rainforest. This project implied Ribas to travel to Guatemala in March 2006, where he collaborated with a team of archaeologists working in the “Proyecto Arqueológico Waka”, directed by David Freidel (Southern Methodist University, Dallas) and Héctor Escobedo (Universidad San Carlos, Guatemala) (Ribas, 2006a).
The images of this body of work seem to make the viewer plunge into a discontinuous and nonreferential3 jungle spatiality. One can spend a lot of time in front of them trying to understand those spaces and feel helpless in terms of knowing how to deal with them: there is no hint of socio-cultural context to read. Simultaneously, we also feel a significant exuberance and density in the pictures, which come from the author’s strong emotional and pictorial resolve of the jungle in its most basic and sensual form.
The author also explains how the title of this series refers to the terminology used in the context of the Maya archaeology to designate the site of a disappeared structure (Ribas, 2006a). This work has, in fact, a clear anthropological look because it discloses what is beyond the symbolic and biographi- cal elements of that Maya civilization: the genius loci coming from the remnants and sediments buried under that jungle’s earth.
1 Gabriela Vaz Pinheiro, 2010, “The Deception of images in SCOPIO “Contrast: Michelle Domingos + Patrícia Azevedo Santos” p.78–79 ”Through age- old tradition, photography has affirmed itself as an autonomous subject field and practice. By an even older resistance, the artistic project has been using it as a processual helping tool for supporting observation, for cataloguing the capture of fleeting moments that memory will betray and drawing will not succeed to immobilize.” ”It is therefore demonstrated that the deception of images often serves them as a lever for meaning and that the evidence of the artistic process may very well move from its sensitive operability to a new domain in its own right, as a marker of significance and poetics.”
2 “In a wider context the work is about the relationship of man and territory, engaging with the notion of the production of space (Henry Lefebvre), the experience of the landscape from the perspec- tive of the everyday (Michel de Certeau), and the notion of anthropological place (Marc Augé). There- fore, the work intends to dialogue with the disci- plines of urban studies, social anthropology and archaeology.” (Ribas, 2005)
3 “These images represent tangled fragments of jungle, with no horizon, discontinuous, indifferent, interchangeable. (It is difficult to retrace one’s steps in the rainforest). These images ‘bursting with jungle’ represent the edges of archaeological excavations, they look outwards, trying to capture an unconstructed space. At first glance, these images make us think of a wild space, natural, undefined, as if without motif. However, this disorganized and entropic space is, in fact, a historical site, the site (niche) of a buried city beneath the rainforest floor.” (Ribas, 2006b)
see the entire article in the issue 3 of scopio international photography magazine: territory