Montse Badia

ALICIA FRAMIS. Guantanamo Museum (ENG)

Centro de Arte Santa Mónica, Barcelona, 2008

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Alicia Framis takes conflicts or contradictions she sees around her as the starting point for the new ideas, models or prototypes that make up her series. Violence, security, coexistence, communication and loneliness are among the key themes that have articulated her work. Framis gets involved in specific issues and projects for a certain period of time —which can range from a few days to a few years— during which her authentic ‘works in progress’ are defined, transformed and evolve, often in relation to the places where they are presented.

The artist once defined the aim of her work as being essentially ‘to create a good concept for life’: a positioning as direct as it is complex, and one that in the last analysis is simply an affirmation of the need for art as a catalyst for other ways of looking, seeing and questioning things. These premises are present in all of Framis’s projects to date, a few of which it may be pertinent to recall here, as an introduction to Guantanamo Museum, her most recent work. In Dreamkeeper (1997), for example, she placed an advert in the papers offering to watch over the dreams of lonely people; in Remix Buildings (1999-2000) she put forward a new approach to architecture, bringing together unlikely combinations of functions —a cinema and a hospital, an underground railway and a cemetery, a motorway and a memorial, and so on— in order to demonstrate the extent to which our society strives to render invisible all those aspects of existence related to disease, old age, suffering and death. Anti-Dog (2002-2003), a reflection on violence against women, consisted of a collection of dresses made of special fabrics: bullet-proof, flame-retardant and resistant to attack by dogs. Secret Strike (2003-…) is a series of collective performances staged with the support of various institutions —Tate Modern in London, Inditex in Santiago de Compostela, Rabobank in Utrecht…— in which the workers interrupt whatever they happen to be doing for a few moments and bring the activity of these major employers to a complete standstill.

Collaboration, then, is another key aspect of Framis’s work. Not only on the part of the architects, designers, musicians or writers whom she often enlists as her travelling companions, but also of the people she directly involves in her projects, and of the spectator, who cannot help but be implicated into her works.

Guantanamo Museum is the latest project by Alicia Framis, and the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica is the second stop on what looks set to be lengthy expected itinerary which started at the Galería Helga de Alvear in Madrid with a ‘sketchbook’ in which the artist presented her concerns in relation to a highly topical issue: the prison at Guantánamo. Since 2002, the U.S. military has used its base in Guantánamo Bay (Cuba) as a maximum security detention centre. The prisoners in Guantánamo, seized and imprisoned without trial, are classified as ‘enemy combatants’ and suspected of terrorist activities, deprived of the most basic rights and systematically tortured… Numerous initiatives in various parts of the world continue to condemn the existence of Guantánamo. A few weeks ago, the press announced that ‘the U.S. Supreme Court gives the coup de grace to the limbo at Guantánamo’, citing the judges’ decision that the detainees have a constitutional right to defend themselves in the civil courts. This may be the definitive end of Guantánamo.

Alicia Framis’s project starts from the observation that in all likelihood the Guantánamo prison will be closed soon, at which point it will inevitably be turned into a museum, because we live in a society that has an insatiable need to museify everything. Auschwitz and Alcatraz are good examples of how from the memory of horror can create souvenirs for the tourist trade. Framis does not try to be categorical or to provide solutions, but aims instead at a more in-depth take on whether it is legitimate to turn horror into a consumer product. After all, perhaps museums of this kind are a lesser evil, a way of ensuring that certain atrocities are not forgotten?

Alicia Framis’s Guantanamo Museum pinpoints this paradox with its proposal of a possible a museum for Guantánamo — a museum that the artist will undoubtedly define further in the course of successive presentations of her project. In this exhibition at the CASM, the artist focuses on the essential human factor by remembering all the people who have been or are still caged in the camps at Guantánamo. Guantanamo Museum: The List is a memorial in which 274 sawn-through motorcycle helmets evoke the prisoners’ vulnerability and the abuse of their integrity, while the voice of the musician Blixa Bargeld reads out a list, compiled by the writer Enrique Vila-Matas, of all the men’s names, reminds us of their presence and, at the same time, their absence.

In parallel, Guantanamo Museum: Sketches is a reinterpretation of different parts of the prison camps, showing how they could be converted into the proposed museum, whose motto is ‘Things to Forget.’ In defining the objects to be displayed in the museum, the artist has been working with various collaborators, including architects, designers and design students, and running a series of workshops at the Felicitat Duce School of Fashion (Barcelona), the IED European Design Institute (Madrid and Barcelona) and Can Xalant (Mataró). One result of these workshops is the exhibition Guantanamo Museum: Workshops, a selection of ideas, sketches and prototypes that Alicia Framis has incorporated into her proposal for the Museum of Guantánamo, the latest —and the last?— museum to emerge from horror.

Montse Badia
June 2008

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