INDOOR DESERT: shifting dreams

Photos: © Álvaro Sánchez Montañés

Text: © Ciro Arbós

  • At the end of the first world war the Kolmannskuppe coal mines in Namibia's dessert ended production. They were during two decades one of the most thriving settlement from southern Africa. In the flourishing time the german colons that managed the mines builded peculiar residences that evoked their home land in Bayern. To be seen in their architectonic forms as in their decoration. The closing of the mines and emigration of the inhabitants make of Kolmanskuppe a ghost town swallowed by the sand. In the series “Indoor Dessert” Alvaro Sánchez-Montañés break into these houses, abandoned in the dessert, to unveil us the poised spell that inhabit their stances.

    In these images there is an immediate eloquence that makes dispensable any historic reference. The interiors portrayed here built up an universe alien to their environment; we could be in any desert place in the planet. Or perhaps in no one: it is difficult to believe that such awesome spot is in any other map than that of dreams. In any case even if it physically exists, the eyes of the artist shows us the transit between both worlds, the step from the photographic testimony to the personal and sensible understanding of the phantasmagorical.

    On the fringes of the esthetic impression, which is difficult to overcome in order to put into words what is being observed, a subject can be defined, an obvious issue: the relationship between civilization and nature. If the abandonment of the houses suggests the decay of the former end the triumph of the last, that imposes its push, the prevailing calm reveals a peculiar balanced dialogue. Nature does not show herself as devastating or brutal; one may say that it has happened a soft reappropriation of its own territories respecting the beauty left over by humans. In this truce both forces work well together to offer us a majestic performance.

    The prevailing daydream effect is born from an impossible blend of elements. The author's framing superimposes on those offered by door frames and friezes to define image's borders with well defined areas. In these compositions the amorphous mediates, the sand tongues that meander at the forefront distort the comfortable perception of the straight lines. Watching closer we attend bewildered to an inversion of this dialectic: on dented walls and worn out woods appear unshaped figures, fanciful; and in the deposited sandy mass geometrical designs can be appreciated, that at the same time are geographic accidents, peaks, hillsides, craters. Nature reclaim its superiority by means of the civilized way of persuasion, showing that we get our structural concepts from it, that nature is present not only in chaos but in order as well.

    The chromatic play of the photographs, with its subtle equilibrium, contribute to strength the feeling of unreality, just like in a dream. To identify a precise and comprehensible element helps us to assimilate the delirium, to accept its own logic. The ochres, greens and warm blues used by the decorators reflect and invite to imagine the outside dominant colors, the sand, the sky, the near sea and reproduce them on the walls. The invasion of the desert does not spoil the color's harmony that includes already the sand's shade. The necessary contrasts are provided by the whites on the doors and ceilings, to be found above on the walls; again here the artist's intervention choosing an hour of the day, a given lightning intensity that accompany and enhance without excessiveness these whites that burst on the illuminated woods, it settles whimsically on certain surfaces or crosses the scene as thick light bundles of powder.

    The color prominence and the hanging calm of the images bestow then an intensely pictorial air; this and a dreamlike feeling suggest us a surrealistic painting. One of the last photographs, dark on the right side, with a blue wall with white stains like clouds at the back, a door that opens to the brightness at the left hand side and at a tiny sharp dune at the front reminds immediately of Margritte. Savinio, italian metaphysical painter, has a series of paintings in which in a noble hall strange toys swim in an undulating sea that floods it . In general the disturbing unexpected appearance of forces and natural beings in typically human surroundings is one of the identity signs of a surrealistic atmosphere.

    Borges used to say that closeness to a revelation that does not occur is, perhaps, the esthetic event. In this series from Alvaro Sanchez-Montañés a compelling feeling of emergency can be perceived , a movement as if the permanence, even if it seems imposing and eternal, would be at the point of breaking, as if were a series of snapshots that congeal an intense activity from inert things. The deep perspectives and the forms printed on the sand create a dynamic effect, flowing as a stream, a waterfall, a train of waves. Depending on the chosen point of view sometimes we follow its advance like a whirlwind through hallways to the adjoining halls; or we see it to burst into us, flooding the hall where we are.

    It is not only the desert that moves. Doors in different positions - wide open, closed, ajar- and above all a coordinated relationship among them that assemble a quiet but discernible choreography, which arrest the sandy tide, but are defeated letting the flow or go with it spreading it with a synchronized elegance. The series describes a linked movement that starts with an almost closed door that through a slit let the sand in inviting to follow it and ends with an outside view that pull us out of the dream by showing a sturdy grey structure that does not reveal the astonishing lanscape enclosed by its walls. Indoor desert is at the end a journey through dilapidated inner spaces but full of sensible life, where the raw material and elaborated material combine their charms of forms and colours in an illusory dance whose beat is fixed by the camera, under the appearance of an impossible beauty.