My first travel of the year, and since the lockdown, saw me leaving Berlin for Barcelona where I lived for two months, from February to April 2021. The context is a research residency program to which I was invited by The Over Art. The peculiarity of this residency is multi-pronged: it took place within the context of a lockdown in Barcelona. It happened to be located in a 4-star hotel temporarily closed due to lockdown. There were 64 rooms across six floors, a kitchen, a lobby, and a rooftop – all of which I had access to with a swipe of a card key. My makeshift studio and living space was located on the sixth floor – a step below the rooftop. The residency was a “carte blanche” in all sense of the word.
In thinking of my presence in Barcelona, I will be working with two phrases in mind: “Travelling bodies” and “A Story of distances”. These are also working titles for artistic works emanating from an itinerant reflection on bodies, borders and being human in the 21st century.
If the 18th and 19th centuries were centuries of “Enlightenment”, they were also the century of alienation and dissonance. Thus, in careful optimism — as Toni Morrison calls it — the 21st century can be one of reparation, of connectedness, of multi-contextual spaces of intimate knowledge, of personal poetry and therefore inherent beauty. The kind of beauty which asserts and expresses itself in one’s agency. It can only move outward from the subjective towards the collective when animated by the trust in one’s process.
I am still exploring Barcelona. Yesterday, it rained and somewhat doused the sunniness of the city. Yet, it rendered the coal-tarred roads, streets, and pavement glasslike and reflective — like a mirage.
There is something about the earth-colour aesthetic prevalent in the city. It lends warmth and cosiness even to a gloomy atmosphere. In the sun's absence, the sky acts like a giant softbox, the rain a diffuser. Tungsten-lit stalls and shops come alive — like a film set.
A framed iconic photo of Nina Simone is placed almost centre frame. I would wonder why it had to be so evident. I didn’t go into the shop to ask. But I allowed myself the thought that the story could be more intimate than meets the eye: “I had a chance encounter with Nina Simone, which changed my life”.
You see, here in Barcelona, there is a veil over blackness. That much I have noticed since my arrival. Such a veil makes invisibility and hyper-visibility feel like two sides of the same coin. I still do not have enough appraisal of my inkling to draw a durable conclusion. But I will return to this thought.
In the meantime, I give you a glimpse of Barcelona through the balcony of my eyes.
Free Pablo Hassel. In the wake of the protests to free the musical artist jailed for defamation of the Spanish Monarch. Barcelona 2021