I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...
Monday, 16 May 2016
Clavarino's Castle and the Essential Paranoia of The Grid
The Castle by Federico Clavarino is a smart book that is a visual overview of the state of play in contemporary Europe that is told with layers of inscrutability, double-dealing and paranoia added. It's about the heritage of the institutions and thought processes that rule the continent, and how that manifests itself both physically and psychologically.
The idea of Europe shapes and fuels the history of a considerable part of our planet, starting from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire on to the great colonial powers of the last few centuries. The aim of this series of photographs is to follow the traces these ideas have left upon the surface of things and people in post-WW2 Europe, as well as on the walls of its cities, in the galleries of the museums in which its history is conserved, and on the barriers that are raised to define and defend the borders of its territories
So as you go through the book, you'll see those references; to Greek thought, to Roman power, and then beyond to the Holocaust, to conflict, to division, to a state of exclusion and the creation of a place that, like Kafka's Castle, is impenetrable and impermeable.
It's divided into chapters which, according to the statement, have the following meaning.
The Castle is a building made with images and it consists of four parts. Its first chapter, “The Dead”, refers to its modern founding myth: the events that led to the contemporary European order. Chapter two, “The Organising Principles”, deals with the ideas of power and authority that are at the basis of European societies. Chapter three, “The Castle”, explores the resulting building by evidencing its elements of separation and control. Finally, the fourth and last chapter, “At Twilight”, is at the same time a prophecy and an exhortation.
I think that is over-complicating and distancing things and that the last chapter in particular is not as clear as it could be. Because for a book that is so heavily abstract and based on symbols and signs, The Castle is a direct and transparent book. The thing that comes across most is the referencing of Kafka's novel, The Castle; the story of K., a man struggling to get permission from the Castle to authorise him to live and work in the village which the Castle has summoned him to survey. The Castle is all-seeing, all-knowing place that nobody from the village has ever been into. It's distant and it's imprenetrable, it's amorphous. Most of all it has a low-level malevolence, a low hum of suspicion to all those outside it that renders K. both paranoid and helpless,
So we see borders, barriers and fences throughout the book. There is a sense of blockage that mirrors the defensive architecture both of Europe's urban centres and its outlying edges. There are symbols of surveillance, of somebody, something seeing but not being seen, and this is compounded by the constant layering of images throughout the book. They hint of someone looking out but at the same time trapped.
Unfurled rolls of paper point to bureaucracy and suited figures at the bureaucrats who run it. There are crossed arms that constitute more blockages; there is no entry to the Castle here and if you didn't know it the grilles, the security, the earphones and the repeated images of the architecture of power and exclusion will say it again for you. The world of Clavarino's Castle is, like the Kafka version, an unwelcoming, paranoid place.
It is the recreation of that paranois that makes Clavarino's book so special. In that sense, The Castle follows on from Italia O Italia in using the essentially hostility of grid-based architecture (and mapping) to express fear and control. It layers its story through repeated connected symbolism. So it's a book of signs. But it's a very direct book of signs. It has something to say, and it says it very well.
Buy the Book Here.
Read Gabriela Cendoya's Review Here