Weekly Conversations…with Barbara Palomino Ruiz

This week, we are eager to talk to studio artist Barbara Palomino Ruiz about her residency in Santander, Spain. This one-month stay is organized in cooperation with Orbital Residency. After hosting Lucia Simon Medina at studio das weisse haus, Barbara has been invited as Artist in Residence by our project partner.

So far, you have spent about a week at orbital Residency. What are your first impressions in general, and of the local art scene in particular?
Orbital Residency is based in Barcenilla de Piélagos, a small village about 15 km away from Santander. The program is located in “Los Nogales”, a beautiful construction from the 19th century, restored in 2003 respecting the local architectural tradition of the region. The surrounding is very quiet and perfect to concentrate and work. Though the first week of the residency was quite intense. The team of Orbital residency – Wendy Navarro, José Luis de la Fuente and Jordi Antas – prepared a series of tours and journeys around the city of Santander and nearby villages, showing me several representative landmarks of Cantabria.
Furthermore, they introduced me to the local art scene. In general, it seems to be a small but motivated scene. Many galleries, collectors and curators support the local artists in promoting their work abroad. We attended several exhibitions and openings including Juan Duque solo-show at JosédelaFuente gallery and the show of the local artist Zaida Salazar in a very particular space called La caverna de la luz, a project by the photographer Javier Vila, created to promote the work and collection of photography. In addition, we visited the exhibition “Las sinsombrero” in the public library of Cantabria. It’s an homage to a group of women thinkers and artists belonging to the generation of 27, who fought with courage and determination for the rights of women in Spain, but that until today have not been properly recognized in the official history.
This region has numerous surroundings with an enormous geological, archaeological, and ethnological significance. I have a strong interest in these aspects. During the first week I visit the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria in Santander, as well as the cultural center Casas de Águila y la Parra located in Santillana del Mar, in which more than 200 pieces from the Ethnographic Museum of Cantabria were exhibited.
But with all my respect to all those great art spaces, what impressed me the most, until now, was one from ancient times. We visited El Pendo, a cave situated in the heart of the beautiful Camargo Valley. The cave measures up to 40 meters in width and more than 20 meters height, and contains an assemble of Paleolithic rock art, associated with the early occupation by Homo sapiens. The “Frieze of Paintings” is outstanding, because it’s a long panel containing around 20 figures and symbols painted in red colour using a contour technique, dated from 26.000 to 20.000 years ago. Really amazing! The impression of this place grows even more with the company of the guide and professor Alberto Peña, who introduces the history with enormous passion, telling details, as for example, that it’s believed to be a single artist who made all the paintings, because the gesture of the hand does not differ between the drawings. We also discussed about the inevitable association between our concept of cinema and this Paleolithic large frieze, where the animals are drawn representing different movements and publicly displayed, made to be seen from a distance, already from a perspective.
It’s been an intense but great welcome week, and I really appreciate all the effort of the Orbital team.

Do you have some objectives that you focus on, while on residency?
I did not come with a preconceive idea or to finish an ongoing project. For me it’s rather important to be able to realize a work in relation to the place in which the residency is located, to explore the surroundings, in order to discover and interpret all what I see, hear and touch, taking in consideration the official history and people stories, traditions and current daily life, including my own mode of seeing and my cultural baggage.

Visiting the cave “El Pendo” was essential for me. The region does not have a textile heritage or tradition that I could easily follow in a month. But I have one particular interest, linked to the first human presence, the appropriation of the landscape, the invention of an ancient technology – tools and intangible “know how” – and the first manifestations of art.  
Here the human history, the accounts of our ancestors are in the landscape, printed in the rocks. First, they translated what they saw into an image by used their fingers, their digits, making points to contour animal silhouettes (First “digital” technology? I ask to myself). Then, it seems that they realized their own presence, so they printed the negative outline of one of their own hands into the rocks. The visitor also discovers an archaeological survey attending the presence of the scientist, with a delimited field walking and all the measurement tools displayed. This also caught my attention, because this “contemporary scientific scenography”, this landmark, is already part of the landscape of Cantabria, but principally of the caves.
Discovering this at the same time as the Paleolithic paintings make me feel contemplating the traces of the human presence of “two different distant pasts”. When we finished the visit, I was still thinking about that. After this intense first week, I started to research and principally focus on those last thoughts and connections, considering ideas related with formal and metaphorical excavations. Moreover, I found out that the term “Barcenilla“, where the residency is located, has different meanings but the most popular is “what is next to the bank, to the shore”. I started daily walks, registering my repetitive paths, recording, taking photos and collecting all kinds of materials that I found next to the road. Accumulating these materials as a kind of “contemporary past of a human culture” across the area. I also started to research about pre-cartographic technologies, old techniques of measurement, representation and delimitation of the land, used in the past or found it today in the region.
One month is rather short, and unfortunately, I’m unable to extend my explorations. I need to select and put my ideas quickly into order, responding to the limitation of time, a challenge that I somehow enjoy. But Cantabria offers manifold aspects that I’ll keep in mind for future projects.

Will there be a final exhibition to present your work?
Yes, the final exhibition will be from March 23 to April 30, 2018 in the Centro de Arte – a beautiful location, that originally functioned as lighthouse. It was activated in 1839 and presided over the Bay of Santander. It’s one of the most important and emblematic buildings of the city, renovated later to share its original function of lighthouse, as a navigational aid, with a new cultural function.

Interviewer for studio das weisse haus: Florian Appelt

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