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Cabello/Carceller: Galeria Elba Benitez.




Helena Cabello and Ana Carceller, a Madrid-based duo active since 1992, have effectively intermingled a committed pedagogical stance with an art practice based on photography, video, performance, and writing. Deeply imbued with a solid feminist discourse, their work invariably emphasizes the voices of the minorities that were and are abusively marginalized by Eurocentric modernist canons. This approach inevitably encompasses a reevaluation of the concept of authorship; the standard image of the white male genius is systematically undermined, not only by means of a practice developed by a two-woman team but, starting in 2004, through more extensive collaborations, very often with amateurs. Thus they've invited a number of women to reinterpret, through photographs and videos, iconic and idealized masculine roles from legendary movies in acclaimed works such as Casting: James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause), 2004, and After Apocalypse Now: Martin Sheen (The Soldier), 2007.

Their relentless attitude prevails in the duo's latest work, Rapping Philosophy: Foucault, Sontag, Butler, Mbembe, 2016. Over two spring evenings on the patio of Galena Elba Benitez, local MCs Habil Harry, Meya, and Starr rapped four songs over beats provided by the DJ team OKP Music. But the usual themes of hip-hop were replaced with a critical meditation on the themes of power and control, violence and domination, in the form of excerpts from well-known theoretical essays by Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Susan Sontag, and Achille Mbembe. The recorded performances were then shown in four videos that were accompanied by photocopies of the books whose contents the rappers recited, the performed excerpts highlighted by the whiting-out of the rest.

Although the selected philosophical excerpts and rap music might not seem to have much in common, there is a simple underlying connection: They both grow out of discontent. But by inserting these texts into this unexpected musical structure, Cabello/Carceller reveal both practices as ambivalent fields. Philosophy is systematically deconstructed, its gravity tempered, and its rhythmic substance entangled in a singular performance rooted in a subculture rather than a stance of theoretical universality. Language is not only thoroughly manipulated by the three vocalists, but also performed in the pages hung on the walls, in which a game of presence and absence, content and void, portrays a somewhat sculptural score. Subsequently, rap is also detourned, as many of its most questionable features--namely, a narcissistic individualism and, above all, a flagrant machismo--subside into a more oblique and indefinite form of speech, one that also, moreover, embodies resistance as an autonomous form of creation.

Rap is inevitably associated with public space, which has ultimately become an essential context for the duo, a space of dissent. In 2015, Cabello/Carceller, along with two other artists, represented Spain in the Venice Biennale. The pair's work, The State of the Art_a performative essay, 2015, was a reaction to Salvador Dali, a controversial figure who, in addition to being unspeakably sexist, maintained an ambiguous position toward Spain's dictatorship. As in the aforementioned previous works, amateur performers were invited to "perform an essay," written by the artists, which blended personal experiences of cultural and geographical displacement with history and fiction. Rapping Philosophy turns to some of these strategies as it merges the historical and the subjective, the academic and the vernacular. Furthermore, by filming the rappers performing in the spatial context of the gallery in which the work would be shown--such site specificity is another key feature in the duo's work--Cabello/Carceller also showed how experience is contaminated by its own staging.

--Javier Hontoria
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Title Annotation:Spain
Author:Hontoria, Javier
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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