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Claudi Casanovas' recent work Lluna Nova and Pomones.

CLAUDE CASANOVAS JAUME PLENSA AND MIGUEL Barcelo all hail from the post-war post-Franco generation of Catalan artists, and stand out in the field of contemporary art. The three of them have succeeded in their aim of moving out from under the sway of the previous generation of Catalans Picasso, Miro, Artigas--by imposing their respective imprints not only on the natural properties of the materials they use, but also in the specific memory of origins and heterogeneous time frames.

These three artists also share a concern with the practice of writing (actual writing as well as manifestos and interviews) in an essential relation to the process of the work and the path of experimentation they have chosen as regards the materials used as well as the concepts put into play.

Their writings on their artistic expression and research are all the more important for the art amateur who can no longer rely in her estimation of a work's value on existing representations encoded in dominant patters of judgment. This absence of reliable references is all the more acute given that the array of media and materials in play and the ever-expanding modes of understanding in our time have transformed art appreciation and judgement into ever more complex and necessary procedures. Thus the art critic and the amateur have to come up with criteria for weighing and evaluating the progressive or regressive effect of the artist's work within the overall evolution of our modes of sense and sensibility.

Acquiring these criteria implies that we shall have to identify and follow out the process of the artist's work in its differences and repetitions if we are to identify its logic and to consider it in terms of what we consider its effect in this age of innovative creation.

In such an analysis, the artist's writings along with those of other amateurs have to be read to gain insight into the singular process beyond mere affect, beyond the play of subjectivity causing us to change our viewpoints arbitrarily or owing solely to the influence of fashionable tendencies or market evaluations. The analysis of the evolution of an artist's work coupled with the insights to be garnered in her writings contribute to the constitution of our own process of art appreciation, leading in time to the moment when this sensitive and mental journey opens onto what Georges Bataille called the "experience of the world".

Since the beginning of his career Casanovas has distinguished himself through an absolutely singular use of clay which hitherto had never been experimented with. Akin to a physician in his laboratory, Casanovas has marshalled contemporary technologies in his research into the potential of clay as artistic medium in all its manifestations and at every temperature, including deep freezing.

Thus Casanovas achieves in his domain what Adorno saw musicians achieving in theirs: learning how to slip the constraints of traditional practices through the use of the most modern of techniques, thus increasing the possibilities of development both in their practice and their formal inventiveness. The offshoot is that the work is no longer merely ceramic as a relation of emptiness to fullness, but properly sculptural through the imposing dimensions of the work and the ensuing importance of their place in space.

Until recently, Casanovas' work was characterised either by variations around themes as with the large bowls or by more abstract and constructivist structures in successive series, such as Pedera Foguera (1996), les Blocs (2002), Als Venquts (2007), Camps d'Urnes (2009), or Les Blanques, montjoies per Odisseu (2010). His more recent experiments around the notion of 'heads' in the series called Lima Nova (shown at the Erskine, Hall & Coe in London in May, 2013) then in Pomones are a new development and might be considered a break with previous work. This is not the case. The mutation is an evolution corresponding to the artist's ambition, setting out step by step an evolution of his experimental modes in the context of a reflexive process in harmony with a world view constantly called up and systematically elaborated upon.

Relative to these new works (as well as for former experiments), Casanovas evokes a process the elaboration of which stretches out over a long period of time. One of its main characteristics is the attempt to figure a 'native state' in relation to the concept of origin as set out by Walter Benjamin in his Origin of the German Mourning Play: in origin "what is meant is that which springs forth out of coming-to-be and passing away, standing the flow of becoming as a maelstrom that irresistibly draws the stuff of emergence into its rhythm." The origin is in this sense the survival of something appearing to be endless and always open-ended.

The work is a surface of inscription of primordial chaos bringing home for us the presence of primordial temporalities while simultaneously suggesting present time. Or, again, the presence of real memories of immemorial events when we are faced with a work of sculpture in praise of 'the vanquished' of Casanovas' native town of Olot. The work also derives from the Nietzschean desire for "eternal return" as a cycle open to other perspectives, a theme Casanovas has developed in a catalogue essay for the series les Blancjues inspired by the Odyssey of the Catalan poet Agusti Bartra: "the process of becoming seems to me akin to a winding staircase on which we pass through states, situations, tasks whether known or recognised from afar, but on another plane, in another perspective at each stage of life, something like a cycle, but half open."

The emergence of an anthropomorphic presence in the most recent series indicates that Casanovas is now working from a truly temporal thinking of sculpture. Such a thinking leads to an actual organic poiesis of a morpho-genesis starting from the origin and spreading out in such a way as to evoke formal condensations of memories of previous civilisations, and simultaneously, of more recent ones, such as those of Constantin Brancusi or Giuseppe Penone.

The formal aspect of these Lima Nova and Pomones might be judged regressive compared to former constructivist or abstract work if the history of contemporary art is viewed as a process bringing representation to a close. Indeed their formal aspect might evoke the actors of Dante's Divine Comedy or the technically augmented 21st century man or even heads leading back to the Cyclades figures of ancient Greece, or those of Brancusi.

This 'permanence' of the anthropological form resonates with the origins of art and the desire to remain in contact with them, that is, with a signifying semantics of human existence which in no sense can be construed as a regression. This 'permanence' can perhaps be explained by the shared consciousness of many contemporary singular artists that something must be found to counter the brace of a world wherein rationality and calculus seem to submerge and shape our lives. Such a response will insist on the role of experience in the dialectic of past and present, as per the work of Benjamin.

These sculptures confront us with a complex material anamnesis of a past and present time wherein the subjectivity of the past or that of the artist's present merge. This is what enables Casanovas to achieve a meta-stability in the experience of a being-in-the-world as he writes in les Blanques: "on one side life rolls on, everything is change and movement, but on the other side, in the opposite direction, we feel a kind of immobility, seeking a posture of balance."

These compositions produce an affect of resonance that we could compare to a jazz piece with its source in songs springing from immemorial times but composing a contemporary form of music using digital technologies. The compositions studied here could also be compared to the cinema of authors such as Godard and Marker, who produce a state of confluence between gaze and thought due to montage generating temporal and repetitious discontinuity associated with sounds and speech with no direct link to the cinematic image.

Moreover, Lluma Nova and Pomones originate in a process forged by the artist at the onset of his career, in the form of research into the promotion of the materials used. Thus, in the most recent series, these special properties of various clay mixtures give us a visible surface that no other type of material could make as 'life-like' and flesh-like as this one, whereas till now his compositions of material would result in structures revealing the naked mineral nature of the magma of clay. This organic sculpture of matter and memory is altogether more complex than an entire section of contemporary art in the grip of symbolic misery, too often in the sway of a planetary technical system concealing deferred time and seeking shelter in the artificiality of kitsch or virtual reality.

Claudi Casanovas' sculptures help us in the struggle against this catastrophe of the sensible and the memorable, by aiding in an increase of our poiesis, that is, of our experience of being-in-the-world, and by developing our relationships to the materiality of our environments. His writings bear witness to the permanence and survival of these questions, and his path recalls for us that the universe of art is a universe of research, of differences and of repetitions.

Arnauld de L'Epine is an economist and member of the board of directors of Ars Industrialis, international association for promoting an industrial policy of mind. His other fields of research are contemporary art with specific attention to some artists using ceramics by means of innovative ways. He is a writer on the arts living in Paris ( Translated by George Collins. All photos by Jordi Puig. The exhibition was held at Erskine, Hall & Coe Gallery in London October 2014.

A book has just been published by ARgile editions: 1 Artiste & la Terre, Claudi Casanovas, texts from Germain Viatte and Claudi Casanovas (http://
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Author:de L'Epine, Arnauld
Publication:Ceramics Art & Perception
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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