Things Placed Right in the Middle of the Theatre of Representation
On Alberto Peral

Manuel Segade

Happiness consists of joining the beginning and the end.
Pythagorean proverb


Since the 1960s, sculpture has been the quintessential space for reflection in contemporary art. Minimalism, whose pieces were veritable phenomenological parries against the dominant ocularcentrism, let sculpture become a vector of space designed to be read with the body. Leading American critic Michael Fried analysed how the literal aspect of Minimalist pieces-from Robert Morris's white parallelepipeds to Donald Judd's repetitive structures-tended towards theatre. For him, this meant the end of autonomous art, of the independent command of aesthetics created by the modern paradigm and which had to be critically combatted. Fried's analysis was correct, but his diagnosis was flawed: since Minimalism, and thanks to sculptural processes, art has been made in the theatrical space of representation, fulfilling the avant-garde dream of linking art and life, given that representation is now merely a cultural regime that makes it possible to read what is real, indistinguishable from reality itself.

Sculpture has since evolved by assimilating phenomenological theories of perception, making it possible to understand bodies-made out of the very material of the world-as a sound board: sculpture was part of interpreting what is real and was activated by spectators' physical presence in the exhibition space, which made sculpture inseparable from its spatial context. The exhibition space, public space and landscape became permeable communicating vessels of continuous experiences. In recent decades, following the trail blazed by new forms of sculpture in the 1980s-above all British, Catalan and Basque sculpture-the questioning of representation as a central issue in art theory sparked critical attitudes towards the object and the spectator above and beyond Minimalism: sculptural objects became signs of a paratheatrical staging in which the expected scene never took place, allowing art to talk repeatedly of itself.

In Spain, this approach was defined in the early 1990s by theorist and curator José Luis Brea, but it developed differently in the autonomous regions of Spain where sculpture had created a strong tradition in the 1980s: the Basque Country and Catalonia. The Basque Country had a long tradition of sculpture and gave rise to a movement created by Jorge Oteiza and later disseminated by Ángel Bados and Txomin Badiola's projects at Arteleku workshops in the mid-1990s. Catalonia in the 1980s saw an evolution of new sculpture-led by Sergi Aguilar and Susana Solano, among others-towards new ways of understanding plastic art as a form of representation, in the hands of Pep Agut, Jordi Colomer and Antoni Abad. Basque art evolved in different ways towards an appropriation of what is real: sculptures reflecting forms of modernity began to embrace media such as photography, video and even architecture to use the idea of design to get closer to the total work of art with complex and even relational machines of meaning: exponents included Badiola himself and Ana Laura Aláez. In Catalonia, an interest in new media and incorporating collective work led Colomer and Abad along paths bordering on video installation: from sculpture to a trompe l'oeil of what is real.

Somewhere between both traditions of three-dimensional devices-as dubbed by critic Manel Clot-lies the work of Alberto Peral (Santurce, 1966), who trained in the Basque Country and has lived in Catalonia since the mid-1990s. This halfway position, this being "in the middle", is a core feature of his work: a threshold that frames his production.

Although he has used a wide range of media over the course of his career-video, photography, sculpture and installation-his work has remained manifestly coherent, underpinned by an eminently sculptural logic: focusing on the relationship between representation and what is real, or rather the occupation of this halfway space where what is real is revealed as a form of representation.

His recent pieces include striking photographs of forsaken urban spaces where the main motif is a piece of city furniture: tables and chairs taken out of their usual domestic context and dumped in the street that somehow, or therefore, give new meaning to urban space as a space susceptible for public use. Alberto Peral makes incisions in the photographic prints of these images and lifts up the top layer of the photograph to reveal the white paper underneath. The abandoned furniture-signs of a human presence represented entirely and precisely by its absence-are reoccupied in the form of these abstract formal interventions: in a ghostly fashion, the social junk is activated through a hole in the picture, a new space forged by geometric folds that populates the object like a trompe l'oeil of the wall against which the photograph is displayed. The image becomes sculptural, three-dimensional, like an exercise in controlled origami that endows the image with a physicality above and beyond perspective representation, since it unfurls into what is real.

In these images, the represented void is functional, a manual intervention that invents a new space in the gap between the everyday object and its representation. Through these gestures, the photograph is contradicted in its own terms: once the image has been skinned-in Jesús Palomino's words-the representational window denies its visual nature; the photographs are the antithesis of the ocularcentrism that defines photography. The perforated image becomes a real trace of a reality to which it is returned by abstract means. The photographs are things and the things are photographs. The chance encounter with these discarded domestic objects recalls theorist Richard Sennett's analysis of the urban phenomenon: today it is the private dimension that absorbs public discourse, and the public sphere can only express itself through a kind of intimate, emotional discourse.

In the sculptural pieces, Alberto Peral clearly shows the power of representation to affect what is real. Although they have become more abstract and lost the human form that characterised the early pieces in his career, his sculptures still retain a trace of figuration, a representational tie to man, to human nature. A triangular bar that ends up becoming oval is an anamorphosis, a distorted perspective turned into an object: another space folded into what is real. The sculptures on display in this exhibition play Alberto Peral's characteristic game of doubles and mirrors. The wall of the white cube or the floor in the courtyard become the same representational space he used in the perforated surfaces of his photographs. The wall support is a hollowed-out ceramic screen or an extending formal prosthesis of metal pipes. The courtyard floor reveals its built character: the floor tiles acquire a representational nature by turning into a ductile material rearranged by a sculptural urge and a geometry that seems to re-educate space, thus revealing the ability of the institution itself to be many things and their doubles all at once.

As with conjuring tricks, there is a suspension of disbelief, of the laws of physics, made possible by turning aspects of the everyday world into sculptures. The objects are arranged in accordance with humanist reasoning: the hand that makes them moulds them to anthropocentric perfection, against the laws of nature but naturalised in the artistic tradition. Alberto Peral's sculptural objects possess a calm formal perfection and an absorbing or centripetal force that brings them close to the classical definition of static perfection: they are Pythagorean in their abstract power, like endless mathematical functions in space that could go on repeating themselves for ever, like a series of facing mirrors whose contained infinity reveals the true nature of things.

In this theatrical setup, it is striking how his aesthetics are pared down to a basic formal vocabulary, deliberately reduced to the families of forms such as circles and triangles, spheres and cones. This formal repertoire is also a game of reflections: they are double forms, within and without, inside and outside, that use materials that have been flipped or inserted one inside the other, with raised skins that reveal a reverse side that is also itself... They are all transitory forms, represented in medias res or which take on meaning in their gregarious arrangement, in the very display that links them as an exhibition.

This formal interstitial vocabulary has its correlative in the continuity of the urban in the gallery space. The street (city), the photograph (image), and the white cube (exhibition) are all conventional forms, that is, forms of representation in continuity with what is real. The defence of representation is an implicit critique of the inability of space to understand itself, of the need for taking the further step of aesthetic artifice as a revelation. This way of understanding the unlimited continuity between representation and reality and this figurative tension is linked to the sculptural strategies employed by another great Spanish conjuring artist, Juan Muñoz. In the same way that Muñoz linked his pieces with Pirandello and his Six Characters in Search of an Author, these pieces are human shadows: as Michael Fried discovered in the early Minimalist structures, the sculptures tend towards an anthropomorphic condition. The sculptural gestures are people, spaces unfurled for subjective projections, in the middle of a wider theatre of the world. An ongoing representation of a cold, precise yet deliberately baroque sensuality.