The Effervescence of the Photobook. Interview with Irene de Mendoza, co-curator of “Photobook Phenomenon”

June 9th, 2017 No Comments
Irene de Mendoza © CCCB, 2017. Elisenda Pallarés

Irene de Mendoza © CCCB, 2017. Elisenda Pallarés

The best-known photobooks are those that we make ourselves with photos of our holidays and that we show to friends and family on our return. At the “Photobook Phenomenon” exhibition, the term “photobook” adopts another dimension and historical significance. The photobooks exhibited at the CCCB and at the Foto Colectania Foundation are creative projects, stories in images, graphic accounts of the visual culture of our times. They are artistic objects where the creativity and choral work of many professionals (designers, printers, illustrators, photographers, etc.) all come into play. Their themes are as varied as suicide and the story of Spain’s first serial killer. They can also have different formats: from a traditional book to a cigarette pack or a Chinese sewing box. However, not all these photobooks contain photographs taken by the author; some contain archive images, photographs purchased at flea markets, drawings, etc.

At the height of the digital era, more photobooks are being published than ever before, and increasing numbers of professional find in this formula a pathway for expressing themselves and telling stories. “The photobook has the capacity to change the lives of these people” affirmed collector Martin Parr at the exhibition’s opening event.

We talked about the diversity and richness of photobooks and the fundamental role they play in heightening visibility of the work of contemporary artists and photographers with Irene de Mendoza, artistic director of the Foto Colectania Foundation and one of the curators of the “Photobook Phenomenon” exhibition.

Elisenda Pallarés: These days we can talk about the appearance of the “photobook phenomenon”. Many circuits and festivals exist dedicated to this format where artists and collectors make themselves known. This is not the first exhibition on this subject, so what is different about “Photobook Phenomenon”?

Irene de Mendoza: The “Photobook Phenomenon” exhibition produced jointly by the CCCB and the Foto Colectania Foundation aims to move away from the classic exhibition of photobooks by a photography centre. Exhibitions have already been held internationally on this subject, but always from the viewpoint of the photography. This time we have ventured to talk about the photobook in more general terms, as the exponent of the visual culture of an era, following to a certain extent the example of the Tate Modern, which has just acquired Martin Parr’s collection. We should not understand the photobook as exclusively an art of photography; it is an art that embraces many more disciplines. A key feature of the exhibition has been having seven curators who have presented very different themes.

EP: There are many women authors in the contemporary photobooks section. However, the same does not occur with the other sections. Is the world of the photobook a world of male creators and collectors?

IM: It is true that proportionally we find more men, even though history is full of women photographers. This is also reflected in the art world and in curatorship. However, now we are experiencing a total change, above all in the area of creation, where very powerful female photographers are starting to make their names known. In Spain, there are more women than men enjoying international recognition, as is the case of Cristina de Middel whom Martin Parr always cites as a reference artist. She consolidated her career starting with the self-publishing of a book.

EP: Does the same happen with photojournalism? Right now the exhibition World Press Photo is being presented in Barcelona and every year we observe more male prize-winners than female ones.

IM: It has always been more difficult for women in every sphere. Joana Biarnés, considered the first Spanish female photojournalist, is a good example. The documentary Joana Biarnés, una entre todos explains the difficulties she had to overcome to become a photographer. Although proportionally there have always been more male photographers it is also true that it has been easier for them to make themselves known. We don’t know if, in the future, archives will be found of unknown women photographers, as in the case of Vivian Maier, who spent her whole life taking photographs but never disseminated them.

Irene de Mendoza © CCCB, 2017. Elisenda Pallarés

EP: The exhibition features photobooks in different formats, from the more traditional book to Xian, by Thomas Sauvin, in which each reader takes a different journey and, consequently, has a different reading. What differentiates photobooks?

IM: At the height of the digital era, photographers have found in the photobook the ideal medium for showing a project in a coherent way. On the Internet the tendency exists for photographs to be circulated and separated from their context. The photobook, however, is something physical that enables coherence to be given to a project and allows artists to experiment with the format, the paper, deciding on the cover, etc.

The dream of authors who create photography books is for people to consider them like a novel: with a cover, a title, an introduction, a core and a denouement. There are also authors who break with this line, but it should still be understood as a reading. Often we start leafing through a book of images from the end, but nobody starts reading a novel from the end.

EP: The creation of the photographic book is a collective endeavour.

IM: Yes, it is a choral work. Often we relate it with the world of cinema. In a film, the director obviously plays an important part but the film is the result of the work of an entire team. In the creation of a photobook, the designer or the editor, for example, also play an extremely important role. Moreover, younger people have received a better education, they travel, speak English and use social media networks and all this is reflected in their work.

EP: What prominent names do we find among this new generation of Spanish photographers?

IM: There are major authors such as Carlos Spottorno, Cristina de Middel, Ricardo Cases and Óscar Monzón, who won the Paris Photo with Karma. All of them are internationally recognised for their photobooks. And also Laia Abril and Julián Barón, whose most recent works we can find at the exhibition.

EP: How do they make their work known?

IM: Through the book. Twenty years ago they thought more about doing an exhibition and making a catalogue as a record of the exhibition. But an exhibition is more limited. Which is better: an exhibition in Berlin, for example, or publishing a book that will also be seen in the MoMA bookstore? These photographers aim to reach a lot of people and they focus on this. Also, today, all the photography fairs and festivals devote a significant section to the photobook.

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EP: Are there talent-spotters in the world of the photobook?

IM: Yes, there are gurus or opinion leaders, such as Horacio Fernández, Gerry Badger and Martin Parr, and we have been lucky enough to see many of them at “Photobook Phenomenon”. But we must not forget the fundamental role played by the publishers. In this case, Editorial RM, with whom we have co-published the exhibition catalogue, are spokespersons and supporters of projects. They personally take the books that they publish to the major opinion leaders in the world of photography.

EP: Apart from the viewpoint of these opinion leaders, is there space for participation in the world of photobooks?

Yes. “Photobook Phenomenon” shows that the world of the photobook is not relegated exclusively to photography as a speciality. The photobook is not something exclusively for artists of photography, but the subjects dealt with can spark anyone’s interest. It is a vehicle that uses photographs, or images – because these days talking about photography means talking about images – to deal with very diverse issues. At the exhibition, many photobooks can be seen whose images were not made by the author, following the line of post-photography, so widely written about by Joan Fontcuberta. Photos from public or private archives are also published.

The idea is to narrate using images and this connects very well with the era in which we live. Between getting up and eating lunch we receive more visual impacts than a 14th century person received in their entire lifetime. There is a tsunami of images. I think that all those people who tell stories through images have a fundamental role to play. In the field of education there is still much to be done, because visual language is not being taught. However, many young people communicate with each other using this language: they no longer write about what they are doing, they send a photo. That is what is happening today, we communicate through images.

EP:  In the section on contemporary practices you highlight the work of Laia AbrilJulián BarónAlejandro CartagenaJana RomanovaVivianne SassenThomas Sauvin and Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber. Why did you choose these authors?

IM: We have tried to select a series of authors who not only have created interesting photobooks, but for whom the photobook is almost their identity. As Moritz Neumüller says, they live for and with photobooks. They are artists who have found in this format the most coherent way of expressing themselves, and we have asked them to explain the book’s creation process.

EP: As a finishing touch to the exhibition, there is the Espai Beta with 150 photobooks published over the last two years. Can you tell us about some of them?

We were very sure that we wanted to create a reading space at the Espai Beta that would reflect the effervescence in contemporary photobook creation. You can find such marvels as Silent Histories by Kazuma Obara. The book explores the consequences of the Second World War in Japan, a subject that has received little coverage. It tells the story of a group of people through their own accounts, with archive images, current photographs and other elements such as a passport or the drawings of a lady who was only able to tell her story through them.

The Photograph That Narrates

June 7th, 2017 No Comments

At the “Photobook Phenomenon exhibition, projects can be seen by contemporary artists such as Laia AbrilJulián BarónAlejandro CartagenaJana RomanovaVivianne SassenThomas Sauvin, Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber, who have all opted to self-publish books to boost their career.

“Photobook Phenomenon” is not an exhibition about a subject, but about a format. “The book is a vehicle for communication, a cartridge of information, it activates reading, increases the experience, it can be a work of art,” explains designer Eloi Gimeno in his essay Libro (Eloi Gimeno, Libro, Barcelona, RM, 2014). This exhibition co-produced by the CCCB and Fundació Foto Colectania shows us how the book of photographs has evolved and how it has visibly flourished over the last twenty years thanks to new technologies.

In the last section of the exhibition, Contemporary Practices, we have a chance to discover seven publications by artists who have promoted their career through the photobook. “We have selected authors who, in addition to having created interesting books, share in common the fact that the photobook is their identity” explains Irene de Mendoza, curator of this chapter and art director of the Fundació Foto Colectania.

Seven contemporary photobooks

Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber, Japanese Lesson. A Future Book, 2016

Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber, Japanese Lesson. A Future Book, 2016

Japanese Lesson, an unfinished photobook, opens up the section dedicated to contemporary artists at “Photobook Phenomenon”. On the wall different possible designs of the pages that form the book can be seen, along with the process of creation of German photographers Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber. “We have travelled widely around Japan and we wanted to produce a book on the people in the street. We are very interested in the subject of protests in that country,” explains Katja Stuke on the day the exhibition opens.

Jana Romanova, Shvilishvili, 2015

Jana Romanova, Shvilishvili, 2015

The next installation presents Shvilishvili by Jana Romanova. The Russian photographer unfolds, literally, on the table, her family album. On the one side we can see the photographs that her grandmother sent to the family in Georgia when she had to emigrate to Russia. On the other, a chain of portraits of her Georgian relatives, whom she met recently. Between the years 2013 and 2015, the author manually produced 67 copies and this process became a reflection on the catastrophe of the murder of her grandparents at the hands of a cousin. “My family has been separated by a border and by this murder. With this book I wanted to find out who my grandmother was,” Romanova points out.

Viviane Sassen, Umbra, 2015

Viviane Sassen, Umbra, 2015

The chapter also includes Umbra, where Viviane Sassen focuses on a recurring theme in her photographs, shade. “Umbra takes an in-depth look into the world of shadows. A darkness that is seductive and deceptive at the same time. It also deals with light, from its blinding qualities to a fragile glimmer,” the Dutch artist explains. An entire visual experience somewhere between realism and abstraction.

Julian Baron, Memorial, 2016

Julian Baron, Memorial, 2016

“This book wants to be a contribution to the construction of the Peruvian identity” affirms Julian Barón, author of Memorial. The photographer from Castellón saw the play Sin título, técnica mixta by the Peruvian theatre group Yuyachkani and asked if they would let him work with the documentation that formed part of the play’s props. Thus, by copying photocopies, he has constructed a narrative where he has also involved the public.

Laia Abril, Lobismuller, 2016

Laia Abril, Lobismuller, 2016

Manuel Blasco Romasanta was tried in 1853 for various murders in Galicia. He said that he was a werewolf. It is a case shrouded in mystery that remains alive in the collective imagination. Reconstructing that story, of which no photographs are available, was a real challenge, points out Laia Abril, author of Lobismuller. The investigators now believe that Romasanta was a hermaphrodite and the photobook narrates the case from this new perspective. At the exhibition the entire investigation process followed by the photographer can be viewed.

Alejandro Cartagena, Santa Barbara Return Jobs to US, 2015-16

Alejandro Cartagena, Santa Barbara Return Jobs to US, 2015-16. © CCCB. La fotogràfica, 2017.

Alejandro Cartagena exhibits Santa Barbara Return Jobs Back to US, an anti-portrait of the United States with photographs taken in this city in California. It is an attractive book on the outside, with a deep red velvet cover and golden letters, and with paper and ink of little quality inside. A metaphor of a container with a critical content. “We can read Santa Barbara Return Jobs Back to US on the registration plate of a car manufactured in Japan. We can also see commercial messages in Spanish aimed at Latinos, in other words, they want their money but they don’t want them,” the Mexican criticises.

Thomas Sauvin, Xian, 2016

Thomas Sauvin, Xian, 2016

Artist Thomas Sauvin transfers us to Chinese second-hand markets with Xian. His work is elaborated with 59 boxes made of folded paper, that housewives would use to store needles and threads, and which he has stuffed with the photographs that he collected during the twelve years that he lived in China. “I’m interested in collecting photographs but I also want to share them, that is why I have produced this photobook”, Sauvin explains.

A commitment to self-publishing

At the height of the digital era “there is a clear tendency to return to the printed object,” points out Moritz Neumüller, the exhibition’s executive curator. For photographer and collector of photobooks Martin Parr, the photobook is the perfect display case for many photographers. “There is a new generation of young artists who have been capable of self-publishing their work and that has given them an international echo,” Parr highlights.

Self-publishing means having self-financing and it can be a risky practice. Alejandro Cartagena affirms that the edition of the book opened up the road to him becoming known and achieving new projects and commissions. “It’s not only your photographic work that is valued, but also your capacity to produce a project from the idea to the final result.” Other formulas exist to narrative stories through images, but the photobook has become a key format in contemporary culture.

A Journey through the Architecture of Desire

January 26th, 2017 No Comments

1,000 m2 of Desire: Architecture and Sexuality explores how architecture has defined our spaces for sex. With its backdrop of two revolutions, the French revolution of 1789 and that of May 1968, the exhibition traces a historical route through literature, art, architecture, design and mobile apps. In order to make sure that you don’t get lost among the 250 pieces in the 1,000 m2referred to in the title, we have made a selection of essential works which, in themselves, deserve to be seen for their historical importance, and because they are unique, curious or especially constructed for the exhibition. We offer an assortment of books, models, plans and drawings, engravings and reproductions of spaces in real scale so that you can immerse yourself in a different world and, at the same time, make a journey through time in the architecture of desire.

Playboy, a Magazine for Lovers of Architecture?

“The playboy and his magazine are all about architecture,” writes the architect Beatriz Colomina in a text of the exhibition catalogue. The fact is that, although this publication was (and still is) a reference of eroticism, one of the aims of its editor Hugh Hefner was that it should also be a reference of style, architecture and design. The Playboy man had to live in an apartment designed for seduction, in a loft without doors or rooms so as to keep the woman constantly on view. Accordingly, some of the best architects and designers of the day, from Charles Eames to Eero Saarinen, occupied page after page of the magazine, together with naked girls, articles by Truman Capote and interviews with Michael Caine. In #expodesig you will find a space devoted exclusively to Playboy magazine and curated by Beatriz Colomina and her team. Here you can explore models of the Playboy mansion and Hefner’s private plane, stretch out on his round bed, read articles on the architects in vogue, and look at plans of the most amazing houses of the day, some of which were used as film locations, as for example in the James Bond series.

Llit de Hugh Hefner, editor revista PlayBoy © CCCB, 2016

Hugh Hefner’s bed, editor PlayBoy © CCCB, 2016

Pornography According to Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne

Did you know that the word “pornography” made its first appearance in 1769? To be more specific, it made its debut in a treatise by Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne, a writer who, in his work Le Pornographe (a neologism he coined to designate someone who writes about prostitution), describes in lavish detail what an establishment devoted to prostitution should be like, or estimates the worth of each girl according to her age and beauty. For Restif de la Bretonne, pornography was an affair of state and his proposal was innovative and audacious when you consider that he was writing in pre-revolutionary France. These establishments, called Parthénions (houses for young virgins) had considerable influence in the theories of Charles Nicolas Ledoux, whose work is represented by numerous items in the exhibition, including the famous Oikema. The original of Le Pornographe is exhibited here.

The Polaroids of Carlo Mollino

Carlo Mollino was a prestigious Italian architect who was also active in other disciplines including literature, automobilism, aeronautics and furniture design. But, most of all, he was interested in photography. After his death in 1973, his heirs discovered a hitherto unknown collection of photographs: elegantly naked women in a collection of portraits Mollino had been working on throughout his life. The Polaroids were taken in his own apartment, where he had a set which he readied for each occasion. The women were chosen in the street or the brothels of Turin, the city where he lived. There is not a single repeated portrait and every staging is different in a total of more than 1,000 fetishist poses recorded in 8 x 10 cm. which you can discover in a semi-darkened chamber.

Polaroids de Carlo Mollino © CCCB, 2016

Polaroids of Carlo Mollino © CCCB, 2016

The Original Plans of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon

Universal suffrage, the separation of church and state, abolition of slavery, animal rights, sexual freedom, women’s lib, and decriminalisation of homosexuality: Jeremy Bentham was a trailblazer championing ideas which are nowadays on everyone’s lips. Among his great contributions is the idea of the Panopticon, the architectural figure of power in modern society, an “inspection house” applicable to any institution—for example, prisons, hospitals or schools—which enabled constant monitoring of inmates. The structure of the Model Prison in Barcelona is based on the Panopticon as defined by Bentham in 1791. However, Jeremy Bentham was not an architect but a philosopher, so the original plans of the Panopticon shown in the exhibition are by Willey Reveley. By the way, if you care to know what Bentham (literally) looked like, you can go and visit his fully-dressed mummified corpse at University College, London.

The Sketch of Charles Fourier’s Phalanstery

The utopian philosopher Charles Fourier was a contemporary of Jeremy Bentham’s and, like him, was a revolutionary, though he was also a utopian who believed in human goodness and that it was possible to create a sexual paradise in which every passion could be recognised and satisfied. This blissful place was called Harmony and the phalanstery was the setting for the gratification of all passions. Occupying five square kilometres of cultivable land near a forest and a big city, it was designed with three floors and three wings, each one for fulfilling sexual desires. The idea was adopted by hippy movements of the 1960s, but there are further examples in architecture such as the Walden 7 building by Ricardo Bofill (the form of which, by the way, is reminiscent of a vagina), geodesic domes (like the one at the creation centre of the theatre group Els Comediants in Canet de Mar), and also the utopian cities designed by the Archigram architectural group. In “1,000 m2 of Desire: Architecture and Sexualityyou will find the original drawings of the phalanstery and also the original model of Bofill’s building.

Maqueta de l’edifici Walden 7 de Ricardo Bofill © CCCB, 2016

Original model of Walden 7 of Ricardo Bofill © CCCB, 2016

Engraving of the Sacrifice of an Ass in Honour of Priapus from The Dream of Poliphilus

This is every bibliophile’s dream. An enigmatic book, of uncertain authorship, bringing together all kinds of medieval knowledge from mythology to chess, astronomy, liturgy, epigraphy, archaeology and the art of pruning brambles, The Dream of Poliphilus (https Hypnerotomachia Poliphili), published in 1499, tells the story of Poliphilus, who dreams of recovering his beloved Polia as he crosses imaginary landscapes of fabulous architecture. This is one of the first examples of a work combining architecture with eroticism. It contains 171 of the author’s woodcuts, among them “Sacrifice of an Ass in Honour of Priapus”, which is shown in the exhibition. The book, dedicated to the Duke of Urbino, was financed by the aristocrat Leonardo Grassi, Apostolic Protonotary, an architecture enthusiast and the man responsible for the fortifications of Padua, and printed in Venice by Aldo Manuzio, one of the most renowned printers of the day. It is almost as if Planeta had published a book dedicated to Count of Godó and financed by the Güell family!

 Nicolas Schöffer’s Centre for Sexual Leisure

 Imagine a space devoted solely to pleasure, pampering all five senses. A space where light, smells, and colours are intended to stimulate your senses and prepare them for sexual intercourse. This is the Centre for Sexual Leisure which the plastic artist and sculptor Nicolas Schöffer designed for his cybernetic city (1955 – 1969), a utopian city project inspired by Fourier. Like other utopian ideas, it never materialised but in the exhibition you can see a real-scale reproduction of this space: a closed room in which light, textures, geometric metal sculptures and music appear as the lead players so that the visitor can experiment with all the senses. This is an experience which requires an open mind.

 Nicolas Schöffer’s Centre for Sexual Leisure reproduction

Nicolas Schöffer’s Centre for Sexual Leisure reproduction

A Second (Virtual) Life

 Imagine a space where you can live life as you wish. Where you can give free rein to all your most perverse desires. Where you can imagine your penis taking on impossible shapes, or that you yourself have an impossible form allowing enjoyment of unknown pleasures… Second Life started out as a virtual world in which, by means of an avatar, users can interact with other avatars and construct their own world but this has become a territory without norms and without taboos where users can organise sexual encounters in settings that reproduce the architecture of their sexual fantasies right down to the finest detail. Well, this all happens in a virtual space. In the exhibition you can see a video showing one of these digital spaces designed for sex.

Captura del vídeo de Second Life

Second Life video sceenshot

Rem Koolhaas’s Baths

 Centre of London. Spreading out from the wall that delimits it, a level space is divided into eleven zones, among them a ceremonial square, the Park of the Four Elements, with temples for sensuous experiences, the Square of the Muses (where only the British Museum survives), and the baths. Inspired by Ledoux’s Oikema, these baths have zones of observation, exhibition, seduction and meeting (the pools) as well as cells for consummation in which photograms from a pornographic film The White Slave are projected. This utopian dream of the architect Rem Koolhaas, Pritzker Prize winner and designer of the iconic China Central Television tower, dates back to the early period of radical architecture in the 1970s. The exhibition shows the original drawings and plans of Koolhaas’s idea.

(Català) Viquipedistes, apassionats del coneixement

October 4th, 2016 No Comments

Llull the contemporary

June 30th, 2016 No Comments

If Ramon Llull were alive today he would be at the top of the best sellers’ list. He would be one of the stars at Barcelona’s Comic Fair where he would have been invited as a pioneer in the genre. He would be taking part in discussions about multiculturalism alongside Arabic and Jewish thinkers. He would be giving poetry readings and a travel agency would have been named after him. If Ramon Llull were still alive he would remark, with pride, that 700 years after his death, his work is not only valid but has taken on truly global proportions thanks precisely to the web, a technology he can be considered the forerunner of.

Breviculum’s animation, Ramon Llull life’s illustrated work. Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Cod. St. Peter perg. 92

Ramon Llull is a fascinating character but he is still surrounded by an aura of incomprehensibility and unfathomability. We have a somewhat biased image of Llull, of a man trapped in the dark and terrible Middle Ages, when, in fact, the reality was quite different: Llull lived in an age that saw the building of the first cathedrals which sought out light and colour, and he travelled around some of the foremost cultural hubs in Europe and the Mediterranean.

One thing is true however: the fact that we are devoting an exhibition to Llull today, seven centuries after his death, at a centre for contemporary culture, is because his thinking remains relevant today. Because, beyond his obsession with God, what he endeavoured to explain throughout his life (a new way of thinking) is still valid across many disciplines. That’s why, in order to gain a greater insight into Ramon Llull and his thinking, we have chosen a number of ideas to undo this image.

Ramon Llull lived a courtly and elitist life until the age of 30

Ramon Llull was from a well-to-do family and, as such, he lived a comfortable life and had connections with the court of King Jaume II of Mallorca. He married Blanca Picany when he was about 25 and they had two children, Domènec and Magdalena. It would appear that Blanca wasn´t the only woman in his life as, at the time, Ramon Llull was writing troubadour poetry and some people say that he lived quite a rakish life. All this changed when Ramon was 30 years old and, while he was writing one of these poems, Christ appeared to him on the cross. The vision, which reoccurred up to four times, changed his life.

Ramon Llull wrote the same book throughout his life

From this moment on, Ramon Llull lived the life of an enlightened person. He left his wife and children and withdrew to live as a hermit for four months at Puig de Randa (Mallorca), where he received the divine appointment to write “the most beautiful book in the world”. And he devoted himself to this task for the rest of his life. In fact he wrote more than 250 books that are just variations on the same book. The word of God is the book.

Ramon Llull wrote true bestsellers

The Book of Contemplation is a thousand words long and four times longer than Tirant lo Blanc. Llull is the medieval author of the largest surviving number of medieval manuscripts, many of them written during his lifetime; there are more copies of his works than by Thomas Aquinas, and Giordano Bruno wrote up to six treatises inspired by Lullian thought. The Ars Brevis, a summary of his philosophy, was copied more times than Boccaccio’s Decameron.

Ramon Llull is the main character in the first comic of all time

The Breviculum is an extraordinary work: a true medieval comic that tells the story of Ramon Llull’s life in 12 miniatures. It was made around 1321 by Tomàs Le Myésier, a follower of Llull’s who was associated with the French court, and includes the characteristic balloons with the words of the people depicted inside. It is kept at the Badische Landesbibliothek in Karlsruhe, and you can see an animated version at the exhibition.

Ramon Llull was a tireless traveller

Our central figure was also a travel pioneer and undertook journeys that would have had a worldwide impact today. In the 13th century the world was very small, and Ramon Llull travelled its length and breadth: from the time of his first trip to Montpellier to his last voyage to Tunis, the word of God guided Llull from Santiago de Compostela to the Vienna of the Dauphinate, from Rome to Paris, from Pisa to Lyon, Genoa, Barcelona, Bougie and Jerusalem… To Ramon Llull there were no borders to hinder the dissemination of his message.

Ramon Llull has a special connection with the number three

Ramon Llull lived in a world where three religions converged: the Christian, Jewish and Muslim. He wrote in three languages: Catalan, Latin and Arabic (although no manuscripts survive in the latter). He used three symbols: the tree, the ladder and geometric figures. He asked for his works to be kept in three places: Paris, Genoa and Mallorca. He wrote a book that had three sages as its central figures, The Book of the Gentile and the Three Sages. It defines the three virtues of the soul: memory, understanding and will. In medieval culture, three is a perfect number that symbolises continuous movement and is also the symbol of the Trinity. To Llull, God was pure movement and the reason why things combined. Three is God.

Ramon Llull worked in every literary genre

Spending one’s entire life writing the “best book in the world”, as he defined it, may have been a little boring. That’s why Llull chose to put across his message in every possible way. He wrote a book on mysticism (Book of Contemplation), a novel (Felix or the Book of Wonders) and a chivalresque novel (Book of the Order of Chivalry), poetry (Song of Ramon), a book of grammar (New Rhetoric), a book of aphorisms, the Book of the Lover and the Beloved, a treatise on astronomy and, first and foremost, works on philosophy, such as the Ars Magna. And not forgetting his troubadour poems, none of which survive.

Unbeknown to him, Ramon Llull invented the calculator (and, in passing, the web)

Throughout his life, Ramon Llull was obsessed with one subject: disseminating the word of God and converting sinners (that is, the Jews and Muslims) into Christians. That’s why he invented an Ars combinatoria, a thinking machine, which enabled people to attain divine thinking. Three centuries later (the number three crops up again), Leibniz created a calculating machine based on Llull’s philosophy. This machine can also be seen at the exhibition. Lull’s combinatorial system is also the basis for the system of networks, meaning that, for Llull, “being means being connected”.

Ramon Llull is an influencer

Ramon Llull’s dream has reached us today through literature and art. For instance, Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short story entitled Ramon Llull’s Thinking Machine. Umberto Eco devoted many pages to Llull in The Search for the Perfect Language. Juan Eduardo Cirlot explored the permutations of language, and the poetry collective Oulipo published One Hundred Billion Poems, based on the combinatorial system. Salvador Dalí staged a performance “following Ramon Llull’s archangelic doctrine”…

Ramon Llull, is, therefore, a multifaceted, complex and fascinating person. The creator of a new way of thinking who was ahead of his time and has become our contemporary. We can’t think of any better reason to come and see The thinking machine. Ramon Llull and the Ars combinatoria, open from July 14 to September 11.


				
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