The CCCB, a center commited to Literature

January 27th, 2016 1 Comment

Since 11 December 2015, Barcelona has formed part of the UNESCO’s Creative Cities network in the field of literature. Together with Baghdad (Iraq), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Lviv (Ukraine), Montevideo (Uruguay), Nottingham (England), Óbidos (Portugal), Tartu (Estonia) and Ulyanovsk (Russia), Barcelona now has official recognition of a reality that has been palpable in the city for a long time.

K15 // Martín Caparrós & Jon Lee Anderson © CCCB, Carlos Cazurro, 2015

Literature is one of the primary focuses of the CCCB and forms part of its founding principles: “The CCCB is a space for the creation, research, dissemination and debating of contemporary culture in which the visual arts, literature, philosophy, film, music, the performing arts and transmedia activity are interconnected in an interdisciplinary programme”. Literature is, therefore, one of the subjects that have most featured in exhibitions and activities over the centre’s twenty years of history.

In 1995, just a year after its inauguration, the CCCB presented the exhibition James Joyce’s Dublin, the first of a series devoted to cities and the writers linked to them. After Dublin, the series continued with The Lisbons of Pessoa (1997), The City of K. Kafka and Prague (1999) and Cosmopolis. Borges and Buenos Aires (2002). All of these exhibitions went beyond the writing to relate the works of authors with their literary and personal landscapes, to discover how the cities that they inhabited were the direct or indirect protagonists of their works. In The Trieste of Magris (2011), the Italian city served as a physical tour around the work of the Italian writer; with Pasolini Rome (2013), the filmmaker met the writer to defend his most critical role and Bolaño Archive (2013) recalled the passing of the Chilean writer through Blanes, Girona and Barcelona via a detective-style journey that visitors had to resolve, a kind of “meta-exhibition” that allowed relations and clues to be discovered in the very work of the author of The Savage Detectives.

Bolaño Archive. 1977-2003 © Lidia González Alija, 2013

Other writers as subjects of exhibitions and debates have been Calders (The Mirrors of Fiction, 2000), Espriu (I Looked Upon This Land, 2013), W.G. Sebald (Sebald Variations, 2015, an exhibition that related the walks taken by the German author with contemporary art), Julio Cortázar (Travels, Images and Other Territories, 2004), Federico García Lorca (1998) and J.G. Ballard (Autopsy of the New Millennium, 2008).

Espriu. I looked upon this land © La Fotogràfica, 2014

It was the exhibition devoted to Borges that gave its name to the amplified literature fest Kosmopolis, which held its first edition in December 2002. Since then, every two years (with some exceptions: in 2005 a special edition was held to coincide with Book and Reading Year and the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Quijote), it has brought together some of the best authors of world literature, including several Nobel, Cervantes and Príncipe de Asturias prize winners, such as Juan Marsé, Gao Xingjian, Claudio Magris, J.M. Coetzee, Tzvetan Tódorov, Amos Oz, Ismail Kadaré, Mario Vargas Llosa and Svetlana Alexievich. Kosmopolis bears the subtitle “Amplified literature fest” because it is more than a literature festival, because the themes for each edition are related to each other, because writing, science, comic art, the written and spoken word, music and theatre all form part of a programme that explores the letters from very diverse perspectives. And because it does not focus on a single form of literary expression, but rather encompasses them all. For all these reasons we would be so bold as to say that Kosmopolisis the only festival held in Barcelona on literature understood in its broadest sense, since other meet-ups, such as BCNegra or Barcelona Poesía, focus on the field of literature specialising in the crime and poetry genres, respectively.

K04 // Mario Vargas Llosa © CCCB, Susana Gelida, 2004

Beyond the exhibitions, the CCCB has also hosted book presentations, courses, tribute events and lectures by authors from al over the world. To cite just a few examples: Paul Auster presented his Winter Journal in 2012; Erri de Luca talked about the Mediterranean; Amin Maalouf debated on identity and memory; Orhan Pamuk reflected on the future of museums and literature; Herta Müller presented a small-format exhibition on her work; Salman Rushdie explained why we live in the time of strangeness, and Jonathan Safran Foerdefended the need to stop eating animals.

K15 // Salman Rushdie & Rodrigo Fresán © CCCB, Miquel Taverna, 2015

In this year 2016 we will be commemorating the seven-hundred year anniversary of the death of Ramon Llull and over the course of the year various activities will be held related with the writer, philosopher, theologian, professor and missionary. At the CCCB we are joining the commemoration with an exhibition, The Thinking Machine. Ramon Llull and the ars combinatoria, which offers a new perspective regarding his work. However, this is not the first nor the last anniversary to be celebrated at the centre: we also remembered J.V. Foix with the recital FestFoix. 25 Years With/Without Foix; we hosted a tribute to Joan Vinyoli on the thirty-year anniversary of his death, Anniversary Promenade. Tribute to Joan Vinyoli, and Raimon read texts by Joan Fuster on the 2012 commemoration of ninety years since his birth and fifty since the publication of his most important work, Nosaltres, els valencians. For the last three years we have also been celebrating Orwell Day; once a month we host a meet-up focusing on the spoken word, PoetrySlam, and regularly the Friends of the CCCB participate in the Reading Club led by journalist and writer Antonio Lozano. Furthermore, since 2013 the CCCB has formed part of the Literature Across Frontiers platform, which promotes literature and translation in minority languages with member literary festivals from places as diverse as Turkey, Poland, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Norway, Portugal and Slovenia.

Apart from Llull, the literary programme for 2016 is again brimming with important events. Kosmopolis will continue its monthly offerings with a broad-spectrum programme that will serve as a foretaste of the 2017 festival. For example, in May and June we were visited by Northamerican writers John Irving and Don DeLillo and in November we will be hosting Eurocon, Europe’s most important science-fiction literature meeting. And, last May, we received the most autobiographical authors of the moment at the Primera Persona festival, which confirmed authors such as Renata Adler, Juan Marsé, Carlos Zanón, James Rhodes and Jordi Puntí.

Primera Persona 2015. The writer Caitlin Moran talking the journalist Marta Salicrú © CCCB, Miquel Taverna, 2015

With this track record, Barcelona’s candidate status as Literary City was a project that the centre defended with enthusiasm and with the conviction that it was a recognition that Barcelona has deserved for some time. Now, with this honorary title, the city has fully entered the worldwide league of creative cities, and the CCCB will continue to be on the front line, defending literature as one of the fine arts. Because, as defined by the principles of Kosmopolis, literature is “the only discourse that does not try to model the world on absolute foundations, disciplinary frontiers or ideological straitjackets”.

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What does it mean to be human today?

October 5th, 2015 1 Comment

What does it mean to be human today? From conception to death (and beyond), people’s lives are mediated and shaped by our tools and technologies. There are many advancements that, depending on your beliefs, are utterly frightening or totally exciting, but the most massive changes are happening subtly, in the everyday. From the moment your alarm wakes you in the morning (which is most likely also your mobile phone), personalized, social and ambient technologies are an integral part of our everyday lives, many of which were unimaginable 10-20 years ago. You proceed to check emails and social media. The technological revolution is embedded in our everyday lived experience, and deserves reflection. But there is no time. Another friend request. Another poke, like, comment, prod. Multi-tasking, tele-communicating, upgrades and uploads, surfing, trolling, meme making, soylent eating, adaptation. evolution. revolution.

Being a human in 2015 is radically different to being a human in 1915, 1815 or the 15th century. Can you imagine what time will feel like in a future with insistent requests to upgrade software and hardware, not on your computer, but in your body? With radical life extension, will we have all the time in the world, or will there just be new expectations on how time is spent? HUMAN+: The Future of Our Species is an exhibition that explores potential future trajectories of humankind by considering the implications of both historical and emerging technologies. How do new technologies redefine human culture, and what novel ethical questions do they raise? What are the futures we expect and desire? What will it feel like to be a human 100 years from now?

In asking all of these questions, four overarching themes have been developed to create a framework for this exhibition: Augmented Abilities, Encountering Others, Authoring Environments and Life at the Edges. Each theme is represented by artworks, historical artifacts, videos, scientific research and commercial products, with the intention of showing the complex, messy, and sometimes contradictory perspectives that these topics can evoke.

Yves Gellie. Human version

The ‘plus’ symbol in Human+ implies a positive direction for the future of our species. But what is that direction? For the majority of the 20th Century progress has been measured by speed and efficiency–faster, better, stronger–but the side effects have been fatter, sadder and exhausted. Perhaps the narrative of progress should be soft, slow and simple or happier and healthier. Our definition of success needs to be recalibrated. What are we striving for? What is our ideal?

Many of the works in this exhibition present technology as something that can improve or enhance our lives, but just as many present unexpected uses of technologies and unevenly distributed futures. One powerful counter narrative to a future of human+ is a future of zero humans. The massive capabilities and rapid advancements of military technologies combined with political instability and resource depletion force us to consider a future where humankind is destroyed by its own inventions. So which potential futures should we focus on? Human+ is not a blind celebration of technology, but presents a range of real and imagined possibilities with emergent technologies front and center. Rather than dictating a specific path, this collection of ideas invites you to imagine, consider, articulate and choose your desires for the future of the human species.

Cathrine Kramer is the executive curator of Human+.