Visiting artists discuss narratives of Spanish history

On May 3, an installation by interdisciplinary artist Ann Burke Daly and Spanish musician, writer and translator Álvaro Marcos, “SPECERE LAB,” will be on view in the Aula. Their project “SCRIPT: FRANCO IS STILL DEAD” is a multi-channel video and sound installation that combines archival footage, original sound and visual materials about the rise of the Spanish modern democracy and the act of silencing the narratives of those killed, tortured and “disappeared” during the preceding dictatorship and civil war.

Daly describes her interventions as “Machines for the making and unmaking of sense.” Marcos has a background in arts and humanities and is the lyricist and vocalist for two Madrid-based bands.

Daly and Marcos have been invited to stage an exhibit as part of the Mellon Foundation-funded Creative Arts Across Disciplines Initiative (CAAD).

Working with VC Professor Katherine Hite’s Political Science course The Politics of Memory and Professor and Chair of Hispanic Studies Michael Aronna’s course on literature and culture, their work acts as a living example of the way art, politics and the construction of memory can be engaged to challenge the erasure of marginalized voices and suppressed historical counter-narratives.

In preparation for this installation, Matthew McCardwell ’17 sat down with Daly and Marcos to discuss their project. McCardwell has been a part of the ongoing transformation of this art installation in his capacity as the co-founder of unFramed, an arts-based organization striving to bring politically engaged artists to campus. Last fall, he worked with Daly for an installation of her film and soundscapes in the Shiva.

Matthew McCardwell: Ann and I first started having conversations last fall. Ann reached out to me about the possibility of a workshop installation in the Shiva, where her work with Álvaro would find its first home. This was realized at the end of September. Could each of you speak to how this project came about? What was the beginning of your collaboration?

Ann Daly: We met through a friend and I heard Álvaro’s music including a Franco-era sample. His lyrics interested me.

After three years as an ex-pat in Madrid, I’d become curious about the lived experience of post-war Spain, and had been filming conversations with friends who were youths under Franco’s dictatorship and came of age during the transition to democracy (1975-1978), and the cultural shift La Movida. For the Shiva, we worked with some of Álvaro’s lyrics translated to spoken-word English.

Álvaro Marcos: We started corresponding a year ago. Ann contacted me, and I was surprised she recognized some of the archival material we sampled in our music, which belonged to the Franco-era dictatorship. It was also very interesting to me that she was so interested in a very specific area of recent Spanish history—the transition to democracy.

This is a period whose official narrative—the mythical foundational narrative—that accounts for the Spanish transition to democracy in the late 1970s is being revised and questioned by my generation.

The counter-narrative that is emerging struggles to bring about a “Second Transition” that accounts for all the silences upon which this first transition was achieved.

MM: How has your collaboration been part of unpacking the mythology of this grand narrative that has been created?

AM: In the beginning we started working with a lot of archival material trying to come to terms with how these cultural products were part of this grand narrative.

Gradually we found out the interesting thing was not so much the archival material, the speeches and images, but the silence itself upon which they were built.

MM: Does that find itself in the form of video compilation?

AD: Yes, we are working with video in long takes with a hovering presence. A focus is sites of marked and unmarked mass graves, prisons and torture centers that are literally hiding in plain sight in Madrid.

AM: Many of the places you will see are in Madrid and are part of my quotidian life, but were actually prisons and torture centers during some periods of the dictatorship. Part of the work is remarking these sites, building a cartography of silences hidden in plain sight.

MM: When people come into the space what will they be greeted with?

AD: There will be four large projections, and four sources of sound, which will become immersive.

AM: We conceived this as a work in progress, so one of the layers of installation has to do with our correspondence about the project itself. Also, we want to retain the subjective in the piece, as it conveys our own take on a very sensitive issue.

AD: It is structured as a script in revision. The language is dialogic, poetic, notational— and will make visible our correspondence.

MM: Álvaro, how is music finding its way into the work? How are you creating the sound component?

AM: The function of the sound is to create an immersive experience, while also evoking the haunting past, trying to flesh out the idea of the past as a ghostly radio transmission.

MM: What do you hope for the Vassar/Poughkeepsie communities to take away from this material?

AM: For those students that are already interested in Spanish culture, I hope we provide something interesting and fruitful for thought. For people in the Vassar community, who might not know so much about our Spain, we hope the piece would convey some idea of what we say about the importance of historical sense and memory and the effort it takes to constantly reframe it.

AD: We’ve hypothesized that the 15-M/Indignados channeled anger into positive action while elsewhere, the ultra-right is rising. There is a chance for this type of positive turn to occur here in the U.S.

MM: I wonder, where do you see your project fitting into this second wave of revolutions?

AM: From my perspective, this is a continuation of the energy and curiosity that emerged from my experience of those days of the 15M. For me it’s been a really interesting way of deepening that research, including the history behind my own quotidian geography in Madrid.

AD: I hope that we participate by marking what is silenced and hidden in plain sight, and by including others in the “struggle to make sense” of inherited narratives, and spectral transmissions.

“SCRIPT: FRANCO IS STILL DEAD” will begin around 8:30 p.m. when sun goes down on Wednesday, May 3, with a short discussion by the artists preceding the opening, which will begin at 8 p.m

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