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On 25th October I went to La Panera art gallery here in Lleida to see an installation A la Derriba by the Artist Juan López.

The name of the installation A la Derriba means something like demolition but with another spelling that sounds similar it could mean adrift. The installation used the architecture and the surrounding urban environment as a starting point. Walking in through the great doors of the Panera (a restored bread factory in the centre of the town’s old quarter), it’s dark and you can see that there are great cracks running along the walls and broken shards on the floor. The huge stone columns of the building stretch away into the darkness. Then you hear the sound of traffic, some birds, people chatting and a church bell chiming you see that there is some flickering light here and there on the walls in the distance. Walking along you see that the whole building appears to be fractured with craggy openings that allow the light and sounds from outside to intrude. As you pass in front of the projectors that are dispersed throughout the space your shadow shivers across the wall.

The cracks on the wall are created by using black tape and they have a cartoon quality to them, they are very dramatic. In contrast the scenes of life outside are so extremely ordinary. It feels like walking through an abandoned building that sits all alone while city life carries on around it regardless. It feels like there’s some story behind this destruction, the crack must’ve been caused by an attack, an air raid maybe. The artist has imposed his own story onto the building making it seem like some historic site.

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The darkness, the shadows, my shadow as it flicks up from time to time, the noise from the films creates a strange atmosphere. I am alone in the great hall but sometimes it’s difficult to tell. I am creeping around, trying not to step on the great shards of building that cover the floor or trip over one of the projectors. I am interacting and experiencing this installation in quite a physical way. 

Through the cracks in the wall I see people pass by, an old woman comes out onto her balcony to water her plants, she waves at me. It’s a sunny morning outside. There’s a cheerful buzz out on the street. It’s the oldest and least cared for part of town.  

I think the artist is trying to draw our attention to our surroundings, to the sounds and colours of the street. We are transported to an alternative reality where the building is no longer an art gallery but a ruin and the outside seems like a more desirable place to go. The huge beautifully restored art gallery is no longer an escape from the ordinary everyday drudgery of the street but a scary, edgy unsafe place; I want to go back out to the street where people are happily going about their business. 

I enjoyed the way the exhibition made me feel, I liked coming out of it and being in the safety of the street again. I like the simplicity of the trick, I think the use of tape and wood and projectors was extremely effective.

The title’s play on words signifies destruction and drifting aimlessly, the artist makes the comparison with society. There has been a rift in our social and economic reality and now we are drifting, possibly not towards something better. The cracks in the walls and the little glimpses of city life outside make an impressive image of this idea.

I read a little about Juan López’s practice; he starts off by making some drawings of ideas on paper then he takes photos of the space and draws on the photos digitally then he goes and starts work in the space and from there the work can evolve still further. He’s interested in using drawing to make an impact on a space. I admire the simplicity of his process; it’s simplistic but still leaves room for sophisticated ideas and interpretations.  

Negative comments: I didn’t feel utterly moved and inspired by the installation, I thought it was clever and original but think the social critique it makes is a little too general to really touch my soul, I would be more inclined to nod my head in agreement and then start thinking about something else. But I think that what I look for in art is not something to make think about uncomfortable truths, I don’t think uncomfortable truths inspire me I think beauty and wonder inspire me. I want my breath to be taken away and my heart to miss a beat, and that just didn’t happen in this case. Maybe the message was just a little too obvious.

Saying that, I don’t think it was a waste of time, I think it is important to see what people are doing and how people are working. Moreover, just thinking about why the installation didn’t touch me makes me think about what does touch me and why. I think I was a bit in awe of installations and politicized art, I think I thought you had to be very clever and intellectual to enjoy it and that’s why I wasn’t. Reflecting on this installation has made me think that it’s ok for me to feel the way I do and that I can always get something from every exhibition I go to without having to feel inspired or touched, this doesn’t make me an unintelligent person.  

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