Sebald Variations: The Catalog
In recent months I have written about Kosmopolis, the annual “amplified literature festival” with live and online components put on by the Centre de Cultura Contemporànea de Barcelona. The 15th edition of Kosmopolis is being devoted to W.G. Sebald and there is plenty to read and see on its website, including a series of fascinating essays. But Kosmopolis15 also includes an exhibition called Sebald Variations, which is up through July 26 of this year. If you cannot make it to Barcelona, there is a very useful bilingual (Catalan and English) catalog available which can be purchased online. Here is a partial description of the exhibition, taken from its website:
The exhibition shows works by the following artists: Carlos Amorales, Mariana Castillo Deball, Simon Faithfull, Andrea Geyer, Pablo Helguera, Núria Güell, Susan Hiller, Josiah McElheny, Trevor Paglen, Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Taryn Simon, Jan Peter Tripp, Guido Van der Werve, Jeremy Wood. It will also include contributions from the following writers: Piedad Bonnett, Jorge Carrión, Julià de Jòdar, Reinaldo Laddaga, Valeria Luiselli.
The exhibition “Sebald Variations” seeks to introduce a critical reflection, and recount the different ways his work has influenced and engaged in a dialogue with the visual arts and literature since his passing in 2001. The exhibition examines the way several conceptual strategies for using images with texts, for historical reflection, for the unexpected juxtaposition of scenes and narrativity as a whole, not only appear in Sebald’s work, but have, on countless occasions, been directly or indirectly alluded to and even included in the works of a number of artists. The exhibition takes into account the different exhibitions, publications and artworks associated with Sebald that have been produced since 2001, or which enter into a dialogue with his books, in order to look at his ongoing impact on the artistic endeavours of today from a new perspective.
The project has been conceived as a visual and textual essay that brings together the voice of the author and other creators working in different fields. It pursues Sebald, comments on him, prolongs him and draws him out of himself in order to create new proposals in his company.
Many of the artists in the exhibition do not deal directly with Sebald or his books; instead, they work with themes or imagery that closely parallel Sebald’s interests. For example, Carlos Amorales has created an installation of 25,000 butterflies cut out of black paper. Andrea Geyer’s work deals with her grandmother’s travel diaries. Trevor Paglan’s photographs document the landscapes occupied by various government intelligence agencies. The work of Guido van der Werve investigates the nature of melancholy.
The catalog contains a handful of excellent essays: “Sebald: Twelve Variations and an Epilogue” by Jorge Carrión, “W.G. Sebald: Text, Image, Arts” by J.J. Long (a wonderful summary of the different ways in which Sebald used images in his texts), “Project for Sebald, With Him and Beyond Him” by Julià de Jòdar, and “Sebald’s Legacy: Two Final Variations,” a fascinating, and sometimes skeptical dialogue about Sebald between James Elkins and Pablo Helguera.