Here at Site-Specific Conversation, we have initiated a collaboration with Barcelona Gallery Weekend 2022, offering a series of conversations that will be published weekly over the summer.
The proposal takes Lucy Lippard’s novel, I See/You Mean, as a reference and uses its title to talk about affinities in the choices made by artists and gallery directors and about practices, projects and work dynamics. During the writing process, Lucy realised she was ashamed of being a woman. This same feeling has been experienced by many over the years, and still is to this day. For this reason, we have selected eight galleries exhibiting works by women at this edition of BGW. Throughout this series, we will be conversing with artists and gallery directors, focusing on the relationships generated in a field like this, where the creative is often mixed with the affective.
To kick off the series, we have deliberately chosen artist Susana Solano and gallery curator Mònica Ramon, from the Artur Ramon Art Gallery. Susana has had a dazzling career so far, with works in the most celebrated collections and a rich, tireless artistic practice, the legacy of which does not get recognised nearly enough. Mònica – carrying on the long memory of Artur Ramon, a renowned antiques dealer – has bravely opened the gallery’s new premises up to the most contemporary methods and thinking.
We are delighted to present this first conversation and are filled with admiration and respect for these two women.
Mònica / Our firm dates back to 1911. We have been in the Gothic Quarter for 75 years and now we have been in a new space for 5 years in Calle Bailén, 19. We’re based in an old textile factory, which allows us to embark on more ambitious projects. Over the last few years, I’ve wanted to open up to new perspectives, while remembering what we are and our strength as antiques experts. In the gallery’s programming, we create dialogues between the ancient and contemporary world.
One of these new directions has revolved around craft. At the Venice Biennale, I saw projects using textiles, ceramics… and in recent years we have made a commitment to these disciplines. In 2017, I came across Susana Solano’s jewellery. In December of that year I attended a tribute to her at the Design Hub in Barcelona (Museum del Disseny). Of course, I was aware of her work, but I thought it was out of reach. The interesting thing about this profession is that years can go by from that initial excitement until things actually come about. I also saw some of her work in different editions at ARCO, exhibited by another friend gallery, and from then on I dreamt of collaborating on a project together. When we got in touch, everything was easy and friendly on both sides.
Susana / In my case, it was the other way around. When I was little, I used to visit your father’s antiques shop with my family. You changed the gallery’s focus when you decided to incorporate contemporary art. I think you’re young, intelligent, curious, and keen to show something different, without abandoning the rest, as it is part of our memory and has a place in these new times. We met at a FAD event, when they named me a ‘FAD Master’. Marta Llorente, Carlos Velilla and Manel Brullet were there, too. It was an intimate ceremony, but there’s no record of it.
After that, I kept seeing exhibitions by Mònica, and we ended up deciding to work together.
Susana / We selected the pieces by looking at them digitally first, and then in person. They have gradually woven together, without great difficulty or any hurry.
Mònica / Susana is good at surrounding herself with people who appreciate and believe in her, like Marta Llorente, who wrote the text for the exhibition. Marta Llorente is an architect and knows Susana’s work well. The title of the exhibition is Small and Big Things.Lightness and Strength in the Work of Susana Solano. I really like the way she has focused the text on the idea of lightness and strength that permeates Susana’s work. Lightness is transmitted through her jewellery, her smaller pieces, while strength is certainly communicated through her large pieces and her use of materials: iron, aluminium, wicker, etc.
Susana / I don’t attach that much importance to the material; it’s just a base, the chosen medium. Of course, everything is linked: when you have a piece in mind, the material is incorporated into it from the beginning. You don’t have to make much of an effort. I suppose that, with forty years of practice, it becomes like a handwriting style you acquire, without knowing how you got it.
As Marta Llorente says ‘All works of art are made where thought meets material. They carry time and a creative process inside them: a series of decisions, among which the choice of material is fundamental. Whether it is iron, bronze, rattan reed, high-shine steel or aluminium: all materials seem to be the result of a careful choice. The choice of materials might not be conscious or deliberate, in the moment when the process begins. But it undoubtedly determines the way the piece comes to life.’
Mònica / You work that way, starting from the idea.
Susana / But the idea is never entirely resolved in my mind. If it were resolved, I wouldn’t need to make it, because I would already know what it looked like. It’s the opposite. I work with a certain degree of ambiguity, which then gets defined. Sometimes very quickly, on other occasions very slowly. I prefer to talk about pieces of work, rather than works of art.
Susana / To work with jewellery is to go back to the beginning, to smaller, more intimate formats. It allows for a degree of freedom and more immediate results, as though you are drawing with the material… I’ve always been very direct when handling materials. I have a good sense of spatial awareness. And it is easy to store, in terms of volume. As Marta Llorente says, ‘The jewellery we see in the gallery represents a certain isolation, which makes it autonomous, at least for a while. It might become part of other stories, or it might go back to being simply a thing, a beautiful thing we will contemplate like a landscape in the palm of our hand, far removed from any function…’
Susana / I’m not sure… Architect friends say one is an extension of the other. I would need more distance to be able to see this clearly.
Susana / That happens in crescendo, very slowly. As the years go by, you dare to make more complex things in a bigger format, as long as the idea calls for it. With some formats, collaboration is needed; that isn’t unusual.
I like handling things because, that way, they have a kind of energy or vibration that isn’t there when it’s all very mechanical. I like the process to be visible. My studio is in Gelida, and it’s freezing there! I can’t work there much in the winter, or in the summer because of the heat. I manage. My latest work was made in my kitchen. The place isn’t important. What you are making shapes the space.
Mònica / But you’re a tireless worker. You’ve made so many pieces! It’s your passion.
Susana / I work, yes. I do have that bad habit.
Susana / Then those things get forgotten
Susana / The world of introspection, of silence, is one thing. Then the world of marketing, sales, business, is another entirely. One has to learn to move between these worlds. Some artists focus on the gallery; others, on the studio. Everyone does what they can; one way isn’t necessarily better than the other.
Mònica / You’ve got several exhibitions coming up.
Susana / Yes, I’ve not worked very much for a few years. It goes like that sometimes. The idea is not to force situations.
Susana / The Art Triangle Barcelona international workshop took place in 1987, led by Anthony Caro, and a lot of American and British women took part. They showed they were able to work with the materials, and where they couldn’t reach, the man next to them could… If I had to start out again, I probably wouldn’t choose sculpture because it’s tiring. But as it’s gradual thing, you get into it.
Barcelona Gallery Weekend seeks to reinforce and make visible the rich and varied artistic scene of Barcelona, promote art collecting and highlight the work of the galleries, as culture generating spaces open to citizens, and the artists they represent. From 15th to 18th September 2022, we celebrate our 8th edition in 33 galleries, presenting the work of more than 60 artists.