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7-a-b-10( Publicaciones individuales/El oficio de vivir)

Osoxile, the smuggler. Ideas, usesm affections
Scenario: The corner of Perill and Venus streets—one of the boundaries of the lively Gracia District, in Barcelona. A man in an impeccable executive suit holds a briefcase in one hand, raises the other hand revealing an equally impeccable wristwatch and rings the bell of a ground floor. The door is laminated in grey and painted in an undecipherable red graphite, with a minute plate indicating what the name of that place is: Osoxile. There is a purposeful quality to the executive man’s gestures — he knows where he is going to. The door is electrically opened from the inside and the man gets in. He heedfully goes down the stairs and asks for Carmelo Hernando; two days before he arranged with him an appointment that he really needed, albeit not urgently. He is a senior advertising executive in a big multinational corporation. While Carmelo shakes his hand, he considers whether his strange visitor’s attire moves himself away from him. The businessman does not think about it because he expected to see what he has found: a man still in his young years in and old-style sweater and comfortable pants, his hair not styled in fashion but it sits rather wild on his balding scalp, that curious combination skin and rare hairs that some men comb against their natural stream. Cutting the preamble, the man presents his request. A mathematician by training, as an advertising executive he has long pondered a statistic aspect which he deems increasingly relevant in his work: the corporate merchandised gifts that his company gives to workers and business partners at least once a year look and feel ever more routine. He has recently seen some objects created by Osoxile for the corporate gift market and they are exactly what he is looking for: the senior executive thinks it is the right time to breathe some affection into their gifts. That is what he wants from Hernando’s workshop. And that is what Osoxile, the smuggler, has striven for years to introduce into the world of cultural merchandise, corporate image and corporate gifts; after years of trying to have the world take this point, they are knocking at his door. Osoxile, a smuggler in ideas, uses and affections.
Carmelo Hernando’s output since 1993 (guess what, right after the exorbitant Olympic festivities held in 1992 in Barcelona) has been characterized by an ever more pressing tackling at the concept of craft and by an also pressing, inner urge to search and find answers in the cultural imagery from history throughout the centuries. Fleeing the present to become able to endure the present. What is new contemporary is the output, the objects concocted by Hernando; but his visual inspiration sources increasingly from far-off times, when the artist and the craftsman were a collective entity servicing patrons who knew what they wanted and, if luck would have it, who would respect the creative procedures. Of course, luck would not always have it—it scarcely happens still today. But in the current age of post-modernity —not a fashion, but a cultural logic— luck does not play for the eyes of cultured, understanding patrons; instead, it can adopt the habits and the demands of an increasingly histerical market which needs more and more market-ready objects or products representing commercial brands. An unquenchable thirst. And, at the same time, a field left wide open for those who smuggle ideas and uses. Breaches in post-modernity. The market requires so many things and is so proud of its high-tech innovations that it cannot fence the open field in. So here is our man, who is terrified by the word post-modernity, producing cultural artifacts based on history (that which post-modernity loathes) and smuggling us into the interstices of post-modernity.
Let us see how the method works. The Cámara Oficial de Comercio, Industria y Navegación (Chamber of Trade, Industry and Navigation) of Barcelona, as old an institution as they come, wants to revamp its corporate image. They want something serious-looking, but design-like. Their building of its site took 60 years during the eighteenth century, an age revered by Carmelo. He starts research on the architectural features of the palace, the most monumental one constructed in Barcelona during that century. He scrutinizes it with twentieth-century eye—he notices the decor and the paintings, which everybody neglects to see after being hung on the walls for so many years. He finds and compiles around the palace several pictorial and statuesque images of Mercury, the god of trade and travel. He does research on Pere Pau Montaña, the most famous decorator from 18th-century Barcelona, and on the other artists and craftsmen who worked along him in the Cámara.
The thorough analysis of a Montaña’s majestic 245x200-cm canvas that ornates the Chamber’s Chairman office produces a figure of Mercury. He orders a miniature reproduction in bronze and places it on a wood board. This will cover the box, also made out of wood, which will provide the first impression about the gift item offered to the customers. The box holds the minute statue of Mercury; when it is opened, it turns into a pedestal and the Mercury of Montaña returns from the eighteenth century and sits within the reach of our hand. In the box a small, exquisite leaflet details the history of the building and decor of the Cámara Oficial de Comercio, Industria y Navegación de Barcelona, a highly precise historic information followed by a text on Mercury, as the Romans renamed the Greek god Hermes. The explanations are brief and right to the point explanations, according to the encyclopaedist tradition, and are wrapped up with the last verses of one of the Homeric Hymns, the exact dating of which has not been exactly established by contemporary Hellenists.
A common wood box conceals an exact reproduction of an eighteenth-century image, a lesson about the construction of one of Barcelona’s landmark buildings and some essential data on the Mercurial tradition since ancient Greek times. The customer had ordered an object suiting today’s needs and it is satisfied. It did not expect so much from a box. The smuggling (“deed performed against the usual custom”, according to the dictionaries) of Mercury introduces much more than the recipients of previous gifts had gotten: ideas and a contact to the visual past. They ultimately receive something that is tantamount to the very existence of this box: an affection without which the designer would not have come across this idea or established contact with that visual past which the final object has rendered visible again.
Would an act of cultural and visual smuggling surely look more at home in the gift shop of a museum? Not at all. Most of these spaces are increasingly disrespecting their customers with their artworks-based objects. Even the big museums in London and Paris offer a primitive collection which relates exclusively to personal aesthetic complements (scarves, jewellery) or nice home items (little ornated boxes, pens, notebooks, fridge magnets, puzzles, etc.). Nevertheless, some pieces have stuck out recently in the Joan Miró Foundation, also in Barcelona, or at the gift shop of the University of Salamanca. These smuggled objects are, of course, the work of Osoxile. The Miró Foundation offers El pavo de Mallorca (the turkey of Majorca), a painted figurine in clay from that island’s popular art that Miró collected and, after its adaptation to his very own pictorial alphabet, depicted in several canvases and pottery. Now it is also a piece in one common wood box that, once opened, poses before our eyes suggesting a relationship between popular culture and Miró’s art, which has been long known by specialists even if the megalomaniac apparatus of the world of art has not always been able to project.
In the University of Salamanca, a high-range transformation work has taken place on all the imagery of relationship with the user. The Cielo de Salamanca (Heaven of Salamanca), the 1473AD-built dome of the old library that was moved to the University Museum during the 1950s, has been the inspiration for a new object focused on the Virgo constellation, a prime object that provides an easier access to this controversial, magnificent artwork’s history. Another figure taking a second life in a hyper realistic reproduction is a male figure made for Anatomy practice dating from the sixteenth century, probably the first complete figure (including genitalia) ever used by medical students in Spain. The documentation on history and aesthetics that comes in all cases with these objects has been prepared by Hernando to illustrate how these images are most relevant to bring forward what the traditions have buried.
I am reluctant to use words such as “customer”, “consumer, or even “visitor” or “passer-by” to refer to the people who purchase this kind of objects. Naturally, we all are customers and consumers to the market, but I like to believe that all those who establish a dialogue with Hernando’s intricate conceptual craftsmanship, with these objects conceived and produced to sabotage the elemental savagery of the consumption of cultural items, are also accomplices to his smuggling of ideas, uses and affections. He recycles visual history—we can be his henchmen.
©Mercè Ibarz
©Fundación Caja Rioja
Logroño, 1998
I.S.B.N. 84-89740-13-5
D.L. LR-247-1998
©Mercè Ibarz
©Caja Astur
Oviedo, 2000
I.S.B.N. 84-89740-13-5
D.L.. AS-2259-2000