Selected by Unseen Platform
In Salvi Danés’ A Les 8 a Bar Eusebi, criminal activity is brewing. Shady characters speak in hushed tones into mobile telephones. Others give sideways glances as they exchange indecipherable objects in alleyways. Looming in the distance is Barcelona’s infamous La Model prison, which closed its doors in 2017 following a long history of corruption. The characters pictured circulate Bar Eusebi, a well-known meeting place for former prisoners, prison workers and family members of those still inside, located not far from the prison entrance.
Via Danés’ voyeuristic lens, the viewer falls privy to a criminal investigation, taking up the role of detective in a mystifying plot. Long distance shots taken from a window, high above or across the way are partially obscured by fencing or street level bustle – the targets seemingly unaware of the camera lens trained on their every move. Images layered alongside one another, as though taken by the hasty snap of an undercover camera are peppered with melodramatic shots of the prison, the bar and its environs. Bathed in ochre and rusted hues, the images draw on all the tropes and clichés of a 1980s heist movie. It’s The Godfather or Rough Cut, evocative of a time when organised crime took place in the open, rather than behind a computer screen as it might today. ‘I looked for a decadent colour range that could evoke the feeling of deterioration of the penitentiary facilities, and the witnesses of an inglorious time, of a particular place.’
La Model prison and Bar Eusebi, both tangible, historical markers of time and place, serve as the backdrop to this narrative, whilst the characters, solid and corporeal yet utterly anonymous hint at a plot line, a clue, a possible lead. This liminality between fact and fiction allows Danés to assert his own critique of photography and its invasive potential. All of a sudden, the viewer is no longer a passive layperson but an active agent applying their own set of biases to the story. ‘It’s the gestures, the ways of looking, the places and the details that hatch one’s imagination and are fulfilled by the observer.’
Though La Model is no longer in use as a prison, the myths live on, and it is to these that Danés dedicates the project. ‘It’s a tribute to a time, a group of people and two places – a priori – divided by concrete and bricks, but which share a far deeper connection than just being nearby each another.’
Text by Georgie Sinclair, Unseen Platform