Gabriela Bettini: A Survey of a Journey that Just Begun
Sabrina Amrani is pleased to present the online view room Gabriela Bettini: A Survey of a Journey that Just Begun, a trip through time and the works of the Spanish artist of Argentine origin Gabriela Bettini, who presents her first solo exhibition at the gallery.
This online exhibition is not only about a temporary route, from the artist's beginnings to the present, but also a geographical one, since with each of her series she transports us to different settings and realities beyond the works themselves. Photography, drawing, video and painting, all of Bettini's creations are balanced and delicate in shape, but after a slower and more careful observation, they reveal the artist's concerns, in such a way that the viewer inevitably ends up questioning the systems of Power.
Memory: uprooting and hope.
Defined by the disappearance of five members of her family and the subsequent exile of her parents during the Argentine dictatorship, Bettini places her work in two places and two temporalities. In 2003 she began her artistic career approaching life experiences in places of history that evidence the void resulting from the attempt to reconcile memories, memory and official narratives. The artist approaches intermediate places to underline the way in which certain experiences, and their traces, are inscribed. Interested in the elements that symbolize the journey between realities, she interprets the interstitial character as a metaphor for the state of openness and ambiguity typical of those who pass through them.
Until 2011, as she defines, her works reflect places with memory, where something significant has happened or an episode has taken place that in some way connects with herself. They reflect spaces in which time has been stopped for a more or less extensive period and in which stories, individual and collective, have been articulated, which have meant turning points in the lives of those who have gone through them. Bettini delves into different stories, some extraordinary and others everyday, that are usually overlooked. Episodes from the past or present that he encounters, which speak of the destiny of someone, a group or a place and which serve as a means to think and ask other broader or tangential questions.
During these years, Gabriela Bettini is nourished by what she reads and sees; by the experiences that she lives or by what people around her tell her; of her fears and desires.
In Gabriela's productions we find the trauma as a fact that happened, and that drives the stories, the narrations, the images. But also as a void, a break, a limit that seems irreducible - "internal to the structure" -: a center on which images, words, and stories swing. For Bettini, the story is central. Between History and singular stories, it sometimes seems that there is only a difference in scale. But to build the memory many times it is necessary to invent, where the gaps of memory and the emptiness of trauma institute history as lost.
- Debora Mauas
Recuerdos Inventados collects fictitious situations and captures how the artist imagines some moments in her life if the violence of State Terrorism in Argentina in the 70s had not made them impossible. In this eagerness to build history and memories, Bettini reviews the stories of the generation that lived through the Argentine dictatorship, and links it directly to her biography. Through photographs in which she simulates encounters with members of her family who disappeared during the military dictatorship, the series invents a hypothetical relationship with them in an attempt to create a new space in time and distance, through imagined conversations.
Gabriela makes the authority of photography disappear by intervening on the real meaning of family portraits. Returning to the photograph that was used in the human rights marches to claim for the disappeared, she expands or rectifies her complaint.
Graphite on paper. 40 x 30 cm.
Gabriela Bettini weaves and weaves stories and arguments, like a hardened Penelope. And, against the light of the fabric of her stories, one can glimpse, without the slightest cloud, the construction of a personal story. In the arguments of the stories, there are present objects and forethought people, moments stopped in time and life that passes as a continuum, as if nothing happened, as if nothing had happened.
- Luis Fernando Vilchez Martin
In 2011, through the drawings of Las historias son como lugares, the artist shows affective tours of domestic spaces in Argentina. As if time had stopped, the apparently inert objects depicted reveal a series of stories, actions, memories and personal stories. With a recognizable language and a familiar image, such as a bed, a chair or a mirror, Bettini manages to place the viewer on a threshold between reality and the invented. The viewer understands that there is a story, a narrative of something that has already happened or that may happen.
The artist hopes that whoever contemplates one of these works will feel something similar to what led her to do it: a mixture of surprise and emotion.
Espacio de afecto III, 2011.
Graphite and thread on paper. 70 x 50 cm.
Graphite on paper. 40 x 30 cm.
Graphite on paper. 40 x 30 cm.
La Casa Despojada represents Bettini's journey to visit a family home in Argentina where, in 1977 during the military dictatorship, four people were murdered within the power of the army. Combined with a video as a documentary record of searches or actions, the artist opens doors and windows and dresses the walls with objects drawn by her in a poetic and restorative action. It is an ephemeral intervention on bare and riddled walls, in an impossible attempt to restore a certain warmth and a sense of home to the place.
Pen on paper. 72 x 48 cm.
Silla y zapatos, 2011.
Charcoal and wallpaper on paper. 140 x 100 cm.
Drawing always accompanied her, and it was perhaps the most precise way to rehearse the ways in which she imagined things, places, and people. In the midst of so many stories heard, being able to locate his own, marking a space that was temporalized through his strokes. Then came the other languages.
- Debora Mauas
Charcoal and wallpaper on paper. 208 x 172 cm.
Historical: lives on the sidelines.
Between 2013 and 2015, Gabriela shifted her concern and interest to represent and resort to the memory of her family, to the trace of historical facts and events: personal stories located in a specific historical context that Bettini revisits with the idea of relocating the viewer at that time. As in La casa despojada, through videos and drawings the artist helps to recreate the environment and the feeling of being in a specific place and time represented in La casa roja and Larga Distancia.
In the drawings and paintings of this stage, the artist focuses her attention on the elements that symbolize the journey between two realities; passages, thresholds, corridors and even border posts. The reason for the interest in these enclaves is given by the nature of indefiniteness they have, by that metaphor of openness and ambiguity typical of someone who experiences an important change in them.
Camino II, 2013.
Wax on paper. 200 x 150 cm.
In Gabriela Bettini's work the trace is always present, which is suggested but not seen, which even if we pretend that it no longer exists, it will forever be. From a piece of furniture there is the accumulated dust underneath, from a chandelier there is the halo of its burning, from a car there are the traces of the road made, of a human being ... what? The artist's dilemma is to represent that person who does not collect dust but transforms herself into it, who does not catch fire but burns, who does not leave traces on a road but on her fellow beings.
- Iván Buenader
The video for La casa roja, made as a "road movie", is the result of Bettini's journey through Czechoslovakia in 2013 to locate the place where the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt and her mother escaped from Germany in 1933. Reference texts, maps and people with whom the artist meets on the way provide data and information that allow her to approach a decisive time and place in the life of the thinker and find the land where the house was located: crossed along the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia it served as a refuge for all those seeking to leave the country.
Thanks to the drawings that, full of poetic and personal licenses that reflect the environment of the spot, Bettini completely transports the viewer to the moment in which both women pass through the strategic place, also managing to recreate the tense atmosphere that the act of escape entails.
Camino III, 2013.
Wax on paper. 200 x 150 cm.
The houses have to be a stable place. In this case, it is a place of transit, a kind of safeguard that allows escape.
- Gabriela Bettini
In 2015, with Larga Distancia Bettini continues to talk about the migratory experience and shows the different ways of approaching the past. The scenes of the paintings and drawings of the old immigrant hotel in Buenos Aires highlight stories full of hopes and fears that are complemented by the video conversation between a grandmother and her granddaughter. In it, both discuss the same historical and political events in their country and the way in which they have affected them and led them to live in distant places. The approach that takes place in this meeting reflects flight, exile, migrations and disappearances but also love ties, which link three generations and three different settings in the history of this family: Kessab, Buenos Aires and Madrid.
Bettini's work presents different layers of information, and it is the use of the word, the document and the image, which ends up generating the encounter with the real, with the story behind the piece.
From the fragility of the human condition, Gabriela Bettini's work is a reconciliation between two worlds, two countries, two realities, two halves.
- Mireia Puigventos
Ecofeminism: beyond landscapes.
Since 2016, and coinciding with her time at the Spanish Academy in Rome, starts the era the artist has been developing until now. Shocked by the murder of the Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, and many other women like her who raise their voices to defend nature, lead the artist to consider the relationship between colonialism, activism and violence against women.
Bettini, who begins to investigate the performance of companies in Latin America, puts her pictorial mastery at the service of nature. The combination of landscape with the concept of place and memory results in scenes that can only be completely deciphered through the participation of the observer, their questions and concerns. Little by little, the artist directs the viewer towards the ultimate reality of the landscapes and the nature she represents: paradisiacal places advertised by large corporations as a result of their "social and ecological responsibility", places where bodies of activist women have been found, 19th century paintings by European artists or territories that at some point are the cause of environmental conflict. Using a figurative language and the characteristic beauty of her works, the artist allows herself to question the history of painting and the use of it by power throughout the centuries.
The journey that begins in her first works, at this period have a new stop where, in the words of the artist, "colonialism in Latin America, neocolonialism and the environmental crisis that we live in the present converge".
Gabriela Bettini's painting in a first approach is colorful, exultant and accessible to the eye. The eye is recognized in her images and this rapid "recognition" easily introduces us into her paintings. Once inside, through the door of beauty and complacency, embarrassment and analysis take place. We perceive that the composition, the chromatic decisions and the scales of the motifs construct a critical discourse for which the artist requests our attention and reflection.
– Susana Blas
The feminist and environmentalist commitment of the artist lead her to investigate, on one side, if there is a link between violence against women and against nature, and, on the other, if women who defend nature suffer a specific type of violence for the fact of raising their voice against the great powers. This investigation makes Battini set her starting point and reflections on the work of other women in history of the ecofeminism.
For Primavera Silenciosa, in 2018, Bettini borrows the title of Rachel Carson's eponymous book, where the author raises the urgency of protecting the natural environment and gives voice to Vandana Shiva, an Indian writer, who denounces the consequences of the exploitation of the monocultures. As a result of the influence of these women, Bettini appropriates the illustrations of the German scientist Maria Sibylla Merian and represents them covered by monocultures that become the protagonists of the paintings, as a metaphor for the threat they pose to biodiversity.
In Terra Nuillus Bettini goes one step further, and transforms Marianne North's illustrations into absences. The paintings are inserted into wooden grids that recall geometric abstraction and man's desire to rank the elements through a scientific approach to art.
The artist's delicate work brings us back to the world of the pioneers of scientific and/or botanical landscape painting at a time when expeditions were carried out spanning the entire globe and having its peak in the 19th century. These expeditions went to the 'rescue' of a hidden and remote world, beyond the limits dominated by western man, to bring it before the eyes of the public from main metropolis.
Inspired by Los monocultivos de la mente (Vandana Shiva, 1993) Bettini makes a parallel between the strength of monocultures and the imposition of the culture of others. While monocultures are imposed among indigenous species, preventing them from growing and other creatures from surviving, the imposed culture eliminates the original ways of life, traditions and knowledge, which gradually causes an absence, an erasure.
This process of progressive erasure of everything that does not conform to the imposed model generates a crisis of presence that Bettini translates into silhouettes and absences of the plants and animals initially represented in 19th century paintings, which in many cases have already been extinct.
Issues of power, dependence, and identity have always crystallized in the aesthetic, practical, and conceptual dispute about nature and its properties. The artist draws the eye to the potency of established world views and creates experimental spaces for new narratives with a different outlook on the world.
- Katrin Steffen
The concern about the erasure and extinction of natural habitats and certain species is reflected in Topografía del borrado, the artist's first exhibition in the gallery.
The landscapes of this project transport us to the museums of natural history, to the canned landscape in the dioramas, to a nature that is exhibited encapsulated together with stuffed, extinct or endangered species, which no longer live in their natural habitats because these also become extinct under the boot of intensive monoculture. The artist denounces not only the serious mistake of trying to own the land but also the desire to transform it, in a massive way, into a cultivation field to cover our needs and even further, the enrichment of large corporations.
Taken from the dioramas of the New York Museum of Natural Sciences, the works presented decompose the original structure and invite the viewer to reflect on the reality behind this instrument conceived as pedagogical. "The landscape backgrounds of the dioramas are the starting point of a series of large-format paintings in which all the attention shifts to the moment of construction of the artifice of nature through landscape painting", explains Bettini. The divulgation and conservationist vocation that was proclaimed acquired a perverse dynamic with the decimation of specimens, the irruption and denaturation of the habitats themselves. More than understanding and protecting nature, North Atlantic culture created a dead representation of it in an attempt to possess it.
Paradoxically, it seems that as the museums have been filled with souvenirs, the world has been emptying of its natural soul. The conquest of the environment implies a transformation, a domestication that often results in monoculture.
Topografía del borrado acts like a magnifying glass on our understanding of nature, refracting our environmental references and their interpretation. Issues of power, dependence, and identity have always crystallized in the aesthetic, practical, and conceptual dispute about nature and its properties. The artist draws the eye to the potency of established world views and creates experimental spaces for new narratives with a different outlook on the world.
- Katrin Steffen
Binary thinking—nature on one side, culture and humans on the other—has always been a guiding difference characteristic of Western thought. The degradation of nature to a mere machine of production and reproduction at the service of humans is inseparably linked to the history of the European sciences. Against the backdrop of the massive appropriation of natural resources and landscapes, the question arises: How can knowledge about nature be obtained and conveyed as long as we believe in human supremacy?
- Katrin Steffen
By focusing on nature representations, scientific techniques of musealization, and presentation, Gabriela Bettini reflects the codification of nature as a political, technological, and historico-cultural matter. The artist takes a critical look at knowledge concepts in natural history that are based on the assumption of nature and humans being separate.
- Katrin Steffen
Gabriela Bettini (b. Spain, 1977)
Gabriela Bettini, Spanish artist of Argentinian origin, was born in Madrid in 1977. Her current interests lie in the study of the first cultural colonialization and how it relates to its present-day legacy. Using the history of painting and the representation of landscape as her point of departure – observing how this medium may have been used to reinforce the ideas that form the basis of Western hegemony – she analyses today’s environmental crisis and the extractivist model it espouses, one where women become a paradigm of the multiple violence inflicted by climate change.
She has worked with the idea of memory in a series of pieces which revisit the dominant narratives of a generation that experienced the Argentinian dictatorship; these works directly link historical archives with her subjects’ own life stories. In her work, she has studied life experiences existing in the margins of History, revealing the voids that result when we attempt to reconcile memory, memory politics and official narratives.
Gabriela Bettini has exhibited at Borges Cultural Centre and Haroldo Conti Memory Cultural Centre, both in Buenos Aires, Tlatelolco Cultural Centre in Mexico City, House of Latin America of Lisbon, TEA Tenerife Space of Arts and the Argentine Foundation in Paris. She was awarded the Obra Abierta First Prize - Caja de Extremadura International Visual Arts Prize, the Madrid Region Visual Art Creation Grant and the MAEC-AECID Painting Grant at the Spanish Royal Academy in Rome. Other recognition include the Madrid Region Artistic Creation Award, Injuve Art Show or "la Caixa" Foundation and the British Council Grant for Postgraduate Studies in the United Kingdom.