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Javier Téllez. Shadow Play, 2014. Film installation, 35 mm film projection 10' 56''. Film still. Courtesy of the artist and Peter Kilchmann galerie, Zurich © Javier Téllez

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Presents "Shadow Play" by Javier Téllez


Bilbao, Spain

The exhibition "Shadow Play" by Javier Téllez at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is shown at a time when the wave of illegal immigrants in Spain has reached its peak. As result of the closing or high restrictions of the usual immigration paths through Greece and Italy, this summer Spain became the obligatory path for those fleeing from wars in the Middle East and Africa or trying to escape from economic ruin and the rampant poverty in their countries of origin. These events offered a unique echo chamber for an exhibition that includes two works by this Venezuelan artist conceived and executed in Switzerland, in 2014, when the migratory crisis in the Mediterranean was in its early stages and still had not reached the intensity of more recent years or generated the rejection and anti-refugee sentiments in several European countries, including Spain; a reaction encouraged by political parties attempting to ride this xenophobic wave to gain electoral advantages.

The works by Téllez confront this rejection and vindicate the human condition of those forced to leave their countries, families, and homes because of threats against their lives. According to Téllez, these works are inspired by the thinking of Emmanuel Levinas and his encouragement to welcome those who are different, strange, the Others, as people that we must protect.

The first of these two works, Bourbaki Panorama, is a 35mm silent film titled after a 360 degree panoramic painting of the same name created by Edouard Castres in 1881 and displayed in Lucerne, Switzerland. The film by Téllez centers on this painting by Edouard Castres. The diorama narrates a very extraordinary act of generosity by Switzerland: opening its borders to 87,000 French soldiers whose army had just been defeated by the Prussians. Téllez uses the film as the backdrop for a march of immigrants, asylum seekers, and a couple carrying La Mano (The Hand), a sculpture created by Alberto Giacometti in 1947, inspired on what the Swiss artist witnessed after an airstrike. Blending the images of the refugees with the images of the French soldiers in the film becomes a passionate plea for the former to receive the same generosity granted to the latter.

Shadow Play, Teatro de sombras is the second piece included in the exhibition. It is based on the accounts of several asylum seekers in Switzerland interviewed by Téllez, who then transformed their stories into purely visual narrations rendered with the rigorous black and white used in shadow plays. To do so, Téllez borrowed rhetorical devices like birds created with the shadows formed by interlaced hands, cages, or the rock-paper-scissors hand game. Giacometti's La mano also appears on the screen while the only sound that can be heard is the noise made by the projector. Poignant.



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