Among the first childhood memories of Manuel Vilariño (A Coruña, 70 years old) there is one that impressed him more than any other. It happened on Caneliñas beach (Pontevedra) when a group of men dismembered a huge whale. The child’s astonished eyes widened as he saw a calf make its way through the carnage and emerge from the fat of its dead mother. As the hunters tore apart and sorted the prey, the cub tried to escape the slaughter. Vilariño does not remember what happened to the calf, it certainly died because it could not be breastfed, but it never got rid of the effects of its viewing. The whale opens the exhibition with which Manuel Vilariño takes part in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Museum of Fine Arts in A Coruña. It is an intervention of fifty pieces (visual images, literature, poetry and music) entitled After the whale. A dialogue with the museum It can be seen until the end of November.
In the lobby of the building, where a whale skeleton hangs on loan from the Galician Society for Natural History, the artist says that the childhood vision of the whale’s death determined his later interests as an artist and as a human being: defending animals and their rights as living beings.
He has installed a sound piece near the skeleton from which the song of a whale, which the artist recorded at a location on the coast of Iceland, can be heard continuously. At the same time some verses by Ezra Pound from the famous poem the wasteland by TS Eliot. As a poet and photographer, Vilariño explains that it was impossible for this fusion not to take place. In addition to his latest haikus, the exhibition (curated by Fernando Castro Flórez) is full of presence and references to authors such as José Ángel Valente or Antonio Gamoneda.
Accompanying the skeleton of the dead whale hangs one of the artist’s most famous series, the one dedicated to the cliffs entitled awaken (2011). Away from the urban life of his hometown of A Coruña for more than 25 years, he says that these landscapes, which he has portrayed in black and white, contain lonely places inaccessible to humans. “Here is just the sea, the rocks, the land and a sky that tells us of an unknown rule of threat.” Manuel Vilariño photographs these lonely landscapes around 6:00 am during the aurora borealis, when the ocean’s darkness gradually softens. These are rocky areas to which he is usually accompanied by his friend Manolo, who helps him with the photographic equipment. The weather will then determine if the photo is possible or they will have to try another time. He admits he has spent some time in danger on the shores of northern European countries. His, the Galician, seems to have better control over them.
The fascination of the rocky landscapes is complemented by the close-ups of the fauna, in which the raven appears as the main character in a story by Edgar Allan Poe. “For me, the raven is the most intelligent animal of all. They share the singing gene with us”. The tits or robins that have accompanied him in other exhibitions are not here, although he says he continues to portray them because they are around Bergondo, the small town in Coruña where he lives in the middle of the forest.
The 2007 National Photography Awards does not advocate doing many exhibitions. In fact, the previous one was linked to the Ministry of Culture award and rotated through different museums for more than a year. He has held a number of small exhibitions in association with one of the four international gallery owners representing his work. The one just inaugurated in A Coruña is an exception that may not be repeated for a long time. For this reason, the project has not been limited to a reduced intervention in which some works temporarily replace others and that’s it. In this case, both the artist and the curator considered an integral presence. The museum’s director, Ángeles Pernas, did not disagree with the artistic approach.
Driven by this desire to make the museum his own, Vilariño wanted to show that the supremacy of Western art is an interested invention. To this end, in the room dedicated to Spanish Baroque, the artist placed a 10th-century Buddha from his personal collection in front of a selection of the Immaculate Conception. In one corner he placed a horsehair installation held together with cello pegs. Next door, a video is projected onto a wall of an African teenager playing a Takemitsu piece inspired by French composer Olivier Messiaen on the piano. “East and West. Asia, Africa and Europe on an equal footing. Nothing less,” summarizes Vilariño.
Above this space of cultural and religious coexistence hangs one of the most famous works by the Galician artist: horse silk (2007). It is a 125 cm diameter sphere made of cedar wood and horsehair. Vilariño invented it during a celebration of Rapa das Bestas, a rural festival where ranchers clip horses’ manes. “I asked them to save me a selection of different colors. Thus came the notion of the power of the beast over all else.”
The wildlife continues to spread throughout the museum in numerous pieces. There is a bird lying on a stone, a beetle or a reptile. And also a triptych depicting a figure that could be a rat or a ferret. The artist says it is a self-portrait of the person he has become in such uncertain times that only poetry’s sanctuary fits.
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