By Lluís Hortalà
The air is cleaner on Montserrat, a consequence of blustery clouds and a cycling of micro-climates; a mystifying ecosystem that seems fitting for a site shaped as much by geologic circumstance as divine legend.
Some say a castle once held Christ’s Holy Grail here. In 880, after visions of the Virgin appeared, a bishop ordered a chapel built. Today, the monastery of Montserrat enshrines a Black Madonna, the golden globe in her right hand a less risky Blarney Stone for the Christian faithful.
As a subject, Montserrat favours many forms of art making. Those lumpy shapes are handily and frequently reproduced in clay, photo, film, drawing, painting, graphics, even crayon and paper do it some justice. Nevertheless, Montserrat is best imitated after comprehensive consideration, perhaps accounting for the site’s geologic, aesthetic and holy draw.
Lluís Hortalà, an artist and rock climber, has focused his last two years on climbing, reproducing and revering this mountain chain from all angles. The result is a series of photo-realistic charcoal drawings, clunky little animations and two plain benches.
Hortalà likens his rock climbing and art practice to a spiritual journey, with climbing a mountain a pretty straightforward, even clichéd, metaphor for life and its trials. That said, Hortalà’s comparison is not only earnest, but historical: his exhibition, Exercitatori, takes its name from a mystical essay written on Montserrat in the 16th century, the first of its kind to spell out a spiritual plan in the vernacular. The show brochure includes an excerpt of the monk’s text, which explains the various ways that man approaches the divine as if he were hiking a mountain.
Ancient mystics aside, Hortalà’s work delivers a thoughtful treatment of his experience and admiration for Montserrat that can appeal to many audiences. His drawings are beautiful and expertly crafted, superimposed with scientific graphs likely written in a rock-climber’s shorthand. His animations are simple and sheepishly silly, depicting movement and/or the disappearance of Montserrat’s rocky blooms. With basically all the works hung high on the wall, the benches provide a simple and time-tested strategy for evoking the holy: sit low and look up. Now, don’t those mountains look marvellous?
Exercitatori, Fundació Suñol, until April 30th, 2011