Pablo Vindel, From Her(e) to Now(here)

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2019 by Naranja Libreria & Editorial (here). Hardcover with linen wrapping on front, back, and spine; wrapped in cotton paper, hand-bound with French link stitches. 198 pages, with die-cuts and 80 single color risographs, 7.5 x 20.5 inches. Includes text fragments either written by Pablo Vindel or taken from the NASA website. Designed by Sebastián Barrante and Sebastián Arancibia. In an edition of 50 numbered copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Every now and then, I find myself taken by a book not so much for its immediate content, but its uncanny connection to things on my mind. These ‘things’ can be as random as a conversation with a stranger, a temporary infatuation with a certain subject, or the music I am listening to. Lingering thoughts, basically. And although these secret kinships eventually reveal themselves, one mystery remains: how body and mind create their own semantics of questioning; how they establish links between objects and sensations that, individually, are unrelated. As if there was no there there.

Teasing the threshold between intellect and emotion, logic and fantasy, From Her(e) to Now(here) – the first book by Spanish artist and writer Pablo Vindel – presents a series of photographs depicting luscious blue skies. Originally taken with cellphones and reproduced as richly textured risographs, these grainy images are less ubiquitous than one might think. Carefully placed across two adjacent page blocks of this double-bound book, Vindel’s skies – ranging from double and four-page spreads down to the size of a matchbox – are streaked with clouds and condensation trails. Also known as contrails, these line-shaped formations are produced by aircraft engine exhaust.

Vindel, however, insinuates a more sinister reading of these formations. Following a report of the United States Air Force about weather modification in the late 1990s, a conspiracy theory began to circulate that some condensation trails, in fact, consisted of chemical and biological agents intentionally spread by high-flying airplanes – obviously, undisclosed to the general public. Proponents of this so-called ‘chemtrail’ theory based their belief in the lines’ significantly slower dissipation rate. While the scientific community has repeatedly dismissed this claim over the past two decades, the theory prevails – and has sparked a remarkable range of entertaining blogs and bizarre (at times, very creepy) chat-room conversations (should you become curious, a Google search will guide you there).

For those inclined to gravitate toward such theories, Vindel’s photographs provide a fair amount of research material. For those who don’t, these images are fascinating for their graphic, even symbolic, qualities. The longer you look, Vindel’s lines begin to behave in particular ways. Arranged by visual similarities, they lead out of and into other images, abruptly stop or crisscross each other, to then dissolve or disappear altogether. Small white numbers, sitting in the pictures’ corners, further allude to an underlying taxonomy or explanatory index, but neither is included within the book.

Language and literacy, both verbal and visual, are reoccurring themes in Vindel’s work. His artistic projects usually engage with more “time consuming and meditative methods”, as such sewing, blowing and polishing glass, or altering surfaces by oxidation and other chemical reactions. In 2017, when he began working on what would later become From Her(e) To Now(here), he was exploring “language as a material and its relationship to the body” through a series of video-performances.

“That led me to inquire the need for semantics in language and I got interested in asemic writing.” (Asemic writing is a wordless form of writing without providing a specific semantic content; an abstraction of conventional writing, while simultaneously drawing from writerly gestures as, for instance, in some works by Cy Twombly.) Attracted by the quicker, more impulsive and intuitive process of photography, Vindel wrote me that “The first photos of chem/contrails were more of a spontaneous urge to register the moment. [But then, it became] a habit, and with it, a language of its own via hundreds of images of the sky ‘breaking up’. It was also a way of communicating with others through the exchange of pictures with the same motif. A hand-held device (one could say of intimate format) containing something unattainable and impermanent.”

After taking a significant number of sky photographs in various cities, and collecting pictures taken by family and friends, Vindel contacted Sebastián Barrante and Sebastián Arancibia at Naranja Ediciones to propose a book project. Based on a selection of Vindel’s archive, the publishers, who also designed the book, began to explore strategies to classify the images and develop a visual narrative. Yet, only after Vindel had written and shared a text, the concept for the book materialized.

Delicate, like an afterthought, From Her(e) To Now(here) opens with a statement of loss.

The first line is crossed out, but still readable: “When I think about written texts, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘My mother . . . ’”, a woman with curly black hair, who died from cancer, leaving her family heartbroken. We read about childhood memories, about grief and the incommensurate task of bearing it, about the “tremendous desire to put [one’s] hands on [the sky] and change the celestial bodies from one place to another.” These personal paragraphs are interspersed with others that Vindel adapted from the NASA website, explaining the sky in scientific ways, including the phenomena of a supernova, emerging stars, their gravity, and collapsing bodies.

Admittedly, the text is challenging. Not only are parts of it are crushing, but also Vindel’s grammar is willfully raw – and, at times, a bit forced. Regardless, I am intrigued, because he treats his words the same way he treats his images: they are constellations, not descriptions. In doing so, the relationship between text and images is not implicit, but complementary, depending on each reader/viewer to fill the gap with meaning. This balancing act between intimacy and distance is also pertinent in the book’s beautifully tactile design – my favorite element being the final image: a hazy impression of the eyes of Vindel’s mother (and a reference to one of the opening scenes of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona) – an image that, despite appearing right in front of us, is never quite sharp enough to hold on to it.  Which brings me back to my opening paragraph.

Thinking about Vindel’s book naturally invites comparisons with similar photographic projects – such as William Eggleston’s At Zenith, a literal depiction of clouds, or Alfred Stieglitz Equivalent Series, for which he photographed the same subject matter, although as abstract patterns, on which to project a certain state of mind or feeling. Yet, it was not a of book of photographs that led me to From Her(e) To Now(here).

In Bluets, an arrangement of 240 prose poems, Maggie Nelson meditates on the color blue. Soon enough, however, her “propositions”, written as questions and answers, analogies and parables, engage with a different kind of being blue. The one accompanying grief, loss, and sadness – in Nelson’s case, the recovery from a heartbreak while caring for a severely ill friend. Nelson’s and Vindel’s books are hardly comparable in terms of genre, content, or design – and yet, they closely connect in their attempt to find meaning in impermanence, and to find a language to distill it. Like a line, drawn between a now and then, a here and there. Perhaps, a there there.

Collector’s POV: Pablo Vindel does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely contact the artist directly via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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