A Time of Ruins (1 of 4)
Tex: Rosa Olivares

The difference between ruins and rubble is memory. Life that once housed what is now only stone; these walls that no longer shelter anyone or anything were once a school, a home, a university and a concentration camp – they housed not only people, from childhood to adulthood, but also their dreams and their fears. Lives that are now lost, broken, forgotten and unknown but pervaded these spaces which no longer mean anything except to the few who remember them, who sense their memory even if unaware of the facts. Life is caught up in the stuccowork, clinging to the tiles, peering through the windows, scuttling and playing along the corridors. So many prayers, so much sorrow, so much lost hope never disappears. Perhaps that is why nobody dares demolish these squalid walls that nevertheless retain an abysmal beauty; perhaps that is why nobody dares raze these ruins for good and release their spirits. For among their stones still dwell memories of the lost souls who once lived here, those who witnessed the beginning and those who witnessed its end. They still stroll along the shore of the sea that returns time and time again, among the vegetation that took over everything some time ago. It is they who instil life and a soul into this rubble, converting it into ruins – into proof that a true story took place here, that there was life and there was death. That is what accords places beauty: the passage of a time experienced and recalled. Time passes and is impossible to detain except in a photograph: an image which freezes a reality that will never change, yet it will become something different to what it was.

sintra (1982)

They say that a murderer always returns to the crime scene. The fact is that we are all murderers, victims and witnesses at once. Pilar Peque.o returns systematically to these two places in the north and south of Spain, in the north and south of her life. They are places full of personal memories, where she has been happy in some way; places which the different stages in her life have led her to explore, with an eye on the past in particular. First the north, Galicia: her origins, her family and her father, a young inhabitant of this building before it turned to ruin. They are individual and also collective memories because this building, these buildings by the river Mi.o, visually contrasting with those on the Portuguese side, so close to the sea, experienced many lives and many abandonments. Originally a religious school, it later became a military prison. A place with no future that has gradually fallen apart in solitude; a place that appears unwanted, with no one to decide for once and for all to erase all trace of its history, and remains standing there like a mutilated ghost visible to the few people who still find the time to stroll among its remains.

This is one of the characteristics of Peque.o’s work: a certain calmness, the ability to take the time needed to look, and look again; to stop at the pulsations of the air, the sensations that linger on in the space. All this comes across in these photographs, and is in fact the main subject of them: for where we see flaking inner walls, paneless windows, outer walls and doors in a semi-ruinous state, what is really there is pieces of history stripped bare, fragments of memories that nobody will remember ever again. In them we glimpse the void of the time that has elapsed since the beginning of the last century, but through Pilar Peque.o’s gaze.

It is a different gaze – unhurried, trained to notice what the rest of us do not see. A gaze that for years has settled on solitary leaves and humble thickets, plants and flowers; a gaze that has sought refuge in forgotten, neglected spots. Places where calm, beauty, body and spirit dwelled at some point. Places that no longer exist, for history and the passage of time, obstinate and insensitive, have done away with the calm and much of the beauty that was inherent in a way of life, a way of being, when the pace of time seemed slower. It is neither nostalgia nor a fatalistic hymn to the decadence of weariness. Pilar Peque.o’s gaze is absolutely contemporary; it occurs here and now, and views the past as a real, tangible fact that lingers on in its cracked and scattered fragments. Modern artists’ idea of ruins is derived from the Romantic concept. But it is not just that. It is also the evolution of the conceptual artists’ idea of ruins as an unfinished segment of reality – a place, an idea that defines contemporary life. Ruins live with us, and in a sense today’s artists represent them in various ways in their works.


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