Joaquim Chancho

(Riudoms, Tarragona, 1943 - )

Committing to a Pledge of Absence*


Space is uncertainty: I continually need to demarcate it, to design it...

Georges Perec


"A cut opens up a new possibility, it leads to a new alternative” Joaquim Chancho tells me while I flick through the pages of his unpublished book which begins with the solitude of a horizontal line and develops a discourse which ends with the same line being cut. This Sequence from the 1970's, which stimulates and modifies situation as much as thought, has a bearing on both the exhibition at the VolArt2 gallery of the Vila Casas Foundation and committing to “a pledge of absence”, a pledge of no storyline, “as an act of continual correction”, where art is subjected to the questions “what are we doing?” and “is there a reason to continue?”.


The exhibition Sequences is structured on variations between different small pieces that make up three large paintings and two drawings, plus a direct and subtle pictorial intervention on a white wall on the ground floor. This allows him to contrast frailty with the strength of the macro sequence which covers the corner of the space opposite and stimulates the involvement of the viewer. As a counterpoint to the paintings, the more delicate work of the drawings creates two areas or axis, separated by a diagonal line: the uniformity and order of one side faces the tiny knots of lines of the other which, in closed fields that progressively open out, allow movement between the pieces. Their variations, which may also be read individually, set obstacles before what he is doing. His use of mathematics also strips away all meaning. During his process of refinement he avoids formalism and the superficial images of a large part of what is called art, to preserve the sensual and emotive charges of painting.


Rereading a text from thirty years ago written by Andrés Sánchez Robayna, we can get an idea of the underlying unity of Chancho's work: “here we witness, not only the poetry of reiteration, but also its opposite: the negation of the multiple (of reiterations, alterations and transformations), which end up constituting a universe of visual relationships based on an ars combinatoria”. An analysis in which he sees “a breaking down of each one of the related elements, a sectioning parallel to that to which our painter subjects parts of space about to be infinitely altered”. And here appear two key concepts that are constants in his subsequent development: the combinatorial and the infinite.


If Italo Calvino, in his essay on accuracy, followed a line that left him in the infinite, it is because his predilection for symmetry, geometry, proportion, series and the combinatorial was a response to a necessity that Chancho also imposes on himself in painting: the mathematical loads which set off tensions in opposite directions until they meet that which is impossible to define or finish, the return journey which starts the process all over again. The writer preferred that which had not yet been resolved, the question and the uncertainty hanging over everything that he had to write, but which always remained clouded by what had been excluded. He had an outline of the structure, a progressive storyline which became an anti-storyline through a process of ars combinatoria, with variants and alternatives. Something which also interests Chancho when he needs to mark out a space which, in the words of Perec “is uncertainty” and in fact touches on the absence in authentic painting, as Berger puts it. 


Chancho, like Calvino, when confronted by questions tries to “limit” his visual approach and establish variations from a nucleus which changes until it provides him multiplicity for a process. As opposed to the writer who, in other books performs a progressive operation from the set down to the smallest unit, he – using the line as a primary sign – obtains sequential rhythms which are complimented by gestural movement, a visual combination in which two components coexist: unity and multiplicity. Thus, each painting and drawing is a reply to another, while the result of the set becomes the reflection of a tension, of a dialogue between totality and individuality. Similarly, if we ignore the sequential character of the group, each work is autonomous and, simultaneously, a fragmented part which leads to the possibility of a relationship between frequency and interior gesture. Beyond the individual and prefigured limits of a particular format, the displacement of the grid and its variants opens up new alternatives.


If Calvino concentrated his reflections, experiences and conjectures in the symbol of the city in order to build a textural structure of successive thresholds which did not imply “a consequence or hierarchy but a network” with a multitude of  routes all leading towards “plural and manifold conclusions”, then Chancho, when he presents us with his series of four by eight variations (the thirty-two pieces which make up one of his works), also doubles each concept and value in essence and density, but there is always a part of the diagonal – not that of the picture, but that which leads you in one direction – which becomes consequence.


The artist, despite knowing he lives in the present which includes his own personal experience, also knows that there are no limits separating the past from the future. He stretches out the interval of absence and dilates the present, “retention and protention” which, from a philosophical point of view are defined for us by Josep M. Esquirol, and he expresses this through the mobility of a sequence made up of presential registers and absences. If, on one hand, we have his possibility of expression, this capacity to move in space, it has to be mentioned that relational time also becomes an approach with regards to the creative process, since there is always an over-riding order which conditions the outcome. We may encounter references to the development of work, but never a desire to change what is, in effect, his approach or attitude. Or, to put it another way, without breaking away from the underlying unity, he finds new alternatives in which the importance of the passing of time, as a process of refining work, also forms part of this approach. And, in a systematic way, that which is generated by the mind and later becomes painting, is the fruit of a long and intensive period of work which ends in a long pause between the moment of executing the work and the next step: photographing it. A step which enables him to confront and start again, to muster the determination to wrench space into the vacuum, since, in the continual digging which so obsessed Perec, the important thing is to leave, in some place, “a trail, a mark or a few signs”. Far from dogmas, the artist takes uncertainty into account, because art, like life, always generates a rhythm, but, at the same time, there is a question of limits, a necessity to order and confront.


When he cites Mallarmé, “there is nothing outside which is not inside”, I understand the connection between Chancho and Perec: not of form but of approach and it corresponds with not saying anything that is not inside what is being done. In fact, we are speaking about art, about that which does not exist and which only takes on a presence when somebody expresses non-permanence by laying down limits in the flux of the rhythms of life. And Chancho orders time into rhythm by means of connections (flow, displacement, sequence etc), but it is interruption which gives rise to a new sequence which alerts us to falling into the never-ending round of the day-to-day and being snared by the social, all of which do not really exist. He steps in and out of time, acts as resistance to provide us with reference points for places which, although not existing, are posed as questions against the movement that absorbs us.


Theoretical parameters are all too often simply definitions that do not say anything about the work itself, because words are treacherous and every interpretation “closes down” and does not allow the visual and relational time of the painting to breath. We want to give answers and explanations for everything despite each step generating new alternatives, new questions to join the uncertain and the unknown. Refusal, understanding that nothing has changed, like those characters wherein dwells a “profound disappointment with the world” (Melville's Bartleby and the Bartlebies of Vila Matas), is compensated for by the effort of searching out possibilities and opening a cut that regenerates hope in the pessimism of closing yourself in by not speaking, or speaking but saying nothing, so prevalent in our society.


Chancho does not believe in the art work being able to “modify the social structure that fosters it”, since this is a matter for individual conscience; even though the viewer cannot find situations that refer directly to social questions, the manner of articulating language does lead us to them by means of the frailty occasioned by a sense of loss. It is not a case of investigating the cause which generated a work, but of seeing how he received a set of things that interact with one another and how he transferred them to this means of expression, because he is not talking about a specific event, but all events that could occur. “This small thing, this microcosm, leads to universality”, he tells me. As Perec wrote; each thing is each thing and each thing is part of another thing, “a small seed can be the universe”.


Chancho knows, like Perec, that space is fragile, it is a constant question, “it is uncertainty” and doubt that we need to “mark out” even though it will never be entirely ours. The creative process is the only mediator capable of opening doors between presence and absence, just like this book I have in my hands which ends with a cut line. 


Glòria Bosch




Italo Calvino, Seis propuestas para el próximo milenio (Six Memos for the Next Millennium), Madrid, Ediciones Siruela, 1998

*Joaquim Chancho, Sis (Six), Palma de Mallorca, Sala Pelaires, 2008. The title is an extract from his text.

Josep Maria Esquirol, El respirar dels dies. Una reflexió filosòfica sobre el temps i la vida (The Daily Breath: a Philosophical Reflection on Time and Life), Barcelona, Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, S.A., 2009.

Georges Perec, Especies de espaccios (Species of Spaces and Other Pieces), Barcelona, Montesinos –Literatura y Ciencia, S.L., 1999.

Andrés Sánchez Robayna, “Lectura de Joaquim Chancho” (1979)(Reading Joaquim Chancho (1979), from Joaquim Chancho, Barcelona, Iberico 2000, S.A., 1989.