‘Myths of the Near Future’ was the chosen theme and title of the 15th Fotonoviembre International Photography Festival directed by Laura Vallés and held at TEA Tenerife Espacio de las Artes and various other art venues in the Canary Islands. From the outset, the ambition was to reach out beyond the confines of photography in order to rethink the theory of the image and its limits, the places where it rubs up against other disciplines of knowledge like philosophy, sociology and anthropology. The idea of instigating overspills towards various other fields was also included in the conception of the working team as a collective curatorship. The festival was built around a number of proposals beyond exhibition making and convened by Cine Por Venir, Mette Kjaergaard, Alba Colomo and Laura Vallés.
This year’s biennial took on the challenge of addressing the festival from a multi-nodal focus which would at once establish points of connection with the local community. The fragmentation of the proposal, in other words, the curatorial methodology, was grounded in the idea of the exquisite corpse and, more specifically, in the anonymous ‘collective drawing’ by Pino (1941), which belongs to the TEA Collection. This image proves highly significant insomuch as it alludes directly to the myth on which TEA’s institutional narrative has been built ever since its beginnings, namely, the relationship between the Canary Islands and Surrealism, to wit, André Breton’s visit to Tenerife and the promotion of the figure of Óscar Domínguez. In fact, one of the core axes of last edition of Fotonoviembre, directed by Gilberto González, was a critique of this mythical construction in which the identity of the native is defined through the honoured visitor. In this regard, Pino’s four-fold ‘cadavre exquis’ seem to metaphorically personify this anthropomorphic body of doubtful origin.
The title of this year’s edition contains clues on the relationship between the myth and the image that undergird the reality of tourism in the Canary Islands. ‘Myths of the Near Future’ is the title of a collection of short stories by J. G. Ballard, one of which is called ‘Having a Wonderful Time’ (1982). It tells the story of a couple of English tourists who are trapped on a tourist complex in the Canaries, becoming forced natives of the island. The story captures to perfection the way in which tourism submits the territory and its inhabitants to the dominion of the gaze. In his analysis of tourism, the anthropologist Pablo Estévez wondered what it is that ultimately defines the identity of the native and the tourist. In his words, “the tourist is the one who looks and records, while the native is the one who is observed and recorded. But with the advance of modern tourism, there has been an exchange of roles. Natives no longer exist as such because they too undergo a process of subjectivisation in which they look at and think of the territory from outside.” Like the native-tourist in Ballard’s story, Estévez concludes that “the postcolonial tourist is a tourist who looks and is observed, a tourist who situates his own body.”
It is here, in this conception of the image as a place of exchange between native and visitor, where this year’s Fotonoviembre has had its strengths and weaknesses. Curated by Cine Por Venir in close dialogue with Laura Vallés, the exhibition display and programme ‘Body’ proposed a space that invited us to “look and be looked at”, enabling variations and multiple participations throughout the exhibition. The public programme organized by Alba Colomo Gil also invited us to rethink representation as a form of coexistence or, better put, an ecosystem that ought to be cultivated through dialogue and consensus. Increasingly meaningful to these proposals was the concept of civil imagination in Ariella Azoulay’s photography, at the very backbone of the concept of this year’s festival, which was explored in ‘Image’, the exhibition curated by Laura Vallés Vílchez. However, ‘Entanglement’, the proposal curated by Mette Kjaergaard, stayed within the confines of the standard readings of certain works in the TEA collection, thus upholding certain commonplace ideas whose environmental discourse found no points of anchorage in the specific context of the islands.
Be that as it may, the theoretical underpinning of the project afforded many glimpses of an interest in developing a situated proposal that, nonetheless, would be highly demanding. These were the moorings with which ships could dock, though not all of them were boarded.