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‘Graphic Constellation’: a bold offering for comic lovers in Spain

Exploring the ethos, history and possible futures of the genre through an offbeat Spanish comics exhibition.

by STIRworldPublished on : Feb 11, 2023

Graphic Constellation, at the Centre for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona (CCCB), and curated by Montserrat Terrones, is presenting comic book artistry with a diversity of languages, aesthetic registers and cultural references, from nine creators, who, with their use of colour, graphics, and stylistic and narrative experimentation, challenge the established comic-book form. These artists include Bàrbara Alca, Marta Cartu, Genie Espinosa, Ana Galvañ, Nadia Hafid, Conxita Herrero, María Medem, Miriampersand and Roberta Vázquez—people who break with comic-book conventions and apply a diverse body of stylistic influences, modifying them in the process. The practitioners share a critical and humorous view of the world, and as the press release for the exhibition elaborates, the group focuses on millennial realities such as economic and employment insecurity, the disappearance of stability, our relationship with technology, and our interpersonal para-social relationships on the internet, among others. The press release continues, discussing Graphic Constellation’s mission, and says "the exhibition is also an invitation to discover how a network of self-publishing fairs, small publishing houses and printers have consolidated the alternative scene on which these nine artists move and learn. And it highlights how comic books can step off the paper and come to life in other artistic media such as ceramics, tapestries and animations." During a visit to the exhibition, audiences can immerse themselves and their imaginations within the works of the nice practitioners, within nine distinct spaces, and can have such adventures as making a match with the monsters of Bàrbara Alca’s dating application Cringer, playing with Roberta Vázquez’s comic characters or going through a dimensional gate devised by Miriampersand. This creates what is perhaps one of the most accessible environments to engage with alternative and experimental comics; a medium that can often feel intimidatingly niche for many art lovers.

El Hamster, 2022, comics, Roberta Vazquez | Roberta Vazquez|CCCB| STIRworld
El Hamster, 2022, comics, Roberta Vazquez Image: Courtesy of CCCB, and Roberta Vazquez

Graphic Constellation's press docket explains the art exhibition’s title, saying, “A constellation is a group of stars that shine in the sky at night and suggest a certain harmony, a beguiling pattern, when viewed from Earth. In imitation of an ancient civilisation looking at the firmament in search of answers about the future, we might perhaps wonder what we are foretold by the forms and singularity of the stars, that make up the constellation that is the focus of this immersive exhibition. They are not heavenly bodies, but comic writers who, through their conceptual and aesthetic concerns, have strengthened a creative fellowship in which it is possible to read the radiant present of the experimental comic in our country and intuit some of its possible futures.”

Espacios de Seguridad, 2022, comics, Marta Cartu | Marta Cartu|CCCB| STIRworld
Espacios de Seguridad, 2022, comics, Marta Cartu Image: Courtesy of CCCB, and Marta Cartu

The festival’s organisers and curatorial team consider it presumptuous to speak of the practitioners as a generation, yet underline that they all share the same critical view of the instabilities, uncertainties and perplexities of millennials. “Nor can we regard them as an artistic movement," the docket continues, "as their individual singularities are so powerful that they prevail over their common traits, their shared interests and aesthetic similarities. What is clear is that the fact that their radical proposals have coincided in time and place, pointing to the wealth and diversity of a creative moment in a medium that still seems to be struggling for cultural validation in certain spaces. A clear vocation to transform established languages into radical avant-garde proposals and a disenchanted vision of reality and of the dysfunctions in contemporary society reveal the unity between a diversity of registers that extends from the most motley variations of genre art to proposals that include poetic abstraction.”

Echos, 2022, comics, Maria Medem| Maria Medem|CCCB| STIRworld
Echos, 2022, comics, Maria Medem Image: Courtesy of CCCB, and Maria Medem

The exhibition has invited these nine women authors to think outside the proverbial page and to invade the exhibition space using various resources, but at the same time, challenges them to do so without losing sight of the essence of their medium, which it identifies as “sequential narration in drawn images. They have answered the invitation to intoxicate others with comics.”

Late Show, 2020, comics,Conxita Herrero|CCCB| STIRworld
Late Show, 2020, comics, Conxita Herrero Image: Courtesy of CCCB, and Conxita Herrero

There have been many changes within the Spanish cultural and professional landscape of comics since what the event recalls as being “the boom of the 1980s that filled newsstands with new publications.” In Spain, this led to the professionalisation of a whole generation of authors who came up from the underground and DIY scenes, and fostered the proliferation of specialist shops, that brought in a new wave of readership and media and made the creation of institutional comic fairs a meaningful proposition. The nine artists who were selected for the exhibition emerged in the midst of a new ecosystem that encouraged aesthetic dissidence and the questioning of commonplaces and established forms of expression. Although, as the exhibition makes a point of, rather wryly, “Professional stability remains a distant horizon.” It goes on to explain that “the numerous self-publishing fairs such as GRAF, Gutter Fest, Tenderete, KBOOM! and Libros Mutantes offer an alternative to more generalist events and present the ideal context for building supportive networks, establishing a direct dialogue with the public and arranging signings and professional agreements. Printers specialising in self-publishing and bookshops particularly open to proposals that defy convention make it possible for the energy of these individual landmarks to establish a fully normalized continuity.” There have also been new publishing houses, who bring with them the possibility of stranger, more audacious proposals, and this has helped the most avant-garde of comics creators find their audience as well.

Montserrat Terrones © Jordi Borr, 2022, Image | Montserrat Terrones © Jordi Borr | STIRworld
Montserrat Terrones © Jordi Borr, 2022, Image Image: Courtesy of CCCB and Montserrat Terrones

The exhibition makes it a point to address the local reverberations within the Spanish comics scene that have followed some of the transformations within the medium at an international level. The works on display exemplify that these have also contributed to a paradigm shift that has shaped new ways of reading and creating comics. It tells us, “in the United States, a second generation of indie comics resulted in almost every writer becoming responsible for their own comic book mastheads, which graced the covers of some of the seminal works of the turn of the century. When manga arrived en masse, with its wide-ranging registers and tones and its particular visual codes, it captivated a large female readership, seduced by a medium in which the male gaze had predominated.” It remains to be seen how the Millennial sensibility will respond to the medium, but events such as these no doubt go a long way in acclimatising new audiences.

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