In 2018 The Other Side was invited to take part in Beehave exhibition, curated by Martina Millá at Fundaciò Joan Miró and in ten public places around Barcelona. L´altre costat was installed at the historical cemetery of Poblenou in Barcelona from 15th March 2018 onwards. In the Cemetery of Poblenou seven angel sculptures were paired with fragments from literary works, selected to illustrate the role played by bees in the words written by great thinkers over the course of history.
The connections of bees to other mythological creatures, and in particular angels, lead me to think of a cemetery in Barcelona as a perfect site to install the The Other Side audio space. In the 19th century, Catalan bourgeoisie families commissioned the most skilled sculptors to decorate their pantheons and tombs and often, the figures represented angels – the messengers between the Gods and Humanity. The cemetery of Poblenou was the first graveyard outside the limits of the town and was founded in 1775. Until then, the dead were buried in the vicinity of the churches and cathedrals in the city centre. For their contemporaries, the graveyards were places for social encounters, and the pantheons from 19th century symbolised the wealth and status of those buried beneath, as well as their ideologies. Cemeteries were exhibitions and museums in the open air. (Fossas & Luque, 2015)
I had plenty of different angels to choose from: there are hundreds of them in the cemetery of Poblenou. During the selection process I got very familiar with the labyrinth-like graveyard, and I had to remake the selection several times because, when visiting the place again I found another, more prominent angel sculpture that connected better with one of the selected texts.
The Other Side audio space at Poblenou cemetery attempts to create an opportunity for a sensitive listening experience in the heart of a big noisy city. The further the visitor enters the cemetery, the stronger the intimacy between the narrator and the receiver. Inside the walls of the necropolis, the city pace calms down; the traffic and busy crowds take a back-seat.
The invitation to make a solitary walk between lined dwellings built for dead humans, facing angel figures sculpted in stone, and to listen to tributes written in different styles and from different times, on bee’s intelligence, immortality, her faculty to judge, her stamina and other virtuosities, is not an inconsiderate act. During the visit, the normal activity at the graveyard goes on; fresh flowers reveal the recently buried co-citizens, the maintenance works of the graves and buildings continue, random encounters with mourning family members or friends of the deceased occur. The pace and tone is different on The Other Side, and the selected text fragments, illustrations marking the walking path, as well as the voices of the readers transmit respect.
The composition of the elements for each visit vary. Whilst the route map, recordings, signage and contents of the text fragments remain always the same, the light, temperature, quality of the sound due the smart device and the encounters with other people in the cemetery are always different. That makes the work truly site-specific, and each visit is a unique experience, even though the place remains the same.
The selection of the literature excerpts
The science fiction novel Blood of Angels was an important starting point for creating the new editions of the work. For the Barcelona edition of The Other Side I chose just one paragraph from Sinisalo’s book. The fragment introduces us to the origins of human interest towards to the bee.
Sinisalo novel led me to the philosophers of Antiquity and to their fascination with bees. To read the whole body of work of Aristotle was too big challenge, but the book El Filósofo y la abeja (Lábeille (et le) philosophe) by French brothers Pierre-Henri and Francois Tavaillot (2017) offered an excellent shortcut to Aristotle writings about the bee. Tavaillots’ research introduced me to the thinking of Virgil, and to his work Georgics (29 BC). Georgics contains agricultural poetry, describing and philosophising around farming, crops and the weather, the olives, vine and animal husbandry. The book is divided to four chapters, and the fourth one is dedicated to the bee.
The texts selected to the work exhibit the cultural, academic, and philosophical value of the bee. You can find here more information of the selection.
In Poblenou, along the walk through the cemetery, the audience comes across angels, sculpted in stone, and multiple written expressions that bees have evoked in authors from Antiquity to present day. Angels, like bees, have a stable position in the mythological, religious and secular literature and arts throughout the human history.
The Other Side audio space creates an opportunity for speculations around the material, theoretical and spiritual connections between bees and angels and asks, if these winged creatures could in the end be one and the same?
The photos in photo gallery: Ulla Taipale and in the upper gallery, two photos from the opening of the space by Pere Pratdesaba, Fundaciò Joan Miró Barcelona.
The connection between angels and bees was after explored by Taipale in To the Other Side – A Long Walk with Bees and Angels, a Master of Arts thesis for Aalto University in 2018. Another publication related with Barcelona exhibition is an art book The Other Side, with a series of photos in the cemetery with Lotta Petronella and complete texts of the aural work. The third photo gallery on this page introduces a selection of images made for the book.