Madrid: Occult Spain

Posted on August 8, 2006

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For years, a book called Espana Oculta has sat on our coffee table in Oberlin, there even when we aren’t. A collection of photographs by Cristina Garcia Rodero, it’s always been one of my favorite art books, filled with gorgeous black and white pictures of widows in black and first communion girls in their wedding dresses, horsemen pulling off the heads of dangling chickens as they (the horsemen) gallop by, fierce demons jumping over newborns set in a line on their backs in the street. All the weird, fascinating rituals that make up Spanish popular religion, in other words. Through Garcia Rodero’s lens they seem especially mysterious, even terrifying.

So it’s interesting to see her latest work, which isn’t about what goes on during festival days in small Spanish towns, but what goes on in the Nevada desert for a week each summer: Burning Man. The exhibition was part of this year’s PhotoEspana extravaganza, and its subject–strangely dressed (or undressed), participating in a ritual of their own making–is just as fascinating.

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