Wood Stories explores one of the new experimental social practices in the world, which consist in alternative lifestyles in self-sufficient communities that belong to the rewilding movement. These communities aim to renaturalize abandoned or depopulated rural areas in hopes of recovering nature and wildlife, to regenerate innovative and sustainable economic activities and to actively oppose the destruction of nature for the construction of large infrastructures.
Text by Pedro Vicente
Jorge Fuembuena interviewed by Niccolò Fano
Niccolò Fano: Your series Wood Stories is a set of photographs focusing on ‘Rewilding’ rural communities. Tell us about the ‘Rewilding’ movement and what led you to explore it.
JF: This movement is formed by groups of people who create a lifestyle in rural areas, far away from urban centres. The concept is centred on breaking away from the past and moving towards a world distant from civilisation in order to live on natural resources. Their houses are built with local materials, they hunt and grow their food and strive to be self-sufficient. The goal is to talk about a place that is marginal in respect to what is managed and structured, in the absence of urbanism. Nomadic-like settlements in unmanaged spaces. My line of research explores the extension of dwellings and the concept of domestic space. This body of work articulates the concept of dissuasion, exemplified in the investigation of the proposed construction of an airport and how the prevention of this event is made possible by appropriating, therefore protecting, the land.
NF: The return to the wild, to a natural state and the process of undoing domestication are just a few of the aspects that bind men, women and children within Wood Stories. What are some of the social, political and cultural principles underlying the ‘Rewilding’ lifestyle?
JF: There is a desire of solitude that comes from authors such as Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was a naturalist, an orator and son of a pencil maker. Moreover he was one of the founding fathers of U.S. literature and is considered to be a pioneer in the field of ecology and environmental ethics. He also created the concept of civil disobedience. In his book Walden written in 1854, he describes life in the forest and the communities that seek a healthy habitat full of trees, along rivers or underground. His commitment is focused on actions, on challenging the functioning of the world and his theories lead us to question our current ways of living.
NF: The absence of captions and descriptions both in the portraits and the landscape photographs creates a timeless aura of mystery around the whole work. Was this an intentional choice?
JF: I am not interested in the detailed report; I prefer a visual narrative based on a flexible timeframe, a neutral style characterised by the absence of visual hyperboles. In this body of work I do not construct an image of a well-defined group and do not use a series of individuals as collective identities. I extract the individual from the collective and the community, thus conferring to each subject the representation of him or herself. Photography is an instrument to reflect upon the nature of both the social and personal identity. We build the idea of who we are through photography.
NF: Once again the absence of text accompanying the images sparks my curiosity regarding the location of the subjects photographed and their distance from the world they voluntarily eradicate themselves from. Where were these images taken?
JF: What interests us about a photograph is what is omitted therefore what we long to understand, forcing us to ask questions. In the words of Professor Pedro Vicente “these images portray a singularity, encapsulating particular instances and contexts. Rather than the subject itself these photographs enhance the natural aspect of the portrayed. In ‘Wood Stories’, the portraits reveal precisely this, the subject’s condition, with austerity, with no veils or prejudice. These portraits are charged with a narrative tension between the political and social domains, creating a path stemming from the apparent fragility of the bodies that is then faced with the condition of the portrayed. This disequilibrium finds its harmony in the compromise of honesty offered by the images. Moreover, these images are indeed honest and sincere: they do not hide yet they do not expose. They show the condition of the subjects, they are their condition”.
This work was conducted in France and in Spain. This is the contextual framework, although it could have been done in any other part of the world. During my research I observed several tepees, original cone-shaped tents originating from the native populations of the great American plains, and yurts, circular tents used by the nomad populations of Mongolia. These structures can be seen mixed with wood cabins, with others made of stones and concrete, including some made of straw that are able to weather the wind and the rain during harsh winters.
NF: Tents, tree-houses, caves, makeshift shacks made out of recycled materials. They all seem very different from one another. Yet their immersion in the surrounding nature aligns them, creating a broader discourse on an alternative way to the life most of us live. Tell us about you personal experience throughout the creation of this series.
JF: I start from an idea in order to deal with a theme, which I then explore, aided by a dose of intuition. I am interested in retaining the essential elements and in eliminating the anecdotic ones. In this body of work the concept of displacement is present, displacement to be understood as the aesthetic and political positioning within artistic practice. This employed artistic perspective then merges with other aspects, far more profound, such as the ethical and anthropological domains in relation to the possibility and concept of human freedom in the current world. Photography is a fundamental semantic vehicle in contemporary art; formal decisions and intentions must be coherent. Some projects require a specific documentary focus with a wider empathic foundation and this is achieved with a horizontal approach to people, one that requires a human understanding and capability in order to relate and gain access to others.
NF: Some of the structures photographed are built alongside tarmac roads. What is the relationship between these communities and the world that surrounds them?
JF: Photography allows us to explore and engage with nature, in addition to enabling us to document the human ambition of supremacy, possession and the act of domination through the technological construction of nature. This is a body of work that testifies and questions the urban expansion plans within this area. A discourse can be observed, surrounding the representation of this concept through the presence of elements – such as the images of the barricades – that obstruct the space itself. Aligned we have the idea of the map, and the understanding of these territories as one mapped space undergoing a lethargic transformation process; the concept of the past not being considered as such but viewed as future, the idea of destruction (ruins) as a form of construction; an inversion game. I retrace this thought process to Robert Smithson who introduces this entropic, languid landscape game when observing a dilapidated car in the middle of a scene he encounters.
NF: Most of your subjects are photographed unclothed. Was this an intentional choice or was it dictated by the customs encountered?
JF: None of the portraits are staged, they all reflect the subject’s beliefs and relationship with nature.
NF: What is your relationship with the subjects featured in Wood Stories? Moreover, what is your relationship with them now?
JF: I like to create emotional links, a horizontal relationship with the subjects in my photographs, a psychic assimilation of the world, similar to what Serge Tisseron describes in Photography and the Unconscious. Each photograph is the result of a particular moment that allows the commencement of a relationship, an exchange with the subjects who are photographed. At present there still is a relationship with a number of these settlements through a series of workshops I have taught.
NF: Fragility seems to be a subtle theme that binds all the images within Wood Stories: the cluttered structures made of wood, found objects and rope; the unclothed bodies and the remains of a previous life epitomised in the burned-out cars and the roadside structures. Is fragility a prevalent aspect of what you experienced when creating this body of work?
JF: They function as metaphor for fragility, instability and vulnerability that stem from the changes within their surrounding territory. By studying these locations, by analysing and pondering, I constructed a cartography that allows me to generate new ways to understand my subject matter. From this perspective, my research is an effort to investigate the environment and the man-made effects on the landscape. I view this territory as space for a common dialogue whilst concurrently as an area for confrontation. Only from such a strong conviction can one observe how a separate world functions. I believe that photography showcases the appearance of things yet it’s unable to translate them.
FUEMBUENA, JORGE (Zaragoza, 1979)
Fellow artist of La Casa de Velázquez (Acadèmie de France à Madrid), Jorge Fuembuena lives and works in Madrid and Nantes (France).
He is one of the authors selected for the exhibition Contexto Crítico, Spanish Photography of the XXI century, curated by Museology in Tabacalera (Madrid). He is also included in the book The A-Z of Spanish Photographers (La Fábrica, 2014). In 2014, in New York, he participated in the exhibition NEW SPANISH PHOTOGRAPHY -Visions beyond borders, held in the main hall of King Juan Carlos I Center of the New York University. He has participated in the prestigious international program Plat(t)form 2013, curated by the Fotomuseum Winterthur (Switzerland) and his work has been showcased at EEU (Pulse Art, Miami beach 2014), in México D.F (CCEMEX. Fotoseptiembre 2011), in Brazil (Festival Internacional de Fotografía Paraty Em Foco. 2013), in Madrid (Festival Internacional de fotografía y Artes Visuales Photoespaña. 2013), in Portugal ( Festival Encontros Da Imagem. 2012 ), in China (Austro Sino Arts Program, 2012), in France (Galerie RDV, 2014) and the UK (Getty Gallery, 2014).
Jorge Fuembuena is currently represented by The New Gallery (Madrid), Addaya Art Contemporani (Mallorca), La Carboneria (Huesca), Carolina Rojo art Gallery (Zaragoza), Confluences Gallery (Nantes, France), Jeanmichel Jagot (Chalon-sur-Saône, France), MataderoMadrid and Plainpicture Agency based in New York, Paris, London and Hamburg.