Paths in the Afternoon: Initiation in the Woods
“Paths in the Afternoon: Initiation in the Woods” is a forest clearing inside a museum. Álvaro Perdices has created it using photographs of another forest glade near Bunyola, in the Alfàbia Range in Mallorca. The site of reference is a friendly, not overly energetic landscape; the scrubland is modest rather than intense in the “fine, clear, aromatic and radiant” woodlands of the Spanish Levant, so greatly appreciated by Azorín.
These forest meadows contrast with the dark, frightening clearings found in historical children’s stories, inhospitable settings with wild animals and lawless, uncivilized individuals. As María Zambrano once wrote, in forest glades “what is perceived, glimpsed at or is about to be seen, is illuminated, vanishes or ceases to be.” What cannot be grasped seems within our reach. Despite not being any sort of destination, despite not solving anything, with no maps to find them, clearings in the woods are sites of apprenticeship, and of revelation: we move through them in a way that is somewhat analogous to how we move through the classrooms.
“The landscape is the teacher”, said José Ortega y Gasset. Álvaro Perdices’s forest glade is also pedagogy. The photographs show a school in the forest called Ses Milanes, visited as part of an in-progress project that the artist further pursued in other schools without walls, in Tenerife and Vizcaya.
The best school of all is the shade of a tree. Amongst trees and shrubs planted by nobody, the boys and girls study nature while playing “now you see me, now you don’t”. Outside the classroom, they learn something more than order and reason. They are fully free as part of their group, with no rules, programmes or authority to heed to, with all the doors open to experience.
The children of Ses Milanes are seated on the ground. They play with leaves and broken branches, besides using pencils and field notebooks. They play hide-and-seek, moves stones and pebbles, jump up and down and do somersaults, they beat around the bush. All this and so much more takes place in the clearing, yet none of this is seen at Es Baluard.
This exhibition appeals to the memory of the viewer, who also was a child once, who likewise liked recess more than the classroom when at school. There are latent, invisible presences that are easy to imagine and sense. To begin with, the children at Ses Milanes are missing, because they are playing hide-and-seek, out of frame. The figures in the dells painted by Giorgione or Poussin are also elliptical, along with the soothsaying witches in Macbeth, the meandering philosopher who gets lost along the way to think all the better, or the wanderer who rests his cane upon the ground, sits on a rock and pulls out a notebook to jot something down, to sketch out an idea. To understand the landscape, you must draw it while walking.
“Paths in the Afternoon: Initiation in the Woods” does not end with these references. It also refers to artists who need the open air to find themselves, to sailors with no compass at hand, searchbranchesing for North in the darkness, free individuals who deliberately steer clear of the ways of the State, while others move along forest trails that lead to absolutely nowhere.
Álvaro Perdices believes that the trees that have not been sacrificed are the legacy. He asks questions such as why the bramble bush is less venerable than an ancient tree.
He does not accept that the historical continuity of a monumental tree is of primary importance. He is concerned that olive trees once transplanted have hardly any roots, producing no olives at all in their reinvented decorative existence.
This artist has worked with great masterworks in the Museo del Prado. He has also been a schoolteacher, showing what he has learnt in classrooms and exhibition galleries. Both the museum and the school are proof that art can be a public square and a forest dell, heart and stone.
In “Paths in the Afternoon: Initiation in the Woods”, viewers are turned into walkers and the museum becomes a clearing in the woods. These photographs are taken from a low angle. It is recommended to sit on the floor to see them and feel them. Or just to dream, like in the Antonio Machado poem the exhibition’s title is taken from.
I go dreaming of paths
In the afternoon. Golden
Hillsides, green pine trees,
Where does this path go?