Joan Fontcuberta – Gossan: Mars Mission

Gossan: Mars Mission, "The astronaut's rest in the sea of Teleras", 2018 © Joan Fontcuberta
by Azzurra Immediato

Now [he] walks through her sunken dream […] Is there life on Mars?
David Bowie

The fascination with the Red Planet, Mars, has affected not only scientists and astronauts, even David Bowie fantasized about it and, today, the planet seems to be the new cosmic goal to reach and overtake. Fifty years ago man landed on the Moon and Photolux Festival 2019 will investigate in depth these ‘Mondi/New Worlds’, as evident from its full program. Among the over twenty exhibitions that will liven up Lucca, there will be a truly visionary one: Gossan: Mars Mission. The photographer or, as he prefers to call himself, the Spanish artist Joan Fontcuberta has created a captivating and unsettling project, which triggers, through his shots, a process that can be compared to the concept of utopia which, apparently, is only the prologue of a near future.

Gossan: Mars Mission, “Night exploration”, 2018 © Joan Fontcuberta

In the halls of the Ex Cavallerizza of Lucca, the exhibition will be presented as an imaginative journey, with deep earthly, human roots. Going back in time, it will be discovered that there is a place in the south west of Spain, in the mining region of the Riotinto, which is characterized by an almost surreal landscape and an orography that makes it visually mirror the fourth planet of our Solar System, so much so that it was chosen by space agencies as locus amoenus for simulations and interstellar studies.

Science fiction, however, nearly becomes reality when the Chinese investment fund Galaxy Entertainment decides to create, in this region, a theme park: Gossan: Mars Mission, the first dedicated to entertaining interplanetary exploration. An extraordinary idea, probably, as much as the choice of who would take care of the realization of a photographic project for the promotion and communication of the upcoming park: Joan Fontcuberta.

After this first epiphanic and creative journey, then, the lens of Fontcuberta tried, and succeded, to restore to the observer’s gaze an astonishing dimension, a conceptual path able to define an unusual aesthetic itinerary, an elsewhere in which the visitor will feel attracted to the alterity of the places and atmospheres created by the shots. The space-time mix, which Fontcuberta modifies, tends towards a speculative and metaphorical ambition which has to do with the concepts underlying its research.

The Iberian photographer and artist carries out an investigation that has its roots within the sphere of an inquiring will with which he loves to question the veracity itself of the documentary image, be it of a scientific or artistic nature – just think of the Series like Herbarium or Constellacions, (in)credible examples of meta photography or, to use “pop” terms, “fake” works that have defined the artist’s modus operandi as a rational communication ontology. If it is true that Fontcuberta is able to generate images by re-encoding the maieutic alpha and omega, it will be true also that He will be able to recreate the atmosphere of Mars here on Earth.

Mapping Mars 21660 – Year of the Shootings 1888 © Joan Fontcuberta

Looking at the images on display, for a few – long – moments, the visitors will feel like they’re watching unpublished photographs from the Red Planet, without feeling the need to reason like one does in the presence of a set or other technicalities; we will be amazed, we will try to understand what those astronauts could have tried by setting foot on Mars. Suddenly, what is known as pareidolia: with respect to a form in which, quite by chance, something else is recognized by unconscious suggestion, here, in a causal manner, Joan Fontcuberta’s shots find translation, giving way to a (con) fusion between reality and fiction.

The photographs proceed and occupy the space, invading it in an “alien” manner, almost celebrating Nature as a panic artifice in which to let the imagination wander, in a wave-like manner, the same as what will happen to the visitors of the Galaxy Entertainment theme park.

Each shot acts in a dual manner: the observer will have the impression of pausing before a real narrative, entrusting the truth the main role and the fictitious character of the photos a truthful perceptive value only at a second stage; all this happens not because of deception, obviously, but for the unravelling of a plot with complex intrinsic mechanisms. Joan Fontcuberta is a master of the art – keep this similarity in mind – of photographic manipulation, leaving a sensitive but credible, plausible distortion to emerge from his mises en scène. The artist acts on the determination of a punctum that is no longer only that intended by Roland Barthes, but earlier than the representation itself.

Explorer Curiosity Silversmith XXI on the Zarandas plateau, 2018 © Joan Fontcuberta

I am interested in nature photography as an excuse to analyze the nature of photography

This is what Fontcuberta claimed some time ago and Gossan: Mars Mission is the emblem of this claim, well beyond previous projects such as Frottogrames or Googlegram. In the project carried out in the Riotinto region, the stripping of the real, in accordance with a metaphysical surrealism, stratifies ideation and interpretation, knowledge and imagination. The very thin border through which the camera has opened a passage, amazes and proposes itself as a viaticum for a new form of communication and information, at the same time.

Through the conceptual and photographic process put in place by the author, the final image reveals an unusual overlapping proper to the visual investigation that also reports, therefore, the relationships that involved the primitive creative moment and its multi-meaning. In semantic harmony, every shot of the exhibition presented by Photolux Festival has the merit of returning that new memory composed by the Spanish photographer, unveiled, and at the same time simulated, truth.

The “serious game of art” takes over the delineation of a whole and phantasmagorical ephemeral apparatus that Fontcuberta proposes as the effect of a mass communication, conscious of not wanting to homologate to an inconsistent generalization, even investigating “other planets”. To affirm, therefore, a new way to recognize ourselves, shedding light on that process that leads to the unknown, to the change of forms, no longer representation, but detachment from the origin, disappearance and reappearance, following a circular ride between before and after, between here and elsewhere, between the otherwise unspeakable and the character of truth that belongs to the photographic medium.

Joan Fontcuberta does not need any introduction, therefore, the advice is to discover his projects with the right critical spirit, letting ourselves, however, be fascinated by their alienating and visionary power.



Piazzale Giuseppe Verdi, Lucca
PHOTOLUX FESTIVAL | 16 November – 8 December 2019

fron Mon to Fri:  15:00 – 19:30
Sat and Sun:  10:00 – 19 :30


November 15,  2019

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