Dora García: These books were alive; they spoke to me!

The Tetley recently launched the first UK solo exhibition of Barcelona-based Dora García’s work. These books were alive; they spoke to me!, draws heavily on García’s printed work and book sculptures and focuses on the connection between literature, theatre and film. The title is borrowed from François Truffaut’s 1966 cult film Fahrenheit 451, itself based on Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel of the same name. Providing the premise for the exhibition, it points to a connection between books and performance (including books about performance and performances about books). The exhibition will coincide with the 20th International Contemporary Artists’ Book Fair at The Tetley (4 – 5 March 2017).

The Art Deco-era headquarters of the former Tetley Brewery provides a fitting home for the exhibition. During the launch, its labyrinth of linked rooms was host to multiple live performances and readings. Moving through the spaces heightened the immersive experience and created a pleasant sense of chaos. Having only one or two performers in the smaller galleries gave an intimate feel, in contrast with performances held in the atrium space.

García’s ‘Rehearsal Retrospective’ took place during the opening weekend in this larger space, involving an actor teaching four participants how to deliver a series of the artist’s performances simultaneously, including ‘The Sphinx’ (2005), ‘Prayers’ (2005), ‘The Messenger’ (2002) and ‘The Artist Without Works’ (2008). Expanding on her past work, which tends to explore the relationship between artwork, audience, and place, García used the exhibition space as a platform for a series of engaging situations which are engineered to encourage critical thinking. ‘The Sphinx’, for example, saw visitors selected at random to engage with a series of questions that promoted yes or no responses, such as ‘are you in love?’ and ‘is love bound by moral obligations?’. The multiple events and interactions of ‘Rehearsal Retrospective’ imbued the launch with feeling of disorientation, blurring the line between reality and fiction and regularly prompting the visitor to ask the question ‘is this part of the programme?’.

In addition to live performances, works include a retrospective exhibition of García’s artist books and prints curated by Moritz Kung, displayed on one of the gallery’s built-in bookcases, performance transcriptions and artworks inspired by iconic texts by James Joyce, including Finnegan’s Wake (1939). A programme of live performances will run throughout the exhibition period, with plenty on show besides. It will be interesting to see how the exhibition functions without the chaos and noise of simultaneous performances.

Dora García: These books were alive; they spoke to me!, The Tetley, Leeds, 03 February 2017 – 23 April 2017.

Rebecca Levick is a writer based in Leeds.

Image: Dora García, ‘Rehearsal Retrospective’ (2002 -2017). Image courtesy of the artist and The Tetley, photograph by Jules Lister.