VEXTRE, Extremadura, Spain
In the popular imagination, a narrative has been constructed around the cultural nature of Extremadura that is rooted in stereotypes of socio-economic underdevelopment. Historically, the region has been defined by its status as a peripheral and border territory, a space on the margins with a low density of population and an example of what some scholars refer to as “internal colonialism”, reflected in the metrópoli-colonia dichotomy, between the centre and periphery or urban and rural, and visible here within the same territory. This implies different forms of domination over the decades, form estates held by large landowners to the repression to which more progressive forces were subjected after the Civil War.
Emigration has been a constant since the early 20th century and cultural identity has been constructed largely from outside through regional associations and centres that acted as meeting spaces with strong identity ties. These associations and centres were not without their critics, however, who claimed that they perpetuated the same social constructs experienced before leaving. True change must come from within. Having overcome the social inequalities that emerged in the wake of the Franco dictatorship, life is different in Extremadura. To continue the progress, the collaboration of the so-called Extremeñan diaspora is sought. The creative class is very much part of this diaspora and the artist Maite Cajaraville is rooted in that context. This new claim to identity is articulated through the symbolic and the political act rather than an administrative approach or one that reproduces the patterns of the past. Emigration between the rural and urban world is still present in the 21st century but life in the countryside and in small villages and towns is very different from the way it was fifty years ago. The Manifesto of Rural Futurism*, drafted by researchers Leandro Pisano and Beatrice Ferrara challenges today’s capitalist discourses on the rural world as an authentic place: utopian, provincial, tradition or stable that idealises the anachronism of these territories from the megalopolis. The manifesto shares a new message, based on “belonging vs. alienation, development vs. backwardness”.
VEXTRE is presented as an emotional map in three dimensions. It is a journey that constitutes a rapprochement to rediscover the territory we inhabit and to subvert these accepted realities. It starts with a physical sculpture that Cajaraville designed using the 3D printing technique in 2017, during her participation in the first edition of the Regional Government of Extremadura’s Cáceres Abierto contemporary culture programme. Data compilation and new technologies were put to the service of modern art, and the documentation is materialised in a visual and organic piece of enormous presence and aesthetic beauty. VEXTRE evolved in 2021 towards an environment manufactured wholly in digital format. We find ourselves before a hybrid display that interacts with the audience / viewer through a mobile device, generating new environments for the museum and those who visit it. The piece, created ex profeso for the MEIAC, is a three-dimensional virtual object produced using technological media after exhaustive documentation and data processing work using a number of different parameters representing the socio-economic values of Extremadura, such as GDP and unemployment and emigration statistics. A series of narratives thus emerge, facilitating dialogue and critical thinking with the audience through each individual’s opinion. The data flow in this piece the same way culture is transmitted, evolves and is shared through social and educational processes, thus constructing identity. This exhibition aims to rediscover the territory with an urgent message on caring for the environment and its peoples against the mass tourism that can result from unabated consumerism, and to reformulate internalised prejudices with a technological and advanced image that interferes with traditional patterns with the idea of a new data map of Extremadura.
The landscape generated by the artist constantly questions nature, the city and the code as an example of interrelation between art, science and technology. There is also an online initiative that aims to break the passive viewer barrier, creating the Instagram profile vextre_extremadura. The aim is to reach a wider, more diverse audience and to spark a debate before the inauguration and to launch an exercise of reflection: how is Extremadura perceived elsewhere? But, above all, how is it perceived from within by its inhabitants? It also goes beyond the spatial boundaries of the museum. Cajaraville invites us to position Extremadura all over the world through our smartphones, advancing other possible formats for artistic expression and breaking the boundaries of the white cube. This autochthonous and cross-border nature of the territory of Extremadura led to the expansion of the project to the neighbouring Portuguese region of Alentejo. The Fundação Eugénio de Almeida, in the city of Évora, will host VEXTRE, where it will spark new dialogue and engagement with visitors to the city.
Discussing the work of Maite Cajaraville is an affirmation of one of the pioneers of Spanish digital art. Hers is a career that runs very much on work-in-progress basis, integrating non-fiction narratives in different projects based around media art. A fundamental feature of her work throughout her career, from the beginning in the 90s, has been her capacity to subvert imagination and social constraints through interacting with the audience. She does so using contemporary devices from the reality of our lives in the context of modern art. With VEXTRE, she goes a step further, constructing a sculpture of the future and creating an expanded Extremadura that reflects the interests and concerns of the now in this land.
*Pisano, Leandro & Ferrara, Beatrice. The Manifesto of Rural Futurism (2018)
Natalia Piñuel Martín, art historian and producer. Text from the catalogue of VEXTRE, Extremadura en Sitios, MEIAC, 2021