BilbaoArte exhibits the project ‘Book no-book’ by artist Roberto Aguirrezabala at URIBITARTE40

An installation of more than forty pieces around the self-publishing of clandestine publications. The works presented can be seen in detail on two dates over the next month, by the artist himself.

(Bilbao, 26 de marzo de 2024).- El centro de producción artística del Ayuntamiento de Bilbao, la Fundación BilbaoArte, presenta en la Sala URIBITARTE40 el proyecto Libro no-libro con los últimos trabajos del artista Roberto Aguirrezabala (Bilbao, 1971), usuario habitual del centro y artista becado en 2010 y 2015.

Book No-Book is an exhibition by Roberto Aguirrezabala (Sestao, 1971), artist-in-residence at BilbaoArte in 2010 and 2015. The project brings together – in a single installation comprising over forty pieces – his most recent artistic creation around the underground resistance, using self-publishing of handmade manifestos as an evolutionary process. The exhibit features his most recent artist books, editorial texts that push their own limits, and intervened items and historical artefacts from the 20th-century resistance. The historical memory is the thread running through a clearly multidisciplinary work. Photography, sculpture, the installation, craft, critical thought and political action coexist to explore the social and identity conflicts of the individual.

The title of the Book No-Book exhibition refers to the term coined by the Czech author Milan Šimečka (1930-1990) in 1984, when he discovered the literary works published underground. That was in the 1980s in Czechoslovakia when the country was under communist rule. A large group of banned writers set up a secret network to write, edit, publish and distribute books, deemed to be illegal by the occupying power. It was the birth of the Samizdat editions, a word of Russian origin that means self-published. Those books were nearly illegible and fragile items, but they had the soul and energy to be a vital being, breathing life back. Those banned publications saved Czech literature under communist censorship, which ensured that free thought continued its course.

Aguirrezabala has adopted this idea of no-book as the linchpin of his work. These items endeavour to be works that seek the negation of the book, push its limit, enter in less beaten paths but which are more in keeping with the human mind, and, in short, questioning everything. The artist’s work refers to those editions produced in the privacy of the home, to their history and to the context in which they were produced to create new items and imaginaries in which to experiment with the possibilities offered by the different parts and elements of a book; they have been stretched to unsuspected limits to create small containers of endless opportunities.

The exhibition is made up of the following sets of works and elements:

Artist books. A single installation includes his most recent artist books, bound entirely by hand, which complete a trilogy on intellectual resistance in the 20th century. Hidden Book (2023) is a tragicomedy of 20th-century social and political life; the narrative is based on different plots of fourteen novels banned by communist governments. Samizdat (2022) reflects on the actions of the underground resistance, which tried to circumvent censorship to publish books, magazines and newspapers banned under Soviet rule. And ends with this Two Thousand Words (2021), an artist book that unfolds to become a sculpture to recount what happened in Prague following the publication of the Two Thousand Words manifesto by the writer Ludvík Vaculík.

Black Books. These works are a set of pieces that examine and feature political dissidents who suffered the harshest repression of the totalitarian governments. Most of them lost their lives in the resistance. These Black Books push the concept of the book to its limit; the entire inside consists of pages of blank black paper. The outside, the form, size and other properties are unique to each work and include references to each of the opponents to the regime. There are works on Czech activists such as Dagmar Šimková, the philosopher Jan Patočka and the student Jan Palach.

Historical books and artifacts. The exhibition is completed with a selection of works resulting from the intervention of iconic historical books and artefacts, along with items that analyse the context of the underground publications in one way or another. There is also a short selection of historical artefacts, including Samizdat copies from the 1970s and 1980s, war newspapers, totalitarian regime propaganda, along with books that survived the flames of fascist censorship. In short, a journey through the most ardent subversive critical thought.

About Roberto Aguirrezabala

Sestao, 1971. Lives and works in Bilbao.

Artist in residence at BilbaoArte in 2010 and 2015, Aguirrezabala graduated in Fine Arts, specialising in audiovisual and painting, from the University of the Basque Country (EHU-UPV) (1995). Interested in photography, he trained with the photographer Jesús López de Uribe between 1990 and 1992. In 1995, he studied for a Master’s Degree in New Technologies and Internet at the Tracor New Techologies Centre in Bilbao. The Arteleku art centre is another of the cornerstones of his training, where he attended the sculpture workshop run by Txomin Badiola and Ángel Bados in 1994, and the Art and Electricity electronic art workshop run by the Rodriguez Foundation in 2000-01.

His accolades include different awards and grants, including the grant from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sport (2023, 2022, 2021), from the Basque Government (2023-21, 2019-18, 2016), 3rd Prize at the Encontros da Imagen 2022 festival, Braga, Portugal, Photobook Award, Braga, Portugal (2023), Open Call of the PhotoBookWeek Festival, Aarhus, Denmark (2021), Montehermoso Award at the 2018 Viphoto Festival, First Prize at the V Ankaria Artist Book Award 2018. This solo shows include War Museum at the Montehermoso Cultural Centre, Vitoria-Gasteiz (2019), Entropy at the BilbaoArte Foundation, Bilbao (2016), 1998–2008, Huarte Contemporary Art Centre, Navarra.

His work is part of many private and public collections: MNCARS, Reina Sofia National Art Museum (Madrid), Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Gabriela Cendoya Bergareche Collection, San Telmo Museoa (Donostia-San Sebatián), De Pietri Artphilen Foundation (Lugano, Suiza), Ankaria Foundation, Bilbao Arte Foundation, Caja Madrid, MEIAC, Extramadura and Ibero-American Museum of Contemporary Art, Basque Goverment, Bizkaia provincial government, UPV-EHU inter alia.