On April 11th, 2012 took place in the offices of the Spanish Embassy in Berlin, the ceremony to deliver the cross of the Official Cross of the Order of Civil Merit to the artist Chema Alvargonzalez, in recognition of the valuable contribution he left behind and that contributed to the image of the Spanish culture in the city of Berlin. His mother Mrs. María del Pilar Ramos Angueira, took the distinction in this endearing act in which she was accompanied by relatives, friends and representatives of the world of diplomacy and art who wanted to pay a deserved homage to the decorated.

Posthumous Civil Merit Ward

The award was given by His Majesty King Juan Carlos I of Spain and delivered posthumously by the Ambassador in Office Excmo. Sr. Mr. Rafael Dezcallar de Mazarredo who directed a few words to the attendees in which he emphasized the pioneering work done by the artist Chema Alvargonzalez for which they were facilitated the entry to the Spanish artists in the world of the Berliner artist. With reading of The Excellency Ms. Gloria Minguez Ropiñón, cultural attaché of the Spanish Embassy in Berlin and with introduction by Mr. Francesc Puertolas Cibirán, cultural Director of Instituto Cervantes in Berlin whose content was based on text made by Mr. Vicenç Altaió i Morral Director of the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica in Barcelona.

20th Anniversary of the Installation of "Abwessenheit" 1992 – 2012

The Spanish artist Chema Alvargonzalez realized in 1992 in his adopted home Berlin one of his first outdoor site-specific multimedia-installations. With his light- and sound installation “Absence” he resurrect the at that time half dilapidated building of the former – in 1992 not yet back in use - Spanish Embassy in a calm corner of the Tiergarten of Berlin from 29th of May until the 31st of July of 1992 to new life.

By integrating his artwork delicately into the ruin Alvargonzalez started developing a new procedure. By using elements of language, light and sound he should leverage history and present to new presence in a lot of situations in the next years.

Chema Alvargonzalez was always fascinated by places which have kept many untreated traces of history. One of his first discoveries in Berlin was the ruin of the Spanish Embassy the former - and today again - so called Embassy District which still was kept as a sleeping beauty in a corner of the Tiergarten Park. The building of the former Spanish Embassy was an ideal impulse for his occupation with the different levels time. The building of the Spanish Embassy at the Lichtensteinallee had been erected in 1938 as a stylistic expression of the totalitarian claim to power of Nazi architecture. It replaced the Palais Thiele-Winkler at the Hitzigallee, which has been in Spanish property since the turn of the century. It should have been part of the“Germania”, Hitler’s megalomaniac vision of his future capital city of the world. Destroyed during the war, the major part of the building in 1992 was still a ruin: merely in a wing the Spanish General Consulate was provisional situated. In 1998 the building should get its present-days, renovated appearance and should serve again as Embassy. In 1992 the windows were still bricked up and the facade carried unblanked traces of the air raid and bullet holes.

The artist added an overlaying level of light and sounds to the historical dimension of the building: he put up the word “ABWESENHEIT”(absence) in blue neon capital letters on the heavily damaged wall; he installed a lot of bright stripes of red neon light like lambent flames in front and beside the blind hollows of the windows. The light installation was accompanied by penetrative monotonous drum rhythms of the composition “Sarah was ninety years old” by Arvo Pärt which came out from many invisible loud speakers.

Through his Multimedia-installation Chema Alvargonzalez made the forgotten building a symbol of loss, repression and the forgotten. He was interested in visualizing of time as a historical process and as a factor of personal experience. For him the “absence”, the declined, the suppressed, was symbolized by the bricked up windows.

Although history was not ‘absent’ – especially the war was very present by the traces on the building – but the staging referred to the forgotten. Like closed eyes the windows indicated for the artist the segregation of the inside and outside, but also of the reality and the thoughts. And the sightlessness became a symbol of the gaps of our perception and memory: the unknown, the invisible and the forgotten. Through his intangible presence the sound served as a mediator between “Absence” and reality. Alvargonzález saw the power of imagination as the only way to breach this mechanism of non-perception.

In two months of summer 1992 Chema Alvargonzalez made the special place and its history visible through a mysterious and poetical staging. He called attention of the nocturnal passers-by at the Tiergarten on the existence of the half overgrown building and it’s forgotten past. He addressed them intellectually and sensually. Instead of scientific information and a rational remind, with only a few formal elements he evoked an emotional experience of magnitude, mystery and destruction. Therewith he succeeded a first of his great site specific multimedia installations, which should reinvigorate further more places and memories.

Text by Dr. Claudia Büttner, curator of "Abwessenheit"