August 22 - September 02, 2016

A vocation to beauty: CatenArt Residency in Barcelona 2016

Aug 22 – Sept 2, 2016

From August 22nd to September 2nd, the second ‘CatenArt Residency’ took place in Barcelona, Spain. Ten artists gathered on that occasion. Among them: Olena and Sasha Samaha, Iulia Basmanova, Volodia Semkiv and Yaryna Shumska from the Ukraine, Gael Mooney, John David Mooney, Nick Gannon and Sidney Edwards from the United States. As painters, sculptors, performance artists and poets, they discovered together the ‘vertical landscape’ of the Catalan city:  from the Poblenou’s iconic brick chimneys, to Gaudi’s baroque steeples and to the heights of Montserrat.

The program, which left plenty of time for personal work and fellowship, offered a rich panel of visits and encounters. The first three days were led by the architect Toño Foraster, who introduced them to the city’s up-and-coming art scene in Poblenou. A world class architect, Mr. Foraster is known for the cultural sites he designed in Spain and many other countries – he recently won the competition to design the national museum of Kabul, in Afghanistan. His dedication to his work and his generous mentorship were an inspiration for the younger artists. Meetings at ArtyShow with Toño Foraster and Xavier Gonzales, president of the Catena, allowed the artists to present their work and to receive feedback.

The next two days were devoted to discovering the life and work of one of Catalonia’s most beloved artists: Antoni Gaudi. Besides visiting Park Guell and the Sagrada Familia, our group was privileged to sit for several hours in a private setting with Etsuro Sotoo, the art director of Gaudi’s ‘Expiatory Temple’. His profound wisdom and his love for the Sagrada Familia, where he has been working for over 40 years, provided a unique insight into Gaudi’s vision and spirituality. He introduced us in particular to the latest work he completed, the three monumental doors of the Nativity Façade, also known as the gates of faith, hope, and love. A supporter of the Catena Artistorum since its inception, Mr. Sotoo offers a refreshing blend of humility and ambition, deep spiritual longing and careful craftsmanship.

For the next couple of days, August 28 and 29, the residency moved to Montserrat, the ‘sacred mountain’ located one hour North west of Barcelona. A spiritual oasis for over a thousand years, ‘Our Lady of Montserrat’ also has one the most daring and successful tradition of collaboration with contemporary artists. Their latest acquisition is the chapel of Santa Cecilia, which reopened in June 2015 and received praises from art media worldwide. Built in the 900’s, this Romanesque gem has been reborn through the hands of the painter Sean Scully. Stained glass windows, paintings and frescoes in the artist’s iconic ‘stripe’ language create a contemplative and engaging climate. Under the guidance of Father Laplana, director of the Montserrat museum of art and commissioner of the chapel, our ten artists in residence resonated deeply with Santa Cecilia, Montserrat, and their breathtaking surroundings. One of them has already made plans to come back next year!

Among the highlights of the last few days of the CatenArt residency was the meeting with Ignasi Aballi. A conceptual artist exploring time, fragility and permanence, Mr. Aballi is the winner of the 2015 Miro Prize. As such, he was honored this year with a large exhibition at Barcelona’s Miro foundation, titled “infinite sequence.” Ignasi Aballi himself met us at the foundation, and guided us through his exhibition. One of his works especially resonated with the Catena’s mission statement: a long sequence of artists’ names, arranged chronologically on panels lined up on a wall. Some of the names were known to anybody with any knowledge in art history, others were the names of artists who achieved some fame during their lifetime, but were completely forgotten after their death. Mr. Aballi explained he wanted to expose the beauty and the importance of this long sequence or “chain” (catena), where each artist is never isolated but inherits the work and the vision of those (famous or forgotten) who preceded him or her on this journey.

On the last day, we dedicated a substantial part of the afternoon to sharing the works and thoughts that had emerged from the past ten days. The beauty of the works and the depth of each artist’s experience bore witness to the vital importance of this Catena, this fellowship of artists. Even though ten days is a short time, it turned out to be a truly life-changing experience for some, and a very energizing one for each of them. Besides the encounters and the visits which will no doubt nourish their imagination for a long time, the bonds of friendship tied on this occasion will continue to be a lasting support for their creative lives. “You don’t know how important this is for us. I spend my life in the studio, worried about the future. You pulled me out and nourished me!” said one of them.  Many of them concluded that their greatest desire at the end of this residency was to run back to their studios and work.

Nick Maione, who works in poetry, made this insightful comment which put words on everyone’s gratitude and joy: “This Catena really feels like a “catena”…  I feel so blessed and special. I feel like it’s a true vocation to be part of Catena, to be part of a community of artists. Everyone talks about the crisis in the family and the crisis in the priesthood, but no one talks about the crisis in art and beauty, and it’s a true vocation, and Catena is like a baby… a true offspring, an incubator of many people who came before… And now here we are, the Catena. If you think in terms of scale it is huge, and important. And I feel so blessed, and willing to be part of it with everyone!”