The Dialogue of the Dogs
Richard Page at Francesca Maffeo Gallery June 2017
On occasion of Richard Page’s exhibition at Francesca Genovese asked me to write the introductory text to the show:
Richard Page’s latest exhibition draws its title from Miguel de Cervantes’ story El coloquio de los perros (The Dialogue of the Dogs), where two dogs are given the power of speech for a night. Written in the early XVI Century, this short story was Cervantes’ open criticism of the Spain of his time, a nation finding its way through social and political strife. Page finds contemporary echoes of Cervantes’ world on his walks across Spain, mainly in the region of Castilla – La Mancha, where the celebrated author set his most famous work, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha). This series presents a remarkable view of a land with a very particular past -half historical, half imagined by literature- also commenting on Cervantes’ main themes of power, illusion and failure.
The narrative is punctuated by the appearance of dogs. They are Page’s companions, showing up in unexpected places and situations. They also remind us of the underlying strands behind this body of work. What appears to be a documentary approach gradually becomes a much more complex narrative, travelling in time from present to distant past, also blurring the boundaries between reality and imagination. As the illustrious Don Quixote, Paige is not always certain of the ulterior reason for his journey, but is determined with intuitive certainty not to falter on his search. He starts in Madrid –final resting place of Cervantes- travelling through central Spain to find historical landmarks like the former site of Expo ’92, the deserted airport of Ciudad Real and the imposing Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).
Paige uses photography to summon the spirit of these buildings and places. His landscape images are carefully composed to capture the imposing Spanish planes and their particular light; one can almost feel the stillness in the air, the unsettling quietness before a storm. Photographs of closer objects and situations work as a counterpoint to the wide expanse of the landscape, pointing out elements of baroque iconography quietly concealed in the present time. The bespoke installation at the Francesca Maffeo gallery enables these different images –like Cervantes’ dogs- to start unexpected dialogues.
Listening to Page talk about the Spanish Golden Age makes the lattice of historical and literary connections become richer and more complex. Profound changes shook the foundations of the great powers in Europe affecting every area of society; an atmosphere not unlike the one we feel today. Paige sets to evidence this particular resonance taking inspiration from luminaries like Cervantes and the painter Diego Velázquez and how they captured the spirit of their time, shaping modern notions of literary and visual narratives. Following on the steps of these prophetic ghosts, The Dialogue of the Dogs offers an invitation to join the adventure and extend it by creating new readings and connections.