Informal portrait of Spanish life

VISUAL ARTS: Aquí y Ahora (Here and Now) Instituto Cervantes, Lincoln Place, Dublin 2, Mon-Thurs 2

VISUAL ARTS: Aquí y Ahora (Here and Now)Instituto Cervantes, Lincoln Place, Dublin 2, Mon-Thurs 2.30pm-8pm, Sat 10am-2pm Until August 21st, 01-6311533

AQUÍ Y AHORA (Here and Now) at the Instituto Cervantes is subtitled “Documentary Photography in Contemporary Spain”.

It is not the systematic survey that such billing might suggest but it is a good, in parts very good, show and it does reflect some, if not all, contemporary approaches to photography, not just in Spain but worldwide.

There is one organisation at the heart of the project; the Madrid-based Nophoto, a photographers’ collective that describes itself as being not so much a photographic agency, in the conventional sense of the term, as a photographic attitude.

The profile of its members is youngish, versatile and exploratory. Aquí y Ahora is a group project that aims to provide an informal portrait of Spain around about now or, more precisely, a couple of years ago. The show debuted in China and is now on a European tour.

The 13 photographers tackle subjects and themes that are typically Spanish as well as some that aren't: "Bars, motorbikes, religion, bulls, water, families, immigration." It's not a travelogue or National Geographic-style celebration, though if you just took a couple of the exhibits in isolation you might think it inclines in that direction. But even Carlos Luján's documentation of bull fighting has quite a gritty texture – not because he relishes gore but because he grounds the ritual in an everyday, workaday world.

Religious ritual is tackled by Eva Sala in a series called Litany, a record of the black-clad, mantilla-wearing women taking part in an Easter procession in Granada. Sala doesn’t go for spectacle but zeroes in very tightly and effectively on the costumed torsos and the gloved hands clutching rosary beads.

Matías Costa’s Strangers takes an appropriately oblique, glancing look at quite another aspect of Spain today, the experience of the illegal immigrants who make the perilous crossing from North Africa and assume an uneasy, uncertain presence in the country.

Judging by the work he shows, and by his back catalogue, Carlos Sanva has a flair for dealing with the dynamics of groups and gangs. His 49cc series is about the mopeds that are the wheels of choice for youths not yet old enough for full motorbike licenses. What makes the work is Sanva’s exceptional ability to set up elaborate group compositions, an ability that puts him in a great lineage of past Spanish painters.

It’s a tradition more explicitly addressed in the ceremonial portraits of families in domestic interiors by Marta Soul, beautifully poised and very informative of their subjects. They underline, she points out, the changed position of women in Spanish society.

By contrast, Juan Valbuena and Iñaki Domingo opt for introspective meditations on self and family histories. Domingo documents the last visit of his family to a holiday apartment in Majorca before it was sold. It’s a place he visited and stayed every year as he grew up, and he allows space in his images for us to get a sense of time and memory.

Valbuena shows part of an ongoing series, a reconstruction of his family’s photograph album in which he aims to show the history of his family, of Spain during that time span, and of the changing nature of photography itself. He focuses on his mother and her background in a small village in La Mancha.

Jorquera photographed commuters at a Madrid underground station from the same position, at the same time, every morning. The resultant grid of portraits in black-and-white is strangely fascinating and characterful.

There are no people in Paco Gómez’s Interior Seas, a considered exploration of Spain’s inland bodies of water. Water is a big issue in Spain and Gómez, who trained as a civil engineer, captures a certain unease as well as the moody beauty of the reservoirs and lakes.

Perhaps the most exciting work is by the partnership of Juan Millás and Eduardo Nave. Peninsula charts points on a journey from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic coasts and each image is both entirely different from the others and engrossing in itself. They should think of doing an exhibition and a book on the subject. Their contribution to Aquí y Ahora is by no means the only one to leave you keen to see more, which is surely a good sign for contemporary Spanish photography.

MarginRecent work by David QuinnTaylor Galleries, 16 Kildare St, Dublin 2 Mon-Fri 10.30am-5.30pm, Sat 11am-3pm Ends June 5th, 01-6766055

David Quinn (not to be confused with the David Quinn, also a painter, showing at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery) was born in Dublin,did visual communications at DIT and makes quiet, carefully considered abstract paintings on a small scale.

In Margin, he shows about 20 works, all made to a uniform size and landscape format. He works with acrylic paint and crayon on paper, and the paper is mounted on pieces of MDF. The finished pieces have a substantial look about them but they are not heavy-handed or bombastic.

They all relate to that staple of abstraction, the grid. Sometimes the grid is fairly intact and quietly dominates the composition, sometimes it’s as if the lines that made up the grid have been gathered in a bundle and pushed against the edge of the paper.

The lines are often forcibly inscribed, presumably in crayon, and the subtle overall textures are built up with thin layers of acrylic that cumulatively assume a rich, meaty colour. That is about it. As a note on his work explains, we won’t find representational images in the paintings, rather they are “records of the processes involved in their creation”. A musical analogy is also suggested, relating them to “a chord played on a piano”, in which the individual notes combine to create “a single harmonious sound”. That seems like quite an accurate way to put it, so long as we remember that it’s a muted, low key sound, like something by Philip Glass, for example.

Quinn’s work is quiet, even understated but it’s very well judged in every respect and rewards patient attention.

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne is visual arts critic and contributor to The Irish Times