Jorge Mañes Rubio’s Ceramic Vessels Make a Ritual Offering at a Prehistoric Cave in Spain

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Salud y Pesetas Pays Homage to Ancient Iberian Artifacts

In the remote Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park in Almería, Spain, artist Jorge Mañes Rubio explores the notions of authenticity, myth, and place with his latest project, Salud y Pesetas. Set on an off-grid rural farm, Rubio presents a collection of vessels inspired by ancient Iberian archaeological artifacts, delving into the intricate dynamics of ritual power, identity, and culture. Handcrafted from local clay sourced on-site, these works feature intricate decorations, figures, and symbols, incorporating materials such as esparto grass, climbing rope, hair extensions, glass beads, and pearls. Despite their modest size, these vessels emanate a powerful intangible force, offering a glimpse into a land threatened by abandonment and desertification, while also acknowledging the remarkable ecosystem and larger-than-human dimension that defines it. “The vessels depict local landscapes, flora, and fauna, along with votive figures that serve as sentinels for local spirits and deities. They express an ancestral knowledge that is simultaneously real and imaginary,” notes Rubio.

The conception of Salud y Pesetas traces back to Rubio’s discovery of the story of El Corro and El Rosao, two early 20th-century con artists from Totana who successfully sold countless forged ceramic artifacts to collectors and institutions all over the world. Their ingenious methodology involved using a combination of cow manure and sea breeze to age ceramic pieces, imbuing them with a patina that closely resembled ancient Bronze Age ceramics. As a result, their forgeries were nearly impossible to differentiate from genuine artifacts. However, instead of continuing their lucrative trade, they eventually began creating their own “artistic” pieces, marketing them as extremely rare archaeological treasures from the Iberian Peninsula. It didn’t take long for experts to recognize their fraud, as the duo’s ambition and artistic creativity far surpassed what was typical for the time. This negotiation of authenticity, through the performance of buying and selling, gave rise to a distinct form of memory imbued with history, legend, belief, and expectation.

Inspired by El Corro and El Rosao’s entrepreneurial spirit, Rubio collaborated with local potters in their hometown, blending personal narratives with ancestral Iberian symbols. This exploration of materiality delves deep into the intricacies of negotiating and producing authenticity, myth, and place. The project took shape during the artist’s residency at JOYA: AiR, where he stumbled upon a prehistoric rock shelter atop a mountain, a hidden gem known only to a select few local shepherds. The mystical rock art figures found inside suggest ancestral ritual use, while today, the cave serves as a habitat for vultures, ibex, deer, and the occasional Iberian lynx that roam these mountains. To pay homage to this sacred site, Rubio chose to leave a secret trove of these vessels inside the cave, where they remain to this day. After a two-hour hike with fellow resident artists, he placed eight pieces at the deepest end of the cave. These offerings were meticulously photographed using both analogue and digital techniques, as well as multiple detailed 3D scans, allowing the ritual to be replicated endlessly within a virtual realm.

Salud y Pesetas beautifully captures the essence of ancient Iberian artifacts, infusing them with contemporary elements and a profound understanding of the past. By honoring the spirit of the land and its rich cultural heritage, Rubio’s work serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of preserving and celebrating our history.

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