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<nettime> art as torture
McKenzie Wark on Wed, 29 Jan 2003 08:19:52 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> art as torture

Surreal torture in modern art cells

January 28 2003

A Spanish art historian has uncovered what was alleged to be the first use 
of modern art as a deliberate form of torture, with the discovery that 
mind-bending prison cells were built by anarchist artists 65 years ago 
during the country's bloody civil war.

Bauhaus artists such as Kandinsky and Klee, as well as the surrealist 
film-maker Luis Bunuel and his friend Salvador Dali, were said to be the 
inspiration behind secret cells and torture centres built in Barcelona and 
elsewhere, El Pais newspaper has reported.

Most were the work of an enthusiastic French anarchist, Alphonse Laurencic, 
who invented a form of "psychotechnic" torture, according to the research of 
the historian Jose Milicua.

Mr Milicua's information came from a 1939 account of Laurencic's trial 
before a Francoist military tribunal.

Laurencic, who claimed to be a painter and conductor in civilian life, 
created his so-called "coloured cells" as a contribution to the fight 
against General Franco's right-wing rebel forces.

The cells, built in 1938 and reportedly hidden from foreign journalists who 
visited the makeshift jails on Vallmajor and Saragossa streets, were as 
inspired by ideas of geometric abstraction and surrealism as they were by 
avant garde art theories on the psychological properties of colours.

Beds were placed at a 20-degree angle, making them hard to sleep on, and the 
floors of the 1.8 metre by 0.9 metre cells were scattered with bricks and 
other geometric blocks to prevent prisoners from walking backwards and 
forwards, according to the account of Laurencic's trial.

The only option left to prisoners was staring at the walls, which were 
curved and covered with mind-altering patterns of cubes, squares, straight 
lines and spirals which utilised tricks of colour, perspective and scale to 
cause mental confusion and distress.

Lighting effects gave the impression that the dizzying patterns on the wall 
were moving.

A stone bench was similarly designed to send a prisoner sliding to the 
floor, Mr Milicua said. Some cells were painted with tar so that they would 
warm up in the sun and produce asphyxiating heat.

The Guardian

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