On a roundabout in the north of Madrid, a 45-metre-high neoclassical triumphal arch rises above the city, dominating its silhouette. It punctuates the steady flow of traffic and at the same time marks the entrance to the university district in the Spanish capital. Inaugurated in 1956, the monument commemorates fascist dictator Franco’s victory in a battle of the Spanish Civil War, and thus a dark chapter in Spain’s history. Today, however, this public square fulfils a completely different function – as a meeting place for young people.
In his two-channel video installation and his images, French photographer Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques shows how the adolescents have taken over this space. Surrounded by the constant noise of traffic and passing cars, the clusters of young men and women appear to have sought refuge on a remote island. Here at this traffic junction, they have found a haven far away from the supervision of adults, and far away from their everyday lives. “Sub Rosa”, the ambiguous title the French artist has given his work, alludes not only to the evening light, but also to the rose as a symbol of secrecy. In carefully composed slow-motion sequences, he films the young adults as they pose in front of the setting sun, searching for their own identity, yet driven by the desire to belong. Their outfits – Nike, Adidas, Puma, the latest iPhone – become a uniform that supposedly makes them equal. But the way they come across does not disguise their sense of insecurity. This is revealed in the furtive, shy glances between girls and boys as they hold hands, coolly pull on a cigarette or glance at their smartphones, or when they demonstrate their latest skateboard tricks. In this “safe space” they have created for themselves, they seem detached, yet part of a group. The teenagers are oblivious to the political function of the former power symbol; instead, they have repurposed and occupied it as a social space.
The aesthetic visualization Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques has chosen for his work about this square at the heart of Madrid comes across as an almost meditative performance, mainly thanks to the slow pace and the play of colours in the sky. For two years, he followed the comings and goings at the triumphal arch with his camera as a silent observer. Although he has outgrown the age group of his protagonists, they seem to have felt comfortable enough in his presence to allow him to photograph and film them at close quarters.
The young people gathered at the former monument are described as part of a “lost generation”, and not without good reason. In the current, difficult political and economic climate, this age group in particular faces the highest unemployment rates in Spain, and therefore an uncertain future. But under the red glow of the setting sun, this lack of perspective can be forgotten for a moment.
born in Sens, France
graduates from École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Marseille, France
graduates from École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles, France
receives the Immersion Award from Foundation d’entreprise Hermès, France
receives the Talent Award from C/O Berlin, Germany
selected for the Foam Talent Program of the Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands
lives in Paris, France