"Chapter 79" by Santiago Barrio
"The Tao that can be expressed is not the true Tao. The name that can be given is not the real name."
This is the first paragraph of "Dao De Jing," or "The Classic of the Way and the Virtue," by ancient philosopher Laozi, which requires more than a paragraph to explain.
However, "Returning Is the Movement of the Tao," an exhibition currently underway at the Miguel de Cervantes Library, attempts to convey global wisdom through photographs taken by Santiago Barrio and calligraphy penned by Xu Kangyan.
Due to space constraints, the exhibition only reveals a few chapters of "Dao De Jing" as interpreted by the Spanish photographer.
Barrio, who was born in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao in 1970, had an early emotional connection with Oriental culture. He has been practicing martial arts since an early age and traveled to China several times to study tai chi on the Wudang Mountain.
The language barrier did not deter his interest in Chinese culture – the Taoist thought inspired his artistic creation.
"Chapter 43" by Santiago Barrio
Barrio has almost 25 years of experience working with magazines such as Vogue, GQ, Time, Elle, Stern and Le Monde.
"I hope to minimize my influence in my work, move unimportant details out of the frame and get to the heart of things," Barrio says about his photography. "You can see objects better when you keep your distance from them. The greatest truths are always found in their simplest forms. "
In 2012, he returned to Beijing to pursue a more personal approach to art photography.
Since 2013, he has been working on the project "INSIGHT – the Portraits of Oriental Artists."
He met with and photographed more than 50 of China's most important artists, including Jin Shangyi, Zhan Jianjun, Zeng Fanzhi, Xu Bing, Yan Peiming and Fang Lijun.
Spanish photographer Santiago Barrio
He published the first "INSIGHT – the Portraits of Oriental Artists" in 2016.
From 2017 to 2019, he worked on the second volume, "INSIGHT – the Portraits of Oriental Designers," which explored the relationship between architecture, design and art.
He began work on his third collection, "INSIGHT – the Portrait of Oriental Musicians," at the end of 2020. The same year, he was invited to the Imperial Palace to do an album called "INSIGHT – the Forbidden City."
In 2022, he completed the "Dao De Jing" album, hoping to take 81 images in accordance with the classic connotation of its 81 chapters.
"'Dao De Jing' is a book of wisdom," he said. "It is like a signal on the highway, but the signal is not your destination; it just points to your destination."
"Let me give you another example. If you are hungry, you go to a restaurant and you read the menu. The menu here is like the 'Dao De Jing.' The menu shows the food, but the menu is not your destination. It is the food that will satisfy you. Similarly, 'Dao De Jing' can never satisfy you; only what it points out will suffice."
Q: What's your first impression when reading "Dao De Jing?" When and where?
A: It was at a bookstore in Madrid. I must have been around 17 then. After browsing through the first few pages, I came across the simple words that said, "The Tao which can be expressed is not the real Tao. The name that can be given is not the real name. "
At that moment, I froze. I could not understand anything at all. It was written in Spanish in very simple words that did not require prior study or knowledge, but why couldn't I understand it at all? At first, I thought it was stupid; that paragraph had no logic, but at the same time, there was something that deeply attracted me. I thought about it for weeks until I finally bought the book.

Q: Why has "Dao De Jing" captivated you for so long? What have you gained from it?
A: The book itself doesn't attract me. What is fascinating is the thing not in the book … The book is just a signal, a beautiful signal, by the way.
By reading the book, you don't gain anything. Actually, you may lose something. It's more like a game to help you drop unnecessary thoughts and knowledge.
Q: Did you face any difficulties in understanding its profound meaning, especially as it is based on Chinese culture and philosophy?
A: Asking me that as a foreign reader is like asking a tall reader, or a blonde reader, or a car-owner reader … Look, I'm a foreigner on the surface, but when I'm in Spain, I'm not a foreigner. I'm a photographer.
But if I change my job, I'm no longer a photographer. My name is Shan Di (mountain) here, but if I go abroad, that is not my name anymore. All of those things are useful in daily life, but they are not the ultimate truth. My surface always keeps changing. It is well known in China as "form." The other part is the "essence" that "Dao De Jing" points out, that universal truth. One, and in all of us.
This book, in my opinion, is dependent on your personal evolution and your ability to relax and forget what you were learning for a while.
Q: What inspired you to use photos to reflect your own interpretation of the chapters in "Dao De Jing?
A: If you dedicate yourself to an activity for the necessary time and delve into it, you will obtain a kind of mastery. That means you can express your vital experience through it. That activity becomes your door, to dig deep.
In my case, photography is that activity. My inspiration is the connection I can find between what we mistakenly believe is separate. That's the game I like to play. My camera is my tool to show those connections.
Q: It is said that sometimes you would conjure up the scene in your picture …
A: It is not possible to talk about or describe what the Tao is … but humans are very smart. When something is not describable, we resort to poetry, art and so on. These tools go beyond descriptions; they simply evoke the truth.

Q: This exhibition has also invited a calligrapher. In your eyes, what is the charm of Chinese calligraphy?
A: Chinese calligraphy is an art form of the highest level. It works as an image, in prose, poetry and also in terms of cinematographic language. We know "Dao De Jing" originally through Chinese calligraphy. It is an essential component of an exhibition of this kind.

Q: You have stayed in China for a long time. Can you use three words to describe the country?
A: I could tell you a word, three or 3,000, but it wouldn't be enough.

Exhibition info:
Dates: Through October 31 (closed on Sundays), 11am-6:30pm
Venue: Miguel de Cervantes Library
Address: 208 Anfu Rd
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