.California 117, Desert Center, California
.Serie: Twentysix (abandoned) gasoline stations
Rejoinder and Variation
In 1962 Ed Ruscha started to take a series of photographs of gas stations along the mythical and iconized Route 66, in states such
as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas or California. A year later, in 1963, the artist published these photographs in the form of a modest book under
the title of Twentysix Gasoline Stations. This first work was followed by other small books of photographs serially produced by Ruscha between
1963 and 1971. Each one addressed a topic, always an ordinary and apparently banal one, which he photographed in a simple, prosaic way,
as if doing industrial or commercial photography, and serially developed through minimalist sequences. In the case of the 26 gas stations,
each image was accompanied by a simple caption indicating the brand or type of service station and its location. While the influence of those
works was already huge at the time, both on the pop art scene and on the development of conceptual photography, we can say that it has
persisted with equal intensity over time. Four decades after the advent of that first «small book», a publication and an exhibition tracked
its impact on other artists, but the project did not seek to analyze a direct incidence or a conceptual influence or one of method, which was
likely to be innumerable or unfathomable; it simply limited itself to compiling papers or books that directly proceeded to pay homage, imitate,
parody, revisit, review or even re-photograph Ruscha’s short and influential publications. The book, entitled Various Small Books.
Referencing Various Small Books by Ed Ruscha, features no less than 91 works that meet this premise. Coinciding with its publication by
MIT Press in 2013, an exhibition was staged at the Gagosian Gallery with similar content entitled Ed Ruscha & Co. Both initiatives
contained a good number of proposals, which proceeded to «appropriate», among others, the first of Ruscha’s books on gas stations.

In this long list of «appropriations» or «tributes» we should also include, on its own merit, the series denominated Twentysix (Abandoned)
Gasoline Stations by Iñaki Bergera, who exactly forty years after Ruscha recorded his gas stations, proceeded to photograph as many
service stations between June and August 2012, essentially in south-western United States, among others in some of the states which
Ruscha also covered: New Mexico, California or Arizona. Bergera’s conscious gesture of establishing an explicit connection between
Ruscha’s work and his own photographic series is not an isolated gesture, as is also the case with many others of the artists who
established this link. Beyond the mention, the reworking or the revision of a concrete piece or a book by a particular artist, this reference,
in Bergera’s case, also addresses a whole series of elements and aspects that shape or have to do with Ruscha’s work: the interest
in everything surrounding the motoring culture, commercial or industrial architecture, the nature / technology dialectic, brands and
advertisements, serial accumulation, standardization or anonymous structures. This is evinced, from both a thematic and a methodological
viewpoint, in the different photographic series produced by the author, such as for example Collecting HomesCollecting CarsNew American Topographics and Parking Lots.

From the moment Twentysix (Abandoned) Gasoline Stations emphasizes in its very title its connection with the preceding images, this
work goes to the very heart of a complex play that has to do with the concepts of iteration, rejoinder, theme and variation. A play that
this work keeps up, not only with the preceding book on Ruscha and others produced by various authors in Ruscha’s shadow, but also
within the actual series of images. The issue in this case leads us to ask ourselves about the elements that persist or vary in relation to
the preceding model (Ruscha’s), something that would amount to pointing out the specificity and singularity of his approximation to a
pre-existing theme and also, of course, the way in which Bergera structures this project. Unquestionably, resorting to the typology as a
photographic form and its resulting development through the series is a perfect vehicle for addressing some of the central aspects of this
work: highlighting the evidence of the theme, the gas station, its standardization, its repeated visual impact, its iconic status and,
by extension, pointing to a repeated and archetypal commercial and industrial infrastructure revolving around roads and the motoring culture.

It has been pointed out with as much irony as insight that the industrial and commercial fabric around the road network constitutes
«America’s great architecture». An essentially anonymous, functional and standardized architecture in which we seek to see a clear
home-grown component and where the gas station, with its representative serial fixtures, occupies a more than prominent place. We
could say that this is the starting point or the context on which this proposal is developed. While in 1962, when Ruscha proceeded to
photograph a series of gas stations, these were active and in a sense served the artist in developing a critical commentary on the
trend towards standardization, now the gas stations appear abandoned and the series again delves into the model’s standardization but
with a very different intention aimed, in this case, at seeking out that subtle play implied in the theme and variation. Change in situation
and change of strategy. Moreover, Bergera then proceeds to introduce a shift in the information provided by the caption. While
in Ruscha the location was generic and indicated the marking or type of gas station, Bergera pinpoints and specifies the road or
road site where it is located and removes all references to the markings or type of service station. A few quotes may help us see the
importance of this latter shift in the information.

Marc Augé pointed out in his book on «non-places» that for a foreigner in an unfamiliar country, a gasoline brand emblem in the
anonymous environment of a highway constituted a reassuring reference point. Almost like a previous echo of this quote, the touchstone
book Learning from Las Vegas stated that the familiar Shell and Gulf advertisements stand out like friendly beacons in a foreign land.
These references delimit very well the way in which, from the nineteen-sixties onwards, these anonymous structures that defined the
landscape with their iconic signs and corporate emblems operated as veritable symbols in the space, in Hal Foster’s expression. In fact,
the disappearance or decline of commercial references in this work transforms these symbols in the space intoshapes in the space,
change that allows us to home in on the subtle variants presented by their construction, thus emphasizing the reading of their formal
structure. While Jeff Brouws, one of the photographers who have followed in Ruscha’s wake by featuring their respective American gas
stations, defined himself as a visual anthropologist with camera, Bergera could for his part define himself as a visual architect with camera,
discovering the iteration or repetition, the rejoinder and variation, undoing and reworking standardization and, above all, isolating and
defining components that take on a new identifying central role, as is the case with awnings. An element that acquires an outstanding role
in the dialogue or insertion of these anonymous constructions in the landscape through a play of lines established with the horizon’s
own linearity, which it sometimes replaces or duplicates. A landscape that acquires a presence essentially through light and colour,
that desert light that predominates throughout the series and which Baudrillard defined in his America as a substantial light pulverized
in the air and as a rarefied colour separated from substance, diffracted in the air and floating on the surface of things, conditions whose
primary effect, in the matter at hand, is to facilitate the abstraction and revelation of the shapes.

Continuing with the analysis of the information that the author introduces in the captions of this photographic series with the aim of
defining his position and viewpoint in this work, we need to return to how he specifies the road or exact location of each gas station.
Unlike Ruscha, who followed a specific road, something that ultimately unified his series, here we find ourselves with a relatively
fortuitous or more diversified itinerary, passing through roads of highly varying conditions and categories: from local, state or federal
roads to lanes or streets in certain population centres. A topographical element that the author specifies and emphasizes in each one
of his images and which somehow determines both his status as a traveller and the current condition of the service stations themselves.
In regard to the former element, his wanderings define a status that is closer to that of the roaming traveller than to that of the passenger,
who defines his destination, according to the pertinent differentiation pointed out by Marc Augé. This roaming is what makes Bergera
adopt a marginal or peripheral position in regard to the major fast highways and, in the process, in regard to the gas stations he
may encounter on his way or towards which he may turn his attention. This means that the gas stations he records are also in a way
peripheral or marginal, abandoned. He himself explains it in the presentation text for his series: «Many of these private properties
were relinquished in the early nineteen-nineties when new and expensive security measures were enforced. Multinational corporations
such as Shell, Mobil or Chevron even became the McDonald’s of gasoline distribution, driving traditional and independent gas
stations to their demise. Furthermore, new roads and urban bypasses contributed to the endemic isolation of these infrastructures».
This is the context that defines and explains the configuration of his series and the condition of his 26 «abandoned» gas stations. A condition
that makes of these architectures a perfect example of the non-new. It is not a question of ruin but of that which has fallen into disuse,
that has become obsolete, that was once new and is now residual under the thrust of emerging trends. To paraphrase Frederic
Jameson, it is not a question of ruin, which belongs to a distant past, but of the non-new, which belongs to the dimension of the
recent and the familiar. The variations which Bergera observes and establishes in these architectural models thus become a critical
commentary on another type of standardization, different or more intense than the one observed by Ruscha in the ‘60s and which
is none other than the result of globalization, of the hegemony of the multinationals and of universal standardization.

Bergera, within his series, establishes a double counterpoint which has come to break up the typology and uniformity of his images to
metonymically signal the global context we have just mentioned. They are three images in which the gas station is physically absent,
but its presence is intensified through allusion: a photograph of three red fuel pumps in an old-fashioned design, a sign with the word
GAS apparently in the middle of nowhere, and another sign announcing a gas station, probably with the company emblem, covered
up. These three elements in a sense synthesize the background buzz that accompanies the entire series: the motoring culture as a
qualified exponent of a phase characterized by motorization, mobility and energy expenditure based on fossil fuel, a phase
that, despite the energy potlatch (Peter Sloterdijk) that still characterizes our society, is showing inevitable signs of depletion and
stagnation. The gas sign in the middle of the landscape and the corporate emblem covered by a plastic bag anticipate a future in which
red gas pumps will now, and ultimately, be true ruins.
Alberto Martín
[Text on 'Twentysix (Abandoned) Gasoline Stations', 2018]