Arqueología en la memoria de las familias de San Antón

I. The inhabited space: Context

“A city is always heterogeneous, among other reasons, because they are inhabited by many different imaginations.” [1]

Néstor García Canclini

Néstor García Canclini says the first oscillation between what’s visible and what’s invisible comes as a tension between the tangible, physical city, and the imagined city2. We inhabit the city in a fractured fashion, our daily lives happen in certain places and spaces which find themselves perceived subjectively, by the social contracts and hegemony. We fabricate fictions associated to specific territories, and even if they exist within the same spatial and temporal bubble, the inhabited space is determined by different variables. Even in a small city such as Cuenca (Spain), the way in which we appropriate the urban space is asymmetrical. What we imagine is therefore what we don’t know, and for many Cuenca natives that is the neighbourhood of San Antón3: a place they don’t know, a place they don’t visit, which is not part of the visible, and when it is talked about, it is done so with fear. A place sometimes dreamed of, sometimes feared which can be used for poetry.

Urban imaginaries are social constructs, which appear depending on how the city is perceived. The complex relationships, heterogeneous and disparate, which exist within society, are proof of the multiplicity of existing imaginaries within each city. San Antón represents in Cuenca the outskirts, the outcasts; a common situation in the current global order, where there is always a border, a limit, a boundary which the powers that be insist on perpetuating to uphold their hierarchy.

Among the streets that run along the slopes of Cerro de la Majestad (Majesty’s Hill)4, lives a community where intangible stories with roots firmly in the neighbourhood coexist with the arrival of new inhabitants from other cultures and other practices. The oldest residents often remember a time when the social dynamics and the coexistence in the neighbourhood were different. “When I was a lad, I remember if you were on the street and you needed a glass of water, Mrs Pascuala would tell you: “Come into the kitchen, Miguel!”5.

In this context, to a certain extent, live together native inhabitants of San Antón and migrants, giving place to a process of expanded multi-culturality where a shared space is negotiated but where an agreement has still not been reached. The imaginary character of San Antón in the city of Cuenca has to do with the complexity of the tensions and social heterogeneities born from the different subcultures, in some cases linked to crime6, having to live shoulder to shoulder.

Along with these dynamics, there are uses for these spaces, which have been dictated by the urban characteristics of the sector. As Michel de Certeau says: “the practices of space weave in fact the determining conditions for social life7”. Old houses, narrow, convoluted streets, difficulty of access, and lack of basic services are distinctive traits of this such space and they create specific dynamics inside this environment, linked to the construction of the suburban space. Its setting, centred on a hillside, feels almost like a strategy spun between improvisation and intentionality, to potentiate an insular character founded on self-preservation. The imagined city from this context is that other one: with big houses, expensive restaurants, and tourist routes in the old town.

San Antón, the real one, not the imaginary one, emerges as well as a good place for collaboration and solidarity which seeks social transformation and agreements. A community currently marching towards joint participation and self-management through a residents’’ association. Since 2013, San Antón has been home to the headquarters of Lamosa (in English, “Artistic Modulating Laboratory”), a space with an experimenting, creative spirit managed by artists who have contributed to cultural integration in the zone through different dynamics. Lamosa, along with Permanences San Antón, offer a residency program which seeks to boost artists from different latitudes to work in this specific environment, to connect art, San Antón’s inhabitants, and the public sphere.

 

II. The inhabited space. 2nd part: The House.

“The birth house is more than a body of bricks, it’s a body of dreams”8.

Gastón Bachelard

 

Besides the social dynamics already mentioned, there also exists between the inhabitants and the physical space, a symbolic load interwoven with the individual and collective identity processes. The identity of a place, in this case San Antón, is determined why that of its dwellers, and vice versa. At the same time, the residential space of the individual is subjected to rituals, proximities, acknowledgement and identification not just with the milieu but also the inhabitants and potentially the household. The feelings of belonging, refuge, and safety exist intertwined with the concept of “home”. In the relation subject-house it is more strongly perceived the bidirectional influx of inhabitability and mutual modification. Bachelard writes: “The house is an extension of the self, through ownership we mirror ourselves in a space, we leave a trace, in our home we showcase and integrate thoughts, memories, dreams…9”

The house has its own personality, powerfully intertwined with that of its inhabitants. It is the image of intimacy, a container of naked memories, a map that can shed light on childhood memories and hold the most beloved treasures. The house must be warm and protective, an anchor in a storm. A place of encounters, remembrance and oblivion. Beyond distribution, the number of rooms, the building materials or the location, what is really distinctive for a house is the appropriation of the place through personalisation and modification of the milieu, of reflecting the self in that environment, to feel identified and recognised, to feel safe and at home. Decorating the house is expressing that desire, where the inhabitant and the inhabitee understand each other. The rituals and experiences that take place are also a fundamental part in the construction of a family atmosphere. The house reveals itself to be the expression of living and being.

Now then, this expression of the self, this appropriation through decoration, is found necessarily mediated through objects. Voluntary acquisitions, found treasures, inheritances, loans or presents are the true devices, which make it possible to identify with the space. The most inconspicuous space becomes the receptacle of beloved memories, immobile in the material existence. These objects have the responsibility of confirming a lived experience shaped through an intangible, subjective relation that we build on our daily lives. In this context, Marco Montiel Soto and Cristina Moreno García lay down the fieldwork to build a collective representation of the neighbourhood of San Antón.

 

III. Archaeology of Memory

“Memory isn’t a tool to know the past, just its environment. Memory is the milieu of the lived experience, and whoever wants to approach their past needs to behave like a person who digs.10”

Walter Benjamin

 

Framed in the residency program “Permanencias San Antón” the artistic duo Marco Montiel Soto and Cristina Moreno García, both Berlin residents, developed the project “Archaeology in the Memory of the Families from San Antón”. In a certain way, the work is the second part of what Marco Montiel-Soto started in 2013 during the Santa Lucía wake in his hometown of Maracaibo, Venezuela. This was his first experience with the fragmented construction of an altar of sorts for the collective memory in a specific community, in this case the neighbourhood of Santa Lucía, to give account of its idiosyncrasy through the intertwined relationships in objects and the memory of the home.

In this continuity, Marco and Cristina’s work starts its process with visits to the family homes in San Antón, in order to collect photographs, statuettes, paintings, trophies, mugs or any other common item that catches their attention and can tell stories, events, anecdotes, desires, likes, preferences, religion or politics. In any case, they metaphorically take a piece of each of these persons’ identity through their belongings. At times it is about rescuing forgotten, abandoned items lying under layers of dust and debris, whereas others what piques their interest are the relics that sit at the centre of the living room. In an intuitive search, the artists enter familiar, private spaces to find inherited containers that give a silent account of past testimonials.

Turned into diggers that rummage through someone else’s memory, they try to determine what is subjacent through the ways in which the space has been appropriated by objects; in the stories lying within the material goods that could go unnoticed. Aware and curious about the host’s stories, they watch the space, waiting for something to shake them up, or surprise them. It isn’t clear whether the artists choose the objects or whether the objects find the artists, because, although it is all about subjective choice and the positioning of a specific, partial gaze, the artists also submit themselves to the will of the homeowner and the contingency of serendipity.

This is an archival project which does not intend to carry out a historical reconstruction of the lives of San Antón’s inhabitants, but rather it intends to approach the collective imaginary of the neighbourhood through the dialogue among the collected belongings. This way, the past comes alive through a present perspective, which necessarily defines it in the very moment it brought back, since it is our remembering is what defines it, and it is through these elements belonging to a different time that we reveal the current distinctive signs of a community. For Anna María Guasch in relation to the “Archaeology of Knowledge” by Michel Foucault, the work of an archeologist, archivist or “new historian” does not mean building a story based on the idea of progress, but re-building past episodes as if they were present11. In Marco and Cristina’s work the pieces of this work represent the confluence of past and present through family memories, traditions and anecdote, a non-linear, discontinuous time, which nevertheless has its own internal order.

The collection of collected items belonging to different arenas has for its aim to be exhibited altogether in one of the local houses in the neighbourhood — Lamosa—, which symbolically has been a meeting point for the collective memory in one single space. Comparing the social sphere to the intimate sphere, the private sphere to the public sphere, truth to fiction and remembrance against oblivion; thus will the individual memories form a common memory — this allows us to infer who goes where within the social mechanism of the community of San Antón, empowering diverse possibilities and drafts according to the particular relationships of the visitor with the work.

The installation will be displayed in a similar format to a chamber of curiosities or a room of wonders from the 17th century, showing a new scaffolding of interwoven relationships where aesthetical and social dialogues come to life. The objects have meaning when taking the environment and the other objects as reference, with their own placement within the work and as containers of private memories. The aim is to generate a subjective, temporal, even ephemeral, archive of the unique idiosyncrasy of the neighbourhood of San Antón; we understand archive as an active discursive system able to establish new temporality relationships between past, present, and future12, a fragmented archive that organises and regroups objects with their own features and which can taken as a portrait of the community. Perhaps some references can be The book of passages by Walter Benjamin or Mnemosyne Atlas by Aby Warburg, in the sense that they try to elicit experiences through fragments that come one after another in the realm between rational and instinctive.

 

VI. Relationships

“Art is a state of encounter13”

Nicolás Bourriaud

 

Within the new, temporary arrangement of this installation, is interwoven an ephemeral thread of dependent, hybrid, and variable relationships, which allow for a communication hub. The work, although focused on the aesthetic relationships generated through accumulation, allows for latent social relations to surface and happen among the owners of these objects. When they are invited to the house where their memories are displayed and intimately linked to others’, this gives way to an exchange of memories, their feelings of happiness and pride, their sensitivities, their fears and their hopes. It is as if memory were tangible, as if it could be caught to create a new space-time both ephemeral and heavy with meaning, a space the visitor can access and where they will consequently become part of the object, transforming it through the relationships born off it.

By subverting “aesthetic values”, this work is closer to the “found object” practices, and however Marco and Cristina’s process furthers itself from surrealism and has no connotations of the refusal of aesthetics and irony given by Marcel Duchamp to his “readymade”. On the contrary, every found piece is celebrated, a product of a previous negation, that goes from domesticity to art, becoming “museum-worthy”. for a short space of time. However, at the end of the exhibit all the objects return to their former location, to occupy the place they left vacant. Thus there is no economic gain, it doesn’t partake in the market’s buy-and-sell dynamics; it simply leaves the group and stops being part of a “work of art”. The importance of relationships manifests itself strongly as a place for reciprocity and horizontality, built on an installation where art is not a consumer good, but social relationships mediated by objects.

Local networks that transgress spectacles, intimate, private, which do the market over through its cracks, the social and sensitive cracks. In a clear reference to Nicolás Bourriaud’s theory on works of art as social gap which speaks about the possibility of a relational art, an art that would take human interaction and their context as its theoretical baseline, more than the affirmation of a symbolic space, autonomous and private.

Relational aesthetics are not just about links and the back and forth between work and spectator, but also about the ties generated around the work and reflected on the specific groups which enable other ways of doing things and which create a space to reflect and to resist against the external gaze. “Archaeology in the Memory of the Families from San Antón” reveals itself as an installation whose core is formed by the process, from visits, planning, negotiation, and recollection to setting up the work and collaborating with different actors. When building this look at the families of San Antón, of their ways, their memories and the continuities that flow through them, we can appreciate distinctive, peculiar traits of the collective personality, manifested through material items. A reconstruction of the general memories through intimacy and familiarity dialogues with the public sphere to generate new links.

 

1— Dialogue with Néstor García Canclini ¿Qué son los imaginarios y cómo actúan en la ciudad?. Interview by Alicia Lindón. 23rd February 2007, Mexico City.
2— García Canclini, Néstor. Imaginarios Urbanos. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1997.
3— The neighbourhood of San Antón is a working class area in the outskirts of Cuenca (Spain), which used to have a strong tradition of pottery where neighbours lived with their doors open. This social dynamic has been modified by newcomers, among whom there are some individuals linked to criminal practices, which have contributed to the locals’ perception of San Antón as an unsafe neighbourhood. The physical disparition of the area was planned by the city council last century, in a frustrated attempt against the persistent
dynamics of reappropriation of the neighbourhood and relocation of inhabitants.
4— Name of the hill where San Antón is located
5— Anecdote told by Miguel, inhabitant of the neighbourhood of San Antón during the artists’ visit to his house.
6— Coexistence between different cultures doesn’t have any negative connotation; social issues beyond different nationalities has to do with subcultures linked to social strata and crime history of particular individuals and specific cases, which has nothing to do with generalising opinions
7– De Certeau, Michel. La Invención de Lo Cotidiano. Artes de Hacer. Universidad Iberoamericana Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente. México, 2000. P. 108
8— Bachelard, Gastón. La poética del espacio. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000. P. 36
9— Bachelard, Gaston. Quoted by Aragonés, Juan Ignacio and Sukhwani, Savita on Wiesenfeld, Esther, comp. Contribuciones Iberoamericanas a La Psicología Ambiental. Caracas: Universidad Central De Venezuela, Facultad De Humanidades y Educación, Comisión De Estudios de Postgrado, 1994, P. 78
10— Benjamin, Walter. Excavar y recordar en Imágenes que piensan, Obras, libro IV, vol. 1, Abada: Madrid, 2010. P. 350
11— Guasch, Ana María. Arte Y Archivo, 1920-2010: Genealogías, Tipologías Y Discontinuidades. Madrid: Akal, 2011. P.48
12— See previous, p. 10
13— Bourriaud, Nicolás. Estética Relacional. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo Editora, 2006. P. 17

 

Leyla Dunia, 2015