Tuesday, March 10, 2009

invisible places

Below is based on the English version of the notes I took to the interview of the Radio Version of eldefe.com, they had to be pretty extensive as my spanish is not all that strong. The Spanish version will be published on eldefe later today. When I get a link to the audio version, I will post a link to that also. Pepe conducted it and has a lot more to say than is evident here. The radio show is to be broadcast weekly and my segment is on Colonias Perdidas - more or less on hidden or lesser known places in and around the city, also the organizing principle of the website. There are more and better photos of Pantitlan around this blog also.

Why are we talking about Pantitlan [again!]? How did your experience of Pantitlan influence the development of eldefe.com?

First thanks for having me on. I think it is worth saying up front that I studied art and painting and sculpture and that a very important part of that was always going to either really big exhibitions or really big institutions. I always had these few important events emphasized to me as if they were the ultimate in art experience. In particular the Bienale in Venice, Italy, and the Documenta Show in Germany.

And of course I think almost every one that attends these events is bitterly disappointed by the level of accessibility and the kind of inside talking that goes on at any of them. All of the art is about these few cliques or clubs of artists and their snobby keepers, and there are of course some very un-interesting political controversies surrounding each show every year.

Cómo descubriste Pantitlán? (how did u discover Pantitlan?)
So when I got to Mexico, fresh from those kinds of shows I took a part time job a few mornings a week teaching english very near to the new Terminal 2 at the airport. Everyone told me - be very careful at Pantitlan - it's very dangerous. I got a little lost the first few times but I couldn't help but look at the place the same way I looked at Mass MOCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) - which is this huge government funded intervention, installing a massive museum into a collection of equally massive industrial buildings.

The difference is of course, that the various tianguis and puestos surrounding Pantitlan have real stuff, real people, and even situations and "happenings" that are ridiculous, absurd and sometimes beautiful. I mean for example, someone trying to move an enormous load on a diablito that is too small, the dogs are sleeping where ever they like, and at various times one finds an entire puesto wrapped in it's plastic taurpalin and tied up in these tremendous knots of rope - exactly like a Christo sculpture.

Qué sentiste la primera vez que caminaste por la estación y su entorno (How did it feel when u first walked it?)

I mean, it is the very same feeling that I had at Mass MOCA - like - these buildings are great. Where is the art ? Mass MOCA like the Armory at Venice has some so/so art but the environment is just to die for, absolutely breathtaking and enormous. I mean, obviously, at Pantitlan one is in a bit more of a hurry than at a big museum, you're really not supposed to slow down at Pantitlan, even an airport will provide some more waiting rooms and places to relax.

As a foreigner - of course I am always trying to negate my own suppositions and not to be too strong about forcing my opinions nor my beliefs onto new situations, but I think I was impressed by the ability of the people using Pantitlan to actually ignore Pantitlan. That seems to me to be a characteristic of people who routinely encounter the government or some of the enormous blunders that governments make. It's certainly something one sees in the east-bloc countries, and anywhere where the state has experimented in mega-architectural projects. Though of course, it's not only the state, I think quite clearly the 222 Reforma building is a good example of private companies going a bit overboard, creating a monstrous cavernous space. I think that Pantitlan will outlive 222 Reforma.

Si tuvieras que usar tres palabras para describir Pantitlan , cuáles serían (if u had to use 3 words to describe Pantitlan, which one would u pick?)

Abandoned, desolate, and Intricate on a massive scale. With all the people hurrying through there, it is really something notable how few people can actually occupy the place. It is virtually unoccupied. And yet there is an intricacy, you can see it in the puestos that line the corridors where people queue to board the buses and the micros. Every puesto can be treated like the next exhibit, and frankly, I go from one to the next just to see what will be there. The truly abandoned act like outdoor sculptures, maybe chained up, but certainly not uniform in their appearance. And one night I was very pleased to witness one puesto where two girls were selling about 30 packages of neatly arranged gum beneath a single bare lightbulb. It may very well have been that that gum was all they had to sell. Behind them glowed an altar to the virgin, I suppose with a red candle, and the entirety of the interior this puesto was painted a deep green. I don't believe I have ever been moved by anything at the Venice bienalle as I was with that scene.

Es poco usual que un gringo deambule por zonas como Pantitlán, si tuvieras que describirlo a otro gringo, qué dirías (is not that common that a gringo walks around Pantitlan, if u had to describe it to another gringo, what would u say?)

Well obviously I think all my gringo friends are a bit tired of hearing about it. I tell them it is a massive public transportation facility, but one which is divided up like a modern or contemporary art facility (do we still call them museums?)

It's easy to go there and get exactly what you hope to get from Contemporary Art, but without the same resentments and political misgivings that one gets from contemporary art.

Y a un chilango? (and to a chilango?)
With Chilangos, I think I explain the same thing, and believe it or not, a lot of them actually do get what I am saying.

One of the important things that I learned in studying painting and art was that we only need to move a very slight amount of awareness to a new place, whether it be in the body, as we do in meditation or some sort of awareness training. (I actually practice this a little bit in teaching languagge acquisition) - but the point is, even with a very slight increase in awareness, one can truly enact remarkable change. So even if 99% of chilangos think I am absolutely crazy, the 1% of people who do slow down and take a look - these people can end up having a positive effect that is way out of proportion to the effort or amount of actually difference. That is one of the underlying points of the website and the project we're undertaking.

Hay una estética de Pantitlán? (is there a Pantitlan asthetic?) cuál es? (how is it?)
oh an aesthetic? Of course that is entirely up to us. Sometimes we start with something small and make it enormous, and other times we start with a gigantic project, something we used to describe with words like "state-socialist, stalinist, or mega-moniacal" - and we now try to use aesthetics to make it more human, more approachable, more inhabitable. It really takes only the slightest adjustment to one's aesthetic sensibility to radically alter the perception that is experienced by many many other people. So let's call it an "aesthetic of recovery" in this case - recovery from a particular period of the twentieth century.

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