REFLECTIONS ON A HABITABLE UTOPIA – 4th edition
The town is a place where the life and the cultures of many beings and social groups meet. As a consequence, it has become the legitimate hybridization of heterogeneity. In the town, the most different expressions of life and culture live together, from the glamour of what is called refined to the vernacular. Throughout the years, the town has been the theatre of all the important events, prosperous or not, but also the image, in some way, of the impersonality where all the vices hide. Since the Modernism, it is, without a doubt, a setting of changes where the actors are its inhabitants. While the nobility hides behind its rural estates, the people, the group, fights in the town.
There are multiple spaces, where people do or could live, that configure the behavior of inhabitants in a specific manner and, at the same time, the last define the place, the domestic one just as well as the urban one. Within each space, practices which determine a good part of the individual and collective being spread out. Nowadays, the town is more than an inhabited space; it is a symbol – the living presence of a design – that implies fiction, a representation of the narrative, of the complexity of modern life.
The town exists in many different ways. On the one hand, it is a material type of reality, socially constructed, where we live and who we establish a sensual and symbolic relationship with. On the other hand, it is also an imaginary representation a symbolic and discursive construction, product of our imagination and above all of the language.
We all know that the difference between a developed country city and an underdeveloped country city does not matter so much anymore as we can observe similar conflicts, analogue images and ways of living where, sadly, violence, lack of affective communication, contamination and chaos rule. Many times and especially over the last years, current art has turned to these spaces trying to understand – to give sense maybe to – these set ways of living. Trying to give a social and committed content to the duty of artists in our present world.
We might be looking for a convincing explanation to the proliferation of new neighborhoods and invented cities, fictional urbanizations in which life is presented as something ideal when, in fact, there are some kind of huge Truman Show. In the new neighborhoods, young couples are offered an ideal life of commodity and fantasy but there are not real cities – and as a consequence lives.
The objects of this artistic observation are the city centers as well as the suburbs. Shopping malls, communication routes, our work and occupations, and the ways of living close to indigence as well as the almost obscene opulence.
We all witness that the streets, the squares and parks are the settlement of hundreds of people who survive in fictional conditions. What we conceive as a source of work and an alternative to a better life paradoxically becomes a place where we can become destitute and a complete dropout. On the other hand, the advances of the communication media, instead of bringing us together, have driven us apart from others. The ease with which we can speak to a friend who lives on the other side of the world through a Webcam makes us think that we keep an almost universal contact but in fact, we are more far away than ever. The town has turned onto a virtual show of cyber-communicated people. All this is reflected in the present art.
The town is being re-invented all the time. New ways of working, connecting, enjoying oneself. Big advertisements, screens and lights saturate streets and boulevards with a unique purpose: to sell an illusion and an idea of society built on a boundless consumption.
However, it is not always this way in the modern town. Each time, it becomes more and more a multi-cultural, multi-social and multi-racial space. It is obvious that nowadays new typologies, replacing the functions formerly subordinated to traditional spaces of public and domestic life, meet. New signs get stronger, the news icons that support collective self-sufficiency and give legitimacy to the visual and functional representation of mega-malls and shopping centers. All together a strategy that receives a poor answer in the informal market and in the street vending, both typical features of our countries.
“Urban groups and tribes” work their way out and are so many times the object of present art. We can see that in many cities with specific views but which can be easily extrapolated to another town. We take more and more interest in an anthropology of what is close, like an analysis method, in order to understand the social development of our communities, knowing the difficulty of the exercise. The town rises from an inherited pattern that has been adapting itself – in a constant clash of interests – to the social body’s needs. Like a palimpsest, the tracks of the human activity have built the frame of our cities giving us the opportunity of studying the very territory-connected identity of their people. Nevertheless, the technological development has caused a crisis of the analysis method. A place could be defined by an identity, a set of connections or a historical treasure, but, in practice, the very concept of place is replaced by other concepts more linked with technology.
Many artists try to collect in their work the lights and the shadows that break from the conjunction of these two tensed extremes: an identity linked to a time of traditions that ties us up with a territory – that is about to disappear – and a new identity opened to a modern world that answers to a inclusion/exclusion logic and to the violence this situation generates.
Thinking Hanoi, Dionisio González’s work, sets up narratives between people who live in the town, either in a physical or a psychological manner. But above all, this work presents the town as an inhabitants’ abode or a nest, as a conglomeration. The inhabitants are in continuous transit and spend most of their time changing the space into a domestic place and emphasizing even more in the town this no-space Marc Augé defines.
Second hand market, of Juan Carlos Robles, is a reflection on the commercial spaces’ idea, but in this case, he is not dealing with malls but with flea markets. It is an everyday life scene: the abandoned place when the market is over, which is almost an inescapable image of the town. The town being a market and the market being an image of both the present and the lifelong town.
The old cities are being erased in order to get fixed expansions and commodity that, many times, destroy traditional ways of living and/or well-assimilated spaces and symbols that define the lives of inhabitants. El Zapillo is an area of Almeria (Spain) where the presumed progress destroyed the symbols of the identity. Marisa González, in her work called El Zapillo, shows the destruction of a factory’s chimneys and the neighbors’ statements. It is a reflection on the loss of identity of the town. These particular constructions gone, every town has lost an icon-symbol, an identity sign of its history, that diverges from the town plans of today, homogeneous and without personality.
Francis Naranjo deals with his personal encounter with the town from a very different perspective. Very sociological and literary at the same time. He tries to compare the streets of the town with the rivers, just the way life has so many times been compared with these “rivers flow into the sea”. He appeals to Heraclitus’ teachings and compares the streets, windows, cars… with these rivers where you we will never have a swim twice, these streets that we will never see the same way again. He tries basically to find something solid and steady to which we could hang on to, in which we could feel safe, a piece of land we could stand on. It is a sociological way of dealing with the town, a way of studying the inhabitants, their habits, theirs changes, their moods, their lives. But these comparisons have also a literary aspect in the sense that they look for – or try to look for anyway – the most poetic and amiable side of the life in the town.
Avelino Sala deals with another aspect of the culture of the contemporary town: music, and, in concrete terms, the music that was born in the town – I would even say born in and for the streets of the town – hip-hop music. It could be defined without the slightest shadow of a doubt, given its interpretation of and especially its lyrics, as an “urban music”, perfectly associated to the graffiti phenomenon thanks to its narration and rhythm.
60 landscapes in Hong Kong, of Jesús Palomino, is a route through the town from which we can analyze the different aspects of a massive and overpopulated place where the novelty of “imported” and occidental architecture mixes with the most traditional constructions. Behaviors peculiar to a country blend with new ways of relating with others and of working; the first ones struggle for their life when the other ones fight to establish themselves.
Palomino’s reflection, using Hong Kong as a pretext or as an argument, could be extrapolated to other towns of the world, especially those that have a strong cultural identity but also the others. The fact that new ways of living are being “imposed” end minimizing what is “peculiar”, henceforth reducing the last to a tourist attraction. In fact, there is a wish for “normalization”, for everything and everywhere to be the same but this implies a huge poverty.