This is the first edition of MADRID ABIERTO as a biennial event and the theme for this edition is collaboration. The call for works announced its openness for proposals that spans across disciplines and for artists aiming to situate their work within the social realm of art practice and audience participation. Selected artists met for three days during an initial seminar which took place in Madrid early February 2009.
The aim of the seminar was not only for participating artists to introduce themselves and present earlier works, but also to allow for other players, familiar with Madrid and its context, to present their activities. Behind it all was the idea to create a network of connections, a network that would help the selected visiting artists, the majority of them based outside of Spain, to connect with local knowledge and with the specific context of Madrid.
The works now presented are some of the results of processes and contacts initiated during this seminar. For cities to thrive, to be communicative and alive and to function as catalysers of public life, it is necessary to stimulate civic participation and community involvement. Given the current framework, where society often fail to negotiate some of the most immediate challenges, how can pooling resources such as the ones found in collaborative and interdisciplinary initiatives, develop alternative work methods? How can inertia and nostalgia be substituted by visionary and inspiring tools acting as catalysts for change? In our post-political age, how can artistic practices intervene beyond dominant conventions? How can artists access and address spaces and places when in fact, most citizens takes no interest to participate in communal social networks?
This edition of MADRID ABIERTO explores how collaboration and co-operation may act as catalysts to induce changes of benefit for the city and its inhabitants. Involving people from a broad professional spectrum, among them gardeners, actors, community workers, programmers, geologists, architects and urban planners, resulting art projects manifest a wide range of views and expressions.
The aim of such a socially engaged approach is to create a larger network which, ideally, makes it possible to come closer to an understanding of some of the dynamics that operate in the city. Articulating specific concerns and voicing local issues is one step closer to resolving a conflict or improving a situation.
The ten commissioned artists in this edition of MADRID ABIERTO are probing into terrains that often remain in obscurity and/ or silence. The aim is to reveal some of the dynamics of collaborative efforts and explore how such efforts may affect people and politics in specific places. Implicit in the word collaboration is some kind of mutual understanding. It would be difficult to carry out a collaborative project if there was not initially agreed upon what the project wished to communicate and to who. This process of stipulating goals, articulating and exploring paths as well as the constant look-out for additional partners are integral parts of collaborative projects.
In these aspects, art projects and cultural projects in general, can function as tools for exchange and of recognition of the people involved. Initiating collaborative dialogues allows for coexistence, neighbourliness, alternative identification and for greater comprehension of diversity. Art must in these contexts be understood as a form of political imagination. The need to create such models is endless in today's society.
Collaborative practice may also file under categories such as socially engaged art, community-based art, dialogic, ‘relational', participatory, interventionist, research based art.... One thing is certain, since the 1990s an increased number of artists work within such constellations and are, as a consequence, increasingly judged by their working process and by the models for participation they come up with. Does this way of working, this kind of "method fever", to quote Sarat Maharaj, this consensual agreement, distance artists from the core of artistic practice, namely autonomy? Is it possible that collaborative projects, instead of exploring visions and ideas that are close to the artist's heart, instead succumbs to be part of a rather conventional idea of what collaboration and participation can be?
British art critic Claire Bishop refers to this position as religious, as "Christian", and argues that often in collaborative projects the artist takes on a self-sacrificial position and performs for the Other. Now, one year after our first reunion in Madrid the time has come for presentation. Some of the questions posed above remain unanswered while others have been clarified. Additionally, some of the works presented have managed to generate new questions. This presentation is an opportunity to contemplate some of them. Spain just took on the presidency of the European Union while the economical crisis keeps rattling the country.
One of its most visible signs are the ghost towns that surrounds Madrid and which Laurence Bonvin has documented. Seseña for instance, already a ghost town even before anyone moved in. And unlike the late 19th century Wild West, where ghost towns began to appear after the California gold rush, its equivalent, the Spanish construction frenzy, collapsed quicker than anyone could have imagined. In the middle of crisis and as one hands-on approach way to deal with it, plan ñ was put to work. It is devised to improve infrastructure in the country while simultaneously provide job opportunities.
Lara Almarcegui is tapping into one part of the plan, the construction of a parking garage under Calle Serrano. The one day per week when workers are not excavating, guided tours will be arranged into the underworld of Madrid. This underbelly of Madrid, its intestines, its strata bared in layers, presents an uncanny side of the city otherwise perceived solely through its orderly constructed environment. The excavated dirt with all its remnants of past lives naturally carries seeds for the future. Vegetation buried for years may be brought to life again when exposed to sunlight.
Lisa Cheung converted a truck into a mobile gardening centre that will tour Madrid, making stops once a week along a mapped out route. Raising questions about sustainability while sharing knowledge, the garden bus also aim to build a community of ‘city farmers' by introducing a common theme which to gather around.
Iñaki Larrimbe offers a different vehicle and presents a different range of tours. His refurbished caravan is stationary and parked in the city centre where it serves as an alternative tourist office from which specially commissioned maps will be distributed. The maps intend to make the city visible from distinct points of views and include, for instance, the best neon signs in Madrid, a selection of outstanding urban art as well as streets and squares where movies were filmed. All describe alternative routes for city visitors. His tours indicates the unusual, the often not seen and asks us to pay attention.
In this he has something in common with the project AA Camp-Madrid of Adaptive Actions. AA 's temporary tent erected inside the Atocha train station functions as a meeting point, as collection and exhibition site. AA intends to document the absurdities in the city such as illegible signage, incomprehensible rules, loitering, the strange, contradictory and often overlooked.
The idea of collecting, creating a meeting point and a place for sharing and belonging in your own community are topics explored by Susanne Bosch. Her initiative is to collect pesetas which went out of circulation in the New Year 2000. She is asking for a collaborative effort not only to collect remaining pesetas, but also to join forces and decide what to do with the money once collected and counted.
If Bosch's work is about collecting old money, Gustavo Romano is issuing a new kind of currency. His performance based interaction operates from a converted tricycle equipped with wi-fi connection and a printer issuing Time Notes. These notes refer to an alternative currency ranging from 60 min to 1 year. It is a way of reimbursing people for their lost time while also questioning value systems embedded in monetary exchange. Making use of space in a most efficient way, counting its use by the minutes and converting the time into money paid for rent.
Josep-Maria Martín have interviewed African immigrant living in Lavapiés in situations called ‘camas calientes'. Many people with varying legal statuses are all gathered in one apartment where they take turns to sleep. These beds are never cold. As soon as one is freed by one person, the next paying guest is waiting. Martín interviewed the people sharing these apartments and also left the video camera for them to document their lives. He conducted interviews with immigration officers and social workers. The resulting video is screened in the open air during the dark hours of the night.
Nights are cold in Madrid during February but Pablo Valbuena needs the darkness for his projections in public space. His discrete animations projected onto the façade of a building, track the outline of the existing architecture and bring new dimensions to an architectural reality which looks very different in daylight.
While Valbuena works as a kind of architectural ghost writer, Teddy Cruz challenges a different façade, that of Casa de America will turn into a intervention. In a parasite like manner, a small room is is made accessible inside the hosting building, reachable via the erected scaffolding. Part of Cruz' project is also to invite the Argentinian based collective M7Red and Iago Carro from Spain in residency and to through education, establish links with institutions and communities in the Madrid suburb of Puente de Vallecas. The façade of Casa de America will, in an amoeba like act of transformation, turn into a symbolic bridge that connects not only between countries, but also between periphery and centre.
It is my belief that the above projects, mentioned here only as brief summaries, carry the strengths to call for an initial awareness of contemporary cultural needs. How such needs may be accommodated in the future requires a longer commitment - projects that stretch over a longer period of time. The projects presented as part of this edition of MADRID ABIERTO gives shape to what is still unknown. As such they actively take part in defining the needs for tomorrow.