That afternoon we were all very curious to hear what Capitán Remigio Cruz, the curator and guide of the Museo de Enervantes, had to tell us. His presentation wasn't exactly the one we expected but we did get quite a show. First we got scolded for calling it the Museum of Drugs, its official name is Museo de Enervantes.
Preppy, dynamic Capitán Remigio Cruz came to Postopolis with an agenda. He wasn't there to show us images of the museum nor did he spend much time commenting on his work as a curator. He was there to educate us about how bad drugs are. Any kind of drug, even marijuana which, the Captain explained, inevitably leads to the use of hard drugs. His statement raised a few eyebrows in the audience. Especially as more voices in the country are calling for the legalization of cannabis.
Nothing these voices could ever argue can dampen the Captain's enthusiasm for the mission of military authorities. He told us that the army is working extremely hard at fighting drug barons and that their efforts have paid off. According to the World Drug Report of the United Nations, Mexico is no longer the number 1 producer of marijuana. The U.S. have beaten up to the top spot.
I was a bit frustrated not to hear more about the museum. I could not even go and make my own opinion of it since the museum is not open to the public. Schools are welcome, otherwise you have to be a military officials, counternarcotic cadet or visiting diplomat to be allowed entrance.
I've gathered below a few facts, links and images about the Museo de Enervantes.
Open in 1985 and located on the seventh floor of the Mexican Defense Ministry building, the private museum documents the country's drug culture and the government's battle against the drug cartels. It appear that the main raison d'être of the museum is to teach military personnel about the tricks and strategies deployed by drug barons to hide, smuggle and sell their merchandise.
Many of the pieces on show demonstrate traffickers' almost unlimited inventiveness:
A section of the museum highlights the connection between religions and drug trafficking. A bust of Jesus Malverde is enshrined in one exhibit. According to the legend, the bandit was killed by authorities in 1909. He is revered in the country as a patron saint of traffickers and a Robin Hood for the poor.
The "narco-culture" room is packed with over-the-top bejeweled cellphones, gold and silver-plated pistols (one of them is even engraved with "Better to die on your feet than live on your knees"), jackets with hideaway armor plating, etc.
After Capitán Remigio Cruz's presentation several people in the audience questioned President Felipe Calderón's brutal strategy to fight drug mafias. I didn't know the exact facts they were referring to until i read Daniel Hernandez's report which pointed to children caught in the line of fire and human rights violations.
And now for something completely different...
Cassim Shepard from Urban Omnibus had invited architect and designer Eduardo Terrazas to tell us about his awe-inspiring career. The name Terrazas might not sound familiar to many readers but i'm sure that anyone can remember or recognize the identity program he designed for the Olympics Games in Mexico in 1968. He was very young at the time but nevertheless came up with a unique and quite revolutionary design that involved every single element that would represent Mexico to the whole world during the Olympics: from a logotype for the Games to the urban-scale communication and wayfinding system. The design was very modern but it also recalled patterns used by the Huichol Indians.
The architect and designer reminded us that Mexico '68 is not just a synonym of the Olympics but also of the Tlatelolco massacre, a government massacre of student and civilian protesters and bystanders which took place ten days before the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.
The artist is interested in the concept of time and the way it has been appropriated by institutions and rules outside of us. Work-time is converted into salary, and leisure-time into consumption. Bills and coins have come to represent time better than hands on a clock. For Marcotela the prison is the perfect embodiment of this idea of hijacked time.
In his project Time Divisa [Time Currency] , the artist explored the possibility of substituting money for mutual favors.The deal he offered prisoners was the following: I would use a certain amount of my time to do things in their representation at a specific day and hour. At the same time they would do whatever I asked them to do as an artist.
Macotela made a total of 365 exchanges with inmates. One asked him to stay with his wife and witness the first steps of his child; another told him to go to his brother's party and get drunk for him; he also to say a few words on the tomb of a brother; ask a father for forgiveness, etc. He registered everything on video for the inmates.
In exchange, Macotela asked them to measure time using their body. The artist gave many examples. One had to hold his hand to his neck for 3 hours and register each heartbeat on a paper for the artists. Another had to map every step he made in the prison voer a period of 3 hours. Sometimes the artist would ask them to teach his their particular "skills" in exchange for his time (how to kill someone with a shoelace for example.)
Since this was my last story about Postopolis, i'd like to thank the organizers and sponsors for enabling us to participate in this wonderful experience: Storefront for Art and Architecture, Museo Experimental El Eco, Tomo and Domus Magazine of course but also our sponsors Mexicana, the British Embassy, Urbi VidaResidencial, UNAM, Difusión Cultural UNAM, el Museo Experimental El Eco, Cityexpress and XXLager. And a huge muchas gracias to Daniel Perlin for his bananAs energy, patience and enthusiasm.
Ehécatl Cabrera Franco is an architect, he's also the founder of the collective of the digital media and urban activism group MANGUM and an independent researcher of various urban phenomena. Whether he is busy doing graphic/architectural/industrial design, developing interventions in public space, organizing happenings or shooting videos, Cabrera is interested in making fissures into architecture. The hackarchitect believes that since architecture isn't able to answer the many issues that a city has to face nowadays, we should raise and 'make the city ourselves'.
In 2007, Carbera created MANGUM, an independent agency of digital media and urban activism. While MANGUM pays homage to MAGNUM it also differentiates himself radically from the photographic cooperative by encouraging a more bottom-up approach in which the very people who were so far only the subject of photos must now be recognized as critical actors.
MANGUM questions traditional models of cultural management, its objective is to generate answers to existing but inadequate institutions. MANGUM doesn't just portray the "otherness", it interacts with it.
MANGUM seeks to build an urban culture characterized by action and critique, to find opportunities in underused or intermediary spaces, to inhabit public space. The members of MANGUM believe that interacting with the city is an important form of daily communication that shouldn't be left in the sole hands of artists, activists and architects. They believe that a city is produced day by day through critical encounters, relationships, actions and events.
One of MANGUM's projects is PÁPALO PAL TACO, a series of workshops about urban gardening that aim to disseminate alternative forms of participation, diversify the use of space and create environmental awareness among participants. Some of the activities were especially designed for children such as a workshop about 'vegetal activism', eco-cine, etc.
MANGUM built the miniLAB, a mobile station built with cheap materials that travels through the streets of Santa Ursula Coapa (in the area of Coyoacan, DF, Mexico) to promote the activities of PÁPALO PAL TACO and explain passersby that instead of just buying fruits and vegetables, they can also cultivate them and while doing so contribute to the construction of a more participative public space.
Tomo had invited Raúl Cárdenas to close our last day at Postopolis. Cárdenas is the founder of Torolab, a collective workshop/laboratory for territorial research and contextual studies, based in Tijuana. The artist was in Mexico city to present his ongoing project Instituto de la Basura (The Institute of Waste.)
The city of Mexico produces 12.500 tons of waste every day, only 12% of it is recycled. Raúl is proposing to set up a platform that would encourage a dialogue and exchange of ideas between citizens and experts on the issue of waste.
Called Instituto de la Basura (The Institute of Waste), the proposal is part of a wider project called Residual. Artistic Interventions in the City. Residual addresses the problem of garbage from different points of view and aims to raise awareness among residents about the shared responsibility associated with its generation and management. The projects attempt to interact with the local community, and are developed in collaboration with a multidisciplinary group of university experts.
The themes, questions and problems explored by Instituto de la Basura are restricted to the context of Mexico city. Waste is an international issue, the pollution generated by an inadequate handling of waste knows no boundaries. Therefore, Torolab suggests to create the Embassy of Waste. The Embassy is the traveling branch of the Institute, it would move from location to location, adapt its approach to local contexts and reflect on themes closely related to the issue of waste (which should not necessarily be regarded trash.)
Both the Institute and the nomadic Embassy actively attempt to develop an international and interdisciplinary network of experts who would share their knowledge and look for -technical, legal, urban, social, environmental, or economic- solutions to problems related to consumption, and to the generation and management of waste.
The Museo del Estanquillo is currently lending its terrace to the project. There, the Instituto de la Basura has not only started to archive the information provided by specialists, it is also organizing and recording talks, interviews and working sessions around the issue of waste.
The furniture that the Instituto is using for its office in the museum is made mostly of wooden crates used to pack and transport art works, tetrapacks and other recycled materials.
You can visit the Instituto de la Basura until September 5, 2010 at the museum. After that, the institute will move to San Francisco, California to follow the discussion in a different context.
The last time i blogged about Postopolis was two months ago. The idea of getting to grips with a report that had to chronicle a criminally long day was a bit intimidating. The fifth day of our blogathon in Mexico DF started at noon and ended at 10 pm. We were braced for the worst but the whole day was over in no time, thanks to some brilliant presentations and a friendly weather. No time to yawn nor complain. Since the schedule ran without a pause, we either came with picnics or ran down the street between two presentations to grab snacks and drinks.
I'll kick off the report with Julio Cou Cámara who gave what turned out to be everybody's favourite presentation. Cámara is part of an emergency team that regularly dives into the liquid garbage of Mexico City.
He is one of the two men who dive into the sewer system to clear blockages, repair pumps, take out debris and ensure that contaminated waters don't overflow and inundate city streets, subway tunnels, or people's homes.
Once he has entered the stinking sewage, Cámara can't see anything. The water is so black and thick with all sorts of garbage, excrement, even corpses of murdered people, dead animals, car parts that any light would be useless, its beam can't go through.
At the request of Nicola Twilley who had invited him to Postopolis, Cámara brought his equipment with him. The diver has to wear a suit thick enough to protect him from any sharp object (syringe, bits of glass, etc) that might cut through the garment, harm and infect him as well as a heavy-looking helmet embedded with a microphone and headphones to allow him to receive instruction from the surface.
Postopolis brought also a fascinating talk by architect and researcher María Moreno Carranco about Santa Fe or City Santa Fe, one of Mexico City's major business districts. Built some 20 years ago on the site of a garbage dump, Santa Fe consists mainly of highrise buildings surrounding a large shopping mall. The district also includes a residential area built like fortresses, luxury condominium towers and college campuses, among other facilities.
Although some would say that Santa Fe is a resounding success, more critical voices raise their concerns over the streets devoid of passersby and other activities, the inadequate public transportation network, insufficient public spaces, street lightning and pedestrian areas, problems with water infrastructure not solved. Santa Fee seems to be a dysfunctional island, its glass and steel corporate towers of the new Santa Fe are surrounded by modest neighborhoods of cinder block apartments.
Díaz has never owned a car and he argued quite convincingly that living the pedestrian life in Mexico DF might be much easier than most drivers think. Especially with a network of buses and metro that keeps getting more efficient. Although Mexico is presented as a metropolis asphyxiated by traffic and car exhaust where some people spend up to 4 hours per day stuck in their car on their way to and from work, only 1 in 4 people actually owns a car. Yet Mexico was built for the motorized minority, the city lacks sidewalks and infrastructures for pedestrians. There isn't either any governmental measure inviting people to use their car only when it's wiser to do so. As the architect explained in one of his posts, a higher percentage of the population in countries such as Denmark or The Netherlands own a car but people would rather bike or walk to move over short distances. Or use public transports at peak traffic hours.
Previous Postopolis stories.
Postopolis was not all conference and free booze. One morning, a small group of Postopoleros set out to walk to the Colonia Doctores, a neighbourhood famous for its high concentration of vehicle theft and chop shops.
The cars we spotted in the area were quite something indeed.
Our destination, however, was the razzle-dazzle Toy Museum.
The MUJAM (Museo del Juguete Antigui de México) is a private collection founded in 1955 by Mexican architect Roberto Shimizu. Most of the toys were recovered from flea markets, bazars, suppliers, etc. They range from antique toys from the late 1800's up to popular plastic action figures, dolls and baubles from the '70s. Some of them are a bit uncanny....
Dozens of thousands of toys are exhibited. A few millions are kept in a collection until they emerge to be used in thematic exhibitions. One of the greatest prides of the collectors is that the toys are displayed in quirky and original displays such as a renovated electricity transformer from the '40s, a space ship that used to be part of a fair ride, an old drugstore case, an aquarium, etc.
Luchadores dolls dressed as Barbie:
Shimizu's son, Roberto Shimizu Jr. left his work as an architect to assist his father in the museum. We've been very lucky to have him guide us through the many rooms of the museum.
The collection of G.I. Joe from all over the world (with an emphasis on the Chuck Norris looking Mexican G.I. Joe) is particularly impressive and valuable:
This 4m high masks used to grace the entrance of a music hall and hosted a pianist in its mouth.
I can't believe anyone could ever be bored in Mexico City but if that ever happens to you, you know where to find a bit of entertainment.
More images in my flickr set.
Day 4 of Postopolis. Another intense one.
Just a couple of highlights from that happy Friday:
I'll add an extract from Don de Dios, a movie shot in Tepito. I'll be watching it as soon as i'm done with this post:
Both Tepito and file-sharing are based on protocols (between human beings in the case of the Mexico DF market) and micro-trust reigns in Tepito as much as in the community of file-sharing. There's no index nor on the web nor in Tepito where visitors need someone who will act as their 'human browser' and help them navigate the streets. Both are located at the outskirts of the system. Clashes of power between the authorities and file-sharing / counterfeit in Tepito.
Wayne Marshall had invited Camilo Smith to present and discuss on stage with rappers 2phase and Lil T'ko about their view and experience of the rap scene in Mexico. I won't elaborate on this cuz Wayne did that better than i ever could. They ended their presentation with a rap duo that gave me the stamina i was in dire need that day.
Daniel Hernandez introduced Cuauhtémoc Medina and Mariana Botey of El Espectro Rojo / The Red Specter, a half-collective half-sect (in their own words) which explores the intersection between artistic and theoretical practices from a political, post-colonial and poetic perspective. And, yes, these guys are as hard-core as they sound!
They have an exhibition, titled Critical fetishes. Residues of general economy, at the CA2M Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo in Madrid throughout the Summer. I wish i could go because the show is packed with works by some of the most interesting artists of the moment: Teresa Margolles, Francis Alÿs, Alfredo Jaar, Raqs Media Collective, Santiago Sierra, Judi Werthein, etc. The catalogue/newspaper is available online, i strongly recommend that you download and have a look a it (PDF.)
In clear opposition to the melancholic nature of contemporary reflection, Critical fetishes sets out to show how a variety of recent artistic interventions have invoked a constant political and aesthetic transgression, in which the fetish notion manipulates and distorts the fictions of usefulness, equivalent exchange and investment rationality. All the interventions and works assembled for the Fetiches críticos exhibition explore the complex and multi-faceted capitalist system, in the north as well as the south, as an economic system with fissures and paradoxes which art exploits in a poetic quest for forms of practical and intellectual dissent.
We closed the day with my guest and friend Fernando Llanos (i had the pleasure of interviewing him last year.) He's a musician, audiovisual artist, author, tv producer, film maker, coordinator of Animasivo --a festival of animation in Mexico. He's also the most reliable provider of mascaras de luchadores i known. Fernando talked about the iconic Ciudad Satélite, the suburban area where he was born and about which he is writing a book. He managed to draw parallels between the strong visual 'branding' and identity that the developers of Ciudad Satélite created in the late '50s/ early '60s with coat of arms and commercials and a project that Fernando developed recently in the city of Valparaiso. Orgullo Local aimed at boosting the local pride of the inhabitants of Valparaiso. Chileans have indeed the reputation of being shy and somewhat apprehensive. Fernando launched a competition to design the coat of arm of every suburb of the city. The coats of arm were later exhibited and turned into stickers, t-shirts, pins, tiles, etc.
One of the reasons that makes me find this project particularly interesting is that it puts an emphasis on a concept, local pride, which has taken rather alarming and nasty undertones in Europe -in particular in places such as the Italian region of Piedmont where i live and which is governed since March by the Lega, a far-right party that advocates a secession of the North of Italy, aka the Padania, from the South and i won't even start talking about my own beloved and slightly demented country. As Fernando explained, local pride, when not in the misguiding hands of nationalists, has its virtues.
Some of the Postopolis bloggers brought a unique, extremely well-curated perspective on the event. Wayne Marshall is one of them. One by one the speakers he had invited drew a picture of Mexico's hip hop and street art culture.
On Thursday, Wayne had invited, among others, graffiti artist Saner who is now exhibiting his work both on street and museum walls all over the world.
Jace Clayton invited Jorge Legorreta that day. The architect and professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico City talked about one of the most paradoxical issues of Mexico City: in the long-term, the city will suffer from the over abundance of water, and not, as the millions of Mexicans who do not have access to piped fresh water might assume, from its scarcity.
I had no idea Mexico DF was built above a lake. When they arrived in Tenochtitlán, Spanish conquistadores found that it was difficult to overcome inhabitants who moved fast and limber on canoes while the conquistadores and their heavy machinery were clumsy and slow. The Spanish solved the problem by draining the lake. After that, they started building on an unstable lake bed. Nowadays, the vast water reserve that this aquifer constitutes is being drained to provide water for the millions. As the water is sucked out, the city lurches downwards. Parts of Mexico City centre are sinking at an even faster rate than Venice. Over the XXth century, the city sank 10 meters, that's some 7cm per year. Some areas sink up to 30-40 cm per year per year. Xochimilco, declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, is slowly sinking. Legorreta forcasts that there might be no Xochimilco within 15 years.
Mexico city is also surrounded by 45 rivers. Tenochtitlán was thus built on a delta and this delta will eventually inundate the city of Mexico. The rivers are appallingly administered. When the water from the rivers arrived in Mexico city they have already been heavily polluted by industries.
This mismanagement has led to the greatest irony of all. One answer, according to Legorreta, is to control the pollution of the rivers but also capture and conserve more of the copious rains that fall 7 months of the year in reservoirs and household tanks.
In the early evening, Nicola Twilley from Edible Geography (can't recommend you that blog enough) presented the work that Sissel Tolaas had done in Mexico City. The artist gathered air samples from 200 neighborhoods, bottled them then recorded the reaction that 2,000 people had to these smells.
The work is documented in a video called "Talking Nose" as well as in a scratch-and-sniff panel. Tolaas believes that our civilization represses the sense of smell. She wear no perfume. Instead, as Nicola recalled, Tolaas wears an encapsulated concentrate of her own smell.
I had invited architect Rozana Montiel to present the work of her studio. She's one of the few architects who gives a smart and original twist to the idea of 'recycling'/ One of her projects involves turning 22 buildings connected by Mexico City's metro lines 1, 2 and 3 into one big building, each of the 'units' would be open to the public. Some buildings, most of them currently abandoned, would be dedicated to sport, others to performative arts, culture, etc.
Just a quote from Gregory Berger, invited by Ethel and Cesar from dpr - barcelona. The Director of satirist documentaries about political and social issues said: "Piracy is a fantastic instrument for distributing my movies."
The day closed with Gabriela Gomez Mont from Toxico Cultura introducing three Mexican photographers whose work show the city from another perspective.
Helicopter photographer Oscar Ruiz had some stunning images of the city from above:
Mark Powell, a gringo living in Mexico DF and interested in street photography.
Image on the homepage: Oscar Ruiz, Nezahualcoyotl and Iztapalapa .