This intangible exhibition invites you to explore and reflect on the history of various emblematic places in the neighborhoods of Sants and les Corts using the subjective perspective as a way of seeing. This invisible exhibition is experienced via mobile phones and QR codes presented on the site. In each case, the history of the place is explained and a site-specific artwork is introduced, thus creating layers of interpretation of historical memory.
This is a collection of stories that were told to me by the descendants of those who helped forge the identity of our neighborhood – stories were often lost in the palimpsest of time.
This narrative starts in 1819 with the inauguration of the water channel known as the Canal de la Infanta bringing water from the Llobregat River to the independent village of Sants. The channel was constructed for purely agricultural purposes, with the objective of transforming the fertile lands in this area to irrigated ones, and thus increasing productivity, expanding the variety of crops and reducing production costs. This initial objective was achieved quickly and far exceeded the expectations of its promoters. At the same time, the channel provided a benefit to this neighborhood that had not been foreseen: the industrialization of this land.
Historian Agus Giralt explains that when the Spanish Industrial Revolution broke out, Barcelona was still enclosed within the Roman walls. Its huge population density and the sprouting of countless new industries pushed entrepreneurs to look for large spaces, well connected to the city, where water was plentiful to build their large factories. Giralt continues that the installation of the Vapor Güell i Ramis – popularly known as the Vapor Vell, between 1844 and 1846 – was the starting point for the transformation of the old village of Santa Maria de Sants. Within a few years, this traditional village would become one of the most industrialised areas of Catalonia.
Agriculture, followed by industry and commerce brought about an exponential economic and population growth, thus changing the inherent social fabric of Sants. The old quarter expanded, rural land was developed, and construction flourished; even water was commercialized.
The Spanish Industrial Revolution also brought about, or perhaps, you can say, resurfaced unresolved conflicts from the past which still haunt us to this day. Violent acts originally targeted the “Self Acting” (automatic) machines which caused job loss and subsequent poverty. However, soon they spread and violence became personal, as in the case of Josep Sol i Padrís, director of the Vapor Vell who was shot dead in 1855 in consequence of the violence triggered by Spain’s first General Strike held that same year. As labor unions expanded, tempestuous strikes became commonplace in Barcelona.
In the Tragic Week of 1909 political tension escalated with violent confrontations between the Spanish army and anarchists, socialists and republicans. The successive years, between 1918 and 1923 were known as the “the years of gun violence”, which in turn led to the military coup by General Primo de Rivera between 1923 and 1930. This coup further heightened social tensions eventually leading to a full-scale Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939, resulting in General Francisco Franco’s long dictatorship between 1939 and 1975.
Aside from these chapters of violence, these 120 years witnessed an assortment of beginnings and endings, ranging from the start of the post-colonial era in the Americas, the ascent and consequent suppression of Spiritualism by the Church, the celebration of two Barcelona Universal Expositions and the rise and fall of two Spanish Republics, amongst others.
The same people who experienced these dramatic chapters constructed the buildings, named the streets and opened up the parks that serve as backdrop to our daily routines. Their invisible stories are etched in the old brick walls, coloured and textured by the actions of history and the passing of time.
Art can be a nonverbal means to connect us to history,
to each other and to the space around us
This project came up as a reaction to the confinement and mobility restrictions we suffered last year, in 2020, as a consequence to the novel covid-19 pandemic which abruptly interrupted, suspended and endangered our lives. In Spain, the population was strictly quarantined within their homes for two months, starting in mid-March. At the beginning of May 2020 we slowly transitioned to what was known locally as la Fase 0 de la desescalada (Phase 0 of resuming activities after full lockdown). During this phase, we were allowed a short daily walk within specific time slots with one family member within a radius of one kilometer from our home. In my case, since I live in Av. Madrid, on the border between Sants and les Corts, can Mantega was one of the few spaces I was allowed to visit.
As art historian T.J. Clark states, “it takes more than seeing to make things visible”. John Berger, renowned English art critic, novelist, painter and poet asserts that what we see depends on when we see it, and how we see it (Ways of Seeing, 1972)
In this intangible exhibition, you are invited to explore and reflect on the history of various emblematic places in the neighborhoods of Sants and les Corts using subjective perspective as a way of seeing. This is an invisible exhibition which is navigated via mobile phones through QR codes presented on site. In each case, the history of the locality is explained and an artistic work is created specifically for the place where it is presented, thus creating layers of interpretations of historical memory.
Observe how artists with the calibre of Sergi Aguilar (Barcelona, 1946), Ely Daou (Beirut, 1986), Logan B. Fields (United States, 1996), Teresa Gancedo (León, 1937), Marc Larré (Barcelona, 1978), Rebecca Lyne (Cambridgeshire, 1974), Josep Miracle (Barcelona, 1904), Lizette Nin (Domenican Republic, 1984) and Rubén Verdú (Caracas, 1962) create artworks that dialogue in a site-specific conversation across existing dimensions of space and time.
It is of interest to note that in keeping with the subject of multiple perspectives, this exhibition has been conceived and processed in English, Catalan and Spanish, and thus no visitor will see the entire project in its original language.
A PLAN WITH MANY ROUTES
There are various themes that tie the locations and artworks to each other.
If one were to organise a route according to chronological order, the itinerary would start with Casa Batllori, in the old quarter of Sants, founded in 1792 – the same year the guillotine was invented and the First French Republic was proclaimed. After visiting this emblematic clay workshop and viewing the collaborative work by Marc Larré and Andreu Battlori, one could visit the Vapor Vell (1848) and contemplate Rubén Verdú’s Bullet Flower before scanning for traces of ghosts on the grounds of cal Nicasi (1870) in an action performed by Logan B. Fields.
Just a few meters away, one could sit on a bench in the park of can Mantega and listen to Josep Miracle’s description of the fields that previously swayed in the wind of this fertile ground, and upon exiting, discover Lizette Nin’s tree installations that interpret the lives of the people whom the surrounding street names are dedicated to.
Crossing the road from can Mantega, one could peep inside the old factory currently housing Flowers by Bornay and discover Rebecca Lyne’s portrait of Justa Goicoechea who worked here in the turbulent years leading to the Spanish Civil War. A few steps away, with the help of Ely Daou, imagine what it was like to be in the underground shelter hereunder, excavated by the neighbouring elderly, women and children to protect themselves during the war. At the end of the war, in 1939, many who had hidden now had to flee from Spain, thus becoming refugees. Perhaps, if they were lucky, instead of giving birth in the horrific conditions of the French refugee camps, a few lucky women would birth in Elisabeth Eidenbenz’s maternity home in Elne.
The road dedicated to Eidenbenz is adjacent to the jardins de la Maternitat (1889). Walking inside these public gardens, one could marvel at the handsome pavilions and interact with Sergi Aguilar’s Inner limit, open book on the turf of the gardens overlooking the Diputation’s archives and from there, perhaps look out to the road named after José Mejía Lequerica and identify the gallery housing the Fundació Suñol which contains the artwork by Teresa Gancedo, hence concluding the walking route and exhibition.
In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935) Walter Benjamin states that mechanical reproduction devalues the aura (uniqueness) of an objet d’art. In conversation with this statement I wonder: how does this relate when the artwork, be it a painting, sculpture or installation conceived as an object or action is specifically created to be photographed and represented on a mobile phone, or displayed on a website?
In Illuminations (1968), he declares that “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” Again confounded on how this relates to this art project, I question: what is more true, a reproduction of an artwork specifically created to be viewed on screen connecting to the location it was originally intended to be experienced, or does its aura remain more intact when presented as the art object itself manipulated by the artist in a gallery?
Mejía Lequerica 14
08028 Barcelona, Spain