Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Nueva Delhi, Bombayand Mexico City
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Minor Monuments is an artistic project that brings together records and documentation obtained during 4 years of tours in different cities in Asia and Latin America. Through photography, essay and documental video, we make an inventory of minimal and ephemeral artifacts inserted in the loopholes of a greater monumentality mayor; assessments in the city’s discourse or side notes that expand the possibilities of the objects that fill its topography.
Minor monuments is a visual narration of the discovery of a generic, non-historical monumentality that both crystallizes and inadvertently decays within the urban landscape. It defines a status of displacement or mutation, cloning, alteration, reutilization, mimesis as an effect of human action on the objects and structures that are located in the public space, disassociated from their original function. These objects reveal a state of transfiguration that alters their original identity and unleashes new characterizations and possibilities for them. The project gives special consideration to the ability of informal economies to generate new functions or splitting for objects, as well as to provide formal systems with feedback and innovation.
Minor monuments took the shape of an artist book and a special edition of 50 serial book-objects with a hand-made package that alluded to one of the monuments included in the book.
Minor monument: Common object of modified character, discovered accidentally in the margins of the public space. Urban structure dissociated from its original function in a temporary and precarious way. Mark on the territory. Topographic indicator for fixing the memory during the trip or errabundeo.
Mutation: Unexpected change of form, alteration of structure, modification of function, sudden variation of use, transformation of meaning or symbolic value. Sudden change without intermediate stages, jump.
Cityscape: Buildings, parks, vacant lots. Industrial channels, bridges, overpasses. High voltage towers. Abandoned cars, sofas in the open, mountains of sand. Mechanic stairs. Excavations. Illuminated signs, neon light.
The project Minor Monuments presents a series of everyday objects and structures that have been dissociated from their original function in the urban space. The title of the book is inspired by a passage in American artist Robert Smithson’s essay A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey and his account of what can be termed generic “monumentalism”; monuments that lack a specific geographical context; a post-industrial ruins that are erected and then decay all within the limits of the city.
A photographic register traces various states of displacement or mutation. These mutations spring from certain human actions being inscribed on objects found in the public space. As a result the characteristics of those objects are changed fundamentally and their very identity supplanted.
A string of white uniforms dry in the sun on the guardrail beside a freeway. They have been draped over the metal rail in a conscious and calculating order; a hypnotic sequence that finds its vanishing point in the pavement. A man collects the uniforms that have dried and lays them across the seat of his bicycle as if they were bodies. The modification of the guardrail becomes a fissure in the shapelessness and lassitude of the landscape. Domesticity invades the public space. Some of the fence’s metal stakes have been bent apart. Every now and then a passer by darts across the avenue and ducks through the opening between the bars and under the uniforms.
The photographs retain an intrinsic ambiguity; the ambiguity of the chance meeting. Are these merely found objects or are they there by design? Who created them? Was their creation unconscious or deliberate? Minor Monuments is a microscopic portrait of the polis; an inventory of insignificant and temporary artifacts that insert themselves into the gaps between major monuments – parenthesis in the city´s narrative – notes in the margin of the urban landscape.
In a sunken patio a high voltage electricity tower is invaded by a food stall and becomes an alliance of metal and tarps. Inside the metal frame: a tent; stacked plastic chairs; a gas tank; a portable fan wrapped in a plastic bag; tables each with their own propane burner. Light bulb cables are threaded through the steel skeleton of the tower like climbing plants. The food stall has stapled itself to the metal and clings to the concrete pillars. Amoeba-like it anchors itself in the path of a current and feeds off the suspended particles that flow by.
Juxtaposed against highways, backyards and urban wastelands, these artifacts evoke a sense of strangeness that can be recognized as a type of non-linguistic humor; an irony of objects. A simple bread bun is jammed in its own semi-permanent “epiphany” between the bars of a fence. Deceptively banal, these are a collection of common artifacts which have found themselves in unusual circumstances. They have been furtively abandoned in train stations and vacant lots. They lean against walls; lay prostrate; face down. Two leather inner soles are airing on a lamp inserted in the sidewalk – an illuminated pedestal. The soles are like the footprints left by a statue prised of its base. Their owner sleeps inside a mosquito net knotted to some scaffolding. There is a deliberate laxness in the scene. The lamp emits a constant neutral luminescence.
The observation of a minor monument triggers a series of questions in regard how we experience and understand encounters with objects in the public space. How did the object come to be here? What chain of events has led to its appearance? Does its modified nature constitute an expansion of meaning or a break with it? Does it stem from a transmutation, a substitution or a form of symbiosis? These open-pored artifacts can hone their antennae towards all different forms of “meaning” – define themselves in terms of multiple states of being. They can deploy themselves in unexpected ways and manifest themselves through unconscious acts of classification right there on the pavement.
A collection of porcelain figures is lined up in rows on the footpath. A mattress is propped up to dry on four chairs in a plaza. These are itinerant spatial arrangements that activate the public space in a temporary and precarious way. A stall of second-hand vinyls surrounds the whole block. The record sleeves have been placed one beside the other in a runaway sequence of stills.
The record collection is a movable archive. At times it disappears altogether only to reappear somewhere else the following day. The number of exhibits can multiply or be reduced to a single record in a matter of hours. Matter in a state of maximum entropy -at the point of disintegrating at the same moment it comes into being.
Modification has become the essence of the objects, not just an attribute. A dining chair half buried in a heap of sand on a construction site. A motorbike draped in a hessian sack. A broken plastic vegetable crate stitched together again with metal and twine. All of the objects have rid themselves of their original function. Chair, sand, motorbike, sack, crate, seam. The semiotic vacuum within each artifact is precisely what lends each its peculiar resonance.
Plastic cinema advertisements, ripped from a billboard, cover a leaking roof. With the rain the patches have taken on the form of the house. They have been transformed into tropical lichens; become part of the structure that support them. The plastic glows oddly with an inner light against the grey sky. Whilst minor monuments are usually temporary, some experience one last transformation which prolong their existence. They overcome their categorization as junk or waste and attain a permanent state of abandon. At some point they become almost untouchable. A plastic bag blends into the stones of a garden bed and lurks within this avatar for years. It becomes just another stone.
Extracted from the ordinary – generic and original at the same time – minor monuments are landmarks in the memory. The minor monument is born of the moment of “encounter”; a form of triangular geometry inscribed by the coincidence of object, observer and landscape.