hG, Spare Parts: A Crime Has Many Stories in Buenos Aires

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The haudenschild Garage invited architect Teddy Cruz to , Argentina and commissioned him to write about the hG, Spare Parts project A Crime Has Many Stories and his experience of the city of Buenos Aires as a first time visitor.

Cruising Buenos Aires
1. Arrival to the City of Fury
It was impossible for me to arrive to Buenos Aires for the first time without being followed by the mythical images I’ve had of this city. Anticipating, before landing, for example, that I would be finally walking along the very streets where Ernesto Sabato’s character Pablo Castel roamed desperately, after failing to recuperate the personal letter he had given to that generic Post Office employee. The letter he did not want Maria Iribarne to receive after all because it would finally reveal to her the depth of his own emotional tunnel, ultimately leading to her killing. Or, visualizing the huge penis that Ernesto Subiela moves during his film The Dark Side of The Heart, as a nomadic obelisk, across the huge width of ‘9 De Julio,’ aligning its size with the endless axis of this -according to proud Argentines- ‘the widest boulevard in the world,’ and in so doing, humiliating its own Parisian mother: Champs-Elysees. Or, for an instant, lifting up -vicariously through a Soda Stereo’s song- from the streets of the neighborhood of Palermo to reach to the sky as a ‘daytime vampire,’ just to free fall again into the neighborhoods that turn Buenos Aires into the ‘City of Fury.’ Or, finally, imagining finding my own father among the many terrestrial faces in the city. The man who my mother has silently claimed, in a couple of occasions, to have been a ‘Porteño’ graphic designer, and with whom, even though she has not officially confirmed it yet, she spent a wonderful night -a furtive encounter in Guatemala City, when she also lived her own urban derive- allowing my passage into the world. All of these images converge -now- here as I came to be part of the metropolitan pilgrimage A Crime Has Many Stories, invited by this event’s enablers: The haudenschildGarage, Spare Parts’ producers and . The memory-filled weight of these personal mythical images will transform very soon through this cultural caravan along Buenos Aires, either dissolved by the physical reality of this city or amplified at the various urban intersections, where the haudenschild Garage, as part of this urban experiment, has asked many local artists to perform their own interpretations.

2. The Argentine Phalanstery
I would advise everyone to first enter Buenos Aires through the school of architecture of its National University. If there is one single space where the image of the entire city can fit is this one. This cavernous, mega-structure is the paradigmatic Latin American institutional building, where the utopian and the dystopian meet. Literally, a few minutes after landing, I found myself walking inside this vertical, ‘rational’ slum, in the midst of thousand young bodies who were restlessly meandering under the expansive roof of this single, total building – A truly Argentine Phalanstery. After moving across endless corridors flanked by Kafka-in-steroids, dark bureaucratic offices and visually entertained by old and new revolutionary slogans, I reached a small window to finally see the landscape around me. (If a crime has many stories, most of them begin here) What I see in the distance is the city meeting with the Rio de la Plata and the Atlantic Ocean. I hear a voice behind me (a real voice): “…From here to there, the marshes below, these buildings are witnesses of the thousands of bodies that were dumped in the waters…” Where do the collective passions that a city emanates come from? They do not come from the autonomy of the author’s room nor in the heterogeneity of the flaneur’s sidewalks. They can actually unfold from a critical transit through a city’s (hi)stories, moving insurgently from generation to generation, the ‘20s, the ‘60s, now?- like a ball silently trafficked by the magic feet of Messi. I found these collective passions mirrored in the haudenschild Garage metropolitan caravan, hidden in the many stations along its trajectory across Buenos Aires and made visible through the chunks of history that the artists’ works recuperated in and out of each of those stations. And as it is the case with any event whose main intension is to generate multi-layered conversation and exchange, I also found these passions in the informal debates, that circulated around café cortado, bife de chorizo and chimichurri and through the wide and narrow streets of the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.

3. An Urbanism Made of Neighborhoods
A Crime Has Many Stories began with La Loca y el Relato del Crimen, a ‘70s piece of literature by at MALBA, The Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires, located at the center of this city’s cultural promenades and ended with a newly commissioned crime story by in the alternative space of , an artist collaborative, in the heart of the working class neighborhood of La Boca. It is true what has been said, I thought, as I reflected on the ambition of this metropolitan cross-section filled with in-between artistic acts: That a city should not be defined any longer as the jurisdictional area bounded by its administrative borders, but, in fact, by the intensity of its limitless urban atmosphere, where the distinction between center and periphery dissolves in the voices of its multiple characters. Nor it can be encapsulated by the protagonism of its iconic monuments. Instead, it is the drama of its anti-monumental fringes what produces a more compelling idea of urbanization, made of unpredictable social spaces that emerge in the least expected places, where no symbolism is necessary, only available space. In fact, one of the most emblematic images that Borges catapulted as the privileged site for his early avant-garde literature was not the centrality of Buenos Aires as a city but its edges, where the city was no longer; the blur between the city and the Pampa. As such, I also found Buenos Aires resonating with The Naked City of Debord, as he fragmented the top-down totality of Paris into neighborhoods, conceived as units of ambience where the intensity of the urban would be found at unexpected thresholds, corners and vacant sites, and then amplified and translated, in turn, as every day artistic actions. Here, in the perennial Paris of Latin America this idea is even more tangible: The urbanism of neighborhoods in Buenos Aires usurps an otherwise homogeneous, at first glance, urban impression of this city as a continuous parkway flanked by an un-interrupted fabric of generic towers filled with endless balconies. It is in the interior of these urban crevices where A Crime Has Many Stories positioned itself, where fragments of literature, film and art are stuffed, mixed with the vestiges of political and social struggles and the subliminal feats of soccer players. It is the traffic and flow of these images that propelled the pages of Piglia’s Relato de un Crimen as the catalyst to invade the city.

4. From MALBA to the C.I.A.
The caravan moved from the pristine auditorium of MALBA where Ricardo Piglia read his text in a short film directed by Steve Fagin, to a small commercial space along Avenida Colon to witness the traces of the interior urbanism produced by artist , to the public interstices at the intersection of luxury condos, museums of fakes and urban slums at the Museo de Calcos, where Fernanda Laguna and unveiled their own artistic copy, to Eloisa Cartonera’s La Boca workshop, where Washington Cucurto provided the book end and the contemporary spin to Piglia’s short story. And as we moved through these sites, we were moving through the cross-generational and spatial meandering of literature, art and film that has also produced this city. In essence, the recuperation of a fragment of literature, just to spill it back to contaminate other stories, conversations, artistic acts and places seems to me a more accurate definition of urbanity. This thought guided me through that intense rainy-day of the event, from the moment at MALBA where I saw Ricardo Piglia’s words being gently extracted from his lips by a camera, slowly filling an empty auditorium that was now filled with people. A story within the story, like Borges’ temporal trampoline that thrusts one forward and backward simultaneously, -yes- like the amazing image of Christ nailed to a F-15 of Ferrari I saw that morning on the second floor of this museum. Here, in this cultural expedition, art is rest-less as it wants to distribute itself through the unpredictability of the city. The drama of this unpredictability, for example, was tangibly manifested on artist Rosalba Mirabella’s work, as it unexpectedly mutated from its temporal occupation of a generic local on Avenida Colon (a space that would have been filled with her private traces of public images but burnt in an accidental fire just before the pilgrimage began) to the memory-filled dusty walls of Centro de Investigaciones Artisticas –C.I.A.- an experimental art center that is under construction, founded by Graciela Hasper, , and . Here, in the improvised occupation of the C.I.A., the project took a phenomenological detour: as the every day urban scratches of Mirabella’s work in the space of Avenida Colon disappeared into ashes, they were provisionally resurrected inside C.I.A.’s basement as a series of video narratives. Images of the burnt traces were projected on the walls and ironically reflected on a thin pool of water that had trickled into the room from a broken pipe inundating the floor before the audience arrived. As the audience moved randomly through the basement, between light projections of charred surfaces, Rosalba’s recorded narration and the plane of rainwater, the piece took a performatic dimension, suggesting again that in a true city the event is always nomadic and uncertain.

5. The Traffic of Fakes
The ubiquitous border that is deployed in every region between sectors of wealth and rings of poverty is reenacted in Buenos Aires, as the Recoleta neighborhood, one of the most glamorous zones of Buenos Aires, with its neoclassical grandeur and high real estate, is barely a few blocks away from a necklace of villas –working class urban shanties- which, different to other sites in Latin America, are not ‘on your face’ (slums in Caracas or Rio, are always visibly present on the slopes that surround those cities). Here they are carefully camouflaged by over-development, as these small Argentine slums are squeezed within transportation infrastructures or become transitional zones between more established official enclaves. So, in a sense the cultural traffic produced by A Crime Has Many Stories event, from MALBA, in the neighborhood of El Retiro, to the neighborhood of La Boca does not follow a straight line, connecting predictable destinations, but becomes a jagged pilgrimage across neighborhoods of display and consumption, production and labor and back. A careful choreography of artistic interventions into the spaces of a city can be a tactical tool for socialization, approximating formal and informal institutions. This is how we approached Puerto Madero, one of the most dramatic urban intersections I have ever seen, where many of these contrasting urban ecologies collide: casinos, luxury condos, environmentally protected park and a slum. To add one more layer to this zoning club sandwich, the third station of the pilgrimage was sited here: The small Museum of the Calcos, where a large collection of replicas of historic statuary is housed in a former leprosy hospital. The collection of copies inside the museum resonated with the huge array of urban replicas found outside, as faithful copies of the same typology of luxury condos that sprung all over the world during the pre-economic crisis boom are also re-deployed here, in this corner of Buenos Aires, to form the largely privatized homogeneous spaces of vertical gated communities and commercial malls that make the hyper gentrified enclave of Puerto Madero. It is at this blurred intersection between the fictional and the real where the project of Fernanda Laguna and Roberto Jacoby took me into another detour. As I entered the space, the sight of two tables filled with cheese and wine symmetrically arranged beneath the legs of Michelangelo’s David dominated the space, and immediately exposed the informality that the ‘copy’ offered, as we moved irreverently munching and sipping through the classics. Moving through a parade of fakes reminded me that originals do not exist but only the functional transference of their ‘useful’ meaning, and that, in this case, the close proximity of flesh bodies in motion touching the usually untouchable completed the functional aspect of this experience, closing the distance between the subliminal and the prosaic. In the middle of this theater, the artists began to speak of a circuit of donations and reproductions: They suggested that the choreography of capital and symbols become the material of the artist for the creation of agency. At this station of A Crime Has Many Stories, the expedition became promiscuous, transforming into many others. The legacy of any artistic intervention in the city, I thought, should be to enable other things to occur, beyond itself, leaving an institutional trace, a cultural platform of exchange where new social configurations can take place. This whole thing had become an orchestrated excuse to generate a new museum of reproductions in the marginal neighborhood of Fiorito, where, Maradona, the patron saint of Argentine soccer was born. This would be a neighborhood-based new Museo de Calcos that would bring together replicas of Maradona’s foot, Michelangelo’s David and Duchamp’s Fig Leaf as its foundational, collection pieces.

6. Where the City is no Longer
That rainy night it was disorienting to see Boca Junior’s stadium from the small streets that surround it. Not only it is unconceivable to find such a huge scaffold of popular culture smacked inside the small fabric of a neighborhood, but also its shape defies any perspective equation. The setback between this huge yellow structure and the first bar or house adjacent to it is so small that the perennial contrasting division between figure and ground (solid and empty spaces) represented in a city map is physically blurred here, mixing object and background and producing a strange continuous urban intercourse of houses, stadium, bars, stores, streets and alleys. I finally arrived to La Boca. This neighborhood is not only the home of the famous stadium of Boca Juniors, but I see it as a unique micro-heterotopia: an intense urbanism made of soccer fans. The caravan was to end in the counter-space to MALBA: Eloisa Cartonera’s workshop, where writer Washington Cucurto would read his crime story, outdoors, in the alley next to the home of this artists collaborative. As the rain continued, making it impossible for the crowd to occupy the street, one more act of improvisation cemented the idea in my mind that a real city will always resist the control of planned destiny. As the mixed smell of chorizo and wet pavement was in the air, people began to drift into the second floor of a nearby fire station (These probably were the same fire trucks that came to the futile rescue of Mirabella’s space in Avenida Colon). How ironically appropriate it was that the pilgrimage was ending up there, above the firemen, in a community hall that was quickly improvised as a performance space for Cucurto’s reading of El Hijo, and later into a dining hall and a dance floor. The story that Piglia read that morning, I thought, is already emblematic of the city’s mythical aura, but the story that Cucurto was reading now at the end of the day is still grounded here in the life of this neighborhood and others like it, resisting its mutation into some kind of metropolitan cultural icon. Here, the story does not want to be owned by the author yet, but wants to remain a little longer in the collective voices of its social actors and the collaborative efforts of its producers: Eloisa Cartonera, Cucurto and the others. Aldo Rossi, the famous Italian architect, once described the Punta della La Dogana in Venice (the lonely, small building that ends in a sharp corner against the grand canal), as the site where the city ends and the irrational begins. This final station in A Crime Has Many Stories produced the same feeling. This is the place where the generic city ends -understanding that the contemporary city has been shifting from being the ideal laboratory of artistic experimentation into a passive site of display and consumption- and the new neighborhood begins: Re-conceived as contemporary culture’s privileged site of artistic production. The social salon above the firemen was by now filled with bodies, and in the midst of choripans, projections of the day’s actions already turned memories and the sound of cumbia, everyone, I mean everyone, began to dance. Eloisa and Steve did it again, I thought, blurring the line between enabler and producer, they brought together high and low, sacred and profane, the consolidated and the emergent to momentarily commingle in unselfish exchange: A carnaval where everyone is a participant and the everyday has kidnapped art without asking for ransom.

—Teddy Cruz, 2009

Teddy Cruz was born in Guatemala City. He obtained a Master in Design Studies at Harvard University in 1997 and established his research-based architecture practice in San Diego, California in 2000. He has been recognized internationally for his urban research of the Tijuana-San Diego border, and in collaboration with community-based nonprofit organizations such as Casa Familiar, for his work on affordable housing in relationship to an urban policy more inclusive of social and cultural programs for the city. In 1991 he received the prestigious Rome Prize in Architecture and in 2005 he was the first recipient of the James Stirling Memorial Lecture On The City Prize, by the Canadian Center of Architecture and the London School of Economics. In 2008 he was selected to represent the US in the Venice Architecture Biennial and he is currently a Professor in public culture and urbanism in the Visual Arts Department at University of California, San Diego.

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