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Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Keynote Presentation

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Mexico, Symposium

Click here for VIDEO of the Keynote Presentation.

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and websites on participatory urbanisms (focusing on São Paulo and New Delhi) and urban pilgrimage were unveiled.

by Lyndsey Ogle

In his keynote address, “Mexico City: From Revolutionary Ruins to Global City…and Back Again,” Rubén Gallo asked the question, “What does it mean to use Havana to think about Mexico City?” With radically different first impressions of each capital, Gallo suggests that each city reflects an omnipresence of ruins. While ruins have almost become a stereotype of Havana, the official discourse of the ‘new’ Mexico City, centers on the city as a thriving metropolis, experiencing a moment of discrete economic growth, yet ruin has always defined the city’s history. In the Zócalo or main square of central Mexico City are the remains of a great temple of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. The Zócalo later became the site of colonial power, flanked by a 16th century church and governmental building and now stands as one of the foremost tourist destination in the city. The 1920s and 1930s were seen by many scholars as the golden age of Mexican art, with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and experimental poetry and literature “synchronized to reflect the modern new world,” but life during that period was also framed by the everyday experience of collapse as demonstrated in photos of the destruction left behind by the Mexican Revolution—images which Gallo points out are more often associated with Havana than Mexico City. Gallo argues that though the 1920s was a moment of life in shambles, most scholars reflect on it with optimism, focusing on new building, expansion, and experimentation. In the 1950s, Mexico City entered what many believe to be its golden age of economic and political stability.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Gallo cites the construction of Mario Pani’s 1960’s housing development, Conjunto Urbano Nonoalco Tlatelolco, which was the largest in Mexico and one of the largest in the world, as an example of the new development intended to convey a “new” Mexico City. During the excavation, the ruins of what was believed to be a pre-Columbian necropolis were discovered, however, Pani refused to halt the construction of the complex, limiting future scholarship of the site. This project intended to distance the city from the image of ruins itself became a site of ruin, first in 1968 with the Tlatelolco massacre and then in 1985 when an earthquake left parts of the complex in ruins for decades. Gallo asks if ruins are a constant presence, why do most scholars not think about the city as a city of ruin? Today Havana is critiqued for turning its ruins into sites for tourism while Mexico City has used the disruption of modern construction as a way of concealing its ruins. This dialectic of exposure and concealment, problematizes “exactly what type of ruin that is being concealed?"

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

“Never has Mexico City been so fragile on the inside—drugs and corruption have penetrated every level of society, justice and ministries are in shambles, all systems meant to take care are in ruins.” Gallo leaves us with the question: “Havana’s ruins can be fixed but how do your rebuild trust, ethics, and respect for human rights? Where does a society begin a process of national reconstruction?”


Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Panel 1 | Modernity in Process

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Mexico, Symposium

Click here for VIDEO of the Panel 1 presentations.

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and websites on participatory urbanisms (focusing on São Paulo and New Delhi) and urban pilgrimage were unveiled.

by Katherine Bruhn

The symposium’s first panel entitled “Modernity in Process: Creative Practice, Urban Experience and the City” began with a presentation by Tatiana Flores, Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Rutgers. Professor Flores’ presentation, “Mexico City: Avant-Garde City?,” explored the history of the Mexican avant-garde with a focus on the relationship of Manuel Maples Arce to the work of modern artists. Maples Arce is known for his 1921 publication Actual No. 1. This document, seen as a manifesto of the avant-garde movement, asserted that the new post-revolutionary era required a renovation in the arts that would occur through the embrace by contemporary artists of modernity and subjects including the city and new technologies. As Flores stated, Maples Arce believed that the “modern artist should be a city dweller.” Following an examination of the work of numerous modern artists who engaged with Maples Arce’s texts, Flores concluded her presentation, bringing the conversation full circle with the example of contemporary artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who in 2000 “realized Maples Arce’s dream of a technological modernity” through his installation Vectorial Elevation in Mexico City’s historic Zócalo Square. According to Flores, through this interactive installation, which allowed for the engagement of masses of locals as well as a global audience, “Lozano-Hemmer achieved a milestone in Mexican art. Not only did he demonstrate the relationship that Maples Arce had established between technology and globalization. He was also able to address and connect a mass audience in a way that had eluded the artist of the post-revolutionary avant-garde.”

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

The second presentation entitled “Art Activism and New Ways of Being Mexican” given by Edward McCaughan, Professor of Sociology at San Francisco State University, continued the conversation of Mexico’s art history through a discussion of how, over the past four decades, art has served as a vehicle for the production and expression of a new Mexican identity. Drawing on the work of cultural sociologists who “understand identities, ideologies, and subjects as being constituted by not simply reflected in art” and Latin American social movement scholar Sonia E. Alvarez, McCaughan described the role that Mexican social movements and artists have played in deploying alternative notions of citizenship and unsettling accepted cultural meanings beginning with the student movement of 1968. Following a brief historical background of Mexico’s student movement, McCaughan moved to a discussion of artist collectives known as “Grupos” that were a legacy of this history. McCaughan described that at its height the Grupos Movement included at least a dozen collectives in Mexico City with others in areas like Guadalajara. These groups created art that touched on issues ranging from corruption, poverty and repression to environmental destruction and U.S. imperialism. Of particular importance to McCaughan’s presentation were examples of street art, feminist art, and art associated with the 1970s Mexican Homosexual Liberation Movement. McCaughan concluded his presentation with a discussion of a recent project intended to archive the work of LGB activists and allies.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Finally, the third presentation entitled “¡Me Encanta La Ciudad! The Perils of a More User-Friendly Mexico City” given by journalist, author, and current Mexico bureau chief for VICE News, Daniel Hernandez, moved to a discussion of lived experience in contemporary Mexico City. Hernandez’s presentation discussed recent development or gentrification of Mexico City’s center, which despite allowing for some improvement or as Hernandez suggested, making Mexico City “more livable and inviting to foreigners” have in fact “masked or hidden the underlying problems that the vast majority of the city’s population still face.” These changes followed on the heels of the campaign referenced in the presentation’s title ¡Me Encanta La Ciudad! that began in mid-2000. Hernandez’s presentation, describing the lived reality of Mexico City today added greater context to the ideas put forth by both Flores and McCaughan. While Flores and McCaughan expressed a sense of optimism for the possibilities of art in the increased democratization of Mexico City’s public sphere, Hernandez reminded attendees of the continued challenges and violence that plague Mexico City today.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Exhibit(ion)s and Publications

Posted on by Genise Choy

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and websites on participatory urbanisms (focusing on São Paulo and New Delhi) and urban pilgrimage were unveiled.

by Will Payne

Susan Moffat, Project Director of Berkeley’s Global Urban Humanities Initiative, kicked off a short session showcasing hybrid approaches to cities with faculty from different departments teaching together, weaving together different methods and bringing together students from different disciplines. First, Berkeley professors Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Winnie Wong (Rhetoric), accompanied by graduate student members of the studio José Figueroa and Valentina Rozas-Krause, came up to introduce the exhibition that came out of their Mellon-funded studio course in the spring semester of 2015, Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta. The group visited a number of villages where art is produced and documented them, producing a complex, multimedia exhibition over the summer, with many hours put in by visiting scholar Ettore Santi. Their website (artvillage.city) is “the story of the pedagogical journey of the studio,” and all drawings were done by Figueroa during the class.

 


Image courtesy of Genise Choy

 

Next up were Jonathan Crisman, project director for the Urban Humanities initiative at UCLA and Dana Cuff, UCLA Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning, to present the Now Shanghai project, also funded by a Mellon Foundation grant. According to Cuff, Now Shanghai is a cross-disciplinary urban methodological investigation wrapped around ideas of film, thick mapping, and experiential ethnography, made up of a group of 24 students incorporating films made in Shanghai about urbanism across many genres, from documentary to fable and travelogue. Crisman described the way in which the project drew on anthropologist Clifford Geert’s idea of “thickness,” as the group explored a wide range of media "that could embed this polyvocality, multiple voices that are often conflicting” occupying the same space.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Crisman and Cuff were followed by UC Berkeley graduate students Kirsten Larson (Architecture/City Planning) and Karin Shankar (Performance Studies), to present their coauthored journal and website, P[art]icipatory Urbanisms, a project that came about due to a “blind date” meeting through the Global Urban Humanities Initiative. Larson described how bracketing the [art] in ‘participation’ also suggests a blurring of the conventional separation between the aesthetic and the political dimensions of urban participation. She offered that urban practices, from spontaneous protests, to organized claims on urban space, are as aesthetic as they are political since they "entail a re-ordering of the field of urban experience and perception." The publication has two main components, a bilingual website (www.part-urbs.com) with interviews in English and Portuguese with community activists, artists, and other groups involved in participatory urban processes in Sao Paolo and New Delhi, and a peer-reviewed publication of articles by scholars across disciplines taking on the subjects of participatory practices in art and planning. Shankar outlined their hope that this intervention can help spark conversation and collaboration, and to “assess the radical promise and the potential pitfalls of participation in both urban politics and art today.”

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Finally, Berkeley graduate students Mia Narell (Architecture) and Lawrence Yang (East Asian Languages + Cultures) presented Urban Pilgrimage, a special issue of Berkeley’s Room One Thousand student-edited journal on architecture. Narell, who serves on the publication’s editorial board, talked about how pleased she was to be partnering with the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and read a statement on behalf of Padma Maitland, co-editor of the publication. Maitland and Yang were drawn to the project of “rethinking pilgrimage in the modern urban context” beyond merely religious travel. There were print copies of the journal available for sale at the symposium, but the whole project is also available on their website (www.roomonethousand.com), providing a diverse collection of answers to the question: “What draws and moves us towards and through cities?”