LIVING ARCHIVE: THE RUTA DE LA AMISTAD* AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NON-PLACE

Andrew Rebatta

06 August, 2011 - 27 November, 2011

The exhibition Living Archive: the Ruta de la amistad (Friendship Route) and the Development of a Non-Place seeks to shift one’s awareness and everyday experience of the monumental sculptures along the Periférico, Mexico City’s loop highway. The title of this exhibition refers to French anthropologist Marc Augé (born 1935) and his theory about the non-place from his influential text, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Augé defines a non-place as a designed environment intended for a particular and limited use, which functions as a temporary space of passage, communication and consumption—a space that retains little or no trace of our engagement within it.

This accompanying essay applies the theory of the non-place to both the Ruta’s sculptures and the urban development that colors the Periférico. The essay documents the curator’s examination of the history of the Ruta, explores the decontextualizing power of the deteriorated sculptures’ non-place, and reflects on the global effects of the promotion of tourism, its modernist intentions and urban development, as well as the universal proliferation of non-places. The essay first discusses the history of the Ruta and Mathias Goeritz’s involvement in its creation, and then refers to the Ruta’s contemporary condition.

GOERITZ AND THE RUTA DE LA AMISTAD Mathias Goeritz, the founder of El Eco, conceived and organized the Ruta de la amistad project in conjunction with the 19th Olympic Games hosted by Mexico in 1968. For over a decade, Goeritz had been a controversial figure in Mexican art. In the early 1950s, because of his abstract work, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros publicly attacked Mathias Goeritz as an agent of the School of Paris, an imperialist abstractionist, and a neo-porfirista (i.e. related to the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship). Goeritz’s designs and ideas were so different from what was being created at that time that his work was surrounded by much debate within the cultural sphere. In language closely resembling the ideologically Marxist nationalist rhetoric favored by Rivera, artist Juan O’Gorman wrote in 1953 that abstract architecture, like abstract painting, was immoral and un-Mexican. O’Gorman believed Goeritz’s work failed to communicate essential truths. Ultimately, behind the attacks against Goeritz was the question of national identity that would lead to much public criticism regarding his most ambitious project, La Ruta de la amistad.

In 1966, Goeritz proposed to the chairman of the Olympic Games, the renowned Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the inclusion of a series of cultural events as part of the festivities, referencing similar events organized by the Greeks during the games in ancient times. The most ambitious plan of the resulting Cultural Olympiad was the “Symposium of Contemporary Sculptures” held in Mexico that included the 1967 “International Meeting of Sculptors.”

At the inauguration of the International Meeting of Sculptors, Goeritz articulated his vision with the following statement:

Modern man’s environment is becoming increasingly chaotic. Population growth, the socialization of life and the progress of technology have created an atmosphere of confusion. The ugliness of many indispensable elements and of advertising in general disfigures urban communities, particularly in the suburbs and on highways; the latter, in this century of accelerated

time and the automobile, have acquired an unprecedented significance. As a consequence, there is an urgent need for artistic design focused on contemporary town and thoroughfare planning. The artist, instead of being invited to collaborate with urban planners, architects and engineers, stands apart and produces only for the minority that visits art galleries and museums. Art integrated from the very inception of the urban plan is of fundamental importance in our age. This means that artistic work will leave its surroundings of “art for art’s sake” and establish contact with the masses by means of total planning.

Goeritz believed the meeting in Mexico should be distinguished from the abundance of similar meetings devoted exclusively to aesthetic questions by giving the sculptors a specific theme or problem that would culminate in the creation of the Ruta de la amistad. Goeritz’s proposed Ruta embraced Mexico’s self-described role as a “peacemaker” in international affairs (due to the ongoing Cold War), and was intended to be a part of a larger symbolic project signifying the country’s modernist and utopian ambitions. Himself escaping the violence of World War II, Goeritz wanted to represent friendship and brotherhood, regardless of religion or political ideology. This project ultimately included three requirements for the sculptures: each sculpture had to be abstract in design, monumental in scale and use concrete as its main construction material.

Goeritz understood an avenue with sculptures along it as an idea that went back all the way to the ancient Greeks, and as a form that had also been recently used in different parts of the world. Almost all of these previous efforts only considered people navigating the sculptures on foot.

Goeritz believed that because of the rise of the automobile, individuals would normally no longer stop and observe to whom these monuments were dedicated. He thought about this condition when he began to organize his sculpture project for the Cultural Olympiad. He believed the suburbs and their associated highways were a twentieth-century problem that needed to be fixed. By having abstract and monumental sculptures on the highway, he believed he would stimulate the deadened senses of the suburbanite, who is always in a car, by providing a kinetic and optical experience of a static object, and by creating a locus for more thoughtful and collaborative urban development.

Goeritz’s focus on producing something utilitarian for his epoch led him to choose concrete, because of its tie to almost all recent urban development projects and modern architecture. Goeritz’s penchant for concrete, collaboration, and the intended emotional impact of a project had been solidified with his creation of the urban simulacrum Torres de Satélite (Satellite Towers) in 1958, a symbol of urban development, for which he collaborated with famed architect Luis Barragán and painter Jesús Reyes Ferreira—both individuals who had greatly influenced Goeritz’s use of color and scale, as well as his intention to produce an emotional impact. Goeritz was not afraid of breaking the boundaries between sculpture and architecture, recognizing their convergence from the point of view of a driving viewer. But he also understood sculpture as an intervention within the constructed environment, which drove him to adopt more abstract forms.

The Ruta involved innovative collaborations between architects, engineers and artists. Other aspirations for the project involved the construction of hotels, gas stations, and small regional pre- Hispanic and folk art museums around these structures. Tourism was intended to spread throughout the country as a whole via this project, which also served as a twentieth-century artistic rebirth for the nation. Goeritz imagined the development of the project in the form of a cross, that would have originated at the northern border, ended in Guatemala, and extended from Acapulco to Veracruz, crossing, for instance, the Paso de Cortes, between the Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl volcanoes, as well as through the desert and underdeveloped areas.

The aim of this plan was not only to create a series of tourist stations, but also to encourage the development of new towns and foster local economic development. The point of departure would be the “artworks,” with urban development designed in full harmony around them. The planning of each station, and its surroundings, was supposed to be controlled by a team of architects, artists, engineers, sociologists, economists, etc.

Goeritz had full responsibility for the direction of the overall project, including the selection of artists and the site for each sculpture. However, he had to justify his ideas and their execution to the chairman of the Olympics’ organizing committee. Nineteen artists from six continents were selected to participate. Once finished, the Ruta de la amistad became the longest sculpture corridor in the world, at seventeen kilometers in length.

In addition to the artists’ projects along the Periférico, two guests of honor were included, whose sculptures were positioned in other prominent Olympic locations. Guest of honor Alexander Calder’s monumental steel sculpture Sol rojo (Red Sun) was placed on the grounds of the Estadio Azteca and guest of honor Germán Cueto’s bronze sculpture Hombre corriendo (Man Running) was positioned on the campus of Ciudad Universitaria at the primary entrance of the Estadio Olímpico Universitario México 68. Both sculptures became the iconic image of their respective sports facilities. Goeritz also contributed to the project with the sculpture La Osa Mayor (The Big Dipper), a group of seven columns produced as a sculptural constellation, located at the Palacio de Deportes, as another example of the emotional aspects of simple forms—a concept he had been exploring since his Emotional Architecture Manifesto of 1954.

The Ruta, while it was the first project on this scale and, at the time, the most innovative public art project of its generation, was not without problems. The biggest issue was the placement of the sculptures and their sites. Artists were asked to submit models before the sites were decided. Goeritz then invited Herbert Bayer to Mexico to advise him on decisions about size and site: nine remained the same, two were reduced, and three were enlarged, resulting in much discontent among the artists. There were also problems with landscaping around the pieces and a lack of parking, due to funding restrictions and the time necessary to reroute the roads flanking the sculptures. Since the sites and positions of the sculptures were not discussed at length prior to their placement, the play of light and shadow was not ideal for many of the participating artists, an aspect of the sculptures that concerned Goeritz. Nighttime lighting was often problematic due to vandalism and theft.

In the project’s initial stages, it was difficult to find international artists to participate: Goeritz found that his network was not expansive enough, even though it was this network that the committee had sought to access by hiring him for the project. It was also a challenge to get artists to collaborate and it was particularly difficult to find a black African to participate, whose work would fall under the three sculpture requirements the project had put forth. Instead they found an African-American artist and stated that his participation alongside an Anglo-American reflected the larger peacemaking project of brotherhood and friendship. Even though there were many heated arguments among the participants, no one flew home.

Despite all of the aforementioned issues, Goeritz acknowledged the absurdity of erecting sculptures alongside a highway. The original aim of redesigning the entire highway to make it one unique artistic work could not be achieved over the time available. Goeritz blames his stubbornness in not wanting to give up the idea of a sculpture corridor and in retrospect thought that it was a mistake, but still saw the value in what it represented and had achieved for the Olympic agenda and national image.

Ten days before the inauguration of the summer Olympics in 1968, a series of clashes between students and the riot police culminated in violence that took place at the plaza of Tlatelolco, where scores of civilian demonstrators were murdered, wounded, and imprisoned by the Mexican military. The student movement had a violent and deadly outcome. For Mathias Goeritz, who had escaped the violence of World War II, it was devastating, and likely cast a shadow over the project that was to be his crowning achievement. Although Goeritz sympathized with the student movement, he remained on the margins and did not get involved directly because of his status as a foreigner, concentrating solely on his project, which caused a dramatic division among many of his students involved in the movement.

His goal was to bring art to the streets. These sculptures became part of the fabric of city life and were enjoyed by locals and tourists for many years. However, with the city’s explosive growth and—as of the 1970s—years of neglect and vandalism, few of the works are now accessible.1

NON-PLACE AND AUTOMOTIVE TOURISM In trying to understand why the sculptures of the Ruta de la amistad have been increasingly neglected and rendered invisible to the everyday commuter and tourist on the Periférico, this project seeks to move beyond the overbearing physical evidence of development in the area to view the nature of this architectural and technological growth through the lens of the theory of the “non- place.” Marc Augé argues that “supermodernity” creates non-places. A defining characteristic of supermodernity is excess, so non-places are the outcome or perhaps side effects of the excess of time, space and ego, which result in spaces created only for temporary or limited use. Distinctive examples of non-places can be found in travel-related activity, which has expanded as our life-spans have increased and modernity has placed more of a focus on the self and exploration. Augé also uses the term non-place to address what for him is a contemporary crisis in social relations, resulting in a profound alteration of awareness: something we perceive, but only in a partial and incoherent manner.

Non-places are additionally defined as temporary spaces of passage, communication and consumption: motorways seen from car interiors, motorway restaurants/service/gas stations, large supermarkets, etc. It is these characteristics that dialogue with Goeritz’s original plan for the Ruta and help define it as an early example of a non-place.

According to Augé’s logic, tourism is generative of supermodernity’s non-places, and in this case, it erodes the innate and specific values of places that can be seen in and around the locations of the Ruta’s sculptures, affecting their visibility. The eroding value of places along the Ruta also seems to be inscribed on the sculptures in the form of graffiti and varying levels of neglect. In addition, the Periférico features shopping malls, fast-food outlets, and other (non-) places that now provide a backdrop to the Ruta’s sculptures, which themselves were originally conceived as backdrops. These non-places seemingly entail the production of a standardized experience for consumers, targeting a mass market as well as homogenizing the world by producing a generic experience, and have the effect of drowning these sculptures in products of capitalism and globalization.

In many ways, Goeritz had the same concerns as Augé and sought to remedy the suburban condition by providing a relational or communal space that would prioritize the sculptures within the surrounding urban development—a worthy effort by Goeritz and the participants in the Ruta, who shared this concern. Unfortunately, Goeritz would not have been able to foresee the domination of advertisements and haphazard development that would eventually arrive and affect the urban dweller’s psychological states. Like most urban planners of the past, Goeritz and the Ruta’s participants were aware of commercial “chains,” but most did not foresee the resulting homogenization of chains such as Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, etc. and their aesthetic complacency, which would eventually be manifested on a global scale.

With all of the non-places crowding the Periférico, which is itself a non-place, one might think that these sculptures would stand out enough to inspire further contemplation and investigation. However, through the combination of constant movement from non-place to non-place, the historical circumstances of the sculptures’ placement on the Periférico and their current lack of accessibility by foot, it seems as if the sculptures will remain forgotten and rendered invisible by the overpowering forces of our present condition within supermodernity.

Andrew Rebatta

 

* The Patronato de la Ruta de la Amistad is currently leading a restoration project focusing on the present conditions and future site planning for the sculptures on the Ruta. Over the past few years, a number of sculptures and their sites have already been restored through private donations as well as corporate and public funding.

 

 

Sullivan 43 Col. San Rafael Del. Cuauhtémoc, México D.F. CP 06470. Todos los derechos reservados 2013.