Cesar is a museum guard I met in Museo Tamayo who now works at the Museum of Modern Art (MAM). We stayed in touch after he left Tamayo, and I asked him if he would be interested in doing a performance in the city on his day off, but in his work uniform. Taking the guard outside of the museum and situating him in the city meant juxtaposing him against different spaces, actors, and socio-spatial rules, both socially as well as viscerally/physically.
The city enabled us to take away the social and cultural ideologies that were pre-associated with the role of the guard, and advance new concepts/questions:
(1) What are some engagements through which the guard can negotiate spatial access (gaining the means to practice greater spatial and creative agency in spaces where he is viewed as an outsider)? What are the material and immaterial outcomes of these negotiations as well as the immediate implications of negotiating with various actors and spaces?
(2) Negotiating is essentially a process of reformulating yourself and your relationship to the space through identifying physical potentials and opportunities for appropriation in the pre-existing space (Borden 2001, 243). Much like how skaters perform an interrogation of the city through their physical selves, how can the museum guard in the city be pronounced as an individual who reformulates spatial agency through performing socio-spatial negotiations?
(3) If the architecture of the city constructs our understanding of who we are (Borden 2001, Certeau 1984 , Lefebvre 1974, Merleau-Ponty 1968), perhaps through the act of appropriating the architecture of the city, and using design to construct engagements for embodying and performing appropriation, can there emerge a materialist history of play that happens in spaces not designed for play – which seems, could start by revealing the relationship between everyday urban spatial practices and play as a spatial practice, the latter informed by and produced through the contradictions and opportunities that come from living in Marxist cities.
The performance took place between Wednesday January 2nd, 10:00am - 5:00pm, with Cesar as the protagonist who spotted opportunities for negotiations as well as carried them out. Also present was his wife Lupe, who helped us carry drawings around the city as they accumulated. Detailed narratives that described each of the drawings were collected a day later via Whatsapp and can be found at the end of each chapter.
NEGOTIATING APPROPRIATION, NOT DOMINATION
The guard himself remained the same: a courteous person in a suit, who typically has a low level of spatial agency because they work at the service of others. Cesar spent the day asking around for permission to enter privately-owned and/or publically maintained spaces to do drawings (together we decided that drawing would be the medium through which we would perform a negotiation with the city, because Cesar is such a great artist), and we only chose scenarios that required a social interaction or economic exchange.
As part of this brief, I paid Cesar the same amount he would be compensated for working an after hours event in MAM, as a form of financial negotiation. We carried with us only the bare necessities (bond paper and tools for drawing), and appropriated things as we went with our day and found new needs. As for the negotiations, they all went smoothly since Cesar was great, and also because we made it clear we would not ask for forgiveness but ask for permission (and we also didn’t bother, for instance, in the church – which we fantasized would be a crazy place to negotiate to draw).
1: Pulquería Las Duelistas
Around 10:30 am there were already 3 people drinking pulque and the store was just about getting started (the cleaning guy was still cleaning things for like 20 minutes after we sat down). The place stenched of something bad like rat poison and the pulque was really good. This particular pulquería was chosen because their walls, columns and ceilings are masterfully adorned in graffiti and seemed like a place where we could ask for permission to do some drawings on our table. The hour was important, since it was early in the morning and there weren’t any people inside, so it provided a good chance for us to be able to do the activity. (When we came back to this area around 5:00 pm it was extremely crowded in the pulquería with people almost busting out of their saloon-style doors.)
The actor who we negotiated was with the bartender, or guy behind the counter serving pulque. After ordering the pulque, Cesar asked him whether he could use the table we were sitting at to do some drawings for a short time while we have our drinks. The bartender had no problem with that.
A couple came to sit near us at the bar against the mirrors kept looking at the drawing first but then lost interest. 3-4 more people came during the time of the drawing but no one sat near us. A guy used the jukebox rather close to our table to play some Rolling Stones best hits. Angie was a nice one. We did not have to negotiate space with any of them. The only person who came close to that was the cleaning guy when he was mopping the floor, and we were about to give him some space but he kind of avoided our area and left us alone.
Cómo por ejemplo, este lo hice en una pulquería llamada, Las Duelistas, lo hice en papel bond con marcador de texto y plumones fluorecentes, en el cual dibuje un sol, un maguey, una jarra con vasos y un ojo con un sombrero. Y representa mi gusto por esta bebida ancestral, la cual existe desde la época del imperio mexica, y que en ese entonces solamente la podían consumir los nobles. El sol le brinda sus rayos al maguey, del cual se produce el delicioso néctar, el mismo que es servido en jarras y vasos en la actualidad, y el ojo con sombrero, es la mirada extasiada que siempre ha existido por la creación de esta bebida. Y que hoy en día es consumida por todo tipo de clase social.
For example, this drawing I made in a pulquería called Las Duelistas from bond paper with markers and fluorescent pens, in which you can spot a drawing of the sun, a maguey, a jar with cups and an eye with a smile. It represents my fondness for this ancestral drink that existed before the imperial ages, and back then only the nobles were allowed to drink it. The sun grows the leaves of the maguey, which produces a delicious nectar, that are served in jars and cups, and the eye with the smile is watching over the continuous production cycle of this drink since the day it was born. Today, anyone can consume this kind of drink.
(text by Cesar, translation by me)
2: Jardín (Calle Regina)
Around 1:00 pm, we arrived at a little park on Calle de la Regina with a big sign that says JARDÍN (which means garden). The park has an office at the entrance, which I noticed was an office only when I saw an old man coming out, presumably the supervisor of the park. There were sort of two big play obstacles in the middle and the walls were covered in amazing graffiti, and a sink area with 5 sinks, which the old man used later on to brush his teeth. There was a resting/public space with metal tables and chairs. There were barely people in the park, maybe 3-4, and we didn’t interact with any of them because they were occupied with the playground and/or public spaces.
We negotiated with the supervisor 2 times. The first time, he gave us permission to put a piece of bond paper on the wall of the park to draw something for a short time. But then we negotiated a second time, because we saw that there was also a soccer court inside of the park that was gated with a fence, with artificial grass, more amazing graffiti and a net on its ceiling that has caught things from the sky like hangers, shoes. This became the spot where Cesar wanted to do his drawing, so we negotiated with the supervisor to see if he could unlock the gate to let us draw inside for a short time. He told us he can do that but in exchange for a small tip, and our deal was made.
Cesar suggested the spot in the back of the court and we made it happen there. He was keen to pick up on the logos that were spray painted conveniently right where we were about to set up, and to visually juxtapose his performance (legal but informal) with the logos (legal and formal).
The transparent duct tape had a hard time sticking to the wall because the wall was roughly textured. At one point we saw that his hand marks had made the texture of the wall surface appear on the paper, and he fell in love with it, so he started to rub the surface of the paper onto the wall to make the whole thing textured. It was an aesthetic imprint of the urban environment. He remarked how this process of having the art create a dialogue with the built environment is different than that of a controlled artist’s studio.
Upon leaving, we gave the supervisor 20 pesos (“1 peso per minute, for 20 minutes,” Cesar told me in advance). We were surprised that the supervisor then stopped us on our way out and gave us two magazines that talk about the neighborhood. Out of our negotiation emerged a creative interchange between two disparate people that would have otherwise probably not interacted in such a way.
Esta lata de pintura la dibuje, en papel bond, con marcador de texto y otros marcadores fluorescentes, lo hice en un parque público que está en la calle de Regina en el centro de la ciudad, y coloque el papel en la pared ya que me gusta usar la textura y aplicarla en la hoja, y en sus paredes del parque estaban plasmados distintos graffitis, siendo su significado, que el arte no siempre se hace en un estudio o en alguna escuela de arte, ya que muchas de las personas que quieren plasmar sus diseños, no tienen la oportunidad de estar en alguno de esos lugares y buscan otro tipo de espacio para hacerlos, aunque no siempre corren con suerte ya que es ilegal, pero no sé detienen y buscan la manera de hacerlos con autorización de las autoridades pertinentes, para que de esa manera no sea ilegal.
I made this drawing of a graffiti can in bond paper with markers and fluorescent pens in a public park in Calle Regina in the center of the city. I liked the texture of the wall so I applied it to the sheet of paper, and the walls themselves are plasters in various graffiti. It’s like saying how not all art forms are contrived of in schools or in a studio, and there are many people who want to be in those kind of spaces but don’t necessarily have access or the opportunity, so they find other spaces to do so. Even though you can’t always be relying on luck to run away doing illegal things, so you can find other ways to ask for permission rather than forgiveness.
3: Kiosk (Parque Alameda)
When suggesting we can do something in a large public space, we first went to Zocalo but it was too packed with the Oaxacan fair vendors. So we went to Parque Alameda, and Cesar specifically suggested we can do our performance at the kiosk, about 15 ft in diameter that’s maybe 6 ft off the ground, on the northeast side of the park. We avoided going into the kiosk but perched underneath it in a little nook created by a flight of stairs and a little platform, because there was a girl and her mother doing photo shoots for her quinceañera in the kiosk.
The elevated ground that came below his chest was appropriated into a perfect setup for drawing. Cesar said also in this space we can have more interactions with the public. He cleaned the surface of the ground, then started to draw on a big piece of paper an image of a speculative city. A lot of people checking to see what’s up as they walked passed, but they did not come into our space and we did not have to negotiate with them.
After about 30 minutes, we had an exchange. Four maintenance guys who work for the city (in their uniforms) came up to us, of which one approached us to ask if we could move our activity because they needed to get access to the stairs that led to the bodega. The guys were in super work mode, and we were not in a position to negotiate, so we moved our activities upstairs into the bodega.
Cesar finished filling the parts in he started with marker, and then he added some elements too like details such as “more maguey” and “more greenery… in this city there is less contamination.” He then started to do watercolors, and the colors were incredible. He remarked how there are not many artists who would mix mediums like this, because most artists tend to finish a piece of work using only one medium, acrylic paint for example. We spent 1 hour and 20 minutes finishing the drawing upstairs. Cesar looked uncomfortable sitting on the floor and was constantly changing positions.
Este lo dibuje en el parque de la Alameda central, también utilice papel bond y los colores utilice marcador de texto, plumones fluorescente, acuarelas, plumones finos así como colores de madera, en el cual dibuje distintos tipos de edificios cuya forma es de comida, hay un sol brillante, nubes, niños jugando y divirtiéndose y en el cual no hay coches, su significado para mí es que amo la comida y sería muy grato, que en la vida real dejará de existir la contaminación, y que los niños tuvieran más espacios de dispersión cultural y deportiva, para un crecimiento más sano.
This drawing was made in the park of Alameda, also using bond paper and markers, fluorescent pens, acrylics, and pens that have the color of wood stain. It’s a city consisting of various buildings that mimic the forms of food, with a bright sun, clouds, kids playing and having fun because there are not that many cars. It comes from my love for food, and imagining how there could be a life beyond this one where there is less contamination and more spaces for kids to create cultural exchange and do sports.
NEGOTIATING WITH THE CITY
The idea that the performance would be partially constructed by, and informed through, the existing socio-spatial rules of the city was crucial, because it wanted to create that kind of spatial dialogue to understand the practice of gaining spatial agency in spaces of power. It was not only about the action of appropriating something, however, but had much more to do with the process of it: walking around, identifying and observing opportunities for intervention, and contemplating how to design the performance in a deliberate way.
We also noted different types of spatial appropriation in the city:
DRAWING AS A PRACTICE
In relation to how each of the spaces where the drawings were produced effectively created a dialogue with the drawing itself. It seems that drawings are media that can capture the relationship between the architecture of the city and the person wanting to reformulate a sense of self within in: it’s a performance that doesn’t refer to theory but creating a new sense of self, expression and agency through a continuous practice and engagement with space. It makes sense how Cesar refers to the notebook and pencil/pen combination as his go-to tools, because they are something that is practical and mobile for everyday practice, and can be carried into other spaces where you need to negotiate:
En el mundo existen distintas formas de expresión, y todas y cada una de ellas tienen un significado distinto, algunos son de carácter político, otros religioso, amoroso e incluso histórico. Aunque no siempre son hechos con ese objetivo. Yo en lo personal, siempre he dibujado por el simple gusto de hacerlo, y al paso del tiempo he realizado distintos estilos, que van desde personajes de dibujos animados, arquitectura, y otros más los he encontrado en distintas superficies y es ahí cuando les comienzo a dar forma en el papel, los cuales han sido hechos sin algún significado específico. Aunque debo de confesar, que hay veces que inconscientemente, les he llegado a dar un simbolismo o significado. Ya que dependiendo del entorno o lugar donde me encuentre, es lo que hace que mi imaginación vuele, y es cuando los comienzo a plasmar en el papel. Yo no tengo un estilo específico. Y tampoco he tenido algún tipo de guía, Académicamente hablando, pero eso para mí, no es impedimento alguno, para hacer lo que me gusta. Y con respecto al tipo de material que uso, pues me encanta el papel, por qué siempre puedo traer conmigo una libreta y pluma o lápiz, también los hago con distintos tipos de plumones, también me gusta la acuarela y los colores de madera.
In this word there exist many forms of expression, and all and each one of them are significantly distinct; while some are concerned with politics, others are religious, romantic, or even historic, although they are not always made with such objectives in mind. Personally, I’ve always drawn things to express nothing in particular but for the pure fun of it, and over time I’ve developed different styles. Some come from the personalities that the drawings wish to convey, or pulling inspiration from architecture, and others I’ve encountered from gazing at the various surfaces that exist in the city. When they begin to take shape and form on a piece of paper, that’s when they begin to take on specific meanings. Although I will confess that there are times where I inconsistently decide to give them a kind of symbolism or meaning in advance. Depending on the environment of the place where I find myself, my imagination turns, and that’s when I begin to translate those thoughts on to the paper. My practice is self-taught and I have never resorted to any sort of text to guide me, but that has never impeded my work or my process of drawing what I want to draw. With respect to the material that I use, I love the paper because I can always carry around a notebook with a pen or pencil: I make drawings with various types of pens, also with acrylic which I love and wood stain.