– Summer 2012

Envisaging Spatial Crisis: 'On Capital and Territory' and the Diagnosis of the Present

Mari Paz Balibrea

Ibon Aranberri, Política Hidráulica (Hydraulic Policy), 2004—2010, 98 framed photographs, dimensions variable. Installation view, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 2011. Photograph: Lluís Bover. Courtesy the artist and Fundació Antoni Tàpies

One of the most urgent questions for artistic and cultural production in the Spanish context today concerns the conditions of possibility and dissemination of critical thinking. Where can one find sustained reflection on the present era and the place of Spain within it, on the pressing issues defining our historical moment or on the role of art and culture within this historical moment? Where are audiences being given access to artistic and cultural forms that interpellate them as discriminating thinkers and social agents? Where are the hard questions pointing to the consequences of living under conditions of the radical and inescapable commodification of art and culture? Where are art and culture being thought politically? Where is utopian thinking being made possible? Where are young practitioners and students aspiring to a career in the creative industries or to an education in the humanities being trained to think critically, to defy disciplinary boundaries, to question their own practice and the structures and institutions that make it possible?

The obvious place, the university, provides such functions only at its margins, leaving much to be learnt beyond them. Still a recognisable child of the Franco dictatorship in its structures as well as in its mechanisms of reproduction (that is, in its members and the knowledge taught), the Spanish university has failed to reinvent itself as a democratic institution after more than 35 years of democracy. In particular the arts, the humanities and the social sciences have proven unable to turn the university into a space where education is understood as the debating of ideas, of rigorous and innovative thinking and of openness to relevant conversations taking place beyond national frontiers.

It is

  1. To be fair, museum programmes are at times delivered via agreements with and financial help from universities, with the participation of university lecturers and professors and the awarding of credits to attending students. Although this is an interesting example of collaboration, we are still far from a situation where universities can be said to lead or fully participate in the promotion of the kind of critical thinking that I am discussing here.

  2. See UNIA’s web page for the event: http://ayp.unia.es/index.php?option=com-content&task=view&id=486 (last accessed on 25 February 2012).

  3. Mar Villaespesa, ‘La orquídea y la avispa’, in Ur_Versitat 2010: Prácticas espaciales: Investigaciones culturales sobre el territorio y el espacio social, Valencia: universidad Politécnica de Valencia, pp.117, 125, 126. All translations are the author’s.

  4. Each of the three groups, co-ordinated by the architect Claudia Zavaleta, the economist Daniel Coq and the artist Isaías Griñolo, worked with a set of questions. Group 1: How do urban dynamics impose themselves in territories that were rural until recently? How are public spaces constructed or destructed, and how are spaces of exclusion generated? Group 2: How does financial capital use the city-territory? What agents are implicated in the landing of financial capital in specific cities such as Seville? What implication does this landing have on the city planning? Group 3: In what way do modern myths — and their symbols as generators of identity — have an impact on the configuration of the metropolitan space and the city? What role do marketing agents play in this process? See http://ayp.unia.es/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=69 (last accessed on 25 February 2012).

  5. See Joaquín Vázquez (BNV Producciones), ‘Sobre Capital y Territorio, un proyecto de UNIA arteypensamiento’, in Ur_versitat 2010, op. cit., p.143.

  6. See Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1974, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith), Oxford: Blackwell, 2004; and H. Lefebvre, ‘The Right to the City’, Writings on Cities (ed. and trans. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas), Oxford: Blackwell, 1996, pp.63—184.

  7. Villaespesa, quoting Valentín Roma, defines thus the communitarian turn: ‘With the advent of the communitarian, a different field of work has opened up for art, a field of social action — as well as a market, an audience — the exploration of which forces us to find different methodologies of negotiation, to accept other tensions and other dynamics, to build different forms of representation, also to tackle new incognitas.’ M. Villaespesa, Ur_versitat 2010, op. cit., p.127

  8. It is also worth remembering that Lefebvre was himself inspired by the avant-garde. For a full discussion of Lefebvre’s aesthetic ideas, see Marc James Léger, ‘Henri Lefebvre and the Moment of the Aesthetic’, in Andrew Hemingway (ed.), Marxism and the History of Art: From William Morris to the New Left, London: Pluto Press, 2006, pp.143—60.

  9. This was made clear in the audio-visual contributions by Daniel Alonso Mallén concerning the new urbanism in Seville: Torre Pelli I y Torre Pelli II (Pelli Tower I and Pelli Tower II ); Ditero, montaje de dos montajes (Ditero, Montage of Two Montages, both 14—16 October 2009).

  10. The research group from the Sevilla universidad Hispalense AREA (Regional Analysis: Andalusian Economy/Análisis Regional: Economía Andaluza) brought this home unequivocally in their work on the construction of the Pelli Tower, owned by the banking institution Cajasol, which incorporated a debate amongst citizens on how the economic comes to control political discourses in its quest to control even more urban space. Another case in point is the grass-roots association Mesa de la Ría Platform’s unveiling of the devastating effects of polluting chemical industries in the Andalusian province of Huelva.

  11. A case in point is that of Aljarafe, dealt with by Claudia Delorenzi’s Cuando el capital abandona el territorio (When Capital Foresakes the Territory and by Celia Macías and Manuel León’s El tren fantasma (The Ghost Train, both 14—16 October 2009)). The former documents the problem of isolated suburban neighbourhoods of the exopolis kind since the crisis hit, leaving houses and infrastructures unfinished and families deep in debt. Macías and León, on the other hand, focus on a train line running from Seville’s suburbs to its city centre — on the politics of mobility and territory — to reflect on the dire consequences that municipal and technical decisions have in discouraging the use of public transport.

  12. See José Colmeiro for an analysis of how the Andalusian fictional character of Carmen captures the European imagination as the epitome of Spain from the early nineteenth century and of the ideological implications of such kinds of projections. J. Colmeiro, ‘Exorcising Exoticism: “Carmen” and the Construction of Oriental Spain’, Comparative Literature, vol.54, no.2, Spring 2002, pp.127—44.

  13. See http://ayp.unia.es/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=486 (last accessed on 25 February 2012).

  14. J. Vázquez, ‘Sobre Capital y Territorio, un proyecto de uNIA arteypensamiento’, op. cit., p.137.

  15. See ibid., p.138.

  16. Hadid’s project to build a public library in Seville was abandoned due to conservation issues.

  17. Construction of his so-called Pelli towers (see notes 8 and 9) is being challenged by uNESCO on the grounds that skyscraper is too tall. If construction goes on, uNESCO has threatened to withdraw the city’s World Heritage status.

  18. It would be wrong to speak of Andalusia in general as post-industrial. In fact, one of the case studies that ‘On Capital and Territory’ dealt with in its exploration of uses of the Andalusian territory by capitalism and of grass-roots resistance is that of the Guadalquivir estuary, polluted by waste from the local chemical industry. More details are available at http://ayp.unia.es/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=67 (last accessed on 25 February 2012).

  19. Edward Soja, ‘Inside Exopolis, Scenes from Orange County’, in Michael Sorkin (ed.), Variations on a Theme Park, New York: The Noonday Press, 1992, pp.94—122.

  20. For a thorough discussion of this topic, seen through neo-Marxist positions, particularly post- structuralist, feminist positions, see Melissa Wright, ‘Differences that Matter’, in Noel Castree and Derek Gregory (ed.), David Harvey: A Critical Reader, Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, pp.80—101.