What we have in common: creating meaning by collecting objects and stories from the present, the Earth and the deep past

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“What We Hold in Common” by Ximena Garrido/Ishmael Randal Weeks is an essay commissioned by PROTODISSPATCH, a new digital publication featuring personal perspectives from artists addressing transcontinental concerns, filtered by their location in the world. It was originally published by the international non-profit organization Protocinema and appears here as part of a collaboration between Protocinema and Artnet News.

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For PROTODISPATCH, Ximena Garrido/Ishmael Randal Weeks write and share images of an ongoing collaborative work called Materia Comun (Common Materials) which is participatory earthwork. Their focus is on structures that connect coexisting cultures. here human bodies, thoughts and emotions are matter equal to vegetation, animals and the earth itself, interconnected and in constant flux. With the inspiration of public participants, the physical materials that people brought and the texts read started from mass media and mass-produced objects and slowly became intimate objects with deep meaning, personal diaries and letters. Materia Comun (Common Materials) touches the core of humanity’s temporary life in one body, occupying a society/city, in relation to a cyclical and interdependent organism, the earth, of which we are each a very small part. — Mari Spirito, founder of Protocinema

We are both from Peru and experienced similar realities growing up in the 80s and 90s. It was a very intense period of social and political unrest, as well as a deep economic crisis. Peru has a rich ancestral culture and history and was a center of Spanish control during the colonial period. The clash between the two cultures led to a series of disruptions and radical changes, which define its social and cultural realities reflected today.

In the hope of making sense of these ancestral, historical and contemporary realities that are embedded in everyday life, we have begun a process of creating a collaborative project using Peruvian soil, which not only has sacred meaning in the Peruvian Andean culture, but is also used as a building material for the construction of adobe structures. We made a visit to Chilca, a nearby town on the coast of Lima with black earth lagoons. People travel to this Laguna Milagrosa from different parts of the country, to soak up its ¨magic soil¨ and recover from their daily life and problems, as well as to cure diseases such as rheumatism, sterility, osteoarthritis, asthma, etc. the soil has high levels of minerals, which is also good for several skin conditions.

Volunteers depositing soil for the project. Courtesy of Materia Comun (Common Materials).

The historical importance of Chilca as one of the oldest settlements in Lima and the presence of the pre-Hispanic ruins of Bandurria and Lapa-Lapa were also important references for our project. Their significance lies in their relationship to structures. We look at the history of materiality and this specific structure dates back to pre-Columbian architecture and tells us about the development of our culture today. These archaeological sites are still sacred today, in fact this structure connects all these coexisting cultures. Recently, this location has also become associated with UFO sightings, and is used as an annual gathering place for UFO conventions, including thRahma Mission. The real slogan of the city is “Chilca…es de otro mundo” (Chilca is from another world), with alien signs in different parts of the city.

Local newspapers embedded in the floor. Courtesy of Materia Comun (Common Materials).

We decided to combine the soil of Chilca, its ancient origins and uses, with a contemporary element that traces the history of a place. We have incorporated local newspapers, which are testimonies of daily events deemed significant enough to be recorded for public consumption and posterity (regardless of their veracity), triggering a process of transforming this material into a paper pulp . This was then mixed with the healing soil, turning the mixture into a new building material. We used this material to create a structure using the ¨tapial¨ technique, an ancient building technique that uses molds to drive earth into the walls.

Volunteers working with local magazines. Courtesy of Materia Comun (Common Materials).

We also wanted to involve the public in the process of making this new material and this new structure. We built a mini artisan pulp factory where visitors sorted and helped transform information, in the form of local daily newspapers, into pulp. We thought that with these two elements (Chilca soil and paper pulp) we could build a structure that would represent a utopian model for a renewed and redone society. The new structure could be a symbolic representation of a city built in the field of collaboration and common knowledge.

Courtesy of Materia Comun (Common Materials).

The utopian model we built was based on that of Tommaso Campanella city ​​of the sun, one of the very first utopian fictions of the early Enlightenment. Campanella, an Italian Dominican philosopher born in the late 16th century, described the ideal city as containing all knowledge within its walls. The city in Campanella’s vision was heliocentric, where each segment of the walls contained a living visual library. The information was there for all to see. Nothing was hidden. The utopian basis of the book comes from the 16e- and 17e-century discussions of the discovery of the so-called “New World” and its potential to create new societies free from the corruption and violence that plagued Europe at the time. (Campanella wrote the novel while imprisoned for heresy by the Spanish crown.)

Courtesy of Materia Comun (Common Materials).

The more we studied this form, the more we understood the symbolic parallels of heliocentric design with the Inca cosmological vision, and even some of the architectural modeling of Sacsayhuamán, the citadel at the top of Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire. We have also seen this same design system in the camps set up by the Rahma mission launched by Sixto Paz Wells and the other UFO specialists who make annual visits to Chilca. We incorporated these ideas into the form of the project itself. At the same time, the structure is also very similar to a panopticon, with an inaccessible center. The one in the center the location was obvious and visible from above, but it was hopelessly inaccessible. By making the center or core inaccessible, we wanted to highlight the contradictions that have often undermined the ideals of utopian cities, which, as history has shown, turn out to be impossible and ideologically complex, and often turn into fascist and colonialists.

A selection of offers made by members of the community for the project. Courtesy of Materia Comun (Common Materials).

We also invited the public to bring “offerings” that can be mixed with dirt and paper pulp. The combination of these three elements, earth, newspapers and offerings, became the basis of a new construction created in common. All items brought in were displayed on a shelf around the perimeter of the space where the structure was being built. Each “offering” was cataloged in a notebook with the date, the name of its donor, as well as a description of the object, until they could be mixed with dirt and newspaper. These objects became very important elements of the walls because they were both very personal and depicted a specific moment in contemporary society in Lima. Items included sunglasses, photographs, pieces of string and fabric, and other items that had meaning to the person who provided them. The rammed material combined with these objects has become a kind of geological strata, a form that depicts through its layers a record of when it was made.

The resulting structure. Courtesy of Materia Comun (Common Materials).

As the offerings piled up, people were also invited to read aloud excerpts from local newspapers, which were brought to the site daily, from a tower overlooking the structure under construction in the gallery. Given the overwhelming amount of negative and fake news in extractivist Peruvian society, we thought of these readings as an interesting confrontation with the utopian structure that was building underneath. Some readings focused on articles published on “Periódicos chicha”, Peruvian tabloids focused on sensational crime and celebrity journalism. People also started bringing their own texts to read, sometimes leaving them behind.. This added an auditory aspect to the hall in which all the offerings took place and where the paper pulp and mud bricks were made. With this mixture of old beliefs, magic, fake news and chance encounters with texts read through a megaphone, the space vibrated with layered meanings. Hearing all of these readings, combined with the offerings, the construction team, the volunteers, created a charged environment that was both supernatural and earthly.

Spectators leave bids for the project. Courtesy of Materia Comun (Common Materials).

From the outset, we wanted to encourage the process to escape, to be a place where everyone could express themselves through the prompts we elicited and orchestrated. As soon as the offerings started coming in, we were overwhelmed with the number of items brought in and the audience’s participation and generosity. The process of sharing this common material was in motion and it mapped our collective realities and experiences in a material sense, through the combination of very personal objects and the process of their integration into the larger mud structure. The pulp, with its inherent lies and truths, was layered between the offerings rooted in the very land of Peru. The process materialized the state of mind and the particular idiosyncrasy of the place at that precise moment.. It would be great to be able to reactivate this project in other geographies and in different contexts. What might this tell us about the geological and social strata of each place?

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