Footprints of History. Francesc Abad
Intervention in the Almeda Train Station. Cornellà, Barcelona, 2005
Almeda is one of the working class neighbourhoods of the Baix Llobregat area in Barcelona which in the 1970s, together with other towns in el Vallès county, such as Terrassa, led the struggle against Franco’s dictatorship for democratic, labour and social freedom. These neighbourhoods and towns headed Spain’s process of change and worker’s movements with large demonstrations and strikes in big factories such as Moltex-Laforsa and Pirelli.
This proposal for the Almeda station aims to seek the meaning of identity in a globalised world. One vital concern for the memory.
Social conveyance of visual or oral narrations act as compacting defining features of the communities faced with the relocation of the places of Memory
Railways, factories and images. Ivan Bercedo and Jordi Mestre
1. Michel de Certeau relates in his Stories on Spaces that “in modern Athens, public transport is called metaphorai. To go to work and return home one takes a “metaphor” –a bus or train. Stories can also adopt this evocative name: every day they cross and organize places, they select and link them, make sentences and itineraries out of them. They are journeys of spaces […] Space is a passable place. So streets geometrically defined by urban planning are turned into a space for walkers. Likewise, reading is the space produced by passing the place which establishes a system of signs —a written document.”
2. With exquisite clairvoyance, though perhaps not completely aware of the poetical span of their choice, Auguste and Louis Lumière decided that the first sequences their invention would show would be Workers Leaving a Factory and A Train Arriving at the Station.
The two features that most precisely and symbolically depict industry, technology and the workers’ world in the 19th century —the railway and factory —, with this subtle gesture they become trapped in the distinctive space of the 20th century, the space of image and movement, cinema. Now that the 20th century has come to an end and without fear of being mistaken the critical effectiveness of the earliest films is confirmed.
3. One of the first shows associated with movies, Hale’s Tour show, consisted of an anchored train carriage from which the public saw through the windows projected images of bits and pieces of remote landscapes. Hale’s Tour was placed in the early theme parks beside other inventions based on the railway, such as the roller coaster. Built on the outskirts of town, many of these parks were promoted by tramway com-panies to attract workers to the end of the line on holidays.
4. The growth of cinema went hand in hand with the gradual reduction of working hours and the building of a network of electricity which describes a scene of an integrated development of consumption and the urban culture of leisure: artificial lighting, electrical appliances, advertising, music-halls, the popularity of clubs, sports events, funfairs, the radio and trams. With this in mind the new protagonist was no longer the worker, but the consumer of goods or (tourist) areas.
5. Work has been the ideological social mirror of the West in modern times. The relationship between religion and work in Reformist Europe led to capitalism (Max Weber); and the workers’ criticism of capital in times of industrialization brought about socialism (Karl Marx).
6. The inversion of the direction of the vector in the binomial from production > consumption to consumption > production, builds a new story articulated by image-desire. The production of images in the last century exponentially multiplies earlier imagery. Largely these are images aimed at promoting consumption (advertising) and desire: the star-system of cinema, pop music, sport, television shows, “celebrities”, pornography, exotic travels, the exhibitionism of luxury…
7. The later decades of the 20th century show a conti-nuous, conflictive, relentless disappearance of factory work in the West, which has been described in different terms: restructuring, regulation, relocation… Relocation in the era of the preeminence of consumption in terms of production is a complementary figure of colonialism from the era of industrialization. As the large cities of the 19th century created empires in line with their industries, searching for raw materials, and also markets (because they obliged their colonies to consume their manufactu-red goods), it is now factory work that is going East: to China, Indochina, India.
8. Any trip on an underground railway leads us to an experience of the space outside the carriage which is characterized by a visual landscape cut by systematic alternating of stations and dark strips, similar, though with a different rhythm, to organizing celluloid stills. If we were able to prolong the phenomenon of the retina’s concentration for the length of one and a half minutes which the trip between stations lasts, or if we close our eyes when travelling through tunnels, we would see the trip as a continuous story in cinematographic terms. This story is positively banal.
9. The emergence of any image in space —for example an image on a billboard in a railway station— entails mental substitution of the place (although this is done unconsciously and momentarily) by the image depicted. In an underground station this effect is multiplied, since the signs and images depicted, such as the sign showing directions and exits form the basic features of orientation in an otherwise undistinguishable environment.
10. Francesc Abad builds up a photographic sequence of the Almeda neighbourhood by linking non consecutive moments as if it was chronological photography recorded over an extended syncopated time. The series develops the story, yet the content is not marked by the accelerated rhythm of a moving image in this case, but by biographical, mnemonic time.
11. Abad relates the images by shedding mathesis and taxonomy, the classic tools of classification. On the contrary, he recuperates forms closer to pre-Cartesian school of thought, less scientific but also less aseptic, i.e., analogy, similitude and proximity. In a context so saturated by images this archive-like offer adopts the form of critical and poetical criticism.