CULTURAL ASSEMBLING Review
by Mauricio Jumpa, a student of the AA Visiting School El Alto 2018
“The definition of the man as a being who works, should be changed by that of man as a being who desires.”
– Octavio Paz.
As you walk in the streets of La Paz, you can begin to understand that there is a mystic feeling within Paceños. There is a practical and a spiritual sense in all the things they do. From the simplest and most humble things, like bringing bread to the house, they hold a sacred meaning and honour it.
Reciprocity: The Alasitas and the dreams in miniature
La “Feria de Alasita” is a symbol of reciprocity. Alasita means “buy from me” in Aymara, but it also extends to a reciprocity that its miniatures resemble: a tradition of giving objects to somebody in order for their wish to come true. You never desire something for yourself, you wish it for someone else, that is where the reciprocity lies. Thousands of artisans manually produce tiny bricks, diploma certificates, passports, shops, babies and everyday objects for everyone’s desires. This is how a giant chain of mutual exchange is created. It was with this spirit that we began the El Alto Visiting School journey.
Act 1: Defragmenting
We started constructing a new architectural artefact in a chaotic process of fragmentation and re-assembly, transfiguring each element we would use, charging it with symbolic and aesthetic sense regarding the cultural power of the “Diablada of Oruro”.
In the process of understanding this, we dived into the first week of the workshop to dismantle our own, identity-filled fragments and combined them with a protagonist of the Diablada that was assigned to each one of us. The task was to take the essence out of the characters and ask ourselves: what defines that persona? Is it something visual, symbolic or both at the same time? What does that mask transcend in human nature? How can we make an ancient dance contemporary?
Selection was the first process we dealt with: what to bring from our personal memories and experiences into the narrative. We discovered from each character some core properties that would serve as a guide to build a new architectural element. We started to structure this “ground” with a collective narrative that would re-interpret both the myth and the dance of the Diablada, through a painted drawing in a 4-piece wood panel.
Act 2: The Kingdom of Fragments
The elements we selected and arranged did not work in a vacuum. We are all part of a bigger picture. The process of designing continued with the production of the surroundings. The context, made out of ceramics became our frame to play within. Each one of us had its own totem shaped out of geometrical cones, in different shades and sizes. Through these totems we fuelled the design of the entire ground, where synthesis and syncretism came together. Ceramics appeared to us as a glue between the pieces and the narrative we were creating.
Act 3: Assembling the Choreography
The last week we worked in one of the chalets of Freddy Mamani Silvestre. The place itself suggested that we should make a centrepiece as in each of its buildings, the shapes and columns meet and intertwine almost in a knot right in the centre of the rooms.
This centrepiece involved the assembly of the miniatures in a series of stages that resemble the sequence of building up any architectural project. The action of translating and appropriating objects, placing them in a new context gave a new symbology for our ground. We used objects as a medium to construct architecture.
The whole project got unveiled through a performance, which unveiled the real meaning of this ground: an inverted ceiling with a complex chandelier in the middle. Illustrating and presenting the project we became part of the fragments which constituted the whole ceiling. Our painting became a fresco, our centrepiece – a chandelier, our totems – ceiling lights and our movements were trajectories to our ideas.
A collective project
This new architectural element, an inverted ceiling, was a combined and mutual wish. We constructed a ground which allowed us to debate from the Oruro carnival to architectural methodology. The scale of action has been developed from the smallest nuts and bolts to the 1:1 room installation. We all worked together as dancers in a choreography, respecting and supporting the role of each other, in search of a designed artefact which could act as a medium to express our ideas. The final outcome was never established, it came bit by bit by assembling and exchanging.
Something that architects should be reminded of is how collective our work really is. This Visiting School taught us that. Focusing on the process of constantly collaborating, yet each one contributing by our personal abstraction, we worked as a collective mind aiming at the same objective. At the end, what is the point of looking at our belly button if we are not working together in a society? We are just another piece in this mosaic that we call civilisation.
For more information:
AA Visiting School El Alto Programme Brief
AA Visiting School El Alto microsite
Follow El Alto on Instagram
Sabrina Morreale on AA Conversations
Lorenzo Perri on AA Conversations