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Antoni Remesar: “To remember what a place meant is a necessary practice to understand where we come from and towards we are going”

“From urban design and public art perspective, we are proposing that our city should have any communicative system or element which describes historical memory”.

“From urban design and public art perspective, we are proposing that our city should have any communicative system or element which describes historical memory”.

“We are not presenting a project to be done; it is a project to think about the feasibility of the project&rquo;.

“We are not presenting a project to be done; it is a project to think about the feasibility of the project&rquo;.

30/04/2013

Entrevistes

Every day, many people go through one of the most crowded points of Avinguda Diagonal: the Plaça Reina Maria Cristina, without knowing that the former Presó de Dones de les Corts (a women prison) was there (1939-1955), just where a famous shopping centre is located now. This is one of the thirteen locations covered by the “Les Corts Historical Memory Route”, a proposal made by the Polis Research Centre: Art, City, Society of the UB, working on the project developed during 2011-2012 academic year by the students of the master’s degree in Urban Design, and supported by the Associació per la Cultura i la Memòria de Catalunya (ACME, Association for Catalan Culture and Memory). This research has been translated into an online-guided urban itinerary, a small exhibition —which took place in January at the Centre Cívic Can Deu—, and several ideas to give visibility to some places which have been forgotten.

We interview Dr Antoni Remesar, commissioner of the exhibition together with Dr Núria Ricart, and director of the Polis Research Centre —affiliated with the Department of Sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the UB— who describes us this project to discover the past of Les Corts.

 
How was the initiative born?

The Polis Research Centre: Art, City, Society of the UB has been researching on the so-called 'places of memory' for many years, particularly in the period 1929-1939 and the years that followed Franco’s regime. The project appears just when the interest of the Associació per la Cultura i la Memòria de Catalunya (ACME) and our interest come together to reflect historical memory in public areas. The first step was to ask students of the master’s degree in Urban Design of the University to develop a brief research project which finally gave birth to the exhibition “Les Corts Historical Memory Route”, which was presented at the Centre Cívic Can Deu last January.

 

The project recommends an itinerary which goes round thirteen locations in the district linked to historical events happened during the Second Republic, the Civil War and Francoist Spain. What does it aim at?

The objective of the project is to make visible the historical memory that building activity has been burying. So, what we do is to analyse how historical memory can be reflected and recognised on public areas. In order words, our work has been focused on how we can mark today’s public areas with the memories of what happened or was there. This is one of the topics that most interest us in the context of urban design and public art.

 

How did you select the thirteen places included in the route?

We mainly based ourselves on the documents provided by ACME. Some places were clear due to their relevance as in the case of the former Presó de Dones de les Corts, a location with a remarkable social and human history of Francoist repression. Other places were chosen for their disappearance, such as the former monument dedicated to José Antonio Primo de Rivera and the monument to Los Caídos. And between them we have others which were not too difficult to choose, such as, the Congreso Eucarístico Internacional of 1952, just in front of Princesa Sofía.

 

There are several projects to recover and disseminate the historical memory of Barcelona’s neighbourhood and districts. How does your initiative differ from others?

Basically, if it is carried out, it leaves marks on territory. From urban design and public art perspective, we are proposing that our city should have any communicative system or element which describes historical memory. This is the greatest difference.

 

In this sense, the project suggests to put up display boards with QR codes in each location...

That is right. The idea is that visitors can get information about each location through their mobiles phones. This code would lead you to the website of the project, where you would get more information on the links provides, for example from the information system Art Públic de Barcelona, that we created together with the Barcelona City Council. Therefore, the task will be to join information systems and create a virtual itinerary which increases the information about each location. By this way, if you are, for example, in the former monument to Los Caídos, you will be able to get information from you mobile phone about the history of that monument, why it was demolished, etc. The point of view is always communicative.

This is the main difference from other historical memory recovery proposals: if our project is finally carried out, people will be able to recognise at the street the locations of the route as they will be signposted.

 

Is there any type of signalling now?

No, there is not. For the moment, the route is only guided through the website of the project. There you can download the leaflet of the route, as a guide, which includes a map and information about each stop.

As I have already explained, with this initiative we aim at proving that territory must be marked, that historical memory must be finally marked at streets. In other words, any type of communicative sign must facilitate the access to an explanation about a certain place, and this is a first experience. However, we are not presenting a project to be done; it is a project to think about the feasibility of the project. If the Barcelona City Council wants, it will do everything needed.

 

The project also gives intervention ideas in three locations where Francoist monuments have been demolished during the last decade...

Three projects of public art and urban design are suggested in order to make visible three 'without memory' locations: the monuments to José Antonio Primo de Rivera and to Los Caídos, and the Presó de Dones. Essentially, we propose to identify what was there before, in order to not let memories go missing.

 

What do these intervention proposals include?

The proposal changes depending on territory’s characteristics. For example, in the gardens where the monument to Los Caídos raised, in front of Palau Reial de Pedralbes, we propose to put up some display boards with images and puns on the main public transport points to make visible the history of that monument.

Today, at the former Presó de Dones de les Corts, at the Plaça de la Reina Maria Cristina, there is only a small plaque which identifies the former building. In this case, our suggestion is to mark the perimeter which now occupies a famous shopping centre by designing some elements which will explain aspects of the prison’s history by means of graphic and verbal materials. The idea is to go deeper into personal experiences by engraving, every two metres, the names of the prisoners and their dates of confinement, as well as some sentences which tell personal and collective stories of the events happened on this place fifty years ago.

And, finally, for the disappeared monument to José Antonio Primo de Rivera, on Avinguda Josep Tarradellas, where today there is only a sand box, we propose to revalue the place and recover the history of this monument. Our suggestion is to reflect on historical memory from a critical point of view by means of a timeline which remembers the most remarkable events as a way to inform about the history of this location.

In the three cases, intervention proposals are essentially about communication, delimitation and town planning.

 

Does the project plan more actions?

The proposal is finished. However, we will continue working more deeply on Les Corts, as we are from this neighbourhood; by this way, we can promote the relation between the university and the district. In fact, we are already discussing with ACME the possibility of developing a new project for the next academic year which will continue the identification process exhibited.

We are thinking about going deeper into this itinerary thanks to the work that new master’s students, who mainly come from Chine, Greece, North and Latin America, would carry out. Probably, new places to add to the itinerary will be searched. Nevertheless, it will be difficult as we will have to identify memory locations which are not so clear or obvious.

 

Do you think that the proliferation of projects to recover historical memory not only in Barcelona, but also in Spain and all over the world, answers to a democratic responsibility practice?

It is a practice of citizenship and a completely necessary right. To remember what happened and what a place, a symbol or an event meant is a necessary practice to understand where we come from and towards we are going.

Unfortunately, current neoliberal thinking wants to deny historical memory. Now, more than ever, we must demand an analysis of how social rights and welfare state were achieved because now we are going backwards, to the moment when the fights to get all these rights had not already happened. In some aspects, we are nearly going back to a system previous to the French Revolution. And, that was more than two hundred years ago!

This kind of theoretical proposals can be useful to open people’s eyes.

 

What role does the university play in all that?

The university is a key institution in democracy. The first duty of university is to keep up to date with society, but also to serve society. How? With a direct implication in social and cultural issues that happen in a close environment. This has been our way of thinking for many years. It is not common as it means that we must not only consider other institutions as project providers, but also we must work in joint projects, funded or not, because our knowledge and creative potential are great and that can open us many doors.

The initiative that we present is an example. With this project we prove that the university can work together with citizens and give ideas to achieve that historical memory locations will be marked because if we do not get it, we will finally lose roots and identity. Now it is Barcelona City Council’s turn...

 

Is its turn to set up any action?

Of course, it is. These are ideas that could be carried out in easily in order to make visible the history or public areas; if the City Council wants, it can implement them.

 

 

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