Audience at one of the Biennial events.
Photo: THOMAS VILHELM
Text: GUILLEM MARTÍNEZ
SCIENCE AND CHARITY Running to the CCCB, to the Pati de les Dones. A beautiful building, with a courtyard surrounded by 17th-century tiles replete with sayings and maxims about humility, the wealth of poverty, effort, rectitude, and the reward for all that in another life. To see those texts on the walls you'd imagine that BCN was a Calvinist city. But it wasn’t. The meaning of all those words is totally Catholic. The moral severity of all those maxims was not supposed to be read, learned and assimilated by the bulk of the city’s population, who for the most part totally ignored them. They were slogans designed for a small group of victims from that city. Cities, in a nutshell, in every era, every day, have their victims. Or, at least, people to be treated differently. Who were they? Who were so many words written for? If you are hooked, it means my efforts have succeeded and you are intrigued, so it is time to swiftly change paragraph, as Manuel Martínez of the Sexy Chronicles says.
CULTURE. What you can see on the walls of the CCCB courtyard were texts for the re-education of prostitutes. Relative re-education. Every Lent, the Council of One Hundred (the BCN authority elected since the 14th century by a lottery of the honourable citizens, an electorate comprising nobles and possible future nobles, so less than 20% of all the citizens voted) cleared the prostitutes out of the brothels to keep up appearances. For 40 days the Council paid them and locked them up in this institution. Some nuns pretended to teach them to sew and some priests gave them sermons on the value of work, as if they didn’t work without a break the rest of the year. For 40 days all they could do was walk round the courtyard. Hence the texts. To nag them. Meanwhile, the Council of One Hundred was a doozy. Not only did it handle prostitution, that is, everyday habits, it also administered supplies, water, health up to a point, defence and urban planning. There was a law which stipulated that anything built by the Council had to be “beautiful”. It also managed culture – the courtyard walls are the ultimate proof of that. But not much and without overstepping the Church, which had the real say in that matter. To some extent, public management of culture, since it became lay and cool – since Malraux became the French minister of culture, to put a date on it – hasn’t gone much further. It consists of selecting the words put up in the courtyard we have to walk round. Values not necessarily tried and tested, lets say. Creating culture isn't easy, really.
POLITICS. Any cultural item evaluated by the State runs the risk of being a tile with a text. In that sense, the Open City Biennial has surprised me. It hasn’t relied on institutions, nor picked local intellectuals, nor rewarded those close to it and punished those who are not, nor has it designed or opted for the big event concept and nor has it provided solutions or epic period soundtracks, to capitalise on them later. It has simply offered us a global agenda of issues and proposals that go beyond the City Council concept, even the State concept. They paint a picture of a world concerned about the forms of ultra-neoliberalism In other words, a world worried about a world that's impossible to grasp. As it has turned out, it offers a reading of culture that avoids the advertising opportunities culture can offer an institution. I suspect that the person behind this is Joan Subirats, a political scientist at the UAB, a former member of Bandera Roja, PSUC, nothing and Comuns, and currently in charge of the culture thing in BCN. Managing culture has been a boooring job since 1978. For whatever reason Subirats gives it a miss, I suppose. He has created, or modelled, something close to what he knows. Or maybe changing culture, among other possible changes, consists in taking it out the hands of its professionals. Wow, here is Subirats. In fact, these last few days I’ve met him at all the events I’ve been to. So close to being ubiquitous that I wouldn't be surprised if he appears to some shepherds in Collserola. I'll talk to him.
SUBIRATS. “The original idea was to make general debates on the world accessible to the widest possible audience, with a more open format, and as informal as possible. Everything outdoors, with chairs and accessibility. And, very important, avoiding localism, avoiding the what-happens-here-most or it-only-happens-to-us-here idea. Surprisingly, the Catalan question has hardly been raised. Not even in the talk on sovereignty.” What period does the general public’s presence or absence suggest we are in? “The debates on cities – there have been debates on Madrid, Medellín, Lisbon – have mainly attracted specialists. The biggest audiences, I don’t know whether it is significant or not, have been at debates about people, differences, gender, identity, who-am-I. On this subject, it seems that the what-can-we-do-together theme has attracted less interest. But you never know why people come or not. There is what the English call the fear of missing out. But there is also the opposite effect, that of enjoying not going because everybody goes.” “There have been streaming sessions with over 600 visits, which explains another aspect.” The future? “I think people have made the Biennial their own, from organisations like CIDOB [Barcelona Centre for International Affairs] to companies. Some have asked for it to be an annual event, but it is biennial, it doesn't get trapped in the current situation, it reflects on it.” Changes? “It needs more performances, theatre, dance, that sort of thing, shows like the one by Marcus du Sautoy, a mathematician with a play about maths that the kids who saw it absolutely loved. My intention was to introduce other themes into culture such as science, education. But I think that’s past.” Dosh. “This has cost five times less than the fiestas of La Mercè, 700,000.” I told him about the non-peninsula oddities I had seen this week. “I did that because I felt like it.”
THE EVENT Well, this is the last chronicle and I’ve lost the thread. I haven’t even told you where I was going when I was on my way to the CCCB. I was going to a kids’ event that started at 10 am and would finish at 9 pm. At that moment, a group of ladies on stilts were performing wildly in front of a group of kids. The kids, for their part, were laughing and showing all their teeth, while one was picking an idea from his nose. That’s what kids do, pick ideas from their nose. With a finger. With adults that is more difficult and requires other choreographies. I hope you have enjoyed it all as much as I have.