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Art & Social Space
Al Zur-ich Urban Art Encounter: Quito
by Maria Belen Moncayo

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The Spanish for "south" is "sur", which sounds like the beginning of the city name Zurich. There's a popular play on words here that involves juggling those phonetics. To make a long story short, "Let's go to Zur-ich instead" (Let's go to the south instead) is what is proposed by the Ecuadorian art collective Tranvia Cero, whose members, the majority inhabitants of this southern sector of Quito, are young visual artists. More than to improve the visibility options open to the capital's urban art scene, Tranvia Cero strives to shatter a denial of "mestizaje" that has geographically and metaphorically divided the city - into south/north, ugly/beautiful, indigenous/Caucasian, working city/garden city - and "to confront and resist the official vision of culture"(1). Southern Quito contains five hundred neighborhoods, housing approximately eight hundred thousand people(2). The summoning of artistic projects linked to the geography and the "southern" communities has become a vital part of this artists' collective.

Identified with the hard-rock music movement "Al Sur del Cielo" (South of Heaven), Tranvia Cero has proposed the re-location of southern Quito on the urban map: that periphery, to which the city's mountain top symbol, the Virgin of the Panecillo (3), turns her back on while fixing her gaze on the northern environs. Since 2003, this group has summoned artists from all over the country to participate in the Al Zur-ich Urban Art Encounter. The chosen projects - always ten - are on the one hand, formally detonated by the ephemeral and, on the other, proposals in which the conceptual could mobilize narratives that indicate the socio-political pulse of the context.

The urban-popular disposition with which the organizers variegate the Al Zur-ich Encounter is reflected also in the resources that they have used in order to intervene in the city. Loudspeakers in the streets broadcast acoustic treatments including elements of popular coded sayings and music. Another strategy consists of a set of postcards having images of each of the projects; a map printed on the back provides information regarding transportation alternatives and the routes to take in order to arrive at the indicated place. The postcards were packaged in a small yellow plastic bag, similar to those used by itinerant food sellers, a survival-consumption practice deeply rooted in Quito's working-class neighborhoods.

The old municipal Olympic swimming pool of Chimbacalle(9), nowadays a boxing center with the ring sunk into the empty and dilapidated pool (where Tranvia Cero member, Omar Puebla trains daily) was the scene chosen by the organizers to inaugurate the 2005 edition of Al Zur-ich, a spatial counter-position that evidences the penury of the bureaucratic system when it's time to manage community projects, and which could well contain, moreover, a tacit allusion to the quality of "cultural management" promoted by state institutions.

The flow of intentions of the Encounter derives from certain ephemeral works that make transparent the workings of the southern part of the city. La Limpia Mediatica (2004 edition of the Al Zur-ich) from the Colectivo Cosas Finas (7) incited the locals from the Oriente Quiteño neighborhood - during the festivities of the Inty Raymi (festival of the sun) - to take their televisions out onto the sidewalk. They carefully placed a stone brought from the "sacred" Peguche waterfall that had previously been "healed" in an Andean shamanistic ritual. On the screen of the then "de-territorialized" monitors came, via one of the television channels, a previously recorded transmission of the ritual of the stone's purification. The "limpia" was simultaneously seen and performed in the nearby city of Otavalo. The ultimate objective of this long-distance electronic ritual was aimed at the healing or curing of the media, from a posture that - according to Marí­a Fernanda Cartagena(5), curator of the second edition of Al Zur-ich- "forcefully applies knowledge of the Andean cosmovision in order to debate the manipulation and role of the image that our societies experience. This proposal, as a reaction to the circus-like discursive model that television usually constructs, rises up to vindicate the image of these communities and specifically the place of the woman as guide and fundamental pillar in the home. In order to combat the weight of the white-mestizo gaze, where the colonialist vision has remained, the artists resort to ancestral and subordinate practices, applying "other" knowledge in order to combat the sequels of Western culture."

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