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December 28, 2013

Re-union / living landscape

Written by Natalia Echeverri

The following is an account of the experience in a residence in the Reunion Island in France, where I had the opportunity to participate in the "Biennale Arts Actuels". During this stay I was allowed to provide a space for research where I could engage in a more direct dialogue with people of a district of the city of Port, which was appropriated by immigrants and low-income people. In my work I proposed visuals-cartographies that re-contextualized and imagined new geographies both of territory and space.

In order to make a visual mapping based on ethnographic record and study, we wanted to situate a spatio-temporal relationship of the inhabitants with their territory and try to understand how it becomes the hardware of the inhabitant, as the landscape is transformed according to changes in cultural, social and economic habits.

Touring the urban environment, through careful observation of all aspects perceived in the popular habitat, expanded my thinking, helping me understand the impulse that the place has on the affections of people, revealing the inhabitants’ relationship with this territory, the landscape they built for themselves on basis of their own experiential context and lifeworld.

The first approach to the population in this neighborhood started from the question: what does the word REUNION signify to the inhabitants? Interrogating this word from an area and a country would also hopefully lead to a deeper sense and understanding of its fundamental connotation: the island.

The word reunion, which also defines the island symbolically, first became a device to introduce me to the world of the inhabitants, and to start mapping a rudimentary cartography that aimed to recreate the territorial imagination of the population. But also to understand how any territory can Re-Unite, that is, go back to a state where different skins, races, families, roads, pieces, landscapes, thoughts, emotions, people, feelings are united, where life proliferates and the multiplicity and dignity of life becomes evident, vindicating daily habits.

Could La Reunión return to a place that existed as a set of relationships which freely weave and create space; as an infinite fabric that continuously combines to shape common spaces, mixed spaces, mixed languages​​, mixed people, mixed ideas, thoughts and religions?

The reconnaissance work in the territory was done through several tours with leaders and local residents of the Oasis and Rivière Galets, plus interviews with the community in general. With the help of a documentary video, a record of a number of the inhabitants living in these neighborhoods wasmade, where the relationships these people have with their territories became evident. This was a record that reflected them and their culture as the center of experiences that the territory provides them, and which the very same localities could eventually mediate.

During this time the mayor of the city of Puerto was carrying out a meticulous rehabilitation project affecting homes in substandard areas of the city. He also proceeded with the rehabilitation of a house of a resident in the Rivière neighborhood Galets that caught my attention, because it was a house where a typical gentleman of the island lived, who cooked with wood and who was very rooted in the place he lived despite his poor local facilities and infrastructure. The mayor now started the process of redeployment of his land to a nearby site where a new home was to be built.

While witnessing the demolition of his house I decided to pick up parts of it to include in my research. I picked up parts of the façade, tables, windows, some personal things like a shoe, the dining table, the window and other objects.

This is how "Textures of dwelling" started, a work that sums up the exterior and interior of a changing neighborhood Rivière de Galets in the city of Puerto in La Réunion. The paintings focus on textures in an attempt to show what they have preserved; a memory that is assembling passed days and functions of living, like how the smoke of cooking has been changing the colors of walls, doors, turning reds into garnets and light blue colors into dark blues, or a piece of wood with I don’t know how many nails, counting all the times the inhabitant had entered his own household.

In the series of paintings the different layers of habitation are highlighted layer upon layer, the foreground consisting of a façade of cans of different shades of gray that surround a piece of territory marking the edge of familiar terrain. This happens to be a real layer in between spaces composed of different families. Finally there is an inner layer demarcating the interior spaces where people live their daily lives.

Thus, this research becomes a reflection on ways of living, departing from the construction of quotidian situations, to build and live on a minimum, and to find agile solutions to the daily living.

The exhibition was the testimony of a trip summarized under the gaze and aesthetic reflection on the journeys made and lessons learned from living with the population, but it was also conducted in an experimental dimension because the work was aspiring to conform with lived life and at the same time, at the same time as it responded to my own questions and interests. A sensitivity was built through a "looking, walking, photographing, mapping” by means of which a new assessment of the territory and the landscape could hopefully be produced, in the form of an artwork[1].

The primary discovery was the qualities of the landscape and the architectural scenarios of the urban environment, laden with so many meanings in which it became necessary to find a workable, hybrid cohabitation, between the painting and the collected objects distributed in space: a cohabitation alluding to the meeting between the missing planning and the lack of understanding of this neighborhood that is being restructured.

Natalia Echeverri is an artist and Professor at the National University of Colombia. Echeverri holds a PhD in Visual Arts from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

[1] MADERUELO, Javier. La idea del espacio en la arquitectura y el arte contemporáneo 1960- 1989. Madrid 2008, Akal Pág. 273