When urban spaces turn to art

Daily News Egypt
5 Min Read

In a showroom in the Alexandria Bibliotheca, artists from various regions of the world showcased the artist books they made after partaking in a week-long workshop during the Alexandria Biennale.

The books are to remain with the permanent collection of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Daily News Egypt spoke to Spanish artist, Lara Almarcegui, whose “projects are about spaces that escape a defined design as buildings under transformation, allotment gardens and wastelands. Her last project was a two-year research endeavor that documented, in her words, “the whole country of Holland falling apart.

Daily News Egypt: Tell us about your work in Alexandria?

Lara Almarcegui: I was invited to do a workshop here with three other Spanish artists and we were 10 artists in total. The idea of the workshop was to produce an artist book, here in Alexandria, then donate the artist book to the museum and then show it in the Biennial.

In my case I cannot produce a book in one week, or 10 days, because I am really slow in working. So I did the research that I do before [producing] a book. When I go to a new city, I see what is interesting in terms of urban planning. So I spoke to urban planners, architects who pointed out some interesting areas and then I went to visit them and chose the best one. I found an area in the desert that is quite intriguing that is disappearing. So what I did was a proposal that could become a book.

What was the proposal about?

The project proposal is for a neighborhood in Alexandria that is going to be constructed near the highway, going to the airport. There is a large area, 2,000 acres, and this Bedouin area, with little settlements, and everything will be gone, just disappear, when they build this new neighborhood, which is already approved by the government.

My proposal is a statement about the area, to take the whole territory and analyze it and produce a book. Here there was a lake, in fact everywhere there used to be a lake, but then it dried, maybe 10 or 20 years ago, because of the petrol industry there. I thought it would be interesting to analyze each building, one by one. Who lived there? What were their professions? Who came after them? This was the public square, what happened there? Try to identify that, point by point.

What forms of art do you practice?

I do books. I sometimes work with wastelands, empty pieces of land. I convince the owner to open it to the public.

So if it is a very beautiful piece of land that is abandoned, I try to get permission to open it. Or I sometimes convince the owner of an empty lot to preserve it and not construct [anything on] it for one year, or two years, or five years, or 10 years. Fifteen years is the maximum.

Why do you think of your work as art?

Well, for me it is art, absolutely, no question about it. But then what I am open to discuss is the quality. Is it good or not? Is it interesting or not? I can defend it. But I think it’s art.

How do you differentiate yourself from, say, a documenter, or an activist?

Because I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t an artist. I do what I do from the point of view of an artist. My work may be very close to an architect’s or an urban planner’s, but urban planners study an area to build it. They locate a problem, to solve it, how to make it a design. They always find a solution and do useful things. I do useless things. I am not trying to solve anything.

I didn’t come to Alexandria to tell people in Egypt how they should live to improve their lives. I came to study and learn from them. And this the position of an artist.

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