Eme3 2012: Bottom-up

The best outcome of the Spanish architecture festival, this year dedicated to bottom-up creativity, was the strengthening of expanded networks of exchange and collaboration.

This year's Eme3 festival , under the theme "Bottom-Up," is part of the larger trend of promoting more horizontality and participation in architecture and cultural practices, a result of both a larger discourse on participation in the art and design circles, and more immediately, of the multiple political movements of the recent past. As such, the festival proves an interesting case study in the challenges of curating and exhibiting participatory practices. Taking place in Barcelona from 28 June through 1 July, Eme3 organized its call for projects under two banners: share-it and build-it. Additionally, the festival included a series of workshops, lectures, and debates.

The event kicked off on the evening of 28 June with presentations by Santiago Cirugeda (Recetas Urbanas ) and Andrés Jaque (Oficina de Innovación Política ) — two architects that have well-established practices within the festival's topic. Cirugeda and Jaque engaged the public in an interesting debate on the tension between working outside legal boundaries and the necessity to keep uncovering the overlaps and voids of existing legislation in order to promote change. The conversation highlighted the limits and challenges of the bottom-up approach, and the frustration of many designers and cultural producers with the traditional confines of the discipline. It also marked a trend in the festival itself, in which debates and open conversations seemed more appropriate to the theme than traditional lectures and documentaries.
Top and above: La Galería de Magdalena, Sr Lorenzo, encaja_2 and photocall at Galería de Consellers.
Top and above: La Galería de Magdalena, Sr Lorenzo, encaja_2 and photocall at Galería de Consellers.
In the Communication and Bottom-Up debate organized by Ethel Baraona , cartoonist Koldo Lus (Klaustoon) explained how his exhibition in unexpected corners of the city of Portimão came about. Since his cartoons were meant to be encountered accidentally, rather than in an enclosed gallery — perhaps the result of an internet search, or a random link, Lus thought the ideal translation from internet to print would be to display them in window shops, creating a path through the historical district of the city. Lus' comment inadvertedly highlighted one of the problems of the Eme3 exhibition: the enclosed spaces did not promote the diversity crowd horizontal tactics usually encourage.

Most of the exhibition engaged in traditional modes of display and communication: large printed banners in the lobby of the COAC building (the Architects Association of Catalunya), laid out by each group as their contest entry. In similar fashion, some architects and design collectives were invited to lecture about their work. However, no matter how engaging the projects and lectures were, promoting horizontality and participation within closed doors and through one-directional approaches felt counter-intuitive: the form did not match the content, either within the enclosed walls of the Eme3 plaza (the M1 project , an itinerant dome by set up in the Cathedral Plaza in front of the COAC, and surrounded by a fence with an entry opening) or inside the glass walls of the COAC building. Despite being open to the public, both sites tended to discourage participation from the very diverse crowd of tourists, street performers, and vagrants roaming the surrounding plaza and browsing through the open market (a better model for public display?).
Overview of the Eme3 plaza, with the M1 project, an itinerant dome set up in the Cathedral Plaza in front of the COAC, and surrounded by a fence with an entry opening
Overview of the Eme3 plaza, with the M1 project, an itinerant dome set up in the Cathedral Plaza in front of the COAC, and surrounded by a fence with an entry opening
In contrast to these exhibits, the on-site events and workshops easily incorporated a diverse and dynamic crowd, and encouraged the type of participation the festival promoted. Situated in abandoned lots within Ciutat Vella selected by Eme3, the projects were either sought by participants as part of a route, or encountered randomly by passers-by. Three of these events took place almost continuously throughout the festival and are worth highlighting.

La Galería de Magdalena and La Periferia Doméstica curated a series of simultaneous galleries with local Barcelona artists, offering urban presents in the form of small artworks, such as collages, seeds , and postcards . Located in several lots around the Ciutat Vella, the project engaged the wandering crowds into hanging out, talking, sharing, taking something with them and sometimes leaving a present .
A critical curatorial statement, engaging the challenges and existing discourse around bottom-up tactics in general, would have been a welcome addition to the more celebratory nature of the festival
The project <em>Deu anys sense vergonyes</em> (Two years without shame)
The project Deu anys sense vergonyes (Two years without shame)
Albert Arias, Nacho Domínguez-Adame and Paco González engaged the neighborhood and visitants of el Forat de la Vergonya, a small and conflicted segment of el Born, in Deu anys sense vergonyes (Two years without shame, a play of the name of the neighborhood). An ongoing dispute on gentrification and the resulting inner conflicts between residents was documented through the use of anonymous memories, and the invitation to remember .

Finally, the Institute of Placemaking (Pieterjan Grandry , Jia Gu and Valentina Karga ) used a lot in el Raval to create a series of consecutive actions that involved building, inciting, teaching, and sharing knowledge, culminating in a community meal that incorporated the production of food through solar cooking, and even used soup fabricated in one of the previous workshops .
The Institute of Placemaking's activities culminated in a community meal that incorporated the production of food through solar cooking
The Institute of Placemaking's activities culminated in a community meal that incorporated the production of food through solar cooking
The contrast between these three projects — their open provocations and diverse participants— and the limits of the more enclosed displays of the festival emphasizes the challenges participatory tactics bring to their own display and exhibition. In this sense, perhaps the best outcome of the festival was the strengthening of expanded networks of exchange and collaboration.

Finally, a critical curatorial statement, engaging the challenges and existing discourse around bottom-up tactics in general, would have been a welcome addition to the more celebratory nature of the festival. The financial crisis that looms as the background of many of these projects makes a critical outlook imperative: who finances what, which publics are served, and who speaks for whom? The showcased projects had very different answers — as did the festival itself, funded by a variety of public and private sponsors . A conversation around these issues would have been a much-needed contribution. Ana María Leon
The project <em>Deu anys sense vergonyes</em> (Two years without shame)
The project Deu anys sense vergonyes (Two years without shame)
The Institute of Placemaking's community meal
The Institute of Placemaking's community meal

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