Two reflections on Learning from the Cuencas

Two exhibitions on the project Learning from the Cuencas serve as two reflections on the coalfields and its architecture.

Published: Sep 30, 2013
Two reflections on Learning from the Cuencas

Artefactos de la memoria [Artefacts of Memory]. Images of the exhibition in the SabadellHerrero exhibition hall in Oviedo. Photos: courtesy of the curators

By Semíramis González (@semiramis_glez), Semíramis en Babilonia.

Last Friday saw the opening of the exhibition that documents Aprendiendo de las Cuencas [Learning from the Cuencas], a project curated by Nacho Ruiz Allén and Sara López Arraiza (zon-e arquitectos), which is divided between the SabadellHerrero Exhibition Hall in Oviedo and LABoral Centro de Arte in Gijón. The project Learning from the Cuencas derives from an interest in offering a new vision on the cultural landscape of the central mining areas in Asturias; this is a unique landscape, which is very often reviled, and yet, it nevertheless holds a special importance on account of its heritage and architecture.  As with other big cities -but in this case from a more local place- the coalfields have witnessed firsthand a very rapid urban and industrial transformation due to restructuring. This has entailed that in this area the co-existence of the natural, rural, industrial and urban landscapes does not take place in a regulated or ordered fashion and the boundaries delimiting them are fuzzy. From an architectural point of view this has resulted in diverse, hybrid constructions, which vary greatly from each other, and which are quite simply a reflection of the multiple identities that make up the Cuencas mining areas, as the outcome of a local industry marked by conflict and survival.


Artefacts of Memory. Images of the exhibition in the SabadellHerrero exhibition hall in Oviedo. Photos: courtesy of the curators.

Learning from the Cuencas seeks precisely to steer away from this traditional image of the coalfield as a reviled and decrepit place, and tries to reach a general conclusion: the richness of this diversity more than justifies the need to defend its uniqueness and originality in relation to other building models in the rest of Europe.

With a title that clearly refers to the work by Robert Venturi, Learning from Las Vegas, it also aims to give due importance to local architecture and the specific urban space as well as to the process through which they have adjusted to the historical and social changes over time. Apart from the pastiche, the piece aims to find the primary sense as to why a city develops in a certain way and not in another.    
The project has focused on the two main Asturian coalfields, which are those situated between the rivers Nalón and Caudal, including the townships of Ribera de Arriba, Morcín, Riosa, Mieres, Lena, Aller, Langreo, San Martín del Rey Aurelio, Laviana, Sobrescobio and Caso.
The broad spectrum covered by this project has already been explored in other posts on #LABlog, as we can see in the article published by Montaña Hurtado in a dialogue with the curators.
And since 27th September the public have been able to visit the result of this architectural and, to a certain degree, sociological research which, to this end, has sought to integrate different artists and their vision of the Cuencas. Hence, in this show we can see work by Óscar de Ávila, Basurama, EduComelles, Cómo crear historias [How to Create Stories], Antonio Corral Fernández, Bárbara Fluxá, Fran Meana, Marcos Martínez Merino, Mind Revolution, OSS Office for StrategicSpaces, Recetas Urbanas and Daniel Romero.

On one hand, we have the show at SabadellHerrero exhibition hall under the title Learning from the Cuencas. Artefacts of Memory. This is a show that highlights the documentation and cataloguing carried out during the research process, based on the study of 40 outstanding artefacts located in the area. These artefacts are effectively hybrid architectures, the core of this project and inspiration for the curators, which all share the special feature of being midway between the four landscapes identified in the Cuencas: natural, rural, industrial and urban.
This show in Oviedo includes an interview with the curators, a sound piece and a computer that brings together the documentation of the project La mina y su sonido [The Mine and its Sound], which Naiara Valdano has already spoken to us about on #LABlog.


Artefacts of Memory. Images of the exhibition in the SabadellHerrero exhibition hall, Oviedo. Photos: courtesy of the curators.

The show with the name of Learning from the Cuencas. Spectres, Projections, Fantasies continues at LABoral.  As a kind of second part on the exhibition in Oviedo, it is conceived as the extension of the goals, analyses and representative methods developed in the project; we could say that the first could be deemed as a prologue while this is an epilogue, with the actual research process being the main body of the text.

Spectres, Projections, Fantasies. Images of the exhibition at LABoral in Gijón. Photos: courtesy of LABoral and Enrique G. Cárdenas.

The works presented here are by various artists who, playing with the idea of the dream world, fantasies and creativity, design specific pieces based on the landscape in the mining area. From installations to sound productions or video documentaries, we encounter various pieces with the same wide variety as the different visions that make up the exhibition. LABoral does not completely break from the line it started in the exhibit in Oviedo and includes an interactive map, which lets us geographically place ourselves, gain a better understanding of the project and establish a link with the documentation on display at SabadellHerrero.

Projections, Fran Meana. Los que atraviesan el tiempo, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

The idea of this project, originally conceived from an architectural point of view, reaches far beyond that and includes archival elements documenting the whole process as well as the artistic vision of those who are part of the show at LABoral. This makes for an extensive conceptual map which in practice is dealt with in two exhibitions that are formally different yet broadly connected. The ideas that are present in the exhibition are as diverse as change, the passage of time, the adaptation of space to social changes, the influence of orography, and the importance of recovering a unique industrial heritage which is also the reflection of a specific story: that of the Cuenca mining area.

Perhaps this may seem a somewhat melancholic ending as a result of the fact that the author is Asturian with deep roots in the “Cuenca”, but nevertheless, we cannot overlook the need to conserve, preserve and spread information on this singular architecture which defines a people and which is a living witness to its own history.

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