“Encounters in the colorful and ephemeral inhabiting of floor painting”

 
Mariana Flores Hernández
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Most of my life I have grown up, studied and worked in Mexico, where I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of enjoying much of the beauty of which its landscape is made of, from the coldest mountains and the deepest rainforests to the bluest beaches and the tumultuous speed of the city, where diverse colors and flavors have widened my senses.

Traveling around my country and other places abroad has expanded my sight and soul to new experiences, people and adventures. Street painting in different countries has been an opportunity to share space, time, color and creativity with so many talented people who participate in moments where the material can be ephemeral, but the memories last forever.

As for my academic background, I´ve specialized in the study and conservation of cultural heritage, as well as in my creative pictorial personal activity. I have a degree in Restoration graduated from the National School of Conservation, Restoration and Museography (ENCRyM) of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), a degree in Visual Arts from the Faculty of Arts and Design (FAD) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico city, a master's degree in Art and Literature Studies from the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos (UAEM), as well as different studies in Madrid, including a seminar in Museo del Prado. Currently I work as a teacher in the restoration degree (ENCRyM), where I participate in different research lines regarding the analysis, conservation and restoration of novo-Hispanic easel painting, its technology, as well as the configuration and perception of the pictorial image from the complex view of the conservation-restoration specialty. I also participate in a seminar on the study of the materiality of artifacts in collections, taught within the Master in Conservation of Documentary Collections (ENCRyM).

The claim of public space for public life and public festivals is a way of making them resist. The act of rebelling –joyfully and communally, and in the middle of the street– was no longer a mean to an end but victory itself. Thus imagined, the difference between revolutions and festivals becomes less clear.

Rebecca Solnit

  • - "Look mom! What are they doing?"

  • - “They are painting. Look how beautiful."

  • - “Wooow… why are they doing it? Is that allowed to be done? I want to do it! Can I? "

  • - “I don't know, I suppose so. Be careful, watch your feet, don't step onto their work. Don’t distract them, they are focused. You see, this is why I insist you shall go to painting classes, so that you can paint just as amazingly as these guys. "

  • - "Excuse me, what is this for? Why are you painting here? Are you part of a public politic program or so?"

  • - "Hello! we are participating in a street painting festival. We are going to be here painting today and tomorrow; you are invited to come anytime so that you can enjoy the process and the finished paintings. Invite whomever you want!"

  • - "Hey, but… is this chalk? Chalk like blackboard chalk? How are you going to keep it from getting erased? So much work from you, here crouched under the sun, and everything so beautiful that it makes me want to cut off the sidewalk... and take them home! "

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Fig. 1

And just like that. Sometimes it’s a matter of a few days, sometimes of a few hours -if a downpour happens- and they disappear. Chalk pastel subtly touches the pavement, enough to barely embrace each other, fleetingly, for instants while sketching, and they seem to be aware that their union will be transitory, just like the wind… just as time. Just as many relationships we’ve lived through our lives that today we only remember within the memory of our developed affections. Just as life itself.

      For those of us who’ve had the shared experience of participating in the creation of this type of ephemeral works on the pavement in streets, squares and esplanades of different sites and cities, the act of painting within the consciousness of its ephemeral and transitory nature shakes us and strongly confronts us -at least the first times we do this type of work-, with an inner and outer exercise of releasing our culturally learned apprehension towards the “stability” and “permanence” of matter and of what we create, and makes us aware of its transience (in my personal experience, the fact of being trained for years as a conservator-restorer specialized in attending antique paintings makes the act of conserving a peculiar characteristic of my daily professional life. So yes, it’s been quite shakening).

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Fig. 2

      Not few times during these festivals, passersby ask us, quite astonished, why don’t we put all that effort and talent on walls and canvases; they even offer spaces to do so (starting, of course, with the walls of their own houses, or in places where they would like to be able to appreciate them for more than just a few days or hours). They support this on an idea of ​​conservation of the works precisely within its material self. Of course, they also express this concern from their cultural learning, but what is remarkable is that even those who tell you that they consider themselves "little knowledgeable about art", feel the need to include it, in one way or another, in their lives, and it’s in events like this one that they find the possibility to express and share this inner feeling by being able to speak directly with several artists while they see us create works from the beginning to end in front of their eyes, without tricks beyond the technical resources and abilities that each one of us uses. Thus, the background in those conversations and interchanges is revealing: “-can I take photos of your work?, -of course!, -and is it possible to have a photo with you and your work as well? so people can see that I met the artist”. This, which could be misleadingly interpreted as a mere and banal recognition of talent and an ego fertilizer, is a symptom of a natural aesthetic and artistic hunger for consumption and pleasant enjoyment, of which our humanity and sensitivity require constant (and not always aware) feeding. Unfortunately, it’s not a common denominator for everybody to have equal opportunities and the experience of being provided with adequate tools for the reinforcement of these as part of our everyday artistic and aesthetic formative sensibility, and fatefully it seems that one can only acquire these abilities through specialization and certain academic studies, but actually (and fortunately) reality goes quite beyond so. This nourishment should be a prior human and cultural right for everyone from childhood and throughout life, though.

      When talking to passersby about the motivations behind these forms of artistic creation in public spaces, a mixture of surprise and some disappointment arise. The intentions within these executions respond to ancestral, transoceanic, plural, and intercultural traditions (on this there are wonderful historical and technological investigations published that are worth reviewing[1]), and they are based on a performative act that allows us to be part -both painters as observers of multiple interests- of a creative process of works that in the sum of the individual become a collective intervention of the public space. Thus, in this encounter they enable a different experience of a place that in everyday life could be only asphalt, a passing route, or an area of ​​social and recreational coexistence to which these events add an interactive artistic and aesthetic factor for which one of the main conditions of possibility is our being present: wandering, promenading, walking[2], crossing this transformed space that also offers us the opportunity to enter into an exercise of voluntary personal transformation.

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      Through performing, corporeal subjects are situated in an artistic dimension, interconnected through space, time, matter, intentions, pictorial technique, talents and affections. All these elements are interwoven to configure a network of experiences that allow the multiple participants to inhabit the intervened space and experience an exercise of presence and detachment from the impermanence to which we are not used to, despite the fact that we are finite beings; in our cultural and vital perspective, there are many areas where we seem to assume that the material transcends life. That concept of being, fundamental for Buddhist philosophy, is something many of us require to internally and collectively train on a constant basis to help us stay present in a hic et nunc[3]. This is so necessary in times where multiple media technologies display across and through us and in their growing ubiquity come to restructure the speed and rhythm of our living and feeling through screens: those places where we can walk, quite credibly, “without a body” (LeBreton, 2011: 14).

      The paintings appear in front of us as representations in the streets, outside the places usually instituted for them (such as museums, galleries and art fairs), over the dust, grease, and gasoline remains, creatively avoiding the old-pasted bubblegum remain -daily passersby testimonies- and various holes and irregularities, in spaces usually designed for the transit and itinerancy of pedestrians and vehicles, and not for the enjoyment of creating and walking. Reproductions of fantastic paintings originally made by outstanding artists from all over the world and from different historical periods emerge before our eyes, as well as magnificent contemporary pictorial creations, many even designed expressly for these events, in 2D, 3D, or 4D. These purposeful and novel works are refreshing as they appear as conventional visual breakages. However, revisiting interpretations of other already, maybe more commonly known images (those heartfelt "old friendships"), reinforces a deep aspect of our nature associated with a hermeneutical exercise of historicity in relation to our perception, as well as a meditation on the biocultural continuum of humanity through art and its different representational forms. (Pallasmaa, 2012: 19) Feasts of images, sometimes in an anachronic coexistence, appear before our gaze. Maybe we’ve had seen some of them before only in books or on the Internet; some other lucky ones may’ve had seen them "live" or experienced their physical (and therefore spiritual) presence in museums or galleries in different countries, and for many others, this will be the initial encounter to appreciate them for the very first time and probably from now on they will want to go visit them in their sheltered places on their next trip somewhere.

 

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      The materials and technologies used for their execution, although with adaptations and extensions of our time, also goes back to ancestral ways of creating: diverse powdered pigments or conglomerates like pastel chalk bars, the site as a surface that interpellates our earthly bond, and the body as the main tool for its execution.

      So, in this image emergence process, the painters are the triggers of the phenomenon. We make use of our bodies, our passions and abilities to manifest ourselves; we revere with our reclined postures (not always quite comfortable) this wonderful possibility by using our humanity to incorporate ourselves and bond with the ground, like autumn fallen tree leaves, through the imposition of gravity on our weight, with our gaze situated on the solid texture of the concrete and the displacement of our knees, hands and feet, all this immersed in the holistic concentration of our thoughts and our corporeal motion wisdom to constantly readjust ourselves at every moment. It seems as the emulation of an act of acceptance and resignation of our mortal condition, not as a lamentation, but as an act of conscience and a condition of creative possibility; an invitation to assume our finitude.

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      Bodies in motion flow, and with them, so does the freedom of being and existence. Through sustained, prolonged and resistant movements, we execute not only a painting, but an affective and loving ritual with the physical earth as well as with the phenomenological world -from our subjective experiences- that we inhabit by making ourselves present in it through art, abandoning us onto time and color. It’s an act of love manifested with the body and the tactile; we kiss with our fingertips, with our hands, with our eyes and especially with our heart. Our hands are witnesses and testimony of our performing, the via for our artistic intentions, and the funnel that channels our aesthetic sensitivity in contact with a rough ground full of stories. The "dirty", the dust, grease and various residues on our hands and legs merge with the remains of colorful pigments to be something other than waste: traces of work and existence through artistic creation in a public space such as the street.

      We live a hic et nunc that roots us in the sensitive experience of living. From the projection of the drawing, the body warms up and prepares itself for an intense and passionate encounter with matter and time, with ourselves and our thoughts, emotions and frustrations; with the challenge of being and staying there, for moments forgetting to satisfy our hunger or muscular numbness, forgetting our fragility. As we focusedly proceed, we adopt our own pace, rhythm and quite sonorous work. Our creative and active consciousness places us at times in a state of conscious meditation, where our body flows along with its wisdom, and with its acquired levity it seems to make us float above those worldly discomforts. We experience and incarnate how our potential as human bodies is more than the sum of our visceral organs. (Pallasmaa, 2012: 8-9).

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Fig. 9

      We become involved with the weather and its unexpected vicissitudes, which we assume as something that can simply happen. Through this form of pictorial expression, canvas and urban refuge, we become aware and conscious of our existence and desire to live, to express and affectively appropriate ourselves and the terrain, along with the rest of the artists with whom we create a spatial and temporal community. The collective creative act becomes a pretext to generate collective social and cultural encounters and to display one of the possible and vast ways in which us humans can express creatively and artistically, one with a particular historical background that is manifested and transformed by and through us in the present.

      Motivated by the impulse to make images publicly appear, in the experience of painting in the streets with chalk not only pictorial ideas are articulated, but also corporeal experiences that give an account of our personal and collective being and the way it takes place and happens in the world, linking the meaning of living with others. During that process, they make possible the experience of inhabiting spaces within our differences and plurality. We project and portray a part of ourselves, outside of our bodies, which is shared with those who decide to attentively set their gaze with that floor, the same one which isn’t usually really seen but just stepped onto (sometimes neither consciously felt) with the soles when walking over it. This platform for our walking and mobile tours becomes, for a moment, the stage to promote the creation of communities through visuality, strokes, color, the sound of steps and paused silences of wanderers and the shared air among us all.

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      Those passersby, active spectators as they walk the streets, are here fundamental experience co-creators. According to Arnaud (in Bachelard, 2000: 128), we are the space where we are situated. We are not the works that we’ve created, but we are in consonance with the act of our possibility to create at a specific time and place. Passersby are not mere outsiders; they experience an inner expansion and opening of their ability to inhabit time and place, a specific site, as the place becomes an exteriorization and an extension of their mental and physical being. In this event, the inhabitant is situated in the space and space is situated in the consciousness of the inhabitant (Pallasmaa, 2016: 7-9) to make possible a collective experience where the creative act and sensitivity manifested in the act of creating as well as in the act of observing with the eyes and contemplating and feeling with the body, make possible for us to have an experience of inhabiting within our humanity in a particular urban context, where we develop qualitatively different and personal experiences, anchored to our subjectivities. This contemplation transcends the act of seeing, it is the act of looking whilst we forget that we are looking while we look. It allows us to place ourselves in a moment and place (thought, site, emotion, space), and then we are capable to create and develop bonds to inhabit it. According to Besse (2019: 264-265), activating a site is part of maintaining it in terms of ensuring its ability to be habitable, since sharing and caring are involved in that process. An affective ethic of belonging occurs. Doing-with-others gives meaning to spaces and the way we inhabit them.

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      The streets in their amplitude are momentarily taken as canvases, but their emptiness does not make them hollow. While interacting with them, we do not just “occupy” them to fill that “negative” void -this is even a foundation of Taoist philosophy-, but rather they are virtuality themselves: they are full of the possibility of being and we participate in that creation of moments by becoming articulating gears, since public spaces are constantly redefined by the involvement of the diverse individuals and the plurality of actions and perspectives towards it. A place is much more than its physical dimensions and limits, it’s the events and different actors and agents that make it be. We inhabit it because we coexist with and on it, in such a way that despite being open and public, these bonds created by cohabiting it, endow it with a certain affective intimacy. (Besse, 2019: 258-259, 265)

      Walking the artistically intervened public spaces is a form of resisting the growing spatial urbanization and the accelerated way of inhabiting it, where the rush makes us turn it into a mere transit place, the path between origin and destination; these streets and esplanades for moments become destiny itself, provoked, cohabited, revitalized. In both walking and creating, a transformation happens within us through performance, a utopia of presence (cfr. Gros, 2015: 68), like the water of the river which is and is not the same in the same place.

Street painting can thus become an invitation to take up certain attitudes of flâneuses and flâneurs[4] that we somehow already know but sometimes seem to forget: observe our surroundings with paused time, delight ourselves in the walked space and assume walking as an aesthetic experience, in this case, activating ourselves towards our personal being and the intervened space. (Torrecilla, 2017: 82; Solnit, 2015; Gros, 2015; Hazlitt, 2015) Take our eyes off the screens which distract us, to stop depriving ourselves of experiences in the “real” world and making genuine personal connections; make the city exist (LeBreton, 2014: 128) and be embodied through our urban knowledge and our displacement as inhabitants, since taking over our involved and conscious walk is taking responsibility for the bonds and rights that define our urban life. (Richardson, 2015: 241-254; Tironi, 2018: 18-26). Thereby, walking fulfills a powerful symbolic role as a form of protest and a potential evocation of alternative experiences. (Amato, 2004: 18)

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      As paintings fade, materially, the captured photographs are the testimonies that treasure them, since memory is not enough for us, and with them we make ourselves believe that we prevent their fading and their inevitable evanescence and material death. The act of painting has fulfilled its part in the created gearing experience, but… what happens with the artists? Well, each one continues our path, sometimes wandering, sometimes returning home, but always accompanied by the memory and experience of another way of building -temporarily but somehow also permanently- other homes. We leave many of them in different parts of the planet that await with nostalgia the return of these geographically and culturally plural and diverse encounters, always with changed and changing subjects, and in our hearts, they always leave a door open to retake a map and a path which can lead us to cross latitudes, again and again, each time to transform (us) (into) spaces of experience.

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      The ephemeral, in this case, emerged from the colored dust, becomes an evocation of living, of our transiency which in its fugacity makes only possible to grasp it to the memory that we build with the decisions taken in our paths, contemplations, times and spaces savored while walking.

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[1] Some of the most relevant, beside numerous digital publications online, are: Beever, 2010; Hansen, 2011; Kirk-Purcell, 2011; Battle, 2015 y Stum, 2016.

[2] Though they may seem synonyms, promenading and walking have different implications. According to Juan Marqués, promenading is a civic and social ritual grounded on ego, and walking is an animal, wild act (even in city streets), a need focused in the path: “One takes kids walking to school in the morning, where they are taught promenading”. (Marqués, in Hazlitt, William and Stevenson, Robert Louis, 2015: 16-17). Thoreau (1862) in U.S.A., based on a transcendental philosophy with romantic European ideas, describes these differences also towards sensibility and retaking bonds with nature through leisure and displacement intentions linked to visible economic and social conditions. Walter Benjamin in his book Passages also describes several characteristics of the passerby and his “floating attention”. (Morey, 1990).

[3]Latin locus for “here and now”.

[4] Ways of naming female and male walkers whom, especially during European modernity, used walking as a civil, social, political, philosophical and perceptual experience in order to show new possibilities of being and knowing. (Torrecilla, 2017: 81) Along with romantic philosophy, they turned the act of walking the cities and nature into their personal sources of inspiration in solitude. They believed their true workplaces and spaces to meditate physically and spiritually could only be reached through walking.

Referencias citadas y consultadas:

  • Amato, Joseph, On Foot: A History of Walking, Nueva York: NYU Press, 2004.

  • Bachelard, Gaston, La poética del espacio, trad. Ernestina de Champourcin, Argentina: FCE, 2000.

  • Battle, Phillip, Lady screever: Alice Colman: The world's first female pavement artist, Inglaterra: Fig Mulberry Press, 2015.

  • Beever, Julian, Pavement Chalk Artist: The Three-dimensional Drawings of Julian Beever, 2010.

  • Besse, Jean-Marc, “Cohabiting with the landscape”, en Veríssimo Serrao, Adriana y Reker, Moirika (ed.), Philosophy of Landscape: Think, Walk, Act, Lisboa: Universidad de Lisboa, 2019, 257-267.

  • Breton, André, Nadja, Trad. José Ignacio Velázquez, Madrid: Cátedra, 2004.

  • Goertz, Karein, “Walking as Pedagogy: Integrating Intentional Walking into the College Curriculum”, en Hall, Michael, et al, Routledge International Handbook of Walking Studies, Londres: Routledge, 2018.

  • Gros, Frédéric, Andar, una filosofía, Trad. Isabel González-Gallarza, Titivillus [e-pub)], 2015.

  • Hansen, B. (ed.), Asphalt renaissance, The Pavement Art and 3-D Illusions of Kurt Wenner, 2011.

  • Hazlitt, William y Stevenson, Robert Louis, Caminar, trad. Enrique Maldonado Roldán, Madrid: Nordica libros, 2015.

  • Kirk-Purcell, Julie, Sidewalk Canvas: Chalk Pavement Art at Your Feet, 2011.

  • Le Breton, David, Caminar. Elogio de los caminos y de la lentitud, trad. Víctor Goldstein, Buenos Aires: Waldhuter, 2014.

  • Le Breton, David, Elogio del caminar, México: La Cifra, 2011,

  • Morey, Miguel. “Kantspromenade. Invitación a la lectura de Walter Benjamin”, en: Creación 1 (abril 1990) p. 95-102.

  • Pallasmaa, Habitar, trad. Àlex Giménez Imirizaldu, Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2016.

  • Pallasmaa, La mano que piensa. Sabiduría existencial y corporal en la arquitectura, trad. Moisés Puente, Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2012.

  • Richardson, Tina (ed.), Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography, Londres: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

  • Solnit, Rebecca, Wanderlust. Una historia del caminar, trad. Álvaro Matus, 2015.

  • Stum, Tracy Lee, The Art of Chalk: Techniques and Inspiration for Creating Art with Chalk, 2016.

  • Thoreau, Henry David, “Walking”, en The Atlantic (mayo 1862), Boston.

  • Tironi, Martín y Mora, Gerardo(ed.), Caminando. Prácticas, corporalidades y afectos en la ciudad, Chile: Universidad Alberto Hurtado, 2018.

  • Torrecilla Patiño, Elia, “Mujeres haciendo ciudad: Flâneuses y Las Sinsombrero”, en Ágora (vol. 4, no. 7), 2017, tomado de: [http://dx.doi.org/10.6035/Kult-ur.2017.4.7.3], p. 79-98.

 

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