– Spring/Summer 2017

Chronicle of a Visit to the Museo Comunitario del Valle de Xico, Or: Cultural Solidarity in the Globalised Neoliberal Age

Irmgard Emmelhainz

First headquarters of the Museo Comunitario del Valle de Xico, Estado de México, 1996. Courtesy Museo Comunitario del Valle de Xico

Eventually, I believe, he comes to believe in the world, which is to say the other world, where we inhabit and maybe even cultivate this absence, this place which shows up here and now, in the sovereign’s space and time, as absence, darkness, death, things which are not.

– Stefano Harney and Fred Moten1

On a voulu crier ‘victoire’ à leur place.

– Jean-Luc Godard2

In his 1993 novella, La leyenda de los soles (The Legend of the Suns), Homero Aridjis paints a sunken,

  1. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, New York: Minor Compositions, 2013, p.137.

  2. ‘We had wanted to claim victory on their behalf’ from Ici et ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere), dir. Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville, France, Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont, 1951 [videocassette].

  3. Homero Aridjis, La leyenda de los soles, Ciudad de Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1993, p.7.

  4. In 2016, the official name of the megalopolis was changed from Distrito Federal (Federal District) to Mexico City, the name by which the city has long been known worldwide.

  5. See Irmgard Emmelhainz, ‘Injurious forms of dependency: toward a decolonizing resurgence of indigenous peoples?’, Clima.com [online journal], 2016, available at http://climacom.mudancasclimaticas. net.br/?p=6399 (last accessed on 17 January 2017); and ‘The Mexican Neoliberal Conversion: Differentiated, Homogenous Lives’, Scapegoat Journal, no.6, January 2014, available at http://www.scapegoatjournal. org/docs/06/Scapegoat_06_Emmelhainz_The%20Mexican%20Neoliberal%20Conversion.pdf (last accessed on 24 January 2017).

  6. This project began in the sixteenth century and materialised in subsequent efforts by the Spanish colony to dry out and channel the lakes upon which the Aztec City of Tenochtitlan and adjacent cities were built (which comprised five interconnected lakes: Zumpango, Xaltocan, Texcoco, Xochimilco and Chalco).

  7. Along with Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl and Iztapalapa.

  8. See Michael Waldrep, ‘Scenes from Neza: Mexico’s Self-Made City’, Fulbright National Geographic Stories [blog], 26 March 2015, available at http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/26/scenes-from-neza-mexico-citys-self-made-city/ (last accessed on 18 January 2017).

  9. See Gustavo Magallanes, Atzin Bahena, Amanda Ramos and Fiorella Fenoglio, ‘La rebeldía del Valle de Chalco: la lucha contra las aguas negras y el mal gobierno’, Revista Rebeldía, vol.8, no.70, April 2010, pp.18–29, available at: http://revistarebeldia.org/revistas/numero70/06chalco.pdf (last accessed on 18 January 2017).

  10. An ejido is a piece of land farmed communally under a system supported by the state.

  11. A few kilometres away is the town of San Salvador Atenco, where resistance against the construction of a new airport in 2006 received much media attention after an unprecedented degree of state violence was applied by then-governor Enrique Peña Nieto (now president of Mexico).

  12. See the ‘¿Qué es un museo comunitario?’ page of the Museos Comunitarios’s website: http://www.museoscomunitarios.org/que-es (last accessed on 18 January 2017).

  13. See ‘Museos comunitarios preservan la memoria e identidad’, on the INAH’s website: http://www.inah.gob.mx/es/boletines/4434-museos-comunitarios-preservan-la-memoria-e-identidad (last accessed on 18 January 2017).

  14. Rosca de reyes (king’s ring) is a cake traditionally eaten on 6 January in Spain and Latin America to commemorate the arrival of the Magi.

  15. Parties and celebrations that take place from 12–24 December in Latin American countries in anticipation of Christmas.

  16. An informal, typically bohemian gathering or party.

  17. Historically haciendas were large land holdings that served as farms, factories, mines and/or plantations and that included a dwelling house.

  18. The building suffered partial damage during the Mexican Revolution (1910–20) in addition to further modifications later in the twentieth century; it is presently being restored.

  19. The hacienda was considered to be the epitome of modernity and progress in pre-revolutionary Mexico, with a train that went from Xico to Atlixco, in the adjacent state of Puebla, connecting all of Noriega’s properties.

  20. See G. Magallanes, A. Bahena, A. Ramos and F. Fenoglio, ‘La rebeldía del Valle de Chalco', op. cit.

  21. According to theorist and researcher Seth Denizen, Lake Chalco and the aquifer need to be carefully distinguished here because they are not necessarily connected. For instance, it is possible for the lake to re-emerge and the aquifer to be depleted at the same time; the dense clays of the lakebed can prevent water from moving into subterranean aquifers.

  22. See Eyal Weizman, Erasure: The Conflict Shoreline, Göttingen: Steidl Verlag, 2016.

  23. This is also caused by the overflow of the La Compañía Channel, which carries much of the former lake’s water.

  24. As explained to me by Seth Denizen in an email, 14 January 2017.

  25. For instance, in 2011 the urban development department of the Comisión Hidrológica del Valle de México (Hydrologic Commision of Mexico’s Valley) made a plan to identify the region’s problems, amongst them the lack of clean water, pollution, drought, floods, sinking and soil erosion. There is also the Water Caravan, a study to implement a master plan to rescue the Chalco Lake and Xochimilco basins, and Vuelta a la ciudad lacustre (Return to the Lake City), an ambitious ecological and urban project by a team of architects, biologists, philosophers, engineers and politicians (gathered under the aegis of architects Teodoro González de León, Alberto Kalach, Gustavo Lipkau and Juan Cordero) to bring the lake back by building water treatment plants and by creating new public spaces and solutions to the irregular urban sprawl. This initiative has a precedent in the 1964 project at Lake Texcoco (adjacent to Chalco) by Mexican engineers Nabor Carrillo and Gerardo Cruickshank. These plans remain unrealised. Some proposals have been utopian, others are transient palliatives or struggles for water rights and land use disputes. Many are tied to infrastructure and real estate projects (such as privatised social housing projects) backed up by corporate and state neoliberal interests.

  26. See Julio Cortázar, Final del juego, Ciudad de México: Los Presentes, 1956; and Roger Bartra, La jaula de la melancolía. Identidad y metamorfosis del mexicano, Ciudad de México: Grijalbo, 1996.

  27. Ignacio Ramírez, ‘Arrumban Museo Xico por obra’, Mural, 21 November 2015, available at http://www.mural.com/aplicacioneslibre/articulo/default.aspx?id=700468&md5=515eeade89137366d264175b58af 69d2&ta=0dfdbac11765226904c16cb9ad1b2efe (last accessed on 24 January 2017).

  28. Information in email exchanges between the Museo Comunitario de Xico and Don Genaro Amaro Altamirano. This information was kindly provided by Cecilia Delgado Masse via email, 24 January 2017.

  29. Telephone conversation with C. Delgado Masse, 22 January 2017.

  30. It must be noted that Don Genaro Amaro and the rest of the museum’s team consider Maria Thereza Alves, Jimmie Durham and Catalina Lozano as invaluable allies who have provided support to the Xico Museum in helping them conceptualise their activities toward socially engaged art struggling against capitalism. Although their institution moves within the structures of control and domination of the neoliberal system, they promote and exhibit art that questions, proposes and builds its own ways to conceive a new world through art, as committed art on the side of the marginalised. The museum’s team wishes that Alves and their art world supporters not be minimised or disqualified, as for them their collaboration has been invaluable. Don Genaro and Mariana Huerta kindly provided this information in an email exchange, 28 January 2017.

  31. Paloma Checa-Gismero, ‘On The Return of a Lake’, FIELD: A Journal of Socially-Engaged Art Criticism, issue 1, Spring 2015, pp.281–88, available at http://field-journal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/ FIELD-01-Checa-Gismero-ReturnOfALake.pdf (last accessed on 18 January 2017).

  32. In response to the urgency of addressing this kind of asymmetry and in a radical exercise of decolonial institutional repurposing, the project Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha will take place starting this January 2017 in Montreal, Canada. Following curator Cheyanne Turion’s description, for a year the institutional identity and resources of SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, which is directed by Pip Day, will function wholly in support of the Wood Land School. Theirs is an experiment in relation to what it means for settler-colonial infrastructures to work in service of indigenous imperatives, and an exploration of power relations and their possible reconfiguration from an initial perspective of indigenous self-determination. See C. Turions, ‘Wood Land School Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó: wa tánon Iotohrha’, Cheyanne Turions: Dialogues Around Curatorial Practice [blog], available at https://cheyanneturions.wordpress.com/ (last accessed on 22 January 2017).

  33. Don Genaro kindly showed me these guidelines in January 2017 in a PowerPoint presentation he has delivered at community museum gatherings in Oaxaca and Guerrero.

  34. T.J. Demos, ‘Return of a Lake: Contemporary Art and Political Ecology in Mexico’, Rufián Revista, no.17, January 2014, pp.50–63, available at https://tjdemos.sites.ucsc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/374/2016/08/Demos-Alves-MUAC-copy.pdf (last accessed on 18 January 2017).

  35. See C. Turions, ‘Wood Land School Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó: wa tánon Iotohrha’, op. cit.

  36. See Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, ‘Los ritmos del Pachakuti. Reflexiones breves en torno a cómo conocemos las luchas de emancipación y a su relación con la política de la autonomía’, Desacatos, no.37, September– December 2011, pp.19–32.

  37. Mark Fisher and Nina Möntmann, ‘Peripheral Proposals’, in Emily Pethick (ed.), Cluster: On a Network of Visual Arts Organizations, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014, pp.171–82.

  38. S. Harney and F. Moten, The Undercommons, op. cit., p.137.