Orientation trips
The Mondriaan Fund organises orientation trips for visual artists and mediators to Asia, Latin America and Africa since 2004. The trips are aimed at exchange and cooperation between visual art professionals.

“I would like to hug you all, but you are too many.” Ana Paz Yanes is our warm, gentle and cheerful host when we visit the Ciudad Abierta de Almereida or Open City, an enigmatic community of designers and architects located on a coastal area of 280 acres about 40 minutes outside of Valparaíso. In 1970 Ana together with her husband Boris, students in architecture at the time, were the first to settle here. They followed their shared dream to build a city that would move beyond common notions of planning and architecture, that would take the landscape, body and language as primary references for design, and would be organized on the basis of commonality and shared property. Today the community consists of around 40 people from about 14 families that live in expressive wood and brick houses scattered over a wide and hilly terrain.

The inventive houses remind me of Schwitters’ Merzbau, due to their tilted walls, diagonal windows, constructivist patterns drawn in concrete and rooms on different heights connected through narrow staircases. They are built out of simple but elegant materials, like colorful stained glass and rustic wooden beams that were either retrieved from the natural surroundings or donated by sympathizers. All buildings are designed collaboratively, without a prefixed plan or individual authorship, but on the basis of playful experiment through scale models.

With admiration and respect Ana speaks about the founders of the community and the principles that underlie their undertaking. It all started with the meeting of the Chilean architect Alberto Cruz and Argentinean poet Godofredo Iommi in 1950. In response to the rapid urbanization of South America, these men developed an experimental and utopian approach to design an architecture by which they abandon the doctrine of mathematics and formalism and allow for a space in which architecture, art and poetry coexist. When Cruz became the rector of the School for Architecture and Design of the Catholic University in Valparaíso in 1952, he invited Iommi and other like-minded artists, architects, philosophers and writers from Santiago to join him. Together they reformed the pedagogic program introducing a few new basic elements to the curriculum: group work and collaboration, observation as research, physical exercise, expeditions through the landscape and the writing of poetry. These principles became the basis of a their new architectural method that ultimately would allow for freer and more dynamic organization of our living environment and a fusion of art and life.

Central to this method that Cruz and Iommi developed are the Traversías, expeditions that members of the architecture school undertook through the mountain-peaks of the Andes and the southern desert of Patagonia. Through these journeys on foot participants would widen their understanding of the continent and the relation between landscape, body and habitat. Since its colonization the South American continent had merely been regarded from the perspective of its shores and the north. The though mountain ranges and desert planes in the interior were primarily inhabited by indigenous communities and largely unknown by the descendants of the colonists. Cruz, Iommi and their company explored these territories according to a special map that depicts the South American continent upside down, a symbolic visualization first created by an Uruguayan artist in 1943. They placed an inverted catholic cross on top of the map and proclaimed its center to be the poetical capital of the continent.

Map of Amereida
In 1965 Iommi and Cruz undertook an expedition to this poetic capital that was located somewhere in the center of Bolivia. During the Traversía the group performed numerous improvised artistic acts like reciting poetry and building imaginary constructions as a response to the landscape. The journey inspired Iommi to write a poem called Amereida which illustrated the principle ideas and methodology of the school and became its primary manifesto and methodological guideline that marks the ideology and creative output of the community until today.

Ciudad Abierta

While guiding us around the site Ana tells us about the way the community, of primarily designers, architects, artists and musicians, lives together. It seems that not much has changed since the time of Cruz and Iommi and the inauguration of the place. Most of the people living here still work at the University and students continue to come to the area to construct new buildings through collaborative design methods. Besides that they busy themselves with the reconstruction and renovation of what is already there.

The tradition of physical exercise, expeditions and research of the territory through bodily observation still seems to be core element in the school. Wednesday is the day of games. Students play together while inventing games and building trails or instruments for physical exercise that are tested on the windy lawns. We see the empty playgrounds and students sitting in circles on the construction grounds. Ana says that the experimental and hands-on approach to architecture attracts many student groups from Europe that come to the site to develop new things. But as they arrive they often have great difficulty to give up their pre-developed plans and adjust to the spontaneous and improvised design method.

Saint Francis-day
Gradually we discover more and more about the values and ideologies within the community that in the words of our host carry out a catholic basis and spiritual heritage to Saint Francis of Assisi, whose name day is one of the most important holidays for the residents. Thus the community rejects private property and all of the houses are owned by the cooperation. In addition to that hospitality plays a very important role. As a result we are warmly welcomed into many family residences, free to walk around and peek into the private lives of the people living here. New members are occasionally accepted into the core group, but only on the basis of consensus between all the residents.

Along with Ana we visit different communal places that reflect these values, such as Casa da Musica, a soberly designed room with a sunlit patio at its center, where the residents meet every Wednesday for communal lunches and musical recitals. There is an open-air church for occasional masses and an open-air palace where they celebrate birthdays and marriages. In between the scenting eucalyptus trees we encounter a fairytale-like cemetery. The monumental graves of the founding fathers, Cruz and Iommi, are surrounded with expressive geometric sculptures made of concrete and brick that express the joy that went into designing them. These places are like sleeping sanctuaries; beautiful because of their self-assured simplicity, rooted to the soil on which they rest but full of fantasy and frivolity.

Just like Casa de Errante – the house of the wandering man – one of the most beautiful of the estate. Here we meet Oscar, a painter and a sculptor who despite the name of his residency stopped wandering when he joined the community many years ago. His house is filled with his artworks, sharp-edged and colorful geometric paintings that immediately resemble their surrounding architecture with its alternating large open spaces and dark and warm secluded corners. Oscar speaks about the inspiration that his house brings, but also about the isolation that comes with living in here. As an artist it suits him well, he says, life in Ciudad Abierta is like being in an aesthetic architectural dream.

Nowadays most creative communities speak about self-sufficiency, alternative economy, social activity and equality. At Ciudad Abierta we hear very little about this. Life here seems to unfold primarily around art, design and poetic actions that are created with and for the people in the community and the students that come. With the tales of Cruz and Iommi told and re-told Ciudad Abierta is an oasis reminiscent of a time when many believed in the transformative of architecture alone to change the way we inhabit this world.

Rieke Vos

Visit to Parque Cultural Valparaiso

After our visit to Open City some of us visited the exhibition DepresionesIntermedias in the PcdV in Valparaiso. The curator Rodolfo Andaur brought together 36 Chilean artists, showing various perspectives departing from the current crisis the gouvernment of Chile is undergoing.

Sebastian Riffo (°1987) focusses in his video installation on an everyday phenomenon in Chile: self-made earthquake detectors. In various houses people hang little objects from the ceiling. When the first movements of an earthquake occurs, these objects are the first to start trembling.

The installation by Florencia Serrano shows another technique used by prisoners to heat their water. Through self-made electric current they can heat the water to wash themselves.

Claudia del Fierro’s film ‘The Complex’ is shot in the land of Neltume and focusses on the short history of a small resistance group named Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). They started in 1981, but were besieged by Pinochet’s army at the end of the same year.

‘Depreciones Intermedias’ is a very vibrant and dynamic show including a younger as well as older generation of Chilean artist addressing contemporary issues in Chilean society. It offered us an insight in the creative strategies of Chilean artists to work with the history of their country and the current socio-political developments.

Alan Quireyns