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Living

'Ghost Walker' Project Seeks to Uncover Part of Mexico City's Past

The collaborative book and exhibit presented at MUCA reveals the past geographies of the Juárez and Cuauhtémoc neighborhoods

A 1907 map of Mexico City, image: Library of Congress
By Simon Schatzberg Whatsapp Twitter Facebook Share
1 year ago

“Ghost Walker: una caminata imposible por la historia de la Ciudad de México” (Ghost Walker: an Impossible Walk Through Mexico City’s History), an exhibit forming part of the “Ghost Walker” project, a multimedia project about a historical transportation route in Mexico City that was erased by urbanization, opened Thursday in the University Museum of Science and Art (MUCA) in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. A project by Modelab, which describes itself as “an interdisciplinary agora for social and artistic research,” “Ghost Walker” includes a video, a digital book and an exhibition that can be viewed at MUCA until Aug. 14.

The “Ghost Walker” project began with comparisons between 19th-century maps of the western part of the Cuauhtémoc borough, which underwent rapid European-style planned urbanization in the second half of the 19th century, with contemporary maps. Studying two maps — one from 1867 and one from 1893 — Modelab directors Rodrigo Azaola and Claudia Arozqueta noted the presence of a route that was inconsistent with the contemporary planning of the Juárez and Cuauhtémoc neighborhoods.

“In these two maps, we found a discrepancy: there was an established route cutting through street grids, although we know that the Juárez and Cuauhtémoc neighborhoods were already there,” said Azaola.

According to historian Sergio Miranda Pacheco, the route began as an irrigation canal when the area was drained, and remained as the area was reincorporated into the Hacienda de la Teja. As urbanization began in the 19th century, the route became an important walking path for farmers to transport produce between farms, markets and their homes. It was only near the turn of the century, when lots were divided and street plans — that had been in effect since Maximilian’s reign — were fully established, that the Ghost Walker route disappeared, or was made impossible.

“The Ghost Walker route was erased by development,” writes Miranda Pacheco, “but it permanently stamped itself on contemporary cartography.”

The route begins near Metro Sevilla in the Zona Rosa area of the Juárez neighborhood, heads north northeast, crossing Reforma, to arrive near the corner of Río Lerma and Río Guadalquivir, two blocks north of the Angel of Independence. Then, it turns right and heads east southeast, ending near the monument to Cuauhtémoc near the intersection of Insurgentes and Reforma.

As beings that move through space and time, humans are fundamentally historical creatures. Only when we have spacial encounters with history do we begin to become familiar with our historical components.”

— Sergio Miranda Pacheco, urban historian

Azaola and Arozqueta assembled a group of six artists to explore the route hiding under the surface of Mexico City from different perspectives.

“We wanted artists from different disciplines, and artists with good historical perspectives,” said Arozqueta. “The diverse artists we got together were able to approach the route from a variety of different angles and begin to make it intelligible.”

The team includes four visual artists; Erick Meyenberg, Ramiro Chaves, Sandra Calvo and Raúl Ortega Ayala; one sound artist; Manuel Rocha Iturbide; and one historian; Sergio Miranda Pacheco. 

Miranda Pacheco, an urban historian, wrote a detailed narrative about the history of the route.

“I tried to get away from an academic account,” he said. “With my writing, I explore the ways that this space represents the contradictions of Mexican modernity. The disappearance of the route allows us to understand the entrance of a cosmopolitan modernity to Mexico, a modernization and an urbanization that were fundamentally exclusive. As beings that move through space and time, humans are fundamentally historical creatures. Only when we have spacial encounters with history do we begin to become familiar with our historical components.”

Meyenberg used old maps, photographs and pages of books to make collages about the route. Inspired by Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” the collages not only approach an encounter with the hidden route, but also express its positive absence, the sense of loss at perceiving the old route that cannot be recovered.

For Calvo’s contribution, titled “Closed Circuit,” she walked the route and took a picture of each security camera that she found along it, as a way to explore the dynamic, nonreciprocal relationships of visibility and invisibility that characterize the modern city.

“We really didn’t know what was going to come out of the collaboration when we first got the artists together,” said Azaola. “But ultimately, between Erick’s collages, Manuel’s sound, Sergio’s writing, Sandra’s exploration of security cameras, Ramiro’s photography and Raúl’s video, I think we created something truly interesting.”

 

The “Ghost Walker” exhibition will be displayed at MUCA, on Tonalá 51, until Aug 14.

The bilingual digital book can be downloaded here.

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