Democracia is a collective formed by the Spanish artists Pablo España and Iván López, whose strong interest for socially and politically relevant themes leads not only to artistic interventions, but also to editorial productions and curatorial projects.
For their most recent work, the three-channel video-installation Ser y Durar (To exist and to persist), Democracia has collaborated with a group of young traceurs, asked to perform their discipline, the parkour, inside the Civil Cemetery in Madrid. The parkour was initiated in the 1980s by David Belle in France, within the subculture of the Parisian banlieues (the name is an adaptation of the French term parcours, which means “course”), on the basis of Georges Hébert’s so-called “Natural Method”, a military drilling focusing on overcoming natural obstacles. The traceurs challenge each other on a course traced after an accurate study of the urban architecture, to be executed with the highest precision, elegance and agility, overtaking any architectonic barrier only by means of the human body. A barrier is perceived not as a hindrance or an obstacle, but as an element that can be used to allow for a certain movement to be carried out, running and creating veritable acrobatics, with only one rule to follow: never stop and never give up. In the parkour motivation does not derive from competition, but from the elaboration of a solution as the expression of a collective intelligence: project and execution are individual tasks, while the group carries out the coordination.
The site of the action of Ser y Durar is the Civil Cemetery in Madrid, built in 1884 to lay those to rest who were not members of the Catholic Church. Political personalities, intellectuals, various protagonists of Spanish history and founders of the country’s democratic society in the pre-Franco era, like the presidents of the First Republic Estanislao Figueras, Francisco Pi y Margall and Nicolás Salmerón, the communist leader Dolores Ibarruri and the founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party Pablo Iglesias are buried there. The video work creates a tension between the mobility of the parkour practice and the motionlessness of the necropolis, between the epitaphs on the tombstones and this absolutely contemporary pop-cultural practice. The epitaphs (like, for example, “Love, freedom and Socialism” or “Freedom and reason will make you stronger”) create a narration that is defined by the movements of the traceurs. However, even if their action takes place in this location devoted to collective memory, full of deep symbolical, historical and political meanings, the nature itself of the parkour keeps the traceurs from becoming interested in these meanings, of which they remain, in fact, unaware.
These youngsters impose their own individual ego, indifferent to the function or the ideological content of the elements they get in contact with. The urban landscape is seen as a structure without a past, a system of recombinable elements that changes with each session, following a principle comparable to the so-called “psychogeography” of the Situationists, according to which the citizen, instead of being a prisoner of the daily routine, should look at and live urbanity in a radically new way. We can interpret the parkour groups like a sort of urban guerrilla providing a critical experience of the city, refusing values and canonical spacial-temporal modes of the capitalist world of today.
In Ser y Durar the artists use visual communication codes that are typical to the parkour: hiding the faces of some of the traceurs at the beginning of the video, the use of the subjective camera or of wide pan shots, the slow motion and the so-called matrix effect, to emphasize the acrobatic sequences. Trying to enter the communication and the exchange between the members of this community, the artists appropriate the stylistic elements and narrative tools typical to this juvenile phenomenon that has become an international subculture, more and more interconnected via digital media.
Democracia has created a kind of negative monument: they present a practice critical of urban culture in a context in which the memory of those who have contributed to the history of individual emancipation emerges, but where also many of the egalitarian and revolutionary aspirations of Spanish history, towards which the modern society has become increasingly indifferent and unaware, lay buried. On the one hand, the identity of the traceur is epitomized by the slogan “To exist and to persist”, but on the other, one of the epitaphs of the cemetery reads: “After death there is nothing.”
Democracia is a Spanish collective art group formed in 2006 in Madrid by Iván López and Pablo España. Democracia also works in the field of publishing (they are the editors of the Nolens Volens magazine) and they are curators exhibitions (No Futuro, Madrid Abierto 2008, Creador de Dueños). They were founders and members of the group El Perro (founded in 1989) until its dissolution in May 2006. Among the latest projects which Democracia has taken part in, mention must be made of the joint exhibitions Tomorrow, Kumho Museum, Seul; the 10th Istanbul Biennial; the Gothenburg Biennial; the Taipei Biennial 2008; the10th Havana Biennial; Sin Estado, ADN Gallery, Barcelona; There Goes the Neighbourhood, Performance space, Sidney; Off Street, A Foundation, London and Evento 2009, Bordeaux. Solo exhibitions include: Ne vous laissez pas consoler, ADN Gallery, Barcelona; Welfare State, Prometeogallery, Lucca; Todos sois culpables, salvo yo, T20 Gallery, Murcia; Welfare State, Roodkapje, Rotterdam.