In the Upper Galleries at St James Cavalier, the Madrid-based artists’ group Democracia presents a recent work called ‘Ser y Durar’, or ‘To be and to Last’. The work consists of three large video projections, photographs, stencils and sweaters worn by practitioners of “parkour”, a very physical form of movement through an environment that resembles military obstacle course training. Democracia is composed of artists Pablo España and Iván López, who typically work on very politically or socially engaged artists projects and are also involved in publishing and curatorial projects.
The starting point for this project is a parkour session in the Madrid Civil Cemetery.
“Parkour” is a discipline that consists in moving through the urban environment, overcoming the obstacles that appear en route (fences, walls…) in the most fluid and efficient form possible, and with the sole possibilities of the human body.
The Madrid Civil Cemetery is a space devoted to the deceased who were not of the Catholic faith next to the Catholic cemetery, but respecting its enclosure and with a separate entrance. Anarchists, communists and other revolutionaries are buried there.
Some interpretations of parkour have recovered an evident connection with situationist psycho-geography, the discipline where rather than be prisoner of a daily routine, the citizen should look at urban situations in a new radical way. Just as the situationist psycho-geographer perambulates the city establishing a personal cartography and creates an emotional territory confronting the urban planner’s organized city, the traceur marks out his own course across the urban obstacles, imposing his route over the functionality of the city.
Another important aspect of the practice of parkour is its temporal nature. Memory is eliminated in its practice; the traceur does not start out from a historic memory but from a quotidian memory, elaborated based on his routes. Thus, the traceurs negate the “historic” vision of the city, they are totally alien to the processes of its construction and its landmarks, so that the urban stage appears before them as a structure without a past, a system of elements that can be recombined in every new session.
Our intention on proposing to a group of traceurs to have a meetup at the Madrid Civil Cemetery is to activate a sort of negative monument, owing to its ephemeral nature which presents, practices that are critical of urban culture at the same time as the memory of those who were part of armies, social organizations and political parties which, moved by humanitarian values, aspired to a utopia while the great emancipatory stories of Modernity still made sense. Although while this action takes place in a place replete with memory, of profound symbolic meaning, owing to the very nature of parkour, the traceurs do not feel concerned with the historic sediment of the place, but only by its purely spacial and constructive qualities.
If a good part of the egalitarian and revolutionary aspirations of Spanish society are buried in the Madrid Civil Cemetery, a psycho-geographic route of this space is proposed, establishing a tension between the mobility of the practice of parkour and the immobility of the necropolis, the dreams of progress reflected in the tombstones opposed to a practice of popular culture that has nothing to do with the times of the revolution that remained to be made. The epitaphs create a narrative that will be defined by the traceurs’ movements. On the one hand, the motto that identifies the traceurs is “To Be and to Last”; on the other, an epitaph at the Civil Cemetery reads “There is nothing after death”.