You have thirty people for an afternoon.

Ask them to leave all of their belongings behind—their bags, wallets, phones. You’re asking them to trust you but you don’t have to say that that’s what you’re doing. Don’t say that’s what you’re doing. Everyone should only bring enough money for the metro.

Lead thirty people on a walk through a crowded city. Everyone can walk at their own pace but everyone should stay together. Most of the group are foreigners with minimal Spanish, and now no one has a phone or very much cash.

Lead them somewhere you know well.

For instance, the church that holds the remains of Hernán Cortés. It is a location of special historical and political significance, an excavation site and place of worship. An accumulation of colonial and postcolonial layers present the pedagogical opportunity to metaphorically dig into the intersections among indigenous life practices and legacies, Catholicism, and capitalism that have created and maintained the state of Mexico. And Mexico, you remind the group, is a mirror.

Walking with thirty people through a crowded city, details flood and wash out like water. Traveling as a group to la Iglesia de Jesús Nazareno is also an opportunity to metaphorically dig into what it is that distinguishes one city from another. In feeling: what draws any single detail out from a sea of details, what makes you notice, what draws you in.

For instance, the person on the metro curling their eyelashes with a spoon. They are holding a teaspoon, deftly curling their eyelashes around the curved back of the spoon while using the other hand to support a compact mirror. They curl for a few seconds, move the spoon away, cock their head opposite the mirror, examine closely, then resume with the spoon. Curl, cock, repeat.

Or the person on the platform wearing a police vest, armed. Think about it: if you stand on the train platform for three hours holding the butt of your pistol in one hand, even if it never leaves the holster, how can you help but think about what it would feel like to swing up and open fire?

The apocalyptic autocrat painted on the ceiling.

La Malinche and her commentators.

The cracks and fissures between architectural styles.

Everything there is to buy.

When you don’t take photos, you remember details differently. You already know that but it’s still worth noting, all of the details you wouldn’t photograph anyway. Your feet on the stones.

It is not exactly that the city used to be under water, but that everything was water. Can you imagine the labor involved in draining the lakes without romanticizing it?

A group of thirty people is basically a lake.

Move through the city reading it as if it were a museum. On the street and in the church too, you find containers established and bureaucratically maintained to simultaneously preserve and destroy what is called culture.

It is surprisingly difficult to stand on two legs in the museum for four hours. It takes a real effort.

Walking, poke open the question: what else could you do with that energy?

Asa Mendelsohn

 
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You have thirty people for an afternoon
Isak Berbic, Laura Serejo Genes, Liang Luscombe, Asa Mendelsohn
SOMA publication, Mexico City, summer 2018

On July 11, 2018, SOMA summer participants met at the space of the artist collective Crater Invertido in San Rafael, Ciudad de México. Jazael Olguín Zapata asked the group to leave all their belongings and only take money or passes for the metro. They boarded the metro at San Cosme and exited at Pino Suárez headed for the Iglesia de Jesus Nazareno [Av. 20 de Noviembre 82, Centro, 06090 Ciudad de México, CDMX]. Among other things, the site is known as the current resting place for the remains of Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés and for the unfinished mural, “Apocalipsis” by José Clemente Orozco painted in fresco on the ceiling. Special mention was made of a Pre-Hispanic sculpture of a snake head at the base of the house of the nephew of Cortés at the corner of José María Pino Suárez and República del Salvador.

The following four texts are personal departures from this shared experience.

 
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