It was the collapse of a million dreams and many fortunes. Spain’s housing bubble which collapsed in 2008 left vast areas of the country as unfinished construction sites, destroyed the economy and shifted the country’s demographics. Amidst the ruin in Valencia lives Enrique: homeless gypsy in a shipping container, custodian of fine art, living exhibit.
Enrique dwells in the ruins of the housing bubble. This place, years ago, was an office where promises were sold. Back then, finding paradise was just a question of piling up bricks. Heaven was as close as the ground you could pay for.
Photos: Txema Rodriguez.
But the lie finally exploded, leaving little behind but this hut on the outskirts of Valencia. They didn’t build the apartments they promised, or even remove the 14-square-meter [8 by 20 foot] shipping container where they showed off the blueprints. The shack remained, another cadaver abandoned by the get-rich-quick culture of steel beams and cement.
The commercial headquarters of those who had sought wealth in real estate emptied out, and it became home to a pair of immigrants from the east. In time, they too fled. So Enrique moved in. He had broken from his past, from his family. This home, in Vara de Quart, out on the western end of Valencia, wouldn’t cost rent. Enrique moved in a bed, a couple pieces of furniture and a mirror. He decorated the space with some figurines and a collection of pinups of nude women that he updates with the passing days. And to finish it off he tied the door with a string so it wouldn’t open.
One day last August Txema Rodriguez came around. The photographer goes out often to decorate walls with photographs and unexpectedly, Enrique approached him.
“I’m very interested in urban art,” says Rodriguez. “I put photos on walls to see how they work. One day I was out putting up photos and Enrique came up. He asked me for a cigarette and then told me to make his house look pretty,” Rodriguez explains. “I thought it was a very interesting project because it was an intervention on a living space. Normally we do our work on places where no one lives.”
“I called Vinz, an artist I collaborate with often, and proposed it to him. I said: ‘Vinz, I have a perfect client because he’s going to like your imagery a lot’.” And that is how it turned out. Their aesthetic affinity was absolute. The distance between them shows up in the meaning of the work. For Enrique, they are naked women. For Vinz it is ‘a criticism of the oil wells they are drilling in the Mediterranean,'” the photographer says. “There’s meaning behind those women’s bodies and their swan heads.”
Rodriguez and Vinz’s intention was to transform the house into an artistic project, to take advantage of those walls to resurrect some original meaning of street art. “Street art is heading toward the decorative. Often, it is something that’s merely aesthetic. But it is better that it should bother people, because that means it is actually saying something. The initial spirit [of street art]was one of criticism,” says the photographer.
Enrique will be, for his part, the beneficiary and guardian. It is his home and, now, speaks highly of him. And that means he will watch over its facades and maintain the integrity of the female figures. In Valencia, nudity does not last long. It seems the Inquisition is not so far away. “For a long time, I’ve wanted to do pieces in the streets that last more than two days. Photographs of nudes are often controversial, especially in public spaces. It’s different than in other cities, like London, Vienna or New York. In Valencia they usually bother people, and they tear down images of genitals and nude breasts,” explains Vinz in a document presenting the project.
The critics do not like it much either. That is why it is better that it be hidden away. That is what art is about. It is about telling things in a different way to avoid censorship and trite discourse. “Political and social protest are very present in my work, but if we did it explicitly, the police would have destroyed Enrique’s house. We had to be more subtle,” the artist continues.
The protest element does not affect the person who lives behind them either. “Enrique doesn’t get involved in critical or artistic considerations,” Rodriguez says. “The only thing he talks about with his neighbors is that he prefers women to have pubic hair. They talk about that because the women in the piece don’t have any.”
Years ago, [the Spanish developer]Coperfil Group promised a paradise made of brick here. In the end, the construction bubble didn’t leave anything more than rubble and a bankrupt company. After all was said and done, the only house they built was for Enrique, and he has been living there for two years. And now it feels even more like his because one of the exterior walls displays his portrait. “He shows it off with pride,” says Rodriguez.
Enrique lives without water, without electricity, without radio and without television. But “within that life that appears absurd in the conventional world, there is meaning,” says the photographer. “He is consistent with his decision. He has established himself there and that is where he makes his life.”
Translated for International Boulevard by Brian Hagenbuch.
12 Mar 2014