If you still lived here...
Famous for touring her personal library and activist archives, Martha Rosler gives us a lot to think about in her exhibition.
Literally a room full of boxes and newspaper clippings, ‘If You Lived Here Still’ is a twenty-year collection of material about homelessness and tenant rights. Since its original presentation in 1989, American cities have hosted permutations of the exhibition, adding local material to Rosler’s. Now Barcelona has followed suit; half of the exhibition presents work by local activists who fight for the right to fair housing.
I suggest you begin with the Barcelona resources. Move past the room primarily devoted to Rosler’s New York archive and sit down at Jordi Oriola and Laura Villaplana’s Roquetes: Memories that shape a neighbourhood and listen to how some Nou Barris residents hijacked a bus to get service to their barrio. Take a look at the comic book-style guide that explains how plans to put elevators in Barceloneta apartments will literally throw out 20 percent of a building’s population and learn about how Ciutat Vella inhabitants suffered four years of harassment by developers and how they’re fighting back with a criminal lawsuit, as witnessed in the documentary 29, Carrer Robador. Four Years of Tenant Harassment.
Part of Rosler’s motivation to tour this exhibition is to bring such activist battles and victories to local light. She offers her archive as a model to create similar projects in other cities hoping to connect people with the issues of housing. To that end, Rosler’s original exhibition, part of the influential 1989 Town Meeting project in New York City, included four accompanying talks. In these forums, people engaged with the larger issues presented by her archive.
However here, I would hazard a guess that Rosler’s audience are having trouble seeing this important work as more than a stack of papers. In part, due to the fact that La Virreina has failed to offer itself as a venue for conversation. During the launch, the centre hosted Rosler and a few local organisations for two public conferences. Though well attended, similar events have not been planned.
Rosler is one of a growing number of contemporary artists working in the vein of research-based art practice, intended to turn the art gallery into a venue for discourse. In fact, If You Lived Here originated the form and these types of exhibitions aren’t going away anytime soon. Barcelona’s art institutions are obliged to not only help carry the torch, but to prepare their audiences, and themselves, for a new institutionalism.