The Kinetic Chapel unleashes the intrinsic motion of sacred images within the context of an outdoor-exhibition space. The capillita (small chapels) are constructed to shelter popular image devotion. As mini-galleries for mixed-media imagery, they do not rely on the curatorial system of the established art world.
The kinetic chapel introduces transformative movement into an established container that otherwise features motionless imagery. While doing our research in Oaxaca, Mexico, we have found examples of electrical illumination within some of the capillitas. We found this both inspiring in its inventiveness as well as encouraging for the continuation of our own work with chapels featuring anmations.
As there are no other ways to display moving images but with electricity, we employ the sun to give us the sufficient energy for the kinetic chapel. Following this occupation with venerative artefacts, renewable energy has become an increasingly important issue for Performing Pictures' work. Venerative objects should generate energy, not consume it!
This is the report by Robert Brečević of how the Kinetic Chapel of Santa Ana Zegache was built.
As the priest from San Antonino could not come on Friday the chapel would not be blessed for the opening today.
Monica and Armand added some golden stars to the cupola and Đani was particularly happy about the central star with five eends (satisfying the Leftist-Catholic spirit).
The opening brought us people from Oaxaca (magazine and culture institutions), the municipal administration of Zegache, all the people from the taller as well as other pueblans from Zegache. For dinner we had a goat roasted in the ground (a local speciality) and the party continued until early hours!
It all went quite fast.
I had assembled the AV-system (screen, battery, eliminator) at the workshop the day before and let it run all through the night. Now it was time to install it in the chapel. We made some holes at the back of the chapel – for cables. The cross was made by Lau and covered the base with pigmented plaster that went so deep deep bue that he needed to do that with cupola as well!
Presi had promised to send the police (!!) to cut the branches of the adjacent jacaranda-tree, but they never showed up. I went up the tree with the machete and starting cutting them branches – higher and higher up!
In the evening the chapel was ready. I payed it a last visit at 11 o'clock after buyng 4 litres of superb mezcal. My cousin had a problem with his hip (go figure after all this work) and he sat down to rest on the way there. Alone with the Patrona I heard a motorcycle closing in. Two young men, hard-looking fellows, slowed down in front of the chapel. The driver gave my a nodd and the other guy a thumbs up – then they continued driving.
La Patrona was in place!
We had asked the priest to bless the chapel for the opening on Friday. Bad news: he says he cannot make it. Georgina is convinced that it is because he doesn't like the taller (he'd like to have the space that the taller is using, the old priest's quarters). We decided to ask another priest, the one from San Antonino, who is very fond of the Zegache workshop.
Georgina brought the solar equipment to Zegache. I started with the fitting of the panel. I was happy to see that we will be able to put the panel at the back of the cupola, (so that it doesn't shade the panel in the late afternon).
Our other colleagues from the taller started coming in groups in order to inspect the work uptil this point. I assmbled the rest of the syste at the taller, battery, controller, eliminator, screen – all working like a clock. Puh!
Điđi, the municipal wake-up soundsystem with cumbias and the sheep keep sure that we don't sleep late. Now we were finally back at the construction site to put the first columns in, do some brick-laying – after which we went back to the workshop. Đani continued with the Christ-relief in Meštrović's style.
The whole day I wore a t-shirt with slightly shorer sleaves and I really really messed up my arms (a stripe of pain 2 cm wide around the biceps).
While working the women of the taller are preparing a small altar on a table outside the taller (workshop) Today there will be a procession for the feast of Corpus Christi and the altar is going to be blessed.
5-7 older men in the pueblo are present at every religious event (procession, funerals, baptisms, weddings). These guys are allways at the end of the procession with one bottle of mezcal each. When the procession has circled the pueble (some 40 minutes later) the bottles are empty and merry bunch drag their feet, rocking their body left-right, left-right. Nevertheless there is allways someone who has some liqour left and says: ”psst, amigo! Quires un mezcal?!”
Firist we go to dona Kata's place right next to the workshop to get some breakfast. Everyone is so concerned about my cousin having stomach issues – they're making really bland food not to provoke any difficulties for him and this is the only trip to Oaxaca that has been something of a gastronomical disappointment (thanks cous'!).
The following two days we are not going down to the construction site. There is work to do in the workshop.
Since ”day 9” was a Sunday (= no work) there are no records of this. We just hanged around during our last day in the ciudad of Oaxaca, eager to move our quarters to where it all happens: Sata Ana Zegache. Georgina picked us up Monday morning with all of our luggage (and yes, we had a radio interview together with that morning – Oaxaca State radio) and drove us to our new appartment.
One big room with 2 beds, toilet in the courtyard and 10 sheep (+ 2 goats) as our closest neighbours.
We arrrive half an hour later than planned. The collectivo drops us off at the main square and we start walking down the main street towards the entrance of the pueblo. While approaching we se Chiquis and Scooby with horse and carriage.
Scooby and Chiquis have been transporting fine sand (arena) that we need for our construction. Later on, me and Scooby are fetching the coarse sand (graba) from a construction site narby (don Paola from the taller is building a new house).
The Presidente said that we had a concrete mixer at our disposal. When I mentioned this to Chiquis it was clear that the pueblans do not want to bother the authorities with unnecessary requests. Just tell us the proportions! All the concrete and paster for this construction were to be mixed on the ground with shovels. The concrete mixer was never fetched.
First step is to make the fundament for the chapel. The frame is made out of concrete blocks held together with a wooden frame. The boys are steadily delivering concrete and we are fetching big stones to put and fill the fundament with solid material.
Đani jokingly remarks: ”but what, aren't they Christian folks?”. The present (Chiquis, Georgina) shake their heads in dismay: ”no, they are one of the two Protestant families in the pueblo” Eh? I wanted to start blabbering about the ecumenical aspects which are in fashion in Europe but I quickly realized that concept doesn't have any bearing in Mexico.
So, we need to build the first chapel on the shaded side of the shaded side of the road. Presi is just saying ”take down a tree... or two - no problem! I will send the police to do it!” It is just a relatively young Jacaranda-tree, so we're starting to contemplate it, but this is when Georgina goes enviromental and tells Presi that in Sweden where I live it is forbidden to take down trees (not !!!).
It is quite a conundrum. We cannot really fit a chapel and then an arch (later project) without putting the thing in complete shade from one of the many trees.
Finally we find a solution, we change the direction of the chapel so it faces the street. By doing this we can fit both chapels and the arch in one line.
We need red bricks and stone (the typical combination of Oaxaca). The query and the places where they sell stone are at the other side of Oaxaca (opposite from Zegache), namely Etla. This is also where Christian has his studio. Chiquis comes into Oaxaca and we get picked up by Christian.
Once we have ordered the sotne, we go back to Oaxaca together with Chiquis. We gett a ride with a collectivo taxi-van where the driver shuts the door with a rope. We need to go to Santa Lucia Tule, in the direction Zegache – where we can find the red bricks.
We order 500 red bricks. They cost 3 pesos each and it is total of 1500 pesos. They will be delivered to Santa Ana Zegache by tomorrow. The brick-manufacturer gets an advance of 200 pesos and Chiquis gets 1300 to give them once they arrives.
On one side of the road there are trees – there might be a need to tke down one of them so that the solar panels would not be shaded. We were not willing to do that at this point (although ”Presi” says that he will send some guys and they will just cut it) – not for only one chapel, for 2 maybe, but not for one.
We opted for the other side of the street.
First day in Oaxaca featured massive teachers' strike. They had sealed off the entire historical centre of the city with their tents and it was quite hard to pass by.
The first planing meeting was held at the appartment. We decided to use a combination of bricks and stones in the construction of the capilla.This is quite common in urban Oaxaca and such an example was staring at us from the back: the outside of the window to our toilet!
Today is animation day. We decided to go with the dresses that are more similar to the original sculpture (calmer colours, less decorated) rather then the ceremonial dresses. The dolls are now getting ready for the big day to come!
Santa Ana's hair is covered with a *manto*, so it is only Mary's hair we need to worry about. A whig was bought in Oaxaca and Monica started applying it on Mary's head. Monica worked and worked with the hair, combed it, cut it, hairsprayed it and she was not very happy with the quality.
She decided that real hair is better. It took a bit of convincing: "You have so much hair... it will not be noticed...."
Clothes need to be made for Santa Ana and Mary. Luckily... Juanita is able to work with us again! Last time we had the leasure to work with Juanita was in November 2009.
We deciced to make two versions of the dresses. The decorations of the ceremonial fabrics are a bit too big for the dolls. Church dolls are usually around 1.30 m and our dolls are 51 and 36 cm high.
The conundrum is: which tradition to follow? Dressing the dolls in ceremonial fabric (starch colours, heavily decorated) or to make dresses that resemble the orginal statues (calm colours, discrete patterns)?
I went to the store and showed the image of Santa Ana and Mary. It appeared that there was an entire section of ceremonial textiles for dressing up Virgins, Madonnas... I over-estimated my Spanish and ended up buying too much fabric (the expensive, ceremonial ones). Even though he tried to sell as much as possible to me, the guy seemed to take fancy and whispered to me: "I am just writing down one meter of this... and not more than 2 meters of this one").
The next layer of paint is adding skin tones. Monica and Armand are skilled painter. Geska is getting to work with preparing the dresses.
Preparations for painting the head. Wish you could feel the smell of cedar wood and paint!
Remember that we had the opportunity to influence how the future welcoming arch of Zegache would look like? An offer from the Presidente of Zegache that we promised to get back to in a week.
We decided upon a shape that mimicks the facade of the church. The cupolas on the sides are taken down and put in front of the arch as chapels!
After that we started preparing some green tomatoes for the feast!
The artisans referred to Dougald as the Santo Biche - meaning the "pale-skinned saint". It appeared that they were restauring a church artefact looking exactly like... Dougald. We bought some 5 kilos of meat (tasajo, cecina and chorizo) for Saturday afternoon roasting. And above all - I pointed out that a guitar should be fixed for the occasion, since Dougald - or Santo Biche- used to be a street performer during his youth (making good money on REM's "Loosing my religion" among other tunes).
The party started and Dougald was nowhere to be found. The guitar waited and everyone else for that matter. Finally he arrived. With the finesse of a true performance artist Dougald (or Santo Biche) started off his victorious set with Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".
And Hallelujah what a party it became!
The visible parts is the head and the hands - the feet are not visible and the body is covered by clothes. The torso requires a female shape and the lower part of the body supports the dress.
Hardly a couple of days have passed and the assets for the puppets are starting to get real shape! Lao is doing the head of the patrona and Che is working with the hands. Christian will prepare the lower part of the puppets which are fixed (means no animation, no walking that is).
I am preparing the joints using the classical steel balls + plates + rods system for maximum flexibility and precision.
The artisans have never worked wit animation puppets and their work with figurative shapes (cherubs, faces) is recent. What talent!
When we mentioned the idea of making a kinetic chapel in Zegache (a chapel powered with solar energy displaying an puppet-animated saint) to Georgina, she immediatelly approved of it with enthusiasm. The kinetic chapel would make a clear contribution to the community - bridning the big gap between traditionals and progressives - which is exactly what this projects is about.
The modernization process of Mexico is a truly interesting story. The conflict between the (individualist) liberal-secular State and the (collectivist) traditionalist Church has been particularly complex in the indigenous areas of Oaxaca.
As any building projects we need permits and Georgina immediatelly set up a meeting with el Presidente. It was a long meeting (2 hours).
It ended up with us being given the opportunity to build 2 (!) chapels at the entrance of the pueblo and to make a suggestion for an welcoming arch!
Next meeting was scheduled in a week.
Finally we are ready to start our work with developing animation puppets with the artesans of the community workshop. They are highly skilled wood carvers (some of them being real sculptors I would point out) and what we have to decide is the scale of the dolls in order to know how big heads and hands to work with. Smaller is more convenient although it makes the carving harder.
We decide on a 51 cm high Santa Ana and 36 cenimeter high Virgen Mary.
Sweet name of Christ (Dulce nombre) is the second patron saint of Santa Ana. Yes, it was pointed out for us once el Presidente suggested to build 2 chapels.
I headed back to the church to make a photo of him for later use. We will be animating this dramatic figure and what a dramatic posture and promising movements - it is as if this motif begs for some motion!
We came to Zegache this time proposing the project to build a kinetic chapel. An entire edifice devoted to the veneration of a saint as well as the practice of solar energy that would keep the whole thing (literary) in motion.
While working with the practicalities of our building plans, a puppet animation would be developed at the community workshop. This day - the 11/11/11 - we decided that it had to be Santa Ana - the patron saint of Santa Ana Zegache. Simly referred to as "la Patrona". She is also the patron saint of horseback riders, housewives, grandmothers, cabinet makers, unmarried women, women in labor and miners.
A beautiful image of mother and daughter (Virgin Mary) reading together - a picture of self-education and mother-daughter-love.