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MICTLAN, a swamp pavillion

Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura, Mexico City

with Ivan Arellano

archivo del designo



Aby Warburg’s fight between rationality and the unconscious produced one of the most interesting texts in art history of the 20th century. The text in question, The Serpent Ritual, was written in 1929 as a struggle for sanity. During his reclusion in the bellevue clinic in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, Aby made a pact with the freudian psychoanalyst Ludwig Biswanger: he would be liberated from therapy if he succeeded to prove his full mental capacities by accomplishing a scientific research. The pact freed him from the hospital and probably freed art history from some sort of determinism. Through his very open and anthropological approach to studying the indian tradition of snake dancing he somehow managed to contest the supremacy of occidental art and its official interpretations.

Mictlan can be seen as an opportunity to discuss the issue of how much culture narrows itself within disciplines, and to what extent the discourse is narrowed and confined when a discipline is defined. Underground architecture is seen here as an approach to deny any specific cultural affiliation (in the sense of belonging to a single discipline). Mictlan is the location where everybody inevitably ends. It’s a final destination. It is a space for afterlife parties. It allows free thinking and free behaviour since it doesn’t belong to any official world. But it does need guiding. It needs the psychopomp companionship of Xolotl, navigating between the rational world and the unrationality of dreams and ancient mythologies.

Underground is understood in its double meaning. On one hand, the simple fact of being below, physically under the historical memory of mexico city: the swamp. On the other hand, underground as an alternative to the official culture. A culture that is necessarily built on an unstable basis and is continually questioned, yet remains very strong in its constant impulse. It accepts its vulnerability and ephemeral existence. It will not last. Mictlan is ready to be built like a brut folly in a precious garden, a secretly built grotto where underground gatherings can occur. It is an interpretation of Malcolm Lowry’s novel magic atmosphere.

Mictlan is simply and traditionally built. The chaotic structure is made of wood planks assembled in a spontaneous manner that can react continuously to its own making. Recycling is one of its possibilities. Mdf panels could also easily be used. “Global tools” furniture is integrated to the structure: seating devices, hammocks, bars, tables, supports for objects and whatever else the pavilion may require. In its centre, a fire can be found as the hearth and heart of the structure: Mictlan has its own volcano.






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