The project takes its title from the literary work Volverás a Región (1967) by Juan Benet (Madrid, Spain,1927-1993). The story is the conceptual starting point for the show.Benet, an engineer who built the dam of the River Porma in the Leonese valley of Vegamián, mythologisedin his novel the natural and human space that would be flooded under the waters, thus exemplifying the essential dilemma of these processes that make past and future, progress and memory antagonists.
“Región (The Narratives). Changes in Landscape and the Politics of Water”
2 December, 2017 – 27 May, 2018
Avda. Reyes Leoneses, 24, León
The exhibition, installed in the galleries of the Fundación Cerezales Antonino y Cinia (FCAYC) and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC) assembles materials of very different types. From pictorial works to archaeological remains, material from personal archives, press cut-outs, engineering plans, hitherto unpublished expropriation files, documentaries broadcast on television, hundred-year-old books on agricultural education, films, posters or photographs, besides the work of several important contemporary artists who have reflected on the subject.
Región (The Narratives). Changes in Landscape and the Politics of Water is the fruit of more than three years of research into the transformation of the territory brought about by the construction of major hydric infrastructure, with a special focus on the reservoirs in the northeast of the province of León – Porma, with its Juan Benet Dam, and Riaño – which in 2017 celebrated the fiftieth and thirtieth anniversaries, respectively, of their completion.
This research is made visible in an exhibition that occupies the rooms and galleries of MUSAC and the FCAYC (Cerezales del Condado) with a wealth of materials of different kinds, covering a period of more than a century, including personal archives, private periodicals collections, engineering drawings, unpublished records of expropriations, aerial photographs of the areas that were to disappear, archaeological remains, documentaries made for the cinema, television and radio, home movies, posters and photographs, as well as the work of a number of present-day artists who have reflected on the subject. These materials, displayed in more than fifteen hundred square metres of exhibition space between the two venues, trace the history of a plan of national transformation of the land and its soil whose roots go back to the final years of the 19th century and whose full fruition is taking place in our own time – a plan, indeed, which has direct parallels in many other parts of the world.
Juan Benet’s Volverás a Región (Return to Región), 1967, written during the period in which the author was the engineer in charge of building the Porma River dam in the Vegamián valley, provided the conceptual starting point for the project, in that Benet’s novel, which mythologizes the natural and social space soon to be submerged under the waters, embodies the essential dilemma of these processes, which set past and future against one another and place certain forms of progress and memory in conflict. The exhibition begins with the regenerationists, who warned of the evils afflicting the Spain of their time, an empire in liquidation blind to its own decay, and authors such as Lucas Mallada and Joaquín Costa, who identified chronic drought as one of those evils. The pioneering photographers and filmmakers recorded these concerns, which were given definitive shape by the generation of ’98. The poverty of an arid Spain was a central theme of the best writers and artists of that time. Among them, considered the masterpiece of the silent period of our filmography, The Cursed Village, which tells the story of the inhabitants of a little town who are forced to abandon their homes due to the persistent failure of the rains.
The need to revitalize the nation’s soil was clear to a succession of governments, spanning the monarchy, the republic and even two dictatorships. King Alfonso XIII; Rafael Gasset, Spain’s first Minister of Agriculture; General Miguel Primo de Rivera;I ndalecio Prieto, the Socialist Minister of Public Works int he Second Republic; Franco, and the democratically elected government headed by the Socialist Felipe González all embraced the great hydrological plan to irrigate the country and generate electricity from hydropower, an operation on a vast scale which brought with it, as the price of progress, the disappearance of valleys and villages, the relocation of entire populations and a massive programme of internal colonization.
This process has produced a number of narratives, not only institutional, political and journalistic but also those of popular memory, and those of writers, filmmakers and artists, and the principal objective of this exhibition is to draw these narratives together by means of several hundred exhibits, which bring to life many different accounts of what has been a profound and far-reaching physical transformation of the landscape, for good and for ill. The part of the exhibition installed in MUSAC is especially concerned with Riaño, a reservoir first planned in the early years of the 20th century and postponed for decades until the dam, commenced in 1965, was finally closed in 1987, after democracy had been restored, making dramatically visible, as never before, the intensity and diversity of voices for and against its construction. History presents itself at times in the guise of something that could not have been otherwise. The distinct outline of that appearance should not impede the analysis of the facts.
The contrast between appearances and facts brings us closer to the true story, which is to be found not in a single discourse but in several, in people’s narratives. An initiative of the FCAYC, produced in conjunction with MUSAC, this research framework seeks to trace unprecedented relationships between vestiges, information, documents and cultural or artistic expressions, to tune in to previously unheard voices and put forward new perspectives revealing multiple angles from which to dissolve the monolithic discourse reinforced by the fait accompli.