By Judha Su28.07.2018
I remember a lucid dream pulsating through my mind while I was in Plaza Rio De Janeiro Colonia Roma, Mexico city:
A fountain spurting in a circle, creating a fragile curtain rhythmically wrapping up a replica of Michelangelo’s David at the center. A Sunday market was on the other side; little bulbs were flickering like fireflies. In the opposite side, I was sitting behind a woman in Mexican traditional dress selling clothes and accessories on the ground. I lingered there before the sunset until the darkness swarmed. During the liminal light, a strange image spilling into my consciousness: the representation of the conquer from the West, city dwellers, indigenous people were melt into one, before they bursted into erratic sounds.
Those sounds generated a new set of images onto the ongoing reality. I felt as if I witnessed the time when the notion of past, present and future collide. I felt the strong desire of Antonin Artaud towards Mexico, the brutality of colonial history, self-resilience and resistance. All images spurted and dispersed very quickly, I was then brought back to the reality, at last.
It was the day after I met the RRD collective, and the day before I revisited them at the studio. Conversations with either each individual or a whole group served an entrance to delve more into the RRD world — how they live, think, work, and dream, including the publishing and reading culture at large. They also remind me that we will keep meeting people who do and dream similar things to us — not by intellectualism, but by intuition that drives me to go beyond the stiffness of theories.
It was the third day in Mexico City that I planned for a city stroll and a visit Kurimanzutto, an established gallery in Chapultepec. Green avenues cut through exquisite-designed and colorful architectures led me to be in front of the sleek and wide wooden entrance of the gallery. I rang a bell so the door was open, then walked inside to the gallery: a security guard, a bookstore, a little courtyard, and a gallery space. A spatial division conveys its function to an institutionalized knowledge of art that visitors are systematically guided by narrative and visual. I spent longer time at the bookshop than I did at the exhibition space — floating my eyes over book covers and texts on the shelf. Always, printed matters seduce ardent readers, they captivate and re-create a spacetime of reading like a blackhole.
Realized the time passed, then I said goodbye to a gallery assistant. I needed neither the guard to push the wooden door to be back on the street, nor did I use the google map to head back to Juanacatlán metro station. Once the body was free from navigators, I could embrace more surrounding sensations on the street. Whist walking along Gral. Pedro Antonio de Los Santos, a main road leading to the train station, I noticed a bright-blue kiosk occupied by multi-colored zines. Quicker than my thought, then I pulled back my legs, and turned back.
Is it like a leitmotif? Zine culture shares some mutual characters, no matter in which location they are made. It probably has something to do with its technology and socio-economic condition, I assume. Though, this assumption is too general and insufficient to understand one particular context, I then decided to interact to a shopkeeper who tried to speak to me in Spanish a few times.
“Can you speak English?,” asked discreetly for that I didn’t want to sound like a foreigner demanding local people to speak the language.
“Yes, of course,” he responded and smiled.
“Could you please get the book on the top for me?” It was a Spanish-English magazine titled “diSONARE,” he reached out for that book and handed it to me. It was the moment that the silence was broken, and a conversation grew.
Unlike a gallery bookshop, the kiosk, namely, RRD - Red de Reproducción y Distribución [Reproduction and Distribution Network] — is inevitably contaminated by street dynamic as much as infused into the urban landscape. Painted in bright-blue color, the typography used for RRD logo appropriates the popular design found on the street in Mexico city.
The collective are made of Sergio Torres, Bruno Ruiz, Alberto Vivar, Joel Castro, Michelle Ponce, Nicolas Franky, and Héctor Zazueta. A year ago, they started working together right at kiosk on the street, until 3-4 months later, they found a proper studio in the proximity.
It is like a dream of building an aircraft or something, perhaps? RRD imagined to have a kiosk, so they built a prototype appropriated by the functions of torta stand — to sell books, to screen vdo/film, and to run activities on the street. They submitted a proposal with the original model to Museo Jumex for funding, but it did not get accepted.
One day they walked pass an empty kiosk posted available for rent. As quick as their desire, they made a call to the former owner of peculiar name: Primitivos [Primitive]. “It was like a coincidence because we didn’t plan the kiosk being blue but we found this one which only sells publications and editorial materials. So we went to the union, and told them what we wanted to do and then they were like ‘ok!’,” Nicolas explained, and casted his mind back to the first discovery. “We always have this idea of creating a network of small/independent publishers in the city. So it is about getting to know what other people are doing, and working as a point of distribution of independent publishers.”
It was originally an image of the baby on the side of the RRD’s original model. Yet, since they joined the union whose icon is Vicente Guerrero, a hero from Mexican war of independent, so it is mandatory to paint him onto the kiosk. RRD playfully appropriated him into a pirate as a statement of their practices and everything revolving around reproduction, piracy, copyleft, open-source, and shared information. After the opening, a lot of people have contacted them. “In the beginning people who reached us are friends from the same school. Then we went to the book fair, it was the breaking point when people started writing to us,” Alberto added.
“Actually we didn’t ask anyone for a permission. We just told them that we are doing this kiosk, maybe we can sell your stuff there. What do you think? We are now having these materials, if you want to give us more, we will be happy,” Michelle clarified. “People are passing by, and they see what we read, what we sell. Then they ask if they can bring some stuff. We are always open to a new proposal and everything. We are working to build a bigger network, you know. Since we are here in the city, and we also try to have a network in other cities, like Querétaro, Sinaloa, Oaxaca.”
A hundred Mexican peso is paid monthly to the union. RRD crew have a shift work to sit at the kiosk which opens at 11 am to 5 pm from Monday to Friday, and 11 am to 3 pm on Saturday. It seems to me that the interaction between RRD and passerby grows very organically. “We got a random person coming to us, someone we don’t know but want to collaborate with us. It happens regularly, like once every two weeks,” Héctor said.
From a moment to hours, I lingered at the kiosk. Then Bruno came, introduced himself as part of RRD collective.
From two into three; my friend once pointed out that a dynamic of conversation always changes according to people who arrive or leave. This subtle observation is also true with a space like RRD where people are walking pass and most of them only focus on their destinations. Most people don’t pay much attention in transit and border as it has been seen as a medium to “crossover” instead of stop and ponder. An airport is the very best example of transit zones —- no man’s land — where people en route to their destinations. But — isn’t this no man’s land a job of careful carrier? A job of diligent distributor who can grasp a subtle meaning of each publication, and deliver them to readers.
Falling down the rabbit hole. It’s a stretch of time and place, we agreed to meet again that night at Patriotismo station. Not far from the RRD kiosk, I had a brief visit at the RRD’s beautiful studio — the old-yellow building of 2 floors, showing antedate decoration added some certain charm in the contemporary air, the torn-down wall of main studio painted in two tones of blue.
We took a train from Patriotismo to Bellas Artes, in the central area. During the transit, Sergio recounted the big earthquake that has destroyed trains and shelters, and people have received no sufficient support until now. This story is so familiar to me, and surely to many people who live in countries with insufficient support and poor governance. By this condition, however, allows us to grow wiser in some way, and that could be a strong calibre too.
We also talked about how art institutions have involved in distributing some specific knowledges as much as dismissed the others. I also shared with them my working experiences with some European institutions that has urged me to be more critical to the knowledge production and my positionality within this structure.
From the Bellas Arte station, we walked through Central Alameda Park, a Neoclassical Greek style sculpture of Benito Juarez, and Memory and Tolerance Museum is not far away. It was Saturday night, so the area was crowded. The loud music permeated the air; we made a turn, and walked until we arrived at the destination — Bósforo bar.
At the mezzanine level of the crowded bar, everyone sat on the floor. We made a little space for us to sit down and shared random conversations over mezcal, guacamole mixed with grasshoppers, and blue tortillas.
6. Monday afternoon, I revisited the kiosk before meeting a whole team for an interview at their studio. Alberto was there alone, reading a book on a folding chair.
“It’s challenging to balance between the idea of camouflage and of exhibition on the street where so many exciting things could happen,” Alberto addressed the aesthetic dimension while we were watching people walking on the street.
Since the kiosk is part of the city infrastructure, it inherently has a quality of disguise. Apart from the careful presentation informed by everyday life tactics, I would add that the artistic practice should not impose any aesthetic superiority — by saying like “hey people!, look at me [because I am smart and beautiful]” — in which product advertisements have already done their job in piercing every eyeball on the street.
For a while when Joel stopped by, with a little Sombrero mobile in his hand, then we had a brief talk. He was the very first contact of RRD since the early period of the collective. RRD produced the first publication with him, and he soon became a member who creates sign painting and typography for the team.
A middle-age woman walking through the side walk where Alberto and Joel were talking. She complained over the painting on the street and looked at two men. They smiled and spoke to her before she came back again with the same yet milder expression. After a while, another woman greeted Alberto with some snack, she seemed to be an acquaintance with RRD. For a fair period of time, a group of young people flocked the kiosk and bought some zines and poster, had some chat with the RDD crew.
Public space does not make a magic by automatically transforming art into a direct contact with people on the street, it needs a lot of works in order to learn its rhythm and lyric. Once one has acquired that sensibility, how to carry it into effect is another question. While I walked with Sergio to the studio, he stopped at a food stall next to the RRD kiosk. He asked the street vendor if her son has recovered from the car accident. I was the moment I realized that a very genuine way to start practicing is to show what you truly care.
A diverse spectrum of printing materials presented at the RRD kiosk — a very tiny book; zines in a regular size of A5, A4 to A0; from a full text to an image book; from B&W to color; literary journal; poster; and more — does not only function as a form, but it also suggests a tone of voice to talk about one particular issue.
My most favorite zine is their first publication of 2018: Alphabet of Mexican sign language by Romina R Soriano. It’s the smallest book amongst others on the display — strong and delicate — especially for the fact that the book is dealing with the deafening ambience of the street. The silent video of Romina R Soriano introducing herself at RRD kiosk is very powerful. Also, the voiceless video resonates the act of reading and writing, the practice in which silence needs to be embraced so the thought could spring into an alternative dream — a dream of potential.
The collaborative spirit is a merit of RRD collective. Since they are not a passive distributor who waits random readers to stop by, rather, they initiate projects to work with people, and incorporate other mediums, like vdo, music, film from independent producers, etc, to stretch the faculty of sensation.
The last night in Mexico city, I took the last train with Sergio and Bruno, the memory of first night we took the train together was evoked. The timeline seemed to run into circle. Before, they got off the train first, we embraced and said goodbye in transit.
I got up when the city is at play, planned to have the last stroll.
At the train station, I just realized by then that the logo of Metro Isabel La Católica represents one of Christopher Columbus's three caravels. Its name comes from nearby Avenida Isabel La Católica, named after Queen Isabel of Castile, who helped Columbus finance his journeys to the Americas. “Costa Azul,” my hotel, means a blue coast, where I started my day and walked to the Columbus’s caravel for a week — what a perfect combination!
Before the noon, I walked back to the blue coast before returned to the America.
During the border crossing, an officer enquired whether all stuff in my little luggage belong to me, or I carried anything given by friends in Mexico city.
I said “no”, it’s all mine.
Dreams are not stuff. They cannot be carried or taken away. Luckily, we can still [re]distribute the dreams.
Without doubt, RRD is doing this job.