Because they are places where flows, intersections, and exchanges happen, markets have been a rich source of energy and ideas for human populations for millennia. They have greatly contributed to structure cities, communities, and nations. Today one could even said that markets have structured a whole planet, the globe as a system of commerce. Moreover, they have also greatly contributed to re-shape cyberspace, making the web and the Internet more centralized. My favorite type of market is the “flea market,” the place where second-hand merchandises and antiques circulate. Usually with a fixed location, and sometimes organized according to seasons, “flea markets” have a participatory quality that makes them quite vibrant, with impromptu and temporary displays where objects from multiple worlds and various qualities are sold, bought, and exchanged. Carpets on the floor, picnic tables, car trunks, and mobile closets, can become the kind of informal and temporary infrastructures for showing the used merchandise curated by diverse vendors. In Latin America, and particularly in some mega-cities like Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Bogota, these “mercados de pulgas,” “tianguis” o “mercadillos” become fascinating cultural hubs where multiple modern and indigenous worlds meet. They are places of explosive paradoxes, delicious flavors, and absurd juxtapositions.
Earlier this year, during a short visit to Mexico City, I was introduced to the “tianguis” of La Lagunilla, a marketplace that opens every Sunday in a neighborhood near downtown and which activities can be traced back several centuries to colonial times. Pre-hispanic communities like the Aztecs and Olmecas developed itinerary markets for exchanging and bartering foods, textiles, crafts and other goods. The ethimology of “tianguis” has its origins in the Náhuatl word tiānquiz(tli), and designated the itinerary markets that were established in major indigenous cities like Tenochtitlan, Tlaxcala y Xochimilco. Today, La Lagunilla keeps alive the pre-Hispanic tradition of the tianguis, integrating also European and Middle Eastern traditions of public markets and bazaars in a sort of global mix that combines multiple times, aesthetics, and cultures.
Located north of the Mexico city historical downtown and main public square (Zocalo), and east of the Plaza Garibaldi, La Lagunilla marketplace expands across several blocks in between the streets of Allende, Rayón and Paseo de la Reforma. Every Sunday vendors occupy this space with their temporary and informal infrastructures setting up a complex network of commercial alleys organized according to the different kinds of merchandise and foods that are sold.
Navigating the tianguis is quite an adventure, an immersion in a complex labyrinth. Full of stuff, this labyrinth is the place of absurd and paradoxical assemblages that surprise us. Random objects appear next to each other grouped by the street vendors and antique collectors that have creatively organized whimsical displays. The density of such groupings and the richness of such assemblages surprise us and seduce us with the power of surprising juxtapositions, with the vital force of the paradox. Several artists from the 20th century created entire aesthetic movements exploring the power of that kind of collage and random encounter.
At La Lagunilla the random encounters take just a hyperbolic scale. A magnificent size as the one that surprised the Spaniard conquistadores when they first encountered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Chinese porcelain cups meet cameras that come out of wooden trunks full of old portraits while phonographs and typewriters write postcards with pens and pipes. Chapulines colorados and santa clauses come out of food containers surrounded by empty feeding bottles and naked angels that make telephone calls pushing ink bottles, burning candles, and swinging hands. Wrestler globes playing with a recording machine connected to a radio transistor with a Jesus antenna while movable types wait at door handles the ringing of irons. Door keys ruling chisels and spatulas, unearthing underwood typewriters and old books, serving photographs and postcards over a forgotten garci-crespo tray. Volcanic rocks crying marbles for lemon squeezers and necklaces standing in front of door decorations and quartz crystals. An analogue stereo screams through the stomach of typewriter breaking vinyl records over a tray of cerveza Sol, filling liquor flagons with illusions. Barking Snoopy dogs salting peanuts smiling hello kitties in front of angry dinosaurs watching dvds with other toy friends. Portable television baseball corona pepsi cocacola shampoo bazaar. Frenzy dresses for black and white photographs of Mexican social revolutions. Hands full of hearts and purses libres for an afternoon of swords, of boxing kings in the middle of bucolic Mexican landscapes over crochet murals with Ferrari cups and superheroes waiting for a red telephone call. The sound of wild ducks singing blues over a monkeys neck with an angels and devils orchestra celebrate the magician escape from a noisy money machine bicycle sink. It is tea time at the street stoplights. Blinking yellow. Red. Green. Tarzan jumps over an Illinois horse of gold hearts next to a walking Chinese family. It is not the end of the world. Neither the beginning. Big bang explosion. Booom! Pedro Picapiedra delivers a speech on the top of a mountain of suns. Almost the end of a labyrinth. But not quite. Worlds keep multiplying. Living arts and worlds and words. Texan trucks chasing Chilango beattles aka “bochos” with Venetian masks carrying a scissors kits for opening Champagne bottles and muting trumpets. Two bowling pins and 33 pepsi cola bottles dancing an earthquake. Terremoto and moñona. Pieces of movable type. Pieces of life. Of words. A projector bulb burns out and the film melts on the audience spectacles. MMW. 153. The book rings. Azteca colour slides for Eastman ektachrome at the national gallery 153 and the room number 15 explodes with una noche de amor in Krakowia.
Although the best way to experience the creativity and intelligence of La Lagunilla is by walking the marketplace, talking to the vendors, touching the objects, tasting the food and drinks, and, of course, getting lost, in this entry I would share a series of photographs that attempt to capture the flow of this tianguis. Each photograph could be read as a dadaist poem, a cabinet of curiosities, a ready-made, an art assemblage, a collage. I have selected them considering the potential of the assemblage for an aesthetic and playful experience that must go beyond the temporal and physical constraints of the 2-D image. I have captioned them in an effort to approach some of the complex narratives that are embedded in them. I am still not sure about their randomness. The power that is contained in each assemblage reveals the paradoxes of our times and consumer cultures, the entanglement of modern dreams. Chaotic narratives that are waiting to be told at any moment, tomorrow now.