The Next Revolution?

Once the Casa de el Hijo Del Ahuizote used to be home to the political critical group of the brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magon. It was a headquarters from where these activists critically evaluated the advancements around the establishment of a strong government for Mexico, one that would unite the country, create more equality between ethnicities and one that would operate in freedom according to the constitution compiled in 1857. The country’s history teaches us that even after the revolution it was hard to find a strong leader that would rule according to the values fought for during the revolution without defending their own political and economical benefits. Despite the reign of Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico has learned a hard lesson when it comes to mapping out systems for societal, political and economical organization.

Though there is hope, wandering through the streets of Mexico City there is creativity to be seen everywhere, people seem to have a progressive way of solving everyday problems rather than a wait-and-see mentality. Where the people seem to have lost trust in their government we see creative movements taking over organization, building a society from bottom up instead of following a from the top projected utopian philosophy that’s not what so ever grown from the hands and souls of the needers nor the executors. during the beginning of the previous age, Emiliano Zapata, leader of the Zapatistas, an armed farmers movement fighting for their rights from their home state of Morelos, used to say “those who put their hands in the ground should own the ground and everything that comes from it.” To me it represents a common Mexican mentality.

Despite inadequate politics and rivalry among the revolutionaries after they gained power. the Mexican revolution used to be an inspiration to the Cuban 26th of July Movement with Fidel and Raúl Castro and Ernesto (Che) Guevara. Who planned the invasion of Cuba from Café Havana in Mexico City. It is clear to me that when you walk through Mexico City among people everywhere you can taste the willing and effort to make every tomorrow better. Still the potential is more clear than the actual progression. It’s a society that boils up and boils down, rearranging itself, but never really boils over. Chained to undefinable many traditions, pride, religion and nostalgia, it never seems to reach a point of enlightenment and reunion. Politics seem a struggle between survival politics, among the well willing politicians, and personal or the party’s benefits, caused by corruption and aristocrats. The liberation of the workers unions, more equal rights to the working class and nationalisation of the oil industry by Lazaro Cardenas once showed the will of the people’s majority to pursuit socialist politics to break free from economical interference by the United States of America. But this clear political direction lost course after the 1940’s.

It is clear that change is not easily to be established by the government but rather by the people. Not only by protesting but finding ways to use the available sources to their full extends. That means, using corruption, using global trade and their gateways to the country - which one of them is Centro Historico - to establish a share in the economy for a bigger part of the underclass. Trade in Centro Historico was amongst others made possible by people with short lines to corrupted politicians, that protect the little street sellers during their business. It made Police interference a waste of effort and therefore allowed it to become the most common practice of business. During my research I wrote down the question “Could corruption become a good thing?.” I was aiming for speculation about how the flaws in the current political and economical system could become tools for the disadvantaged. Could this mean a next revolution in a totally unexpected shape? And is it already taking place or can it only start when people are aware of its revolutionary potential? Understanding this research might create some insights.

21-04-2017 | This article was written as a personal reflection on the project, contextualizing the wall piece at Casa de El Hijo del Ahuizote and a motivation for the potential of this research to become the starting point for artistic practice.

Centro Histórico’s Market Plan

Like explained in the article “The Next Revolution” street sellers have created a remarkable system in order to survive. The infrastructure is set, a new kind of shadow economy established. But how exactly does this shadow economy work?

Centro Histórico is not only the gate for Chinese and Japanese goods to enter the country, it also exists inside its own ecosystem. The products sold in these streets are a mix of Mexican made products and Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese products. The way they move around is pretty linear. Products enter the country and are sold behind the walls of Centro Histórico in big shopping malls where big deals are made, for example in Plaza Diamante. You can hardly find deals per piece, prices often are made on location or products are sold by fixed quantities. Sellers are importers or tradesmen from Asia.

The second layer are the sellers on the other side of the wall; the sellers on the sidewalks and the tiendas directly in the streets. They pick their products in large quantities and resell them in smaller quantities to street sellers that sell at traffic lights, bus/metro stations, in the parks and little stands outside in the streets. During weekdays the market is full with these mini retailers. In the weekend they sell mainly to individual buyers. The guy in the leather products shop mainly sells to Mexican buyers from the north and the south of the country. His products are national products, often handcrafted or from factories in the northern states. The guys and girls selling the army and survival gear buy mainly from the Asian suppliers and sell their products mainly, not surprisingly, to people from so called narco states, such as Guerrero, Sinaloa and Michoacan.

If you walk in the streets it is easy to discover which street sellers have the same suppliers. You would almost think that they are part of a plan, that someone assigns what they sell. That’s not true though, street sellers do decide what they sell. They look at each other and try to compete where that’s possible. I spoke to a lady who sells round yellow pillows with emoticon faces on it. She tells us, that she also buys plain pillows at her supplier and offers custom designed prints for it. You can approach her with your usb-stick and she will deliver the design on a pillow of your choice. Also street sellers, as flexible as they might look, don't move around a lot. Most of the times their clients desires decide what they sell, and if they decide to change drastically, they look at their neighbor sellers and try to decide with what products to compete.

How does trading take place in an unregistered shadow economy? I have learned that a lot of the street sellers come from Centro Histórico, also a part from the outskirts of the city, from outside the Distrito Federal. This also explains why a lot of people are family and a lot of street sellers families know each other very well. The environment is a lot controlled by gossiping. When street sellers do something that is unhealthy for the economical climate, rumors spread rapidly, decreasing sales opportunities. So to say, there is a lot of social control.

A lot of families lost their homes during the 1985 earthquake, because of the fragility due to age of many buildings. This caused people to move out of the neighborhood. The people that stayed lived in poverty, being witness of, or were involved into, drugs vice. The neighborhood became a dark environment and dangerous territory, while it got more and more occupied by homeless people, junkies, small criminals and drugs dealers. You could say that the socially controlled, partially by corruption established, shadow economy brought enlightenment to this part of the city. The products might look like a pile of plastic shit, but to these people it actually means a more or less affordable stock, which means business and autonomy. Creating a need for improvement of infrastructure and limiting the need of vice as a basic need of survival. To me this shadow economy is all about the people, instead of goods and consumerism. It is a more or less unpredictable but unavoidable and needed anthropological evolution.

August 2016 | This article is based on actual field research, interviewing street sellers, conversations with Diego Flores Magon, who knows a lot about the neighborhood’s history and buying in Plaza Diamante.

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Through the Cracks of Global Trade is the result of Geert Lebens’ participation in the 2016 Summer Sessions organised by Dutch Designers for young creatives. The programme was entitled Future Archeology and took place in Centro Historico of Mexico City.

Through the Cracks of Global Trade is a research project that started from an artistic point of view. Wandering through the streets of Centro Historico revealed a significant discovery to me, despite the incredible amount of products that are sold here, a lot of street venders seem to sell the same stuff. All products are of a low quality and there is hardly local handcraft to find here. Most of the products are being imported from China or other East-Asian countries. The amount of plastics is incredible, even metal tools are imitated with plastic and sold as real ones. That’s only part of the observation. When you look at the street venders’ shops and stands there is a uniform iron rods construction grid recognizable. These standardized pieces later caught my attention walking by a shop that did not only use these, but sold them. Step by step I discovered a structure in where all people in this area had a share in sustaining a social system.

After formulating questions I started talking to the people in the street, with help of amongst others Diego Flores Magón, who provided me with additional information and ears and eyes for reflection. He also introduced me to Genesis Rojas who used to grow up in this neighbourhood and now works as an anthropologist. Understanding the complexity of the social and economical structures of the neighbourhood brought me to a mural drawing wherein I organised the collected information. During the exhibition at the end of the programme I presented the information to the public as a performance, meaning that I granted my presence to have conversations and absorbed more stories and comments from the visitors. The exhibition of the work was therefore meant to be a start rather than a definite end result. Recently the mural was removed after being presented for almost six months in Casa de el Hijo Del Ahuizote. The continuation of the project will therefore take place on this webpage as an open source research project.

The 2016 Summer Sessions were organised by Hendrik-Jan Grievink (Next Nature Network), Femke Herregraven (dutch designer / artist). | The programme’s venue; Casa de el Hijo Del Ahuizote was provided by Diego Flores Magón. | The Sessions were hosted by Juan Arturo García.

- workshop by Femke Herregraven -

- workshop by Femke Herregraven -



WORK IN PROGRESS - I'm happy to announce my return to Mexico City at 13 November for an undefined period of time. Meanwhile I'm working on archiving my research I did during my visit in August as a part of the GDA Summer Sessions. With this website (under construction) I want to involve you all in my explorations. More news coming soon! #gdasummersessions2016 #gdassmx #anthropology #cdmx #centrohistorico #mindmap #research #futurearcheolgy #future #archeology #museum #design #art #contextualresearch

Una publicación compartida de MINDCLOUD (@mindcloud.geertlebens) el

ARCHIVE - Working on the presentation of the anthropological research I used to do during my 18 days in Mexico City last August. The project was presented in Future Archeology exhibition on 20 August in a performance wherein I engaged in conversations with the visitors in order to further edit the piece. #gdasummersessions2016 #gdassmx #anthropology #cdmx #centrohistorico #mindmap #research #futurearcheolgy #future #archeology #museum #design #art #contextualresearch

Una publicación compartida de MINDCLOUD (@mindcloud.geertlebens) el

ARCHIVE - Working on the presentation of the anthropological research I used to do during my 18 days in Mexico City last August. The project was presented in Future Archeology exhibition on 20 August in a performance wherein I engaged in conversations with the visitors in order to further edit the piece. #gdasummersessions2016 #gdassmx #anthropology #cdmx #centrohistorico #mindmap #research #futurearcheolgy #future #archeology #museum #design #art #contextualresearch

Una publicación compartida de MINDCLOUD (@mindcloud.geertlebens) el

A model of the excavation site of Templo Mayor. #futurearcheology #gdassmx #anthropology #architecture #Aztec #ciudaddemexico #templomayor #ancient #ruins

Una publicación compartida de MINDCLOUD (@mindcloud.geertlebens) el

The ruins of the Templo Mayor, the mayor temple of the old Aztec City Tenochtitlan. The ruins of the origins of Mexico City that lies sunken into the soil of Centro Historico, only two blocks away from our hostel. #futurearcheology #gdassmx #anthropology #architecture #Aztec #ciudaddemexico #templomayor #ancient #ruins

Una publicación compartida de MINDCLOUD (@mindcloud.geertlebens) el

After a week of great workshops talks and excursions from Casa de El Hijo del Ahuizote by Hendrik-Jan Grievink, Femke Herregraven, Diego Flores Magon and Juan Arturo Garcia, we will start next week with executing our projects! #anthropology #futurearcheology #gdassmx #designresearch

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