Arquitectura Autogobierno, Plan de mejoramiento urbano para el barrio de Tepito (1979)

Catastrophe or “Con-moción?”: Art, Architecture, and the Reconstruction of Tepito, Mexico City (1985-88)

41st International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association
Vancouver, Canada
May 25, 2023

Presentation by Ian Erickson-Kery (Duke)

The earthquake which devastated Mexico City in September 1985 has often been treated as a watershed moment in the trajectory of Mexican art and architecture, one marking a definitive transition from state-sponsored modernism to market-based postmodernism. Ruben Ortiz Torres has argued that this transition is crystallized in now-iconic images of collapsed modernist housing block from sites such as Nonoalco-Tlatelolco, while for Ignacio Padilla, the earthquake’s lack of memorialization indicated a shift toward an amnesiac mode of postmodern politics. Questioning both of these narratives, this paper argues against the distanced reception of the earthquake as a moment of catastrophe or spectacle, and instead focuses on the grassroots collaboration—or “con-moción,” to use Gustavo Esteva’s neologism—between artists and activists in the marginal zone of Tepito. Drawing from the artworks, writings, and personal archives of the artists Daniel Manrique and Felipe Ehrenberg, both of whom were instrumental to the rebuilding efforts in Tepito in the years following the earthquake, I show how a participatory mode of autoconstrucción in the neighborhood emerged from both decades of resistance to large-scale urban development projects and efforts by artists and architects in the 1970s to bridge aesthetic practice and locally grounded popular politics. Viewed from Tepito, located just steps away from the more widely visible Nonoalco-Tlatelolco, the 1985 earthquake represented not an abstract shift from modernism to postmodernism, or from collectivism to individualism, but a galvanizing moment for the forms of resistance, collaboration, and aesthetic experimentation cultivated in the years beforehand.