‘La Isla. A través del cauce’ (The Island. Through the Riverbed), 2023 Irene de Andrés

The starting point of this video piece is the history of the swimming pool complex La Isla (The Island), designed in 1930 by Luis Gutiérrez Soto. This ocean-liner-shaped construction was anchored in the Manzanares River near the bridge Puente del Rey, then called the Puente de la República, and was aligned with then-popular hygienist theories celebrating aquatic leisure activities in the city of Madrid. The Island’s development was therefore a key moment in the relationship between the people of Madrid and the nearly-forgotten waters of their city, before the arrival of widespread beach tourism.

In Goya’s paintings of festivals and dances “on the banks of the Manzanares,” we can appreciate that the river was a place for meeting, leisure and also for work. With the excessive growth of the city in the 1950s the river became increasingly channeled and contaminated, and the subsequent construction of the M-30 highway meant surrounding neighborhoods were disconnected. Similarly, a system of dams constructed with the intention of simulating a non-existent flow disconnected the flow of water between north and south. In recent decades—first with the Madrid Río project, and later with the opening of the gates that impounded its flow—we have recovered a different river. The islands drawn on the old maps of the city have reappeared, permitting more than ninety different species of birds, turtles, barbels, and even nutrias to enjoy its waters, as the people of Madrid did in the past.

​​With the increasing popularity of the beach, the gaze turned to the coast while rivers and streams filled with waste, cement, and rubble—a far cry from the fresh waters that were enjoyed by the first human settlements. Attending to the history of people bathing there  also encourages us to take a fresh look at those waters—we are reminded of the history of the city itself, far from grand narratives, and instead remaining close to the stream, historically mocked by some great figures of Spanish literature such as Quevedo, Lope de Vega, and Luis de Góngora. But the river was later extolled as a brave soldier in the defense of Madrid: the poets Miguel Hernández and Rafael Alberti made the claim that the heroic Manzanares served as a barrier during the siege of the capital by the troops of the rebel army in the coup d’état of 1936.

By using aspect ratio switching between 16:9 and 4:3, and by playing with fragmentation and graininess, this film moves us through time. In these recordings, all shot around the Manzanares, playful zooming is used to reveal its gentle flow. Constructions like La Playa de Madrid, (The Beach of Madrid), which were intended to provide leisure for the working class are also featured. All this within a city that originally received its name for its waters, but ended up forgetting them.

This video is part of a set of sculptural and graphic pieces that make up the project A orillas del Manzanares, (On the Banks of the Manzanares) which was exhibited for the first time at the Juan Silió Gallery in Madrid under the title “Las playas de Madrid” (The Beaches of Madrid), from November 2022 to January 2023.

Irene de Andrés

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30/06 2023
Irene de Andrés ‘La Isla. A través del cauce’ (The Island. Through the riverbed), 2023
Single-channel video, color, b/w, sound
19 min 46 sec

A film by Irene de Andrés | Original soundtrack and sound design: Javi Álvarez | Actor: Lucía Perlado | Edition and postproduction: Irene de Andrés, Javi Álvarez | Hydrophone recording: Robertina Šebjanič Subtitle translation: Patricia Martín Rivas, David Lischinsky

Acknowledgments: Centro de Residencias Artísticas de Matadero Madrid, Elia Feuillas, Blanca Gracia, Agnès Pe y Rubén H. Bermúdez, Caminar el agua, Camila Kunkar, Lucia de Stefano, Malú Cayetano, Tomás Martínez, Santiago Martín Baraja, Félix Rego, Javier Malo, Javier Monasterio, Luis de Vicente, Antonio Blanco, Ángel de Mantisa, Violeta Janeiro, Edu Solano Lumbreras, Roberto de Andrés

Commissioned by TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary for st_age
Produced with the support of Matadero Centro de Residencias Artísticas, and TBA21

Cover image: video still
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