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Interview with Isabel Martínez Abascal
LIGA, Mexico City

LIGA, Space for Architecture, is an independent, pioneering platform for architectural exhibitions, conferences, and workshops based in Mexico City. The initiative was launched in January 2011. 

Following the earthquake September 19, 2017 LIGA had to stop its exhibition program because the building was seriously affected. Fortunately from March 2018 the itinerant exhibition program will be continued.

In summer 2017 we met the former executive director Isabel Martínez Abascal, who was responsible for overall coordination of the exhibition and lecture platform and its annual programing. We talked to her about challenges and expanding boundaries, and asked how architectural space and artistic production influence each other. 

LIGA’s next book will be released in July this year. What is it about? This book, organized into four large sections which may be consulted separately or in no particular order, nestles between two very close concepts: exposure and exhibition. The first section assembles the quarterly exhibitions running from LIGA 11 to LIGA 22. As all the information on these exhibitions and their creators, critical essays, descriptive texts and photographs can be found online at www.liga-df.com, the function of this chapter is not to duplicate the documentary material, but rather to highlight certain aspects of these contributions, placing them in a dialogue with previously unpublished texts which appear throughout the book. 

The quarterly program, which is the guiding principle of the space, is framed by what we call "Interludes", series of events that explore specific themes. The second section of this volume deals with the Undisciplined and Study series. The Interludes allow us to go deeper into specific issues such as the relationship between architectural space and artistic production, or the connections with professionals in other spheres: theater, photography, video, anthropology, and discourse on the city. This sequence of series underpins the importance of their temporary character.

With the intention of contextualizing the work of LIGA in the current global scene, ten authors were invited to review their career paths in relation to the concept of "Exposed Architecture". The ten essays offer ten subjective perspectives, whose provenance is ultimately varied: from the academy, the public museum, the private institution, the biennial or triennial, the publishing world, independent curatorship, the self-managed space, the study of architecture, from Argentina, Brazil, Europe, Mexico and the United States. This third section of critical texts allows us to go “behind the scenes” at an architecture exhibition, thus offering a counterpoint to the first chapter.

Over more than nine months, while the book was in production, we built up a series of historical references related to the topic at hand. In a somewhat mysterious manner these examples have been dropped into our social networks under the hashtag exposed architecture [#arquitecturaexpuesta], and now they have been dropped into the pages of this book in a fourth section. Once again they are statements of intent rather than anything encyclopedic.

Isabel Martínez Abascal

Having been director for two years, what have you initiated or changed during that time? Which ideas did you have in mind when starting in your new position? Your question makes me think of the initial statement I made when I joined LIGA two years ago. At the time I said: "At LIGA I will seek to explore and expand the conceptual and thus geographic boundaries of what we call Latin America. It is my intention to propose new possibilities of action for this platform, where, parallel to quarterly exhibitions, I intended to develop a comprehensive program of diverse activities not restricted to a particular physical space. I want LIGA to be an open place for the interests of all those attracted by architecture and by the disciplines with which it communicates."

Looking back on this, I am happy to say we did indeed manage to make the borders of what we call Latin America a bit more diffuse with respect to LIGA. We worked with professionals whose thinking and work was relevant for Latin American challenges, but who came not only from South America and Mexico, but also from the United States and Europe and even from Central America, which was a bit of an unexplored area for us.  

Moreover, the program of activities grew larger during these two years. In-between the three-monthly shows, we realize LIGA’s program within as well as outside the space, in the city. The Interludes are now organized in series that research specific themes; we are currently working on the "Remote Interludes" series and the "Ramble Interludes" series.

Remote Interludes revolves around the topic of the space between us, the distance – be it large or small – that separates us and how to subvert it through a connection. In our current era even the instantaneous character of email has been overcome by the use of apps for cell phones (almost extensions of our bodies), which have supplanted face-to-face communication. The project Remote Interludes seeks to investigate how to establish a link between two points in real time, through a shared and publicly displayed language. The project invites two pairs of architects and artists to move apart from one other. One half of each pair will complete a research residency in Mexico, while the other half will follow this experience from Spain. The communication channel between them is an online chat on WhatsApp, which is hacked and made public on the Web: interludiosremotos.liga-df.com.

The Ramble Interludes cycle proposes a series of walks; each one will depart from a space that has a special connection with culture and the city and will focus on a specific context, a certain neighborhood. Representatives of ten different spaces will guide subjective visits to the urban surroundings of the respective buildings; they will point out spontaneous situations that have sparked their interest or anonymous architectural landmarks. This series of encounters thus aims to investigate the relationship between the architecture of the city and its users through case studies where different communities and collectives are connected with their districts by way of cultural programs.

Our audience is growing by the year: people interested in architecture as a discipline that produces knowledge and creates change, but who themselves come from different backgrounds and fields of expertise.

Former Ground Floor Gallery

Former Roof Top Office

Did LIGA initially face great challenges? The greatest challenge was initiating LIGA in 2011 in a context in which no other Latin American country had a space like this. The five founders Abel Perles, Carlos Bedoya, Victor Jaime, Wonne Ickx and Ruth Estévez were very visionary. Maintaining the platform for six years is also a great achievement of them.

How did you see LIGA at that time and how do you see it now – has your view changed? As you get more and more involved with a project you realize how many things it relates to and how much it can do to benefit its context. LIGA is an ongoing project and will keep evolving and transforming and adapting to new challenges.

Let’s continue with a quote: “LIGA, Space for Architecture, was created as a curatorial platform in order to stimulate the experimentation in relation to the architectural discipline and its possibilities as a discursive practice, expanding and establishing connections with other disciplines.” Please tell us more about this. The Latin American context is usually related to a need to do things, solve problems, realize something. Architecture in this context is strongly related to doing (sometimes without reflecting) and less to reflecting on the discipline itself. LIGA creates a forum for debate, reflection, discourse and connecting with other players, not just architects, but citizens and professionals from different fields.

Why walk borders? Is it comparable to a questioning of standpoints or rather supporting one another? Walking borders as a metaphor brings me back to the act of walking as a spatial practice for exploring and mapping territories. I believe LIGA intends to carve up the limits of what architecture is in relation to other disciplines, to make those limits more porous and allow different fields of knowledge to influence one another and become broader.

To give an example: There is this great project "Interludes de Estudio", which questions how architectural space influences artistic production – and vice versa. In 2016 LIGA visited six artists. Can we talk about the insights gained and the findings? The "Studio Interludes" investigated how architectural space influences artistic production, and vice versa. To examine this question we made a series of visits to the homes and studios of leading Mexican artists. The investigation addressed the connections between a spatial and sensorial context – visual, auditory, material – and the work that is conceived or created within it. 

The discussion successively advanced more deeply, over several months, into the creative atmosphere in which a number of key artists produce their work. Each event literally evolved in situ, with a specific character arising from the personality of the space visited, and of the person who inhabits it. In this way, this series established a conceptual link between the traditional journeys made by modern architects to visit significant works from Antiquity and the contemporary practice of studio visits.

All the visits were very different from one another – the way each artist relates to his or her living/working space and how much involvement they have in creating this space. Superimposing all the visits created a kaleidoscopic, yet incomplete response to the question posed at the start of the cycle.

Liga 25: Canonical Tropics. Camilo Restrepo /. AGENdA. Photo: LGM Studio - Luis Gallardo.

There is also this 24-hour / 16-square-meter ground-floor gallery space, which seems familiar and intimate. How did the idea arise? Do many passersby take the opportunity? The initial idea of the five founders had to do with the space itself. It had been a Bible League store that had suddenly gone vacant. With its 16 square meters and unusual layout with two windows, the space is very appealing.

The gallery is the hall of the building, so it remains open from 8 am until 6 pm during the week and from 9 am until 3 pm on Saturdays. We do not supervise the gallery. We don’t know who enters, but many people do, either because they are entering the ten-story building, spontaneously or because they actually want to visit us, and because there are no supervisors, we rely on the public’s respect.

To date you have presented 25 architecture studios here at the gallery. At the moment Camilo Restrepo is offering a contemporary tropical narrative, an illuminating and beautiful installation – tropical transparent curtains. It is quite difficult to grasp the transition between art and architecture. Please tell us more about the limits. We invite architects to work at the gallery, therefore we assume that whatever they do is architecture, as it involves observation and thinking about space. 

Since the 1960s artists have been discussing space – in relation to the body or not –, landscape, the urban context at a level that has shaped architects and architecture itself a great deal. So for me, whatever is considered art or architecture has to do with the intention with which it is conceived, designed and realized. 

How many visitors reach your office after entering the building spontaneously? It’s quite tempting to walk further up the old hotel-like staircase. That is how I found your space… Not many visitors come to the office, because they do not know we are here. You were very courageous to walk up to the ninth floor!

There is an event space on the rooftop. What kind of events do you hold up there? Mainly exhibition openings, which involve a talk by the guest architect or studio, and different kinds of Interludes. 

Can you name places, buildings or spaces in the city that surprise you, where real differences come together and coexist? I truly enjoy places in which different kinds of people come together. One of my favorites is the Audiorama in Chapultepec, which is considered Latin America’s largest urban park. It is an area of the park in which classical music is played and all kinds of people read in silence. It is gorgeous, is open to the public and is free.

Can you name three Mexican buildings that have influenced or had an impact on you in any way? There are several. During our Wednesday talks by guest architects we try to offer our audience an opportunity to visit symbolic buildings; some of them are difficult to visit otherwise. Among them are Max Cetto House, Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Casa del Pedregal by Barragán and soon the National Museum of Architecture at Bellas Artes Palace.

LIGA’s building of course is very relevant for us and what we do. Designed by Augusto Alvarez and Sordo Madaleno and built in 1949, it emerges like a ship overlooking Insurgentes Avenue. Our next show has a lot to do with the building itself, its foundations and consequently Mexican soil, how to build here and what we don’t see from architecture, the invisible part which is always underground.

Isabel, best thanks to you! (In 2015 she founded the architecture studio LANZA Atelier with Alessandro Arienzo)

Interview: Dajana Dorfmayr

Vfmk Cdmx Liga 02

LIGA´s former location on "Insurgentes". One of the vital avenues of Mexico City.