I would like to draw on the idea of the mobility of objects, which in this case generated a variety of situations where the object (the painting) assumes diverse meanings to different people. In fact, the painting will mean something different to the people I have interviewed throughout my research.
Also, starting from the paintings my dad owns, it will be interesting to check if the link between bus-painting-people is so strong to the point that the painting is easily recognizable as a part, an extension of the whole (the bus), therefore becoming a metonymy that renders the object undetachable from its whole by bearing a powerful tie to their root, according to Pearce's idea that “objects operate as a sign when they stand for the whole of which they are an intrinsic part, and this relationship is said to be metonymic” (Pearce, 1992: 27), or if they actually can live separately from each other, drawing on ideas of objects accumulating histories like people, introduced by Igor Kopytoff in “The Cultural Biography of Things” (Appadurai, 1986), that implies a more definite detachment from the object's original source in that it builds up its own history like an individual.
Another theory that will be compared against the subject of my thesis will be that of collecting and consequent detachment of an object from the in situ to the in context and the domestic objects, supported by readings from Pearce's Museums, Objects and Collections (1992), The Meaning of things: Domestic Symbols and the Self by Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) and 'Objects of Ethnography' in Exhibiting Cultures: the Poetics and Politics of Museum Display by Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (Karp and Lavine, 1991). Had the paintings not been collected by my father and then displayed in my familyhome, my interest in those as a subject for my dissertation would have probably never started in first place and, in the same way, the idea of the painting removed from its context that is the bus, which according to my interviews, is a very rare thing to happen, wouldn't have sprang at all. This idea is very much supported by Susan Pearce:
“The object as it survives has a fixed form and a definite factual history, without which it could not exist and we could not begin to understand it; but if viewing and interpreting it were to consist only of uninhibited speculation, uninterrupted by any realistic constraints, the result would be a series of purely individual sequences with little relationship to each other, and meaningful only in terms of the individual personality, no matter how bizarre, idiosyncratic or simply ill-formed this may be”
(Pearce, 1994: 27 )
With regard to the structure of the critical presentation of my research, this will be divided in various sections which will be named as bus stops so as to recall the journey of the camion de escalera, the 'museo rodante' (moving museum) that represents the metaphor of a vehicle that took me to a journey through the pictures and histories of the people affected by the paintings. A metaphor that implies both the status of the bus as something that actually moves and that of the paintings that despite their immobility have been made transportable by a third person. I decided to give this structure to my dissertation so as to make it more knowledge situated and reflexive as suggested in the writings by Ian Cook (2006) and Gillian Rose (1997), for after all, it is a subject born and developed by a personal story, and I therefore feel it should be treated like that. I wanted to convey the idea of the journey within a journey, that is the metaphorical journey of the dissertation development as it is presented in the structure, as opposed to another journey, a physical one that sees the paintings move between outdoors and indoors spaces and different countries. And one of this journey's stops affects the development of the thesis because it is my familyhome, therefore adding a personal twist to the elaboration of the content.
As Cook states “ Because the subject of study can't simply be re-presented. The researcher's knowledge about it is negotiated. Made.” (Sibley, 2005: 3). Another reason why this knowledge is very much reflexive is that there is hardly any book on this subject, therefore making it a disputable, biased and partial subject because, as argued by Ian Cook, “ it's not the whole story and it's impossible to be unbiased.” (Sibley, 2005: 6). The fact that most of the sources on the subject are visual and of primary research implies that this can be interpreted in a personal way and that another story, adding to those narrated by the people I interviewed and the ones told in the texts written by a local, can be narrated to create another angle, a new perspective on an object which has been only interpreted and lived by the locals so far. The introduction of myself in the story is vital to the creation of further links and relationships between and with the objects and people: it's another ring that adds to the chain and it is one of the turning points in the life of the paintings for it changes the course of the events.
“So, researcher's identities and practices make a big difference. “They can't hover above the nitty-gritty power relations of everyday life. Research can only emerge out of them. Tainted by them. Reproducing them” (Sibley, 2005: 6).
The fact that these camiones, despite being considered as national heritage ( www.chivasyflores.com ), are not given considerable space in the literature nor in academic work, puts me in a position where I can interpret the material according to the personal experience I have of it and direct the course of the research. Thus my research is, to put in Gillian Rose's words, a privileged one, as I get to decide “what questions to ask, direct the flow of discourse, interpreting interview and observation material, and deciding where and in what form it should be presented.”(Rose, 1997: 307).
As the journey will start from the public sphere, the original context where the objects are created and carry stories within them, in the middle of the crowded and loud population, to then unravel into the private and more quiet interior of an Italian apartment, violently decontextualised, I wanted to render this idea of physical movement and create a link between each chapter into writing by using the device of bus stops.
The journey also wants to be a metaphor of research, which is never linear and full of stops, rounds, dead ends, unforeseen events that all contribute to the development of the journey. The activity of the researcher is constantly undermined by external causes which make it difficult sometimes to follow a linear path, and in my case, a lot of information depended on people who took an incredibly long time to answer , this due to the distance as well and the impossibility of meeting them vis a vis, therefore causing some inconvenience during my activity. Language, as well, constituted one of the barriers to the full accomplishment and advancement of my research. In fact, as the camion de escalera comes from Medellin, Colombia, the national language is Spanish, and it is a pure coincidence that I speak Spanish, although sometimes, especially when listening to the video documentary, I found it hard to understand the way the locals spoke, and felt defeated by the distance established by the language. However the majority of times, the knowledge of the language has benefited my research in that I could read texts and books which were not translated in English or Italian, therefore proving to be a useful skill that changed the course of my research.
“... and the researcher is in the thick of this. A person. Like you or me. Working with the materials and technologies of their trade. Moving in between contexts. Initiating relationships and/ or building upon established ones. Struggling to make things happen, to make sense of them. Fit them together. In some kind of order. …” ``(Sibley, 2005: 3)
This technical device of the bus journey will allow me to convey the idea of the movement of the bus and the mobility of the objects by splitting this both phyisical and spiritual journey into five imaginary bus stops, where I will draw on and analyse the following concepts and theories:
1st stop: Colombia -the paintings in their context. The camion de escalera
In this paragraph I will investigate on the concept of objects in their context and how their original location creates a specific meaning, attributed by the locals and the stories accumulated on the subject. Also, by presenting the colombian bus it will be easy for both researcher and the reader to identify the object by putting it into context. The bus as an object, a box containing stories and biographies (Hoskins, 1998).
2nd stop: Colombia – the moving museum and its public
In this paragraph I will draw on new ideas of museums as non western models, introduced by Sharon Macdonald in A Companion to Museum Studies (2006), so as to broaden the concept of museum within the four walls and expand it to a moving bus that carries its audience and it is followed by it during the parades. An analysis of the paintings and of the bus embodying its public, developing its own personality, will be introduced.
3rd stop: Italy: my familyhome and the painting hanging in the bathroom
The third paragraph will see the first important and decisive movement of the object, its shift from a reality to a different one, both geographically and culturally, and its change in the the perception from a public one to a private one. a relationship object- person that is mirrored in the painting hanging in the domestic or private interior, that is the kitchen, the bathroom and the office, that build a new biography of the objects which is strictly linked to and dependent on the owner, as argued by Jane Hoskins (1998).
4th Stop: Milan, the paintings displayed at the exhibition “swish”
This paragraph will highlight a new phase in the paintings' journey: their presence during an exhibition held in one of the most trendy and up-market streets in Milan. Once again, the object moves both phisycally and spiritually, for the new location shapes and moulds the meaning and reception of the painting by its audience.
5th stop: Destination London
.. one sunny afternoon in the south of Italy, my dad and I had the idea of organising an exhibition of the paintings in London. This intertwining of research and personal life will be even more eloquent in this section as the idea came out of this dissertation project and it adds a further development to the story and biography of these paintings, although still uncertain for it is supposed to happen in the near future. A new intersection of people, places and stories will leave its mark onto the paintings and will make it possible for them to continue travel and build their map around the world through meeting new people and being moved around. Is this a never ending process?
The subject I chose for my dissertation is the Camiones de Escalera and the concept of moving art which creates different meaning to different people in different contexts.
The Camion de Escalera is a columbian truck that serves the function of transporting people as well as goods and animals especially in Antioquia, Medellin, Colombia.
These buses are decorated in a very peculiar and folkloristic way by a team of local artists, therefore giving rise to an extremely original and popular style. My dad owns some paintings that normally hang on the back of these buses. My idea starts from the object being detached by its original context (the back of the bus) and becoming a painting hanging in a private collection (my familyhome) to then be displayed in an exhibition in Italy. Some of the paintings were commissioned for my father, therefore assuming a different subject matter, the geometric patterns, although still in line with the traditional genre of the paintings, which include popular art images such as landscapes, humoristic subjects and religious images as well as geometric patterns. The body of the dissertation will thus follow the journey of the paintings in their numerous changes that altered their perception and function.
The reason I chose this subject for my dissertation is that I feel personally involved in that my father is the owner of the paintings and I also wanted to find out more on the history hidden in these sheets of metal covered with paint. I was fascinated by the richness of colours and of the culture, a culture whom I hardly know anything of, and decided to go into depth and get to know more about it and understand how this movement of objects in time and space had affected the reception of the paintings by different people in different contexts.
The paintings have been detached from the buses where they originally hung, sold to a private (my father) to be displayed within four walls of a domestic interior, then consequently showed to the public, one which is not like the folkloristic one crowding the buses, in an exhibition in Milan and with the intention of being exhibited in a near future in London.
The sources and materials I have used are of primary and secondary type: photographs of the paintings in the house and in the exhibition, a video documentary on the buses, the social network Facebook that gave me the opportunity to get to know Ramiro Lopera, a professor teaching at the Universidad de San Buenaventura Medellin and director of the Foundation Camiones de Escalera by joining a group dedicated to those, interviews conducted with my father, Mr Lopera, articles written by the local architect Edgar Jaime Isaza Isaza, a friend of my dad whom he met in Columbia and who is passionate about the subject, and books.