Xavier Ribas (Barcelona, 1960), a Catalan photographer who is interested in urban anthropology and notions of public space and everyday life, has specialised in photographs that trace the habits of ordinary people living in today's cities. In Barcelona he has worked on several projects that explore the idea of the periphery.
The MACBA Collection has recently acquired several photographic series on Barcelona by Ribas, including Habitus, a series of 67 photographs taken in 2007 in six of the city's outlying areas: La Mina, Bellvitge, Can Serra, Ciutat Satèl·lit, Ciutat Meridiana and Badia del Vallès.
Displayed in a kaleidoscopic installation, most of the photographs show the housing developments that were put up in the sixties and seventies to house the State's migrant labour force. As in other European cities, the specific types of buildings that were built, the lack of public spaces and services, and the non-existent urban planning defined the early years of these areas, which ended up becoming stigmatised. Gradually, the local communities have managed to make their demands for urban renewal heard by the relevant administrations.
Ribas borrowed the title, Habitus, from one of the key concepts developed by French sociologist Pierre Bordieu to describe the ways of thinking, living and feeling that are shaped through human socialisation. Although there is a sense of a lack human presence in the photographs by Ribas, and the few people that appear in them suggest a certain isolation, the project as a whole emphasises the appropriation of these neighbourhoods by the people who live in them. The underlying idea is that the real life of contemporary cities is no longer in the historic city centres, which have become theme parks for global tourism, but rather in the outskirts.
LC (2002-2003), another photographic installation, documents the neighbourhood of La Catalana (hence the title) in Sant Adrià de Besòs, which grew between a power station and the La Mina neighbourhood and is dissected by the A19 motorway, the railway tracks, the Besòs river and the coastal ring road. In 1859, an urban plan had envisaged a huge urban park (a forest) on the right bank of the river, but the reality has turned out somewhat differently: it has become a blind spot for the authorities, it floods when the water levels rise, the vegetation grows lush in spite of the pollution, and it is a hub for the city's drug dealers. Meanwhile, real estate developers keep it in their sights as they wait for the authorities to evict the few remaining residents.
A further project, Domingos (1994-1998), is one of Ribas's best known series. It examines family leisure time in Barcelona's urban wastelands: picnics, games, relaxation, strolling, siestas and family gatherings in housing estates and sites that are yet to be developed. All of the images focus on spaces that have not been codified by urban logic, and have become enclaves of social creativity.
It could be my bedroom (or something similar to it). Even the same technical characteristics: all the walls and volumes constructed in this module of raw canvas for painters to measure me and measure ourselves.