GUANTÁNAMO MUSEUM (León, 2008-14)

Installation with 274 motorcycle cut helmets, displayed on a 16m2 platform. Collection De Bruin-Heijn.

Guantanamo museum fandiño Main Picture

The Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a US military prison operated by Joint Task Force Guantanamo since 2002 at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which is on the shore of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The detainment areas consist of three camps within the base: Camp Delta, Camp Iguana and Camp X-Ray (which has now been closed). The USA has classified the detainees being held there as ‘enemy combatants’.

Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, 775 detainees have been brought to Guantanamo and held without trial! Prisoners are housed in small, mesh-sided cells and the lights are kept on day and night. On occasion many of the detainees have been denied access to the Quran for daily prayer, due to alleged ‘high-security measures’ and as a form of preparation for interrogation. Detainees are kept in isolation for most of the day, are blindfolded when moving within the camp, and are forbidden to talk in groups of more than three. Red Cross inspectors and released detainees have alleged acts of torture, including sleep deprivation, the use of so-called truth drugs, beatings, and being held in confined and cold cells. Human rights groups argue that indefinite detention constitutes torture.

Spanish artist Alicia Framis decided to come forward, basing her aesthetic ideas on the future of Guantanamo. She assures us that in the not-too-distant future Guantanamo Prison will be transformed into a Museum.

Human beings have a remarkable tendency to transform everything and every place into a museum. On this occasion the artist explores the memory of places of horror like Auschwitz and Alcatraz, analysing the historical process of something so awful being converted into a place for tourists, a souvenir.

One of the main questions that arose during Framis’s investigation was: What is the real importance of a ‘memorial’? Maybe they are necessary: perhaps people forgetting about something is worse than domesticating it!

During the first stage of the investigation the artist experimented, producing a sketchbook of notes called Welcome to Guantánamo Museum. In these sketches and notes she displays and documents all the components of a hypothetical museum and installations at the US detention centre in Cuba. Scale models, drawings, floor plans and structures were exhibited together at the Helga de Alvear Gallery in Madrid, Spain.

The second part of the project is ‘Guantanamo Museum’, which is composed of a diversity of component parts.

The main piece, Guantanamo Museum: The List, is an installation of 274 motorcycle helmets, displayed on a 16-square-metre platform. However, these are not regular helmets for standard use: to protect the motorcyclist in case of an accident. On this occasion Framis uses the helmets to represent the 274 prisoners who were still being held in Guantanamo at the time; she altered them by making an angular, sharp and forceful cut across the crown, turning this protective object into its opposite in order to symbolize the legal void and sense of vulnerability that someone must experience when imprisoned as an ‘enemy combatant’ under the fractured laws of the current administration in the USA. It is the representation of an existence consisting of torture and uncertainty.

This installation is completed by sound and light. People can hear the voice of Blixa Bargeld continuously repeating the proper names of the prisoners, which Enrique Vila-Matas compiled for this occasion.

The lighting of the room changes constantly thanks to a sensor, intensifying or dimming depending on the tone of her voice. When Blixa remains silent, the room goes completely dark.

Guantanamo Museum: Sketches shows the artist’s reinterpretation of the prison spaces, using 3D renderings to explain how they could be transformed into her museum proposal.

The exhibition also includes an intriguing cabinet of curiosities, Guantanamo Museum: Workshop, which presents a group of objects and videos that Framis describes as ‘things to forget’.

Students and participants in Alicia’s workshops designed these objects to make people forget Guantanamo.

There is one video in particular that explains the use of each of the objects on display. It also shows dresses and suits that are all designed with the fabric of orange prison overalls, and the pair of high-heeled shoes for men designed by the artist and executed by HANGAR (Centre for Arts Production, Barcelona). They were designed to be converted into killing shoes, by hiding a lethal pill inside one of the heels.

On the opening night there was a performance, an intriguing show with live music that featured the rapper Tara DeLong. DeLong included Enrique Vila-Matas’s list of prisoners in her lyrics and performed in the midst of the 274 sawn-off helmets.

As usual, Framis worked on this project with a multidisciplinary team of professionals: musicians Blixa Bargeld and Tara DeLong; writer Enrique V ila-Matas; curator Montse Badía; architect Uriel Fogue; graphic designer Alex Gifreu; fashion designers; participants in the workshop at the Can Xalant Centre for the Creation of Visual Arts (Mataró), and students from Felicidad Duce School of Fashion and Design (Barcelona) and the IED European Design Institute (Barcelona and Madrid).

This project was presented at the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica in Barcelona in 2008. However, the artist intends to continue showing it at other art institutions in various countries, as a work in progress that will involve local artists at every venue.