Mirabelle Morah

Interview with Mexican Filmmaker Pablo Martinez-Zarate

This is How Art Can Be Used to Imagine a Better Future

Title: This is How Art Can Be Used to Imagine a Better Future

Written by: Mirabelle Morah

Description: Filmmaker Pablo Martinez-Zarate discusses how an archaeological excavation site in Mexico City inspired his latest work

This interview was originally published on/for Salzburg Global Seminar

Have you ever considered how media and art can be used as a site of memory? How media and art can help people to revisit history while questioning the present and the future?

These questions grew out of a presentation given by Mexican filmmaker Pablo Martinez-Zarate at the latest program of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.

The filmmaker’s interest in bridging the divide between memory, territory and identity through film, photography and multimedia led him to create a research project called Dissections over Planes: Essay(s) from Tlatelolco.

Martinez-Zarate, who’s also a writer and artist, takes his audience on a journey into the history of Tlatelolco, an archaeological excavation site in Mexico.

He helps his audience rediscover Tlatelolco through analog film and virtual reality applications. Martinez-Zarate believes this rediscovery could have an impact on critical media and people’s world view.

“Tlatelolco is a very important site in Mexico City and in Mexico’s history because Tlatelolco firstly used to be the sister city of the Aztec Capital then… it was home of the largest markets of pre-Hispanic Mexico,” Martinez-Zarate explained.

On October 2, 1968, a political demonstration took place in Tlatelolco Square, which would see Tlatelolco remembered for a different reason. The demonstration, which was organized by a student movement, was interrupted by gunshots fired from nearby rooftops.

The BBC reported the number of victims “has remained shrouded in mystery and controversy,” with figures varying between 30 and 300.

Martinez-Zarate said, “After that killing of students, Tlatelolco’s image started to change, people started to go out of Tlatelolco and all this modernity and development image that Tlatelolco used to condense started to crumble.”

Dissections of Planes is about exploring Tlatelolco “as a site of Mexican memory,” according to Martinez-Zarate. “It is a way of redefining what Tlatelolco can be in terms of Mexico’s history, and how we can use Tlatelolco to understand ourselves…”

But why Tlatelolco for Martinez-Zarate? Did he have any personal connections with Tlatelolco?

“My grandfather used to be part of the original design team of Tlatelolco in the 60’s, so he was an architect, and he was a very active architect,” Martinez-Zarate revealed. “And since he was part of this design team, I inherited a lot of knowledge of the place… [and] I used to visit it with him.”

Beyond his artistic curiosity and having his grandfather as one of the architects who worked to modernize Tlatelolco in the early 60’s, Martinez-Zarate said he wants people, especially Mexicans, to question what they know about their history and question what they know about the present world.

“It’s more about offering a window to different questions of the world. So I think these questions can actually lead to imagining new ways of being together,” he said.

Most of Martinez-Zarate’s works can be said to be “a crossover between research and artistic experimentation.” He is also one of several Salzburg Media Academy faculty who have contributed to New Journalisms: Rethinking Practice, Theory and Pedagogy. Through his work, he tries to share the belief that “art is a way of reimagining our potential as human beings.”

“That’s why perhaps, this German painter, Gerhard Richter said that ‘art is the highest form of hope,’ because I do believe that art is a weapon for building a better future. It ignites the imagination and lets us visualize alternative futures. And once we visualize this future, once we are able to imagine them, they can become real. If we are incapable of imagining the future, then we can’t really think and build a better world. It depends on the imagination first of all, [and] I think art can actually provoke that.”

Pablo Martinez-Zarate is part of the Faculty of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. The Cost of Disbelief: Fracturing Societies and the Erosion of Trust, is part of the multi-year Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. More information on this multi-year series is available here.

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