Virtual environment design
This laboratory of collaborative practices of the scene (re) creates five iconic places in the city of Mérida (the capital of Yucatán state) with the objective of simulating a utopian reality through a novel virtual initiative carried out by a group of artists, designers, historians, psychologists and communicators. This space is open to the public and hosted on the virtual platform Gather.
In September of 2021 Ciudad PAX was selected to be featured as one of the immersive experience spaces open to the general public in the new "Explore" tab in the Gather landing page. Some improvements and updates were made so that the space is more accessible to a global audience as now we're constantly welcoming visitors from around the word!
In 2010, Mérida was recognized by the UN as one of the 100 Cities for Peace, an idea that the city's government administrations have used as an advertising strategy ever since. Ciudad Pax (Pax city) addresses, questions, transgresses, transforms, builds, and deconstructs the peace imposed by the government.
Peace does not resonate in the daily life of the people of Mérida, this peace has a commercial surname, it is patriarchal, it is more on the side of capital than of citizens, it is more similar to the Roman "Pax" that is built from simulation, from fear, class division, job insecurity and violation of human rights. This pax masks the violent realities that are experienced daily inside and outside the home.
From April 12 to 17, 2021 Ciudad Pax was inaugurated, a city (re) designed to allow us to dream of the society we want to inhabit and not the one the government makes us inhabit. A city that leaves on its marks what it has wanted to erase. Centuries of war, slavery, cultural imposition, systematic violence, erasures of history and also of acts of resistance, of social struggle, of citizen response.
Five emblematic sites of Mérida were reopened to be recreated, ironized, remembered, and transformed. In addition, each site has several hidden objects awaiting for you to discover that contain original interactive materials such as podcasts, videos, illustrations, documents, and articles made by the team behind the project or linked to other people and collectives closely related to the problems to which the project wants to give visibility.
Below you can listen to an introductory audio to Ciudad Pax (It is in only available Spanish)
Based on this premise, this virtual environment was designed with the intention of creating a space with realistic elements that would anchor the audience to the real place that can be visited in Mérida, but creating an artificial and fictitious atmosphere that would keep the viewer feeling alien to this space as a constant reminder that this is not the utopia we currently live in. Also for the first time, a location-based sound design was used in this virtual experience to make it even more immersive and give life and kinetic energy to each of the the different spaces that can be visited in Ciudad Pax.
Monument to the First Feminist Congress
The first site to be inaugurated was the Monument to the First Feminist Congress, which replaces the Monument to the Mother located in a park in downtown Mérida.
Motherhood plays a key role in the patriarchal system that subdues women, who in several cases are forced to fulfill this role as a mandate that does not deserve to be rethought under the premise that since they are biologically destined to be mothers. The monument to the mother upholds and venerates this myth that denies women the possibility of generating an identity outside of the maternal role, for that reason this monument has recently been the target of protests organized by groups in favor of the legalization of abortion in Yucatán.
In Ciudad Pax, the Monument of the Mother is replaced by the Monument to the First Feminist Congress, which took place in Merida in 1916. 620 congressmen participated in this congress, which was the first in Mexico and the second in all of Latin America. This congress was an exchange of opinions and visions that had relevant contributions to women's rights in México.
This monument reappropriates public spaces that enhance sexist narratives to remember something that has really contributed to the well-being and rights of women to this day.
Anti-monument to the Cenotes
The second site that was inaugurated was the Anti-monument to the cenotes (deep, water-filled sinkholes in limestone that are created when the roof of an underground river collapses.), which occupies the place of the underpass that in recent years has become famous for the way in which it is flooded with turquoise blue water each time that it rains in Mérida.
Since the construction of an underpass and a supposed "Roundabout of Peace" was announced, the response of the population was polarized. This was mainly caused by the high cost of the project and the environmental impact it would have.
A few weeks after construction began, a group of citizens set up a camp to prevent trees in the area from being cut down and protect the network of underground rivers that exists throughout the entire Yucatán peninsula. However, shortly after, dozens of alleged workers arrived at the site, evicting the protesters with shoves and blows. The "Roundabout of Peace" had become the roundabout of war.
The construction continued despite recurring protests and shortly after it was inaugurated, in 2014, an intense rain flooded this passage and since then, its closure due to floods has been frequent.
Although it is characterized by its jungle ecosystem and rainy climate, curiously, the Yucatan peninsula does not have rivers. The entire peninsula is very flat and its soil is porous, which allows the rain to filter through very quickly. Most of the rainwater penetrates underground and accumulates in cavities forming large aquifers and underground rivers, many of which circulate near the surface. This network of underground rivers is an essential resource for all the people who inhabit the region. This is the only source of water they have in addition to being a tourist attraction that leaves a significant revenue to the communities in which ecotourism is carried out.
Recently the government has made negligent decisions like this and the approval of the construction of pig farms that would destroy hectares of forest in addition to irreparably contaminating the only access to drinking water that all the inhabitants of the region have.
In this utopia, nature takes its course and this artificial cenote is adapted as a recreational space. This waterpark is an invitation to reflect on the exploitation of natural resources and the negligence of the authorities when dealing with environmental problems.
Efraín Calderón Lara "Charras" Theater
The third site that was inaugurated was the Efraín Calderón Lara "Charras" Theater, a theater with a subtle but significant difference in what distinguishes it from the theater that today is found in Mérida under another name, the Felipe Carrillo Puerto Theater.
Efraín Calderón Lara, nicknamed "El Charras" was a law student and activist at the Autonomous University of Yucatán who, in the short time of his public activism, had achievements of great importance for the working class of Yucatán. Nine independent unions were formed under his advice, the incomparable benefits that workers in Yucatán enjoy until today were achieved thanks to the work of Charras. These actions of legal advice in labor matters, annoyed the people in power whose interests had been affected.
Charras was kidnapped on February 13, 1974, to later be found dead with signs of torture and a gunshot wound to the head. It is suspected that the authorities are guilty of his murder, being the then director of public security José Felipe Gamboa one of the main suspects.
After this event, a great student and union agitation was unleashed at the time by those who sympathized with his political tendency, causing riots and protests. In his honor, the theater of the Autonomous University of Yucatán had been given the name of “Teatro Efraín Calderón Lara”; But one fine day, in silence, without raising the dust, its name was changed and it was designated as "Teatro Felipe Carrillo Puerto".
Currently, the silence that remains around this fact seems to be reinforced day after day. However, this place in the Pax city exists with the purpose of remembering that there are events in the history of Mexico that remain erased from our memory to preserve the myth of unalterable peace.
Paseo de Nachi Cocom
The fourth site that was inaugurated was Paseo Nachi Cocom, replacing the most important street in the city, Paseo Montejo.
In recent years, the people of Mérida have shown a general rejection towards Francisco de Montejo, the Spanish conqueror who subdued the Mayan settlers of Yucatán upon his arrival. Even so, there are places in the city still glorify the actions carried out by this conqueror, such is the case of the main road in Mérida, Paseo de Montejo.
Recently, in the demonstrations on March 8, feminist groups intervened the monument to the Montejos located at the top of this avenue in protest at the cases of feminicides and sexual abuse that continue to increase significantly throughout the country. The following day the government ordered the restoration of the monument without any forceful response.
In these times hiding history is not as easy as washing the Montejo Monument the next day. The monument intervened by feminist collectives has remained in the collective memory of the people. The Montejo Monument, if it continues to exist in the future, will no longer be the same in any way, the feminists have given it true meaning and through this project this memory is honored.
On the other hand, the name of Paseo de los Montejo becomes Paseo de Nachi Cocom as a reminder of the cultural heritage of the Mayan people that inhabited the region. Nachi Cocom was the Mayan ruler who fiercely fought against the Spanish conquerors. Nachi Cocom fought for his people to be liberated, as he was against the imposition of the religious beliefs of the invaders. However, when there was a fight in the newly founded Mérida, Montejo finally beat him to reaffirm his dominance. Currently he is commemorated as a hero in various places in the Yucatán peninsula.
Monument to the Niñes Heroines
The last site that has been inaugurated in Ciudad Pax has been the Monument to the Niñes Heroines in the middle of La Mejorada Park.
Recently people from the LGBT+ community protested to demand the legalization of marriage equality in Yucatán. To do this, they gathered in the La Mejorada park, located in the Historic Center of the city, where they carried out artistic interventions on the esplanade where the monument is located.
Soon after, officers of the Municipal Police “guarded” the Monument to the niños Héroes located in the esplanade of the aforementioned park. This operation would be related to the events that occurred on March 8, when feminist collectives who participated in the protest against feminicides and violence at the Monument to the Montejos.
This space of Ciudad Pax, (re)invents the historically inaccurate patriotic story about the heroic defense of Chapultepec Castle by six young cadets. In this utopia, the Niñes Heroines are intervened with drag in the form of a protest against the repression of pacific forms of expression.
Ciudad Pax is a space that will remain relevant until we see the Peace that the authorities impose so much; and as the society of Mérida evolves, this space will do so. The possibilities for the future of Ciudad Pax are endless and there are future initiatives that intend to expand and give more people access to the space.
This project would not have been carried out without the help of the artists, designers, historians, psychologists, communicators and collectives who participated in it. Below you can see the people involved in the creation of Ciudad Pax.