Revealing the Invisible in Spain
Published Q2 2014 in the Grassroots Mapping Forum #5 Order online
Shannon Dosemagen interviews Pablo Rey Mazón about his work revealing invisible issues where he lives in Spain.
Rey Mazón is a developer at montera34.com, mapping with meipi.org, mapper at 6000km.org, waste researcher at basurama.org
| Q1 | Can you tell me a bit about your background and the work that you’re doing?
Mainly my work is with Basurama and Montera 34. Basurama is a nonprofit engaged with waste in all its possible meanings, from domestic waste, to waste in the shape of buildings or public space.
Currently, I am also researching the media environment, especially the front pages of newspapers, studying trends and particularly I’m developing a project, PageOneX.com, which analyzes the surface area of stories that are on the front page of newspapers. I’m interested in trying to make visible things that are usually hidden.
| Q2 | How did you get involved with Public Lab?
[I was in MIT at] the Center for Civic Media, mapping the different places where waste was in Cambridge, from landfills to redemption center. This was part of an exhibition I was organizing at MIT called “Trans Trash.” We organized [a mapping] trip to the landfill with Jeff Warren then we did it again one year later. Once I was back in Spain I wanted to do those kind of activities here in Spain.
| Q3 | Were there tie-ins from what you were working on in Spain and in waste mapping in Boston? Did that affect how you mapped waste in Spain?
I had been doing some things with mapping before, not with balloons or kites, [but with panoramic photos with 6000km, a project of Basurama]. We went to different places in Spain to document the process of the real estate bubble to show people landfills, car tire cemeteries, highways that are empty. We made [two meter wide] panoramas and then presented them in exhibitions. [We] put all of these places photographed on a map using a software I developed with another group, called Meipi.org. We started [Meipi] seven years ago.It was kind of Google My Maps tool: information points on a map. Meipi added the possibility to create such maps collaboratively.
I had engaged with OpenStreetMap (OSM) [before], drawing in some landfills in OpenStreetMaps as a way of showing where things are. By using OSM you can show places that aren’t usually drawn [in Google maps].
Panorama photos are more a vision of the photographer; you have a sense of the composition. But with balloon and kite photos it’s much more engaged, every one can do it. You don’t need to think about the composition. You just put the camera up there and build the map. You need some skills, but its much more democratic in a sense that everyone can contribute at the same level. That’s how I thought about how it could fit into the Basurama practice.
| Q4 | Can you talk a bit about the three day workshop you put on?
[We were invited by the Espai de’art Contemporani de Castelló] to do a site-specific project for the 7 000 000 000 exhibit, referring to the seven billion humans on earth. We thought it was a great opportunity to propose a mapping workshop. We didn’t want to just go there and make photos for an exhibition, but instead engage with locals to decide together what we wanted to map.
| Q5 | How did you structure the workshop?
One part was building community around it by contacting local groups (especially environmentalists), and finding the places they wanted to map. We opened an etherpad so people could list the locations, making it an open process and ended up with 16-20 locations.
One kit with a camera and a bottle rig remained in the exhibition space, and the other was ready for the participants to use during the 3 month exhibition. Now the kit is available for everyone interested in using it in the region: “the public Public Lab balloon mapping kit.”
It was on a weekend so people could go even if they were working. The first night was theoretical, in the sense that we were explaining what cartography is, what are maps and GPS, what is Basurama and some sense of all the things going on in Public Lab and also a lesson on MapKnitter. So they got a sense, before doing the photos, for what we’re looking for [in a photo] and what we’d be doing the following days. We left all of the balloon and kite work for the next day. The last part was to decide which place to map.
Saturday and Sunday it was onsite sessions for balloon mapping. The first day was in Castellón, it was a mixture of different environmentalists and environmental groups so the workshop served as a way to gather them, it had been a while since they worked together. It served as a good way to hang out together and join the existing community.
| Q6 | Can you tell me your thoughts on what people who participated got through this workshop?
The purpose of the workshop was to have the [maps] in the exhibition and one of the outcomes is that two different groups are using the [mapping] kit, which was the more interesting outcome.
Direct outputs of the workshop were beginners using the kit [we provided through the exhibit]. They dropped their camera in the sea, they broke their balloon, but they are learning.
In El Saler village, a local organization was fighting to alter a decades old road into a street with pedestrain access to recover their historic access to their harbour lake. Currently thay have to get to the harbour using a bridge on top of the road. The map has been used for advocacy. [The third day we mapped] a new residential area [that] was going to be built, but it got stopped and left as a “broken” mountain at the north of La Vall d’Uixó. The local group of Ecologistes en Acció are planning to use the photos for their mobilizations and campaigns.
| Q7 | What do you hope people looking at these maps will understand?
It was not clear whether we were going to be able to map the refinery, because it’s usually forbidden to map. But we were there with a bunch of people and nothing happened. It was a good way of opening the question: what is happening behind the walls? What can we do with [these places]?
In El Saler village [the map] is a way of telling how this story is now. It’s not that you can’t get a photo with Google Maps, but the way of doing it with people was important for them.
[The map of La Vall d’Uixó] is a really typical image from Spain after the real estate bubble, make cheap houses, but there’s not money to build them, so the construction site stays like this. People have to live with these sorts of landscapes forever. With these kind of streets that are not finished or they were finished but now they’re destroyed. But in the bottom left you see there are 20 or 30 houses, the original “environmental” houses. The map shows the extended environmental neighborhood. Do you see it? [See cover for map of La Vall d’Uixó]
| SD | To me it looks like . . . my reference is mountaintop removal.
Which is a crazy idea. I mean it’s really a steep mountain and to make streets there it was almost impossible and so now it’s a map of the degradation of the mountain and of the organization [of space]. This is now the map that people in the local environmental group from the city of La Vall d’Uixó (33,000 people) are using to talk about this problem. They were telling me that they were so happy to have this map. Kind of giving them new strength to talk about it and fight.
| Q9 | Tell me a bit about the development of the Spanish language group, it’s taken off in the last couple months and is the most active non-English list. What can other chapters learn from your work?
The whole workshop we always presented as building community. Not only doing amazing photographs but doing amazing photographs that are meaningful for people. We learned to work together. We have seen a growth in the number of people participating in the list. We know that this sort of thing goes slowly, because people have to see what they learn and what they gain from it.
[The Spanish list is] only from Spain and about Spain at the moment, though it was originally created for Lima, Peru. At the workshop, I was telling people it’s a good moment to publish in the [Public Lab] Wiki pages. The first step is to subscribe [to the Public Lab Google lists] and write an intro email. That’s the lowest barrier. [Now that there’s a Spanish list] it removes one more barrier, [and] makes much more sense when you’re trying to build community in Spain.
| Q10 | How do you see the group growing?
My goal personally is to focus in Spain and create more region specific groups in Bilbao and Madrid. I’m interested in making a community here.
| Q11 | What are your future plans?
My plans are making more balloon mapping photographs of this post real estate bubble situation in Spain as Basurama and introduce other tools such as the spectrometer. For me using Public Lab is like using a white brand. 6000km was open to collaboration but what happens with those kind of projects is people thinking, “Why am I interested in collaborating [with] this project? And not with my own project?” Working with a group like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, or now with Public Lab, allows you to focus on the content, have better documentation and build on an existing (and growing) community. It makes it easier for others to participate.