A Mini-Monument in the Makerspace

Professor of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies Pedro Lasch is no stranger to the arts at Duke.

Pedro Lasch. Image courtesy of the Franklin Humanities Institute.

When he first came to the university seventeen years ago, Lasch recognized that “students who cared for art felt that they were an anomaly—that their way of being and thinking did not fit.” That has since changed. With new additions like the Rubenstein Arts Center, Lasch now sees an opportunity for students, staff, community members and faculty to create “world-class projects that can be shown in top venues around the world.” Lasch recently took advantage of these resources to work on a longterm project entitled A Sculptural Proposal for the Zocalo. We sat down with him to discuss this project and the arts at Duke.

Q&A with Pedro Lasch

What is A Sculptural Proposal for the Zocalo?

The scaffolding inside of the main cathedral. Image courtesy of Pedro Lasch.

Pedro Lasch: I was 25 years old when I created a public art proposal for the Zocalo—Mexico City’s version of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.—that involved recreating the 300-ton steel scaffold that was inside the main cathedral of Mexico City. The Aztecs originally built present-day Mexico City on a lake. This has created an unfortunate scenario where a number of important historical buildings are sinking unevenly over time. Buildings like the main cathedral were cracking and on the brink of collapse. Between 1989 and 1999, the cathedral went through this incredible restoration process and it was in those ten years that the scaffold was inside the cathedral. They restored the cathedral back to how it looked in 1906. In ten years they reverted almost 100 years of sinking. I was fascinated by this process.

I loved how all that green metal looked inside of the cathedral—industrial baroque inside of a stone baroque. When I learned that they were done with the cathedral’s restoration and that they were going to disassemble the scaffold, I proposed to the Commission of Art for Public Spaces that one-by-one, as each piece got disassembled, that they reassemble it identically on the main square of the city. Walking around the Zocalo, you would have seen the cathedral, the Palace of Government, and this enormous scaffold on this open square with a flag. To my own surprise, the Commission called me two weeks later and said, “We want to do this to celebrate the year 2000 and we think it’s a fantastic idea.” I was a bit shocked since I was only 25 years old.

Read “The National Monument That Never Was” by Duke Health

But it was never completed, correct?

Right. As the main square of Mexico City, the Zocalo is not only a historically rich site, but also a contested site. The project ended up being blocked by the federal government. Even though I was very traumatized by that experience, I did publish the full proposal and the simulations that I created in what was the most prominent art journal at the time, known as Curare. But for many years I was so troubled that I abandoned the work. Eventually, I created an installation version of the proposal that showed all of the original simulations I had created.

A Sculptural Proposal for the Zocalo installation. Video and art by Pedro Lasch.

When did you begin working at the Ruby makerspace?

I wanted to add a new component to the piece, which would be an architectural model of the scaffolding. I began working in the Rubenstein Arts Center’s makerspace, which is relatively new. I spent five or six weeks working eight hours a day making the scaffold. I had to do all kinds of testing. Initially I thought it would be constructed with the Ruby’s 3D printers, but since it is such a fine structure, that was not an option. I ended up developing a system using the laser cutter where I created folded versions of the scaffold. I ended up creating 52 pieces of the green scaffold that are now part of the permanent art project. There was an immediate solo exhibit with the laser cut model that showed for about three months in Mexico City in Fall 2018. Over 900 people came to see that show. It then traveled to another solo show in Montreal at Espacio México that will run until June of 2019, with attendance surpassing a thousand people thus far.

Learn more about the Ruby’s makerspace

How does it reflect on the growth of the arts at Duke that you were able to complete such an intricate project at the Ruby?

When I first came here, I remember that we all loved working with our students. I get a bit nostalgic at times thinking of how I would encourage students to do an end-of-year show. We would get student bands and a DJ, but we were in such a tiny building. It was literally exploding with energy—but that was it. We didn’t have the Nasher Museum of Art. We didn’t have the Ruby. We did have a great art history program and we have always had really strong art students, but the arts faculty was a small unit within our department. It’s just been an exponential growth and I think that’s very inspiring and exciting.

“I think now when students get to Duke, they know the arts matter.”—Pedro Lasch

The creation and existence of the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts has been essential. The opening of the Nasher in 2005 was the first massive change. We had a sense that there were people in the Triangle and in Durham who cared about art, but we didn’t expect people to respond to the Nasher so well. We finally had a site where people could gather.

What’s next for the arts at Duke?

We serve the university, our students, our faculty, and so on, but we also serve a wider public: the city of Durham, the region, the nation and even the world at large. I can see the Rubenstein Arts Center having the same impact that the Nasher initially brought. That is really exciting.