Abstraction in March
artist Juan Andrés Milanés
In March 18 2003, the sensationalist tabloid La Crítica published one of its most intriguing news items. This time it was not about someone choking to death with a mamón* pit, or a man who fell asleep under a bus that ran him over. In this case the headline read: Incredible! Panamanians will be able to ski in San Felipe.
The article was referring to Juan Andrés Milanés’ project for ciudadMULTIPLEcity: an ice skating rink built with large blocks of ice, right in the middle of Plaza de Francia, in Panama’s historic quarter, where very low income families live side by side with rich ones.
When I arrived at the plaza, the last blocks of ice were still being slid in place. The neighborhood children were crowded all around; their big smiles revealed how eagerly they awaited the amusement to come. At that moment, when the afternoon colors were reflected on the ice and I felt the breeze of the Panamanian “summer” (dry season), I thought about the fixation that most children who grow up in the tropics have with snow. This is a country where White Christmas means pine trees imported from Canada, cotton ornaments simulating snow, and several costumed Santa Clauses drenched in sweat.
With this project—presented on two occasions—Milanés not only celebrated and ironized this phenomenon, but also gave to many an experience they had wished for.
In order to achieve what so many regard as an impossible dream, the artist resorted to simple, rudimentary techniques, using ordinary elements found in the city. Without a large budget, complicated engineering or sophisticated machinery, the rink was constructed out of approximately 200 large blocks of ice. This allowed a part of the population to enjoy a winter activity for several hours despite the fact that the thermometer read 30 degrees centigrade that afternoon. The atmosphere in the Plaza, the music, the laughter, the attempts to make snowmen, and the sleds and ice skates that Cuban artist Esvier Jeffers Durruthy fabricated from scrap metal, turned the scene into a precarious, euphoric and tropical version of Rockefeller Center.
Possibly the most successful result of the project was its dual role as place of entertainment and as urban sculptural piece (the horizontal minimalism of Carl Andre comes to mind). While some were sliding about, enjoying the best afternoon of the year, others contemplated the whole scene, giving it different readings and deriving sophisticated analogies.
*A tropical fruit similar to a litchi.