Invisible Structures  (2006) is a photographic series made in the archaeological site of the buried ancient Maya city of Waka’ in Guatemala. The series was firstly exhibited at the PhotoEspaña 2006 festival in Madrid.
In 2006 I received a commission (commande publique) from the French national art collection Fonds National d’Art Contemporain (FNAC) to produce a new body of work to be exhibited at the Madrid photographic festival PhotoEspaña in June 2006. For this commission I travelled to Guatemala to photograph in the remote archaeological site of Waka’, an ancient Maya city buried in the Petén rainforest. The title of the series refers to the terminology used in Maya archaeology to designate the site of a disappeared residential compound, from which nothing is left apart from remains and detritus of inhabitation. Throughout this project, I collaborated with a team of archaeologists working in the Proyecto Arqueológico Waka', directed by David Freidel (Southern Methodist University, Dallas) and Héctor Escobedo (Universidad San Carlos, Guatemala).
The photographs in this body of work represent tangled fragments of jungle, with no horizon, discontinuous, indifferent, interchangeable. (It is difficult to retrace one’s steps in the rainforest). These images ‘bursting with jungle’ represent the edges of archaeological excavations, they look outwards, trying to capture an unconstructed space. At first glance, these images make us think of a wild space, natural, undefined, as if without motif. However, this disorganised and entropic space is, in fact, a historical site, the site (niche) of a buried city beneath the rainforest floor.
The sprawl of the city, made up of squares, roads and common residential structures, is of secondary archaeological interest compared to its ceremonial centres and elite residential areas, and it tends to remain unexcavated, deep in the rainforest, estranged from the work of archaeological documentation and historical interpretation that begins exploring from the centre. This ‘periphery’ of the city, and in a sense of archaeology, or of history, is the subject of this work.
Paradoxically, the presence of this historical memory of the pre-Columbian Maya civilisation can be preceived more intensely in its overgrown invisibility than in the reconstructed spaces of the archaeological parks, which are somehow disappointing in their inevitable similarity to the character and aesthetics of theme parks. The archaeological parks tend to be spaces designed with an urban mentality and for tourism (entrance fees, souvenirs, toilets, etc). In the rainforest, however, the perception and the intuition of something that is hidden offers us a more apt framework to appreciate this historical presence. The mounds which denote buried ceremonial or residential structures, and which could be perceived at first glance as ‘small jungle-covered hills’; the distances between them concertinaed by an impenetrable vegetation; the traces left by the archaeological excavations, now filled in, the earth less densely packed, mediate more effectively than the reconstructed landscapes and monuments of the archaeological parks.
The images propose that we approach this historical site not from the point of view of the visible and the ordered, but via the spatial and temporal ‘suspension’ of its historical materiality. The memory that is represented in these images is not the monument, but a projection, a threshold, a memory ‘which is not yet’, or that is as yet ‘unthought’, as in a state of ‘inversion’ (Robert Smithson). Or, a memory which, simply, does not let itself be thought, as if the rainforest was not only the direct consequence of the desolation and the crumbling of a civilisation, but also the necesary strategy for the preservation of its fragments: we could say that it hides itself, that it buries itself and that it eludes us.
C-Type prints size 120 x 155 cm.