On 30 July 1984, 11 mercury miners went on strike in the mines of Almadén (Ciudad Real, southern Spain) to protest against their precarious economic and social conditions. 650 meters deep inside the oldest and most productive mercury mines in history, the miners endured the dark and contaminated galleries for 11 days and nights until their claims were addressed. As an emigrated filmmaker local to Almadén, I returned to the now post-mining Almadén in 2019 with the idea of making a documentary film project about the mining strike. The premise of the film Encierro (working title) was to find young locals willing to live inside the now-closed mines for 11 whole days, in homage to the former miners and to recreate the experience of 1984, 35 years later. What if 11 people locked themselves inside the mine for 11 days and nights in the present, at a time when Almadén suffers high rates of migration, unemployment and pessimism due to its precarious post-industrial situation? Apart from engaging with our collective mining past, by reenacting the form and duration of an earlier workers strike Encierro proposes the underground as both a living and symbolic space. The aim is to foster a series of conversations, encounters, and social and political propositions to contribute to a process of reimagining Almadén, which rose from these mine shafts more than 2000 years ago, as something other than a mining town. The film’s methodology is to use the past as a ‘documentary score’ and perform it in contemporary socio-cultural conditions, with the intention of intervening in the present and collectively imagining new futures.
Throughout this exposition, I will explore the potential of documentary film fieldwork to take on a different relationship with everyday life than the same or similar events would have as “untransformed reality” – a strike versus the reenactment of a strike – and its potential for activism and social transformation. I will also explore the use of the conditional tense in documentary; a speculative and hypothetical approach to reality that explores the ‘potentially’ real, the ‘possible’, and the ‘what if’ in the process of documenting the world – in short, the potential for acting upon the world when creating, and not only documenting, reality. Encierro, despite belonging to a representational tradition such as documentary filmmaking, strives to move beyond the representational paradigm and become a creative and social intervention in the area. As such, it will explore the social and artistic possibilities, and the tensions that might arise when catalyzing, and not only documenting, reality. Furthermore, my artistic research also poses the question of what if a reenactment of a strike is also a strike, even though in post-industrial Almadén there is no more mining, no production to be shut down, and this would-be strike is not originating from labour action, but from a creative act.
This exposition is composed of some sections of the documentary feature film Encierro, which is in early stages of post-production, and some research and theoretical insights that informed its development, and which continue to guide its making. The artistic part, which will result in the documentary film, and the research, whose core is this exposition, inform each other, and are in a constant process of dialogue and contestation. To use a term that resonates with mining, both the documentary film and this exposition engage with the concept of ‘emergence’. On the one hand, my documentary film approach aims to catalyze a reality into being, partly challenging documentation as the paradigm of documentary filmmaking. This approach strives to expose feelings, thoughts and actions that are not readily ‘on the surface’, but that certain documentary practices can bring into visibility. The notion of emergent worlds, meaning worlds that are not yet visible but that can be conjured into being, albeit temporarily, is an essential part of how this project engages and understands artistic practice. The film ultimately originates from a research question that is not a how or a why, but a what if. The documentary film will embody this process of transformation from the conditional and desired into the actual and visible, as well as questioning ideas of permanence and temporariness. On the other hand, this exposition considers the filmed material as audiovisual fieldnotes from which new thoughts, questions and creative actions might emerge. The exposition does not aim to be a documentation of the filmmaking process, but to open up the questions, thoughts and feelings that emerged from the filmmaking itself, and which keep informing it. The documentary film and the exposition keep influencing and transforming each other, ‘amalgamating’ (to use another mining term), but in my case, they do not conflate completely and instead maintain a certain degree of independence, a life in their own. Whereas my films aim to enter into a clear dialogue with the people that participate in them, usually mobilizing conventions of narrative and performative documentary, my theoretical research, and this exposition, aim to move my conversation into a more specialized language, aiming to place an inherently localized project into a wider theoretical and artistic context.