A copper week in Pamplona

Alán Carrasco
January 30, 2023
A copper week in Pamplona

In 1972 were held the "Encuentros de Pamplona" (Pamplona Encounters), an unexpected international event that became a reference point for artistic experimentation in Spain during that decade. Between 26 June and 3 July of that year - barely a week before the Festival of San Fermín - Pamplona hosted the work of more than 350 major visual artists, artists of action art, musicians and composers, which brought the old traditionalist capital into fleeting alignment with the 36th Venice Biennale and documenta 5 in Kassel: Néstor Basterrechea, Esther Ferrer, Laura Dean, Francesc Torres, Antoni Muntadas, John Cage, Carlos Ginzburg and the Centro de Arte y Comunicación (CAyC), Dennis Oppenheim, Luc Ferrari, Steve Reich, Jordi Benito, Equipo Crónica and Shusaku Arakawa, among others.


What was initially intended to be a sober cycle of concerts to honour the memory of the recently deceased Félix Huarte –the patriarch of the most important family of industrialists and builders under Franco in Navarre– ended up becoming a meeting of the avant-garde, both foreign and national, that brought to the general public the latest manifestations of visual poetry, conceptual art, action art, video art, computer-generated art, electronic music and experimental cinema in a dialogue with the historical avant-garde and with popular cultural manifestations. The coordination of the event was entrusted to the Grupo ALEA artists Luis de Pablo and José Luis Alexanco, who had already enjoyed the patronage and trust of the brothers Juan and Jesús Huarte, heirs to the business conglomerate started by their father and, at the time, the most important patrons of post-war Spanish art.


But soon, what looked like it was going to be a big party turned into a masquerade.¹  Following Díaz Cuyás's idea, the Encounters quickly turned into a kind of carnivalisation –in the Bakhtinian sense of the term– in which some figures who had not been invited also entered the scene, as could not be otherwise: ETA planted two bombs in barely three days, the Bishop of Pamplona spoke out against the "dubious morality" of everything to do with the Encounters, hundreds of leaflets were dropped by some of the many ultra right-wing organisations denouncing a sort of conspiracy of "faggots and prostitutes" [sic] that had gathered in the city, the PCE (Spanish Communist Party) and other left-wing organisations denounced the whitewashing of the regime and its business elites that the event entailed...


But of course, we cannot forget that we were in the late Francoist period, a context in which a policy of liberalization had been already introduced and seemed irreversible, but in which the regime continued to repress (and murder), in which the organisations of the left operated clandestinely (only two days before the opening of the Encounters, the Tribunal de Orden Público  (Court of Public Order) initiated Trial 1001 against the leaders of the CCOO (Workers’ Commissions), who were sentenced to 160 years in prison) and in which the reactionaries, fearful of losing their influence and hegemony (they were perceiving it in the cultural field), were redoubling their efforts.


Cultural production took on an exceptionally complex role in the Encuentros because, although Pamplona became for a few days a platform for the dissemination of certain "unofficial" forms of production, this inverted reproduction of "the official", as Díaz Cuyás points out, also ended up consolidating the status quo and the hierarchy of the prevailing values. In the midst of this complexity, it is not surprising that everyone gave their best version to justify their participation (or absence). Even some artists, once beneficiaries of the Huarte's patronage, now refused to take part in the event and were tearing their hair out in an overacting of moral and political purity. It was time to take a stand. It was time to be on the right side of history. But some, in the middle of 1972, were already suffering from the contemporary FOMO² and hesitated.


If the aim of the Encounters was to offer the city a party, taking over the public space to melt art and life, what happened in Pamplona was, unquestionably, a success. While part of the specialised public (as well as the press and critics) couldn't quite understand what was going on throughout all that great disorder, an initially surprised population turned cathartically to the events that had literally taken over their city.


The Italian author Erri de Luca speaks of the "Copper Years" as a counterpoint to the term "Lead Years" with which the troubled 1970s in Italy are usually referred to. And he does so because, for him, copper makes transmission and connection easier than any other metal, and therefore serves as a metaphor for those other generous experiences that also took place in the 1970s: the possibility of exchange, communication and words. In the case that concerns us, in the middle of boycotts, replies, counter-programming, cross accusations and manifestos, of symposia that ended up becoming heated assemblies, of pneumatic architectures that in the end metaphorically collapsed, of cases of "preventive" censorship, of the inflation and mythification to which they have been subjected in their consecutive anniversaries,³ the Pamplona Encounters were our particular "copper week": an unexpected anomaly in which it seemed that almost anything could happen. Then would come the end of the festival.




1. "With the 'Encuentros de Pamplona' it happens as with carnivals: they can be interpreted as an exercise of liberation, an expression of unofficial culture, an attack against the hierarchy of values, a vindication of the body, etc.; or else as an inverted reproduction of the official culture that acts as an escape valve and ultimately serves to consolidate the current hierarchy of values. This is the essentially ambivalent character of the carnival, and I believe it is also the only way to interpret that equivocal Pamplona festival." Díaz Cuyás, J. (2004), "Pamplona era una fiesta: Tragicomedia del arte español". In Desacuerdos. Sobre arte, políticas y esfera pública en el Estado español, nr. 1. Madrid: Arteleku / Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa, MACBA, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, and UNIA, Universidad Internacional de Andalucía, p. 19.


2. This "syndrome", which is very widespread nowadays in relation to technology and social network users, derives its acronym from the English expression "fear of missing out".


3. Between July and September 1997, the MNCARS Library programmed "Los encuentros de Pamplona 25 años después" (The Pamplona Encounters 25 years later), coinciding with this anniversary. In October 2009 and February 2010, the MNCARS programmed the exhibition "Encuentros de Pamplona 1972: Fin de fiesta del arte experimental" (1972 Pamplona Encounters: The end of the experimental art festival). Finally, last year, 2022, coinciding with the 50th anniversary, the Pamplona City Council organised the event, which, having been institutionalised, went largely unnoticed.