The image, built with small tiles of different white and blue, represents a skull with two crossbones underneath. It has appeared on neglected walls, on pillars of viaducts, attached to the plates that give names to the streets, on concrete piers, in abandoned buildings. Always in A Coruña. Because, in reality, it refers to the mythology about the origin of the city: the bones belong to Xerión, the tyrant who succumbed to Hercules and is buried under the famous tower. Xerión is also the name that has adopted the initiative of the tiles, anonymously authored and replicated by dozens of people, and which has put the city in front of its mirror, by politely discussing the uses of public space and its commercialization.
The first reaction of the institutions confirmed this dissent. Technicians from the town hall removed the first skulls. The ordinances thus prescribed it and no one in the highest instances wondered about its meaning. Some neighbors showed their disagreement with the municipal procedure. Social networks picked up the controversy. The local press echoed. The City Council rectified and Xerión seemed to emerge again. Even if it is in a postmodern version.
“At another time, Xerion might have gone unnoticed. But we come from a confinement and people pay more attention to their street, in the neighborhood, in the closest. We have become more observant. There is a desire to recover things locally ”, considers Amabel González Troncoso, a historian specializing in urban art. He not only talks about repairing the walls and other recesses of the city, but also about the legendary matter, the fables, what makes up human communities and is not always easily delimited. “With this, people have also taken up the mythological history of A Coruña, which perhaps they knew and had forgotten. When you stir, something always appears, ”he says.
Nobody knows, or if they do, they prefer not to clarify, who started to place the tiles. “It is a beautiful and original action, with a very local bond and a clear, natural intention, about a forgotten figure,” adds González Troncoso. And that, using a technique based on the example of Invader – a well-known but anonymous French artist who works with the same material and floods the streets with mosaics – has also discussed the occupation of public space. That is at least the bookseller Daniel Palleiro, from the A Tobeira de Oza cooperative, who is interested in alternative languages and political expression outside the norm.
“The Xerión interests me for two reasons. One, because there was an artist who threw a stone and the idea came to fruition. It arises from one person and has become a cooperative movement, ”he says. In addition to the effigies in pieces of different materials, which are multiplying and have made the council reconsider its policy in this regard, there are already t-shirts, painted versions or even to assemble. Various tutorials circulate on the Internet on how to make your own Xerión and a Twitter account acts as a repository for the initiative. Open source street art. “The second thing that attracts me is the debate it introduces on the use of public space. That is why the image of the council operator removing it with a pickax was so unfortunate, ”he understands.
Palleiro sums up the dichotomy: “You can commercialize public space, but a self-managed initiative from the neighbors, and with a lot of support, cannot.” This dilemma has been faced almost from its birth by so-called urban art, the most popular form of which is still graffiti. Amabel González Troncoso studies it in depth. “Private advertising uses public space to obtain private profitability. The graffiti is a gift for that same public space. The artist knows that he can disappear. Institutions can erase it, or cover up advertising, but take that risk ”. It was also assumed, and suffered, by the Xerion of the tesserae. Daniel Palleiro has a theory.
“A few years ago, graffiti appeared that said ‘The voice lie ‘ [en referencia a La Voz de Galicia]. So the newspaper started an information campaign against graffiti and graffiti. Turn on. And the Socialist Party got on it ”, he explains. Those were the years of government of the Atlantic Tide, a candidacy supported by left and nationalist parties led by Xulio Ferreiro. “But by accepting that sanitizing speech you never know where to stop. Now the PSOE governs and came to paint gray the walls of Rúa Vista, parallel to Orzán, where there was some valuable graffiti, “he criticizes. In his opinion, this eagerness led the city council to “a dead end”. That affected his reception of the skulls, and that these are images “that do not contradict or stress.”
So much so that within the movement in defense of Xerión there are voices that claim to make it an emblem of the city. The consideration of urban arts has changed, despite everything. “There is still a lot of ignorance”, understands González Troncoso who, however, admits the general revaluation of graffiti, even at the risk of limiting its subversive potential. And, as an example, he lists the most famous presenter on Galicia Television, Xosé Ramón Gayoso. In 1990, I was interviewing the pioneer of urban art in Spain, Juan Carlos Argüello, Dock. The conversation was aggressive, an interrogation, in which Gayoso little less than accused him of dirtying the cities. But the artist was able to defend himself and exposed “a whole artistic theory of graffiti.” Twenty-five years later, around 2015, Muelle had already died -in 1995 and only 30 years old- and Gayoso continued at TVG, as presenter of Luar. In that program, the most popular on the public channel, he opened a section dedicated to urban art. For four years, every Friday, spray artists made a live mural. Indeed, something had changed.