Remnant Sant Antoni | Reading a city through its margin notes

“Nothing sorts out memories from ordinary moments.
Later on they do claim remembrance when they show their scars.”

Chris Marker

The picture above by the photographer Frederic Ballell shows a group of people poking around a mountain of books circa 1900. It occurs at the outside of the Sant Antoni market in Barcelona opened at 1882. This steel structure building was designed by Antoni Rovira i Trias who was author of other market projects and also designer the urban radial plan for Barcelona that rivaled with Ildefons Cerdà’s Plan. Since 1936 a group of stallholders and booksellers settled into the Sant Antoni market opening every Sunday giving form to one of the most unique Barcelona’s cultural manifestations. During the dictatorship period the place even served as a buying and selling hidden point of prohibited books. Today it can be found from books and stamps to any kind of magazines and videogames.

Since 2009, the market has been experiencing a process of restoration that is intended to be completed in 2012. The vendors have been relocated to a nearby temporary market and the project intends to liberate the facades transforming the physiognomy of the Sunday book market. The relationship with the neighborhood of Sant Antoni, affected by the restoration project has been addressed Jordi Canudas’ project called 1021 dies. He followed the day-to-day activities in great detail up until the definitive closing of the market to begin the remodeling. His intention was to capture intangible elements that compose many of the social networks that exist in the neighborhood. The market is the node where an important part of these networks interact. He placed a series of slates for people to write their memories related with the place. With these slates he constructed a cart box, similar to those used in the Sunday market.

Canuda also trapped memories, the words written by the people are the same memento tools that we can find while open an old book and discover the handwritten margin notes.

It’s quite interesting to walk through the crowded book market during the hours of intense activity; but at the end of the journey, just before the lunch time, it’s also inspiring to experience the metamorphosis of this space. Suddenly the corridors of paper and wood start to move while disappearing into a series of wooden cart boxes. These mobile pieces have been used for many years to keep and also to expose the products sold in the market. As most of the material is second handed this mobile furniture could be stated as a sort of city “memory boxes”. They keep those dreams that fed stories in children’s minds while learning to read or guard the satisfaction feeling of a collector sticker album while completed. These boxes are a sort of wooden time-machines, the creation of an old inventor with the mission of keep the fictions and fantasies of the city inhabitants. As fictional characters following an old and unwritten script, they suddenly gobble the old stories that minutes before were offering to the memory hunters walking laboriously among them.

Then, hiding those stories, they rest locked as giant armadillos sleeping under the shadow of the steel building… waiting for the next Sunday to assault neighbors’ memories.

The vendors hurry in keeping the merchandise inside those wooden boxes in complex arrangements adapted to the multiple formats of stuff, and learned after years of activity. Afterwards a group of men laboriously push the cart boxes to garages in adjacent blocks. This choreography is repeated every single Sunday afternoon and is performed by the workers, the vendors and the neighbors all together. When those “memory boxes” leave the market it is not strange to find abandoned books. The image of the sun painting the centennial walls of the building enhances the idea of lost and fragmented memories lying on the ground. In some of them you can find besides the name of the antique owner, some margin notes or underlined texts. Stories of city inhabitants that apparently are not worth of attention anymore.

But what if these abandoned stories are really margin notes that can help us read the city?

Retal [Remnant] Sant Antoni is a project by dpr-barcelona, occurring with the only intention to rescue some of the memories thrown away from the inside of the “memory boxes” of Sant Antoni market while leaving. All of the books that will be used in this project have been picked up and are used as canvas to subjectively document with drawings the last years of the book market occurring at the outside of the building.


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-The first book of Retal Sant Antoni Series is “Flors de Maria” [1902] by Jacint Verdaguer who is regarded as one of the greatest poets of Catalan literature and a prominent literary figure of the Renaixença
-More on the Sant Antoni Sunday market here
-Basic info on the restoration project by Rivas + Ratvellat here [PDF-Catalan]
-Construir Memòria del Mercat de Sant Antoni facebook group
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