The Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the most important events in the European cultural sector panorama, will host on October 18 the presentation, in exhibition format, of the project for a house for Walter Benjamin in Portbou, a place where the German Jewish thinker committed suicide and where is one of the most important sculptures in southern Europe, the one dedicated to the German thinker by sculptor Dani Karavan. To visualize it, the project and the exhibition have been promoted by the Angelus Novus Foundation and Portbou City Council, it has had the sponsorship of Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya and was inaugurated for the first time at the station of trains from the coastal town. Subsequently, the exhibition went through the Lluís Coromina Foundation in Barcelona - also co-organizer together with cultural bonart of the exhibition - and now it arrives in Frankfurt with the help of the Ministry of Culture and Sport of the government of Spain, which this year is the country guest
The exhibition, under the curatorship of art critics Pilar Parcerisas and Ricard Planas – editor of the bonart magazine – and the collaboration of the writer Carles Duarte, highlights all the work that has been carried out for decades by disseminate the figure of this prohom – a task carried out by several agents, one of the most active of which has been the Associació Passatges, as well as the Exile Memorial Museum – to reach the preliminary project commissioned to the architects Joan Ferns and Jordi Pigem. The proposal, which is exhibited in the German financial capital, has an innovative design and has eight panels with all kinds of documentation on the Benjamin - Portbou relationship, as well as the schemes of the future space. In addition, the models of the future center have been incorporated and a video recorded in 2015 with the conversation between the filmmaker Wim Wenders and the sculptor Dani Karavan, in which the two internationally renowned authors reflect on Benjamin's influence on his work
The first stone: The modernist building and the project
The Angelus Novus Foundation, a private entity created to promote a center in Portbou to reflect on the figure of this thinker and on his thinking, has had and has the unconditional support of Portbou Town Council, which owns the building. The visualization of this link is emphasized in the coordination of the transfer between the Foundation and the council of the old schools of the town – former Portbou town hall – as the future Walter Benjamin House; a highly symbolic modernist building, today a Cultural Property of Local Interest (BCIL). The money to commission the architectural project - which is now on display in Germany - to be able to rehabilitate and reform the space was thanks to the sponsorship of Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya - at that time under the presidency of Ricard Font - who saw the importance of betting on a project of this international relevance in a town with a railway tradition. The architectural project was entrusted to the architects Joan Falgueras de Figueres and Jordi Pigem de Banyoles. Both authors have conceptualized a building of maximum functionality and environmental beauty in the heart of the village, with a projection on its rear facade towards the Passages Memorial of Dani Karavan, nestled on the esplanade of the cemetery and almost next to the future new equipment . A proposal for an urban and territorial look that takes into account the richness of the landscape, climate and historical context, a project that we can describe as proximity and kilometer zero.
Walter Benjamin Library, in the South Nave
Predictably between the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, depending on the pace of the works, the Fund of the Angelus Novus Foundation will be installed under the name WB Library in the south nave of the modernist building - old schools - as first step for the rehabilitation of the Walter Benjamin House. This intervention in the building will be carried out thanks to a contribution of €60,000 from the Ministry of Culture (Directorate General of Fine Arts), €40,000 from the Diputació de Girona and €22,000 from Portbou City Council . The new specialized library has the holdings of Gian-Luigi Ponzano and Philippe Yvernel, libraries that are updated every year with new acquisitions.
The Walter Benjamin House
Casa WB will have a permanent and changing museography for the account of Walter Benjamin's passage through Portbou in international harmony with other German and Jewish intellectuals who crossed the Pyrenees in similar circumstances, as well as hosting the account and documentation of the Memorial Passages of Dani Karavan, work of this Israeli sculptor. It will explain the crossing of the Pyrenees, Ruta Líster, Ruta F. and Ruta Walter Benjamin, dedicated to the guide Lisa Fittko and so many guides of this border. It will also have a temporary exhibition space, the Walter Benjamin Library and a multipurpose space for cultural events and a viewing terrace in the village.
The project provides functionality to each space of the building, its purpose is to permanently explain Walter Benjamin's passage through this town, to be a center for studies and international research around this universal figure and Dani Karavan, author of the Passages Memorial. A center that promotes and defends modernity, the ethical and democratic values of European identity and the culture of peace in society. Through culture, it vindicates memory, the border and exile, and contributes to the recognition of Portbou's historical, cultural and landscape heritage. The heart of the building will host the international library of Gian Luigi Ponzano and Philip Yvernel and a multipurpose auditorium for cultural events.
For the architects, the house has been thought of as a refuge on the way, a piece of a system of itineraries. To go or return from the cemetery and the Passages de Dani Karavan Memorial, or to climb onto the platforms of the railway station or to go down to the sea.” And the new volume clings to the gables of the old building, it has been opened austerely "with strips of cork that absorb the reverberations of light and is cracked by the cracks of the warm glow of the ceramics and the interior glasses".