Polishing The Earth

Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham

ESMA... - A Hierarchy Of Fear As Expressed By A Building


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"Fear"
Buenos Aires
December 2009

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Photograph by Tanya Cottingham

The journey began outside. Outside the main gates. A naval training college. Pristine wide-eyed recruits and the stamp of boots. Hands raised in salute. A chain cordon and sentry box. Concrete and password.

The driveway curves the view towards the front of a soulless building...

Windows. walls. a roof. shutters. surface and inconsequential. The buildings function is dormitory and part houses a military family. With children. From across the street, from the razor factory opposite. just a building behind bars. Well trimmed trees. parched grass. some flowering foliage and a sentry post. Nothing but silence, mostly.

...And sweeps the car towards its rear.

Arriving at the back of the building, the shape of a capital E. Cars slow to a stop. Sometimes at noon, more often at night. Hooded. The passengers are pushed out, stagger blinded along squeaking polished floor. they slip. the sound widens in an acoustic veranda and detainees are shoved through doors and swallowed up inside. Window eyes are closed firmly shuttered. Cars drive swiftly away. Outside silence returns.

Inside.

To start at the roof, the attic, the "little hood", the place of nightmare filled sleep. To begin in the basement, the bowels of hell itself swelled by screams. Both imply the use of the stair.

Travelling upwards. Tripping, slipping. Often chained ankles, always blind hooded. The chips in the aggregate treads are not made from furniture removals here.

Passing clockwise upwards. Square turns. Through two floors of dormitory or bedrooms. On each of these two landings are grey guilty doors. 19 and 20. 66 and 67. Innocent numbers affixed to shared lobby doors. Doors as eyes opening directly onto the staircase and the scene of hooded bodies moving upwards and down. Blind doors and blind recruits, for how else could students have lived here without passing prisoners. No past student has ever acknowledged these passings. The plaster here stifles its heavy secret.

Lets go upwards.

Lets keep heading up these stony stairs and make sure we don't trip at the top, where the door is quite small. And we turn left past the bored guard. the attic sentry.

A roof space. A sloped ceiling. Some lights. Beams for support and here, wedged in-between the shadows are the "kennels". Not much bigger than a coffin. Here are places you can stay. WILL stay. Lie down. You are to remain hooded. You will be played loud music. All day and all night. And you will wait in darkness and silence. In the noise. You will wait silently. And you will be lead at 5pm to the toilet at the top of the stair, and if lucky, the shower adjoining that. And you will consider yourself truly lucky to be handed some gruel and even bread. And after you will be lead down to the torture room.

It is 5.15pm. And we are herded clumsily, fearfully back down those stairs. Knowing what is ahead, we descend...slowly. Tripping on purpose, a delay a fraction of a second. Desperate not to go deeper. And deeper we go. The last turn, we have already counted down the last step, and we duck knowing the low beam protruding will crack open our skulls if we do not bow down to it. So we bow. Bowing we enter hell.

A corner of a dark basement. A corner of a stark room. A place. A place with a function. An intention. (unnameable). An essentially empty interior needing only electricity, water and two types of man.

This room lets out no sound. Is mute.

Later it is partly demolished, inner walls torn down. Paint applied. But it will not be fully silenced and even this now a name has been found engraved on its remaining wall, hidden under paint layers is a voice. And the sound of the words chipped here hastily with a belt buckle have once more begun to scream.




(ESMA, a navy mechanics school in Buenos Aires was also an illegal detention centre used during the dictatorship of the National Reorganisation Process 1976-83, this piece was written as as part of "The point at which two roads meet in uncertainty", a text piece, Buenos Aires, 2009).

Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham
Photograph by Tanya Cottingham