The website adds 'Collectivized' to this heady list. Intended as a research centre, a place where permaculture and modern manufacturing meet, Calafou is an attempt "to create an alternative to the second sector, alternatives to industry and services." It is a place described in hushed terms of reverential awe by many of the squatters and activists I have met in Barcelona.
While I was there in March I searched for a way to understand this place, becoming overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the site, the intentions of the project and the problems they face.
This blog entry is intended as an introduction to Calafou, Over the next week or so I will bring you a series of photographic collections offering my visual impressions of this fascinating project.
So what is EcoIndustry? I sat down with two Calafou residents (refered to here as P and N) to find out. P told me "it means sustainable industry, industry which can still be there in 50 years, or 100 years or 200" N talked to me about the problems with the "weeds and seeds" environmental movement, people looking longingly back to an idealized time of politically free and self-sufficient peasants living in harmony with nature "they want to stop the clocks and send us back to a pre-industrialised past, here we are trying to find solutions that will work in the 21st century".
The activities that I came across at Calafou included making marmalade and soap, and baking bread, developing free software, investigating methods for extracting methane from plant decomposition, growing medicinal herbs, designing benches and offering workshops for making super efficient wood burners. There were plans for starting beer production soon as well as starting to manufacture furniture. An important part of Calafou is the hacklab, a room bristling with computers and functioning as "a collaborative and open space for development of free, open-source IT tools". Among other things they are developing the PLN - phone liberation network - a free alternative to commercial phone companies. I spoke with a woman who attended a workshop at Calafou last year on how to adapt a car's engine so that it uses less petrol and partially runs off water.
The people of Calafou come from varying backgrounds and a lot of them moved here from the Barcelona squatting scene, but Calafou is not a squat. Every month the community has to come up with enough money to pay the rent. They have a rent-to-buy contract with the landlord so they can try to ensure the long-term future of this project. The pressure on the shoulders of these people is immense. On this site they must search for ervolutionary techniological and sustainable solutions to the problems of the 21st Century while also generating enough income to pay the rent.
In keeping with it's schizophrenic nature, Calafou also houses the derelict remains of numerous industrial works and a building site where they are developing a building that they inherited half constructed. A lot of the work that this community has done in the year and a half they have been here has involved creating habitable spaces from the the broken down buildings they took over. This property is stuffed full of the memories of its past and the hopes for it's future.
Calafou is a focus point where ecology meets economy, politics meets property, dream meets reality and past, present and future all collide with some visually fascinating results.
The uniqueness of the Calafou project and the broadness of it's remit is both curse and blessing. Everything is applicable, anything is a potentially appropriate subject for Calafou's attention and therefore anything can be a point of contention. When I started to ask around for a definition of the philosophy and intentions of Calafou I was gently reminded that this place is intended as a point of transition. An attempt to leave the current unsustainable capitalist system and to try to create something new. To put this project in a box or to try to label everything they are doing would be to cut out valuable possibilities, N- "we are not dogmatic because that wouldn't work" P- "we are constantly redefining ourselves"
When I stayed with them they had lost their electricity supply and the place was suffering an economic crisis. By candlelight they debated how to find the funds to keep this project afloat. The symbolism was not lost on me, but the work went on.
Unsurprisingly the task of encapsulating the meaning of this place, which had been described to me as the inception point for a revolutionary future, defeated me. While I was there they were busy preparing for an event called Hack the Earth, a series of workshops, talks and round tables independently provided by people from all over the country and hosted by Calafou. On the English language section of the website they invited people to send in proposals for events on any of the following subjects:
Biodigestors, fitodepuració, engines of hidrògen, tractors ultralleugers designed with software free, composting, permacultura, Arduino for the control of an orchard, autosuficiència to 12 volts, turbines of pics of energía, bicimàquines, preserves, biodiesel, biogas, rural communities, houses of straw, humus of worm, manufacture of beer, deshidratador solar, traps of grease, stoves rocket,...
There are so many things I like about this bewildering list, it baffles and intrigues me in the same way that Calafou did during my visit. Packed with ideas and incomprehensible words which hint at inscrutable technologies it fills the imagination with an Edward Lear future of straw houses, orchards and complex machines powered with water, where people pass the time drinking home-made beer and constructing traps of grease and humus of worm. I suppose this future is as plausible as any other I have heard proposed before.
Group decisions are made in the assembleas (meetings) which give everyone the chance to have their say and where, however heated the discussions get, people take turns and respect each other's right to speak. Twice a day a big communal meal is cooked by people who have added themselves to the rota voluntarily and who call everyone to the table by blowing through a conch shell.
P- "we are so diverse and different and we're trying to find how we all fit together. Every person affects the collective, and the collective identity is still building and developing. The punks want it to be more radical, there are people who want it to be more serious, we have the hippy sector, the anti-technology sector, the hackers. We have all of them."
N- "we are a community here though, when push comes to shove, we all pull together."
And pull together they do. With dreams of a different future, the people of Calafou are breaking new ground. I look forward with interest to see where they will go next..