Pilar Olabarria

TITLE: For my mother: Bringing Flowers to the Bones
DATE: 2013
MEDIUM: textile
DESCRIPTION/STATEMENT: “We must move some bones,” my mother said. I was eight years old and always ready to do something new, in this case to take the train –a forty- minute ride– to the Bilbao cemetery where we moved bones from the main plot to the very small niches called “Osarios,” “We need the space, I’ll move them back in a few years” she whispered. We returned home in silence, I didn’t mind the quietness for I loved listening to the clattering cacophony of the old train. Six decades later again I am riding the train. My mother is long gone, but this is something I do when I visit Bilbao, my birthplace. Today I walk and I pass by the gargantuan mausoleums, some dedicated to the fascists of the civil war, and colossal tombstones with large guardian angels protecting their dead and the niches with sepia colored photographs and silver vases on their fronts, but my eyes get distracted by the site of the expansive esplanade at the center of the cemetery –usually very green and empty of any debris, but that this early morning is covered with hundreds of flowers, mostly bouquets of plastic tulips, geraniums, lilies, others of silk and synthetic fabric –softer and kinder in color than their plastic partners, and among them some fresh –but now wilted, ones. (Last night we experienced powerful wind and rain, elements that displaced the flowers from niches, tombstones and mausoleums and deposited them into the open esplanade.) I excitedly look at the sight: It looks as if an installation artist, or a mad one, had spent the night creating a bizarre landscape. As an artist I am thrilled and for a moment I forget that my family — father, mother, brother, aunts, cousins, is waiting for my visit, and as I move away I get even more distracted for I heard the small tractor that gathers odd, discarded things around the cemetery moving about the esplanade. I rush to my family plot I mumble excuses to the dead for rushing away so fast –my mother understands I say to myself as I eagerly walk back to the esplanade and began to gather the bouquets because I just remembered the day, sixty years ago, time when she brought me here to move the bones to “The Osarios,” the place where the sun, the rain and the wind continuously erases the names and the dates of birth and dead, a place where bones are deposited and often forgotten. Three hours later and hundreds of steps back and forth with arms full of wet harsh bouquets “The Osarios” of my childhood is changed, in every corner, broken surfaces and floor, I had placed enough bouquets of tulips, lilies and orchids to satisfied my heart and as I sit down something else comes to my senses: During the hours that I spent moving and placing each bouquet I was in a state of total abandonment, no name, no profession, no identity, and above all no fear of the ridicule, very much like Don Quixote must had felt as he rode through La Mancha.