Park Life

Article excerpt

Casa de Campo

By Antonio Xoubanova

Mack Books, 2013

144 pp./$50.00 (hb)

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It has been speculated that if New York City's Central Park were to vanish, the city would quickly wither and die. Like any good city park, it is the heart of the city and a critical salve for urban life. One of Europe's largest public parks, Madrid's Casa de Campo occupies an enormous stretch of land to the west of the city. A former royal hunting estate, the and was first opened to the public during Spain's Second Republic in 1931. Closed to traffic, the vast woodlands and fields offer a welcome respite from urban life, the pervasive concrete, and crowds. Yet despite being carefully zoned and managed, parks are never fully controlled. They all contain unruly pockets and spaces free from municipal oversight. In Casa De Campo, Antonio Xoubanova has strayed far from the manicured and sanctioned spaces of the park to explore its interior and the spaces that have given way to more personal and private rituals. Divided into five unpaginated sections, exploring "love, death, fleeting moments, symbols and a lack of direction," Casa De Campo offers an affecting and idiosyncratic portrait of the secret life of a park. (1)

The book opens with a sequence of images of worn dirt paths. Crisscrossing through the parched earth and leading us into the park, the paths simultaneously draw us into the book. Although the park is the central character, it is, more importantly, a stage. Throughout the book we encounter numerous individuals in costume, at play, resting, or engaging in potentially illicit activities. As Luis Lopez Navarro writes in the book's essay, "there are things that one has to do alone in the open air." The work is as much about the inhabitants of the park as it is about their lingering effects on the landscape and their efforts to leave a mark on it--whether it is a circle of rocks, an ominous hole in the ground, a spraypainted circle, or twine mysteriously wrapped around a circle of trees. There is often no explanation for these perplexing interventions and rituals, but they should be familiar to anyone who has aimlessly wandered through a city park.

At once unruly and wild, yet strangely desolate, the park feels more like a reclaimed municipal lot than a former royal hunting ground. While there are glimpses of the park's natural beauty, Xoubanova pays little attention. There is a sense that the inhabitants of Xoubanova's Casa De Campo are bewildered by, and indifferent to, the landscape. …