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The State of Spain: Nationalism, Critical Regionalism, and Biennialization


Spain is shaped from a mosaic of regional identities, like Basque and Catalan, that demand a full articulation of a national identity of their own, which leads us to consider Spain as a manifestation of a nation without a consistent state. Being based in the Spanish Basque Country allows me to examine national identities through the prism of Spain’s heterogeneity. The solidification of the concept of the nation-state across the globe has made us aware of the risks of nationalism turning towards self-defensive, protectionist, populist politics. In this context, we cannot forget that nationalism is not only what shapes the cohesive form of the nation-state, but is also a force that threatens its cohesion. I am obviously referring to the many nationalisms that coexist within the same unified nation-state. For both ethnic minorities and regional identities, under the formal vindications of national, sub-national, secessionist, separatist, independence, and other nationalisms, the same idea of the nation-state is at stake.

Hence, even if pluralism and ethnic diversity are central questions for any nationalism, a distinction arises between what we might call, for lack of better terms, “immigrant minorities,” and “indigenous minorities.” This draws attention to the relevance of the nation-state in any consideration of cultural diversity in today’s Europe, positioning it in two contrasting guises, on the one hand as the “solution,” and on the other as the “problem.” For the first, “immigrant minorities,” the nation-state is the solution, in the sense that they look to it (and have nowhere else to look), enabling them both to preserve their distinctive cultural identity and to overcome the socially and economically marginal position they generally occupy. From the point of view of “indigenous minorities,” the state is a problem, since they see its present organization and structure as an obstacle rather than as a means to their economic and political advancement and cultural survival. These groups seek the decentralization of state power. Somehow, this dual relationship positions the nation-state as the main paradox for this accommodation of cultural diversity: it has become too small to control the economic forces that determine the livelihoods of its citizens and yet too large to satisfy the expressions of their localized identities.

In a period such as ours, when the term “national” has become a merely relational category that articulates diverse parts of the world system, the arrangement of the local, the regional, and the national tends to articulate a geographic block (or world order) where the perception of sub-nationalist cultures, and separatist communities, can be grasped as allegorical forms. In this way, the tension in between these different ethnic groups, or different “imagined communities,” can only be overcome by deploying these allegorical structures towards resolving the collective fantasies of those nationalisms with an idea of the nation itself.

In the postmodern debate within the field of architecture, an approach Kenneth Frampton has termed “critical regionalism” has attempted to counteract the dislocation and lack of meaning in modern architecture by using contextual forces to give a sense of place and meaning. This has designated a new kind of regionalism in architecture, an attitude against international flows that function to standardize linguistic patterns and formal expressions throughout the West. The question here revolves around the fact that, in a globalized world, it seems that there are no alternatives to the concept of the nation, even when it is little more than an entity or unit composed of relatively semi-autonomous strong regionalisms. In the field of architecture, this universal versus particular dialectic has been widely discussed. According to Frampton, critical regionalism should adopt the critical elements of modern architecture for its universal, progressive qualities, but at the same time value formal responses that primarily follow the regional context.[footnote Kenneth Frampton, “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance,” in The Anti-Aesthetics: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983).]

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