[09. Educative
It is the packaging that, as a widespread object, knows how to take charge of its educational function

The Racalamac cap: an ethical “bridge” to increase social and environmental awareness

The story of the Condell bridge, aka Racamalac bridge – from the name of the construction company that reinforced it back in the 60s – is the story of one of the few pedestrian bridges that cross River Mapocho in Santiago de Chile.


Other names followed, like the popular ones of “Lovers bridge” and “Love padlock bridge”, from the young lovers’ habit – strongly criticized by many because of the structural problems that it may cause – to put padlocks on the footbridge railing and then throw the key into the Mapocho, simulating the scene of a famous novel of the Italian writer Federico Moccia (Ho voglia di te, 2006), which is pretty much famous in Chile.

The fragment of the image of the Condell bridge, reproduced on a crown cap of a beverage, is a work of the Chilean artist Verónica Ode. It is a small “photographic sculpture” obtained by manually applying the light-sensitive emulsion and the subsequent exposition of the image on this unconventional photographic support.


What is the connection between a crown cap and a bridge? What kind of value can such a small packaging accessory take on compared to an urban element of majestic dimensions? Which ethical value can a packaging or a part of it take on when it turns into an unconventional photographic support? To understand the meaning of this, first we must step back and understand the meaning and the importance of bridges for the Chilean artist.

Bridges are structures that from an urban point of view connect two parts of the city, while marking their division at the same time. They are therefore contact points and, at the same time, stitching points of a patchy urban fabric. They are like the suturing stitches of a wound: they keep its flaps together so that it can heal up and turn into a scar over time, which lasts in the years to come as a mark of that wound and memory of what it was caused by.

In the case of the Chilean capital city, the bridges over River Mapocho – the river crossing Santiago from East to West – are a connection between two large areas of the city, which historically had very different urban and socioeconomic characteristics, almost opposite. During the colonial period – 17th and 18th century – and the period of the Republic of Chile in the 19th century, the northern part of Santiago was known as La Chimba, popular name taken from the quechua language meaning “from the other side”. Now it corresponds to the villages of Recoleta and Independencia, especially the districts of Bellavista and Patronato.


La Chimba was a farming area populated since Pre-Hispanic times by indigenous Inca and Picunche families, relegated to the slavery of the city, which had tried to keep their traditions and lifestyle against a relentless process of cultural extinction. As time went by, the area saw craftsmanship and trade flourishing, and due to the quietness of the sector and the isolation from the historical city centre – which was stretching south of River Mapocho – part of the lands of the area were sold to cloisters and monasteries. During the government of Bernardo O’Higgins, the General Cemetery of the City was built in La Chimba (1821).


In order to reduce its isolation to a minimum, in 1772 the construction of the Calicanto bridge – originally called “Cal y Canto”, expression that refers to a mixture of stone and grout for building walls – began. It was intended to connect the two banks of River Mapocho, until then connected only by a wooden bridge. The Calicanto bridge and the following bridges which would be built later on to connect the two parts of the city, correspond to the stitching points of an urban “wound” in the rigid layout of the city. It is a social and economic separation between the north and the south of Santiago, some of which still remains today.

In the eyes of Verónica Ode, the bridge is not only union and at the same time separation from a horizontal point of view, between “here” and “there”, but it is so also from a vertical point of view, between “above” and “below”.

Below the Mapocho bridges, along the river bed, there are the so-called “Caletas” (creeks) where homeless people live and, in particular, street children and teenagers. The socioeconomic break in this separation between “above” and “below” is therefore deeper, and the symbolic meaning of the bridge as union/separation is even stronger.


This symbolic meaning spawns the interest – we could rather say the obsession – of the Chilean artist for bridges. This obsession leads her to photograph, among the different Mapocho bridges, also the Condell footbridge, to break the image into small pieces, put it back together and then reproduce it on unconventional supports, in particular on steel and aluminium sheets, which join the same materiality and structure of the metal bridge.


During one of her photographic sessions, Verónica Ode comes across a partially oxidized metal cap of a drink bottle by the bridge. In the eyes of the artist, the cap is not just abandoned rubbish, it is the footprint left by those who have passed from one side of the bridge to the other, from one part of the city to the other, or it is a sign of the presence of those who live, relegated, “below” that bridge.

The cap itself therefore symbolizes a “bridge”, a connection in space and time, footprint and memory of what goes on in that interstitial space.

For these reasons, the artist therefore decides to work on the object found – while seeking inspiration from the artist vanguards of the objet trouvé and the creations of Marcel Duchamp and other exponents of the Ready-Made– and to experiment the application of light-sensitive emulsions to reproduce the image of the Recalamac on the metal surface of the cap. What she gets, besides being aesthetically interesting, also creates unhoped-for effects from a symbolic point of view.


While reproducing a piece of the context where the object was found, object and context create circularity, while stressing the footprint left by the object (and by the human being that abandoned it) in the context and at the same time the footprint of the context on the object itself, since bad weather and other external factors have resulted in the oxidization of the cap and its deterioration over time.


This concept of “double footprint” is also the basis of “Eterno Cotidiano”, another project that puts abandoned urban packaging at the heart of the artistic intervention – developed in Santiago de Chile in 2017-2018 together with those who write that they turn into unconventional photographic supports and objects-memory to increase social awareness.


Moreover, from the point of view of the “artistic gesture”, the work of the artist gives a new meaning to an everyday, temporary and evanescent object, while turning it into a provocatively extraordinary and potentially everlasting work of art, as provocative form of awareness with regard to the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing. Examples of this are the Chilean riots that began on 18th October 2019, exactly close to one of the bridges of river Mapocho, in the so-called “Plaza de la Dignidad” (square renamed by the protestors, the official name is Plaza Italia).


A seemingly meaningless object like a cap, intended to become waste, when it turns into an unconventional photographic support, becomes a highly valuable and ethical work, which moves away from its nature of consumer accessory to reaffirm its mass-medium potential for social communication with an educational purpose.