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.