Cabogana Garden: Racar

Multiple platitudes of soil, history and memory

Educator: Andrea Pinos
Children: Jonael, Joaquín, Alejandro, Olivia, Samara & Sander

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The Cabogana mountain is part of the Andean range that embraces the city of Cuenca. To get to Cabogana, we walk through roads that gradually rise revealing complex landscapes full of contrast that form the valley of the city. The Itinerant School works in two gardens in Cabogana: Racar and El Tejar.

Ancient villages full of tradition and memories (natural-cultural) settle on the slopes of Cabogana at the same time that urban development grows and stifles its traditional rurality. The traditional brick and tile kilns are intertwined with grocery stores, food places that mix between traditional food and fast-food, cafe-net and a huge storage for one of the main shopping centers in the city.

Clay – with its history, memory , colours and textures – is the material we come across everyday at the Cabogana Garden.
l
The soil of the Cabogana is ‘clayey’ and full of different clay colours.
Clay as the protagonist invites us to think with different temporalities.

Through a multiplicity of encounters, learnings, inquiries and questions, we create collective stories that bring us closer to place and clay.

As we establish proximity and relationships with clay, we slow down and notice details that (because we were going so fast) we didn’t see before.
This encounter with the soil creates intimate and collective inquiries, where our hands and clay are the main protagonists.
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The clay is very soft, my hands can feel it – Joaquín

It is so soft that I can make all the fingerprints I want – Nicolás

The clay forms holes when children press their fists on it. These forms invite us to think about the complexity of this material: its shapes and textures.
Clay adopts the shape of the bodies it comes into contact with.
Clay lets me put my whole hand and leave my trace on it – Samara

As this process of encountering bodies takes place, we wonder:

Where does this clay come from? – Sander

Will it have a story? – Olivia

Has anyone else worked with her? –Samara

We create stories about our contact with clay and notice its relations.
Our hands feel the textures and shapes of wet clay. Alejandro notices that the rain creates various colours in the clay. Thus we create a collective dialogue about clay’s ability to transform itself: From one day to the next, it changes its texture. We are very struck by the fact that it is the water that transforms the colours of the soil. Children become profoundly curious and attentive to the trasformative force of clay.
Clay colours are like something magical
– Olivia
This moist, sticky, soft body meets the dryness of the hand, which begins to mold itself upon contact, obtaining a new shape.

CLAY, WATER and TRANSFORMATION

We visit the forest to find out what happens to clay on a rainy day.

A collective question arises:

How is the clay today?

It’s smoother than ever, that’s because it has rained every day – Samara
It is melted by the rain – Alejandro

Rainy days help to create small pools of water infiltrating aqueous fluid into the soil. Olivia spreads wet clay on her hands and arms, noticing the changes that emerge. She notices the mutual transformative reactions.

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Look at me, I’m turning into clay, now I’m sticky like her – Olivia

A lot happens when water and clay come into contact with Olivia’s body.

Just as clay is transformed, we also transform. Clay and its earthiness seems to open the possibility for novel ways to think about relations and about ourselves.

As our hands become wetter and change colour, we are transformed.

We paint ourselves with the clay to notice how it transforms us.

I am transforming into coloured clay – Samara

The relationship between water and clay is quite complex. Not only clay changes us, but it also changes the water it touches. The water absorbs the colour of the clay with which it comes into contact.
We notice that without water the clay toughens, and that it needs water to change its state.

The stones are impregnated with clay.  When we put our hands on them we leave our trace. We can see the contrast of the clay colours on the stones. Stone marking with clay has been practiced by humans for millennia. We participate in this ancient story.

The clay is so wet, it lets me paint the stones ash-coloured – Olivia
It feels sticky – Samara

Clay invites us to create pedagogical processes that work with a different temporality: to pause, to pay attention, to wait. These processes teach us to live with the difficulties that arise in the midst of dynamic transformations.

Clay alphabet

We notice and observe how clay’s shapes, textures, and colours are always in relationship with other bodies…

Oven
Stories

We are curious about the brick and tile making oven in the garden.

These ovens are part of the history of Cabogana: a history of creation and beauty as well as of extraction and use.

Some ovens are over 80 years old and are passed down from generation to generation. The oven in the garden is not used, but its presence still catches our attention. The fact that it hasn’t been used for a long time does not take away the possibilities of stories.

If we could tell the story of the oven with the colours of clay, which ones would we use?

The colour pineapple, blueberry ring and cocoa tell the story of the brick ovens and the mountain of clay that is nearby so that they can take the clay from there to transform it into bricks in the oven — Samara

The ash colour tells the story of when the kiln stopped working, after having burned so many bricks – Jonael

The pink, cocoa, ash, crumb and white colours tell the story of when the oven was burning the bricks. Look! Here you can see the smoke coming out because they are burning. Putting the bricks in the oven is a work of art –Olivia

The crumb, reddish and cocoa colour tells the story of fire, that fire that burns the bricks in the oven – Alejandro

The ash colour and cocoa colour tell the story of the fire that comes out of the oven when the bricks are ready to be removed and sold -Sander

What memories does the oven keep?

“Remembering the oven is remembering my youth, my husband and my family” – Wilma

We create correspondence

Wilma’s visit leaves us with so many ideas and questions. We decide to write her a letter.

To find out about the multiple stories that the oven holds, we invite Wilma, Olivia’s grandmother who lives near the garden, to visit us.

Wilma helps us to go back in time… Listening to all her memories and stories of her childhood in relation to the wood oven fascinates us.

We learn that the wood oven is approximately 33 years old and is made of clay and adobe. It was built by very knowledgeable people who knew that creating a kiln and putting bricks or tiles inside is a true work of  art. This oven used to make 3000 bricks and 2000 tiles every week.
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From: The children from the Cabogana Garden
To: Wilma
Dear Wilma,
Thank you for telling us the stories of the oven. We want to invite you to our school so that you know everything we have researched about clay and why we want to continue learning from you. Could you come next Wednesday?
Postscript: Bring your food to share one morning with us. We are looking foward to your reply.

After a few days, we receive Wilma’s response. We read it together.

To: The children of the Cabogana Garden. From: Wilma
Dear children of the Cabogana Garden and dear aunts,
Thank you very much for your invitation, it is an honour to be with you on Wednesday.
I will be there from 10 am.
I love you very much,
Wilma

We create new questions for when Wilma visits us for a second time.

Why doesn’t Olivia’s Aunt want to make the oven run? Why does she say that it is a work of art to place the bricks in the oven? How many horses did they have? Did the horses have names? Was it a kiln to burn bricks or was something else burned, like food? Why is so much smoke coming out of the oven? Can you tell us with these bricks, how they were placed to burn them?

Wilma thoroughly engages with our questions during her visit.

We share our story about clay with Wilma.

It is a moment of reciprocity, where Wilma learns about our processes and we are left with all her memories.

Creating
stories by
the oven

We think together about how we could build wood-burning oven.

If we make large bricks we could build it – Joaquín

We could make long clay bricks – Alejandro y Olivia

I think it would be better to do mud bricks – Samara

It will not be easy to build an oven, it will take us a long time – Sander

I think that if we build an oven, there must be a lot of wood nearby – Olivia

We decide to return to the oven and carefully observe its construction.
We pay careful attention to its roof, shape, color and everything that is near it.

Our visits to the oven become more constant, and our attention to everything about and near the oven increases.

Where did those adobes come from? They could be used to build our oven – Sander

How can we leave stories
to the oven?

As with the clay and its colours, the oven is a holder of memory. Children approach the oven in profoundly dialogical ways, creating a stories back and forth. The oven is a companion and protagonist of the stories that are being created.

The children are interested in exchanging stories with the oven – in the same way they share stories with Wilma:

The oven can listen, the oven keeps memories of those who visit it – Olivia

The oven has stories in it
— Sander

The oven, inside it, has stories of grannies, because they are part of the oven’s past – Sander

The oven is sucking up stories from us, just like a vacuum cleaner – Sander

I think we can leave stories in the oven by writing letters like we did with clay – Olivia

Olivia and Sander draw pictures for the oven, expressing their appreciation for the many stories it shared with us.

Alejandro reads his letter to the oven.

“Oven, thank you for receiving us.”

We can throw them through the mouth of the oven, so the oven will know they are ours –Sander

We can bury them under it – Olivia

We can stick them on top of its bricks – Samara

Another query emerges: How might the oven receive our stories?

As a way of re-encountering the letters, the children read them to each other:

Oven you are more beautiful. I love you very much – Samara

Thank you oven for telling me stories – Sander

Thank you oven for having told me stories about my aunt and my grandmother – Olivia

Thank you oven for joining us with you – Joaquín

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To extend our intimate dialogue with the oven, we write another letter to Wilma and Vero. 

Dear Wilma,
Good morning. We hope you are doing well.
We write this letter to ask you when can you take us for a walk to the brickyards. We could go on Wednesday or Friday.
We look foward to your reply.
Postscript: A colorful and buttery bear hug.

– – – – – – –

Dear Vero (Olivia’s aunt):
Since Wilma has been telling us about the oven, we wonder what stories and memories the oven keeps?
Postscript: We send you photos so you can see the oven inside and out, and a photo of us so that you know who we are.

Sincerely, Andrea, Kari, Olivia, Samara, Joaquín, Sander, Nicolás and Alejandro.

We receive correspondence

Vero replies to our letter. We are so intrigued that before reading it, we want to collectively imagine the many stories and memories that the letter contains. We also return to the letter that we sent to Vero to remind us what we had written.

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Hello Andrea, Kari, Oli, Samara, Joaquín, Sander, Nicolás and Alejandro.

What a pleasure to hear from you and to meet some of you with the beautiful photo that Aunt Andrea sent me.

It captivates me to know that the old oven is of your interest, it is a very special piece / part for me. When I was your age, that is to say, a looooong time ago, the oven was a magical place. 

Back then, with another oven we spent long hours talking, threshing cob corn and telling jokes in the heat of the oven that baked tiles and bricks. Other times, asking permission from Oli’s grandmother, my mother, we went to collect wood, branches and leaves to help in the burning of the oven. For me, the oven is a memory of smiles, warmth, games and work. Although the oven is old, its presence when arriving at “the Lirio”  makes me remember of happy things, of stories, of memories. In addition, now this type of oven is no longer very common since there are other faster ways of making tiles and bricks, so it is possible that in a short time no more traditional ovens will be made and with that the knowledge of how to do an oven can be lost. There is risk of losing important things in the history of Cuenca.

Sometimes we think that only new, shiny and clean things are worth it. It seems to me that there are things that although they do not look like that, are important to keep memories alive.  Also to remind us of how things were before and to be thankful for what we have now. Be good, and help me take care of the oven. I hope one day I can tell you what I use to do in the oven when I was little or read a story to you.

I send you all lots of love from Australia and a big hug.
Vero (Olivia’s aunt)

Together, we decide to respond to Vero’s letter, but this time through drawings. We draw our individual memories from our encounters with the oven.

Drawing is a language that creates relationships and allows us to continue the desire to tell stories that nourish relations where the past is re-enacted in the imaginative present that is been drawn. 

Aunt Vero when reading your letter I imagined when you went to the forest to collect wood and leaves to light the oven.

– Olivia

Vero, I want to tell you how we are going to take care of your oven: – visiting it – cleaning up the trash – remembering it. – Nicolás

Vero, when I read your letter I imagined how you were shelling the corn around the oven, laughing and telling jokes. -Samara

Vero, it was nice to know that the oven reminds you of your childhood and that even though it is old it keeps many memories and stories. –Andrea

Vero, you told us that the oven is magical and I wanted to draw and paint it like that. It has trees and flowers around it that grow and become more beautiful near the oven, so it’s magical. —Sander

Vero, this drawing reminds me when you were a child and your brothers and sisters would gather around the oven shelling corn. – Karina

Our dialogue with Vero reminds us that not only what is new is synonymous of functionality, since old things can be too. Imagining how Vero’s childhood was in relation to the oven allows a connection with the past, interrupting the idea of ​the new.

Ancient oven – Sander
I drew the spiderwebs.
The very big mouth of the oven. Smoke coming out of the oven. Large bricks that have already been burned
.
Ancient Oven – Olivia
It has spiderwebs and plants.
Its roof is made of tiles
.
Ancient Oven – Nicolás
Brown and white colour.
It has a wooden door.

New Oven
Green colour. Open door. Smoke. Pointed roof
In the midst of these correspondences and encounters, the children also imagine different oven designs that weave connections between the past, the present and the future:
Ancient Oven – Joaquín
It is made of bricks. I imagined that the oven was working so there is fire and smoke.
New Oven – Joaquín
Made of very large adobes.
It has a rectangular shape.
It is an oven that no longer has smoke
.
Ancient Oven
The mouth of the oven is very large. Orange roof tiles. Black roof tiles from smoke. Oven made of bricks.
New Oven
There is fire because the oven is on. There are new tiles. There is a hole in the ceiling for the smoke to come out so the ceiling will no longer burn.
Playfully, we write and draw speculative stories about how Rosita and Vero meet in the past.

Where do Vero’s and Rosita’s stories find each other?

Vero and Rosita lived in Cabogana and collected firewood in the forest to light the oven – Samara
They are both women who tell us stories about their oven – Sander
Their stories are in Cabogana – Olivia
We are giving life to my aunt’s oven, visiting it – Olivia
The story of Vero and Rosita meets the story of my grandmother, because she also had a brickyard like them – Sander
In both stories the oven is a symbol of union, laughter and joy – Samara

Where do Vero’s and Rosita’s stories split? What do we notice in Rosita’s story that we cannot find in Vero’s?

Although Vero and Rosita collected wood to light the oven, Rosita also had to go to the river for water so that she could cook … Rosita and Vero wear different clothes, Rosita wears a traditional skirt, called “pollera”, blouses and braids her hair – Olivia

Rosita wears her “pollera” to go to the parties in her neighborhood – Samara

In Rosita’s story the dogs were the ones who helped grind the clay, while in Vero’s the horses did it – Sander

Rosita worked in the brickyard with her parents making bricks – Samara

We also tell Vero’s and Rosita’s story in the future.

The Tale of Rosita and Vero

One day Vero and Rosita meet themselves in Cabogana collecting wood to light the oven. Vero greeted Rosita. “Good morning,” Vero said to her. “Hello, what’s your name?” answered Rosita.
Rosita asked her, “What are you doing here?” Vero said, “I collect wood to light the oven.” Rosita was surprised that another girl had an oven like hers.
Later, Rosita tells her that she had to go to the river to collect water and Vero tells her that she can go with her and together they went to the river.
The children tell and retell stories that imagine and reimagine possible futures.

Our year in the Cabogana garden culminates in the midst of rich, multiple and thick storytelling that offers a polyphony of agentic voices. These voices intermingle in the making of a place that is profoundly collective and animated by encounters that are beyond the normative dichotomies often present in our relations with place and history.