THE “SOTO SPHERE”. The “Utopia of the Possible”

Beatrice Sansó de Ramírez.

The people of Venezuela are searching for a utopia. We want to find our identity and extract from it elements of the beautiful, genuine, profound, intelligent and unique of each of us, to share it among everyone. This has always been the case, but now, it’s a matter of urgency.

In the year 2004, when we envisaged PDVSA LA ESTANCIA, where I stayed until the early months of 2015, when we conceived of it in our minds, but, above all, in our spirit, we only had to hand a house and a large garden, which were mostly used for corporate events. So, we set out to make reality that which seemed unattainable.

From the beginning, we talked of the house as a space open to people without discrimination or limit, and of environments that received up to a million people a year enjoying culture in all its manifestations. Later, we spoke of art and the recovery of public spaces, returned to citizens as an integral part of their daily lives.

In this way we started a tireless and efficient management of ​​urban areas; a restoration and enhancement of cultural assets and heritage, which spread through our country like wildfire and organised more than 2000 annual cultural activities and 100 projects in an 8 year period. All our undertakings and activities were developed under three fundamental premises: continuity, free access to enjoy and the highest quality.

As of today, we want to tell and share with everyone the development of a project called PDVSA LA ESTANCIA, which managed to excite many young people, professionals, technicians, artists, and all Venezuelans. It generated trust, was admired and resulted in formative work, and it was, above all, necessary for our cities and unprecedented in the country.

So, what comes to us today, above all through social networks, chat groups and the hundreds of photos of the “Soto Sphere”, of our sphere, the beautiful sphere, the sphere of Caracas, also called the “Solar Sphere” because of its brightness and chromatic intensity, a sphere which is appreciated during the day and which shines at night thanks to the led lighting that we incorporated to enhance it; all this confirms that the effort of so many years of work at the head of PDVSA LA ESTANCIA to make a “utopia become possible”, was worth it.

The Sphere of Caracas, popularly known as the “Soto Sphere”, the first of the projects we will talk about in this venue, once the symbol of the city, destroyed and abandoned, which remained forlorn for many years, was our first foray into the restoration of an urban work of art and the rehabilitation of its surrounding public space.

It was the year 2006, the year after the death of our great master of Kineticism, Jesús Soto, hand in hand with the foundation that bears and honours his name and with the full confidence of his daughter Isabel, who was included in the project, and accompanied by an extraordinary team, that we worked hard to return the intense orange colour and undulating movement to this icon of Caracas. The Sphere as such, had practically ceased to exist. It only existed in the memory of some and remained physically through the few wires that were hanging from its isolated body.

We built each and every one of its rods and reinforced the huge, 12-metre structure that forms its portico. We restored and added, among other things: safety features, new garden design and a modern lighting system that’s ecological and saves money. All this, thanks to the unique possibility of allocating a part of oil revenue to the quality of life of Venezuelans, as is instructed in Article 5 of the Organic Law on Hydrocarbons.

Four years after this restoration, we carried out its first great maintenance work and four years later, we relocated it, which was necessary due to the construction of the new La Carlota Bridge, on the Francisco Fajardo Highway. With this we took the opportunity to give it a 360-degree view, update its electrical systems and security, renew its garden design, make a water pump for irrigation, build a special service area, dig a deep trench for its placement (this was a very complex process) and, most importantly, build replicas of each and every one of the 1800 aluminium rods that it’s made up of using the finest materials.

Thus, in a work of artistic archaeology with the use of state-of-the-art technology, we produced as many bars as originally made up the work of art. They were identified one by one with serial numbers, and aimed to avoid a future major reconstruction and facilitate the express substitution of bars which, due to movement, the passage of time, adverse weather conditions or any possible criminal action, would need replacement.

Each restoration was accompanied by outreach work and an explanation of the project to promote a sense of identity and attachment in citizens, and as such, to encourage everyone to care for and protect the artwork. We could have carried out the different maintenance works and the two restorations in the Taller Soto workshop, but it was necessary, although it was more complicated, to do them “in situ” with the proper explanations of the project in large visible placards. This aimed to generate the interest and curiosity of passers-by, who would be not only citizens of the capital, but also those who crossed the city to move from the west to the east of our beloved country. It was like creating a “cultural and civic open classroom”, because it was a pleasure to pass by and stop a moment to identify the work of experts, who more than artists or engineers, looked like bands of circus acrobats hanging from wires like characters in the story of Gulliver, climbing to create the colour, light and movement of our Great Sphere of Caracas.

The Sphere was from then on the starting point of our work in public space, urban rehabilitation, enhancement of our heritage, and restoration and recovery of tangible and intangible cultural assets. We would carry on to execute more than 100 projects throughout the country, all of them requested by the community and the city, based on serious and specialised assessments. We never improvise in our work, in order to guarantee the quality that characterises it.

We were enticed by the idea of ​​being able to generate quality of life for Venezuelans through cultural events. We were and continue to be convinced that culture, and even more so, culture in the public space, are a true antidote to the scourges of insecurity, drugs and unproductive leisure that afflict large cities.

The Soto Sphere, that large scale urban artwork, is today a landmark of our city, but more than that, it is the expression of a beautiful Venezuelan feeling, which, now more than ever, flourishes above all in our young people. It is the materialisation of the dream of a possible Venezuela, the one we all want, the one we all desire, the one we know we can achieve. Nowadays, it has become a backdrop, or rather, the protagonist of our important moments of transcendence: the celebration of a wedding or a graduation, a marriage proposal, a meeting of school classes and groups, the images and moments to remember of those who advertise their designs and their photos. It is the classic photo of those who leave the country or find it again.

The Sphere timidly became what it is today, and of this there is no doubt: the icon of Caracas. With its gift of ubiquity, like our mountain ¨El Avila¨ or ¨Waraira Repano¨ in its indigenous name, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when we conjure up images of our beautiful city.

It’s a whirlwind of beauty, which reflects the many different city images. It is the city, its omnipresence stands out in the green expanse of its space where it appears as a witness to the daily life of Caracas-dwellers, witness to their moods and their plans.

The Sphere is Caracas, Caracas is the Sphere! They recognise each other, because it reflects, like Caracas, light where there is light, kinetics where there is movement, colour where there are shades. It is the meeting point between the east and the west, between the different stages and styles of the capital, it is the common link between Venezuelans, it represents us without distinction, without social, economic, political or intellectual differences. We all love it.

Therefore, it is worth asking what phenomenon the Sphere implies and has generated among citizens. The answer is in the fact that it emits the love that was put into its design, the bohemian and musical soul of its creator, the care taken in its restoration, assembly and maintenance, the respect for details. The Sphere then, with the strength of the Orinoco River whose waters saw Maestro Soto grow, makes tangible with its colour and movement “the utopia of the possible”, of the cosmopolitan Caracas that deserves to wake up in a Venezuela that’s great, strong and present in the world, precisely for its virtues and unique qualities. With this in mind, we gave this latest restoration as a Christmas gift to Caracas on 23rd of December 2014 in front of an excited crowd.

However, these notes are also a call for its protection and its maintenance. Because a project of such nature is not the result of a simple action, it is the conjunction of the effort of many, the technical and artistic expression of experts and creators, the perfect combination of fine materials and advanced engineering.

It is a work that is exposed to the open air, next to the Eastern Highway, through which thousands of vehicles pass daily, subject to inclement sun, rain, wind, pollution. Its maximum and permanent monitoring is essential.

The Sphere also represents the recognition of a concept shared by our great Masters of Kineticism: taking art out of museums and private contemplation, to put it in the street, in public spaces, where it combines with the environment, has a positive impact and allows the city-dweller to access creativity; art available to everyone. This was a strategic line of action in our management, which would later translate into large restoration projects and replicas of works of art that have made Caracas the largest outdoor kinetic art exhibition through two of our other projects, Plaza Venezuela and Sabana Grande Boulevard, which complement the University City, an example of the great movement of integration of art into pubic space, of which it was a pioneer and for which it was declared a World Heritage Site.

I call then for its care and its maintenance, to achieve over it a control that makes it sustainable. Although without this making it inaccessible to all. More important than the work of restoration and enhancement of heritage, is the constant and detailed maintenance of the spaces and works.

If the Sphere deteriorates, the optimism that it transmits, its light, movement and colour, will be overshadowed by a sensation that the generations that inspired it, and all subsequent ones, do not want to bet on. I call the attention of communities, of young people, of social organisations so that the Sphere is not only the symbol of our photos, but the element of struggle that’s common to all. Because the enhancement, restoration and conservation of cultural heritage is an instrument to restore the essence and spirituality of all that’s positive about Venezuela.

Beatrice Sansó de Ramírez

Written by

Abog. SummaCumLaude. Doct. en Dcho. Prof. UCAB-UCV. NYU Cities and Urban Development. Pdte PDVSALaEstancia 8 años: arte y espacio público, social, cultural.

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