Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Four times the minimalism!

Saw this little roll-a-round souvenir stand at the henequen / sisal hacienda Sotuta de Peon -- a really interesting place.

All the sisal based knick knacks were cool and we bought a couple, but what really caught my interest was the stand itself: four bicycle front forks and wheels.  About as simple as it can get.

Knew it reminded me of something.  Eventually realized what, and also who.  Bicycle Wheel, Marcel Duchamp, 1913.  DuChamp was a pioneer of minimalist art and Dada movement.  "Duchamp's insistence that art should be an expression of the mind rather than the eye or the hand spoke to Minimalists and Conceptual artists alike."

Marcel Duchamp and Bicycle Wheel:

Souvenir Seller and Push Cart with Four Bicycle Wheels:

Dada movement is associated with concept of absurdist art.
Oxymoron "Four times the minimalism!" is my own small contribution.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Green Gold

"Sisal, with the botanical name Agave sisalana, is a species of Agave native to southern Mexico... It yields a stiff fibre ... traditionally used for rope and twine ... because of its strength, durability, ability to stretch, affinity for certain dyestuffs, and resistance to deterioration in saltwater. The importance of this traditional use is diminishing with competition from polypropylene..."  -- Wikipedia

Wikipedia is not entirely right.  Agave sisalana yields a fiber called henequén.  Henequén was shipped as bales of raw fiber to international buyers, exported through a small Mexican port named Sisal.  The bales were all stamped with the port name -- so the world came to call the fiber "sisal".

Sisal is worth little today, but picture the world in the latter 19th.  Huge transportation demand due to a booming global economy.  Most international trade was on ships, which require a lot of rope.  Sisal makes terrific rope.  Sisal grew in one location in those days -- the Yucatan -- putting growers in a nice situation. A labor intensive product, but costs were kept low through a labor system that was slavery in all but name.  Sisal got the nickname "green gold", and money flowed steadily into the Yucatan.  Funded hundreds of production haciendas, and some very nice in-town homes for the owners.
Mid 20th century inventions of nylon and polypropylene essentially killed the sisal market.  Geographic monopoly was destroyed by the sale of plant stock to other countries.  What market remained was taken over by even lower cost producers, notably Brazil.  
Sisal is still a terrific organic twine, but how much does the world need?
This historic hacienda is essentially a hobby farm, kept open by a family with significant banking interests.  They are trying to find some economically viable uses for sisal to reinvigorate the sisal trade and the region.