It could be argued that Octubre en el norte: temporal del noroeste / October in the North: storm from the North-West is a video “about” Bilbao and its surroundings, as far as its format “quotes” those urban symphonies of the 1920s that portrayed turbulent metropolises like Moscow and Berlin. Although the piece seems like a complicated audiovisual collage or “photomontage”, it is organised around one axis and two images.
The images are exactly antagonistic, one being the perfect negative of the other. On the one hand there is Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum, which, at the time when this video was being shot, was still the skeleton of a predator of brutal size. Only a few kilometres from this site, there are the overwhelming excavations of the (almost mythic) mining area called Las Encartaciones. This is a site that bears witness to the virulence with which the growth of industry and the steel and iron sector, and the consequest accumulation of capital by the Basque bourgeoisie, took place during long decades. In contrast to the authoritative volume of new arquitecture and its seducing ondulations being erected, we find the gigantic hole in the ground where the mining village of Gallarta was once located.
The axis around which this piece is structured is at the same time geographic, temporal, historic and symbolic. Its thematic spine is the film that two local filmmakers, the Azkona brothers, shot in 1920 called Puerto de Bilbao (Port of Bilbao). It portrays one of the archetypal navigations through Bilbao’s Ría, from the metropolitan centre to the mouth of the Abra river, passing under the Puente Colgante (Hanging Bridge) which “joins” the Ría’s left and right banks. The same bridge “separated” the social classes, each on one side of the ría. This travelling is repeatedly interrupted by heterogeneous and sometimes unexpected material (contemporary filmings of the Ría’s area being demolished and reconstructed, archive images of labour conflicts during the de-industrialization process, music by Mikel Laboa, poems by Bertold Brecht and images by Eisenstein, interviews with film-historian Santos Zunzunegui and residents of Gallarta, the metereological observatory at Monte Igueldo) that compose, during one hour and a half, a narrative made up of fragments, that is sometimes sinuous and others interrupted. A narrative that is littered with contrasts that look to reconstruct at the level of representation the memory of both antagonism and conflict.
When this piece was produced in 1995 the transformation processes of the industrial cities, such as the area of Gran Bilbao, were still uncertain. Octubre en el norte: temporal del noroeste registers these initial changes and reminds us that the work of the historian, exactly like that of the filmmaker, is a work of montage, of editing: it entails privileging a set of images and stories to the detriment of others, in the construction of narratives which are never innocent, as they seek to intervene in the present. The technocratic and nationalist apparatus chose to privilege an identitary and “numerical” discourse. This video chooses to bring to the front, albeit problematically, the vital and affective experience and the fight of the working classes.