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Disused power plant in Argentina transformed into art hub

BUENOS AIRES--An abandoned power plant in Buenos Aires dating back to the early 20th century has been transformed into a cultural center, a key part of plans to revitalize the “poor” south of Argentina's capital.

The old brick factory topped with a giant tower, built by the Italian-Argentine electricity company from 1914 to 1916 by Italian architect Giovanni Chiogna, had been nearly forgotten along the highway to La Plata.

Now, in the middle of the working class La Boca district, not far from the famed “La Bombonera” stadium where the Boca Juniors club play, the so-called “Art Factory” (Usina del Arte) is gleaming and attracting new attention.

Beams of light high in the sky installed by Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda symbolize the hope for the renaissance of the area, thanks to the new center dedicated to music, theater, dance and art, which opened its doors last week.

“This brings hope to the south of Buenos Aires, which suffered from decades of abandon,” said the city's mayor Mauricio Macri.

“The entire government wants to leave the center of town and move to the south,” he said, hoping that eventually, a better north-south balance will be struck in terms of the city's development.

Most of the chic residential areas in Buenos Aires are in the north of town, while the poor have been left to inhabit the south of the capital.

The effort to revitalize the city is based in part on the creation or renovation of a series of museums and art spaces, such as the Proa Foundation in La Boca or the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art in neighboring San Telmo.

The city's culture secretary Hernan Lombardi said the grand entrance of the Usina del Arte “is something like the Tate Modern in London, but we will not only showcase the visual arts.”

'Art as integration'

He told AFP that he was betting on the “gentrification” of the area in the coming years, as the new attractions help boost the neighborhood's fortunes.

“The management style will be key,” he said.

A total of 120 million pesos (US$26.9 million) have been poured into the Usina del Arte project, and organizers want a system under which art director Ricardo Szwarcer will be able to work freely and efficiently.

The 64-year-old Szwarcer, an Argentine who previously served as the artistic director of the Opera de Lille, seems happy to have come home to work on such an ambitious initiative.

“This is a 21st century cultural center — a place that is changing, a multifaceted project open to all disciplines, that is irreverent and without prejudices,” he said. “We'll have all kinds of music, including electronica.”

“One of our goals is to safeguard local traditions like the 'fileteado,'” he said, referring to a type of artistic drawing created in Buenos Aires a century ago and which has now become an emblematic art form for the capital.

The Usina del Arte will host programs that try to attract residents from lower-income neighborhoods.

Just behind Szwarcer are a group of children hanging from a rather high window, sparking general surprise to all around them.

They are experiencing “The Building,” an installation by Argentine artist Leandro Erlich, which features the facade of an old Buenos Aires building on the floor that is then reflected in trompe-l'oeil style in a mirror on a wall.

“All of my work has some element of participation — art as a means of integration,” said Erlich, 39.

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The facade of a typical old house of Buenos Aires is reflected on a mirror on a wall, top, through a series of reflections on the installation of artist Leandro Erlich, at the new ...

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