Margin of Error

2013. Installation comprising videos, wood and books


Margin of error delves into Spain’s colonial past and present through a critical approach to consolidated accounts of the “Discovery and Colonisation of America”, as they are reflected in school textbooks. This work is the result of a series of collective exercises conducted with a group of students and teachers of Spanish Secondary Education, carried out over three days at a film set and recorded on video.

Students took part in two types of activities. These included, on the one hand, exercises aimed at unearthing ideas and depictions buried in the subconscious by provoking situations in which notions and concepts seldom dealt with when teaching such subjects (e.g., genocide or exploitation) were discussed; and on the other, more regimented exercises in which students were instructed to carry out specific acts of memorisation and staging, both important tools in learning about and representing the past. In Chance, students make a teetotum spin until it drops, revealing the concept that must be defined on its upper face when it falls. Conquest, slavery and evangelism are some examples of topics that spark debate between the group’s more conservative and critical constituents. In Debate, these discussions are transposed to a contemporary framework, thus expanding the debate with connections to work regimes, nationalism and globalisation, or the question of historic compensation and colonial reparation. In Textbooks, students are divided into three tables with three sets of books depicting Spain’s colonisation of America: books from Franco’s era, current publications from various Latin American countries and former Spanish colonies, and textbooks used today across Spain’s different autonomous regions. Each table was asked to search for and compare references, representations and mentions of traditional rubrics under which colonial history is studied; the results illustrate the different perspectives that history is written from, and the power held by publishing companies when defining a hegemonic version. In parallel with this, students were instructed to freely hack the books: cut-outs, drawings and blacked-out pages resulted from this experience. Tableau Vivant goes even further, dealing with staging and re-enactment. Participants were asked to represent, as if in a painting, the scene of “Columbus’ disembarkation in America”. After collectively composing the image, each student had to say what character and action they were representing. They then moved to a nearby space and imagined an alternative character. Each student mapped this new space by moving through it and reciting each of the alternative characters their peers had chosen. The initial scene was thus animated by the different acts imagined by the students, opening up lines of flight and reinterpretation of a unilateral visual history of the disembarkation. Finally, Memory 1 features the recitation of a textual assemblage based on excerpts from Rigoberta Menchú (1982) and Bartolomé de las Casas (1542), which merges into a temporal confusion revealing the prevalent colonial violence. Memory 2 shows three participants reciting the poem Colonial Girls’ School by Jamaican poet Olive Senior. The students struggle to remember it, writing crib notes on their arms and hands, thus giving another layer of meaning to the poem’s account of colonial academic discipline. Memory 3 shows another three participants trying to memorise a textbook’s publishing information. Overall, the triptych explores and questions memory as an educational tool and as the foundation of history, and how the violence running through both aspects leaves its mark on body.

The audiovisual production is presented in a fragmented structure, through a series of video projections, which articulate the space alongside various panels featuring school textbooks and other educational materials from Spain and Latin American countries, both current and past. In addition to being the vehicle for transmission of these narratives, textbooks are the spearhead of Spain’s publishing sector, with a market reaching many of the former Spanish-speaking colonies. The result is an experimental, non-linear narrative which, on the one hand, seeks to question both a particular view of history as the “truth” and the role played by language and images in reinforcing this view, while also introducing new poetics and narratives critical of Spain’s colonial past and present official version. The exercise thus identifies the mechanisms used to produce History, and signals the different strategies of complicity and dissemination found in the education system.

>> Production credits of Margin of Error

>> Press kit and images


Presentation | Fundació Antoni Tàpies
20 Nov 2013, 19h

Exhibition at Tasneem Gallery | Opening 22 Nov 2013, 19h 30
22 Nov 2013 – 28 Feb 2014

Seminars and Conferences | The new abduction of Europe, Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid
27 Feb 2014 – 01 Mar 2014

Collective Exhibition | Be virus, my friend!, Inéditos, Casa Encendida, Madrid
22 May 2014 – 07 Sep 2014

Colective Exhibition | Colonia Apócrifa, Musac, León
21 Jun 2014 – 06 Ene 2015

Solo Exhibition | Until lions have their own historians…, Matadero Madrid
24 Oct 2014 – Ene 2015