EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH WRITER & CABANYAL RESIDENT FELIP BENS
What is the concept and philosophy of ‘HOUSES from El Cabanyal’?
The first edition of the book came out in 2007, in the middle of the harassment of the city council of Valencia, with Rita Barberà at the head… to promote the extension of the Blasco Ibáñez Avenue. With it, came the threat of destruction of the central part of the Cabanyal… with the social problems that this represented for thousands of residents and also with the destruction of a singular architectural heritage that was still little valued, at that time.
It was a long time ago that Joan Víctor Pascual and I had a dream: to catalogue all the houses of “taulellets”, which are the most striking symbol of the popular modernism of Cabanyal. With this we wanted, in the first place, to provide an historical memory of sorts: to leave a record of this heritage so that history could judge those who tried to make it disappear; secondly, we wanted to alert beyond our borders, in the field of art, architecture and urbanism, about what was happening in Cabanyal, about what was at stake. Thus, the book reached corners all over the world and became a very effective instrument to claim the preservation of Cabanyal’s heritage, both locally and globally.
Can you tell us something about yourself as a writer, journalist and resident of Cabanyal?
I felt that I owed this book to the Cabanyal, which is my village and that, in one way or another; it is omnipresent in all my work, fiction or essays. I felt that I could contribute my grain of sand to a “Cabanyal sancer i viu”. I spoke to Joan Víctor Pascual and we got down to work. It was a complex, difficult and risky project, especially from a financial point of view. However, the book has been a success and the third edition is about to be sold out, with thousands and thousands of copies sold.
Can you say something about the photographers of the book?
In the first edition (2007) the (analogue) photos were taken by Anna Fornes and Rosario Faet. They did a magnificent job, both from a technical and documentary point of view. It must be taken into account that many photos were high risk, near the houses of drug traffickers who threatened or tried to attack them. Already in the 2nd edition (2013) and the 3rd (2015) Germán Caballero was the photographer. He updated all the material, with a more artistic rather than documental approach and in digital format too. The book is alive. On the original basis, new views always emerge. I have the hope that soon we will approach the 4th edition and offer different angles regarding the identity of Cabanyal.
What do the different collaborators contribute to the book?
They are essential. They increase its graphic power, which is a lot, since, from different points of view, they offer a context to the cases of “taulellets” and the heritage of Cabanyal. Apart from the introduction by Joan V. Pascual and myself, Sergi Tarín offers a panoramic view of the conflict that has hit El Cabanyal; Jaume Chornet and Vicente Gallart write from an artistic and urbanistic perspective; Joaquim Díez discovered the industrial and civil heritage of Cabanyal, a complement to the houses; and Pep Martorell outlines the unavoidable seafaring identity of the town.
How do you see the future of the neighbourhood?
With some disappointment. It has been decades of constant siege and also neglect, many people have suffered and the vast majority of the residents celebrated the political change in May 2015 in the hope that it would represent a radical change and that the new rulers would be able to tackle the great challenges of the future.
Some remarkable things have been done, but too few in all respects. Even the new plan is unworthy of a government that, for 24 years in opposition, promised to preserve and rehabilitate the Cabanyal and to stop degradation and crime. They have not even been able to prevent speculation by vulture funds. Six years later, from the patrimonial point of view, not even a cataloguing and protection plan has been devised.
Where can readers buy the book?
In any bookstore and also via https://www.drassana.net/product-page/houses-from-el-cabanyal …From this link, the publisher sends it in 48 hours without extra costs.
Interview by Will McCarthy
Article copyright 24/7 Valencia