Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


ornamentsbuenosaires

Some of the found ornaments going up around Argentina's capital city

Buenos Aires Painting the Town With Christmas Ornaments

• December 24, 2012 • 10:42 AM

Some of the found ornaments going up around Argentina's capital city

What to do with thousands of abandoned Christmas ornaments stored in a down-and-out section of Buenos Aires? Turn them into a social science experiment, of course!

In 2001, when Argentina’s economy was near collapse and property prices plummeted, UCLA art prof Fabian Wagmister bought a 15,000-square-foot abandoned warehouse in Buenos Aires. When he finally set out to clear the remaining debris from the building last year, he uncovered more than 100,000 Christmas ornaments piled in one of the back rooms.

What to do with a trove of metallic bulbs, plastic wreaths, and bags of fake snow for a sunny Argentine Christmas?

Re-gift them, of course.

“As artists we were immediately taken by the powerful expressive potential of the materials,” says Wagmister.

Now the director of the University of California, Los Angeles’s Center for Research in Engineering, Media, and Performance (REMAP), Wagmister invited a team of ten artists, researchers, and programmers from Los Angeles to distribute the ornaments to the surrounding community as part of a social experiment  they are calling !Navilandia al Sur. ‘Navliandia’ comes from a toy company that they suspect previously inhabited the warehouse. Sur, or south, refers to the warehouse’s location within the city—a region with fewer resources than the north.

Starting on December 15, the team invited community groups to visit the warehouse, one among many lining a historically working-class district that has seen an influx of technology companies. There, the researchers have encouraged participants to develop projects that will use the ornaments to express their identities, struggles and aspirations. On December 23, the groups took to the streets and decked the halls accordingly.

“The area seems to be incredibly activated and empty at the same time, like a checkerboard,” says David Sloane, a professor of urban planning at the University of Southern California who is currently in Buenos Aires, explaining that the recent gentrification makes the area ideal for a project like this.

As the ornaments make their way throughout the city, Wagmister’s team will map their spread using a blend of low and high-tech methods. The ornaments’ specific location will first be recorded on a physical map, with Sharpie. Programmers will then scan the maps, find the coordinates for each plot point, and create a three-dimensional model of their placement throughout the city. Many bulbs will be tagged with a unique serial number and the project web address, Navilandia.org. Curious citizens who find a stray ornament weeks or months down the road can use an online web tool to look up their bulb, add new location information, and continue to develop the database.

At least 15 groups, including advocates for the homeless, members of the municipal government, cinema students, and local artists have met at the warehouse to map out a plan for the ornaments.

According to Anne Bray, a Los Angeles-based artist who is facilitating the project, tango dancers intend to use the ornaments to highlight local businesses; shanty town teenagers will decorate the railroad crossings that separate their barrio from the richer one next to them; workers from a run-down historic hospital will beautify their once-grand pavilions.

The evening of December 23, the groups painted the town red (and green and gold). By this morning, more than a hundred thousand ornaments have added splashes of color and cheer to those long stretches of gray.

Elise Hennigan
Elise Hennigan is a journalist living in Los Angeles. She has written for Juxtapoz, CNN.com, FILTER magazine, and elsewhere.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.