I recently had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the artist Jerónimo Rüedi, who came to visit me at City Lights one afternoon looking for book donations for Biblioteca Aeromoto, a public library he and three friends Maru Calva, Mauricio Marcín, and Macarena Hernandez started in Mexico City in 2015. Beginning as a way to provide residents with access to art books, generally highly priced and only available from museum stores in Mexico, Aeromoto has evolved into a more generalized library of critical thinking—encompassing everything from philosophy to architecture to poetry—serving roughly 350 people a month in a city where such materials are often hard to come by. Inevitably it’s also become a venue, hosting readings and other events oriented around local journals and other outlets devoted to printed matter. The library has had some success attracting grants for book purchases from such organizations as Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo (PAC) and Fundación Jumex, though most operational expenses still come out of the founders’ own pockets, assisted by donors from around the world. Following Jerónimo’s visit to City Lights, where I was able to load him up with some poetry and political titles slightly faded from the sun after a stint in our window displays, I proposed conducting a short interview to publicize the impressively selfless efforts the Aeromoto group is contributing to their community and to tell people where they might donate to the cause. Between our fourth and fifth questions, however, Mexico City and the surrounding regions were hit with a massive earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the moment magnitude scale for seismic events and killing at least 361 people. Aeromoto fortunately survived the event relatively unscathed, but the city has a long road to recovery ahead, making spaces like this DIY library all the more precious. I hope you’ll consider making a donation to Aeromoto at this critical time.
Garrett Caples: Tell me a little about Aeromoto. What is it, who’s behind it, and what was the impetus for starting such an institution?
Jerónimo Rüedi: Aeromoto is a non-profit community library that specializes in contemporary culture. We offer free access to our archive and we also host weekly events that revolve around printed matter, including lectures, poetry readings, roundtables, performances, workshops, and presentations. It’s a space for sharing ideas, detached from commercial exchange.
It started in a very casual way: Four years ago, while living in Berlin, I was doing an art residency in Mexico City and was staying with my friends Maru Calva and Mauricio Marcín. Maru is a musician and book designer and Mauricio is an editor, writer, and curator. At that time they had this vague idea of giving public access to their private book collection, which I found very exciting. We started talking about it every night after work and that’s how the idea began taking shape. The concept was a simple one: we would rent a space, put our books together, and open it to the public. We were interested in seeing what kind of social dynamics this gesture could bring about. I mean, opening a space in the city that is inviting you to see and do stuff but is not trying to sell you anything. It was some sort of anti-capital social experiment around books. After one year I moved to Mexico to start working on it. It was then when Macarena Hernandez (an editor and art historian who was working with Mauricio at that time) joined us.
I guess you could use the word institution to refer to it now, but back then we wouldn’t have dared to think about it that way. It was (and still is) more of a playful idea. Our program changes depending on the community needs. Although we do organize a yearly program to which we invite institutions and individuals we’re interested in collaborating with, most of the events that occur in the space on a weekly basis are proposed by third parties: artists, poets, researchers, teachers, etc., who are in need of a platform/space to share whatever they have in mind.
Garrett: Looking at various accounts of Aeromoto online, I get the impression that public libraries are somewhat rare in Mexico; is this, in fact, the case and do you see Aeromoto as filling a need that in the U.S. is more often fulfilled by local government? Or is this more of a specialized art space?
Jerónimo: To be honest, I don’t know very well what the specific situation is regarding government-funded public libraries in the USA. Aeromoto is a local response to a series of local problems: Low reading rates, government cutbacks in culture and education, and university libraries impoverished and outdated as a consequence of it.
But on the other hand I do believe that our existence addresses issues that are more global. Issues that Mexico shares with any other contemporary city: the growing dehumanization of urban areas and the lack of alternative spaces for discussion and learning. Education systems are becoming increasingly elitist all over the world, and the promotion of critical thinking is being systematically expelled from school programs (see the recent elimination of philosophy in colleges in Europe and many countries across America). Faced with this dystopic totalitarian situation we have no choice but to self-organize and self-manage spaces that compensate for this general tendency.
I believe that, in the purely situationist sense of its proposal, Aeromoto could be replicated and be useful in any city. There is a lack of spaces that create a parenthesis in the frantic time of production and consumption. Urban planning does not usually leave places to stop, listen to each other, communicate, or engage in other playful activities that, in our view, are precisely what make us human. Maybe I’m beating around the bush haha… OK, answering now the second part of your question: at first Aeromoto was raised as a shelter for art publications, which was mostly what made up our collection at the time. And in a sense it remains so, but as soon as you begin using a more horizontal scheme in which third parties propose contents, you inevitably open to new ramifications for the archive. There are new sections and others that have grown a lot since we opened. Cinema, photography, architecture and urbanism, new media, poetry, alternative pedagogies, performing arts… Perhaps that is why we went from labeling ourselves as a “library specializing in contemporary art” to “contemporary culture,” which is a more inclusive term and more open to the ever changing needs of our users.
Garrett: Who are the primary users of Aeromoto? Are they people native to Mexico City or part of the expatriate scene? Are they mostly artists or from all walks of life?
Jerónimo: Most of the people who frequent the library come from the art and cultural scene. Students, academics, artists, curators, researchers, designers, poets, writers, publishers, etcetera. People from other spheres visit us too, although perhaps not as many as we imagined in our initial utopian vision. Over time you come to terms with the fact that books are not a sexy idea for 100% of the population and learn to live with it…
Regarding the local/expat scene: when we started, our users were mainly locals, but over time our public has become more heterogeneous. As I see it, our public becomes more diverse as the cultural scene in the city becomes more cosmopolitan, which has been happening consistently in recent years. Since last year, it began to happen more frequently that newcomers visit us because they heard about us back in their own countries. Probably our Kickstarter campaign also had to do with that, since it was backed by Art Basel and had quite an international repercussion.
Garrett: Speaking of that, tell us a bit about how Aeromoto survives financially; how do you make it all work and who are your primary benefactors?
Jerónimo: Our collection is nourished thanks to the joint effort of agents involved in the editorial scene. We receive donations every month from artists institutions and publishing houses, both from Mexico and abroad. In addition, to finance our book acquisition programs, we have been given grants by institutions such as Fundacion Jumex, the Patronage of Contemporary Art (PAC), and BBVA Bancomer. In this sense, the library is supported by the community, but regarding the monthly expenses (rent, staff, supplies) the space is still maintained entirely by the efforts of its four founding members. Last year we ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds and ensure our existence for the next year and was a success. A fair percentage of donations came from abroad, mainly from the U.S. and Europe. We have recently opened a profile on the website Patreon to receive monthly donations and therefore ensure the continuity of this project, whose fragility lies precisely in the economic difficulty of keeping it open.
Garrett: How has the recent earthquake affected Aeromoto? I imagine it’s hectic down there. Did the library survive intact? Are you able to carry on in the wake of this disaster?
Jerónimo: Thanks for asking! We are all good and Aeromoto is still standing!
As you say, everything is quite chaotic right now; there has been poor management of the catastrophe by the government, so citizen-organization has been crucial for the rescue, provision of shelter and supplies to the victims, and in general the management of the earthquake’s aftermath…
Little by little the city rises but much more remains to be done. In Mexico City alone, there are thousands of buildings with severe structural damage that will require immediate action and a serious investment, which I don’t think the government is willing to address. As for how it has affected Aeromoto, I imagine that same way as the majority of population. Today it’s been a week since it happened and we have not opened our doors since day one. Like thousands of other citizens, we have been busy with the management of the disaster. It is curious that this event happened just before the end of this interview, as towards the beginning, I was talking about Aeromoto being a local response to local problems, and said that where the state fails, our only option is self-organization. Creating independent cells that operate horizontally and with a different value system than the one they impose to us… Well here we are. Witnessing how a city rises from its ruins without more resources than the solidarity and self-organization of its inhabitants. Pure decentralized citizen management. I, as the only foreigner of this organization, continue to attend wordlessly to the touching union of the Mexican people in the face of tragedy. And it makes me think that, after all, maybe there is more humanity in humans than we usually tend to think.