DR. ATL’S ‘OLINKA’. Notes towards a film – 2012


Dr Atl’s ‘Olinka’

Notes Towards a Film – 2012

(Film shot in Juarez, Mexico and shown at the Tamayo Museum, Mexico City Dec. 2012)


He was Thunderstorm before he was Water, Orage before Atl, and the former seems to fit better with his lifelong interest in great and destructive natural events.  Pro-Nazi and anti-semitic he could have been a Stormtrooper.  Can he be forgiven?  Can we take anything he did, anything he proposed, as worth our time to consider?  Possibly.  He certainly displayed extreme changes in outlook and attitude throughout his long life.


I first came to know of Atl (the Dr. bit was self conferred) many years ago through my interest in the Mexican muralists.  Atl became a bit of a hero of mine.  It’s a great story.  He sets out to change Mexican art forever – to throw off the ‘culture cringe’ that Mexicans had with regard to all things Spanish.  He teaches a course on mural painting at the San Carlos Academy, strongly influences the student Orozco, calls for the government to make walls available, (if we can’t show in the galleries we’ll use the walls) goes to Paris to persuade Rivera to come home and join the ‘movement’.  There’s more than a hint of myth in all of this.  Nevertheless, as the newspaper editor said, ‘If the facts get in the way of the myth – print the myth’.


But Olinka? Now there’s a thing, except he never really defined it; an open air museum in Chapultepec Park, an ‘inconceivably tall, cylindrical tower full of artists and scientists’ along with a total, Haussmann-like, redesign of central Mexico City (impossible he said without a Dictator, which he was all for) and, finally, four places each of which could, on reflection, be described as a ‘pueblo magico’.


Chapultepec, ‘at the grass-hopper hill’, on which is the castle where the Government used to sit, set in a vast park which could claim to be one of the largest urban parks anywhere and now one of the vital lungs of one of the most densely populated and dysfunctional cities anywhere.  Archaeology reveals evidence of links to Teotihuacan and much other ancient relics.


Tepoztlan, the ‘place of broken rocks’, not only a contemporary ‘pueblo magico’ but it, and its environs, saw US hippies come to settle there – now into their third generation – and the Dalai Lama spending time there on several occasions.  The place is special.  It can be felt.  It’s in the air.  It is reputed to be the birthplace of the plumed serpent God, none other than Quetzalcoatl himself.  If you are looking for a spiritual healer, come here.


Santa Catalina Hills are now very much part of Mexico City and are situated in the borough of Iztapalapa, the name of the original town.  The hills contain the site of the traditional Aztec New Fire ceremony, last performed in 1507 (it took place every 52 years).  It hosts one of the city’s great festivals, a Passion Play with 450 local participants and drawing an audience of two million people.  It is now trying to be designated a  ‘pueblo magico’ .


Pihuamo in Jalisco State.  Born in Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco State,  perhaps Dr. Atl learned something of it’s ‘magic’ as a boy growing up there.


But what if Olinka is not to be found in Chapultepec, Tepoztlan, the Santa Catalina Hills, or Pihuamo? What if the real ‘pueblo magico’ of Mexico is to be found singing in Santa Maria, Roberto Bolano’s name for Ciudad Juarez?


David Harding

Published by the Tamayo Museum as part of the exhibition ’Olinka o donde se crea el movimento’  11 Dec 2012 – 15 April 2013