This exhibition tells the story of Bombas Gens through a number of different eye-witness accounts, compiled in an audiovisual work created for the occasion, as well as images and objects that tell us more about the architecture, the work that took place inside the factory and the surrounding urban setting. It wishes to capture the myriad of experiences that took place over the years in and around this emblematic building. It also follows the whole process of restoration of converting the old rundown factory into the headquarters of Fundació Per Amor a l’Art, a foundation dedicated to social aid, research into rare illnesses – particularly Wilson’s disease – and art. During the process a fifteenth-century bodega and an air-raid shelter dating from the Spanish Civil War were discovered. The exhibition also includes a suite of photos commissioned to the photographer Manolo Laguillo, an expert in documenting urban spaces in transformation. In addition, the London-based creative team El Último Grito, has covered the exhibition space with a monomeric vinyl.
We chose the title Histories because that is how we look on the countless personal experiences and material reminders that have come down to us. As such, it is not a case of the classic overview of the history of the building, but an endeavour to recompose a kaleidoscopic vision of the various facets of the factory over the passing of time. In the beginning, the former Bombas Gens factory – which is now in the middle of the city, at the heart of the district of Marxalenes, surrounded by apartment blocks, streets and avenues – was on the outskirts, a completely independent complex practically on its own in a surrounding landscape with which it seemed to have no connection. Before the city grew around it, the factory was in the middle of the huerta, the fertile farmland surrounding the city, plots of cultivated land, irrigation channels, old paths and farmers’ houses. In fact, Bombas Gens, alongside other nearby emblematic factories like La Papelera Levantina de Monllor, Crespo y Cía. and La Ceramo, acted like a magnet that drew more factories and residential buildings. In the same way, they were instrumental in the transformation of the once rural landscape and the regeneration of streets like Avenida de Burjassot (formerly Adolfo Beltrán) built from 1855 onwards, and the introduction of a tram line from Burjassot and Godella.
After 1929, the space in which the future Bombas Gens factory was to be built was zoned, as we can see in the Valencia Municipal Map dating from that year. In 1930, Carlos Gens Minguet, a local entrepreneur from Valencia, commissioned the architect Cayetano Borso di Carminati to design and build a factory to house his company’s new installations which were originally in nearby Calle Sagunto. The factory complex was designed for the manufacturing of hydraulic irrigation pumps which were in high demand at that time.
Bombas Gens was laid out in four contiguous blocks, preceded by another transversal nave, which is where we are now, as well as a residential building, which housed the factory officials that also had a garden, which reached to Calle Dr. Machí. Once it opened, the factory was the scene of frenetic activity with workers producing thousands of pieces in the foundry using hundreds of different casts. Afterwards the pieces were assembled to produce a variety of hydraulic pumps which were destined to irrigate the farmland around the city and further afield. These pumps were put on show at trade fairs and in catalogues in search of every increasing orders, and the factory became well known as far away as Madrid, Barcelona and the Balearic Islands.
The factory became part and parcel of the everyday life of the neighbourhood, and was involved in its festivals. Over the years, production continued apace with various ups and downs, most noticeably affected by the Civil War, until reaching the 1980s, when production dropped to such an extent that the writing was on the wall. After it closed in 1991, the factory gradually fell into greater abandon. It was no longer a benchmark for productive and commercial activity and became a refuge for the homeless, until it suffered a fire in 2014, the year of its greatest decline and, at once, the turning point on its road to becoming the headquarters of Fundació Per Amor a l’Art and of Bombas Gens Centre d’Art.
Over the last few years the building has undergone a thorough process of restoration. This process has been accompanied by a research project still underway whose goal is to know more about the history and stories of the factory, of its changing fortunes over time and its role in the contemporary industrial history of Valencia.