By Carolina Martinez
In recent months, the whole world has been telling a story together, without having agreed upon it. Usually, different stories and events that take place in various sites are assembled under a common narrative which is interpreted as the reality of a moment, space, and time.
At this moment, the «COINCIDENCIA» program wishes to enable the meeting of ideas, hopes, fears, criticisms, and different forms of human and artistic expression in order to discuss, together, what new ways, models, and languages we can project for a post-Coronavirus world.
The visual artist Felipe Castelblanco, the dance collective Young Boy Dancing Group, the theatre director and playwright Diego Aramburo, the architecture publishing platform Transfer-Arch, and the curator of Arts @ CERN Monica Bello are the ones to share, at this time, their views in face of this urgency, through their thoughts and activities.
The global pandemic of the COVID 19 has triggered a health crisis that has amplified the social, political, economic, and human problems in general. Life became a constant state of friction, fear, alert, and uncertainty. A collapse, not only in the field of health but also one in which our most fundamental beliefs and paradigms have been displaced and dislocated. We were thus submitted to a collective adaptation and to a mutation, in which the conceptualization of the present and the future can no longer be thought of in the same way. A mutation of perception, consciousness, and reality(ies).
Even if we are floating in uncertainty, it is time to act; an action that is, in fact, part of the definition of reality. And, thus, the art system saw that its form and structure had to be transformed, considering other possible futures, both for the artistic discipline, practice and thinking, as well as to face this dystopia that no longer dwells only on science fiction.
An uncomfortable and painful passage, but which brings an opportunity to preserve and raise hope through this field. Throughout history, it has been the poetics of art that has gathered all other human practices to manifest them and offer them to humanity.
In this scenario, where confinement has been one of the strategies to beat the pandemic, the transfer of knowledge and praxis had to look into other ways to exchange and experiment with other relationships of languages and formats, leveraging what is already known and what is yet to be experimented.
CAROLINA MARTINEZ: We are in a period of collective adaptation, a moment in which we have been reflecting a lot about the individual and global impact and about where we are able to spot a change. Can we recognize any danger in this movement? Where and in what ways does it manifest itself?
DIEGO ARAMBURO: Overall, the obvious dangers are the increasingly less democratic «democracies», with restriction of movement and freedom, in which we are controlled via technologies. More polarized societies in terms of economy, and even of survival, and governments that defend a localism which looks more and more like nationalism and the dangers it entails.
All this we can observe in the news about what happened in China and the implementation of apps that offer our information and privacy to a world in which only a few chosen, whether governments or businessmen, manage this big data and use it in their own benefit and not to benefit those who serve merely as fuel for their businesses
We also see the closing of borders and the abuse of those in «forced transit», such as immigrants and refugees. Immigrants who are forced into this situation due to the economic inequality between «developed» countries, a status that comes largely from exploiting the resources of the ironically called «developing» countries, and the latter, where such roads for possible development are often usurped by the asymmetry increasing since the genocide and kidnapping of future that began with the colonisations more than five centuries ago. And refugees who are coerced to flee situations of upheaval and violence which are literally wars invented by the established powers and their interests. Of such war violence, the «simpler» societies are always the victims, casualties, and never the cause
Then there is the polarization between rich and poor, which is also undisguisable. And here I speak of «poor countries» whose situation worsens every day thanks to the «help» of supranational agencies such as the UN and the OAS, the international banks, and the neoliberal policies based on which the latter insist on understanding and managing the world. In a situation of calamity, like the one we are currently living, these countries are still the ones that have to pay so that the strong economies remain afloat. I do not use the euphemism «developing» since it is necessary to make it clear that these are poor countries whose «developing» pathways are not fomented, but on the other hand, are hindered by international policies. In fact, rather than talking about «poor countries», it seems to me that we should talk about «impoverished» countries and regions, made so by such international policies
This is evident when you analyze the history of the external debt and loan system, and that of the various general state treasuries’ international reserves system, whose reserves are actually, and in the first place, plundering from impoverished nations. Thanks to these usurped reserves and a whole contrived system of international law, we are where we are, and any talk about any kind of compensation or reparation is greeted with sarcasm and labeled as ignorance and historical inanity, out of time and place.
However, we also see this aspect of economic polarization within each society and country, including the «developed» countries. The contrast between the billionaires and the middle class becomes less sustainable, not to mention the existing pockets of poverty. We can no longer be blind to this extreme contradiction that we even used to «enjoy» when consuming dystopian audiovisual shows who helped us to normalize the fact that there is an inhumane and unforgivable contrast between those who are starving at our corners and those in a bubble, who enjoy a roof, food and certain minimum comforts of the Western civilization, including Internet and platforms that fill our heads with these entertainment products that normalize and strengthen the distraction when observing this polarization.
Regarding the culture and arts, I see danger in the trivialization of the «approach-to» and «consumption-of» art and culture. The global confinement, supposedly, has led to greater consumption of art and culture, but only now we begin to understand how it has evolved into a new hobby where operas, dance and theatre plays or visits to museums have become just another audiovisual product. Therefore, I believe that artists, cultural authorities and platforms for the dissemination of art and thought must be careful not to neglect the side effect that may involve separating the experience from the art and, above all, from its most important aspect which is the encounter with a moment of humankind’s critical thinking, unlike enjoying entertainment aesthetic products.
Besides that, in a time when the artistic and cultural production has helped to maintain the mental health during quarantine, we saw that, when it is time to cut funding, the first to suffer is the cultural field. All these negative aspects are dangers that cannot be neglected and that must be laid open on the table, hopefully, on the global political and economic discussion and negotiation table(s).
CM: The opening of what is happening in the fields of art and science, and of knowledge, in general, is possible thanks to the communication and, above all, to the propagation, which is «COINCIDENCIA’s» intention since its inception as a program. In this sense, such exchange has happened in the shape of travels, residences, exhibitions,and other projects: all of which are having, today, to look for a reconfiguration. In the face of this new scenario, how do you think we could achieve this exchange today and in the future?
DA: It is crucial not to give up on this regard and strengthen programs such as «COINCIDENCIA». I believe that insisting on the exchange and approach between artists is a first step that enables the respective societies to really open themselves to other realities, rather than just consuming the next hobby through images and stories somewhat different since they come from another part of the world and have different colors. In other words, it enables a small and hopefully great experience of approaching the otherness, thanks to attention and listening exercises.
I firmly believe that precisely the opposite habit of simple consumption, that is, an internalizing reading and interpretation of an artwork, drives audiences to experience, and not just to pass the time. This opens the possibility of a true encounter with what we do not know in the otherness and what it has to express, share, and disclose. And that keeps artists and societies from falling into the dangers and errors that I mentioned at the beginning, to which we have been backsliding.
On a practical level, we have to resort now to communication technologies as a first step, but we cannot give up, so that, in the future, we can still have face-to-face meetings, which make the otherness real and tangible. As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the consumption of art and culture via a screen, during quarantine times, has demonstrated that the two-dimensional filter largely facilitates the distancing, even the denial of what we do not experience. To react somehow to something, we must get to see the details of the starkest facts, descarnados (I use this Spanish term that contains the word flesh, meat because the fact is extremely carnal and crude), as the monstrous murder of George Floyd. One should also take into account that it was the physical demonstration, with bodies on the streets, that prevented governments, politicians, and societies from continuing to sustain the denialism that abounds the critical issues behind such a fact.
It is essential to embody the otherness, its concepts, experiences, and worldviews to empathize and open up to its differences. As I say, this helps us not to follow the path of denial that seems to be the generalized logic in today’s world, a perverse logic that we must continue to fight, as it makes our societies less human and more impoverished and violent.
So, what paths could «COINCIDENCIA» take? Undoubtedly, to reinforce its action through virtual channels, without setting aside the physical exchanges and, as soon as possible, to continue to bring Swiss artists to other places and to invite artists from other places to Switzerland, maintaining this horizontal dialogue, one of the great and best features of the program. The idea of overcoming and erasing borders is something fundamental that is in the spirit of «COINCIDENCIA», and that can also be applied to the language of art itself, generating a mental opening in those who create and in the public regarding artistic dialogues and proposals approached from the linguistic liminality. That will probably lead to new and rich forms of technology and transmission media, in ways that do not submit creations to their formats, but in which the art dialogue with and in these to achieve encounters and not just «consumption».
In that sense, it is interesting that one of the many differences between entertainment and art is that the former facilitates and collaborates with denialism, while art does the opposite: it exhibits, evinces, and questions. In this, «COINCIDENCIA» has many advantages and strengths, something that cannot be lost.
CM: The instability that each of us is feeling makes us aware of our fragility, in which the future takes on a new meaning. We came to a halt together and we are living what we could call a “waiting” time. How has this present been manifested in your work? Is it possible to think about the future and, in it, imagine the new forms that your projects could take?
DA: I think of this in many ways. First, there is the certainty of still needing to make art, because there are expressive, personal, and contextual urges that I feel I need, must, and want to channel in my works, creations, and researches. Perhaps I am still in a phase of gathering and processing a lot of information, experiences, and stimuli, but I am already beginning to put that on paper in some way(s).
In parallel, there is the absolute uncertainty about whether I will find the minimum resources I need to carry out projects and works. In Bolivia, support for art is so scarce to the point of being non-existent in certain cities. I manage to sustain my artistic work thanks to the work I do abroad, both when I am invited to create and direct for theatres or companies outside of Bolivia, and when I am invited to present creations that I make with my Bolivian company Kiknteatr at festivals around the world. What I earn in those instances is what I can reinvest to continue creating in my country and to make ends meet. All that is now postponed and even at risk, given the closings of borders, the cuts in culture, and the policies to care for the already reduced arts and culture’s budgets by prioritizing the local and postponing the international presence.
But the need for expression continues to exist and it is looking for alternative ways to survive and solve this creative urgency. And, here, the digital formats and those mixed between digital and physical become a subject that calls me and gives me images and imageries, just as the word is occupying a wide spectrum of what comes up. We need to imagine futures and I think that the artistic minds are best suited to propose them. We must call out and even slap on the wrist those who have the decisions in their hands. I believe that the art has the means to do it, since the media, both traditional and new, are proving their ineffectiveness in this regard, with some exceptions, but these remain in marginal spaces, just as the propositional arts.
Personally, I am convinced that my art has always been a kind of disruption of comfort zones and of what is established as normal. At this time, even sharper languages should arise to penetrate the public’s perception: languages that should question the digital medium which they now mainly inhabit, just as they previously questioned the stage and the fiction.
CM: The system and scope of the visual arts reacted quite quickly when configuring and exploring new communication strategies to face the social distancing, the closure of cultural spaces, and galleries, among others. Some of these implementations will undoubtedly remain after the pandemic and will give a new view and shape to the artistic practice. How are the performing arts coping with this crisis? Is it possible to create new ways of acting or does it necessarily imply, in this field, waiting it out?
DA: Apart from what I just mentioned in relation to this, I think it is interesting to consider that the audiovisual media has a long-standing dialogue and several points of intersection with the performative. The cinema, in its early days, used theatre techniques and languages, both with regard to the performance and the body which support the narrative, as well as in relation to the structuring of the story and the audiovisual transmission itself. Later, running away from being a utensil of another language, the scenic practice sought its specificities to distance itself from the audiovisual support. However, as technology advanced, the living arts ended up incorporating moving images as part of their aesthetic and technical resources for conveying its contents, which, until then, had focused much more on intimacy, subjectivity and in the areas of questioning and criticism. In other words, there is a back-and-forth dialogue regarding resources that can currently be distinguished as natural for one or for the other. And that dialogue should be allowed to run its course, now precipitated by technology and the set of rules imposed by the pandemic.
So, the central question from my own practice is what is the next step in the dialogue between performance, theatricality, and audiovisual. At this moment, I cannot answer that, but I think I can find the answer by following another characteristic track of the performing arts and the living arts: time. Coexistence is determined by the simultaneity in space and time between those who execute the artwork and the public. We know that space is a category that can be conceptualized and does not refer only to physical space so that different forms of space can be common to those who propose the work and those who process it (mental, imaginary spaces and a wide variety of other constructs). Then, in relation to time, I think that if we understand that what favors the face-to-face meeting is the quality of time and attention given to the otherness, a world of research could open up on how to favor public attention for these intimate, subjective and critical narratives, that demonstrate the otherness and that question what we believe to be real and normal. And when we transpose this focus of study to a creation made to be disseminated through communication technologies, a new approach is required for the use of audiovisual as a medium, be it the core or part of interdisciplinary work. But all this, I insist, without giving up the face-to-face meeting and the artworks that arise from there.
CM: You and your practice are associated with the displacement of cultural and conceptual works, as well as of gender assignments. How can these reports, also linked to politics and territory, be able to travel and transcend when in exchange? How are these proposals affected by these new control, surveillance, and isolation regimes?
DA: This is exactly what I was referring to before. But I think that content surveillance and censorship are not impossible to avoid, whether through poetics or other hidden forms. In any case, control has been increasing dramatically for a long time and its digital technification has only made it more evident. We will have to be very cautious about this, but this part is not uncharted territory for me.
The challenge is to touch less accessible sensibilities in societies increasingly focused on individuality as a way to achieve survival. But on the other hand, it plays in our favor that we have already reached a new (negative) level, and I think that there are more people on the alert, realizing that if we do not question the concepts with which Western culture has kept us anesthetized, we will not get much further as a species on this planet.
On other occasions, I have described what I propose in terms of content as «conceptual terrorism». Something that I would now correct, since the terror policies are monopolies of the States, along with their propaganda and war apparatuses, whose effects, besides being negative, produce paralysis. And I do not want to paralyze perceptions, minds, or wills. I want the opposite, I am interested in people acting, being purposeful and critical. Currently, I would describe my concepts and works as alerts, or even as conceptual attacks that go against normalization and stagnation, «attacks» that are not violent, but that are against something: against my own stagnation and comfort. What remains is to persist, and as long as I do not allow myself to be anesthetized, I can continue to be alive and not only in survival mode. And to achieve this, I must certainly double the charge of detonators, refine the devices I use to fire them and sharpen the aim (against myself), so that the few or many «conceptual attacks» I have left are effective and can resonate in me, taking me to other places, other understandings and other less limited experiences of myself and my environment. And, hopefully, this movement will somehow manage to invite people to not stand still.