Artist, filmmaker, and researcher Felipe Castelblanco [CH/CO] investigates plant intelligence and how it manifests in nature-culture relations. During a research trip to the Peruvian Amazon, he observed how humans and plant communities form alliances via ancestral medicine and agricultural practices to deploy remediation efforts in areas devastated by gold mining, besides promoting territorial defense and halt biodiversity loss.
He spent time with plants at night, crisscrossing layers of invisibility and shadow deep into the forest to record the subtle and sub-visible relations maintained among forest beings while in darkness – this should result in an experimental film.
Travelling in September and October 2022 through the regions of Puerto Maldonado and Madre de Dios, close to the Bolivian border, Felipe collaborated with local communities and partners (he was hosted by Studio Verde Artist Residency) and worked at Camino Verde Reforestation Centre on the banks of the Tambopata reserve. This station is a living seed bank and an important buffer zone where endangered Amazonia plants and trees are given space and time to thrive.
The Madre de Dios region went through a gold mining rush in the late 2000s. Conservation experts, scientists, and Indigenous communities are still trying to mitigate the damage caused by deforestation and mercury poisoning of soils, air, and rivers. In this mining process, plants have become co-conspirators poised with huge potential to mobilize human and nonhuman communities in search of collective survival and against unprecedented anthropogenic challenges.
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Felipe recalls his visit to damaged areas:
“Days before entering a reforestation station upstream the Tambopata River, we had the opportunity to visit an entirely different site adjacent to the interoceanic highway. This landscape radically challenges any imported imagery of the rainforest. The place is now a military restricted area called La Pampa, which until around 2018 was the epicentre of the Gold Rush affecting the Madre de Dios region.
To enter this site, one needs a special government permit and lots of water and sun protection, as the site has become a deserted landscape sitting in the middle of the rainforest. Large craters left behind by illegal mining activity are now deceiving pools of green, red, or blue water that reflect the intense sun of the tropics. These pools hide underneath mining equipment, poison algae, ill fish and huge levels of mercury being digested by a moss line that surrounds them.
La Pampa is a totally devasted landscape and the undeniable proof that the desertification of the rainforest can occur in just one decade. This area lacks trees to create shade, the ground is made of fine sand devoid of any nutrients and the air is filled with smog from nearby fires caused by new clusters of illegal miners, now working at the margins of the protected perimeter held by a military outpost.
Ironically, if we were to rank places by how closely they resemble the script of Anthropocene and show the extent of human impact on the metabolic systems of Planet Earth, this site would be perhaps at the very top.”
Felipe Castelblanco [CH/CO] is a multidisciplinary artist and researcher working at the intersection of film, photography, installation, and participatory art. His work explores institutional forms, creates platforms for inter-epistemic dialogue, and ventures out into new frontiers of publicness where he engages unlikely audiences in remote places. Felipe holds an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University [US] and earned a Ph.D. from the Kunstuniversität Linz [AT] and the Academy of Art and Design Basel HGK FHNW, exploring avenues for biocultural peace-building and epistemic justice in the Andean-Amazon region. Recent shows include Helmhaus Zurich [CH], Seasons of Media at ZKM in Karlsruhe [DE], and the Quebec Biennial [CA].