March 10 â€” June 4, 2017 Museo Mario Testino
Alan Poma Enemy of the Stars Resident of the Delfina Foundation
Enemigo de las Estrellas (Enemy of the Stars) is the latest investigative project undertaken by the artist Alan Poma, as part of an adaptation of the experimental play of the same name, written by the English founder of Vorticism, Wyndham Lewis, in 1914. In its original version, Enemy of the Stars deals with the constant conflict between complementary opposites: contemplation and pragmatism, the material and the immaterial, life and death. In the original, these conflicts are situated within the avant-garde tradition of the early twentieth century, while Poma reinterprets them in an effort to adapt them to a local reality. The artist’s methodology consists of establishing a circular, even anachronistic relationship, with the very concepts of time and history. By combining elements of science fiction and historical speculation with Andean cosmogonies, he seeks to decontextualize the past so as to transform it into a possible future scenario. This method allows him to create spaces of freedom for “the Andean,” without the interference of the trauma of the Conquista.
Between November 2016 and January 2017, Alan Poma and I met almost weekly to talk about this new project. Our conversations had no predefined structure; on the contrary, they were guided by digressions and lots and lots of coffee. The following interview is a summary of some of the topics addressed during these long conversations, and is intended to introduce the reader to Poma’s career and creative process, his project at MATE, and his ideas regarding Andean Futurism.
— Florencia Portocarrero, Art Curator
A conversation between Alan Poma & Florencia Portocarrero
The adaptation of Victory over the Sun—originally a Russian Futurist opera from 1913—with Andean accents has been your most ambitious project up to this point. It involves an experimental staging—in which you work together with an interdisciplinary team made up of performers, musicians, video artists, and others—which you have presented in a range of artistic and non-artistic spaces in Lima, Mexico, and the United States. Tell us about this experience and how it came about.
Enemy of the Stars
The year 1913 was an extremely tumultuous one in Russia (the Bolshevik Revolution took place on in 1917). Over the course of the nineteenth century, political reforms had been implemented in Europe in an effort to overcome the end of the Ancien Régime, but this process never occurred in Russia. As a result, an intellectual current, with artistic, radical, and revolutionary circles, had arisen there by the early twentieth century. The Cubo-Futurists were perhaps the most radical artistic group in Russia before the Revolution. They created the Zaum language and caused absurd scandals wherever they went. Their habits and actions earned them both the repudiation and the admiration of society. Their iconoclastic, Futurist spirit was rooted in a rereading of their Slavic past, however, which they succeeded in decontextualizing and re-contextualizing in a very distant future. The opera came to me in a dream I had in 2011. Since then, I’ve realized that thinking about the future means thinking about something new with regard to the culture that surrounds me, and I decided to investigate Russian Futurism and the circumstances in which it originated. My starting point was the play’s script. I decided to approach the opera as if it was written in a special code that could only be deciphered with a master key; once the code had been cracked, everything came together like a puzzle, based on a cyclical view of the future.
It wasn’t until my residency at the Casa Tres Patios Center for Contemporary Art in Medellin that I had the chance to direct it for the first time. There, I found a choir that was very open to exploration, as well as wonderful friends such as the artist Camila Botero, and Juliana Giraldo, who did the costume design. And that was how the dialogue between past and future started in the present, within the framework of Medellin’s history. After returning to Lima, I was confident enough to risk taking on the task of reinterpreting the work in an equally loose way, thinking of the pre-Columbian past and its relationship with the sun, as filtered through architecture, history, astronomy, and visual representation. Remaining faithful to my interpretation of what the CuboFuturist approach meant in the twenty-first century, I organized performances where I didn’t worry about how big the audience was, instead focusing on experimenting through trial and error and the adrenaline rush that comes from playing live. For almost a year and a half, I dedicated myself exclusively to writing the music for the entire opera, entering into an extremely open dialogue with contemporary Andean music. It was that same freedom of interpretation that I offered to the participants (since, at first, I couldn’t offer them any money). That was how I met a lot of incredible people: actors, singers, performers, video artists, illustrators, lighting designers, costume designers, musicians. All of them helped to render, in images, something that I had only read and felt in the music I had written. Their talent enriched the work, and each performance offered a kind of knowing wink toward a model of reality that could now be called Andean Futurism. On the other hand, I’ve always liked the language of video, and I started working with the filmmaker Aldo Cáceda. Investigating the images taken by the satellites of NASA or Roscosmos (the Russian federal space agency), we found a useful medium that would later take the form of a movie.
Aldo’s approach to the manipulation of images in real time, together with the lighting design of Rolando Muñoz, also ended up playing a major role in the set design from the very beginning. I’ve worked together with great musicians like Raúl Jardín, Daniel Caballero, Omar Ochoa, people from the experimental music scene of the 2000’s, as well as musicians from a more classical or Baroque background. And also with the Puno-born singer and musician Edith Ramos. She helped me combine my Futurist project with an investigation into chants in ancient pre-Columbian languages that she was working on. Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of Frido Martin, Gonzalo del Águila, Lucero Paucar, Ximena Menéndez, and the choreographic assistance of Joelle Gruenberg, we were able to create a really positive dynamic of experimentation with the voice and body, which we presented in performances over the course of the years. That was how an Andean Futurist narrative was gradually created, in both audiovisual and performatic terms. It was through an invitation from Paola Santoscoy that I was able to present the first complete version of Victory over the Sun at the Museo Experimental El Eco in Mexico City. Edith and I made the trip, and we worked with a group of fifteen Mexican artists on a dialogue between the Andean and the Mesoamerican, based on the history of the two regions’ sun cults. After I returned to Lima, they invited me to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAC). Later, I put on an independent performance at the Salón Imperial, in downtown Lima, and then we were asked by the Cusco Regional Office of Culture to perform the work at the city’s municipal theater, where we also collaborated with artists from Cusco. In June of this year, we’ll be going to Miami to perform it at the South Florida Art Center.
In London, thanks to Chris Stephens, Lead Curator at the Tate Britain, I was able to learn a lot more about the circumstances in which Vorticism arose, and about Lewis’s oeuvre. I also discovered Inca with Birds (1933), a painting of Lewis’s that is a rare example of the depiction of Peruvian history by an avant-garde movement.
Inca with Birds. Wyndham Lewis, 1933
Before making that trip, I had decided to start the project by translating Enemy of the Stars, an avant-garde play written by W. Lewis that appeared in the publication Blast (1914), which kicked off the Vorticist movement.
Magazine of the Great English Vortex. Nº1. Cover. Edited by Wyndham Lewis. John Lane, June 1914, London.
In October of 2016, with the support of MATE - Museo Mario Testino, you were doing a residency at the Delfina Foundation in London. You were selected for this residency, from among various local artists, based on an investigation into Vorticism, the only avant-garde movement to come out of the United Kingdom. Wyndham Lewis was the movement’s founder, and his work was a reaction to the transformations of his time: modernity, technology, and World War I. Recently, in one of our conversations, we talked about the similarities between the “structures of feeling” that characterized that era and the present day; specifically, the sensation of alienation in the face of the system, along with fear and the imminence of war. Tell us, how do all of these ideas affect your project at MATE?
It was also important to have the chance to converse with Marek Kukula, a public astronomer at the Royal Observatory of Greenwich, and investigate the physics of vortices and space-time transformations. The thing is that everything I’ve seen from my vantage point in the present was still the future at the time Lewis was living, and it’s the past if we view it from the standpoint of starlight. That led me to reread today’s reality and note certain similarities, as well as differences. In his essay A Brief History of the Future, Jacques Attali notes that, historically, every century needs a major war in order to reorganize its system, when that system starts to deteriorate. Vorticism was interrupted by the historical event of World War I (which, according to many, marks the true beginning of the twentieth century). It’s almost as if both
However, if we look at how Lewis envisages the effects of the mass media on our mental structure, as well as the creation of a perpetual state of war as a private business, it could be said that we are now experiencing the consequences of a process that Lewis was able to discern, and which has been going on now for over a hundred years.
Due to this implicit cultural burden, it is important to approach Andean culture with a humble, straightforward attitude. Investigations in other fields are nourished by the imagination and help us not to fall back on clichés. This helps create bonds that are connected to a local feeling and local forms, among the infinite probabilities that the future harbors.
My gaze is not necessarily fixated on these events. My new, temporal wrinkle is to think of a future for this present, and that’s what I’m working on: carving out a distant time that has its own characteristics and that may take on various forms.
Listening to you describe Victory over the Sun and Enemy of the Stars, it’s easy for me to find common denominators. In both cases, your work is based on an adaptation of an experimental play that was created as part of a European avant-garde movement, in a paradoxical effort to try and represent an Andean future. You also establish a circular, even anachronistic, relationship with the very concepts of time and history, meaning that you decontextualize the Andean past in order to transform it into a possible future scenario. Could you describe this work/investigation methodology a little bit?
one thousand, two thousand, or even four thousand years before the Incas. Historians are faced with periods of time where we just don’t know what happened, and their work becomes an interpretation of the remains left behind by a culture that has disappeared.
A fascination with the future can be found in many of your projects, both in terms of form and possible contents. I’d like to ask you, how does one find a standpoint from which to offer declarations in the future amidst the uncertainty of the present? What role does “Andean Futurism” play as a local version of the future in this dilemma?
points in history—the early twentieth century and the present day—are laden down with a certain something from the previous century that no longer works. I hope that we can find alternatives for resolving those changes without causing a world war.
My approximation to the future was achieved by distancing myself from an anthropocentric vision of time. The history of the Earth or the Solar System is measured based on other temporal parameters. By making use of certain exercises taken from Russian Futurism, this gave me the freedom to imagine worlds from twenty-five hundred years in the past. This cyclical vision of time went hand-in-hand with my interest in astronomy and its ties to Andean culture.
Right now, we have a historical perspective on both man and the universe that didn’t exist a hundred years ago. Andean culture, however—because it has no (translatable) written records from before the Conquista—is full of gaps.
That perspective made it possible for me to imagine worlds viewed by eyes from this region in a very distant future. “Andean Futurism” is a way of envisaging our culture, but re-contextualizing it in the future. It’s as if, by visiting the ruins of the temple of Pachacámac, we get a clearer idea about our future than our past.
These gaps have grown even wider with the discovery of temples, calendars, or engineering complexes made
As such, the processes for the transformation of those
The installation is the result of a process that started in London, during my residency at the Delfina Foundation, and continued at SISA, an artistic residency with Marina Herrera in Urcos, to the south of the city of Cusco. In the installation, the spectator can see the different dimensions of the flight of a bird from the future that is born upon seeing the sun’s reflection on Lake Urcos. This bird is summoned by chants composed by Edith Ramos, inspired by the work of the Puno-born avant-garde writer Gamaliel Churata. Together with Aldo Caceda, the camera work of Renzo Belón, lighting by Santiago Guerra, and the designs of Sandra Serrano, we have developed a visual design that forges common bonds with architecture, the Andean landscape, and the work of Lewis.
Chankillo, Casma, Peru, (Google Earth)
shared icons, musics, and sensibilities fall within the sphere of the imagination, or, let’s say, the sphere of art. From there, we can start to create content. Consciousness, like the future, is a vessel just waiting to be filled with contents. It is in these contents that we find culture. I feel this to be relevant in Peru, which is a country with a very ancient culture, a country that still has not recovered from the trauma of the Conquista. In an increasingly controlled society, we lack the certainty of knowing whether we really decide our own future, or if it belongs to the politicians or the politicians’ bosses. When faced with this situation, thinking about the future and portending it provides you with a certain kind of empowerment.
Last but not least, could you give us some more details on Enemy of the Stars? How should we interpret the temporary installation at MATE?
Credits General Direction: Alan Poma Sound and Music: Alan Poma Visuals: Aldo Cáceda Programming and Lights: Santiago Guerra Scenographic elements: Sandra Serrano Camara: Renzo Belón Song: Edith Ramos
Acknowledgements Special thanks to Aaron Cezar, Dani Burrows, Delfina Entrecanales, Florencia Portocarrero, Gillean Dickie, Jane Scarth, Janeth Lozano, Jorge Villacorta, José Luis Morales, Juan Francisco Ortega, Juan Lazo, Lawrence Lek, Marina Herrera - SISA, Morayma Miljanovich, Multivisión, Otolith Group, Patricia Lindo, Planetario IGP, Rafo Ráez, Renzo Belon, Vladimir Herrera.
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Enemigo de las Estrellas (Enemy of the Stars) is the latest investigative project undertaken by the artist Alan Poma, as part of an adaptati...
Published on Apr 14, 2017
Enemigo de las Estrellas (Enemy of the Stars) is the latest investigative project undertaken by the artist Alan Poma, as part of an adaptati...