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To Moro, Mont贸n and Lana, who will never read this book


This publication accompanies the exhibition El Bodegón – Post Mortem, presented at Dortmund Bodega, as part of Colomborama, Oslo, april 2013. Editor: Víctor Albarracín Llanos Design: La Parte Maldita Translator: Tupac Cruz Transcriptors: Susana Eslava and Álex Bermúdez This book is made from conversations: Jaime Iregui with V. A. / Humberto Junca, Carlos Mojica and Efrén Aguilera with V.A. / Jimena Andrade and Marco Moreno with V.A. / Pablo Marín with V.A. / Natalia Ávila Leubro with Humberto Junca / Jairo Pinilla with Comando Trip First Edition: 100 copies The logos:

.................................................................................... Feel free to copy, share, republish and make money with this book.


Contents 7… Presentation 11… Empty spaces, critical archives and malicious robots. A conversation between Jaime Iregui and Víctor Albarracín 27… “The sound of the ‘capitalist invaders.’” A conversation between Humberto Junca, Carlos Mojica, Efrén Aguilera and Víctor Albarracín 43… Self-management, communities and a bed to sleep on. A conversation between Jimena Andrade, Marco Moreno and Víctor Albarracín 61… Necrophilia, sex, depression and fun. Words by Pablo Marín Angel 69… Point of tension. A conversation between Natalia Ávila Leubro and Humberto Junca 83… “Friquis calaveris mortis.” Words by Jairo Pinilla


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Presentation This book is a companion-piece to the exhibition El Bodegón–Post Mortem, presented at the Dortmund Bodega in Oslo in the context of the cycle Colomborama. In that sense, the logical thing would have been to compile a book discussing El Bodegón, reviewing the project’s anecdotes, accomplishments and ordeals, and to offer a critical historical account, presumably compatible with the kind of heroic yearnings that legitimate the production of an international exhibition dedicated to this artists’ space from Bogotá that disappeared in 2009. And yet, the fact is that, precisely, El Bodegón disappeared in 2009. After five years of hectic activity it vanished, and made way for a stream of more fashionable cultural endeavors and for an entirely new kind of art scene in Bogotá. This new scene is, by all appearances, more carefully managed, more prosperous, and open to a wider set of opportunities. Opportunities such as the present one: to make an exhibition and publish a book about El Bodegón for an international audience, something that would hardly have been possible while the space still existed. What I mean to say is that dying was El Bodegón’s odd way of succeeding, and the space has enjoyed a posthumous afterlife as the topic of books, national and international events, lectures and a feature-length documentary. Maybe that should be enough, for the time being, bearing in mind that the idea of a post-mortem triumph is burdened with a suspiciously Christian undertone. This book, then, will not be about El Bodegón; it might be better to give these recollections a break and to keep ourselves from telling the same stories over and over again. It might be better to avoid conferring canonical status, as a banner for future undertakings, unto a bunch of anecdotes about a gang of artists who were a little drunk and pretty bored with the way things were going in Bogotá ten years ago. Instead, this book is about a different set of experiences, and it is all the better for it: they are not celebrated or successful experiences, there is not much buzz about them in the cultural landscape of Bogotá. They are also not the most critical or traumatic experiences. The book merely portrays the experiences of individuals or groups of people who have worked, whether at specific times or consistently so, from the end of eighties until today, on projects or activities pertaining to culture in Bogotá, and whose paths 9


have crossed with those of El Bodeg贸n in one way or another. This, then, is a book of conversations and testimonials, modest, simple and of mostly local interest, and there is a chance that readers in Europe might not find them very compelling. There is very little in these conversations for those who enjoy the touristic and the exotic; they contain a simple account of cultural experiences, developed little by little in Bogot谩, in the voice of their protagonists. Experiences and situations, moreover, about which little if any documentation is available, not even in the local context. This is a dry book, and this is already visible in the editorial criteria under which it was conceived. All commentary has been set aside, there will be no biographical info on the interviewees, no synopses, no illustrations, no footnotes and no background information; all that remains is the raw presentation of conversations / testimonials dealing with the experiences in question with or by those who were or are still involved in them. In most cases readers will be able to obtain information via Google about things that they may not understand or which they might be curious about. I hope that, in spite of this, you will find a way to enjoy it.

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Empty spaces, critical archives and malicious robots A conversation between Jaime Iregui and Víctor Albarracín Víctor: I think it would be a good idea to begin with a review of independent initiatives here in Bogotá, because there is a general assumption that spaces come out of nowhere, that they emerge as a result of very particular conjunctions, when in truth it might be possible to construct a linear history, which in a way would also be the history of a single institution: the history of the independent as an institution. Here in Colombia this history begins with cafés and then continues, in the sixties, with the theater company La Candelaria, gathering a wide range of cultural agents and later on blossoming through initiatives such as the ones you were and are involved in –Magma, Gaula, Espacio Vacíio and now Esferapública– all of which have their focus on the field of visual arts and none of which have received as much attention as their predecessors from a historical point of view. Looking for information about your activities in Gaula, for example, I found only a couple of articles in El Tiempo with a –relatively notorious– photograph of a group of people posing and after that there seems to be a fade to black and the only thing available is a kind of oral tradition. Jaime: I can see that: recently two people have called me on the phone telling me that they are looking to do some research on Gaula, and I got to thinking and it is true that in those days we did some interesting things, the truth is that the space lasted for a relatively brief period of time, the average life term of a space of that kind: a year, fourteen months... and there is documentation, I have documentation for some of the things we did, but something like an archive of the space as such does not exist. It’s a very urgent task because obviously when those activities took place there were no digital cameras. Something that we did have, and that was very important, was a very functional relationship with El Tiempo, from the very start. José Hernández was the editor of the Sunday paper and a group of artists would get together in someone’s studio. Carlos Salas was there, Danilo Dueñas... in those days we were trying to decide what to do. The space was born because at the time there were a series of eventful openings in commercial galleries: Conceptos abstractos at El Museo gallery and other abstraction-themed projects at Casa Negret. Suddenly things were being shown at 13


the Salón Nacional [de Artistas] and the Bienal [de Bogotá] –it was a kind of abstraction-boom– and when that boom was over I had come to know about Danilo’s work from reading articles by Caroline Ponce and Jose Hernán Aguilar, and also about Carlos Salas. Those articles would typically discuss about fifteen abstract artists at the beginning of the year, in January, and then come December the list was down to six. So we said, “before the list disappears, let’s try to keep one or two [abstract artists] from being forgotten,” and we started to visit galleries and sites, looking for a place where we might exhibit these works, because we had been showing in institutional spaces: the Salones, the Bienal –of course, the Bienal was OK and everything, but we thought it would be nice to have a spot for works that required a particular kind of space–. So we set out to find a space, and obviously we didn’t have a lot of money... we didn’t really have any money... we had to make do with money that we would come by, with some savings or occasional earnings... and we found a big space in La Macarena where a woodworks had been. Carlos [Salas] made a metal wall that was famous at the time, kind of gothic and pretty weird, the floor was bare cement, the walls where white, and that’s how the space started. Of course we had many discussions about what the space should be like, about the name “Gaula” –obviously today the name brings to mind the squad from the SIJIN– but our reference was “Amadis de Gaula,” and the point did have a lot do with an idealization of the artist and of artworks, with the quixotic nature of the enterprise of founding one of these spaces. But we did not think of it as an independent space, it was something that came about because we felt a need for it. So then we inaugurated the space and began to receive more and more attention from the media and people would come, but there was no talk of “independent spaces.” In those days they were called “alternative spaces,” but there wasn’t much talk of that either. Víctor: They had not been conceptualized as categories... Jaime: Gaula was an artists’ space for artists focusing on abstraction, so a point of debate for us was: “Well, in addition to showing our own works, what else are we going to show?” We had in mind artists who were close to us, like Fernando Uhía, or artists whose work had not yet been shown, like Elías Heim, with whom we did our opening show. He was a guy who had just arrived from studying in Israel or Germany, I don’t remember where. In those days the press would give a lot of attention to artistic processes, there was good promotion and a lot of people would come. We had several shows, I myself did 14


not exhibit there because at the time I had a solo show at the Museo de la Universidad Nacional, curated by José Hernán Aguilar, but Danilo [Dueñas] and Carlos [Salas] did have shows, as well as Óscar Monsalve; María Teresa Hincapié did a few things there, we did something really wonderful, not so much an exhibition, more like an event, we invited many artists... all of the artists in the scene, to draw a line on the floor with a piece of rope, so there were all these linear shapes left on the floor and it was nice because it wasn’t an art show or anything like that, it was a different kind of event. And towards the end we began to grow tired and, as is typically the case with these spaces, there was a lot of financial strain, because we had to pay for everything: drinks, invites, rent, and at some point that became more important than coming up with ideas. Towards the end we mostly argued about ways to get money, because a thing about this particular space is that it was conceived as a space in which works would be for sale, at the time we were hoping to able to pull that off, but it was absurd because as gallerists we... although we were not the ones in care of sales, it was Danilo’s wife, who was the first manager... so she would make some sales, but the situation was very stressful and at the end we had a strong argument with Danilo and he stepped out; after that it was only Carlos and me... let’s say this happenen in November of ‘91, then January and February went by and three months later we gave up. The space then shut down and Carolina Ponce and Germán Martínez took over the property and set up a place called Arteria. In truth it was a brutal and traumatic experience for Carlos, Danilo and me. When we closed up we didn’t want to have anything to do with anything, and after a while everybody began to talk about the place, “too bad about Gaula” and things like that... More or less the same thing that has happened with El Bodegón, after closing the place acquires a mythical status, but when it was running, it was OK and all but still... Víctor: They are posthumous myths. Jaime: Posthumous! So I say to myself “I should shut down Esferapública and see what happens,” and when it’s shut down maybe I can put out a book, right? But at the time it was incredibly hard. Víctor: Before we move on I would like you to go further back in time and tell us about Magma, because I think that space sets an important precedent before Gaula. Jaime: Well, that was a very laid back place... I had been living out of the country for about ten years and came back here and my life was very similar to the life of a recent graduate; everyone from 15


my generation was already working with a gallery, or they had made a name for themselves, and dealing with galleries was something that didn’t interest me very much. So we rented a house, along with Rafael Ortiz, Marta Combariza, Paige Abadi and María Victoria Durán. We had studios and would sometimes show our own work there, but it wasn’t really a space in the proper sense... that was before Gaula... and there wasn’t a space like it at the time, at least not that I knew of. So we would work there and put together a show monthly or bimonthly, roughly speaking. The first show was me and Rafael Ortiz, works by the two of us. We worked a lot on it, towards the end we were able to get some help from the Centro Colombo Americano, we made a catalog and had an opening, but such was our luck that the day of the opening was the day when the Palace of Justice was seized. Very few people showed up, the people from Casa Negret came, I think even [Edgar] Negret himself showed up. One of Rafael’s works included a radio that was switched on, so everybody was listening no Rafael’s piece, bombs going of in the Plaza de Bolívar and the reporters describing the scene, and everybody was scared. My mother had a job at the senate, so I was also very scared. It was horrible. Víctor: And where was Magma located? Jaime: On 69th and fifth. It was one of those spacious English-style houses. Let’s say that, in terms of how the space operated, it was somewhat similar to how MIAMI works today, to the extent that they also have studios there. So we would just work there without any expectations; the artists involved weren’t part of a “boom” in abstraction or anything like that, we just had our studios. So people would come, we would screen German film series borrowed from the Goethe Institut, we would set up a projector and screen the film. Many of the films we screened were silent, so we had the idea of adding music to the films. It was a challenge but also very relaxed. We also had shows by people who were only starting out at the time: Nadín Ospina, Eduardo Pradilla, Rafa, we did a show with graffiti, we would serve chicha... it was a very calm setting and much more relaxed than Gaula, where we did try to play an active part in the art scene and were, if you like, more “ambitious”... Víctor: How long did Magma last? Jaime: Magma lasted for about two and a half years. From ’85 to ’87. It was a very cool place and nice to work on... I like that kind of space. It didn’t have the need for promotion that spaces have today. Since we had the studios there people would simply show up and look at works. Often 16


when people wanted to see Rafael’s work they would go to his studio, period. Rafael would show his work. It was a space for both working and showing. Then we thought: “we should set up a store fand sell objects made by artists in the garage,” but even this was done with a very, very informal frame of mind. We didn’t have to follow a format requiring you to draft a manifesto and state that things are going to work this or that way, that we are going to make publications, there was no dealing with the Ministerio [de Cultura]... none of that. Víctor: So the shift took place when Gaula was born, because in Gaula one can make out a strong declaration of principles from a branch of the scene, as well as the first stages a certain degree of mobility: Carolina Ponce was gaining access to institutional spaces, New Names [Nuevos Nombres] program at the Banco de la República was born, and the categories of the “independent” and the “young” began to take shape, both of which would slowly become linked with institutional aspirations as well. As soon as something comes to be defined as “independent,” the establishment begins to take notice and seeks to absorb it. Jaime: And really does absorb it. I think that Gaula was not so different from the spaces that exist today, inasmuch as they are run by people who need to show their work and formulate their own artistic guidelines... The work then becomes visible and gains a place for itself in the scene, but then people take a different direction, often because the space eventually shuts down for financial reasons, but also simply because we are artists and not managers of cultural venues, so finally we settle for the idea that art spaces have a lifespan and, in addition to this, we just have other projects to work on. It is not the same thing as setting up a gallery: galleries last longer, and this is why sometimes setting up a space feels like a doomed enterprise, but that is not the case... that is simply their natural life span, whether they close after only six months or after a year. In my case, I have been running Esferapública for thirteen years and every year, when December comes, I say to myself: “boy, I wish I could take a break, I’m going to shut this down,” but then something always turns up... Of course, Esferapública operates in a way that is very much its own, it is not very expensive to run and it is much more fluid in nature, but let’s say that in a physical space whose main purpose is the exhibition of works, when you start out the first year paying for rent and other things and looking for support, it’s exhausting work. Even if there is support, because when I had the opportunity to visit some spaces in Europe I could tell that those people spend most 17


of their time submitting projects; they had all the computers set up in the space, they were very organized, they were in warehouses and things like that but still they were at work all day long trying to get support, and they spend more and more money each time. So it’s a bit of a ball and chain. Víctor: And this is the case also where the dynamic is nonetheless different. Because at the time, up to a few years ago, it was understood that if one worked on an independent project in Bogotá, the claim was somehow to create a space of resistance against the regime, against the “tyranny of ‘the institution.’” In that sense, then, to keep the space running was often harder, because the logic at work was one of contestation, or of undermining the work of institutions. And it was not just that those involved had to deal with the cost, they also had to deal with the fact that, underhand, the institution was constantly tripping them up, or looking for the weak spot, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. But now the dynamic has changed, and it seems that the logic that guides the creation of spaces is no longer the same, rather now they entrust themselves to a strange form of codependence with institutions, which brings some fresh air into the latter and also gives the spaces a little leg room to work with. And my opinion is that as a result, and in a very conscious manner, spaces are turning into, or created as deliberate attempts to skip a few steps in the process of social ascent, or to make a place for oneself in the scene and gain visibility... Jaime: Yes, it seems like the intention is, let’s say, to create a narrative that will ultimately find a home in museums and research projects, right?... I mean, El Bodegón is in the process of being transformed into a historical artifact, and the same goes for Gaula... they become archive material. That is what happened to us in Gaula: in the beginning we did not think in terms of the “institution”... We would visit spaces like Garcés gallery, the Museo de Arte Moderno, the Colombo, and they would make all kinds of offers, because the point was to make a statement from a plastic, aesthetic or pictorial point of view. The basis for our activity were a few artworks, but now, when people create an independent space, they don’t really have a body of artworks, an artistic project behind it, which would make the space memorable in some way. Now, all that remains are myths about the amount of effort required... Víctor: Before the feeling was that the were certain works or stances that required a platform and a space was created for that purpose, while now it seems as though platforms are created for their own sake... 18


Jaime: Take an example, when we had Gaula, the point of our activities was to show works. Carolina [Ponce de León] and José Hernán [Aguilar] –because in those days there was already critical writing [in the press]– they would discuss the works. At some point they mentioned the people who set up the space, but then the topic of discussion would be the works, the works and nothing more. And for this reason, if Gaula is considered important, it must be on account of the works that were exhibited there at the time, rather than by virtue of having been the first, or one of the first, independent spaces. The work of Danilo [Dueñas], Carlos [Salas], Elías Heim or my own work... Because those works were exhibited there first and then found their way to an institutional context... The same thing happened in El Bodegón; at the onset of El Bodegón there were Edwin [Sánchez] and many other projects that came about with it, and what needs to be stressed are the proposals... Víctor: The kind of specific contributions to the field of art in Colombia, in terms of languages and processes... Jaime: And that is what you don’t really see in other spaces. I am in part not entitled to say much because I don’t attend many openings and I don’t have time to see all the shows, but what I see in recent spaces is a pragmatic effort to produce, to get funding, to participate in competitions, sending out tons of stuff over the internet and gaining a lot of visibility, but there are no works on sight. The same thing happens with the regional salons and with young art: there is a lot of emphasis on the production of young art, but I can’t see why since there is nothing very strong in view. Víctor: There is no process of distillation, nor is there a critical approach to what is being produced. I feel this absence as well. But, taking a few steps back, I think it would be interesting to reflect on the step from Gaula to the creation of Espacio Vacío, a space that had a longer lifespan. How long was Espacio Vacío open? Jaime: Espacio Vacío was open from 1997 to 2002. That makes five years. Víctor: And you were on your own there. Jaime: It was just me. The short version of the story is this, Gaula closed and I told myself: –I will never get involved in something like this again–... and then we started Tándem, another collective project, with a philosopher of science [Alfonso Flórez] and somebody else who worked on literature about cybernetics [Isaac Dyner]. 19


The idea there was mostly to work our way into existing spaces, like the Galería Sextante or some libraries, and to organize exhibitions or produce publications. That was in fact the direct predecessor of Esferapública, because for me Esferapública is not a site for art criticism but rather a space for discussion among artists. So we worked on that project for about five years, from ’92 to ’97, we out together some shows, some publications, a lot of stuff. It was like Esferapública minus the internet. And José Hernández, who was living in Ecuador and was passing trough here, said: “well, I’m going to build a small house in Chapinero, but I want to have some space for my collection” –he collects our work, he was buying from us when we had Gaula and afterwards; he owns all of my work, for instance; he owns many works by Carlos Salas, almost everything made by Danilo Dueñas, and he owns works by Carlos Rojas–. He wanted to build that place, Carlos Salas designed it, and he wanted part of it to be an exhibition space. So that was his plan and then he said: “listen, why don’t we make a space like Gaula, but different.” So we completely overhauled the concept of Gaula and discussed it. This was Carlos Salas, José Hernández and myself. Danilo was abroad at the time and we were not in touch with him. So we were thinking: “the idea is to show this or that kind of work... conceptual, with abstraction... no, we should show this other kind of work.” Finally we said: “let’s inaugurate the empty space, with no programming. Let’s not put anything on the line, we’ll let the space be empty, white, and from that day on, after people come, we’ll start to absorb what is happening in the scene, like a sponge,” and people did start to show up. So we opened the space, we finished construction, and we established very clear rules of the game: it was to be a space that, on the hand –these are small details but they were important– would remain empty, but also, from a financial point of view the idea was that people would be given the keys to the place, people would pay a fee to cover the cost of, say, painting the place or hiring a guard, cleaning up, all very basic things, but we did need to make some money. People would pay a fee and our expectation was that this fee would come from money that people might have obtained through grants, or through some form of support or from a collector. So that is how it started, and on the other hand in Gaula I hated having to go and buy alcohol for the openings so that people could drink it up... we were buying Tres Esquinas by the gallon and spending a ton of money. In one night we would spend a million pesos in booze and everyone was happy, but the day after we were all hung-over and broke... So what we did now was to get some very good wine, and the wine and the drinks would be for sale. So people would 20


buy a glass of French wine for 1000 pesos, and everyone was happy but the booze was not the point, the point was something else... then came the time when the topic of independent spaces came into discussion, well, there was already an ongoing debate about institutions... institutions this, institutions that, and we created the space thinking: “OK, enough debating, let’s look at some proposals.” And then none of those people who did the protesting and criticizing ever showed up, because they had to come forth with actual proposals, but people who had produced work did show up: María Fernanda Cardozo came up and said: “I won a grant and I just made a video called Flea circus [Circo de pulgas] and I want to show it here.” A cool feature of this space was that the artists could decide how long they wanted to stay. So María Fernanda said: “I want to be there on a Sunday, because it’s a flea circus and I want people from the ciclovía to come inside” and then the audience changed. The artist was also in charge of the press, sending out invites and everything else. I wasn’t in charge of anything, technically speaking my job was to hand over the keys. And María Fernanda was very well known, she presented that same video at MoMA a month later, and she dealt with the media very well, meaning that on the Sunday of the opening her show was featured in El Tiempo and El Espectador, in full page features... so, of course, the place was crowded. There was a magician outside, a stall selling corn, and it was like a circus: kids walking in, lots of people... it was incredible and she sold all her movies, fifty or sixty copies of the video. But what made her so glad was that she had taken a chance, because her event was six hours long. These were the kind of things that happened at Espacio Vacío. Víctor: That was the first project? Jaime: No, the first was a project by María Inés Rodríguez, who made a kind of portable art show, it was a suitcase full of tiny things. Then I think came María Fernanda; we also did some works engaging with the block, one of the pieces was called What’s up with the block? [La cuestión de la cuadra], there we told ourselves: “let’s get the artists to work with the neighbors, so that they find out a little bit about what we do,” and the neighbors would say: “art? I’m not interested in art... I already have a still life right here from an artist who was at such and such biennial or won at such salon.” So that was hard... Víctor: But that initiative did come from you guys... Jaime: Yes, that was ours. Then we did Scenes from the hunt [Escenas de caza], which was a project of mine but also a collective one, for 21


which I did something like a curatorship. We also invited people to participate in a project called Simultaneous translation [Traducción simultánea], which was also my work. Jaime Cerón was also involved, he contributed some installations that would be set up on the ceiling, so there were curators involved and as a result a different kind of relationship. Nonetheless, towards the end of Espacio Vacío I spoke to José and thought that we were running out of artists whose work could be shown there. When the space is a novelty everybody wants to be a part of it, and during the first two years we experienced a huge boom. It was interesting for many artists to be there. For instance, Rolf Abderhalden made his first show as a visual artists there. Also Clemencia Echeverri, after her abstract pieces and the sculptures that she did in Medellín, she presented her first contemporary works there, with Rolf, in a project financed by the Universidad Nacional and which also included Trixi Allina. Rafael Ortiz also arrived with a grant and then, the people who were winning those grants and getting help from the Ministerio would come to us and me and José would discuss whether to work with them or not. Because it was not space in which only people with money could participate. A lot of people would show up and ask “how much do I need to pay, I have some still lives I want to put up” and we would show them the door. The idea was that it should work as an editorial space, because José is a journalist; we expected to produce many different things, including publications, but the truth is that I was pretty much by myself in that area. José went to live in Ecuador and each time he came we would meet and discuss. Often he would make the decisions and I would be working ad honorem, I wasn’t making any money from it, and the time came when I had begun to teach, I was working at La Tadeo and they called me up from Los Andes and said: “we want you to come over to the university, we are looking to develop a field of studies called Project Management, where students are shown how to work on that kind of project,” and that new field at the Universidad de los Andes gave birth to an event called Modus Operandi, which focused on the topic of independent spaces, the point being to reflect about that kind of process and to bring over to academia the idea that an artist cannot be content with building a portfolio and lobbying around, but that also, particularly in a university like Los Andes where the topic of autonomy is emphasized, as part of its original mandate, that the artist should come out of her studies and be able to decide autonomously which way to go, knowing that students there are often people who have good financial support, people who have access to resources through their family background or through their connections. But the point was to 22


bear in mind that the artist too, the art student, graduates and, in a context as precarious as ours, has what is almost an obligation to create spaces at first in order to gain visibility and access to other projects. So then, in their first semester students are shown the museum, the gallery and the independent space. And when they see the independent space they say: “hey, I can do that.” This is often good, because there is the possibility that a process may originate there, but it can also be bad, because there is the risk that the setting up of a space might become a person’s sole endeavor. With Espacio Vacío it was like that. Towards the end it was Espacio Vacío, full-time, and Los Andes full-time, and Espacio Vacío empty. And I said: “that’s enough.” That cycle had run its course, but at Espacio Vacío I had already started to compile a database concerning fields of discussion that interested me, because at Espacio Vacío I would invite people to participate in discussions, so then we created something on the internet, originally called Nonlocal, later Momento Crítico and finally Esferapública. So what I was most interested in were these discussions, and that had more to do with Tándem than with Espacio Vacío. Víctor: Espacio Vacío closed in 2002, right? Jaime: Yes, I think it was in 2002. We tried to make some shows, one of them about the architect Guillermo Bermúdez... things with more of an institutional inclination. One day [César] Gaviria showed up to look at the works and stuff like that. We were looking for things along those lines but in those spaces a time comes when you just feel... it’s enough. In addition to that José wasn’t here. So without José, who owned the place, and who was also a journalist and whose idea it was for us to publish... let’s say that Esferapública could have functioned with that space as headquarters, but it didn’t happen. At that time I was already at Los Andes, and just as had happened with Gaula, so with Espacio Vacío, I did away with the issue of physical space, although I wasn’t paying for anything, but it was nonetheless too much work, setting up the shows and all of that, and it is very painful for an artist –even if she does the whole thing herself– when nobody shows up, and I also noticed that the public that would come to Espacio Vacío, although it changed depending on the artist, was generally the same, and it was the same public that I had access to through the university. So I felt that I could get more done at a university, by giving people the tools, by talking about these spaces and creating an archive about them, than actually running one such space. Esferapública was another way to put the same understanding of autonomy into action. Early on people would send me texts by Hakim Bey 23


on autonomy, things that were available on the internet, and then we started having the debates and all of that. But in the beginning the idea was to carry on the discussion about independent spaces and about their viability in the local context. Víctor: Listening to stories by people who run or have run spaces like these seems like, time after time, rather than the fact of running the space, what is most important is to kill it off, no? It seems that all of these spaces follow the logic of the “swan song” and that beauty comes about through the death of the space. There is a mythical construction that requires a death as a condition for understanding the relevance, historical, contextual or whatever, of the space in question. The case of Esferapública is odd, because after thirteen years it has already gone beyond the logic that asks: what will happen if it dies or stays alive, and, on the other hand, there hasn’t been much debate about the kind of space that it exemplifies, where you can find all kinds of dynamic and institutional crossroads, but there is also room for discussion, for people who hate it and people who support it, people who are bored by it, people who compulsively read it. What are your feelings on Esferapública at its present stage, or how do you come to terms with that life process, with the life cycle of that place that, perhaps, has lived way past the time when it should have committed suicide? Jaime: Yes... there are people who claim that Esferapública is long dead, or who ask whether it still exists, but when there is a debate everybody reads it. That is very telling. In the beginning Esferapública functioned in a very peculiar way: first it was an email list, and discussions took place in the list format and were brief. Early on I preferred to open up a space and then close it, because in order to be effective a space should make an arrival and create a relatively powerful question at a determinate time; to have an impact on a given topic or institution or work or form of thought, and then disappear. Víctor: Of course. À la Hakim Bey... very transitory. Jaime: Exactly, transitory, that was something I was fond of. So then let’s say that Esferapública gave rise to some issues and at some point there was debate about the Bienal de Bogotá. And I thought, now it shuts down... I apologize, before the Bienal we held a debate, I think about something having to do with Arborizarte or something like that, and there was a discussion and I thought OK, I’m shutting down Esferapública. At that particular time, Ana María Lozano, who was the curator for the Bienal de Bogotá, invited Esferapública to 24


participate by organizing a forum. I said no, the forum does not seem right to me because then it will be controlled by the Museo [de Arte Moderno], we will be working for the Museo. So I said no, I’m out. And I forgot about it and the Bienal came about and Luis Fernando Valencia sent an essay that stirred a huge debate and then I said “OK now I’m shutting this whole thing down” and as I was about to that the debate over the Barbie dolls came up, so then once again the debate ran its course and at that point I came to think that the scene had appropriated this space, and new debates came about. In the days of the Barbie dolls we would hold five or six debates each year, maybe four of them quite strong, and by 2008 or 2009, after Documenta, it had grown to fifty or sixty discussions, out of which there would be five or six strong debates. By 2011 I thought that I realized that I no longer felt the need to shut it down and that I, if I were to continue, I could apply to obtain some institutional support in order to keep going for two more years or so and have time to go over the archive. So I sent a proposal to the Ministerio to apply for one of their awards, For me the point of Esferapública is to be on the look for things that are taking place, not just the debates but to see what is taking place here or there. [As a result] there is less and less debate and the nature of the site has become increasingly editorial. When we got the prize, we went through the archives, we worked on a platform... Last year, for example, we had to deal with one of those robots that infect the servers with malicious code and we lost a huge amount of information, so it costs a lot of money to retrieve it, to format everything and repost the archives... In conclusion, it requires more than just the space being there, it requires a presence. Not just in order to be on the lookout for things but also in order to keep the platform up and running and things like that. So the time came when I realized that I am not so much interested in shutting down Esferapública, but rather in the fact that it has become a living archive. But as an editor I am not interested in keeping alive repetitive discussions, rather I am interested in revising them to some extent in order to get a sense of what is going on. And maybe, once we are done with those revisions, it would be a good a idea to consider carefully whether this is to become an archive and whether to seek out the funds required to get some people to analyze what took place... it’s a very interesting archive. I think that this is how discussions among artists should work. Esferapública is a space for discussion where what matters are the ways in which issues are conceived and discussed, not the authors’ monographs, although of course you can go through all of the texts composed by each author. But it would be interesting to find a way of reframing that archive. 25


Víctor: I think this is something that has never been the case with any of the spaces run by artists, or spaces of whatever kind, that you find in Bogotá. Not even commercial galleries have taken on the task of writing their own history and of putting forth a critical reappraisal of their projects, as Esferapública has been doing for the past couple of years. Jaime: This year, as the editor of Esferapública, I would prefer to publish fewer texts, I would rather devote time to the analysis of past debates and maybe to make better use of Twitter, not in order to tweet what’s on my mind, but in order to look through the archives: “look there’s this thing here, that thing there,” because that constitutes our memory for a group of people –I wouldn’t say that for the scene as a whole– but for a group of people who participated and discussed. And I am interested in making it so that we ourselves are the ones in charge of this revision, although historians might find the procedure somewhat endogamic or incestuous. Consider the case of El Bodegón... I find your way of writing about El Bodegón very interesting, because it is something that people can read right now, without having to wait for ten years until the archives of Esferapública find their way into the hands of a small group of historians who might take over the project and come over to interview me when I’m an old guy. No, we need to do this now. Víctor: Certainly, because an important feature of Esferapública is that not only the discussions, but also the revisions, take place in the heat of the moment. We might say that, of course, there is some distance when it comes to the revisions, but on the other hand when the revision is posted and discussed, you realize that some issues recur. Fifteen years or more discussing about the Salón Nacional and we have not really moved forward; I don’t know how many years discussing alternative spaces and the same applies. So the archive allows us to see to what extent there might have been an historical devlopment; I wouldn’t say an evolution, but arguably a process through which the field has undergone some transformations, and it seems as though what has changed are the discourses, while the fundamental problems remain the same and the situation endures. Jaime: Of course, these are dynamics that have been around for a while and, in truth I think that it is up to us, the artists and those of us who have been involved, not to write the history –because historians will raise hell– but to somehow put together the archive. To organize the archive, a collective archive. To fix some stances. Before they show up and start to say: “Ah, this is 26


independent, this is dependent on this or that, this is autonomous.” They classify you and you get frozen into something, with the “classic picture”: Víctor Albarracín when he was 22, Jaime Iregui when he was 23. It turns into “archive fever.” Instead things should be as they are when you talk to Miguel López: the revision of an archive must be undertaken for the sake of bringing its critical potential back into play. So the idea of revision implies this reactivation of a potential. Otherwise, as Dominique Rodríguez used to say, what you get is a “debate over dusty drawers.” The debate over the Salón Nacional is like that, and so is the debate over institutions, many debates have become cyclical. For this reason, rather that shutting down the space, I think it would be good to turn it around.

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“The sound of the ‘capitalist invaders’” A conversation between Humberto Junca, Carlos Mojica, Efrén Aguilera and Víctor Albarracín

Víctor: My feeling is that Bogotá used to be a very closed city; it was very hard to gain access to information about music, culture, art, probably up until the end of the eighties, and to make matters worse it has always been a very dogmatic city. The crews of people who get together, even when it’s young people, always function sort of like a hooligan gang: you defend your own turf and you’re set to destroy everyone else. From that point of view what you guys were doing with La Resistencia was very cool in those days, because it was an open space; you would bring together things from random scenes and created a comparatively eclectic frame of mind. But I would like to ask you guys to reconstruct the atmosphere of the time and the context from which you guys originated, to tell us why you decided to produce a radio show, and why you decided to give it that particular format... there were four of you... each had a different taste in music, and there were some points of contact but each of you brought something unique to the table, you were like the A-Team: there was the cute one, the mad pilot, B. A. Baracus... Carlos: This was in 1991, so some of the nightclubs had already appeared which played alternative music for people to dance to. TVG had already opened, and before that there had been La Casona, La Mansarda, Barbarie, Vértigo, Barbie, Bolibar... I feel that we were in tune with the arrival of grunge... that was the setting at the time, the alternative rock scene... I don’t know if it was under the influence of that, but to some extent our project had some connection with alternative rock. Or it was like alternative radio. Efrén: I think that what brought us together was first and foremost our love of music; each of us had an inclination towards a certain kind of music and went that way, but obviously when the others would start showing you many other things... Humberto had things that we had never heard, Charlie other things... Óscar [Pinzón, fourth co-founder of La Resistencia] had even more, because he had access to La Musiteca’s stock, which in those days was a stall owned by Saúl [Àlvarez] on 19th street... 29


Carlos: I would buy music from the record stalls on 19th street. Saúl was there and there was also a guy who owned a stall called Yes, he was hippie and he had the best records... Víctor: But you would always buy music by groups from abroad... Efrén: The problem was that there was not a lot of music being produced in Colombia. And the people who did release records were typically people with money whose sound I didn’t really have a taste for. Carlos: I mean, who was making music at the time? There was Compañía Ilimitada, Génesis was already over, Pasaporte... Víctor: But around that time, for example, Hora Local and Chapinero Gaitanista were already around, no? Carlos: But hey didn’t put out a record until ’91... Hora Local’s first album came out in ‘91, and there was another record by a band called Sociedad Anónima... also the Necronerds were a similar kind of band... these were bands whose members were rich kids from Los Andes. The pioneers of that scene were a band called Distrito Especial. But there just weren’t many recordings by local bands. When did Estados Alterados release their album? Efrén: I think it was in ’93. Víctor: So we could say that the music being produced in those days was rooted in something like isolated “ghettos,” no? The punks, the metalheads... Efrén: Here in Bogotá we got to know more about rock music that was being made in other Colombian cities, and especially about that stuff from the underground punk and metal scenes in Medellín, through [José] Mortdiscos. Because I think that he was the first person who took on the task of going out there and bringing back groups and recordings... Over there they did put out a lot of stuff on vinyl and cassette. Humberto: He also produced the first album by La Pestilencia. Efrén: He gave them part of the money to put that record out. Víctor: I remember that in his store you could buy vinyl LPs released in Medellín during the eighties. Stuff by metal bands like Reencarnación, and punk compilations like La ciudad podrida... 30


Efrén: But in general there was very little music being produced. We had no awareness of what people were doing. Not even in Bogotá, where there were a few radio stations specializing in rock music, like 88.9, Radio Tequendama, Radio 15, Fantasía... Víctor: Let’s get back to the previous question, at the end of the eighties you were all art students... Is that where you all met? Carlos: We all started school at the same time... I lagged behind and, well, you guys did much better in your studies... so we first heard about the radio stations when you guys were about to graduate, right? Humberto: Yes. What you guys did when we were students was very important to me. I mean the concerts that you... Carlos: Around ’87 we had the idea of organizing some rock concerts at the university. We took on the task in earnest; we went to Student Affairs, there was a lot of resistance from them, finally they gave us permission to do whatever we wanted, but the only thing that they gave us were some platforms for the stage, we had to get the rest ourselves. And we organized a concert by Hora Local with another band called Nueve... then we had another one with a group called Yagé Band, who were from the neighborhood Pablo VI, and finally the concert by La Rata Poética with Darkness and La Pestilencia. Afterwards La Rata Poética became La Derecha. That was the last concert from that batch. Humberto: Those were very cool. I remember I missed that last concert... I almost made it but when I got there the scuffle had already started and I ended up just taking pictures of people arguing at the Plaza Ché. That in itself was important to me because the “mamertos” [leftwing militants, proverbially lovers of Cuban nueva trova and Latin-American folk music] were saying that this punk music was... Carlos: ... the sound of the “capitalist invaders.” Humberto: Exactly. And I thought: “well, they’re right.” And I also heard what the rockers had to say: “listen to the lyrics, this is a political band, they are taking a critical stance with respect to what is going on in our country,” and I thought: “well, they’re also right.” Víctor: It was interesting that a concert could give rise to an argued debate between those two sides... 31


Humberto: The craziest thing was to see the mamertos throwing rocks at the punks, which is kind of surreal because you would think that the punks are the bad-asses who scare everyone else, the real revolutionaries or something like that... raw and primitive... Carlos: Well, there’s two things to consider: the punks were greatly outnumbered and they were the ones who picked a fight. They figured that because of their look everyone else would be scared shitless and... this may sound chauvinistic but this was La Nacional... Efrén: Yes. I remember they were there in front of the Architecture Department, and I was right by the stage. And there were a bunch of guys with huge mohawks... about ten of them... and I thought: “where do these guys come from?”... they looked like aliens. Humberto: Those were all the punks in Bogotá... In those days there was about fifteen of them. Efrén: And those guys played and I thought the concert was pretty cool. But afterwards the crowd started heckling the punks... and throwing rocks at them... Carlos: The punks started to provoke the crowd... thumping and punching... That’s what caused the shower of rocks and bottles and many other things being thrown by the audience. Humberto: They had to pry open the doors to the Architecture building to get away. They ran through the school building trying to escape. Víctor: It’s funny that the story of La Resistencia should begin with a stampede of punks running for their lives... Humberto: Yes... to me that much is clear. I have given a lot of thought to my recollections of that event and, well, the thing is that I was taking pictures, not of the concert unfortunately... I was five minutes late. If I had been there on time I would have gotten a bottle smashed into my head. Víctor: Generally speaking, though, was there already an audience at La Nacional that would be receptive to that kind of music in those days? Carlos: If there was they were very passive and did not have a presence. Efrén: And it was for the most part people from the Schools of Arts and Design. The weirdest thing 32


that I remember us doing is that we would lock ourselves up in one of the studios at the School of Design to listen to Siniestro Total and many other punk groups from Spain... Humberto: These guys would also lend me cassette tapes that made the rounds, without a box or anything written on them, so I wouldn’t know what bands were on them but I would play them and love it: Siniestro, Kaka Deluxe, Los Ilegales, Kortatu... Víctor: OK, so this is how things were, say, towards the end of the eighties, but when exactly did the possibility of working on a radio show arise? Humberto: I heard that the university was going to launch a radio station, and that as students we were able to request a slot. Efrén: So we got together... Carlos: Oscar, Efrén and Humberto heard about it first... then you guys told me... Humberto: We thought: “we sort of need someone who’s more old school.” Efrén: Somebody with a stronger basis on rock music, because we were juggling with things from different scenes and we didn’t know how to put the puzzle together. So we needed Charly to give the project a direction. Carlos: Thanks a lot guys, that phone call... changed my life. Humberto: How did that phone call go, Charly? Carlos: I don’t know, I remember that you guys were telling me about it and we were walking past the School of Design and I couldn’t believe it: “we’re going to have a radio show, fucking amazing!” and then things went their own way... Humberto: Then we started to put the project together pretty studiously, right? Efrén: We wrote a document that was hundreds of pages long... Víctor: Just with scripts? Humberto: No. If I remember correctly we first worked on a discography, the idea being that we would arrive and say: “look, we own all of these records”... am I wrong? Efrén: No, I think that we did have to turn in a project and then we would be allowed to make ten 33


shows, that was like a consolation prize in case the project was not accepted. Humberto: No, the people from the station told us: “we have a show called Invitado Musical and we could try you guys out in that slot.” We wanted a slot of our own and they told us: “no, guys, what you can do is produce a special series, maybe running for one week, which is to say five shows; or ten shows, and then we’ll evaluate.” So we settled for a series that ran for two weeks, ten shows, one hour long each. They gave us some guidelines for scripts, we changed some things... And we started working on them. Víctor: Were those taped at home? Carlos: No. We would put them together. There was something like a chronological sequence... Efrén: The challenge was to produce the shows by using our small resources. So we had to tinker with things a lot to make it work, because we didn’t have enough music to cover the entire history of rock music, which is what we were shooting for... So we adapted what we all had at hand... Víctor: So at this point you guys produced those ten shows at a time when the alternative scene in Bogotá was beginning to take shape, and these two things coincided: the shows and the emergence of the alternative night clubs. Humberto: Yes. But there is also this, that we were working out of La Nacional, and this made things rather crazy. I remember that I would buy records by Silvio Rodríguez, I mean to say that we were pretty schizophrenic in matters of taste. I for one was never very dogmatic about rock music... and I think I owe this to the fact that I witnessed that debate at the Plaza Ché. Carlos: Well, in those I was extremely dogmatic. I’ll say even more, when I started hanging out with you guys I felt that all good music came from the past, but that was the first stage; the second stage began when I met you guys and got to hear tons of other records: you guys would show up and play Front 242, The Residents, and I thought: “what is this stuff, I have no clue.” So I learned a lot and got a glimpse of this huge landscape... Víctor: And when your run at Invitado Musical was over did you start working immediately on La Resistencia? Humberto: No, about a year later. Carlos: We made the shows for Invitado Musical during the second half of ’91, and they aired in 34


November. Around March of ’92 they called and asked us to do La Resistencia. Víctor: And at the time were there any other radio shows with a similar orientation in Bogotá? Carlos: Of course... Clásicos del Rock had been running on Javeriana Estéreo for a long time... and for me that show was an education. They would introduce the tracks but there was no jabbering. So you got to listen to a lot of music, because this was the problem with commercial stations: they would play two or three tracks and then it was a bunch of commercials and stupid skits... the same as it is now. Humberto: I guess that because of our education in the arts, I don’t know if I should call it a post-structuralist education, we had a strong critical stance against commercial radio and its hegemonic power. Víctor: And that came through in the show. I think that even though there was nothing like an explicit manifesto, that stance was easily felt in the shows that you guys started to produce, there was a lot experimentation with the sound-making possibilities of radio... you would play around with established formats and genres, like the radio soap opera, and with technical aspects. Efrén: We also realized that there were some oddballs who did not produce rock music as such, but whom it made sense to include in the rock slot and who were from here. Sometimes we would play Noel Petro and Carlos Román. Humberto: We were playing with that, not so much on the basis of a particular sound but rather by exploring a particular intent or attitude. I remember, for example, that we once produced a show about “gastronomic rock.” So we played tracks that had something to do with food, but we also brought bags of potato chips into the studio and we were munching on the chips while we were talking on the air; so, on the one hand, you couldn’t really make our what we were saying, and on the other we were being absolutely rude. Carlos: The truth is that we would take advantage of any excuse... songs beginning with the letter A... Efrén: The shortest tracks in history, the longest tracks in history... Víctor: Another important fact is that this was precisely the time when a scene of “alternative” bands began to coalesce in Bogotá. You guys also 35


played a key role by promoting all of these bands, you would invite them to the show, interview them and play their music. I remember that three of the bands who originated during those days, 1280 Almas, La Derecha and Aterciopelados were on the show, and with them a whole tidal wave of other bands. Carlos: Well, I don’t know whether it is a cause or an effect, as Víctor claims, but there was certainly a kind of synchronicity. Things came together at a given moment, there was something like a of spirit of the times. Efrén: And it was good, because in those days there was no space for that kind of music. The people from the radio stations were looking for commercial hits or for bands that would continue doing what the olds bands were doing. These bands had a very different project, they really were an alternative to what was going on. So to have that space was very cool because we were able to give people the opportunity to share their work and we also had material that gave the station an edge. It was very cool and many bands came on the show... Víctor: I also think that there were never as many bands in Bogotá as there were in those days. Efrén: Many of whom, in fact, never recorded anything. Carlos: Many never recorded... There was a lot, a lot of metal. We always pretended to be very open-minded and eclectic, but I would say we did censor that... we never played any metal. Víctor: Although it is also true that the metal scene had developed an incredibly solid infrastructure from early on... since the eighties, I remember going to huge metal concerts in Barrio Carvajal. There was a gigantic metal scene, and there was Metal en Stéreo, a show that played black and death metal on a commercial station, hosted by that guy Lucho Barrera... and there was access to all of the metal paraphernalia... Carlos: Yes, they already had their own radio station... But ska was also coming in strong... Víctor: As we were saying at first, Bogotá had always been a very closed city, and suddenly, in the beginning of the nineties, these host of groups came up trying to mix everything together. So 1280 Almas wanted to be the bastard childs of Fugazi and Tito Puente, and Aterciopelados a cross between Siouxie and the Banshees and guascarrilera. There were so many mixed influences... 36


Carlos: Héctor Buitrago [from Aterciopelados] had a radio show on Javeriana: Astrorradio... it was really good... he would play alternative music that you couldn’t hear on any other station: Mission of Burma, Echo and the Bunnymen... things that weren’t new but that you would not have heard on the radio here in Colombia. Humberto: But you did get to hear stuff like that on the night clubs. Carlos: Well, because the clubs also picked up the alternative banner. Víctor: And out of nowhere there was a crazy boom and now everyone was alternative... in a matter of six months Bogotá became alternative. Humberto: In ’93... Víctor: And in that context you guys started to build an audience, right? Carlos: Probably, the thing is that we had no idea of how to do that... we had no way of knowing who our audience were. Humberto: When we started producing the shows for the rock slot and La Hora de la Resistencia we designed an awesome visual campaign. We printed some posters and pretty much plastered the university campus with these very cool posters, with the names of the bands and some heads inside light bulbs, stuff like that. Efrén: We made tiny stickers with La Resistencia’s logo and we would paste them on all the record stores. Carlos: There was also a tacit agreement amongst ourselves, that we would promote the show rather than ourselves as individuals... we are still committed to that. Humberto: There are two commitments that we still adhere to: our distrust of commercial radio... although nowadays it’s hard to distinguish between the alternative and the commercial... Efrén: Yes, that boundary at this point... Humberto: And the other is that we earn nothing... (laughter)... we do it for free, which is pretty suicidal... Carlos: Yes... we do not present ourselves as radio personalities. Humberto: Our shows are not connected to our names. 37


Víctor: In addition to that, the show has always been open to a collaborative dynamic, and you invite a lot of people to do things, to present their music, to talk about their projects... Carlos: Yes, maybe we developed this way of working because, since the beginning of the project, we saw ourselves as listeners rather than producers... we were on the side of the listeners. Efrén: And besides, many people are grateful after participating in La Resistencia because that is when their life and their passion for music blossomed. Víctor: Moving on... I introduced the topic of bands... because I think that as new ground was being gained on the radio, other channels soon opened up, obviously you could now hear La Derecha and Aterciopelados on La Resistencia, but eventually these bands would end up performing on TV on Jorge Barón’s show, I don’t know if Las Almas played there but they always say... Humberto: ... that they were invited to perform but declined. Víctor: They declined! Anyway, what I mean to ask is this: when a cultural scene begins to gain ground, you can also see that a market niche begins to grow and then it becomes massive, and I like the idea that there are these bands that start from below, from the margins, who are to some extent rude or make something that is a little noisy and in some sense new, and later slowly position themselves within the industry, but then there are also bands like Demencia, whom you guys would also play on La Resistencia, and in this case if you hadn’t done so there would have been no record of what was going on in Bogotá... Humberto: I met the guys from Demencia because Efrén introduced me to them. Beto was a friend of his... they were an amazing band... Efrén: Yes... Beto played with his wife, Rocío. There were other bands, they were all on that compilation El Bogotazo. Humberto: Yes: Escoria, Desarme and Demencia. Efrén: But there is a very important point, namely that when we started to promote specific bands and showcasing the stuff that was going on in Mexico with fusion and Culebra records, the local record labels realized that there was a market for that and that people would buy that kind of music... so that’s when they decided to pick up Aterciopelados and produce their first record. 38


Carlos: And Las Almas were left out, which was very odd because Las Almas had a stronger following here in Bogotá, but the industry people were scared of them because they found their lyrics too violent... too aggressive or incendiary... so they were left out; or I don’t know if they chose not to get involved... Humberto: With Culebra? Carlos: Because they signed Aterciopelados and La Derecha, but not Las Almas. Víctor: So at that point the boom subsided and the wave retreated, right? I mean there was a moment when things settled down, but things had changed for good thanks to those bands who had stirred things up, like maybe Las Almas... a punk band with tropical percussion or whatever... Carlos: But who did not sound like Santana... Víctor: And then things took a different direction... arguably it’s hard to define a sound that could be called proper to Bogotá rock after that wave in ‘93. Carlos: Yes, it’s hard. Víctor: There are some relatively distinct historical phases, but in general it seems that there is no logical evolution, is there? And it seems like at that time, around ninety-something, the scene crystallized, but ultimately it didn’t because everything came apart and after that once again there were only little things here and there, maybe up until a couple of years ago when there was a new boom around the music of Mugre, Las Malas Amistades, Los Pirañas... Carlos: Yes, there was a mood of latency... of hibernation... Víctor: And yet you guys were still at it, interviewing new bands that were coming up... Humberto: It’s also true that we did not make it a point to paint an updated portrait of the scene in Bogotá, it’s just that if we discovered a group at a party, or if they would contact us, or if they were recommended by someone else... so we were very happy to hear something awesome and obviously we would invite them to the show. What is also crazy is that both Efrén and I started making music... I don’t know why Cha didn’t... Carlos: Because I’d already done that... Humberto: Oh yeah, that’s true! ... Charly was in Hora Local. 39


Carlos: I sang and played keyboards... but I didn’t even make it to the record. They kicked me out of Hora Local because I missed a rehearsal because I took a hit of acid... they kicked me out because I was a junkie and I because I wasn’t a preppie boy from [La Universidad de] Los Andes... Whenever people talk about Hora Local they describe it as Eduardo Arias’s band, but Eduardo Arias was the last member to join Hora Local... the last one to jump on the train... he was like “the knight valiant of the Bogotá underground,” and he obviously realized that this band had potential. So he arrived later, and obviously it benefitted the band a great deal, because he was already famous for publishing an underground fanzine, Chapinero... and he had also done a little bit of writing on rock music, during the rock music boom when Andrés Pastrana was mayor... so this thing started out in the press called the “rock page” or something like that... and Eduardo Arias was also involved in that. I have a lot of respect for him, I think he’s a smart guy, but I also find him very opportunistic... that’s how he was, I don’t know if he still is... I doubt it because people chill out as they grow old... but I find it amusing that people describe Hora Local as his band. The band was really the work of Luis Eduardo Uriza, Pedro Roda and the guy who now conducts the symphony orchestra, Ricardo Jaramillo. They were the core of the band. And just like you guys asked me to participate in La Resistencia, Pedro, with whom I had been friends my whole life, asked me to join Hora Local... and that was the band for about two years... no, for about a year, and then came Eduardo Arias, who obviously had an incredible amount of information about music, he was very much up to date and he knew about things that nobody else knew about here... Víctor: And this is another funny thing: arguably since the end of the eighties you guys were discovering music, you would find out about music being made and then you would share that on your show. And arguably what you guys were playing and sharing on the show was all that we thought that we needed to know about. That was all you needed to know about to be up to date on that region of the rock globe. And then in the last ten or fifteen years you read a magazine and twenty bands are featured and you realize that you’ve never heard of any of them, that you’ve never even heard of the people whom they cite as influences. Humberto: I know only that I know naught... Víctor: So for twenty years you work on a rock show devoted to a specific kind of rock music, and suddenly there is so much information available and you realize that those twenty years, 40


something like half a lifetime, are not enough to get an idea of what is going on, and at the same time you look around and now everybody has a podcast... Humberto: Chock-full of bands you’ve never heard of... Víctor: Everybody’s listening to all kinds of music, everyone has a Soundcloud page where they upload music and listen all kinds of stuff... Carlos: Yes, but in that context there is no longer anything like the kings of the underground... Víctor: Right... maybe also there just is no underground. Efrén: I don’t know if it was Humberto who once said, a long time ago, that if a record found its way to our little corner of the world, this forgotten corner where noting happens... and you think that it’s an underground record, well it’s no longer an underground record, because in order for it to get here... Carlos: But that is relative, there are still people here who, very secretly... I know this because I go to the flea market and find incredibly strange, very rare, insane stuff. Efrén: An example close to home is Héctor Buitrago, when he got tired and thought that from then on it would be CDs and nothing more, the guy took his entire vinyl collection to that guy who you buy from... his entire collection... a bunch of records that he collected and brought back from his travels... an insane amount of vinyl, and people snatched it up like this (snaps fingers)... in seconds. Humberto: But there is something special about being in Colombia, namely that, musically speaking, we are extremely schizophrenic, and from an early age we grow up listening to rancheras, tango, carranga, balada, boleros, salsa, vallenato and then rock. I was touched by rock music because, of course, it’s rebellious, it’s the music of the counterculture, and obviously when you’re a teenager you need to distance yourself from what your parents and relatives listen to... this is natural, it’s obvious, and it’s also healthy... but I also think that it’s cool to have been born here, and I think that we got to live through some pretty cool times. I do not disown ranchera or vallenato... Carlos: And clearly if we were to narrate the history of rock music that narration would be inflected by our experiences as Colombians. 41


Efrén: But there is another thing about Colombian rock, namely that until recently Colombia was a country that no one would come to. So people had to make everything up on their own with three sticks and a wood guitar... Víctor: But in ‘92 Mano Negra came over and then they recorded the video for Señor Matanza here, and little by little the country became a point of reference. The thing is, as we make our way to the present times, that nobody cared about the bands you guys were interviewing twenty years ago, nobody gave a damn, but what would have happened if someone had taken an interest in La Santa Bulla? or in some other of the groups you were showcasing: for example Obra Negra, who I thought were an amazing band, and nothing ever happened with them. But nowadays you guys interview Los Pirañas and Los Pirañas go on to become a huge hit, their record is released by VampiSoul and they rank highly on world-wide end-of-the-year best-of lists... Humberto: Well, but not because we interviewed them... Víctor: No, obviously not... but what I mean is that things have started to happen. Las Malas Amistades signed with Honest Jon’s... all kinds of things are happening and there is feedback between the local and the foreign, because it seems that, as opposed to the early nineties, when the scene was completely local and validated only from within, now it makes a difference when a band is reviewed on this or that blog, or when their album is listed in the top ten of an American or European magazine, or when an internet station... Humberto: What I think is going on is that people realized, and on a mass scale, that they can build an industry on their own... I mean that the old philosophy of D.I.Y. finally took over. Carlos: And technology allows you to do it. Humberto: Exactly. Because everything became so cheap... so now using Garage Band and a couple of good microphones you can record at home, and in addition to this something very peculiar happened which I have been giving a lot of thought to, namely that academic musicians discovered juvenile chaos; so now you have the guys from Distritofónica making very weird records that work somewhere between rock and traditional academic music; and of course there’s Los Pirañas, Meridian Brothers and Frente Cumbiero, people who are music geniuses coming out of the academy. And this is new. Before academic musicians coming out of La Javeriana or 42


the conservatory at La Nacional, well, you wouldn’t find them making rock records, they would become composers or academic performers. Carlos: But in my opinion this kind of diversification is at work also outside of rock music, I mean that, for example, the new-found appreciation for cumbia has something to do with a rediscovery of the country, of local music. Humberto: But it’s a rediscovery by way of a mirror: the reason is that people started making cumbia in Argentina, Mexico and Peru. Víctor: What do you guys make of the scene today? In the midst of the shit-storm and the overwhelming chaos of information, how do you guys feel about what is going on after twenty years of making radio and playing music? Carlos: Well, radio as we know is in its last thralls... because access to music is less complicated and people put together their own playlists and blogs... Efrén: Of course, I mean if you think about it, we are the old guys now. So what is punk now? Punk is something that we wouldn’t like... whatever annoys the old guys is what makes punk be punk, and now punk is reggaeton... whatever stands against some values that you have put together and forged and worked to conserve... and we can no longer keep up with that intensity. And I think that what matters, if you like music, is to hold your ground, not for the sake of lecturing people, but because you realize that there are things that people might enjoy and that’s why we play them on a radio show. Not necessarily with the intention of taking on the role of a cultural show run by very wise or specialized people, but just for the sake of kicking some music around, music that, because of everything that you have been through, you think is worth a listen...

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Self-management, communities and a bed to sleep on A conversation between Jimena Andrade, Marco Moreno and Víctor Albarracín

Víctor: I would like you guys to begin with some introductory remarks about Interferencia... Jimena: Well, Interferencia is a space whose direction we have been trying to determine as time goes by, as we go along, and we are interested in grounding our work on the human capital that is available to us... so, for example, we happen to know how to make documentaries, or we happen to have the opportunity to work with communities on pedagogical exercises that deviate to some extent from institutional parameters... we are interested in taking up all sorts of issues along those lines: economical, human and whatnot. So the project includes activities, or actions, or interventions, the name depends on the context in which we are working, whether it is community-based or academic, or the art context as well, since that is where we are coming from, those are our origins, and one of the things that interest us is to question or problematize the image of the artist, of course, since we are artists ourselves; the same goes for the concept of the artwork, we want to explore the possibility of an art product whose form of circulation would have nothing to do with what is legible as an “artwork,” what is understood as such in the art context, something that might deviate from that and generate a crisis or clash with that notion. But we prefer to refer to that kind of practice as something that is still “art;” for instance we make translations, audiovisual products, magazines or documentaries, we conduct activities in certain neighborhood, conversations or lectures within academic art institutions, because I’m a teacher at the Universidad Javeriana, and we think it’s cool to make some noise inside the art context, and we do so by bringing up topics that, although rooted in that context, don’t get a lot of attention in the circulation networks that are available in the field of art. What matters is that Interferencia is a space that is constantly being restructured and reconceived... We started working on it in 2008, and what we do today is very different from what we did back then. The website [http://interferencia-co.net] is very important for us, because it is something like a medium through which we manage those interventions that we have made, so that we have some products that are archived there, and those 45


products function in an open way, we conceive them as open because they can be inserted into different contexts... Víctor: You were saying something interesting just now, namely that Interferencia cdeploys a mixture of diverse forms of activity simultaneously. And these forms of activity all seek to bring life into certain regions and processes that involve ordinary people, and in my opinion they do so in an effective manner, and in that sense they differ considerably from the way in which communities are so often exploited by artists, or by institutions or by the private sector. So then, what kinds of relationship do you guys construct, with the students or the communities or with the field of art? What kind of relationship are you guys weaving or attempting to weave? Jimena: Well, we are interested in thinking about, working with and participating in the community; we are very interested in [Orlando] Fals Borda’s principle, Investigación Acción Participativa [Research Through Active Participation], which entails that one thinks about a context by playing a part within it. My feeling is that the products that we have developed by working within those communities are effective because we follow that principle. What we have learned from the communities is that it makes no sense to regard ourselves as saviors, because we are probably more fucked up than they are, or rather we certainly are. But then you realize that it is possible to function as a catalyst for something. So we can help, for example, to accelerate a process that was already underway, but for which people lack certain skills or equipment that we have access to, but they already have some amount of knowledge at hand, so that a kind of symbiosis kicks in and something gets done. So in that sense we describe our work, in political terms, as a form of community participation within a horizontally structured field. That is the kind of relationship that comes into play, with communities but also with art students, I see no difference between the two. Marco: I think that there is an important factor, namely the fact that, without a doubt, we cannot regard ourselves as one of them. You cannot be part of a community of which you are not a part, and so the point is to find a way to feel comfortable there. It’s as simple as being able to arrive somewhere and to sit on a chair there and to feel comfortable in that chair. Maybe all this talk about “being horizontal” is bullshit, but nonetheless the relationship triggers a process that can be cool and enjoyable when you are able to feel comfortable, and that is enough, because I don’t need to be one of them because I can’t and because it’s also not what I’m interested in; but I 46


am interested in forging relationships that reach beyond, let’s say, a particular task or a particular set of results, because we want this relationship to bring other elements into play that can make it vital and strong: friends, going for a soda, “let’s have a cup of coffee”... stuff like that. To be concrete, right now we are working in Belén [a neighborhood in Bogotá], with young people from the neighborhood and with kids who come from other parts of the city, and what we are trying to do there is to create a form of memory, bearing in mind that the neighborhood was once located near the South-Eastern borderline of the city, and that although nowadays it stands relatively close to the center of the city, it remains a distant or marginal place, it was and still is, a working class neighborhood, although there has been an increase in property value and, well, we want to connect these issues to the kind of dynamics that one finds in that particular neighborhood and in the whole area that is now described as the “expanded downtown” [of Bogotá]... Jimena: Also considering its place within the global economy... Before that we worked in Montería, through one of the Ministerio [de Cultura]’s labs [for research and creation], and there we went through a long process trying to gain a full understanding of the context. We started working on that lab four years ago, with artists from the region, and, well, we had no acquaintance with the context, and moreover it was an art lab, so then when we were about to start the second year we thought: “if the lab is approved again we are certainly not working with artists this time around,” and then we worked with children from the public school system and with some students from the Universidad de Córdoba who were not art students, but students working on a technical degree on Computer Sciences and Media. It was a very weird synthesis, because on the one hand we had kids who joined the lab when they were 14 years old, and who were 16 when the lab ended, and on the other we had young people who were 23 years old or maybe a little older... it was a scary synthesis because we didn’t know how one group would react to the other, but we did some very intense work with them and towards the end we were able to encourage a form of alternative circulation in a city like Montería, where there are hardly any networks that are not controlled by institutions. Víctor: Circulation of what kind of things, or of what kind of information? Jimena: We made a documentary about the people who extract sand from the Sinú river, 47


which functions as Montería’s main artery, and there is a very worrisome situation there, with people working under absolutely precarious conditions, people who are extremely poor and have no future, the “areneros.” If you are an arenero that means that you have no government I.D., you have no opportunities, so you go there and work taking out the sand and earn the day’s wage. You need no skills to be an arenero, you just need to know how to get in the water and bring out the sand... but there is a huge problem, there are so many issues in terms of labor and of natural resources... for example members of indigenous tribes were formerly fishermen, but the river no longer yields fish, because the dam that was built in Urrá caused incredible environmental damage, and as a result a kind of gentrification is now underway, because the sand that is extracted from the river is used to make bricks that are used in construction sites in the adjoining towns; I mean to say that all construction work being done in Montería and its surroundings relies on sand from the Sinú river. So there is a boom in construction all around, and it relies on a shift in the use of natural resources: from fishing to sand for construction, and many people are involved who come from Medellín, who are connected to violent organizations, to the paramilitary groups which have a strong presence in Montería, and so many other social issues enter the picture. We have developed a procedure, and we have used it on several different occasions, which is that, although we were not trained as filmmakers or anything like that, we focus on the production of audiovisual material, as a way of developing an understanding of physical space that can then lead to an understanding of the situation in human terms and allow us to create a form of critical distance, and we conceptualize this procedure with reference to an essay by Lucy Lippard about emplacements, sites and landscapes. We use that text as a point of departure in order to work on a given context in light of those three modules. When you become acquainted with a physical space and its geography, you necessarily become acquainted with the human dynamics at work in that space as well. And when you become acquainted with the latter you necessarily take a stance, a position of critical distance, and you are then able to generate a landscape. In the end the landscape is an audiovisual product. So this is how we work our way into a community so that, for example, we might work on a script for a documentary about the areneros of the Sinú river, which is what we did with those school kids and university students. Then, the year after that, we did... 48


Marco: ... we then thought something like this: “OK, let’s now think about how these things that you guys are now able to make can circulate and reach an audience,” and we had the idea of holding a festival in a neighborhood that, let’s say, is in a very difficult situation, which used to be one of Monterías largest illegally settled areas, although the properties have now been legalized and people were gramted land titles about fifteen years ago. So we created a small circuit for the exhibition of audiovisual works and we held some workshops at a school there, the neighborhood’s public school, and in that workshop we also dealt with painting, stencil, photography, drawing, we dealt a little bit with the construction of memory through those media... we were trying to some extent to work against the violence, because when we got there we were astonished. We arrived there and suddenly we would see a mob of twenty people chasing after a guy... Jimena: ... wielding sticks. Marco: Wielding sticks, because the guy had been caught stealing or something, anyway, the point is that it was a very violent environment. So the idea behind our third lab was to establish a format for the circulation of some audiovisual materials through that festival, the content of the material being, let’s say, political... Víctor: And the point was that the material should circulate within that specific community? Marco: Within the community, although, let’s say, outside of people’s houses. The idea was to introduce them to the principle of... Jimena: ... “do it yourself.” Marco: And for them to be able to do it. So, since there were no screens, we would use a white sheet, a projector that we were able to borrow from an education bureau of education, although only after jumping through endless hoops, and then, whatever, a neighbor would bring a speaker from his stereo... One day we had no projector, they couldn’t lend it to us, and a neighbor brought out his television set, so what we did was to travel around with that cheap and mobile gear, and in that way we were able to open up a space, and to inhabit those spaces, which were often dangerous... anyway. Jimena: And we were also able to get some of the tough kids from the neighborhood involved. We also organized talks via Skype by people who were working on related projects. So we would, for example, hook them up with people from the Ojo al Sancocho festival, and they would give a 49


talk for the people of Cantaclaro, and that was the closing event of our festival... Cantaclaro is the name of this neighborhood, which was once the largest shanty town in Latin America. Nowadays the favelas in Brazil take the prize, but back in the day it was the largest. Marco: There were also incredible contradictions at work there... for example, the illegal occupation was encouraged by the traditional political parties in Montería, which had an interest in its electorate and would bring people there so that they could take over a plot of land that was owned by the national government. But of course, it was a way for them to get votes. Jimena: So we then held the Festival de Afectos y Efectos, through which we intended to generate a certain kind of circulation, and then we had a problem with one of the members of our team, the coordinator, because he was stabbed, he was almost killed, he was stabbed in the groin and he almost died... and at that point we realized that affective bonds had arisen within the group. I was teaching and suddenly I got a call from one of the kids: “Jimena, Nemías was stabbed”... Víctor: And he was a member of the community... Jimena: Yes, he was from the neighborhood, from Cantaclaro. It was a horrible ordeal and it happened as the festival at Cantaclaro was about to end. We spoke to a community leader and he told us that in fact the crime had something to do with... we wanted to know why... and the point was to intimidate us... Víctor: To make you guys stop... Jimena: We discussed the issue with a bunch of people here [in Bogotá], we talked to the guy who runs the Ojo al Sancocho festival, who has gone through even worst situations, because people have actually died, they have been killed... we talked to a psychoanalyst who works with young imprisoned criminals here in Bogotá and who knows his way around the conflict... María Helena Ronderos from the Entre las Artes [Association] also gave us a lot of support. What hurt me the most is that we were here in Bogotá and they were going through that mess back in Montería... I mean, it was a problem for all of us, it was the real deal... In the end we came up with an idea, and we needed to get approval from Nemías’s mother while he was still hospitalized. The stabbing was also an attack against the symbolic work that we had been undertaking in the neighborhood during that whole stretch of time. So we felt that we needed to work against that process 50


of violence on a massive scale, and to get the community involved, working on the streets with stencil, against the violence that was taking place. So it was up to Nemías’s mother, because he had been directly affected, to decide, on the basis of the options that we had outlined, because it was up to her to go out there and find out who had stabbed him. I mean, this lady would head out to work every day, she would cross the street and walk right past the kid who had stabbed her son, and there was nothing that she could do, so it was up to her. She said that to back down would be to legitimize the crime, and that we should hold the festival right there in the neighborhood. And so we did it, we gathered a battalion of people. It was a kind of exercise by the people there who were moved by the violence. They did it themselves. So at first there was about forty of us making stencils on the street. My hair would stand on end when I saw this, it was amazing. They couldn’t touch us because there were forty of us and after a while there were about sixty people making stencils in the neighborhood. It was something of a marathon because in just one day we needed to make molds out of images and texts that they came up with. And we managed to pull it off. So a lot of work went into the production of the texts and the images, and then we went out and did the stencils, all within a day. We started at two o’clock in the afternoon, at four o’clock we took to the street with four stencil molds, some people stayed behind working on the rest, and then they used those on the street and it was awesome because right where Nemías had been stabbed they made some stencils against violence, created by the people themselves. They might have been criminals as well, because they were not all what you would call wonderful well-behaved individuals... we were also working with kids who might have stolen some other kid’s bicycle; the workshop was very well thought-out, because we had to be as effective as possible: we made an awesome set of stencils, with short, powerful texts going straight to the point, and at the ends there were seventy of us makings stencils all around the neighborhood, and Nemías was there on crutches. Víctor: In addition to the labs sponsored by the Ministerio de Cultura you guys had already worked on projects involving other communities... Jimena: We have worked with members of the wayúu tribe in the Guajira region. Our work there was different in kind but it was also very powerful. What we did was to work on the translation of a set of concepts or words or terms, which pertain to life and which motivate us and feed into our 51


practice: what is the meaning, in political terms, of self-management, autonomy, solidarity, the ideal of progress, self-determination? A bunch of words like these, what do they mean and how are they translated by someone who experiences them from the point of view of an ancestral tradition. So, for them, solidarity is something immanent to their lines of kinship; they know what self-management is because they practice it daily. You might think that collectivity is something that can only be arrived at by way of a philosophical construction, and that you then need to pull all kinds of stunts in order to make it real, but for them collectivity is given by ancestry, so these translations are an incredibly powerful piece of work, although in a different way, on a different register... Víctor: ... bearing in mind that, within the art context, most artists rely on metaphors or concepts that are completely disconnected from the field, so that words like “autonomy,” “selfmanagement,” “self-determination” are part of the vocabulary of contemporary art, and are constantly used by the most fashionable artists in the world, but with no grounding on reality... and to speak of “self-determination” should imply awareness of the fact that there are people who die, who are really dying right there next to us, alongside us, because they have tried to do what they wanted to do, what they set out to do... so it’s cool to think about bringing things back to reality, since you guys begin where artists also typically begin: with a text, a piece of theory or whatever, but then you guys ultimately bring things to the field of experience, your own experience, and you guys come from outside but... Jimena: ... but we engage with reality. Marco: In that sense I do think that some of the content on our website [Interferencia] takes a step away from the field of art... and I think that our production, which, as Jimena says, is to some extent not intended to circulate as an object or as a finished product, does accomplish a pedagogical function, that is basically its sole function. Víctor: And from what I can tell your aims lie outside of the habitual circles of art and artists, outside of the small confines of the art world... Jimena: But at some point our paths cross with those confines and we find that interesting, not because we like to get in there but because, let’s say, we did some work in Valparaíso and in the context of that project we organized a media workshop in Pueblo Hundido, which is a neighborhood located... you can imagine where it’s 52


located, since it’s called “Pueblo Hundido [Sunken Town];” this is a neighborhood that has no drains, no sewer lines. We made a documentary with an artisanal fisherman who lives there, and eventually it was shown at the Museo de Arte Moderno [de Bogotá]. And what the hell is a documentary like that doing in the middle of an exhibition in that place? We like being a source of discomfort. Something like that doesn’t look like art, and nobody involved in the field of art is interested in it, because it’s talking about gentrification, about collective endeavors in a city like Valparaíso, about how these come together, about the hard times that Don Tomás is living through, an artisanal fisherman who goes out and can catch no fish... because Dutch fishing companies are given legal advantages, and they go out there and take all the tuna and salmon, and the artisanal fishermen are only allowed to fish for hake, which is like the poor man’s bread... so we are talking about the most precarious conditions, but what is the connection between what that old man in the corner is going through and everything else that is going on in Valparaíso? So we go there and then make this documentary and later on there we are standing next to all of these art people and well... it’s like being the stone in the shoe. We didn’t look for such things to happen, but they do happen, and this also brings to mind what we were saying just now about those terms and words that are so often thrown around in the art world. I think that the point of making that glossary of words that pertain to life is also to create discomfort, or, I don’t know, that it is a way to deal with the allergic reaction that you get when you hear artists talking over and over about autonomy, self-management, collectivity, and then you feel like you’re on a kind of limbo and you feel upset, because you realize that those terms are being manipulated and taken out of the cognitive practices from which they emerge in order to promote things that, precisely... Víctor: ... work in the exact opposite direction... Jimena: When we made the documentary about El Bodegón, we interviewed a gallery owner who claimed that they were “self-managed,” so starting from there we... Marco: The guy claimed that the gallery owners themselves, that galleries were an example of selfmanagement... Jimena: ... he argued that, if we looked at things closely, we needed to come up with a comprehensive definition of self-management, because according to him galleries were also “selfmanaged,” not only them, also artists, collectives... not just him, but still. So when we heard that we decided to look at those terms closely, but obviously we come from the academy and that is 53


a baggage that we cannot simply do away with... I mean, I don’t come from the context of social or political movements... our background is an academic training in the arts, and that is where we operate, although we have political commitments and we are trying to sharpen them and give them structure, so then, how do we deal with this group of people from the art world? Víctor: I also get the feeling, in the case of Interferencia, that your political concerns have become increasingly stronger, and that your artistic concerns are gradually less important. When I look at the old postings on the website, which include interviews and testimonials by artists, and translations that deal with issues that specifically concern the field of art, I can tell that as time went by things would head in a different direction. Your work is very different from what Colombian artists typically do when they approach social issues, community-oriented work, or a critical assessment of social facts. It seems that for the average Colombian artist it is essential to loop this kind of work back into the field of art, while you guys, to put it bluntly, don’t really give a damn about it. In your work one does not make out this need for everything to end up in a museum or a biennale, or to be shown in a galley, or edited as a video with five copies printed for the sake of collectors, which is how things usually work no matter how politically committed the artist in question might be. Jimena: What is at stake in those cases is the artist’s concern with his own possible demise... if an artist disappears from the circuit, well then he’s dead, so he needs to remain active, to keep on producing stuff... in order to remain active he has to produce and maintain his connections, he has to feed them, he has to be “there,” and that is for me one of the reasons behind our the website: if I fucking feel like posting a translation, I don’t need anyone, I post the translation and that’s it. I mean, I have no use for a curator. Obviously, it might happen that we need money to produce a documentary about the history of Colombia, but, unfortunately for us, we are artists and we need to deal with the challenges that come with the profession, so we know how to get things done without any money and still be able to pay our rent and utilities; it’s a sad truth of life, but that’s how it is. So in that sense, of course, there are some things for which we wish that we could have some financial support, but if we can’t get any we do them anyway. And how do we do them? Well, this is where the website comes in: I don’t have to worry about circulation, I know that the website circulates within a confined and specific circuit of people who have access to the internet, but it has also allowed us to reach people in other countries: 54


for instance, there are people in Spain who have come accross our videos and publish them there, or in Chile or elsewhere, and we think that this... Marco: The fact that everything is posted on the website allows us not to have to worry about being kicked out of the art-show map, the map... I don’t know how to call it, but... at least we have never been threatened with... Víctor: ... censorship... Marco: Right, censorship, and if such threats were ever to materialize, well, I think that we would laugh in their faces. Víctor: Well, that is certainly a good strategy, especially if you consider that local institutions are very good at silencing artists whom they find uncomfortable, through money or through lawsuits, or simply by keeping them in check and giving them just enough space for them not to become restless... Marco: There is also the option of being absolutely crass and telling the artists who opposes them: “I can make one phone call and have you removed from the planet.” Víctor: From a strategic point of view I find it very interesting that you guys have remained relatively immune to all such forms of blackmail, incorporation, assimilation, censorship or whatever, inasmuch as you guys are already working at an entirely different level, where it is no longer easy for them to get a grip on you, while it’s so easy for the institutions to get a grip on all other artists, on those who are specifically working within and about the field of art: artists talking about artists, for artists, with artists. Jimena: Circulating within the world of artists... Víctor: ... which gives rise to an unhealthy form of feedback by virtue of which everything boils down to being part of a particular scene, having a group, a name, a certain degree of public attention... this is what many of us are still living through day to day, and you guys have little by little left this all behind and relocated elsewhere. Marco: However, we are not naive enough to think that we are not beholden to anything, because there are other sorts of dynamic that do constrain us... Víctor: Of course, but oddly enough, although you guys are risking something, what you guys are putting at risk is no longer publicity, a good 55


name, a career as artists... it seems that there is an interest on the part of artists in art for its own sake, while for you guys art is just a means, something that can be used strategically in order to get to somewhere else. Jimena: It’s a pretext, we can always say that it’s only art after all: “look at this cool drawing that we made for the stencil,” but we don’t really give a damn about that, because what mattered to us was to be able to write something on the wall where Nemías had been stabbed... that was the exciting thing, to see a crowd of sixty kids in Cantaclaro, that was just thrilling... to watch them carrying Nemías on their shoulders, because he was on crutches you know... Marco: Of course, I think that we are able to encourage processes like these and bring life into them, but they need to continue, and it is up to the communities to do it, because we cannot assume that we are teaching them anything and, on the other hand, a community that can’t take care of itself, well... Víctor: Right, because it might also be the case that a group of artists works with a given community and maybe they can do that for two months, two years at best, and then they leave and... Marco: The people in the community, they stay there... Víctor: Of course, an it is also worrisome to consider that there are these highly questionable assistencialist dynamics, which bind communities to assistance from the government and from the private sector, and ultimately shatter them. So it is important to examine what happens when you guys, as artists, leave a community and they carry on, or fail to carry on with the processes that you developed together, but one may also ask how responsible you guys are for the continuation of these processes, or to what extent it is up to them... at any rate it’s a very complex negotiation. Jimena: Well, we argue a lot about this question amongst ourselves, because Marco argues that... Marco: ... that someone who needs help is in a very bad place... I’m not talking about what the government is in fact responsible for, but about things that are not... I mean a community that needs help in order to keep a cultural process of their own alive, or something along those lines... if they need someone to come from outside to help them with that... I think that in that case the community is just in a very bad place. 56


Jimena: I think, Marco, that at this point we are also dealing with a subjective crisis, and that if we are working on a project that considers itself political, then this is what we are activating, I mean the possibility of working towards a solution with a community that is undergoing a subjective crisis. Marco: Well, I don’t know if what are doing is bringing such processes into life, or if it is rather a matter of bringing continuity to something that is already underway... I think that the point is that we examine what is going on and say, I don’t know: “listen, let’s do it this way and let’s work on it all together,” and that when we do this people begin to realize that there are other paths... Jimena: And that there are other people who want to work alongside them, and they come together... Víctor: Or then again they might just fail to come together, you guys leave the place and the process dies out... because one might say that there is a strong tendency to assume that when an artist gets involved with a community it is the artist who bears the entire responsibility: if things work out the artist is praised, if things don’t work out the artist is to blame... and ultimately the community becomes an instrument for the artist, a group of puppets handled by the artist as she pleases... Jimena: Or we might consider things the other way around, because communities are hardly angelical... Víctor: Of course, there is a complex game where each is taking advantage of the other... Jimena: They know, because every community has dealt with a bunch of people who show up and tell them the very same things, or similar things, so they evaluate what they can get out of it. No one is naive, no one. So it’s a matter of sizing each other up, I size you up, you size me up, and if we establish that we are not going to fuck each other over, then we see... Víctor: If we can work on something together... Jimena: ... if we can work on something or not... and if it’s not possible, then we split, and if it seems possible then that’s awesome. We have thought a lot about this here, with the work that we are doing now in Belén, because that neighborhood is right next door to where we live, and yet there is such a huge gap between their lives and ours. It is a terrifying fact that kids from Belén are not allowed to come into Nueva Santafé, it’s a shame, so we are interested in 57


thinking about, and we have been doing it for a while, about ways to develop processes that involve the community and which may allow us to work against gentrification, to some extent, and to establish paths of communication between the neighborhood of Belén and Nueva Santafé. The bottom line is that we, the inhabitants of Nueva Santafé, are responsible for gentrification. Víctor: Of course, you as artists living in Nueva Santafé are part of the problem. Jimena: Of course, this used to be part of the neighborhood of Santa Bárbara, there used to be houses here [which were expropriated and demolished in order to build the residential complex, designed by revered architect Rogelio Salmona]. Víctor: Speaking of Santa Bárbara, tell us a little bit about what you guys are doing there, your work on a community vegetable garden. Is that part of the project you are talking about? Jimena: Yes, well, we are interested in getting involved with the neighborhood, and how else are we going to do that if not by chipping in? Belén is a small neighborhood, but there are many vegetable gardens, in fact a huge amount. So for about a year I have been working in one of these gardens: I have a plot and I grow things there; right now I’m growing beets, carrots, corn and beans, and I participate in all the proceedings of the garden, which is run by the community. The garden I work on was established about three or four years ago, it’s big, it’s located on the premises of the neighborhood church, which is a very old building. Víctor: And people from the neighborhood work on the garden... Jimena: People from the neighborhood and then there’s me, but for the most part its people from the neighborhood. Doing this has allowed us to understand, for example, that there is a process of population displacement underway, people from [the town of] Choachí are moving into Belén: women who are running away from domestic violence, people who are running away from so many forms of violence at work in Colombia, and they end up in Belén, but they have a very difficult time dealing with the fact that they are now uprooted, because they come from peasant families, and in the garden they find a way of reconnecting with all those things from which they were forced to break so dramatically. So I run into peasant women who teach me all kinds of stuff, because I’m pretty clueless, I basically just mess up the plants, I mess everything up, I don’t 58


do anything unless I am given instructions... by now I know a little more, but in the beginning I would always put my foot in the wrong place, rip out the wrong plant, I would mess everything up. The point is that we plant everything there together, and the garden yields a wide variety of produce, and right now I am in charge of the seeds, which is a task that I think is very important, because it deals with something that has great political significance: seeds as a form of resistance against huge processes at work in neoliberal economics... if you work on a farm it’s for the sake of “potatos” [a staple food for the working class throughout the Andes], you have to eat, it’s a process of self-management, and here we come to terms with the meaning of this word, self-management. So we have also worked on expanding our glossary project, and we ask the people working on the garden at Belén: “Doña Anita, ma’am, what does emancipation mean to you?” And then Doña Anita, who manages the garden, a lady from the neighborhood who left Santander with her family in order to escape the violence in the sixties and landed in Belén, she tells me: “emancipation means that I don’t need to shop in El Éxito or Carrefour [the dominant supermarket chains], because I have my lettuce here, the lettuce is clean and I emancipated myself.” So this is participatory work that we are doing in Belén which allows to become acquainted with the community and to create affective bonds; I mean, I go with Doña Anita to the doctor, I let her hold on to my arm and walk with her there; or if I get sick she comes over and brings some aloe for medicine. If we don’t establish such bonds it’s not possible to work with a community, because then you will never cease to be just a foreigner who shows up and philosophizes or analyzes and contributes nothing. Our participation with the community in Belén is in harmony with our intents: the produce that we eat here at home comes from the garden; I plant things, I reap them and we eat them here, and maybe if the crop is large we sell some of it, we look for someone who might buy some lettuce, acelga, quinoa... Marco: In a neighborhood like this you will find many dynamics at work that make the community strong, the problem is that its inhabitants have been stigmatized for such a long time, but there are many things going on similar to the gardens; I think that there are maybe three or four vegetable gardens, and also in many, many houses in Belén people grow produce in their backyard, but you also find craftsmen here, not the kind of craftspeople who go into fashion in touristy places, but craftsmen like a man who makes stands for plant pots, carpenters, tailors... 59


Víctor: ... crafts properly speaking... Marco: ... not just one, so many crafts, yes... Víctor: And from that point of view, selfmanagement means that you can walk over to your neighbor’s place and your neighbor can build a bed-frame for you, and you don’t have to go to Homecenter and buy a piece of crap made out of composite... Jimena: Exactly, which means that this product of self-management is something that I have a use for in life... it’s the bed where I sleep.

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Necrophilia, sex, depression and fun Words by Pablo Marín Ángel

Early on I was fascinated by comic books, so at some point I began to publish newsletters and stuff like that back in Medellín. I had just finished high-school, around ‘92, although I had already been printing some things here and there since ’90. Around this time a small group of authors came together, people who were working on comics and graphic humor, nothing too sophisticated, and with them we published a magazine called Agente Naranja; that was the first publication on which I worked, along with three friends and some guests. As time went by we gradually improved the magazine, and its content became more acid, or serious or personal; we published it for several years. After that we teamed up with Andrés Buitrago, Marco Noreña and Tebo, who had their own magazine, Sudaca Cómic. We had Agente Naranja and sometime later we created another one called Santa Bisagra, around ’95 or ’96. At that point we formed a collective called Plan 9, and by then we already had several different fanzines going on, as well as some magazines with a relatively wide circulation, we were printing about two thousand copies of each issue, which was a lot at the time and still is. In those days there were other people around who realized fanzines as participants in Plan 9, so there were more comics around, there were fanzines that compiled comics made by people’s friends, and each had a particular editorial tendency: some focused on absurd material, others specialized in crass stuff, and so on. So there was one called Culo, another one called Puta Vida, and by now as a collective we were releasing something like seven different fanzines, seven titles, some were periodicals and some were not: of some there was only one issue, of some three, of some five... We released six issues of Agente Naranja, three of Santa Bisagra, two of Sudaca – we did put together a third issue of Sudaca, we had all the material, but we never had it printed. After that we got into all sort of problems, with the people from the book fair, with the office of the District Attorney – because of the content, bullshit like that – they called us satanists and they shut us out of bookstores and we were never allowed to participate in the Bogotá book fair again. The gist of it is that they ran us out of business, because our only way of recovering our investment and collecting resources for new publications was by selling the fanzines at the book fair, so we got sick of it all and started to work on different things individually. 63


Hold on, I forgot about Prozac, which also led to some turmoil... at some point we got tired of Agente Naranja, because we had some partners and they left, so we wanted to change the name of the magazine and we chose Prozac. I have no idea how this happened, but the people from the pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly and Company, found out about it, they heard that we were publishing a comic book magazine full of morally dubious materials and whatnot, and so we also got a call from their lawyer, giving us trouble for using the name “Prozac” without authorization; he also told us that we were just plain nasty. In those days there were two magazines devoted exclusively to comics, Acme in Bogotá and Agente Naranja in Medellín. One of the people who owned Acme also owned a company that distributed publications at the national level, La Librería Francesa, and Leonardo Rincón [his partner] was a professor at the Universidad Nacional and had a bunch of connections with the Ministerio de Cultura or some shit like that, so they were awarded a few grants and that gave them a huge boost. We were just a bunch of kids putting out comics, trying to figure out how to get them printed, and that was it, so we would publish whatever came out of our gut. I made Santa Bisagra with Diego Luis Jaramillo, he was sort of my partner there, and we decided that the content shouldn’t be funny, but rather transgressive, and when the fanzine was still being printed by photocopy we thought that it would be a good idea to have this transgressive content, the politically incorrect stance typical of a fanzine, but to give it a good design and presentation, we wanted it to look nice, to give the content a different form of presentation so that people would pay attention to what we were doing in a different way, so they wouldn’t just be looking at this badly printed, unstructured leaflet. We wanted a different focus for the zine, which is why Santa Bisagra stood on four pillars: necrophilia, sex, depression and fun... those were the four topics that Diego and I wanted to deal with, and we also had some guests, once in a while we would tell someone: “here, take a couple of pages and do whatever you feel like,” and that was it. It was funny because, since the magazine had a decent appearance – it had a well-designed silver cover – then people would run into it at a bookstore in some city, and they wouldn’t even look inside, they couldn’t anticipate that the content would be so strong, that inside they would find vaginas and people literally eating shit, and so towards the end of the nineties the magazine was sold, just like that, at the Librería Nacional [a nation-wide main-stream bookstore chain], until somebody actually bought a copy one day, had a look inside and complained, and then 64


somebody else and whatever, so once again we got into trouble. At this point me and Diego Luis, after working together on Agente Naranja, Prozac and Santa Bisagra, decided to switch to work on video, we made a few false documentaries, one of them was called Buscando a Wilmar, and we also did some animation, we did an animated version of one of my comics, it was Little Red Riding Hood but transposed into the paisa culture, we did that and because of it some people from Bogotá contacted us, people from a production company who wanted to do an animated soap opera, and they hired us to work on that. So we spent some time working on these things. I was in a weird limbo state for a while because, when I first came to Bogotá I was not involved with comic fanzines or any of that, instead I decided to work with Rodrigo Duarte on Cinema Zombie, around 2004, at the Museo de Arte Moderno, so we started doing that, which was a series of screenings of B-series, bizarro horror, cult movies, a whole bunch of movies... I mean, to tell the truth these were the kinds of movies that I grew up with, Reanimator or Commando, Chuck Norris flicks, movies about gigantic crocodiles with meager production values, and I would watch then on crappy theaters full of faggots who were there to check out the young boys... so my thought is that, I don’t think that it is possible to reproduce that atmosphere, but the films do retain that kind of insanity, their nature is to show things in their raw state, because often what you have is just some director who really just wanted to make this one movie, so you don’t even know the guy’s name, but he made it and released it as best he could, and it’ll be a movie about a little girl who is raped seven times and then grows up and sets out to exact revenge on the rapists... so you think: “man, how do they come up with stuff like that,” and films like that will just never get made again, I mean a movie where you see an underage girl naked, that’ll never happen again, or a movie with a crudely depicted rape scene, not many people take chances like that any more. So it’s a good thing to screen those movies, movies that were made in the sixties and seventies and are far more edgy than anything being made nowadays. There is also some food for thought here, my sense is that people can tolerate certain things in real life that they won’t tolerate on the screen, so then if they see a soap opera about drug lords or paracos, like the one that is being broadcast now, Los Tres Caínes [about the lives of the Castaño brothers, leaders of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia], they freak out and complain, but 65


what did they have to say when the events being portrayed were going on –and they still are– in real life? There they are saying that television is shit, and we’ve know that for a while, but what they are really saying is: “oh my, they are showing these horrible things,” and yet they never put themselves in the shoes of the people who are eating shit right next door, everyday on the street, and isn’t that more terrifying than watching some actor recreating something that already happened? Get over it! I know that things like these happen in other places as well, I mean here in Colombia we are shitty people, but similar things happen all over the world, people work on a representation of something and the audience reacts much more dramatically than they would if they were to witness the event in real life. So one day we were screening A Serbian Film and some guy walked out, completely enraged, and he spat on Rodrigo... we’ve been called all sort of names, and then you think: “what now, somebody is going to have me killed because I screened a movie? No fucking way!”. When we chose the name “Cinema Zombie” we weren’t thinking about the zombie phenomenon as such, the idea was rather that these movies had been buried for a while and we wanted to bring them back to life. And since they were all marginal films, and many were horror movies, then the name was a good fit. Anyway, the name also comes from some people with whom we used to work in Medellín and who run a space that works along similar lines. The fact is that we always work very much in earnest, although the movies may not be very well made or very good; but there are also very well made movies that somehow got buried as well... for instance we opened our first season with El Topo by Jodorowsky, and we also screened Pink Flamingos by John Waters, and these were both great movies and they were hits back in the day. It’s true that we would also screen some very transgressive movies, some that were pretty funny or straight up shitty movies, but the premise was that we wanted to rescue them and raise their profile. And we would also supplement the screenings with printed material discussing the films and the directors, and that allowed people to understand why we were screening these films and to realize that we weren’t just goofing around. At first Cinema Zombie was a film club, hosted by the Museo, and for each season we would screen about thirteen films. After four years we switched to a festival format, now it’s a week-long festival including retrospectives of old films, we have 66


international guests and an official selection of feature films and shorts, about 150 films last year. In addition to that we are now asking people to present one-minute shorts inspired by the main theme of each festival. Last year the theme was “humans versus science” and this year, in October, the theme will be “crazy women;” the idea is for people to make a one-minute short with whatever technology they have at hand, with their phone or their computer or whatever they have at hand, and the reason for this is that we want to encourage people to do away with the stupid assumption, shared by most people who make films in Colombia, that you need to spend millions of pesos on a movie that screens for two weeks and nobody watches. In any case I think that it would be good to reach an agreement with government institutions and create funding for films like these, which are not so expensive to make and manage to have a bigger effect, and which are likely to be more entertaining. Most of the good things being made in Colombia today... well, there’s Adolfo X, a paisa guy who makes action movies in the vein of the Wachowsky brothers but with elements of the paisa culture; there’s also a group of people in Pereira called Pereirywood who just made El carnicero paraco, a comedy-gore film; well, there are also other people making some pretty good things, but those two are the ones who are working the hardest, they have schools for actors and they make their own special effects, which are pretty good, but they do it all with their own money, they get no support from the government. Nowadays we want to move into production, we are looking to produce films that have nothing to do with what is typically made in Colombia, I mean nothing to do with “national or social reality” films about indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, those landscapy type of films that basically function as government advertising, you know, “Colombia es pasión” [the marketing slogan for the advertising campaign commissioned by the government to improve the country’s image abroad]. And, well, we are also working on a couple of documentaries, one about the culture of comics in Colombia, and another one about Jairo Pinilla, because nobody has made a rigorous and serious documentary about Pinilla, going beyond the fact that he is a picturesque character, and we should remember that Pinilla’s films have been the highest-grossing Colombian films to date, and there has been no recognition of this fact. The movies that people are making these days, like La sirga and Chocó and stuff like that, they’re not bad, but they are only seen by people 67


who are part of the film circuit, and we want to reach a different audience. The truth is that, if we are going to spend a thousand million pesos on a movie, it should at least be a movie that people will actually go and see and have a good time with, I mean, damn it, the funding for those films comes from people’s tax money, they are the ones who pay for the director and the production team... so I think that it would be a good idea to reconsider the production standards and pay attention to the kind of product that is ultimately reaching the screens, and to make sure that the point is not just for a bunch of insiders to pleasure each other and say: “wow your film looks so good, the photography is beautiful.” Just the other day I was talking to someone about these films that are tailor-made for the festival circuit, made even to be seen only in international festivals, and about the fact that those festivals screen these films because they like the idea of a rural Colombia, they want to see little poor black children and the country’s socio-political issues and whatnot, but they have no interest in showing another side of the country... I don’t know, just the story of three kids who go out to party and something happens to them...

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Point of tension A conversation between Humberto Junca Casas and Natalia Ávila Leubro Humberto: What year your did you begin your studies at La Tadeo? Natalia: I think I started at La Tadeo around 2000 or 2001. When I began to study art I had already finished Occupational Therapy at El Rosario, I already had a degree. I finished high school very young, so I was able to get a degree, work for a while, and then go on to study art with no problems. Humberto: And do you still work as an occupational therapist? Natalia: No. I only worked on that for a year, before I started at La Tadeo. Humberto: Did you pay for your own college tuition? Natalia: Yes. But by working part time on different jobs. Humberto: How did you get involved with El Bodegón, and why did you find it interesting? Natalia: To some extent it was a matter of chance. I remember that Víctor Albarracín, who had been my teacher, and Gabriel Mejía, who was one my classmates, invited me to collaborate on the project. At the time I was in a sort of limbo, because we were done with our coursework and my thesis project hadn’t really taken form yet. In those days I was working as a guide at the Fundación Gilberto Alzate Avendaño and I wasn’t doing much more. So it was an appropriate moment to participate in that project and try to build something with other people. Humberto: That means that you developed your thesis project while you were working with El Bodegón. Natalia: Exactly. In fact there was a moment when some us who were members of El Bodegón tried to propose our work in that space as a potential thesis project. Most of the people who were part of El Bodegón: Gabriel Mejía, Kevin Mancera, Juana Luna, Liliana Parra, Alfonso Pérez... were in the same generation as me and we were all working on our theses at the time. Humberto: What year was this? 71


Natalia: 2005, I think. Humberto: What did they tell you about El Bodegón? How did they present the project to you? Natalia: At first there were different ideas. Some people were inspired by what was going on with La Panadería, in Mexico, and they would make jokes, like: “we’ll do something similar and call it La Empanadería.” There was a place in La Candelaria called La Torre de Isa (the owner was Isabel, who was dating Juan Manuel Lara, another founding member of El Bodegón) and we held some early meetings there. In those days we didn’t have a very clear sense of what we wanted the place to be about: it could be a place for showing work, or for selling things, or a studio... In those days we didn’t know. Humberto: Why did you decide that El Bodegón should be a place for exhibitions rather than a studio? Natalia: I think it was because we found that space on third avenue. Humberto: What is the first thing that El Bodegón did? Natalia: First we had some parties. There were two pretty lame parties and then we had a concert by Silverio. And then we had our first show which was by Wilson Díaz. Those weeks when were hosting parties to gather money and consolidate the project, not knowing what it would become, were terribly uncertain; but there was the thrill of doing things together and having fun. That was very important. Humberto: Let’s talk about your thesis project. What exactly happened? Natalia: The mess began when I finished my coursework, My generation was the first to earn a degree through the credit system, so we no longer used the old semester-based system, which had a set framework for the thesis project and the entire mechanism of advisors and judges and exhibition. And, well, since those mechanisms were no longer there, two semesters before finishing our coursework the people in our generation started to raise inquiries before the administration about how our thesis projects were going to work; but the administration never gave us a clear answer. We finished our coursework, we went on vacation, and we came back next semester and still we had no clue. Then me and Kevin [Mancera], after filing memoranda and 72


letters of inquiry addressed to the administration, decided to write a letter to the Dean’s office, signed by all of our classmates, complaining about the situation. The first reply from the Department was incredibly rough and established a politics of fear. They told us: “because of the letter sent to the Dean’s office, you will no longer be allowed to make collective thesis projects and, in response to your question, you are free to develop your theses with or without an advisor, it’s up to each of you, it is not a problem that concerns the Department.” With that reply it was clear that the Department was shaking off any responsibilities towards its students. That’s where the problem started. Humberto: I’m confused, though, the thesis was optional? Natalia: No. The thesis was still mandatory; but now you could work with or without an advisor, and at the time the only person with the authority to approve a thesis project was the chair of the Art Department, Sylvia Escobar. Some time later we were able to have that last point modified, so that there would be a committee in charge of overlooking the thesis projects and granting approval. But in those days it worked like this: you would let the Department know that the project was ready, then you had to hand it over to Sylvia so that she could read it and approve it and after that, with the approval of the chair, you would set a date to present the work and have a defense. I found the whole thing disrespectful. After having paid, and a hefty sum at that, for ten semesters – because we are talking about a private institution – you were left to deal with your thesis by yourself: come and show us the work when you feel like it, and it’s all up to you, if you want advisors you have to find them and reach an agreement with them on your own. And this was an issue, because the professors with whom we might have been acquainted, and who we would first consider as potential advisors, would often respond to our invitation with something like: “well, I would be happy to work as your thesis advisor, but only if there is a commitment from the Department, an endorsement, and if the work is remunerated.” Humberto: So, the way things stood, the advisor had to either work for free or charge the student. Natalia: For the student to pay the advisor directly was a possibility, but I don’t think anybody contemplated it. From an ethical point of view it would have been extremely complicated. Humberto: Who was your thesis project advisor?

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Natalia: Víctor was my advisor in the last of the thesis projects that I presented to the Department. Humberto: How many thesis projects did you present? Natalia: I was forced to present three different thesis projects. The story is complicated, so I will tell it step by step. After we received that reply from the Department, most of our classmates decided to simply do any which project and graduate; but Kevin and I filed a complaint, we got the university tangled up in paper, challenging the Department’s lack of institutional commitment to its students and the arbitrary nature of some of its decisions, one being the decision not to permit collective works or processes to be used as thesis projects, which made no sense considering that during our studies we had been taught to work collectively in several assignments. If you want to have a look at them, our letters and complaints have been scanned and posted on a blog called Unlove story [Una Historia de Desamor] [http:// unahistoriadedesamor.blogspot.com/]. Later, at the beginning of 2006, we were summoned to a meeting with the Vice-Dean for Academic Affairs, mister Juan Manuel Caballero, who told us: “listen, enough with the letters and complaints, what is it that you guys want?” So that is when we proposed to use El Bodegón as our thesis project. In person Caballero told us that we could do that if we chose to. At that point El Bodegón was very much a real and interesting cultural platform; it was no longer just a place for parties. But in spite of our agreement with Caballero, Sylvia Escobar unfortunately took it upon herself to deploy a strategy of disinformation and debilitation against us. The Department never summoned us as a group to inform us that the project concerning El Bodegón would not be accepted; but they did summon us, repeatedly and separately, and told us many different and confusing things: that “there were probably too many of us” or that “we should have our thesis consist of a series of special exhibitions” and on and on... finally, after such a long wait and so many objections, we gave up on that collective thesis project. And it’s a shame, because it would have been a very good opportunity for La Tadeo to gain visibility by supporting a space and a process initiated by its own students and faculty, if you consider how important El Bodegón was yet to become. Humberto: When did this happen? Natalia: We proposed El Bodegón as a thesis project on March 2006. Then Kevin and I thought that we could base our thesis on a research 74


project concerning the relationship between the art market and the drug trade in Colombia, partly in light of some conversations that we had with a lawyer whom I was dating. He had connections and ways to obtain information about some gallery owners and art dealers who had to some extent faced legal procedures because of their links to the drug trade. Nowadays this is a very difficult topic to think through and track down because documents have gone missing or because the people who were able to give testimony are gone or no longer willing to do it. But at the time we came very close to obtaining first hand information, we had that opportunity, so Kevin and I considered it and in July 2006 we presented that project to the Department. At this point something that I mentioned earlier was already in place: there was a committee for the approval of thesis projects, as a result of all of the complaints that we filed. Humberto: Do you know who were the members of that committee? Natalia: I have no idea. But Manuel Santana [academic coordinator] probably knows. I should point out that the only interlocutor, the only person within the Department who was respectful towards us, was Manuel Santana. Towards the end most arguments and replies would reach us by way of Manuel. He was the one showing his face. Often Sylvia would not even agree to speak with us. This is why Manuel was the one who told us one day that, concerning our new thesis project, the committee considered it dangerous for us to deal with those topics. After which he added, on a strictly personal note, that he perceived this as an act of censorship against us. At that exact moment Manuel Santana began to question some of the Department’s decisions and to openly take the side of the students. And for this reason he was soon fired by the Department. Humberto: For supporting you guys? Natalia: Of course. I remember that I saw him one day at the café in the Planetarium, underneath the Galería Santafé, and he told me that one day they simply told him: “go to Human Resources and pick up your letter, you no longer work here.” Just like that. And that was because he stood up to Sylvia. In those days several other members of the faculty began to leave La Tadeo, like Fernando Uhía, Juan Mejía, Fernando Escobar... I mean, there was discontent not only among the students. The thing is that when Manuel Santana was fired and our thesis project about art and the drug trade was rejected, Kevin said to me: “I’m sick of this!”; and that’s when he began to work on his 75


thesis in drawing, 100 Things I Hate [Cien cosas que odio], and among the things he hated he drew Sylvia Escobar, with the subtitle: “I hate lousy administrations.” I understood Kevin. Before we were censored there was an incredible effort to wear us down. They would tell us: “make a couple of changes here and bring the project back in a month and we’ll have a look and make some more corrections” and they would take weeks before getting back to us with these corrections... almost six months went by like that... until we got bored and there was nothing else we could do. I remember that towards the end of that period Kevin and I had very strong arguments with Sylvia. Kevin would loose his patience and leave her talking by herself because we had reached an absurd level of miscommunication with the Department’s administration. I think that at this stage the problem was personal. Without intending to we had gotten into a war with the chair. The possibility of a conversation, of an even-minded dialogue with the chair of the Department, was lost for good. Humberto: And what happened after that? Natalia: Kevin decided to make his book, 100 Things I Hate, and I decided to spend a whole month, the month of December, living in a shopping mall. That was my next thesis project: to inhabit that space and give myself completely over to it. I remember that Kevin would come to the mall to show me his drawings, my friends would come and visit... I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner there, I even spent Christmas and New Year’s there. Humberto: I once heard you say that this project was a response to the fact that the Department wouldn’t let you do anything, wouldn’t allow you to graduate. Natalia: The idea came from an appraisal of everything that had taken place with my thesis and with my degree until then. On the one hand I felt tired and extremely sad. At that point I wasn’t even angry about the thesis, I was sad. Sad to find myself so powerless before one single person and her decisions. But, on the other hand, I had developed an exercise for a class with Giovanni Vargas on Time-Based Arts (it was a class about performance) that explored the idea of inhabiting a “non-space.” What I did then was to spend an entire day sitting next to a shoe-shine man on 19th street and 3d avenue. So towards the end of 2006 I thought: they won’t let me do anything, I don’t feel like doing anything, so I am going “to not do anything” and the shopping mall was the perfect place to do that, because it is a place of passage that in the end is inhabited by no one, 76


an expansive and strange “non-place.” So that’s why I spent December living on a shopping mall. I would spend the whole day listening to Christmas carols, the guards looked at me with suspicion after a while... until New Year’s came and I had become close to one of them and we hugged when I said goodbye, it was very emotional. I even found other people who were living in the mall: there was a kid with Down’s syndrome who never left the place. And there was another kid with autism whose grandmother would bring him by everyday so that he could be distracted by the music and the lights from the shops. If you just walk in, buy something and then exit the mall on any given day you wouldn’t notice such things. Humberto: You collected the receipts for every purchase that you made, as a document, right? Natalia: Yes. I collected all the receipts. And at the same time I kept a sort of diary where I would retell a little bit of what had happened to me during each day. Some days were incredibly boring and other days “something” would happen. If you want to see the documentation for the project, it is posted on this other blog: http://dondebogotatienecorazon.blogspot.com/. Humberto: “Where Bogotá has a heart.” Is that the title you gave to this new thesis project? Natalia: No. That was the mall’s slogan. My title for the project was Point of tension [Punto de tensión]. Humberto: Did the jurors assigned to this thesis ever come to the mall? Natalia: I socialized the thesis there. As I mentioned, Víctor Albarracín was my advisor, I’m guessing he saw that I was having a very hard time and said: “I will be your advisor.” At that point there were already other people, like Edwin Sánchez or Víctor, who were questioning many of the things that were happening in the Department. Víctor too had some run-ins with Sylvia Escobar and he understood very well what I was going through. So yes, the socialization took place in the mall, and Sylvia was present, because she was part of the jury for all theses, and the other jurors were there as well: Paula Silva (who blindly followed Sylvia’s lead) and Giovanni Vargas. Víctor Albarracín was also present as my advisor... and some friends, Kevin, Edwin Sánchez, Paola Sánchez. To put it bluntly I flunked that thesis. It was rejected. Humberto: Why? 77


Natalia: Oddly enough, at the time of the socialization other sorts of tensions were at play arose and weird things happened. In those days Edwin was student rep for the Department, and he took the part so earnestly that he recorded all Department meetings and transcribed everything that had been said. And in that socialization he videotaped everything that happened and this made the jurors very uncomfortable. Humberto: He was secretly taping? Natalia: On this occasion the camera was in plain view, but I know that he did tape some meeting swith Sylvia using a hidden camera. The bottom line is that the two of them were directly at odds. After everything that had happened Sylvia felt very uncomfortable around Edwin, Víctor and me. Maybe that’s why the socialization was a flop. I remember that one day I sent Lucas Ospina a link to the project’s blog, just to know what he thought of it. And he told me that he had already heard about my thesis from Giovanni Vargas, who had asked him for advice: he felt trapped between two jurors (Sylvia and Paula) who would in no way allow me to graduate. Humberto: Did you at any point think that you were on a kamikaze path? Natalia: For sure! At some point I told myself: I’m never going to graduate, so it doesn’t matter what I do. Humberto: What did they think about all of this at home? Did you tell your parents about what was going on? Natalia: Yes, of course. They were all completely up to date. Not just the family nucleus, but the extended family. All of my uncles knew about what was going on... in fact I was able to graduate because of an uncle... but that comes later. The answer is yes, I think that the idea of living in a mall was not only a way of giving myself up, but also a way of giving up on my academic life. The truth is that it was a horrible experience. Humberto: But in addition to your case, there were many other students whose theses were being held back. Do you know how many? Natalia: No. But the number is in the blog Una historia de desamor. I remember that when I met with mister Caballero he asked me: “Are you scared of working on a thesis project on your own? Why does it need to be a collective project?” And I said to him: “if that is your argument, you should examine how many theses are held back at this moment; because it looks like everyone is 78


afraid of turning in a thesis by themselves.” I think that by then only three theses had been approved for 2006. All remaining theses were up in the air. The people who eventually graduated when I did should have graduated long before. Humberto: But how many held back theses are we talking about? Natalia: About 80% of the theses that should have been turned in at the time. Humberto: Why do you think that a Department chair would do something like that? What did Sylvia gain from it? Natalia: I think it’s an example of what happens when power falls into the wrong hands. I understand that there are power relations within the academy, there’s no way around that. There is a hierarchical order and there will always be. But in the case of Sylvia the problem was built into her personality. If she had been acknowledged in and fit for the field of art – because the thing is that Sylvia was nowhere to be found at an opening, she had nothing to do with what was going on in the art scene in Bogotá – she would have undoubtedly acted otherwise. Anyway, the point is that I flunked the thesis, the one at the shopping mall. That’s when Víctor said to me: “dude, let’s put all of this up on a wall, let’s explain everything that is going on in Esferapública, because there is nothing more that we can do. Let’s see if we can kick up a shit-storm or something. This thing needs to explode somehow because it can’t keep on like this.” So Edwin started to videotape some interviews with Mario Opazo, with Manuel Santana, with Fernando Escobar, with Jorge Sarmiento (who was then a student at La Tadeo and a rabid detractor of Sylvia) discussing the problems in the Department. I wrote something for Esferapública but they refused to publish it. Sometime later Víctor wrote something which did get published, the debate began and the videos were uploaded. Humberto: When did this happen? Natalia: This was already in 2007. Víctor sent in his piece and a very cool conversation came about. A lot of people spoke their mind on the topic. In spite of this, the Department did not respond. Some pseudonymous comments turned up from people who in some way spoke for the Department; I remember the pseudonym “Well Dressed Tadeo Girls.” The bottom line is that, on the basis of the material that was now up on the web, the idea came about – and it must have been Víctor’s – that the next thesis project should be precisely that multilateral discussion about 79


what was going on in the Art Department at the university: I mean, to present that institutional critique in an exhibition, considering the issue from different angles, different perspectives, from the point of view of students, faculty, academics, artists. This is how my next thesis project came together. So we presented the Department with a new date for the socialization of Point of tension – we didn’t change the name because, if we had done that, I would have had to present a new written project and have it approved. What I did was to send the Department an invite for a new socialization at El Bodegón. By sending that invite I basically renounced the previous socialization. At El Bodegón I covered the walls with photocopies of all the letters, replies, receipts, filed complaints, documenting what had happened to me for the past three years... and there were two small tables with two thick books: one was made up of printouts of everything published in Esferapública on the topic up to that day, and the other one was my diary from the mall. Humberto: How long did that show run for? Natalia: It was a one-night event, as was always the case at El Bodegón. The evening of October 24 2007. Very few people showed up and, obviously, no one from the Department came, and I never heard from them afterwards: I wasn’t summoned to turn in documentation for the socialization, or for an interview with the jurors, or anything, zip... as though nothing had happened. That’s when I quit El Bodegón. I made a severe break with everything around me. I even fell out with Víctor. So I was left with no Department, no advisor, no Bodegón. However, and in spite of this decision, I should say that my friends from El Bodegón were a great help to me during that whole stretch of time: Víctor, Kevin, Edwin... they were incredibly important for me. I left El Bodegón for different reasons that have nothing to do with the topic we are discussing. Humberto: With no advisor and your thesis still in limbo, what did you do? Natalia: This was the beginning of a new stage. As I said before, my entire family was aware of what was going on. So I spoke to one of my uncles, who is a lawyer, and he said: “Well, let’s file a tutela [a legal complaint concerning fundamental rights]. What they have done to you has no basis.” We did this and there was a legal decision in my favor, issued on April 16 2008. Humberto: Do you remember how the complaint was argued? 80


Natalia: I argued on the basis of my right to graduate, to become a professional, and to have access to everything that is contingent upon that: wages, decent housing and health. On page seven of the complaint the claim is stated as follows: “Unreasonable prolongation of these terms may impinge on fundamental rights. For the principle of good faith is valid in constitutional law. And said principle implies that Universities cannot refer to their own regulations, nor to the principle of academic autonomy, to avoid diligence in supporting and bringing to prompt realization the academic stages required for graduation.” For this reason, when the court decided in my favor, the tutela forced La Tadeo, it forced Sylvia Escobar to grant me a date to defend my thesis before the jurors within eight days after the decision was published, and in the presence of the Dean of the Division, Alberto Saldarriaga. The ruling did not state that my thesis project should be approved for graduation; but it did state that I had the right to defend my thesis. So I was able to defend before a new set of jurors: Natalia Kempowsky, Fernando Escobar and Óscar Moreno. Escobar told me that, had it not been for the grading system established by the Department, my thesis could have been declared meritorious. And that was that. After that, on July 31 2008, I was able to graduate. When I stepped up to receive my diploma everybody on the auditorium cheered. The truth is that if the students had gotten organized from the start we could have spared ourselves three years of torment. Nonetheless, I found the discussion in Esferapública and the show at El Bodegón (which was a symbolic act) to be incredibly important, but thinking realistically what did the trick was the tutela against Sylvia Escobar, which eventually also caused her to leave the University, because the institution was at the time seeking accreditation, and the fact of having a legal ruling against the chair of a Department was a great hindrance. Humberto: Nowadays what are your thoughts on El Bodegón? Natalia: I think that it was unquestionably doomed to disappear. In my opinion the coolest thing about El Bodegón were the things that worked against it: our differences, the chaos that we amounted to as a group, and which allowed the space to move and do everything that it did. It was insane to have new shows or events every week or every two weeks! Nonetheless it worked out due to the diverse forms of thinking and possibilities contributed by everyone who was involved; but by the very same token there were a lot of scuffles and tensions. I remember that I was in charge of 81


collecting the quotas for paying the rent and that caused me a terrible ulcer. Sometimes I had to ask my mom for money to complete the month’s rent, and when those who hadn’t paid would show up at the next opening as though nothing had happened I felt like strangling them. It was horrible, that part of it was a pain in the neck; but the rest was pure joy. Humberto: Is there an event that you remember loving the most? Natalia: Oh, there are several. But I loved the parties. Especially the “quinceañeras.” Because we had two: one in Socorro!!! and one in El Bodegón. The one in Socorro!!! I enjoyed a lot because at El Bodegón I was usually in charge of the door or the money, so it was hard to have a good time.

Humberto: And is there a show that you are fond of?

Natalia: I thought Edwin [Sánchez]’s show [Sheer hatred (Odio puro)] was amazing. And I am very fond of the show we put together with plastic toys from Bartoplast, because I wrote the curatorial text. It was very interesting to do research for that show. And I remember that one of the sons of the owner of La Fábrica Nacional del Muñeco, a company that had already gone out of business, came to the opening. He told me that when they heard about the show his family wanted nothing to do with it; but that he was of a nostalgic frame of mind and felt the need to come and see. And he brought with him an old poster and showed it to me and told me stories about the rise of the company and about its demise. It made me a little sad to hear this story, but I was also moved.

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“Friquis calaveris mortis” Words by Jairo Pinilla The lines for Triángulo de Oro went around the block. The film was shot in Spanish and dubbed into English; the idea was to pull a prank on Colombian people and I pulled it off. A reason for the film’s success was that people didn’t know that they were watching a Colombian film. I got into filmmaking in Mexico, I went there to do advanced studies at an American company called Burroughs Enterprise. On the plane that took me there I met Flor Silvestre and Ana Berta Lepe; at first they looked much too red to me because I was used to seeing them in black and white. We became friends and through them I met César Costa and Javier Solís. One day they asked me to work on a film as an extra and that’s when I got hooked up on film, watching the light crew work, the extras, the cameramen... I came back completely broke and with my mind set on making films in Colombia. I wrote the script for Funeral Siniestro and spent three years looking for funds, but nobody wanted to risk their money. I met people like Alfonso Cruz, who was supposed to own all of the building blocks in Bosa, the guy told me that he would finance the film if I then made a movie about his life. He led me on for about a year until I got bored. Then I made a deal with Carlos Rodríguez, a guy who ran a trucking business: the deal was that he purchase the film stock and I would cover the cost of developing and editing the film, because I had a credit agreement with a lab in Venezuela, and once we covered our expenses he would get any additional money that the film made. I had to learn everything from scratch: from working with the lab to the distribution of the film. After many failed attempts I managed to get a distribution deal with Cine Colombia, because the president of the company told me that he would distribute the film if his employees liked it. We held a private screening in Medellín and there was so much screaming and clawing that the guy agreed. On the day of the premiere for Funeral Siniestro they also premiered Grease, El Patrullero 777 and Abba: The Movie at El Cid; Funeral... was playing on the four cinemas on the other side of the street from El Cid. El Cid was crowded and the cinemas were empty. The deal was that if the movie didn’t do well in the first few days, they would stop screening it, so I was scared to death. The next day, due to the bounce-back effect, the screenings were filled to capacity and the movie was a hit. The trucking guy kept all the money that the movie made, because I have been a man of my word since I was a child. I think with the 85


money from the ticket sales the guy bought a Big Mack Truck. Then a guy turned up, Captain Guillermo Silva, who probably went to see Funeral... with his girlfriend... and she probably clawed him real good because the guy came out convinced that the movie was great, so he sought me out and told me: Jairo, I want to invest on a movie. I told him that I had written a script for a film called Área Maldita, and I told him the story. He asked how much it would take to get the movie made and I told him six to seven million pesos. The deal was that he would front the money and that I would take in no earnings until he had made his money back. We purchased equipment for the movie and found a castle in Chinauta. In those days they had found a huge marihuana plantation in the Guajira desert and we went to shoot some scenes there, we rode in army helicopters and borrowed weapons from the F2, that was a real mess: the machine guns did not work with the blanks, they would get stuck because the wax is not strong enough to kick out the shells, so we had to use live ammo. So for each blast-off we all had to get on the floor and leave the camera rolling and the guy there blasting away. I made the sound for Área Maldita on the bathroom at home: I removed part of the door, set up a glass panel there and the projector in front. Three or four people would squeeze into the bathroom, look at the projection and dub the sound. When we finished that movie I was broke, because it look a lot of time for the Captain to recover his investment. Me and my wife would watch TV and hear them say: “Jairo Pinilla, the great Colombian film director”... and I couldn’t afford a cup of coffee. When some money did start coming in, and although it wasn’t much, the only think I could think of was making another movie. I had the script for 27 Horas con La Muerte and somebody agreed to produce it. That year, I remember this very well, I was asked to be a juror for the Cartagena beauty pageant [where Miss Colombia is elected], and all of the beauty queens wanted to be on a film because “they loved the movies.” I met Ivonne Maritza there, she wanted to work and she had been elected first princess, or vice-queen or something like that; at any rate I kicked up a storm trying to make connections and to get what was needed to make the film. When we were almost ready to start my partner called me up and told me that somebody had defaulted on some money that they owed him and that he didn’t have enough money to finance the film. I myself didn’t have enough money to make it on my own, and Ivonne was really excited, so since she was good friends with [Gonzalo Rodriguez] Gacha [one of the leaders of the Medellín cartel] 86


she told me that she would try to get him to lend a hand; but Gacha declined. She convinced another friend of hers but he couldn’t give us all of the money at once. I told him: “No problem, as we work on the film we’ll see what we can do...” This time it was different because the film was a coproduction. 27 Horas... was also a hit. Before Focine was created I had the idea of publishing a stamp that could be sold in the ticket stalls at the movie theaters in order to establish a fund for film- makers, so that producers could receive support from the cinema industry. They told me that the idea was good and whatever... the bottom line is that I was the one who came up with the concept of Focine. And they did create it and started lending money out to everyone, but when I went to ask for money to make T.O. Triángulo de Oro they denied my request. Why? They said that they were not a charity organization and that I needed to show backing for my loan. I told them that I knew how to make films and that I also owned the equipment. In those days I edited a journal called Tevecine, or something like that, and when my loan request was denied I wrote an article where I said: “the government-run company Focine does not lend money to people who know the craft of filmmaking, they lend only to people who own four haciendas in Los Llanos, four buildings, four transportation companies. If you don’t own five bus lines in Colombia you cannot be a filmmaker. I have proof that Mister So-and-So, by which I mean myself, is a filmmaker, I have made movies and all of that, and yet there is no money for me because I cannot show that I own six haciendas in Los Llanos as backing for my loan.” The people at Focine were not happy about that article, but finally they granted me a loan. They told me that I could only borrow 10’400.000 pesos and I thought: “that doesn’t even cover the cost of coffee breaks, but it helps. With the money that I have, plus my credit lines, plus Focine, I can work something out.” They told me that they would hand the money over in November, and pay attention to what happened then: they gave me the money on November or December of ’83. Focine, being a government institution and all, assumed that it would take me three years to complete the film, because that’s how it was with all the other people to whom they were lending money. So for the first year the loan was interest-free, and then in November of ’84 I was supposed to start paying back the 10’400.000 at an interest rate of who knows how much, and then I had two years to settle the debt. So I thought: “excellent, perfect, that means I have three years after disbursement to pay back the debt,” but right there and then I thought: “let’s not be morons, shit I’m going to make this movie in the least possible amount of time.” I 87


told everyone who was going to work on the film: “folks, we have a record to beat against the government, against Focine, they think that it’s going to take us three years to complete the film, but we’re going to try to make it in four months. Are you willing to work through December with me? Christmas Eve, New Years Day, January 6th Arrival of the Magi, wherever we may need to go and whatever it takes, are you up to it?” And they all said: “YES!” And that’s what we did: we set up a work schedule, we went to Panama, we got permission from the U.S. Air Force and they help us with the shooting, and so did La Flota Mercante Gran Colombia [Colombia’s Merchant Navy]. First we shot in Panama, then in Buenaventura, finally in Melgar and Usaquén. We were done shooting by the end of January, I edited and did the sound in February, and then I went to Mexico and dubbed the film into English in ten days. On May 12th I came to Focine with the film, I told them “folks, here’s my movie, I came through with my part of the deal, here’s the money that I borrowed from you guys plus my own, here’s my work, I’m done.” They took note of how long it had taken me to make the film and were not happy at all, because I was premiering the movie and paying them back and, given the arrangement, they were not making any earnings from interest fees. By then MGM had already purchased international distribution rights for T.O... anf the film was scheduled to premiere simultaneously in Bogotá, Caracas and Panama City. But we needed authorization from Focine to premiere the film. I went there to request authorization but they told me that there was a problem, that the manager was on a trip and some other excuses. I wrote a letter to Belisario Betancur, who in those days was President of Colombia, explaining that I had fulfilled my part of the deal with that government company and that I needed authorization for the premiere because I had a deal with a multinational distributor. That asshole never wrote back. Then I wrote to Nohemí Sanín, who was Secretary of Communications, and I attached a copy of the distribution contract with MGM and she also never wrote back. Come October the day of the premiere arrived and, since I had no authorization from Focine, MGM cancelled the distribution contract. Finally I found out that María Emma Mejía had been named manager of Focine, and a few days later I got a letter from them. I thought that this would be a letter authorizing me to release the film, but no, they demanded that I pay interest fees for the first year of the loan. I met with María Emma and I told her that I had fulfilled my part of the agreement, that the money was right there in those cans of film. I asked how else did she 88


expect me to pay, whether I was supposed to sell my house and whatnot to pay for these interest fees... At last she authorized the premiere. Since I had lost the contract with Metro I went to Cine Colombia and asked them to distribute it. They saw the film and said OK, the film opens next December. Imagine that, one more year of waiting after such a long time waiting for Focine to come through. So I said no, because then I would have to pay for a full additional year of interest fees and with the film cans in storage underneath my bed. I decided to distribute it myself, and I pulled it off because I had connections with the movie theaters (the knew that my films yielded good revenue). Obviously they stole a lot from me, but since the film was a hit I still had enough money to pay back the money I owed on credits from Venezuela and Mexico. Around then Focine sent me another letter saying: “Congratulations, your movie is very good, hundreds of people have seen it.” I was surprised to find out that they were keeping track of me, but of course, they were on the hunt for the money. I went to Focine and asked what the problem was, since I had two more years to settle the debt, and I took the opportunity to find out what the debt amounted to by then. Well that debt had sure grown, because there were as many interests charged upon interests as you can imagine (also some that you couldn’t even imagine), so by then I already owed them 13’000.000 pesos. I went through the numbers and realized that I didn’t have enough money to pay them back, I only had 7’000.000. Pacho Norden, who had just finished Cóndores no entierran todos los días, had already lost his house, his car and whatnot to them... because he still owed them a third of his loan. Well I’m no moron so I wasn’t going to let them do that to me. I sent them a letter telling them that I didn’t have enough money to pay them back, and that as a result I was going to make another film, in order to use the earnings from that film to settle my debt, because I am not skilled in the art of stealing, but I am skilled in the art of making a movie. So I made Extraña Regresión, which was all in English. Focine did not like this policy because they had invested 150’000.000 to make just half of a movie called El día que me quieras, and I had made two whole movies with less that 10% of that sum, and mine had sold more tickets. The lawyer whom I later hired to work on the case told me that I was only guilty of being too honest. The day of the premiere the theaters were packed, but Focine had embargoed the movie and all ticket sales had to be handed over to a tribunal. I couldn’t understand why they would do 89


that, since they knew that I would be able to pay back my loan with the money that I earned from that film. “It’s like if I buy a taxi cab on credit and then they take it away, how am I going to pay back for it if they don’t let me work it.” As was to be expected the theaters were not happy about this, because they were forced to hand their money over to the tribunal. Three days later they stopped screening the film, and they were entitled to do this, because there was no reason why they should be getting in trouble with the law. When I got to my studio they had taken everything, equipment, film cans, everything, and according to them the debt was now settled. I sued Focine and had very bad luck because the first lawyer whom I gave the case to decided to move abroad, and the next one, who was handling the case pretty well, died in a car crash. So that was the end of it, “friquis calavera mortis”!

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Thank you!



Materials for a makeshift shack