Interview with Rolf Abderhalden by David Gutiérrez Castañeda* |
Mapa Teatro (Map Theatre) is an interdisciplinary artists' laboratory that has been combining theatre, performance and new media since the end of the 1980s as an alternative form of cultural exercise in Colombia. C'undua(1): Pacto por la Vida (C'undua: Pact for Life) (2002-2004) was carried out by Heidi and Rolf Abderhalden with the support of the Bogotá Mayor's Office, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and a group of historians, anthropologists and social workers. C'undua consisted of a series of platforms for metaphoric exercises with marginalized communities in Bogotá city. While a group of researchers described living conditions as being on the edge, a group of artists coordinated by Rolf Abderhalden generated a working structure for community dialogue and staging: Los libros de la Memoria (Memory Books), La casa en la calle (The house on the street), Prometeo Acto I y II (Prometheus Act I and II), and Re-corridos (a play on words meaning both Tours and Re-banished), were among the exercises planned. These exercises, which were experimental in nature, made it possible to document and discuss methodologies and principles whereby the exercise of contemporary art becomes an instrument for cultural restitution.
The project took place in marginalized communities of Usaquén in northern Bogotá and Barrio de las Nieves in downtown Bogotá. The sharp social inequalities, displacement issues and high levels of homelessness in the nineties made both communities strategic sites for social intervention and social restitution. In Usaquén the project lasted two years and undertook processes to enable the recovery of memory. El Cartucho, the site of the severe social tensions, drug trafficking and high crime rates during the nineties, was the focus of an intervention to recover memories of the place while the Bogotá Mayor's Office evicted its inhabitants to build the Tercermilenio (Third Millennium) park. When Mayor Antanas Mokus's term of office ended, Mapa Teatro continued documenting the construction of the park and its impact on the lives of the evicted inhabitants without the support of the Mayor's Office. This process was documented in the collective's work, Testigo en las Ruinas (Witness at the Ruins).
We talked to Rolf about these ideas and his professional practice.
David Gutiérrez: What did C'undua: pacto por la vida consist of?
Rolf Abderhalen: C'undua was started by a group of researchers at the National University and the University of the Andes following an invitation by Alicia Eugenia Silva, who was the initiator of the project and gave it its title. She wanted a group of us to get together to reflect on the problem of perceptions and representations in precarious living conditions, in other words, she was very concerned that there were no means of documenting certain episodes and events in the lives of people who live in highly vulnerable conditions and live in the borderland between life and death.
DG: So she was interested in generating ways of discussing the experiences of people living in dire straits?
RA: Not just discussing those experiences, but proposing strategies to be able to intervene, provide resources and tools for production, and allow the inhabitants of these barrios to bemoan or to elaborate on situations of conflict. How does one express traumatic episodes or events concerning individuals or communities in dire straits, right? At first it was all rather abstract, so those of us involved in the project got together - Alicia Eugenia naturally, the subsequent mayor, Antanas Mokus, and the historian Fabio Zambrano, among others. I was invited to participate on behalf of the National University, as a sort of liaison between art and academia. In the end it took shape when Antanas was mayor and Alicia Eugenia became his private secretary, and one way or another, mechanisms were created to turn the project into something more specific. A pilot project was drawn up and depending on its outcome, we would then try to imagine an exercise in public politics and try to do it in different places, in places of conflict -in Bogotá initially, because Alicia Eugenia was thinking of exercising this throughout Colombia. It was a problem, since following all the extreme violence and in all of these places, there still hadn't been any talk of reparations. This hadn't been addressed; it wasn't on the table like it is today. In other words, it was a time when the paramilitary were a clandestine force throughout that period towards the end of the nineties, when we hadn't seen Carlos Castaño's(2) face. We didn't know who he was. The project took shape because the United Nations financed it, after which the pilot project was developed.
DG: I'm interested in the artist's role in that group. What was it all about?
RA: Sure, I'll tell you about it from that perspective. What happened was that at the outset of the talks the entire discussion was at a theoretical level, because obviously we were examining different points of view on what was going on regarding the extreme violence. What will happen to these people, how will people mourn, how will all these people deal with all those traumatic events, where are the all signs, what's the story we can put together with what's left, you know? Is a monument a strategy for celebration, to commemorate or remember; what kinds of monuments are there in Colombia at the moment, how are these events being commemorated? In short, art was central to the discussion. And at the same time there were different perspectives, reflections from the historical, anthropological and sociological point of view, that kind of dialogue.