Cyborgs of La Vega, still from Aventuras Familiares
Aventuras Familiares. Directed by Cheto Castellano, Daniel Benavides, and Lissette Olivares. Spanish with English subtitles. 29 minutes. Chile, 2010.
Our romp with the motley crew of Aventuras Familiares closes with the triumphant laughter of Trans, the family matriarch. Smoke billows from the imploded edifice of a multinational media conglomerate, once competing with the Andes to define the view of the Santiago horizon. The visible effects of 3-D animation enhance the playful havoc delivered to the cityscape at the center of Chile and the Latin American region’s geopolitical imagination. Counter to the de-materialization often attributed to digital simulation, collaborating directors Cheto Castellano, Daniel Benavides, and Lissette Olivares have exploited digital media to show the impact of ICT (information and communications technologies) infrastructures on the terrain of the everyday.
The adventures of Aventuras Familiares are archetypal in their familiarity, if only to expose the entropy at the core of the symbolic. We journey from the countryside to the metropolis capital with a family searching for a map of their family tree and a sense of purposeful autonomy as social actors. But we find that the archetypes are not just prototypes prone to failure, but, more accurately, profane mutations at their origins. The family is a band of proto-criminals including ex-“whore” mother Trans (Carola Jérez), robber-clown father Payaso (Samuel Ibarra), and porn star daughter Jot (Aida Vera). And their epic narrative consists of transitions between popular low genres and media forms, including the telenovela, amateur porn video, infotainment, carnivalesque performance, cyber-punk movies, and action video games. In this circus of a family movie, the search for clear lines of transmission only leads to anarchic knots based on the rewiring of old intimacies through new spontaneous connections, and scenes that override each other with slight variations. As conveyed by mama Trans’s pop melodrama of a history, relationships and spaces continually shift, while retaining the feel of the familiar. La Vega of Santiago transits without supersession between informal economies, a local labor union, a circus, and a transnational corporation. Even the horse-headed suits of the multinational corporation, which has privatized La Vega, remain cyborg composites that evoke indigeneity, agrarian labor, battle, transport, and sport, along with the corporate suit clone.
The cyborg bodies, spaces, and times of Aventuras Familiares are the joint creations of Chilean diasporic visual artists Castellano, Benavides, and Olivares. The circuses, clowns, and animal-human hybrids that animate the movie are incarnations from Castellano’s repertoire of inverted amusements, which include drawings of the masked skull Nako, a zero-degree emblem for the masses overwritten as a cadaver, dupe, lurker, savior, and terrorizer.1 Adventuras also bears the imprints of filmmaker Benavides’s fascination with the taboos that structure everyday social institutions, while making these institutions susceptible to exposure and collapse as spectacles.2 And the apocalyptic horizon that frames the film as a trans-media insurrection, resisting both the “ideology of art for art’s sake” and the commercial dominance of media technologies, is no doubt an extension of Olivares’s scholarly, curatorial, and performance practices.3 These three co-directors have worked together to not only transform film into social action, but to remake the filmmaking process itself into an experiment in social critique and mobilization. The collaborators were committed to collective and anarchic production values, including non-hierarchical structure, a cast of underground performance artists and street performers (rather than professional actors), and the use of a partial script energized by the cast’s live interpretations.4 Although the film is situated within the cultural political milieu of Santiago, Chile, it demands engagement beyond interpretive frameworks that focus on the local and the global, or the national and transnational as interdependent organizing entities.
Aventuras’s anarchy of social dislocations–turned-intimacies projects a utopia of the everyday, amid the standoff between Chilean state and market. The inter-generational kinship between parental trio Trans, Payaso, and anarchist mastermind Segundo (Antonio Becerro), and young lovers Jot and Rata (Domingo Santamaría) links what might otherwise be considered discontinuous successions from state socialism, to military dictatorship, and then contemporary neo-liberalism. History is not necessarily progress, from the viewpoint of those expelled from the representational machinery of nation-making.5 But unique to the new neoliberal extension of the old is the mediation of everyday experience by multinational ICT technologies. In Aventuras, commanding screens, targeted flows of information, bureaucratic agents, and glossy edifices signal lives and relationships atomized, animated, and controlled by a networked cultural economy that exceeds discrete bodies of scale. Yet, paradoxically, the de-centralized infrastructure of the transnational ICT network and its stores of cultural resources also lend itself to subversive uses: mother Trans’s transmitted serial lineage, daughter Jot’s do-it-yourself stardom, and brother Rata’s anarchic programming. Castellano, Benavides, and Olivares’s tracking of the nodes of convergence between performance, television, digital video, film, and information, from amusement park to cellular monument, is yet another subversion. Their Aventuras suggests that, if there is a new horizon sought, the envisioned utopia needs the help of queer/trans familiars embedded in the viral infrastructure of the network.
Jian Chen is Assistant Professor in Queer Studies in the English Department and the Interdisciplinary Sexuality Studies Program at Ohio State University, Columbus. Prior to joining OSU, Chen was Assistant Professor/Postdoctoral Faculty Fellow at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University. Her research explores new demands made on the politics of cultural intervention, representation, and interpretation with the transnational circulation of literature, imagery, and information on gender and sexual deviance. Chen co-curated SKIN: a multimedia exhibition at Kara Walker’s 6-8 Months Project Space, New York and has been published in the online journal Postmodern Culture.
1 To get a sense of the broad scope of Castellano’s multimedia art work, which spans classical forms, indigenous ritual, and urban subcultural expression, refer to chetocastellano.com.
2 Benavides’s directorial debut, The Murderer Among Us (Chile, 2007), is a psychological thriller based on the string of murders affecting youth in southern Chile since 1996.
3 See Olivares’s most recent curatorial intervention, Consecuentes: Radical Performance from the Americas: hemi.nyu.edu/hemi/es/eventos-anteriores/898-thursday-april-28-2011-consecuentes.
4 Details on the film’s experimental production process drawn from online conversation with Olivares (June 6, 2011). Also reference film website: aventurasfamiliares.com.
5 As conveyed by Olivares and Castellano in the discussion following the film’s world premiere at the Hemispheric Institute, New York University (March 3, 2011), the film centers on subcultures, communities, and local spaces occluded by the narrative of progress in the transition from dictatorship to neoliberal market economy in Chile.
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