Photo: Tara Daly
Photo by Tara Daly

Cimientos by Workshop and Symposium

Cimientos, performance by Workshop and Symposium. Co-organized by Alejandra Dorado and Rodrigo Rada. Simón Patiño Cultural Center. Cochabamba, Bolivia. 20 – 23 May 2010.

Cimientos, the second official performance workshop to take place in Bolivia, was co-organized this past May by multimedia artists Alejandra Dorado and Rodrigo Rada of Cochabamba.[1] The four-day event, whose title plays off of the materiality of “cimiento” and the immateriality of “un acontecimiento,” took place at the Simón I. Patiño Cultural Center, a picturesque property formerly owned by the early twentieth-century tin magnate. The venue was ideal for the dynamic event, as its gardens, reflecting pool, contemporary art museum, library, and open-air theatre fostered both lively creation and quiet contemplation among the 50 or so participants. Three years earlier, in 2007, Dorado organized the first performance workshop in Bolivia, which also took place in Cochabamba and brought together twelve Bolivian artists “with the goal of exposing and presenting untraditional art forms while simultaneously confronting, discussing, and transgressing the perceived limits to ‘art’ as an evolving category of analysis.”[2] In 2010, with funding from the Patiño Center, the co-directors sought to continue the dialogue initiated in 2007 but to strengthen the event theoretically and pedagogically through the incorporation of formal workshops. They also wanted to expand the event’s geographical reach by opening it up to artists outside of Bolivia and by engaging the local community. With these ambitious but realizable goals in mind, Rodrigo Rada and Alejandra Dorado invited both nascent and seasoned artists from Mexico and Chile, La Paz, Santa Cruz, and the larger Cochabamba region, for four days of intensive workshops, open practice sessions, and performances.

The primary focus of the first two days of workshops was to discuss performance art as a corporeal act that originates in and takes place through the body. Through an emphasis on the body as artistic medium, the workshop aimed to draw participants’ attention to the ephemeral nature of an event whose significance and conceptual reach transcends the material object and the art market. On the first morning of the workshop, Roberto De la Torre, an artist from Mexico City, led younger participants in a discussion about the constitutive elements of performance. De la Torre’s lecture was followed by an afternoon session led by Gonzalo Rabanal, well-known performer and creator of the Circuito de Arte in Santiago, Chile, who drew attention to a range of institutional impacts on embodied existence. The next day, De la Torre and Rabanal both conducted rich hands-on performance workshops that required the active development and execution of short performances by all of the participants. Both of these sessions were fruitful for younger artists because they culminated in collective dialogue and critique of the elements that either worked or fell short within each individual or group performance. In the future, it would be instructive to include a Bolivian performer in these sessions if only to provide more direct insight into the specifics of the national context. That said, the artists present were able to speak to some of their particular experiences in La Paz or Santa Cruz. During the latter two days of Cimientos, the public was invited to witness the ongoing performances that took place over the course of the next 48 hours. While such an invitation was an important gesture because it allowed a non-expert audience to become educated on the evolving nature of the “arts” in their society, the audience, as would be expected, tended to be quite self-selecting, indicating a still narrow interest in attending such events. The viewers saw both ten-minute short pieces that uncoiled tightly like a spring and six-hour meditative installations that gradually unfolded. What follows is a sampling of some of the diverse artists who contributed to the event.

Gonzalo Rabanal, Santiago, Chile: “El cuerpo del padre”

Photo: Tara Daly
Gonzalo Rabanal's photograph of his father with inscribed text over his body, May 22, 2010.

Photo: Tara Daly

Photo: Tara Daly

The letters of the word PADRE before being lit on fire by Gonzalo Rabanal, May 22, 2010.

Photo:Tara Daly

Due to his renown in Chile over the last three or four decades, there was much anticipation around Gonzalo Rabanal’s contribution to the event. His action began in the interior of the Simón Patiño Museum, where he presented his father, a vivacious gentleman who, while well into his eighties, accompanied his son to Cochabamba. Rabanal explained that his father learned to read on his own without formal education. Based upon the videos he showed of his previous works, Rabanal made clear that he consistently brings his body to the limits of its own containment through the infliction of pain. This action was no exception. Perhaps in order to draw attention to the symbolic violence of writing by juxtaposing it with physical pain, the artist expanded and placed what looked like a pair of metal pliers on his head, physically demonstrating discomfort as the pointy ends constricted his blood flow and caused tension in his face, as well as in the bodies of the anxious audience. While auto-inflicting pain, Rabanal strenuously dictated to his father a text that repeated in a loop, “el cuerpo del padre, el cuerpo del hijo, la casa del padre, la casa del hijo, casa de campo, hombre de campo.” His father wrote the words, somewhat imperfectly, with a maker on the bare back of his son. Afterwards, both father and son inscribed the same text on top of a photographic image of the artist and his father holding hands, with their naked torsos exposed. The text ended up covering the entirety of image, perhaps reflecting the power of writing to construct and virtually consume the subject, as well as the artistic agency to intervene in such a process. Once this action was completed, both father and son exited the contained space of the museum to an exterior garden area, where they found painted cardboard letters—simulating a big advertisement—that spelled out the text “EL CUERPO DEL PADRE.” There was an RCA record player and a small house made of glass and metal (30 x 40 cm). Rabanal put on a disc from a German opera and afterwards set fire to the cardboard letters, which were completely consumed. To finish the event, Rabanal lit the small house on fire, creating a tiny explosion. The artist and his father retreated, firmly clasping hands.

Galo Coca, La Paz, Bolivia: “Scatter and Gather”

Galo Coca, a trained graphic artist and one of the leaders of a new generation of experimental artists working in La Paz, contributed two complementary pieces to Cimientos, putting forward a poignant commentary on the rapid shifts between temporal and spatial presence and absence that well-conceived performance art so effortlessly exposes. Coca’s pieces were two of the more abstract performances of the event and whose effects rested, I imagine, as much in the immediate response they elicited from participants as in the longer process of contemplation they triggered in viewers like myself, and that extended well beyond Cimientos conclusion.

Photo: Tara Daly
Galo Coca performs the second part of his action, May 22, 2010.

Photo: Tara Daly

Gathered pile of yellow confetti at the end of Galo Coca's installation.
Photos:Tara Daly

I. Relatively early in the day, at the main entrance to the Patiño complex, Galo Coca carefully situated a block of fireworks (approximately 200 boxes), typically set off during Carnaval and local popular festivals in Bolivia. As he lit them and they went off, the explosion generated a significant sound and a huge cloud of smoke. As the smoke began to dissipate, the artist who was once hidden in the cloud slowly withdrew.

II. Later on that same afternoon, in the patio next to the open-air theatre of the Simón Patiño Center, Galo Coca put four substantial sacks chock full of yellow confetti in each corner of the patio. The action consisted of taking out the yellow material with his hands, little by little, and piling it up in the center of the space. The action unfolded slowly and very quietly, culminating in a mountain of yellow material in the center of the patio that shifted slowly and silently with the wind.

The net impact of Coca’s installations emerged not so much from just one part of his work, but from the poetic juxtaposition of the two pieces. The first resulted in an instantaneous aural and visual interruption of the environment while the other produced a gradual and almost silent shift in sensorial sphere. While the energy of the first was dispersed centripetally from a compactly contained center, the second moved centrifugally from the four corners slowly toward a slowly emerging center. The power of the installations rested in the tension Coca produced between gravitational opposites.

Blue Box, Santa Cruz, Bolivia: “Contemplating Otherwise”

Photo: Tara Daly
Blue Box seated at the reflecting pool, May 22, 2010.

Photo: Tara Daly

Through a meticulous execution, Eduardo Ribera Blue Box, an artist from Santa Cruz, created a long performance that drew attention to both the essential role of the artist’s body as the central communicative medium and the necessity of direct audience participation in the execution of certain projects. The artist, painted in black from head to toe (face, hands, and feet) and wearing a red velvet suit, was seated in a chair of his own design, in the middle of a reflecting pool on the Simón Patiño property. At the base of his feet was a small wooden sphere, and in front of that, an empty chair that invited the spectator to enter and sit face to face with the artist. The public participants had to enter the pool with their shoes off, after walking across a small bank of salt. Blue Box carried out his contemplative, silent performance for five hours, but meditated beforehand as part of his preparation for the long and Buddhist-inspired “sit.” Due to the striking colors and intensive silence in the area, many visitors to the day’s events sat for short or long periods of time, seemingly mesmerized by the power of sustained focus and concentration that the direct participants exuded. After two days of almost constant chatter and frenetic movement, the serene energy produced during this performance was a welcome foil to the energy of the event.

Alejandra Dorado, Cochabamba, Bolivia: “Forking Paths”

Photo: Tara Daly
Alejandra Dorado's performance, May 22, 2010.

Photo: Tara Daly

As co-director of the event, Dorado also carried out her own performance piece as part of Cimientos. Throughout the forking garden paths of Simón Patiño, various pairs of feminine underwear were scattered. Ten women, departing from various buildings and balconies of the Simón Patiño property, initiated the piece. Each was wearing a different animal mask that covered her face and was clothed in an everyday housedress. The women then wandered through the gardens, each one following her own path, and upon finding a pair of underwear along the path, took off the pair she was wearing and put on the pair she found. The action took place over the course of twenty minutes, making a commentary on, among other things, the contained feminine sphere of the household, reflected by the housedresses, and the desire to imagine oneself as another through a fairytale-like foray through an enchanted forest. As Dorado also commonly draws upon fairytale motifs in her multimedia installations, an overarching theme to the action could be a revision of the Little Red Riding Hood story, this time with the female protagonists metaphorically encountering a parodic distortion of the wolf within themselves. Dorado also set in motion a tension between singularity and universality, as each woman forged her own path but metaphorically shared an intimate journey with her fellow travelers.

Roberto Untersladstaetter, Santa Cruz, Bolivia: “Meta-archive”

Lastly, a subtle but powerful intervention was carried out by Roberto Untersladstaetter, a La Paz artist who hired an independent photographer to take photos of all those who were either photographing or filming the event. At the end of the event, the artist circulated all of the photographs of the photographers. This simple intervention operated powerfully on a meta-level, making a strong commentary about the feverish will to record that manifests itself amongst participants and performers alike at these types of events. Untersladstaetter’s intervention underscored the urgency with which some participants want to catch every “ephemeral” turn of events on film, drawing attention to one of the paradoxical contradictions of performance: despite its transitory nature, witnesses to the multi-dimensioned sensorial events are quick to condense myriad moments into reproducible images.

Conclusion

With over 50 participants and more demand than space for the workshops, Cimientos solidified the emergence and cohesion of an increasingly diverse and talented performance and new media community in Bolivia. The curators are currently putting together a book of the event, complete with photographs of all of the performances and textual synopses of the events and funded by Fautapo, an educational outreach NGO based in La Paz. Unfortunately none of the three principal art schools in Bolivia (two in La Paz, one in Santa Cruz) currently have new media programs. For this reason, many mixed media artists like Alejandra Dorado, who studied formally in Chile, and Rodrigo Rada, who studied formally in Mexico, leave Bolivia for their training. While they have returned, at least temporarily, many do not. Therefore, events like Cimientos are extremely important for the growth of a community of young, creative, auto-didactic artists who can train each other and future generations in the creative arts of emerging new media. Likewise, by the events end, the more senior participants had exchanged emails and contact information with younger artists so that informal tutorial relationships can develop in both national and transnational forums. The curators hope to continue to convene the event every two years.


Tara Daly is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies at the College of William and Mary. She received her Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese from the University of California, Berkeley in August 2010. Her dissertation, “Restless Bodies, Unquiet Minds: Poetry, Performance, and Power in the Andean Avant-Gardes” theorizes the avant-garde not as a discrete moment that has passed but rather a rhizomatic response to colonial legacies in the twentieth and twenty-first century Andes. She has recently published on the queer transformation of La Paz’s urban space by Julieta Paredes, a feminist activist, graffiti artist, and poet of Mujeres Creando Comunidad, and on Alejandra Dorado’s installation art.


Notes

    [1] Co-organizer Alejandra Dorado provided invaluable insights and notes on the event and the performances discussed in this piece.

    [2] From an e-mail correspondence with Dorado. 17 September 2010.

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