Cartographies of The Unseen (Ongoing Research Project)

Practice-Based PhD Project within ECAM: European Center for Art, Design and Media Based Research at the Basel Art Academy HGK (Switzerland) in cooperation with the University of Arts Linz (Austria) 2017 – 2020

This project investigates alternative territorial logics from the Global South, which counter the dominant idea of the landscape as a flat dimension anchored to the ground, along others that obscure various layers of occupation and governance, both above and below the ground. A central case in the project is a study of eco-social relations extending across a vertical axis of a contested indigenous territory in the Colombian Pan-Amazon region (Between the departments of Nariño, Putumayo and Cauca), which has been  the epicentre of ecological violence and colonial abuse. 

Drawing upon indigenous territorial philosophies form the Southwest of Colombia, as well as participatory methods for artistic practice, this practice-based research aims to formulate an inter-epistemic dialogue around notions of territoriality, support the co-presence of indigenous aesthetics in the global spheres of knowledge and cultural production, and finally to create immersive experiences which can contribute to re-calibrate western approaches to territorial thinking and even spatial-perception. 

For centuries, the Pan Amazon region has been the epicentre of colonial violence and land-use disputes involving the mining industry, illicit farming, indigenous communities and the Colombian state. The region also fosters other notions of proximity and embodied forms of planetary coexistence between many forms of life through indigenous philosophies and inter-epistemic systems of world picturing. This project is informed by situated modes of governance, decolonial sensibilities and creative co-production with indigenous communities, undergoing a process of cultural and epistemological re-calibration, as well as self-determination and territorial control. 

Part A: A Filmic Cartography Through Layers of a Planetary Landscape

Rio: (In-Progress) A vertical expeditions across the Putumayo River,  from the Amazon Lowlands at 300 MASL to the Andean Paramo at 3,000 MASL. 
 

Rio is an experimental film and installation developed after a journey upstream the Putumayo River in Colombia (summer 2018). This journey is captured through a filmic cartography, which reveals a complex eco-social landscape extending from the jungle all the way to the high Andean mountains. In these regions, indigenous thought, trees, soils, temperature, light and shadow coexists and enable new aesthetics, agency and forms of resistance. 

Interview With Julio Fierro: Why the Putumayo?

Departing from the base of the Amazon in the lower Putumayo to the high lands of the Colombian Andes, this film takes the viewer on a vertical journey aimed at exposing new relations between the under and upper worlds: from mining and new forms of sovereignty within indigenous communities, to even the role of local trees in formation of clouds that later become a natural shield against satellite surveillance or areal fumigation.

Putumayo River, Colombia. 2018

Part B:  Participatory Territorial Research

Indigenous Media Collective: Ñimbi Rimai

Ñambi Rimai is a newly established Indigenous Media Collective operating in the Pan Amazon region, between the high Andes and the lower Amazon. This initiative emerged after a series of workshops and field work conducted by Felipe Castelblanco in 2018/2019 while working in close cooperation with the central government of the Inga Nation and Ambulante Colombia. The mission of the Media Collective is to support processes of self-governance, preservation of cultural, territorial control and communication all across the territories and beyond. 

Approach:

Through this practice-based research I examine 1) epistemic shifts around territorial governance and 2) forms of territorial-thinking through the lens of indigenous governance, postcolonial agendas and participatory arts as a means for co-presence and co-production of knowledge. This study focuses on rendering landscapes in relation to a vertical axis, where depth (minerals and resource extraction, subsoils, hydrologies, etc), terrain (sites for interactions between human and non-human agents, knowledges and emerging forms of public assembly), and finally altitude (moving airborne particles, airspace, satellites, etc) reveal power relations that redefine territorial boundaries and interdependency. This vertical study of the landscape, ultimately renders a cosmopolitical dimension of the territory that encompasses new coexisting spaces, hybrid spatial logics and other forms of knowledge production, new approaches to aesthetic thinking and even the potential for renewed artistic  languages and pedagogies.

Methodology:

This practice-based approach to research is developed through a journey across a vertical landscape, with stages like mapping, navigation and devenir. Therefore, by using sensorial ethnography, forms of mapping and counter-mapping, participatory art, writing, video and installations, I seek to address planetary entanglements across different layers of space, from the underground to exosphere and in apparently remote and disconnected locations from the Global South. 

As I argue, this method can be deployed in any given space to explore various relations extending through a vertical axis (in this case the Colombian Pan-Amazon region) and produce other forms of representation that can challenge traditional views over the landscape and territorial definitions. Also, I believe it is possible to recognise new frontiers of common [perhaps public] space beyond the framework of urbanism and colonial land-use logics, still very focused on granting ground-level rights to human communities, while failing to recognise other forms of life as inhabitants of the territory and reserving depth and altitudes for state control and special interests.

PhD Project Timeline:

What we know / What we aim to know:

Until now, western epistemologies informing territorial regulation, resource extraction and ownership of space have fuelled a kind of human exceptionalism and the imposing rule of culture over nature. This attitude is still used to justify all sorts of irreversible interventions on the planet, while rendering public spaces (spaces for collectivity) as mostly flat, instrumental and urbanised. Therefore, this inquiry into unseen seeks to recognize new sites, aesthetic sensibilities, knowledges, and modes of attachment that counterbalance the logics of world-spanning systems of: influence (geopolitics, global economy, environmental policy, knowledge, etc); exchange (connectivity, market-oriented global traffic, consumption, migration, etc) and dependency  (resource extraction, markets, migrant labour, climate change, etc). Ultimately, this project aims to set in motion current interpretations of publicness by creating a dialogic space where: 1) It is possible to explore, understand and propose shifts in spatial-thinking through a participatory vessel for art, research and pedagogy that navigates across disciplines and epistemologies;  2) Develop a framework for art and knowledge production that embraces marginal aesthetic practices from the Global South, enabling new languages for aesthetic thinking applied to planetary spaces; 3) envision cultural policy (i.e. public art policy) capable of addressing vertical landscapes and eco-social and human-non-human interactions as a manifestation of the ever expanding public sphere.

StoryMap with films presented as episodic film essays:

Future video installation at HgK – Basel (2020)

Visualisations / Installation