1. In the event of a natural and political catastrophe, everything we know could change so radically that we, humans—with our social constructs and inescablable dependency on this planet—would still deploy life and cultural forms in whatever landscape is left at that point… Perhaps everyday events will become surreal actions and we could be forced to take over spaces we have never considered to inhabit. Probably the most mundane everyday rituals would rely on constant improvisation and precarious responses to urgency. Even unlikely sites would become a new poetic territory for imagination and paradox.
Driftless, a series of performances and videos emerged out of similar questions when I landed in Pittsburgh (USA), where I came to pursue my MFA in 2010. Before that I had lived for years in Bogota, a city elevated at more than at 8000 feet and a bit closer to the stars. Once in Pittsburgh, I became quite fascinated with the complicated history of the three rivers. The the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers have been the engines –and victims– of the economical progress of Pittsburgh since European settlers landed in the region. As an artist that is usually interested in contexts and sites, I felt the need to inhabit these odd spaces (the unavoidable rivers) and respond to them with a new set of artistic tools. Initially through small performances and later curatorial work, my practice became entangled with this fluid materiality of the river, water and odd sites for art making.
For the last six years I have created direct interventions, performances, platforms, happenings and films over, in and around large bodies of water. I consider these spaces an extension of the public space and a new frontier for the cognitive understanding of contemporary notions of publicness and a planetary materialism(s). Thus, rivers, oceans, lakes, and water overall are perhaps an all-encompassing form of (fluid) public space: a continuum that spreads or contracts, emerges or evaporates without loosing its qualities of container, carrier, enabler, etc. In other words, water (either as a drop or an ocean), is the most radical form of SPACE.
Paradoxically, thinking of water-as-space not only frames the territory but also all sorts of human exchanges happening today (from commerce or migration to even trafficking and energy transition initiates). For instance, throughout human history the oceans have been contested places, sometimes described as negative, void, lawless, unbound (Terra Nullius) or simply a space in-between, However, the same oceans have also been the backdrop –or better, the backbone– of human progress. Water is the material embodiment of an emerging notion of public sphere with planetary scale dimensions. Nonetheless, water is rarely understood, and cared for, as the kind of public space we are so enchanted with in today’s urbanised culture.
This new fluid sphere (of space-born-public) encompases life cycles of all species and even cultural products as one complex planetary form. This new dimension of the public is a “methasphere”: an emerging framework of space-monitoring and space-based information systems, the complex infrastructures, that are effecting a radically transformative view of Earth – its weather, ecology, geology, hydrology, health, finance/economy, defense, energy, exploration, communications, and imagining – a new Earth and sky.” Lawry Burges
2. As part of this path, In 2012 I attempted to build the smallest boat that could hold only one person’s weight. As a result, I devised a precarious way to navigate through large bodies of water using a chair, while sitting and contemplating the landscape from within. This became a performance and then a film, which started in lake Wesserunsett in Main (North East of the USA) and then has been re-enacted in places like the Pacific Coast of Colombia, Mexico, California, England, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Philippines and Australia among others. The film ‘wonders-through’ this vast form of public spaces and explores nationhood as a form of contemporary confinement, while embracing on the ocean as an unlikely context for artistic interventions. Through a derive that blurs borderlines and even the natural and geological features of radically different locations around the world, this journey traverses not only space but also temporalities by exposing the complexity of a political system that restricts human movement while expanding its networks for the transportation of goods.
In this work, a performer travels across large bodies of water and through ten countries, while drifting away in a precarious raft that references make-shit strategies for border crossing, migration and radical seafaring. As Nicolas Borrieaud refers in his book the Radicant: “The artist has become the prototype of the contemporary traveler, homo viator, whose passage through signs and formats highlights a contemporary experience of mobility, displacement, crossing.” But this leaves us with the question: What are the modalities and figures of this mobility within art forms and dimension of the public?
Borrieaud offers an answer:
The Journey has become. A form in its own right, the bearer of a visual matrix that is gradually replacing the ad-like frontality of pop art and the documentary enumeration of conceptual art.. The emergence of the journey as a compositional principle has its source in a cluster of phenomena that form part of a sociology of our visual environment: globalization, the transformation of tourism into an everyday phenomenon and the advent of the computer screen… *
Then, perhaps the artwork here is the journey, or the performance. Even the documentation of the work takes its own cinematic form. However, the journey is not just through landscapes but through the layers of meaning separating the land and sea, sites and non-sites, public and publicness. In this work the journey is the material and the form, reflecting also on today’s artistic mobility vs. migration, the complexities of landscape representations and the paradoxical search for sublime imagery in today’s volatile cultural and political climate.
- The Radicant, Nicolás Borrieaud. Sternberg Press. 2009