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Art & Social Space
C'undua: Pact for life. Part 2
by David Gutiérrez Castañeda
10/03/09


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Click here to read Part 1 of the interview with Rolf Abderhalden

David Gutiérrez: Foundation. That’s the third work principle I see in C’undua. I relate experimentation to experience, the idea of not having an aim that comes of a sporadic, free-flowing encounter: not instrumented, as you call it. But the idea behind fundación seems pertinent to me because that discussion is where founding myths appear. Prometheus in Heiner Mí┬╝ller’s version?

Rolf Abderhalden: Sure, everything that has to do with founding myths: what are your fables? From what perspective do you tell the story? Where do you start telling that story? We were interested in examining all that in the neighborhoods of Usaquén, its origin. Its cornerstone is a type of migration that comes to the city, settles in a certain kind of terrain, and due to that terrain tries to reproduce a rural lifestyle. But it’s a kind of displacement that becomes involved in certain urbanization processes because the city’s growing, and these settlers need water, electricity and many other things. So little by little a process of hybridization takes place whereby the village or settlement turns into a city neighborhood, the neighborhood gradually becomes part of a city, and the community begins to promote its own drive for legitimacy as a neighborhood. The generation we were talking with, the oldest members, were the founding generation and that is truly exceptional, to find yourself in a place talking to the person who founded the place. In El Cartucho there weren’t any founding members around, so it was a different story, because founding topics can’t be addressed in the same way as in Usaquén, since you’re dealing with a totally different type of migration and time frame of belonging.

DG: In El Cartucho the idea of myth or the Archaeology of Experience dealt with relationships as they are today, whereas in Usaquén the idea was to acknowledge what had made the place possible. And everything was linked to palpable experiences, accounts and stories…

RA: Absolutely, the only archive was a living archive, an archive of live memories, which is not mentioned explicitly, but we’re working on it. And there at a certain point is a kind of divorce between the arts and social research. After the Usaquén experience, the artists who were involved in it took over the project completely. In Usaquén there was still an ethnographic group, a group of historians and anthropologists. When we sat down to talk about it, it was hard because the group of social researchers wanted to turn the experience into a sort of sociological, anthropological dissertation on the place, whereas what we wanted was to turn all that into action. In other words, what we wanted to do was act, suggest games, and propose strategies with the community. The Memory Books are an example of that. But the social research component had to conduct interviews, and the interviews had to follow a pattern, know what I mean? To me that’s absurd, and even runs counter to the purpose of the project, because what it led to was the type of relationship where the social researcher comes and observes a group, studies it, then comes up with a theory, a sort of verification, rather than what we were trying to do…

DG: You didn’t want to verify? You didn’t want to instrument? You didn’t want to objectify the community? You preferred to have conversations?

RA: Yes, it was a dialogue, and as the dialogue progressed, we obviously asked questions, and those questions were valid, so much so that they could obviously be turned into theory-related questions. But we wanted all of this to become, to be translated into strategies for Action, into Relational Experiences.

DG: And why is that restitution? Why is that a re-encounter? Why is that trauma intervention? I’m raising three very difficult issues in a single phrase…

RA: There were very different issues among groups of different ages, so obviously we chose what we felt was most interesting: with the elders, we focused on recovering all those memories that no-one will be able to recover after they’ve passed away. They’ll survive in historians’ chronicles, but there are no stories that are gathered directly and also given back to them, so that the community could see themselves mirrored in them, recognize themselves in their own stories. With the younger groups the problems were different: alcoholism, homicides, unemployment, lack of opportunities: they were tougher issues, so we sought to provide other relational spaces where the experiences that came up could be used to let people talk about their concerns, or the problems they had with others, even if only for a short while or in a limited space. In other words, trying to name a series of things that are not named.

DG: So C’undua’s first experiment was an exercise in naming?

RA: Yes, one way or another. Conversely, the Memory Books were absolutely Benjaminesque as objects, because they were fragments, moments in keeping with a totally dynamic, dialectical, notion of memory, playing between past, present and projection into the future. They were recalling things about the neighborhood all the time, but naming things that brought them back to the present, to where they were.

DG: Do you think that approach to memory implies restitution? Were those exercises in restitution or in self-awareness?

RA: I can’t say so for sure, but I think in that exercise there’s a process, an activation, a sort of empowering of the subject upon self reflection, thinking about their story, their life condition, their condition as human beings, which is very interesting and I think has a real effect.

DG: An effect, but not a fact? As a future, collateral, simultaneous effect?

RA: Yes, because another approach would be to make memory an instrument, i.e., focus everything on a very specific, given aim, and I don’t think that’s relevant.

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