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Wilson Dí­az

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Aug 01, 2003
Location: France
Topic: Green Park: Interview with Wilson Díaz
Interviewer: Marí­a Inés Rodrí­guez

LatinArt:  In your recent Paris and Bogotá exhibitions you presented a series of works showing scenes of the "distension zone" in Colombia. What do these represent?

Wilson Dí­az:  The ’distension zone" was an area which the former President Andres Pastrana ceded to the FARC* guerrillas, one of the outlawed armed groups operating in Colombia. The area called the "distension zone" was assigned to them with the idea of re-establishing talks with one of the most important groups in the armed conflict, and for the purpose of attempting a possible "peace process" through dialogue. This zone is located in the south of the country in the region of Caquetá.

I visited the zone in June 2000 to attend an Encounter on Culture and Employment organized by the Colombian Government and the FARC. This formed part of a series of thematic encounters and an invitation was extended to everyone in the country who was interested. One could attend as an observer, as a lecturer or in order to carry out a work for transmission by television. The Colombian television network, INRAVISION, transmitted the events live, and a well-known television announcer commented on the news from a specially-designed set. I was there for three days with a group of artists from Cali.

LatinArt:  Why did you want to make this trip?

Wilson Dí­az:  Initially solely out of curiosity...I wanted to see what the "zone" really was, not to view it simply through the media. I was also working on a recent social and political history of Colombia through the media and needed to obtain my own documentation. When I arrived I began to take a series of images for a possible project.

LatinArt:  Various works came out of this trip. Can you describe some of them to me?

Wilson Dí­az:  There, I dedicated myself to photographing and video recording scenes that interested me and which I thought went further than what was shown by the media such as intimate or public and massive scenes which, taken from inside the zone and seen directly, became powerful and led me to complex questions. Based on these pictures I made a video entitled Bathing in the stream, which shows three adolescent guerrillas taking a bath in a river. These are shots showing a moment of intimacy, of friendship between them, of complicity and of risk...

LatinArt:  It is telling to put ourselves in the context in which these people live, with their fire-arms, uniforms, the tension of possible combat, the fact of witnessing this moment when they are looking after their bodies with such care (they wash, dry themselves off, comb their hair, look at themselves in the mirror, etc.). It is very unusual since these type of scenes are generally not transmitted. These intimate moments show the individual as he is, one is not even able to identify to what side he belongs since he appears the same as any other adolescent taking a bath in a river.

Wilson Dí­az:  The media generally covers the war from their viewpoint, and even this place had been so overexposed by the media that it was difficult to find scenes which were not already common. That is why these moments of intimacy interested me since, through them, a more complex situation involved with the individual was shown.

LatinArt:  During the war in Iraq the media showed pictures of the day-to-day life of U.S. soldiers, and this "public-intimacy" was used to convince public opinion of the usefulness of the war. The attack takes place from all sides. What do you think of this?

Wilson Dí­az:  I believe that the media transmitting this war is committed and sold-off to those producing the war business. With transmissions such as those like CNN among others, bombarding us with messages of how to think and see this war, propaganda and ideology, not showing impartial information was to be expected.

The way in which the U.S. attempts to convince the spectator and justify itself is, in itself, pretty grotesque, and they have ensured up to now that they are the heroes of this super-production for the mass media of the world, a spectacle in which, first, the form, the cover-up and the lie and, lastly, impunity and crime predominate. This war is criminally dealt with as a fiction, and it has been assured that it will be good business, as the war in Colombia has also been.

When I show the intimacy of some children (14 and 15 years of age) belonging to one of the main groups of the Colombian conflict, I am making a comment and showing a little of the complexity of the war in Colombia where children and young people are incorporated by the different groups into this fratricidal conflict which goes back more than 50 years. The current official advertising campaign transmitted by national television in Colombia shows a young civilian walking in the midst of a battle, and the commercial ends with the slogan " Young man, do not turn your back on the war".

In this work, I comment also on the role taken by the media in Colombia which, as everywhere else, represents economic and political interests.

LatinArt:  After these videos you did another work entitled Portrait which ends the series.

Wilson Dí­az:  The portrait, as such, is of great interest to me, above all a type of portrait where no significance is placed on the model, the model presents itself and the account comes directly from the character.

Going back to Portrait, at that moment I was very interested in commemorative painting and in the place which this occupies in society and in the history of culture. In this work in particular I took a series of portraits of adolescent guerrillas present in the war zone, many of whom served as "cannon fodder", in popular jargon. Many arrived under pressure or to avenge a dead relative. Portrait is a video in which I appear making a portrait of a young fourteen year-old guerrilla (according to the story he has been a guerrilla for two years), and at the same time he is showing me how to handle a machete, how to throw a bomb or in what way his various war accessories are managed. The picture I made measures 20 x 20 cm, it is a small format so that it can be carried in a knapsack. I made three of these. The quality of the sound in this video is pretty bad and at times the image disappears, but I am interested in keeping these defective parts to emphasize the documentary nature of this work.

LatinArt:  In light of the present context – the Iraq war, the disappearance of the distension zone – an especially difficult moment at both national and international levels where war or armed interventions have come to the forefront, leaving a possible political solution to one do you see these works?

Wilson Dí­az:  Some months ago I mounted an exhibition entitled Long live the new flesh in the city of Bogotá, that brought together various works based on the documents gathered in the distension zone. I had previously only shown Bathing in the stream but at that time, in 2002, it appeared important to me to show them all. Today people in Colombia want to forget, they want to wipe the slate clean of everything that happened. The distension zone is seen as an error which should not be repeated, but above all it is a kind of national shame, and as is usual in Colombia it is thought that forgetting is sufficient. But, to the contrary, it seems to me that one should try not to forget and keep it very much in mind. The problem of memory is very important and we should remember this hurts and is shameful at the same time. Paradoxically I am interested in seeing reality, the panorama of History not as it should be but as it is and as it happens.

LatinArt:  What is your position in the face of this conflict? That of a simple observer?

Wilson Dí­az:  My position is ambiguous since I go to the zone as an observer, but I live in Colombia with all the complexity this involves. I am part of the history of which I speak, I see and live it from the inside. In turn, my position also endeavors to establish a relationship within the field of art. As I said earlier, I am interested in the recourse of the portrait. During the course of my journey as an artist I have developed several projects in which painting and video have served as a means to work on the possibilities and peculiarities of the portrait. The idea of the documentary has been a basic one in many of my proposals; the action and its possibilities, painting as a valid recourse, and the strategy of art as a complex cultural construction camouflaged in the image and aesthetics of an immediate and improvised instability.

LatinArt:  Parallel to your work, you also form part of "Helena Producciones", a cultural NGO engaging in projects in Cali. Who is "Helena" and by whom was she created?

Wilson Dí­az:  "Helena Producciones" is an NGO, which was established in the city of Cali in 1998 by a group of artists and graphic designers for the purpose of creating spaces for communication, a sense of belonging, community and self-criticism in the midst of a society worn by fear and violence. In this direction and among other projects, "Helena Producciones" implemented in 2000 the project Terror y Escape, where the nature of Cali as an ill-fated, self-destructive city fascinated by its own image was investigated and presented. Film producers, fine artists, art critics and writers contributed to this project which looked all the way back to the decade of the seventies.

On September 11, 2001, we inaugurated the Special Effects project, presenting the work of artists throughout the country on the subject of the spectacular and its presentation. The most important event organized by us, both for its continuity and for its content, is the Cali Performance Festival, which has five versions (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002), the next edition is planned for the end of 2004. In addition to being an event specializing in a single artistic technique, this festival also covers a much wider spectrum which includes art in general, and other fields such as the social sciences, architecture, etc. The Festival, which lasts for one week, includes performances in public spaces of the city, indoor lectures, individual exhibitions in different city galleries, a one-day performance marathon and an intervention in the media. "Helena Producciones" consists of: Ana Maria Millán, Wilson Díaz, Andrés Sandoval, Marcela Gómez, Juan David Medina and Claudia Sarria.

*farc: fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

María Inés Rodríguez: An independent critic, she lives and works in Paris, and is a regular contributer to the magazines Atlántica, Valdez and Metropolis. Outstanding among her latest projects: Instant city, prepared for the Instituto de México in París, 2003. Seminar De lo mismo a lo de siempre, Universidad Internacional de Sevilla, La cartuja 2003. De la représentation à l'action, ExTeresa arte actual (México) Planetario Distrital (Bogotá), Le Plateau /Mains D'Oeuvres (París), 2002; Yes, en cualquier lugar puede suceder, 8 signos - 8 días, M&M projects, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2002; Cutting edge Caribe, en colaboración con Antonio Zaya y Victor Zamudio Taylor, Arco 02, Madrid, 2002.

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