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Ala Plástica

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Jul 01, 2007
Location: Argentina
Topic: Interview with Ala Plástica in La Plata, Argentina
Interviewer: Jennifer Flores Sternad

LatinArt:  It seems like a key aspect of your practice is creating networks of communication and collaboration. Could you talk about your approach to these networks--how they are sustained, your role in instigating or facilitating communication?

Ala Plástica:  Yes, that's more or less how it goes, although the concept of a network is not the same as the idea of the rhizome positioned as an artistic practice - one of connecting singularities in contrast to hegemony. This is an idea we've focused on at the Rio de la Plata estuary since in 1995, thanks to the Biorregional Initiative. The estuary has grown organically in the last few years around the Cuenca del Plata area. The resistance and transformation has been timely in the face of an ongoing fragmentation of life. Now, it could be that a network offers you reference points and that to belong to one is a more structured, more "institutional" experience, so to speak. Our actions on the other hand occur in a more continuous, more spontaneous way and continue, even in spite of ourselves. So what we have managed to create with our practice might not be a network but rather a living organism made up of relations and communications, catalyzed as a result of a wide spectrum of unconventional artistic exercises in intimate contact and collaboration with artists, rural producers, architects, geographers, biologists, artisans, environmental groups, naturalists and local communities, among others. The main commitment in our undertaking is to relate the intuitive, emotional, imaginative and sensorial aspects of art, with the development of exercises in the social and environmental spheres. In the long run, we hope a series of artistic, sensory, political, economic, and social relations and connections will follow one another, thereby generating the emergence of transformative actions or of actions that influence power. That is how I would describe what is really happening.

In December 1995, with advise from Dr. Nuncia Tur, from the Botanical Department of the Natural Sciences Museum of La Plata, and in collaboration with the artist group Projects Environment, we set off on an exercise to restore the coastal area near Punta Lara, on the south-western edge of the La Plata River, using a number of semi-aquatic and emergent plants, the reed among them. "Emergent species" are those that create new territories though sedimentation which then makes it possible for other species to take root there. The study of the extraordinary propagation system of the reed from its subterranean rhizomes (or root-stocks), its ability to create new territories and its cleansing capacity, allowed us to activate the metaphor of rhizomatic expansion and of the emergence of a series of interconnected exercises at the Plata River estuary that are bent on sustaining threatened socio-natural systems, each of them connected with the cultural and biophysical ecology of the area.

This emergent vision extended itself organically as a slow kind of activism, bearing upon environmental, social and economic issues that are supported by naturalistic notions in the process of activating other human modalities of seeing, individual as well as collective.

This experience entertains an important and distinctive theme. We obviously identify ourselves as emerging from the community, as promoters of a self-organizing dynamic and not as therapists that "descend" upon the community. Thus we begin the task of connecting the natural and cultural remnants that mutually endanger one another, reflecting upon and perceiving related problems between urban structures and the natural environment. The latter generated a practically indescribable mesh of inter-communications that resulted in an innumerable quantity of actions developing and growing through reciprocity. Dealing with socio-environmental problems, exploring non-institutional and intercultural models in the social sphere, interacting, exchanging experiences and knowledge with producers of culture and agriculture, or arts and crafts, of ideas and objects.

LatinArt:  What tools do you use?

Ala Plástica:  Dialogue, photo narratives, cartography, satellite images, drawings, texts and spatial and cognitive mappings that include the perspicacity of the residents in face of very large obstacles, or those actions that have damaged the ecosystem or the social fabric of local communities. With these weapons we defy institutional authority or the "techno-political" way of thinking that the governmental and corporate agencies, responsible for these issues, have. We mobilize new forms of collective action and of creativity that challenge the unidirectional mode of perceiving reality.

LatinArt:  Can you give me some examples?

Ala Plástica:  We do this by intervening directly, with a high level of public participation, in order to limit the damage caused to the ecosystems and to the economy of the junqueros [reed workers] of the La Plata River as a result of contamination caused by Shell's oil spill. We denounced at the same time, in England and in Holland, the double standard employed by oil companies. We met the globalizing discourse of the corporations with a radical alternative approach, generating processes of territorial planning alongside communities that are being threatened by the enlargement of the petroleum chemical port of La Plata. We promote the use of alternative energies and we have managed to install 32 solar panels acquired in a rather unorthodox way.

We recovered communitarian centers in order to promote subsistence strategies based on renewable coastal resources, and we collaborated in the creation of a communication and resistance platform to counter the aggressively large works on the La Plata River, such as the one planned for the Punta Lara-Colonia Bridge. We did research on forest crops, on new uses for wicker employing non-standardized designs in order to strengthen the development of a cooperative of producers and artisans along the coast. This highly experimental way of working awakened interest both regionally and internationally, which is what made it possible for us to represent, in events and exhibits, this particular concern for place that has shaped the artistic discussion of the last 15 years, as well as a series of projects, residencies and collaborations.

The challenge that faces our undertaking is centered, finally, around the articulation of collective forces in order to catalyze the regenerative possibilities of community action. One of the basic elements for regenerating an immune social system is communication and the recovery of the community's power to take action. That is where we will find the value experiences to reside, among multiple levels of significance, translating itself into an assortment of references as concrete as the life of those involved, and which then becomes a solar panel, a plant nursery, a communications module or some large shed.

It is not a simple change in scale or perspective. It is the possibility of developing a different objectivity, a different way of perceiving ourselves, in connection with "what is Other?" through a work initiative that is self-generating.

Thus, the concern for place is strengthened, integrating an emergent movement that considers the experience of collective life as a realm of autonomy, where the counter-power of cultural and natural surplus grows and takes shape through cooperation -the flux of life- in recognition of a movement represented as a social event. Work installed within this sort of event emerges from the experience of collective life and creates the world.

LatinArt:  What are you working on right now?

Ala Plástica:  Presently we are involved in several projects. We are not leaving behind what we have been doing, but we have gradually and naturally integrated ourselves with various organizations of the Rio de la Plata Basin with whom we share strategic interests. One of them is the SIG/IIRSA or SIG/Rhizome initiative which we've been working on since 2005, along with a series of social organizations in the Plata River Basin in response to a call made by SOBREVIVENCIA - AT - Paraguay. We found a convergence of ideas concerning the need to evaluate the procedures of the IIRSA (Governmental and International Financial Institutions' Initiative for the Integration of South America's Regional Infrastructure) within the region and especially to confront it with an integrative process of diverse grassroots proposals. A process of consolidation articulated from a diversity of territories, using technical tools proper to this kind of work, such as the SIG (Systems of Geographical Information) and the use of remote detection in order to be able to monitor the situation triggered by the expansion of those projects that are a part of the IIRSA. Headway is thus made towards a new interpretation of the Rio de la Plata Basin.

We are geographers, artists, peasant communities, engineers, and environmentalists, among others, who are acquiring this experience together. In these new approaches, what comes forth is a re-evaluation of the potential of artistic practices for imagining the landscape. On the other hand, the landscape "seen as construction and social process-- is an action, a document, an image, a set of elements that also integrate artistic space. We have presented some of this in 2005 at the Groundwork's exhibit in Pittsburgh.

Another activity occupying us is our involvement with the Walamba Team. Walamba is a forum for the continued --not merely coincidental-- construction of synergies and for exchanging the experiences of groups that are working together for the sustainability of the Gran Chaco. A platform where reality is not only interpreted but where the main concern lies in transforming reality by affecting public policies.

Starting with our participation in the Walamba Team we began to collaborate with an organization called Iniciativa Amotocodie. This Initiative has been working for a number of years in order to protect highly vulnerable areas of Paraguay's northwest known as the Gran Chaco, where "forest-dwelling" peoples, belonging to the Ayoreo group, live. The term "forest dwelling" refers to indigenous groups that have not had contact with modern society and who for generations have been fleeing in order to avoid contact. To them, the white man is extremely violent. They live according to their ancestral cultural ways, in "another world"; their knowledge of the culture of the surrounding society's modern ways remaining limited to isolated fragments which they manage to assimilate to their own cosmic vision without altering its coherence. Ala Plástica is helping to carry on with a process of communication that involves a sensitive drawing-closer. This is a short and the long term proposal in order to enhance the work of the Iniciativa Amotocode within the context of a flow of mutual exchanges that would involve discussions and strategic interventions, sharing ones knowledge of place, valuing existing resources, proposing a practice that will reveal and offer visibility to a threatened magical culture and environment.

It is still in an initial stage, one of drawing closer and I believe that it is important to be on guard. Because it would be quite easy to fall into the trap of wanting to find solutions. Our perception, conditioned as it is by the West, carries a lot of that. To produce success stories, solutions. Many expect art to contemplate ecological and social problems with a moral agenda in store that will cont

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