Sunday, April 19, 2009

Something magic happened last night...

Yesterday, we heard the doorbell at 5 a.m. and opened it to find our friend Edilberto Criollo, who has just arrived from San Agustin. I met Edilberto through my flatmate, Tamara who went to see him in Putumayo (Southern Colombia) at the beginning of the year. She travelled two days to that so-called "no-go place" to meet him at the Cofan community.

To the best of our present knowledge, the Cofan culture probably has its roots in proto-Chibchan hunters who wandered down from the Colombian highlands near the present border of Colombia and Ecuador some time in the distant past.

My friend went there to experience on the most incredible experiences you might have: the in taking of yagé (Ayahuasca) which is used largely as a religious sacrament. Those whose usage of ayahuasca is performed in non-traditional contexts often align themselves with the philosophies and cosmologies associated with ayahuasca shamanism, as practiced among indigenous peoples.

Edilberto belongs to a family of Cofan Shamans and he himself is one of the most respected Shamans in the whole country. He travels all over Colombia to perform the religious ritual of yagé, which I was very surprised to know is a very popular practice amongst many Colombians.

He has been travelling all night, so we invited him to have some rest. Later, we have breakfast and he told me whether I would like to join him that night in a small village in the mountains near Bogota where he was going to perform the ceremony. After thinking all day about it, I decided to go not before asking him if I could take some pictures of the ritual. He agreed and we packed some blankets, water, cameras... "Would you like to be part of the ceremony of yagé, Juan?" I wasn't prepared to answer that.

After one hour driving in the dark through the mountains we eventually arrived at a farm, where Juan welcomed us. There were more people coming soon... The place where the ceremony was going to take place was a Maloca.
A maloca is an ancestral long house used by the natives of the Amazon, notably in Colombia and Brazil. Each community has a maloca with its own unique characteristics. For many years, these long houses were Jesuit missionaries’ objects of attack. Several families with patrilineal relations live together in a maloca, distributed around the long house in different compartments. In general, the chief of the local descent group lives in the compartment nearest to the back wall of the long house. As well, each family has its own furnace.
During festivals and in formal ceremonies, which involve dances for males, the long house space is rearranged; the centre of the long house is the most important area where the dance takes place.
Our Maloca was round with two doors, one for males, the other for women. Whereas we waited for the others to arrived I looked up and an incredible clear and starry sky was embracing us.I felt overwhelmed and excited about what was going to happen. However, I decided not to take yagé. There was something inside me, some painful memories than made me feel it was not going to be a good experience. So I told Edilberto, that I will participate as an observant that I will take pictures of the ceremony if people agreed with that.
It was indeed, an incredibly beautiful experience; everyone had taken it before but one girl. The Shaman reassured her that she had nothing to be afraid of.It was midnight when we started: one by one was called and they drank the yagé, prepared by the Shaman.

While non-native users know of the spiritual applications of ayahuasca, a less well-known traditional usage focuses on the medicinal properties of ayahuasca. Its purgative properties are highly important (many refer to it as la purga, "the purge"). The intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea it induces can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites, and harmala alkaloids themselves have been shown to be anthelmintic. And this is exactly what happened. One by one, each participant stood up and walked outside where they threw one and twice. Then, they would walked back inside and sat at the fireplace. The Shaman would start rhythmic chants whereas dancing around us.

The Chilean novelist Isabel Allende told a British newspaper that she once took the drug in an attempt to "punch through" writer's block. The paper wrote:
But after forcing down the foul-tasting brew, she was catapulted to a place so dark her husband feared he had 'lost his wife to the world of spirits'. Her life flashed before her as the hallucinogen took hold. She faced demons, saw herself as a terrified four-year-old and curled up on the floor, shivering, retching and muttering for two days.

'I think I went through an experience of death at a certain point, when I was no longer a body or a soul or a spirit or anything,' Allende says matter-of-factly. 'There was just a total, absolute void that you cannot even describe because you are not. And I think that's death.'

Nevertheless, the process proved transformative. Allende emerged aching but lucid and was able to complete [a trilogy she was writing], now being adapted for film by the co-producers of The Chronicles of Narnia.

I spent all night walking around the Maloca and sitting at the fireplace listening the Shaman's chants and music. I felt strangely relaxed and connected with everything around me. For the first time since my arrival in Colombia, I cried...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Darkness that fades away...

Last week I have been very busy working on the video and sound editing. It's a wonderful experience as the editing script was given in the form of still images of each sequence printed in 6 x4 ". The editors found a strange methodology to work with but soon the realised the idea of the piece has to grow "organically" working creatively and looking at other form of continuity than cause-effect. I explained to them that my idea was to show an impressionistic vision of the subject, suggesting rather than describing. I was not interested in a documentary approach but a more contemplative piece.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Slowing down

I will go lose myself, and wander up and down to view the city
Antipholus of Syracuse
Walter Benjamin loved to play the part of the flaneur, the aimless wanderer who loses himself in the city, stands back from the crowd and whose urgent and single-minded purpose is to have no urgency, lose his way and observe. It is difficult. The pace at which one goes is all-important as it determines the scale of one's observation and thereby what becomes visible. Speed abbreviates.

Through the preparation for filming, I was determined that the camera operator understood the way I needed the camera to record the subject we were filming; I explained how one of the filmmakers I profoundly admire, Yasujiro Ozu, worked: Ozu's camera does not move. This is a figurative reminder that modern life is in perpetual motion, and that the beauty of life is often found in standing still.

The Corabastos is a web, a piece of woven fabric: a text. And the text of the people who work there is in turn inscribed on the place, on the bays and halls they inhabit every night. To search for those inscriptions I drew a map of the market as it exists in tension with their lives. But those inscriptions are overlaid with later changes, partially obscured and altered by the estranged glance of the wanderer who struggles to understand the pattern of time going by amongst the hundreds of sacks being unloaded and piled to be uploaded and taken away...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Paloquemao's Market at Dawn

Our third night of filming, we went to one of the most beautiful market places in Bogota. Paloquemao used to be a train station and was bought to become a co-operative which has been running as a market quite succesfully so far. The vendors are very proud of their market and were very keen and helpful to facilitate our filming. We arrived at 5 a.m. when the market was still closed and the trucks were coming from Corabastos. It was getting brighter and the coteros began to do their shift unloading the goods - la oscuridad apagandose...

On my way home...

I'd been wandering about the Candelaria all day trying to catch an insight of this "dangerous" place according to some people; the quarter has always been considered a "no-go place" due to its high level of robberies and violent assaults. However, I find it a enchanting place full of colonial buildings lined up on the highest area of the city and surrounded by extremely poor neighbourhoods. Since there are few residents in this area, the streets appear ghostly empty at night. Only the so-called "recicladores" (people who search in the bins) populate the corners and tiny squares of La Candelaria.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Who Are You Entertaining to ?

Yesterday, I opened the exhibition of my video performance at the University of los Andes. The piece was produced in Birmingham (UK) in 2002 as part of a LabCulture residency at the Vivid Media Centre. Here is the text written by Dr. Elizabeth Cowie:
The work is a performance recorded in real time so that while the victim’s enacted response to the blows is a fiction mimicking reality, it is also each time slightly different, his reaction slightly modulated, perhaps taking longer to regain his composure, perhaps compressing his lips, or breathing even more heavily,, while he swallow hard or winces.

Who are you entertaining to? in its implacable repetitions, produces a complex and ultimately terrifying representation of the experience of violent abuse as duration. It has neither a past nor a future, just the continuous present of the performance. It is interminable. If then, what I am seeing is a spectacle of trauma, how am I implicated as a watching and listening spectator?
Over and over again a man hits another man. With his back to the camera the abuser towers over seated victim who faces us, his eyes averted. Each time he is hit the force of his assailant’s blows throws him sideways. Each time he slowly recovers himself and returns to his seat, composed, awaiting –as we begin to – for the next assault.