Less than a month before Caribbean Linked III started, I had an ear surgery. My doctor said I could travel even though I would still have stitches inside my ear. The most important instruction was to avoid water inside my right ear so I would not be able to dive in the beautiful Caribbean sea. As a musician I guess the “correct” thing to do would have been to stay home making sure I could heal completely, but my intuition said I should do all I could in order to be ready to attend the residence. Now that it is over I could not be more thankful I did not miss it.
CL III was a landmark experience in my personal and artistic development. Meeting amazing people/artists from different parts of the Caribbean region allowed me to better understand the common richness of our culture despite the historical atrocities our ancestors overcame. What could be more nutritious and inspiring than attending presentations of the oeuvre of eleven young artists? It was amazing to see that no matter how diverse we are, there are similar issues being addressed in very personal and magnificent ways.
I could name several things that struck me about Aruba; one of them is the fact that this country has barely any public art. To me this clearly frames how repressed people’s expression is within society. This fact inspired me to perform in the streets of Aruba as a way to link artists and the Aruban-art audience with spaces and people who would never attend such an exhibition on the Island.
Another thing that impressed me is Papiamento, the national language (besides Dutch) that is a mix of English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Indigenous and African languages. Since I speak most of those languages I would always move my ears like a dog when listening to Papiamento. I felt I could grasp what people were saying but there were some funny blank spots where I would have no idea what the conversation was about. In this respect, most of what I experienced in Aruba felt like a physical representation of who I am in the sense that after living eight years in Holland and five in Montreal, I came back to Mexico with a multicultural perspective but still with a Latin American heart.
I always flirted with the idea of doing visual art due to an internal need but I had not been able to take serious steps in that direction until the last four years. This long personal search crystalized in the pieces I made and performed for CL III’s final exhibition inaugurated on August 30th in Ateliers ‘89. As my very first art show ever, I cannot describe how meaningful this is. I can only be thankful to Holly, Annalee and Elvis for all their support and hard work.
During the three weeks I experienced a sort of creative explosion, I produced the following works: three collaborations with local artists (Casino Miss Milagros, Glass Chimes Blood Crimes, and Lemba in the Cave); a public space performance (Lemba Drifting Güira); a drawing (In Dependence); and two series of portraits (For Sale and Quadirikiri Self Portrait). Besides these, I did a series of sound recordings that will be composed into three different pieces in the near future: a collaboration with Annalee Davis; a natural environment recording (Lemba Field Recordings); indoor recordings of my room’s air conditioning (Aire Condicionado), and a video-photo collage (Windmills).
Glass Chimes Blood Crimes represents the spilled blood of slaves during the Caribbean Colonies. After taking a workshop with the amazing Ciro and Mariaan Abath at their studio Terrafuse I was very inspired to make a sound sculpture with a material I had never worked before: glass. When would I have the chance to work in a professional glass studio and learn from such experts? Ciro and Mariaan were extremely committed to getting the best results, working up to eight hours a day with such a warm attitude. With Ciro we would be pulling incandescent glass chunks from each side in order to stretch them into long rods that would be connected to glass chains that Mariaan and I made. At the end I decided to use the chains for another piece that will be called Glass Chimes Blood Chains. Working with glass is rather like choreography, you have to act in the moment with precision since there is not much you can do after you manipulate the material. The process of this piece took much longer than what I expected to the point that I did not sleep the night before the opening of the exhibition. However, the final result was beyond my expectations, it was absolutely worth the work.
For Casino Miss Milagros I invited Aruba Artists Kevin Schuit and Natusha Croes to record simultaneously the sound scape of Aruba’s downtown Crystal Casino. We used three hidden recording devices to randomly explore the field at night while spending a total amount of eleven dollars. The only rules were to avoid talking, to give it to Elvis Lopez supporting Ateliers 89 (in case any would make more money), and to stay together for a while whenever the three of us would coincide in the same spot. The resulting 48’31” soundscape is a sarcastic critique of the people who go to casinos keeping their businesses alive. The name of the piece comes from a member card I found in one of the machines in the name of Miss Milagros Tejeda.
Lemba Drifting Güira was a three-part performance I had planed already before the residency started. In the first part I was wearing a piece calledLemba Güira Armadura, which I made in collaboration with my partner Nuria Montiel Pérez Grovas during her Davidoff Art Residency in Dominican Republic earlier this year. Lemba Güira Armadura consists of a metal armour inspired by both, the Taino original percussion instrument, the güira, andLemba, the iconic slave who revolted against slavery in La Española(nowadays Haiti and Dominican Republic).
At the opening of the exhibition I invited the audience to follow me wearing Lemba’s armour while I scratched it and walked away from Ateliers 89 towards a monument dedicated to Juan Pablo Duarte (one of the founders of the authors of Dominican Republic’s independence). I chose this place because Lemba inspired Tula, another slave who fought against the Dutch Crown. I made a special emphasis to walk around the flags of the monument with the flags of the Dominican Republic and Aruba. The missing Dutch Flag, in my opinion, was purposefully excluded to indicate, by omission, the will of total Aruban independence from the Dutch Kingdom, still in vigor up till today.
During the walk I was interacting with the acoustics of the terrain with the intention of creating the illusion of being omnipresent throughout the natural reverberation. The second part consisted of a silent performance in the black box where I continued playing rhythms with my hands but instead of scratching the armour I was crossing a light beam coming out of a projector. The result was a rather hypnotic refraction of the light into the elementary colors shaped by the hand movements. With my left hand, I slowly focused the projection on my moving right arm allowing the audience to be able to read the word Lemba as if it was suspended in the air or imprinted in my skin.
The third and last part of the performance was Corporeal? a piece by Vinko Globokar that is part of the contemporary solo multi-percussion repertoire. The main purpose of adding this work as a performance-collage was to finish focusing in the human body as an instrument that can question and defeat the worse historical mistakes of humanity.
FOR SALE was a series of portraits I took of the artists wearing the Lemba Güira Armour while standing next to a for sale sign. This was an experiment to capture the reaction of each artist. It was remarkable to see how powerful wearing a simple object can be. It would evoke a moments of deep meditation about one’s past and present.
Self Portrait Quadirikiri was a spontaneous action while standing inside the Quadirikiri cave in Arikok park. I looked outside and had the impression I could see my silhouette shaped between the rocks and the light coming inside so I took a series of portraits changing the amount of light in each picture as if representing different aspects of myself.
IN DEPENDENCE is a drawing after the idea of how dependent Aruba and most of the Caribbean countries are, despite being officially ‘independent,’ from the countries that colonized them. Therefore, independence is still a theoretical concept, which has not been achieved yet. I would like to develop this idea into a series of wall drawings where the grey zone would be in the shape of each Caribbean country.
Aire Condicionado is a piece I created with recordings of my room’s air conditioning. When it would be very hot and I would start the machine, it would produce a sound that would slightly change every couple of seconds. I found fascinating how organic this machine seemed from a microscopic sound point of view. I manipulated the recording device live to add the sensation of movement and post-produced the recordings in my studio in Mexico.
LEMBA IN THE CAVE a short performance inside the Quadirikiri cave in Arikok park. US/Aruban artist Leo Aguirre filmed it just before the sunset. I was wearing the armour and turned 360 degres to interact with the acoustics of the space while scratching and hitting the armour.
Windmills is a soundless work in progress using pictures and videos of the wind power mills of Arikok park. These huge structures reminded me of the eight years I lived in The Netherlands. I intend to potray them as a video-picture collage that will seem to have a life of its own, where some mills will move and some will be still. The picture below is just a draft example of what I aim to achieve.
I Drink My Tea With Sugar (in progress) is a series of recordings I did with Barbadian artist Annalee Davis. She invited me to collaborate on her project I Drink My Tea With Sugar that aims to establish a ritualistic dialogue with the spirit of slaves who were working on the former plantation where Annalee currently lives. The main metaphor of the project is how all these people and their respective stories have been swept under the carpet. Therefore, most of the recordings are of Annalee sweeping the tiles on the floor of an abandoned house in Fontein, Arikok National Park, which resembled tiles in the house where she grew up. Different types of brooms (some of which were lent by Aruban glass artist Ciro Abath) were used to provide textural variety. In some tracks I swept along with Annalee. This collaborative work will be a part of the inaugural Biennale in Paraguay, which opens in October 2015.
Quadirikiri Güiras is another work in progress, a sound piece made out of a series of audio recordings I did while playing the armour inside and around the Quadirikiri cave interacting with the acoustics of the territory. My interest is that the listener can experience the irregular space throughout the constant change of dynamics, acoustics, and sound production.
The main source of inspiration to do so many pieces in such a short time was the close interaction with the residents and other artists, like Art Fama collective, who were visiting the talks each night at Ateliers 89. I traveled within the island as much as possible tasting local food, visiting bars, museums, stores, curators, musicians, the National Archive, local parties, exhibitions, museums, and beautiful nature sites. This was logistically possible thanks to Caribbean Linked but specially thanks to Kevin Schuit, who was amazingly open and eager to share the Aruban nightlife.
The best part of this experience is that the group is still in contact making plans for the future. It feels that a branch of lifetime-friendships just started to blossom. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Holly Bynoe, thank you Annalee Davis, and thank you Elvis Lopez for making this possible, you and all the artists’ constellations are inspiring.