Atrato Collaborations: Entanglements

About Atrato Collaborations

Atrato Collaborations (2018 – 2020) facilitated exchanges between cultural managers and artists from Colombia, Switzerland and Germany. In Colombia it was aimed specifically at participants from Quibdó, Chocó, whose practice related to the Atrato River as a ‘subject of biocultural rights’. Participants from Switzerland and Germany were interested in the idea of collaborations between practices and contexts that are far apart but could meet -improbably- to generate alliances that inspire each other and seek common actions.

#AtratoCollaborations – A project of Más Arte Más Acción in the framework of the programme “COINCIDENCIA” Switzerland – South America cultural exchanges of the Swiss Foundation for Culture Pro Helvetia.
#Coincidence_Prohelvetia #Coincidence_Colombia


“To speak of  Chocó is to speak of  water.  Of the rivers and oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic, the rain and humidity we breathe. Like water, four organisations flow with actions of resistance from the arts. Four tributaries that revive the memories of struggles and victories silenced, we raise our voices against structural racism, patriarchy, extractivism and coloniality. We are lyrics that release the cry of the rivers, bodies that narrate, sing and dance their history. We are nature that heals the pain inscribed on our skin. We are a territory that weaves itself in daily and improbable encounters. We, the tributaries, unite in a greater current, we find ourselves in the common channel that is the soul of the river. This is Atrato Collaborations”. 
Atrato Collaborations working group.

Atrato Pescador, Photo by Andrés Velez

Entanglements – Text by Ana Garzón and Alejandra Rojas

Más Arte Más Acción and Pro Helvetia joined forces for 4 years to allow, within the framework of its Coincidences programme, unlikely encounters between Switzerland and Colombia. The Atrato Collaborations were conceived to connect the Swiss and German contexts with the context of the Atrato River, resulting in a project with a multiplicity of currents, resembling a river delta with all its tributaries.

The Atrato River is the focus of this conversation as a theme that opens up interesting questions about its legal status as a river with biocultural rights: structural racism, conflict minerals, collective actions, power relations, ecological and scientific approaches to the current situation, biocultural rights, nature and capitalism. MAMA, as a creative actor using mediation tools, curatorial practices and production, facilitated a very organic process to emerge that responded both to the realities of the context and the groups involved, but also, to the paths followed by the collaborations that emerged after each encounter or significant activity.

Ana Garzón and Alejandra Rojas, through ‘Enmarañamientos’ (entanglements), followed this process of study and exchange through a series of tools that can enable a weaving between the different collectives and people involved, bringing these connections and artistic practices to the surface. The weaving is not only practised from a curatorial point of view, it is also practised in the ways in which we produce the project and in the ways in which we relate to budgets, to funding, to relationships with Pro Helvetia, in the ways in which we bridge conversations and even in the way we adapted to the pandemic.

Why entanglements? When Pro Helvetia invited MAMA to propose a project for the “Coincidences” programme, we thought that only a longer dialogue could allow for a deeper understanding of both contexts (Switzerland and Colombia). By acknowledging and involving cultural actors from both places we hoped to allow a mutual permeation of our artistic practices and interests from a critical perspective. While engaging with the different artists and collectives, the Atrato River was at the centre of this conversation and became a way to open up interesting related questions regarding its status as a river with rights, such as structural racism, conflict minerals, collective actions instead of an individual approach, power gaps, the ecological and scientific approach to the current situation, biocultural rights, nature and capitalism, among others.

At the beginning of the project MAMA began its role as a producer, through meetings led by Fernando Arias and his research on the Atrato River. But soon the different themes and reflections raised the question about MAMA’s own role. We had several discussions and decided to get involved also with a more active contribution, appealing to the idea of participating as a creative actor from our experience in mediation, curatorial practice and production, which we consider to be  an artistic practice. 

As one of the entangled participants it became more evident that we also wanted to address not only the questions related to an artistic collaboration, but also the political vision of our relationship with Pro Helvetia, in the framework of the Coincidences programme. The importance of having this conversation comes from recognising that this process could feed into Pro Helvetia’s interest in exploring a paradigm-shifting programme of funding, in which all actors involved can critically reflect on notions of north-south relations, power, coloniality and other issues that are part of thinking about Swiss funding in Latin America.

Over the last four years MAMA invested time in deep study within the Arts Collaboratory Network (our main source of funding but also our permanent study network) on what it means to be supported by “northern” funds, through assemblies, collaborative projects, study groups, small meetings and institutional residencies. We have had time to reflect on the colonial logic of funding, traditionally represented by applications, reports and targets, which commonly ends up being replicated by our institution in the communities and territories in which we work. We have asked ourselves how we can subvert these colonial or neo-colonial practices which, amidst good intentions, do not provide structural aid but perpetuate or increase the problems of dependency. Sometimes even dismantling local logics with the pressure that money brings and with the traditional top-down agenda – centred on the interests of the development worker, deciding what is good for us.

With regard to the Atrato River, we also recognise the complicated position we find ourselves in as an external actor on the river, which raises the question of how we can really collaborate as Colombians: how can we be in solidarity and protect our land (in the sense of being Colombians in a nation-state), nature and local communities, especially ethnic and peasant communities? How can we harness the agency we have in the field of art and activism to collaborate with a wider network of local groups and initiatives in the Pacific region, and how can we be truly useful and create communicating vessels? How to allow for entanglement, how to respond to uncertainty through relationships of deep engagement?

The notion of entanglement appeals to us as a way of really believing that this encounter is not a simple “coincidence” but the possibility of being involved, permeated and affected by others. A meeting in which we can, from our common identity, social background, class situation and desires, be able to generate a combination of thoughts. We hope that not only the direct participants, but also the people involved in the Coincidencias programme and Pro Helvetia, may find the conversations relevant and unfold the layers of these collaborations to critically reflect on the ways of working and the ways in which they expect the Pro Helvetia office to operate, in relation to cooperation and further collaborations in the South American context.

In this way, through entanglement, we would like to share the idea of creating common tools, as learning from what happens in this entanglement along the Atrato River. We want to explore what documentation can mean for this process, how to systematise conversations, how to archive… and for what, for whom and when. 

Chronology of collaborations

2018 – Alejandra Rojas and Fernando Arias undertook a 10-day residency in Switzerland from 19-29 November 2018. The aim of this visit was to meet with artists and other professionals working in the fields of art and science and with an interest in social and environmental issues.

2019 – A first exploration with the Swiss artist group took place in Colombia between 15 and 25 June 2019. We made an exploratory trip along the Atrato River with the aim of delving into the different issues related to the river, its communities and its inhabitants. In this phase the artists had the opportunity to meet with local organisations and leaders in and around Quibdó, Río Quito, and Bojayá. Given his previous work in Quibdó Camilo Van Meerbeke supported the production and translation during the trip.

2020 – Due to the pandemic physical exchanges between Colombia and Switzerland cease and resources are redistributed between organisations that develop a series of activities (seminars, workshops, videos, publications, music) for the Atrato Studies. 

– Velia Vidal launches her book Oír Somos Río.

– Motete develops workshops on stories of the Atrato River with children and young people.

– Mareia develops the Rio Enseña course.

– Mareia participates in Knowbotiq’s Psychotropic Gold publication.

– The Corp-Oraloteca produces the podcast Raíces, Tierra y Alas with the Black Boys from Quibdó.

– Fernando Arias attends the annual assembly of the Guardians of the Atrato.

2021 – Ted Gaier and Ariane Andereggen join forces for a trip of a delegation from Quibdó to Switzerland and Germany. Two performative actions are developed.

2021 – Rachel Aronoff and Yuber Palacios do the open science workshop.

2021 – We participate in Lumbung Nuquí to help bring together narratives for documenta fifteen.

2022 – Exhibition in Zurich organised by Knowbotiq. Ted Gaier, Ariane Andereggen and Kathrin Wildner return to Colombia.

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