Performance artist Antonia Baehr and Carola Gaggiano (light and sound technique) participated in Experimenta Sur. Later they did a residency at the Chocó Base. The following text is their contribution to the 2016 publication entitled This place.
By Antonia Baehr and Carola Gaggiano
In June 2016 we traveled to Guachalito, Chocó, with an invitation from the Fundación Más Arte Más Acción and the Goethe-Institut to do an artistic residency. In this place, where the jungle extends to the Pacific Ocean, grows a great variety of bananas never seen in Europe, such as El Primitivo, La Felipita or El Mambule. Some of these varieties have been given various names, such as the Popocho, also called Cuatro Filos, Cuadrado or Gajeto. Together with fish they form the basis of the diet and therefore play an important role in the local culture and identity. Surprised and excited by such – in our eyes – discovery, we dedicate ourselves as explorers to the study of these succulent fruits.
With this project we dismantle our mental image of the “single banana” that we knew, repetitive, uniform and identical to itself. During our 7-day residency we drew a variety of bananas a day except for the last one, which we took off. CC painted one side of the fruit, while AB painted the other. The last drawing of the series was reserved for the Mambule, for us the most intriguing of the fruits. Also called Pujón, it is a species of banana that is becoming extinct in the region that is the victim of rickets. Its skin is thin and violet, and is said to glow when ripe.
We painted every day with the intention of making versions of the banana on the cover of The Velvet Underground album. Certainly we have something in common with many other people educated in the hegemonic culture of Europe and the USA: the drawing of a banana inevitably reminds us of the banana on that cover. Since we didn’t have access to the internet back in the jungle, we used our memories to make the versions. But our memory is somewhat more flexible than Google’s search engines. CC’s memory was changing from one day to the next and I wasn’t even sure if the background was white. AB remembered around the banana letters in italics; she mistakenly assumed that they indicated the name of the band. But what she didn’t remember was whether the italicized text was above or below the banana, or in which direction the banana was pointing – half moon. Some bananas we reproduce well, some not so well, and some we do not reproduce at all. We imposed a rule on ourselves: if the drawing did not look good, it could not be repeated.
The banana is an almost controversial fruit: its name and image are associated with racism, sexism and exoticism. It has practically acquired an obscene and vulgar character. In Berlin, where we live, it is a symbol of the contempt for the GDR’s citizens. Just as bananas were barely imported into this now extinct republic, in West Berlin they boasted about their unfortunate neighbours, to whom such a daily delicacy was almost inaccessible.
The activity of painting realistically requires a lot of time. It slows down life, refines observation skills, and for us it formed a vehicle for communication between hosts and guests. We consciously chose a trivial motif for our naturalistic drawings, which is part of the daily life in that region, especially that of the women, as it is for the excellent cook Laura.
We are interested in the irrelevant, the everyday and the kitchen, the women’s area, with feminist motivations. The catastrophes occurred in the region, such as the devastation caused by the pollution of the Atrato River, did not leave us unmoved while we painted primitives with love and care. We are complex beings and the banana is a simplification of the plural. Where the industrialization of agricultural production does not yet predominate, varieties abound and singularities stand out. Perhaps it was a ridiculous and utopian undertaking to want to give the banana back its heterogeneity with some coloured pens for children, which we had found in part right there, at the Chocó base.
“Utopías en la selva”, a residency program of the Goethe-Institut and Más Arte Más Acción.