Paris Work Week, Alfredo Prieto and Sofia Ugarte

in Field Notes/Presentations

Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, June 2, 2014

Rarely do seminars begin by turning to whoever is sitting next to one to randomly talk about whatever is passing through one’s mind. Especially if one is asked to do in the language one feels most comfortable in, being assured of two minutes of head-on attention, in a room filled with people from different parts of the world. While the objective could be to get out of each participant’s or audience’s system the necessity to interrupt or to speak, to create a small tower of Babel, or maybe just to relax or concentrate people’s minds in what will be presented next, the exercise connected with yesterday’s talk and practical work of Goethean observation. In a way, this exercise was also about paying attention, concentrating on another being, their desire to speak, their forms of communication, and what was being said, even if the language uttered was incomprehensible for the receiver.

Connections and connecting is one recurring theme at “Beyond the End” meeting. Alfredo Prieto, a Chilean archeologist, began to lead us through an imaginary voyage across time and space, a great, long walk that started millennia ago, when humanity developed enough tools to get moving from Africa to what literally, many, many years later, could be considered the end of the world at Tierra del Fuego. The talk (done in Spanish and translated by Camila Marambio into English), concentrated on instruments, objects, material realities that shape our history since the dawn of human existence and which is still taking us to places we do not yet know. Though this virtual excavation of layers and reading of material traces, where history is written through techniques, we moved from points of lances to arrows and the changed ways of life of knowledge, and of relating to others implied by these transformations. Just as the slightest change in the form of pointed weapon changes what kind of animals are hunted, how they are chased, by how many, and thus alter social patterns, so different landscapes within a territorial unity like an island give way to radically different forms of life. The spiraling cord attached to a handle that today might seem “primitive,” or only a remote form of survival, was and still is a sophisticated knowledge in sustaining life under extreme conditions.

A series of further layers were added by Sofía Ugarte, a Chilean sociologist who wove her interview-based research on the island in February 2014 into a performative talk in front of a semi-translucent paper pasted on the wall that seemed like a memory block of traces. Beginning with quotes and the adoption of multiple anonymous, present-day voices from Tierra del Fuego, Ugarte connected what the current inhabitants feel about living in the island, with ways in which this place is, has, and can be though about, centering on three nodes or “modes of uncertainty” as she called them. These included the radical social uncertainty embodied by the Selk’nam people to later immigrants to the island, passing through current feelings of uncertainty regarding or brought about by institutions or their lack in Tierra del Fuego, to the marginal, frontier geographical character of the city of Porvenir in particular. In a place that has been characterized historically by the uncertain (whether it is the insecurity of sustaining life, of changing living conditions, of unexpected visitors, of staying), Sofía Ugarte proposed thinking about alternative forms of institutions, as well as the continuing problems carried by reacting to uncertainty with violence and interpreting life, past and present, in Tierra del Fuego.

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