1. Liquid Landscapes is an initiative of Border Agency. What is the background and the composition of this artist collective?
Border Agency is an artistic research project that seeks to explore the limits of the notions of landscape in relation to the territory and its inhabitants. Our main goal is to understand from an interdisciplinary perspective the interaction, negotiations and dialogues that occur between people, places and things. We investigate and unveil power structures supporting contemporary notions of landscape. With this in mind, we use art practices as a mean and anthropology as a method, locating, studying and producing visual, audio and written material for our research. We collaborate with different experts, depending on the needs of each project.
Currently, Border Agency is formed by Maria-Rosario Montero, Sebastian Melo and Paula Salas, all of them Chilean artists.
Rosario Montero is a photo-based artist and researcher. She looks at issues related to the representation of landscape from a decolonial standpoint, crossing borders between art and anthropology.
Sebastian’s work is concerned with the use of new media technologies and embodied landscapes experiences. His works continuously cross the boundaries between art and science. Since 2005 he has directed and produced documentary films.
Paula Salas specializes in artistic research, linking her creative practice on the one hand to the academy and on the other to collaborative art. Her artistic practice focuses on community processes of identity creation, integrating tools from various fields, such as anthropology, portraiture and cartography.
2. Your exhibition at Kunstfort Vijfhuizen combines two projects. One based on a landscape intervention in the Dutch landscape and one in the Chilean landscape, both interventions are meant to defend and protect. Can you say something about your mutual fascination for this subject?
We see that something that joins both works is our interest in the role of technology in our contemporary experience of landscapes. Border Agency’s work reflects on the statute of the landscape in the era of the technique. One example of such technique are anti-personnel mines, which from a landscape perspective are a technology that creates virtual borders, a means that divides and radically changes the relationship between the landscape and the inhabited place. In particular, the Landmine Project engages with the minefields in the Atacama desert, which have transformed the desert into a landscape/weapon. With the realisation that we can only have mediated access to these minefields, we have tried to re-appropriate those territories through the use of different mediums. Firstly, the artistic appropriation of military technology such as drone-filming detonates a number of ethical problems for media artists. Secondly, the consequences of choosing a militarised zone as a subject for artistic exploration is equally fraught with ethical dilemmas. This project explores not only the militarisation of the landscape but also how a weaponised territory is built in the imaginary of communities in the surrounding areas and all those who have to coexist with them in everyday life.
From a landscape perspective, the case of the Kunstfort and its surrounding is very similar. People at the Stelling van Amsterdam are witnesses to a moment in which the Netherlands devised a defensive strategy that transformed its landscape into a weapon. By using water as a dissuasive tool, the Stelling created an intricate system of forts, canals, and locks that could eventually protect Amsterdam from foreign invasions on the principle of temporary flooding of the land. Considering the Stelling is no longer an active defence mechanism, and has turned back into a part of the landscape, we aim to make visible its effects on the ways people live their territory.
3. The first landscape you researched has been the San Pedro de Atacama Desert in the north of Chile, in which over hundred thousand mines were placed during the Pinochet regime to protect the borders between Chile and its neighboring countries Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Although there is no need to defend the country anymore, they are still there. How does this affect the local population?
To answer your question, let us tell a personal experience. As young mountaineering enthusiasts, circa 1998, we were planning to climb one of the most imposing mountains in the Atacama Desert: the Licancabur volcano. The Licancabur looks like a perfect cone in the middle of the high plateau; an ubiquitous image of what an Andean landscape is supposed to be. When planning this trip, we realised that the ancient crossing (the one used by native Aymara shepherds) was interrupted by the presence of landmines. This minefield, invisible to the eye, did not appear on any of the maps of the local area. You were only alerted to its presence once you reached a place by a small red warning sign that read “Peligro Campo Minado, Danger Minefield, Peligrowa Aka Pampa Minatawa”. We then had to change our plans to climb the volcano across the border, via Bolivia, in order to reach a path on the eastern face of the mountain.
Our plans were disrupted, with only minor consequences. This is not the case for others who live, cross and walk around this area on a daily basis, constantly putting themselves in danger when walking the traditional routes that have allowed people from the high Andes to exchange and meet since ancient times.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Chilean Army planted mines in conflict zones located along the international border in what are now the regions of Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá, Antofagasta and Magallanes. As of September 2013, there were still 35 thousand mines installed from a total of 182 thousand. In 1997 Chile signed the Ottawa Treaty during the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines, drawing a plan for the elimination of all anti-personnel landmines (AP-mines) around the world by 2025. In Chile, more than half of the anti-personnel landmines have been removed, but there are still many more to be eliminated and worse, most of the population are unaware of their presence, particularly those illegal walkers who cross the border without being aware of the risks.
From a landscape perspective, the effect of minefields is to produce an inaccessible territory, a landscape that cannot be directly experienced because of the obvious risk of explosion. In this sense, minefields can be understood as a technology that creates virtual borders, which divides the territory and modifies how the landscape is experienced.
In our fieldwork, we interviewed residents and visitors from the area. We talked to other artists, a family of shepherds, tour guides, foreign tourists, university students, schoolchildren, workers, municipal employees, teachers and people from the military. They all drew a map representing the way they traverse the territory, including the minefields. We built a small archive of subjective maps that revealed the intimate and daily side of the minefields, the coastal landscapes and the high plateau. The presence of the mines was powerful, not only in their routines across their territory, also in their memories and community history.
We realised that today, the only way to access the minefields was through representation. We then sought to appropriate these vetoed territories using different means. Using a drone, we travelled through a minefield, at the height corresponding to the field of vision of a walker, in order to see and experience (through the mechanical eye) what was forbidden. This route was not exempt from dilemmas, such as the aesthetic appropriation of military technology (filming via drones), with the following ethical problem: using a tool similar to the one being questioned.
4. In the Netherlands you were drawn to the Stelling van Amsterdam. Contrary to the invisible presence of the minefield in the Atacama Desert – in which danger is always latent – this defence line has become a landmark, a harmless historical monument. What interests you most about this Dutch intervention (in relation to the minefields)?
Considering the Stelling is no longer an active defense mechanism, and has, in fact, turned back into part of the landscape, as you say, we aim to engage local audiences at the Kunsfort by confronting them with a site-specific exhibition which explores the nature of an active weaponized landscape. Liquid Landscapes poses the question: how can an everyday landscape become a weapon?
Certainly, all representation, including new media, enables the entry into a territory, but it is an imagined place, one that only exists in the minds of those who experience it. In this installation, what is shown is not a specific landscape, but our way of observing it. We aim to create an immersion into a fringe experience, and the possibility of exploring at the limit of what is known of a place. The screens, photographs, sounds, and drawings help us to unveil the potential danger of a weaponized landscape.
We want to challenge audiences to consider a fluid notion of landscape that escapes any permanent characterization. On the one hand, the exhibition will showcase the work done in the Atacama desert, Chile. On the other hand, a new piece of work specifically made for this location will be shown at the exhibition. This work questions the experience of a weaponized landscape linking the situation of the Kunstfort as part of the Amsterdam Stelling and minefields in the Atacama desert. We look to make tangible the instability of both territories, the Atacama desert and the Stelling van Amsterdam.
5. Both in Chile and in The Netherlands you actively worked with local populations and audiences. The results of these collaborations are even part of the exhibition. What did you discover and learn from this?
Working with local people is very important for us because they contribute ideas, feelings and images to our research that built a situated knowledge. The people who collaborated with us in both places, the Atacama Desert and The Netherlands, experience the territory in a way we never will, because they often live there; have memories there; have particular interests which guide them through the place. Seeing these diverse representations of the landscape, we realised how fragmentary and fluid the landscape could actually be. We like to think the earth under our feet is stable; we trust its endurance. However, the territory changes all of the time, both in our imagination (culturally) and in its physical form. The contributions we received show very vividly the liquid meaning of landscape: every subjectivity creates a layer of the territory that overlaps with other people’s visions, constructing a multifarious panorama of the Stelling van Amsterdam.
6. This is the first time that Border Agency exhibits outside of Chile. What other sites do you have in mind for the future?
We have shown this project before as part of collective exhibitions in the US, Spain, Peru and Germany, but this is our first solo show abroad. As a collective, we are always thinking of how to cross other fractured landscapes, creating strategies to explore them. In this sense, lately, we have been working on a new research project titled “Fire Forests” about eucalyptus, known as gum tree. We are exploring the double identity of this tree as a natural living being, and also as a human artefact changing the experience of landscape in a vast portion of the world. We are interested in the ways in which people relate to this tree and the plantations: how do they feel, how they perceive them, how they define these trees. We will have a first piece shown at the New Media Bienal of Chile, in November 2019, and later on Barrios Bajos Gallery in Valdivia, on January 2020.