Curator Fernando Escobar converses with the collective Helena Producciones about the strategies and operations that activate the archive created by the Cali Festival of Performance and the Escuela Móvil de Saberes (The Mobile School of Knowledge) in relation to its distribution through graphic reproduction and the media.

Visita guiada de Helena Producciones por la muestra Pasado tiempo futuro. Arte en Colombia en el siglo XXI, 2019. Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (MAMM). Imagen cortesía MAMM

Out of the notion of the common—which comes from economics—I have recovered a possible relation to artistic practices, seeing as they involve the social production of meanings, symbols, and affects in relation to all aspects of collective life. The work that the collective Helena Productions—composed of Wilson Díaz, Ana María Millán, Claudia Patricia Sarria-Macias, Gustavo Racines, and Andres Sandoval Alba—presented at the PASADO TIEMPO FUTURO. Arte en Colombia en el siglo XXI (Past Time Future: Art in Colombia in the Twenty-First Century), which was held at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (MAMM) [1], involved such a production of social meanings in art, from the activation of the archives and the flow of integrated information to different cultural registers.
In that exhibition, Helena Producciones presented the Muestra del Festival de Performance de Cali (video, serigrafía, fotografía). 1998-2008, a guided tour that uses performative languages of action to present the story of two projects that began in 1997 and that continue to this day: the Cali Festival of Performance, which has had eight editions, and the Escuela Móvil de Saberes y Práctica Social, a space that opened in 1998 and is founded on the influence of the tradition of deschooling and its questions regarding mutual exchange in education: What do you want to learn? What can you teach?
PASADO TIEMPO FUTURO suggests—in an unfinished manner, of course—the way in which the twentieth century ended and the twenty-first began in Colombia, within the framework of the very complex economic, political, cultural, and social conditions that have recently led to the implementation of peace proceedings. Within this framework, Helena Producciones opens up a dialogue with other art proposals that work with archives, documents, and collections in opens up a dialogue [2]. These proposals make it possible to identify operations that systematically and critically review the archives of political violence in the country: they place official narratives of the nation in tension; deal with the simultaneous temporalities present in social life; or make up collections of living archives that reconfigure imaginaries of heritage and local history.
Helena Producciones’ installation is made up of “a series of archives and objects that form an account of the relations between the festival, the political, and social history of Colombia, and the history of performance in the country.” The narrative developed in this work comes from tangential, marginal, and, if you will, residual historical elements and forms, which in turn come from a complex process rich in perspectives on labor, policies, ethics, and practices, such as the Cali Festival of Performance (1998-2012).
The ways in which the archives have been approached by different projects that circulate in the country’s art scene present a range that could not be fully covered in this space. Even so, it may be useful to point out that there is a growing interest in the “archival subject” in the nation’s art scene, which includes initiatives such as that of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) with its archive, Documents of Latin American and Latin Art of the 20th Century; ArtNexus Magazine and Arkhé: Archivos de Arte Latinoamericano; the constant revision of the platform Esferapública; as well as a recent concern on the part of some museum institutions about recovering and opening their archives; and, of course, the actions that artists and art collectives have implemented in different archives.
As I mentioned before, the diversity of locations, conceptions, and operations working on or from archives, obviously propose their own ways of doing, strategies of systematization, and circuits for dissemination and social appropriation. In this vein, the work propose their own in the exhibition propose their own. But before advancing in these and other aspects, I would like to ask you what this installation consisted of, what strategies you resorted to, and what the intention behind each of the actions that you put into play was.

Helena Producciones, colección de 12 serigrafías, 2012. Con la participación de: Unión de Ciudadanas de Colombia, Escuela Ciudadana, Asociación de Mujeres Cabeza de Hogar, Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT Valle), Arte Diverso, Fundación Nueva Luz, Junio Unicidad, Letincelle, Santamaria Fundación, Asociación Agencia Red Cultural, Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres. Vista de montaje en Pasado tiempo futuro. Arte en Colombia en el siglo XXI, Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (MAMM), 2019. Imagen cortesía MAMM

Helena Producciones: In this exhibition, we present eight pieces that involve our reading of the paraphernalia used by different forms of mass media—printed, televised, and digital—to communicate the illustrative strategies employed by social agents and performance artists in direct relation to different sociopolitical and artistic events of the 1990s and 2000s in Colombia. Reexamining these readings through mass media opens up a field of visibility to multiple other narratives that come out of this project and sets up an inside and an outside of the archive that are constantly in dialogue and placing each other in tension.
Throughout these years, we produced a material and symbolic excerpt made up of documents and audiovisual records, imbedded in varied temporalities—the time of the performance, the exact moment of the action, and that complementary time in which it imprints on the observer—and spatialities that grant a form of authorial affirmation in a certain way and a means to narrate from our perspective. The documentary nature—historical, patrimonial—that makes up this archive extends into the present as the co-presence of the actions and bifurcates in its spatiality into two places: the house of one of the members of the collective and an online platform [3]. The interior of this archive—basically managed by us and presented to the public to a certain degree through research proposals, publications, curatorial projects, and exhibitions, and within a sphere of language limited to the artistic—comes to be intercepted by an exterior, the narrative the media produces, which generates distortions of different nuances—out of propagandism and sensationalism—while circulating in a “massive” sphere within an circuit of information dominated by the conventions of newspapers, television networks, the state, and even the very same art scene. We reinserted this exterior into the artist scene using the following selection of pieces:
1. Year 1999. A one-to-one watercolor reproduction of the poster for the Andén action organized by the Mexican collective Semefo in Cali [4]. In the context of PASADO PRESENTE FUTURO, the poster establishes a relationship with the end of the nineties, a time characterized by isolation, injustice, and precariousness in the field of art and also the time when we started the collective. In turn, it questions the foundational myth that sees contemporary Colombian art of the 2000s as a milestone that breaks with the past out of amnesia, surely because of its seeming failure and dysfunctionality. In turn, SEMEFO brings us to Teresa Margolles, whose participation expanded our management possibilities, leading to the festival’s future internationalization.
2. Year 2002. An oil on canvas, reproducing an image of Lona suspendida sobre la fachada de un edificio by Santiago Sierra, made for the fifth Cali Festival of Performance [5]. In the context of Plan Colombia, an agreement between the US and Colombia on “an antidrug strategy to end the armed conflict,” this provocation led to the burning of the flag at night by unknown people who also boycotted the artist’s conference. The museum demanded that the flag be taken down because of the risk that it posed.
3. Year 2002. Three cartoons depicting Pierre Pinoncelli [6] drawn by Mheo, Rubens, and Foncs and appropriated from local and national newspapers using a transfer method. This appropriation demonstrates the tabloid and sensationalist construction the media built up around the correlation that Pinoncelli sought to create between the violent context of the country and the media itself, which in turn shut down the artist’s work and trivialized its meaning. The artists Roberto Jacoby, Oscar Masotta, and Eduardo Costa foresaw this conflict in 1962 when they wrote their manifesto Arte de los medios comunicación [7].
4. Year 2002. Five photographs taken from different national newspapers regarding the announcement of the “first strike of thieves, prostitutes, and indigents” [8] organized by José Vladimiro Nieto [9]. The fact that the strike was happening at the same time as the Fifth Festival of Performance allowed us to relate the symbolic production of the communities participating in it to the work of the visual artists through the curatorial discourse. By pointing out this controversial and provocative act through this collection of news images, it managed to offer a satisfactory space for the presentation of our interests and methodologies, in relation to research and works of art, in which part of the process of research is also exhibited.
5. Year 2009. Three photographs and a circular acrylic tray. This installation made evident the parallels between Tania Bruguera’s work Sin título [10] presented that year during the Seventh Meeting of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics in the National University of Bogotá—where Helena Producciones was in the audience—and Leonardo Herrera’s work, which he presented in 1997 at the first Cali Festival of Performance and in which he wrote the names of artists on a small wooden table using lines of cocaine that were then offered to the public to be consumed. The original tray Bruguera used in her action was donated weeks later by the organizers and producers of the event.
6. Year 2012. Twelve screen prints picturing different representatives of organizations[11] seeking claims and spaces for citizenship. In 2004 we worked out of the Escuela Móvil de Saberes y Práctica Social at a regional event with funding from a state arts grant. With the insertion of the workshop format in the field of artistic and social impact and after our initial experiences with the project, in 2012 we proposed a space for the critical rereading of history that would start from the different points of view of its participating agents in an environment where they could share their own politics, ideologies, and experiences between symbolic and representative possibilities, while taking into account the visual, the active, and actions. The screen prints were the result of this workshop.
7. Years 1997-2012. Selection of videos from Helena’s archive. The documentation (texts, photographs, and video) of a series of actions were presented on a monitor. This section connected with the festival’s five documentary exhibitions that took place between 2003 and 2015, including: the curatorial discourse of Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art, curated by Apsara DiQuinzio at SFMoMA, San Francisco, USA, 2012; and the exhibition El mundo tal como es, el mundo como podría ser, curated by Julieta González, DIXIT, arteBA, Buenos Aires, 2015.

Helena Producciones, 2015. Pintura en óleo sobre tela de una imagen de la obra Lona suspendida sobre la fachada de un edificio de Santiago Sierra, como parte del V Festival de Performance de Cali, 2002. Imagen cortesía del Archivo Helena Producciones

FE: The expansion of this artistic record requires the implementation of strategies for social organization around cultural and artistic processes, the appropriation of communication and technological resources, and the construction of ties of solidarity and cooperation between artists and other citizens. The successive turns and the elusiveness that come with working with such powerful materials bring up many questions and speculations: What can happen when the boundaries between action/event and archive are blurred and its documentation becomes the interpreter? What dimension does an archive acquire when produced collectively from the artistic?
HP: Turning your question around, what happens when the boundaries between artist, producer, event organizer, curator, information organizer, post-producer blur? When you ask that question, or otherwise, affirmation, after saying that the archive is blurred, and when you continue with the idea of the documentation becoming an interpreter, we ask ourselves: could it be that the information is no longer what it says it is or what it should be, but is rather saying something else? From this, would we place ourselves in the position of the interpreter in order to transform or to make a version of the documentation? That could be the case for some of the pieces in this exhibition, but we have taken a step in another direction.
Taking up again the exterior of the archive—that space where we are not the definitive builders of the narrative, as we make use of images culled from the media and produced by journalists, cameramen, and photographers—and using traditional resources of the visual arts that involve real agents working from their own narratives involve the recirculation of the strategies that build history, memory, and even myth, whether produced from an archive or by a collective of artists that come together in unity and harmony under a single identity. In turn, despite being an event where many agents and authors converge, we have defined policies regarding the use of the archive, which allow only for projects with a clear purpose of disseminating, using, and continuously activating, and which do not consider marketing it.
FE: There is something very interesting about the activation of Helena’s archives under differentiated conditions—that is, how they manage to challenge, show solidarity, or reveal the diversity of institutions (museums, galleries, national salons, culture secretariats, art institutes, and universities) and even the different subjectivities involved in the spaces that are the sites of such activations. Would you agree that the activated archives seem to become a vehicle for opening up other scenarios and forms of direct intervention into public art?
HP: Archives that are usually placed in conditions of protection and inactivity, are the opposite for us: active elements that update and revitalize our stakes and the interests of those who come into contact with them. It is not about challenging, showing solidarity, or revealing the diversity of institutional formations.
With Helena it is possible to activate the specificities and narratives of both the spaces and agents, as well as of the events, the pieces, the artists and their collaborations, and, notably, certain actions relating to public art like the one at MAMM. Out of a creative and investigative development, they place us as subjects of memory and history that allow for a relationship with these productions, their agents, and the context. To this extent we are a part of the archive. The institutional relationship is established from the narratives that the pieces themselves contain or construct. The encounter of thought between these and the other agents gives us clues for each festival.
FE: The attitudes became a shape (artistic), the information became art, How does the activation of archives representing a multiplicity of artistic and symbolic records work in a country? What questions have you posed to the archives, to the practices of art, to political actions, and to the artists who have passed through the festival?
HP: Archive activation is a resource that accounts for the collective construction of the Helena website/archive, which allows us to assess the scope of the common interests and spaces that have been established within the framework of a narrative traversed by a recent history in which unresolved conflicts persist, which validate the revision and updating of strategies of exchange and creation.
We have worked from ideas close to art and even works of art, but we do not see the archive as a work of art in itself. We see it as organized information about the work of many authors, and we respect this. Of course we believe that the activation of archives in terms of political actions is very important and interesting, and there are good examples of this—in our case, presenting the newspaper photos from the Primer paro de ladrones… It accounts for it by making visible that strategies of social construction recirculate between two of the same areas, the artistic and the citizen. In turn, exploration from our proposals and in accordance with nature as a collective in another exhibition such as El mundo tal como es, el mundo como podría ser, curated by Julieta González in 2015.
FE: Several important issues remain outside of this space. To finish off,, we could move forward on the problematic and productive relationship between the live presentation and its documentation in order to explore the ways in which the act can exist before and after the live event.
HP: First of all, in Colombia for numerous reasons, there is no record of its artistic events, nor of its symbolic contents in relation to its political reality. For this reason, it was fundamental for us to create this archive as a possible solution, a game, an understanding of the record of certain acts and the historical reality of the country. All this while also taking into consideration the tradition of the image in relation to action art, as well as the relation of the artists to the recent political, social, and economic history. On the other hand, the presentation of the archive through speech establishes some politics of use for those who accompany us. The commentary forms another discursive layer that refers to the possibility of an exchange of opinions that overlaps a reading outside of the nature of the document between text and image.
In Colombia for numerous reasons, there is no record of its artistic events, nor of its symbolic contents in relation to its political reality.

Visita guiada de Helena Producciones por la muestra Pasado tiempo futuro. Arte en Colombia en el siglo XXI, 2019. Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (MAMM). Imagen cortesía MAMM


  1. La muestra fue curada por Alejandra Sarria, Carolina Chacón, José Roca, Jaime Cerón y María Isabel Rueda, coordinados a su vez por Emiliano Valdés, Curador en jefe del MAMM.

  2. Como lo es el trabajo de José Alejandro Restrepo, Alberto Baraya, Ana María Montenegro, Sebastián Restrepo, el proyecto colectivo Echando lápiz, o el mismo Wilson Díaz individualmente.

  3. http://www.helenaproducciones.org/index.php

  4. Andén es una acción convocada por SEMEFO a través de carteles y cuñas de radio, en las cuales se le pide al público asistente traer fotografías, ropa y objetos que hubieran pertenecido a sus familiares o amigos muertos a causa de actos violentos. Realizada en La Plaza de las Banderas de Cali, se abrió un segmento del piso y allí se empezaron a enterrar uno a uno estos objetos a lo largo de todo el día. Después de haberse llenado ese hueco, una tumba simbólica, se procedió a cerrarlo y a darle un acabado idéntico al que tenía.

  5. Esta lona era una reproducción de la bandera de EE.UU. en una dimensión de 20 x 15 m. confeccionada en el Batallón Pichincha de Cali por el artesano Luis Abel Delgado y colgada sobre un muro exterior del Museo La Tertulia.

  6. Pierre Pinoncelli anticipó su participación en el V Festival de Performance de Cali, anunciando, a través de una serie de anuncios radiales en las emisoras de RCN y Caracol, que desde Francia él vendría a Colombia para “rescatar a Ingrid Betancourt,” candidata a la presidencia secuestrada en 2002. Sin embargo, ante la imposibilidad de hacerlo, cerró el último día del festival auto-mutilándose el dedo meñique de su mano izquierda con un hacha, en una acción denominada Un dedo para Ingrid. Cabe mencionar que varios elementos utilizados por lxs artistas en diferentes acciones en el festival se integraron a la colección del Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia de Cali, entre ellos el dedo de Pierre Pinoncelli.

  7. Cuando una obra artística sucede en un medio de comunicación con una audiencia que no está en contacto directo con el hecho cultural, a los ojos de lx consumidorx la obra puede o no acontecer, y lo que importa es la mirada que el medio realiza del hecho artístico, lo que deviene prácticamente en atentado contra la noticia. Ver en http://www.archivosenuso.org/ de la Red Conceptualismos del Sur.

  8. Un carnaval contra la guerra, con obras de teatro callejero, comparsas y otras intervenciones públicas, montadas por ellxs mismxs. El paro abogaba por seguridad y visibilidad, y por la participación en el negocio de las basuras y el reciclaje, que años después se convirtió en un monopolio. Usando los medios de comunicación invitaron también a lxs ladronxs de “cuello blanco” a unírseles. Este evento fue entorpecido por el entonces alcalde de Cali, quien sacó un decreto de emergencia para impedirlo, lo que ocasionó un cambio de lugar de encuentro y la visibilidad de lxs ladronxs. Finalmente se conoció como “el día de no robo”.

  9. José Vladimiro Nieto, un ex-indigente del autodenominado movimiento Los renovables, era en ese momento estudiante de primer año de Derecho en la Universidad Santiago de Cali. Tristemente, José Vladimiro fue asesinado tiempo después.

  10. En dicha acción Tania Bruguera reunió un panel de actores relacionados con el conflicto colombiano para hablar sobre la construcción del “héroe”.

  11. El taller de negociación, presentación e intercambio entre grupos sociales organizados se llevó a cabo en el marco del proyecto pedagógico del VIII Festival de Performance articulado con las charlas y la plataforma del festival, y contó con la participación de: Junio Unicidad, Unión de Ciudadanas de Colombia, Escuela Ciudadana, Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, Asociación de Mujeres Cabeza de Hogar de la Comuna 20, Central Unitaria de Trabajadores CUT, Arte Diverso, Fundación Nueva Luz, L’étincelle, Santamaría Fundación, Asociación Agencia Red Cultural Oriente Stereo.


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