The second in a series of work-in-process conversations with the S&&O masters student Tomás Montes Massa, who is just about to start rehearsals with a tight group of friends. They will be working together on a piece about the hyperobject “el estallido social” (the social outburst) in Chile. Their approach will be intimate and personal, and will draw upon their biographies.
This conversation took part on Discord over the course of one week. The conversation bellow is raw and unedited.
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HPW_ before i ask you to talk about your current master thesis process, i wanted to remember back to the time you were deciding what direction you would go with this work. deciding where to focus one’s time&energy lies at the beginning of every process, and is often experienced as a branching moment that leads one to travel down one path and not another. just over a year ago, you performed your piece “Amphibian prayer” at the S&&O All Together Now event. this work staged a ritual for us humans to deal with our grief over the loss of biodiversity, and our sense of guilt for being part of the problem. shortly after this work, protests broke out in your home country Chile. you became very involved in this political action via the internet, and felt a real sense of distance and inability to join the experiences and actions your friends and family were part of. when it came to deciding your masters topic, i remember you telling me that you felt torn between wanting to do something in response to the violent political escalations in Chile, while also wanting to continue draw our attention to the more-than-human suffering caused by our human impact (on climate change, biodiversity….). a tough decision between two big&important topics, both with current immediacy. could you recall what this moment was like for you, and have you thought back to it since setting off down the path you chose? and, now in retrospect, does the decision feel like a branching moment, or have you experienced cross-overs between the two topics?
TM_ Yeah I remember that conversation we had. I think it was in the beginning of November in our atelier, the Ladenlokal. That makes sense because the protests in Chile started the 18th of October. I was emotionally very overwhelmed and exhausted with the overflow of images and news, it had been three weeks of stress and little sleep, I was very much absorbed by the social media content concerning “el estallido social” (the social outburst). I oscillated between hysteric courage, pride, hope on the one side, because I never expected such a powerful, massive overarching political and social movement to explode, I didn´t expect the people to stand up against the neoliberal systemic injustice of decades. My friends and family and my city and all the country on the streets in a sort of carnival for dignity. And on the otherside I felt powerless as smartphone spectator of a revolution fire raging at home, I felt frustration, wrath, hatred, sadness and despair, all due to the state terrorism, it felt like a regression to Pinochets’ dictatorship, in which my parents grew up in. Curfew, the army with tanks on the streets of Santiago, murders, torture, over 360 people with mutilated eyes, shot in the face the police. I woke up every day to see the death toll of the night´s events. A Nightmare. So the decision for me was a matter of urgency. In a hypothetical world without the protests at home, I guess I would´ve gone further with my fascination for animals and biodiversity as inspiration for the masters thesis. But my heart and head were so busy with Chile, that I saw in the masters project the opportunity to channel and focus my emotions and energy in a creative process, which would hopefully help me to give a meaning to all I was trying to cope with.
I’ve thought about this moment and I was always quite conscious of this path division. I’ll definitely be back to biodiversity inspired art as soon as I can. There are a few cross overs though between the two topics. One of the major demands of the social movement in Chile is the recognition of Native Rights. The Mapuche people live and have lived for centuries in the territory of Wallmapu, a geographic area comprehended between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans with the southern Andes as its center, in today´s Chilean an Argentinian southern territory. The Chilean State is since the 1860´s (and way more than the Spanish colonizers!!) responsible & guilty for human hunting, cultural genocide, structural racism and oppression against the Mapuche people. El Estallido Social fights for the recognition of Mapuche Rights: a pluri-national constitution, the recognition of Mapuzungun as an official language, the demilitarization of Wallmapu -which is full of military brigades protecting the interests and property of timber companies, owned by Chilean oligarchs and foreign investors-, the devolution of land to Mapuche communities which has always belonged to their ancestors, political autonomy for the Mapuche nation and guaranteed representation in parlament. Mapuche means ” people of the earth” (“Mapu” = Earth, “che” = suffix for “people”) and as their very name says, they enjoy an earth-centered cosmovision, where the existence and life of humans plays but a small part in the cycles of Nature. Nature is sacred for the Mapuche, and so it is for me. I think this fucked-up late capitalist humanity could learn plenty from the wisdom of Native Cultures such as the Mapuche. The vast majority of us chileans have Mapuche blood, have Mapuche roots, use Mapuzungun words in our chilean spanish. Its time we recognized it and its time for the state to do some repairing actions.
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HPW_ thank you tomas for remembering back to that moment. i can only imagine how demanding it has been for you to experience such a powerful movement and feel so distanced. in your SO! publication article “#ChileDesperto – Digitaler Aktivismus und der soziale Aufruhr” you describe the opportunities and difficulties of new networked movements enabled by smartphones & the internet. you end the article commenting that in march 2020 things will continue….. since then corona virus has also spread to chile… could you very briefly describe how the el estallido social has developed in 2020?
TM_ Corona brought the protests to a very tense status quo and showed in a radical way how healthcare is a very unequally distributed, private privilege in Chilean society. The government has done a terrible job in protecting the population from the pandemic and its economic crisis. Communities have organized autonomously and locally to host “ollas comunes” (common pots) to feed the hungry. All smartphone owners spent many hours a day from mid March till August / September hanging around on social media, discussing el estallido, the contigency and well now the promise is now for October. Corona regulations are now somewhat relaxed, and protests are starting again with eagerness of celebrating the 18th of October as the first anniversary of el Estallido. And on the 25th of October is the plebiscite for the new constitution. Plenty action at the moment.
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HPW_ my first two questions were all about the political backdrop to your current work. now i want to ask what your creative/artisitc process has been like in response to it. how have you been working this year and what have you been working on? has your creative practice been able to provide a source of meaning-making to all you have recently experienced?
Well during the first semester in which we had the workshops with you (no screens) and Friedrich (vernetzte Räume) and I was very busy with learning, doing and trying to adapt to corona modus of studying and working at home, which I still don’t manage well. So until July I was building this model of Santiago in Unity with the online multiplayer game structure. At that moment it was important for me to show how diverse artforms have taken over the city and been the footprint of the social movement: music, graffiti and muralism, light installations, performances. This Ill keep for November. But after our “Public Void” work in process showing, I realized I don’t want to build a computer game, neither something that only takes place on a screen. Then I went to Linz with the Enacting Innovation project, during this time I left my project somewhat at rest. But I learned interesting stuff which I definitely want to apply to the project. For instance I programmed with the twitter4j library in processing, I want to use this tool to filter out important hashtags and causes that have driven the digital dimension of el estallido. I also got to use the CineMachine library for camera movements and film making in Unity. I´ll also use cine machine to make sequences of the places I want to represent from home. Animation is just I thing that really interests me and parallel to our Spiel & Objekt programme Ive dived into the world of 3d modelling, character rigging and animation. So the camera component is a super good skill to continue developing, I’m excited about that.(edited)[3:40 PM]And well then I thought… I don’t want to make an experience with only a digital interface. I really miss copresential liveness in all its forms from the prepandemic life and I fear that performing arts are animals in danger of extinction as we know them. I have a few good friends in Berlin that are musicians, performers, dancers, cinematographers, and they are all dealing with the stressy inner monologue “how on earth am I going to continue my work, develop my passion and make a living in this corona world in a country that isn’t my own”. Anyway so I decided I`m gonna work with my friends. It is grabbing again, like in “Amphibian Prayer” last year, quite a ritual and biographical turn. I’m excited to start the rehearsals.
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HPW_ it seems that both your creative process and the social outburst have experienced a period of fermentation. this sense of grabbing as you called it, sounds like it could be the meeting of your creative/conceptual/political ideas with your established and newly won creative skills, in a way that allows you to become active. possibly you are now entering a state of flow, which can come when our skills meet the task at hand. in your case, the transition from researching and learning to now rehearsing and producing something concrete that you can then share (with us:-). are you surprised to notice that you are tending towards creating an in-person performance and not a game or virtual experience? what happens in the “rehearsal” part of your process? how will you be “rehearsing” together with your friends? how/will you be involving them in the political ideas “behind” your work?
TM_ Hmmmm well no I´m not surprised I´m creating a copresential performance. During this year I´ve noticed how much I miss in-person performing arts (as a spectator and performer) so a dominantly digital experience (like the multiplayer online game for instance) didn´t feel like an approriate format for this project. I know it’s a super general comment, but I’ve spent enough time this year looking at a screen to want to design a screen-based experience. And well with a game… I´ve had my thoughts. I know that on the one hand the whole estallido and the current chilean city-scape could be super interesting for a dramatised, role-playing society simulation or so. But for this project I´m not interested in strategies nor in the analytical distance / protection of assigning roles. Nor am I interested in relativising the roles of certain actors of the social movement such as the government, the parlament, the business elite, the cops and military. On a more prtactical level, I also think that corona-motivated regulations of interpersonal contact could be pretty adverse to the spontaneous interaction between players in a society simulation game. The project will rather have a more theatrical and biographical approach. I’d still like a particitative scene with the audience though. But not from the safety of a fictional role. I’d like a direct action in the social media of choice of each participant. There is one gesture that has become viral on the streets and digital spaces. You cover an eye with your hand because: (as I think I mentioned) the police shot over 360 people in the eye. Covering your eye when you see the police to denounce statal violence, express solidarity to the victims, that for the plebiscite you vote “apruebo + convención constituyente”: to to vote in favor of the writing of a new constitution discussed and written by an assembly of democratically elected people that don’t belong to the parlament.
I want a moment in which everyone covers their eye!
and posts it somewhere
Ummm well for the rehearsals I asked everyone to write a biographical text on their relationship to home and to the estallido. That will be the starting point. And I want my friends to feel comfortable sharing their experiences in the way they best feel it. So well Noelia is a percussionist and drummer, Tomás is a guitarrist and composer, Ángel is a film artist and Pancho is a choreographer. Well and I’m an actor so I guess I wanna talk in front of an audience hehehe. We are all kindda eager for some action. I think music will be pretty important for the project, which has also been maybe the most (for me) breathe taking action that has occured / occurs in the protests: music. People singing and playing in public space. Singing Víctor Jara, Violeta Parra, Los Prisioneros, Inti Illimani, Illapu, Ana Tijoux, and so many more. The (re)living of the musical heritage of our culture has been the most inspiring and beautiful phenomenon of the movement.
music unites us
ummm so to the third question: we want to address the political from rather a intimate and personal approach. Pancho, Tomás and myself, we all grew up in Chile so we all have a very intense relationship, areas of more interest and personal opinions concerning el estallido. I know Tomás is really interested in “the death of journalism” as he calls it, the politics of control in information and media, so thats a subject he’ll raise up. Pancho is super motivated by how the protests have awoken collective action, local organisation and the embodied reappropriation / claiming of public space. My attention has been rather focused on Native Rights, Mapuche cosmovision, history and the reconfiguring of Mapuche identity in contemporary discourses. As for Noelia and Ángel, they both are from Andalucía (Spain) and well Chile and Spain share plenty similarities in their shadey (XXth & XXIst century) political history: long fascist dictatorships, deep societal roots in catholic partriarchy, really bad transitions to neoliberal democracy with even worse justice systems, the role of the business class, corruption, social riots. Noelia is excited about the feminist power of el estallido: Argentina, Chile and Spain have quite similar feminist landscapes in that sense and are in constant exchange. In a way Chiles problems are pretty similar problems to those of, I dunno, Brasil and Libannon for instance. Many countries / societies are in a similar crisis and I guess that makes it easy to relate a local conflict to the global picture, or to another local conflict. I’m not sure what Ángel wants to bring up. El Estallido is such an overarching and multidimensional hyperobject! We`ll just tackle it from our biographies, because we can’t really hope to cover it extensively.
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HPW_ just to come back to the “rehearsal” question….. i am left still curious to know more about how you are coming/working together to create together? are you taking on a role of director…. curator, conductor….? or are you avoiding this distinctive role? do you spend much time discussing “how” you work together, or this comes naturally?
TM_ yup ummmmm well the rehearsals haven´t started yet but yes i will be doing the dramaturgy, or so I´d like to think of it. The setting objectives for the rehearsals and putting together of the elements will be my responsibility.
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HPW_ i propose we pause our conversation here and i check back in another week or two to ask you about how the rehearsals go!