Essay José-Carlos Mariátegui, 12/2004

Surgery of a TV Memory, by José-Carlos Mariátegui

“Not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious.” 

Walter Benjamin

Nowadays, television is a vital force that determines our culture, our values, and even our fantasies. In Latin America, where half of the families, even the poorest, own a television set, TV has been converted into a medium contaminated by a structural corruption. The banality of the chronicle of happenings, which seems to be of interest to everyone, generates an elemental substitute which is founded on the opposition to this banality: the thought subverts and dissipates it to reveal concealed, valuable things. 

The will to discover the importance of the television medium has motivated the change in reality, “re-creating” and decomposing it to generate a new view: what our daily view does not allow us to “see”. Ernesto Salmerón, a young Nicaraguan social communicator and documentarian, interferes in the “media” with his “audiovisual constructions” built on his observations and comments on the happenings around him. As a good social researcher, he recognizes the context as an integral part of his research, that is, today it is impossible to construct an image in itself. 

The series Documentos x/29 transforms a historical situation into a “post-historical” one, on the “latent” remembrance of present time and the “alarmed” question of the future. Through terminologies extracted from digital media (like the “POST-POST-POST REVIDEOLUCIÓN EN NICARAGUA”), he narrates an unfinished history which a new generation wants to appropriate through the digital intervention in a reality in which they were just inert participants through television when they were younger. 

Digitalization, as an extraordinary tool to construct and deconstruct memory (“Documento 1/29”), highlights the fact that there is not a single reality that can be sustained by itself anymore. In a country like Nicaragua, where there has been a long civil war, memory plays a fundamental role that commercial TV wants to dissimulate, amputate, and dissolve. Thus, Salmerón offers us a difficult, dirty, half-understood critical concept which reveals the mark of an unfinished process: the Sandinista Revolution. 

In the second and third parts of the series (Documento 2/29 and Documento 3/29), he justifies the social need as a consequence of the biological need. The universe we live is not only physical, but also symbolic: language, myth, art, and religion compose this social tissue which, as the biological universe, develops faster than the “Homo sapiens”. For this reason the concept of progress in “POST”-industrial society does not connote only the biological process, but, nowadays, also the processes of electronic manipulation: information is the valuable thing, not the object (which does not provide information). 

Information broadcasting constructs reality, something that, according to Salmerón, is not achieved through arms, but through an efficient “ideological arsenal”. Salmerón knows very well that he is a son of the media, of TV, and that he can delight in indiscriminate power. He reveals the media aesthetic of war images: the nocturnal lights in the sky make us think about air bombs (obscure but convincing), when they could also be fireworks. 

In respect to the conceptual project, Salmerón intends to face malleability through the use of the television medium, allowing a distortion of reality, as the “media” deforms reality and transforms it into banal facts. Undoubtedly, through a delicate intervention in TV, as a part a bigger surgery, the image may be displayed crudely, with all its own “noises”, with all its viscerality. This is an intervention that reveals the concealed forces of the medium and the level of repetition of the image. 

This new perception of the television allows us to develop our sensibility, knowledge, and the management of it, and also to realise how the new generations are more and more sensitive to TV: they know how to absorb the signs and significations of the medium and have the power to subvert the image. Thus, we can be optimistic about this future, in which power does not belong anymore to a few hegemonic media, turning itself to individual opinion. 

In Latin America, the violence and suffering during a large part of the 20th century have converted us into enemies of remembrance. Undoubtedly this remembrance is often necessary, for it is related to the collective memory of a people, to the feeling to know why still it was not gained. In Nicaragua, to speak well or ill of the war is still a taboo, something that no one wants to talk about, but it is a place where the dead still claim for justice. 

Salmerón has been working, extending this laboratory of recent memory of Nicaraguan people, trying to express intimacy and frustration in his own way. For this reason, memory as a social activity can be used to reconstruct a space and re-establish what was lost. Thus, memory is converted to a flexible substance that reconstructs forgotten fragments: a nation that must review its past to construct its future.

Interview Eduardo de Jesus, 12/2004

How did you begin to work on video?

Everything began in Colombia, in Cali, at the Universidad del Valle, when I was studying Social Communication. I wanted to study Cinema, but I could not afford it. So I decided to study Communication and pretend to myself that I was studying Documentary Cinema with a help from the professors of the audiovisual studies field. There were other students with same interests; we did not want to be journalists, and some professors were willing to help us.

It was the ideal situation, because we could be social communicators and also film and video makers. So I began to work on black and white photography; I didn't care too much about moving image. Photography was enough for me: I could record in photographs what I felt that could vanish, what could disappear. I could catch something of my distant Nicaragua, my Nicaragua that was falling to pieces. Something of my unsuccessful revolution.

For our final work at the Photography course we had to create an audiovisual work to tell a history with fixed photographs and sound, using a slide projector and an audio recorder to build a sequence. The production of this audiovisual work, that was called Muchachos de la Prensa (Boys from the Press), was the most important visual language experience that I have ever had. The meaning of the editing process, the importance of each image. This final work I made with Professor Luiz Hernández revolutionized the way I saw the world. I could say things through images!!!

Muchachos de la Prensa was the beginning of my commitment to that lost revolution. The script was a homonymous poem by Ernesto Cardenal, which was published in a photography book by Richard Croos: photographs of war and destruction. Heroic achievements that I could not find in my current context.

Afterwards, I created other audiovisual works with my friend Mauricio Prieto. All the works that were requested in the course were made as audivisual, but then we began to use the PowerPoint program. With the same racional thought about the fixed photography, we created Un foto fashion para todos (Fashion photography for all), presenting a new clothing brand ironically based on DIESEL's marketing strategy: BAMBA: for loosers living, a clothing brand directed to losers and helpless people of contemporary society.

Counting on our will to produce videos, we also created 39 con Roosevelt (39 with Roosevelt); we experienced the thrill of filming on the streets during three months and learnt how to edit the images properly at the editing room. The professors were on strike, so we took the opportunity to use the editing room of the university channel with our friend Guillermo Arias who worked there.

Soon we began to take classes on “experimental video” with Professor Oscar Campo, an important Colombian documentarian. The theme of the course was “violence”, so we had to produce a work about it. Mauricio Prieto said: “There is nothing as bloody as religion, so let's make a video game on the history of religion, like Mortal Kombat”, and that was it. We worked with Edward Goyeneche for a year, we studied classical and popular art history, we laughed at our own ignorance of Botticelli and the other masters of painting, we talked to video game specialists, we worked with the animation maker Felipe Alfaro, and the result was JHS: the salvation.

Afterwards I took the course on Script, in which we created a very bad piece of work on ficction, and then I took the course on Documentary, in which I created a project with Alex Díaz and Maria Lid García called Color girassol (Colour sunflower). This short documentary was screened on TV. It was about an old woman, a painter, and it was part of the series En 3 dimensiones (On 3 dimensions) of the national channel Señal Colombia.

Soon I produced to the same channel my first medium-length documentary, Fin del bombo, about a musical fusion project produced by some youngsters who had the same concerns as me. I always wanted to be a musician, and they had been my mates before I gave up music to work on photography. It was a debt that I had with them and with me.

So I got the opportunity to film María Isabel Urrutia: ciudadana del oro (María Isabel Urrutia: golden citizen), an audiovisual biography of this important Colombian political and sportswoman. It was very useful for me as an educational and cultural TV experience in the media industry. It was a good documentary. Every time I watch it, I feel I achieved my goal.

Coming back to Nicaragua, I got involved in the Documents on the Post-Post-Post Revideolución en Nicaragua. I made Documento 1/29 with Mauricio Prieto. Afterwards I produced Documento 2/29 and Documento 3/29 by myself, during a process of trying to give up Colombia to find my way back to Nicaragua. I had to face the past, to accept what I have today as my home country.

Afterwards I produced Auras de guerra (Auras of war). But I will talk about it later.

Some of your works deal with political themes. Have you always been concerned with politics?

Yes, they deal with political themes, and I cannot help it. I believe I was influenced by works of art related to politics, the propaganda aesthetic that was developed during the Sandinista Revolution, which in its turn was influenced by the revolutions in Cuba and USSR.

I watched the cultural production of the 1980's as a spectator in the front row. Besides, the Nicaraguan national identity seemed to come from that same cultural production, through Mejía Godoy's music, Ernesto Cardenal's poetry or Pérez de la Rocha's paintings. Currently, my work consists in studying the mechanisms of this art, dismantling and understanding it to produce new discourses and meanings, refreshing its messages. I try to portray my time, to open my eyes to the inherited reality of this utopia that was the revolution.

What are the results of this work? I don't know. Maybe they will not please us; maybe they will help us to get rid of this illusion in which we believe and which does not let us face present time with intelligence to think out new strategies of resistance. If the strategies of resistance are naïve, they are fated to reproduce robotic behaviours and automatons unable to figure out a new transformation. Revolution means moviment.

How was your experience with the group E.V.I.L?

The Latin-American Video Army (E.V.I.L.) is a group of friends of video art whose main aim is to produce audiovisual works without being intimidated by mass media requirements and standards. It is an initiative built on the freedom of speech and on the promotion of aesthetic issues and proposals which are rejected by the establishment mass media. E.V.I.L. is energy and will to work. There is not a list of official members, some of them are anonymous and we are always thinking out more direct strategies to achieve our objectives.

Recently, E.V.I.L. has produced the first experimental video workshop in Nicaragua, between 27 September and 1st October 2004, sponsored by HIVOS, the Institute of History of Nicaragua and Central America (IHNCA), the audiovisual company Erimotion, and others individual contributions.

As a result of this workshop, a DVD with more than 20 short video works is being edited. They will be distributed to educational centres as schools and universities and cultural centres too. This DVD will feature the works of all the participants of the workshop, as well as some surprising extra material. We hope it will be launched in February 2005.

We are also planning to create a Cine Club, which may feature screenings weekly of all kinds of film: feature films, experimental films, and documentaries. There may be debates after each screening, and didactic material on the films may be distributed.

We still believe that the academic space is the ideal one for this kind of activity, so we are counting on the sponsorship from the Institute of History of the Universidad Centroamericana to our organization. We are trying to make new contacts with schools and other educational centres.

The Cine Club will be inaugurated with the screening of video works produced during the workshop, and then it will feature all kinds of audiovisual material, but mainly the productions of Nicaraguan audiovisual artists.

We are convinced that we need new producers and video artists, so we are organizing new workshops with audiovisual professionals from Nicaragua and abroad to create a new network of knowledge between experienced artists and the artists from the new generation - a bridge to share creative interests.

To produce the documentary Auras de guerra (Auras of war), you first photographed the people on the streets, and then you came back to deliver the photographs to them. What motivated you to produce this work? What is its central idea?

The production of those photographs was an obligation I had to myself and to all the people who still believe in something. It was my final project at the Social Communication course and I spent a lot of time thinking about it and researching. I had already taken a lot of photographs on the streets since 1997, all of them on 19 July. But I was not satisfied with them; they were repetitive, too similar to the ones that were published in the media; there was not much novelty in them. So I decided to use curtains because of my interest in the classical Latin-American photographs of the people.

Wrinkled, misplaced curtains in popular photographers' studios. This seduced me; it was what I wanted to do in photography.

So I adapted this photography tradition to the reality of 2000 at the old square of the revolution. The rest was improvisation, both at the square and at the laboratory. I like jazz very much, both as a music style and as an attitude towards life. So I decided to take a chance on improvisation.

I promised the photographed people that I would give them the photographs on 31 July of that same year, but just a few of them believed me, others were drunk, and in the end only five people came for their photographs.

Then, in 2004, at the 25th anniversary of the poor revolution, I decided to print 5-thousand posters to distribute on 19 July, first at the new Cathedral of Managua, and after at the John Paul II Square. That day a pact between the Catholic Church and the Sandinista Front would be established publicly. Cardinal Miguel Obando and Daniel Ortega set up their show, and I distributed my posters.

On one side of the posters there were the photographs of the people, on the other there was a phograph of a wrecked wall where there was a graffiti of Sandino. The rest is in the video: the delivery of the posters to the people, the different reactions, and my adventure when I had to face the ones who felt offended.

Would you please talk a little about the Post-Post-Post Revideolución that appears in the opening text of the series Documentos? What is it about?

Three times “post” means to me that the revolution is something from a very very very distant past, maybe not chronologically, but psychologically; I am interested in developing the concept of time, for there are many dimensions within it, for instance, the dimension of the trauma, the suffering in the minds of people who were in the war, who sacrificed their lives for an ideal and soon after were betrayed. The time of the trauma. History as a trauma. The chronology of a revolutionary trauma.

In Nicaragua, there are people from the upper classes who want to delete history, both rightists and leftists. For the rightists, revolution is something obscure, something that should not be talked about, something to be ashamed of, for it is the cause of our current situation. For the leftists, it is an achievement that is remembered naively, for it is subjected to analyses and exhaustive researches. They could be considered responsible for the failure of a social movement that had many possibilities to spread love, solidarity, and intelligent resistance worldwide.

Thus, the term “post-post-post” means: yes, it is something distant, but it is here; I accept that you want to forget it, but we have not understood it yet. Let's study the social phenomenon and make use of the technological and aesthetic tools of the contemporary scene, both in social sciences and in art, to try to understand our behaviour as human beings. On the other hand, the term “revideolución” (revideolution) highlights the importance of video as a tool for the research on this revolution, and often to say things in an easier, cheaper way. Video art as a substitute for traditional films, as a murderer of traditional cinema, of chemistry, but at the same time as a tool to democratize and extend the production of messages through cinematography, writing through the recording of movements. Today, we can produce much cheaper films than we could 10 years ago, and more, 30 years ago.

How is the electronic art scene in Nicaragua? Are there spaces for regular exhibitions?

There are no specific spaces, but we are working on it. Art in Nicaragua is conceived as oil on canvas. Art must be beautiful and fit on the walls of bourgeois houses and banks. There is only one art museum in Nicaragua, and the criteria to select the works to be exhibited are built on the taste of its owner, who happens to be a banker. The galleries are not much different; they seldom exhibit experimental works, let alone electronic ones. There are no electronic media courses in any educational centre, and most of our artists work on their instincts. The workshop on experimental video organized by the group E.V.I.L. tries to break the rules, but it is not easy. The magazine Estrago includes a CD with video, audio and photo works in each edition, but we could not organize firm and permanent spaces. The Cine Club that the group E.V.I.L. aims to set up shall be a good alternative. The attempts to set up spaces for debates and critique have failed, for they have become spaces for meaningless fights between artistic groups.

In the last exhibition, which was organized to be a homage to the 25th anniversary of the National Police, and which was held at the Teatro Nacional Rubén Darío, temple of institutionalized culture in Nicaragua, they rejected my video work El diálogo en el vidrio y el cambio de clima (The dialogue in the glass and the change of weather), for its content could be considered offensive due to the context of the Iraq war in an exhibition of the Police. The exhibition had no video work, for I was the only artist who had tried to screen a video.

Thus, the space for electronic works is restricted to small exhibitions organized by the same artists in alternative spaces like the Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica (IHNCA) (Institute of History of Nicaragua and Central America) of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), and the Sala de Teatro Justo Rufino Garay. On the other hand, experimental videos are being projected during rock concerts of the band Grupo Armado (Armed Group) and electronic music parties like Revolta Sonora (Audio Revolt).

At the IV Bienal de Artes Visuales Nicaragüense (IV Biennale of Nicaraguan Visual Arts) in 2003, the fact that many awards were given to video works shocked a lot of people. Peluche, by Wilbert Carmona, won the first prize; Oscar Rivas received honourable mention for his video installation; and my work Documento 2/29 also received honourable mention. I believe there are artists working, but there is a lack of spaces to promote their art.

How do you view the relations among memory, video and politics in your work?

That's a very good question… Video for me works as a notebook in which I write about what I live as an individual but also as an individual who is part of a socio-political context.

Thus, video art works as tool for me to reflect on and understand this context as a process to understand myself. In these videographic notes there is everything: my family, my intimate feelings, politics, my memory, my history. Maybe that's the reason why I decided to use the word “Documentos” to title the series of 29 short videos on the Post-Post-Post Revideolución. Documents to be interpreted, to say things in which the word “document” seems to mean “Important”.

The memory contained in the videos that I have compiled reveals many concealed things to me, which may map my present situation. I have learnt to understand my present situation through the study of my past, discovering the spiral form that repeats itself, the repetitive patterns of behaviour. Video and photography enable me to access the non-institutionalized memory and, most important, to build my own view of history.

That is why video/memory/politics come together. But I may not always create works on politics, for there will come a time when I shall overcome this stage, this subject, and then I shall commit myself to other issues, as in the video work Un passeo, of the series Limite de caducidad, which deals with the material aspects of the 8 mm film in relation to my familial history.

Comment biography Eduardo de Jesus, 12/2004

Ernesto Salmerón  (Managua, Nicaragua, 1977) is a graduate in Social Communication at the Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia. He creates photography and video works, daringly combining documentary and video experimentation, and taking the political situation in Nicaragua as a starting point.

His works have been presented at festivals and exhibitions in many countries of the world. He won an award for his video series Documentos (Documents) at the 2nd Central-American Video Creation National Festival Inquieta Imagem, which was held at the Museum of Art and Contemporary Design (San Jose, Costa Rica, 2003). Documento 1/29 was screened in Tel Aviv, Israel, at the Video Art Biennale VIDEOZONE (2004). He also took part in the exhibition of Latin-American art TODO INCLUIDO, in Madrid, Spain (2004), and in the VI International Exhibition and Colloquium on Digital Art, in Havana, Cuba (2004). 

In the video that reconstructs the history of dictatorship in Nicaragua, he makes use of the editing process to highlight its historical and cultural aspects. The other two videos of the series, Documento 2/29 (2003) and Documento 3/29 (2003), were awarded honourable mentions at the IV Nicaraguan Visual Arts Biennale (Managua, Nicaragua, 2003), and at the 3rd Central-American Video Creation National Festival Inquieta Imagem (San Jose, Costa Rica, 2003).

With that same commitment to his work, Salmerón produced another ambitious project, an intervention in two stages. First, he photographed the Sandinistas during the celebration of the anniversary of the revolution in 2000, and then he came back to that same celebration in 2004 to deliver the photographs to the Sandinistas and record it on video. This intervention generated the disturbing documentary Auras of war: interventions within the Nicaraguan revolutionary public space (2004). Surprisingly, Salmerón was approached by some Sandinistas who did not like the images and thought he was trying to defame the memory of the Sandinista Revolution. Auras of war is a instigative documentary that reveals the complexity of current political situation in Nicaragua. This documentary was screened in 2004 at the V Caribbean Biennale (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic), at the Visual Arts Biennale of the Central-American Isthmus (Panama), and at the Latin-American art exhibition TODO INCLUIDO, in Madrid. 

almerón also produced another political video, The dialogue in the glass and the change in the weather (2004), a subtle appropriation of TV images that acquire new meanings with the inclusion of texts. This video was screened in the exhibitions Punto sin plano - Emergente contemporáneo, at the Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica (Managua, Nicaragua, 2004), and Produciendo realidad, at the Prometeo - Cultural Association for Contemporary Art (Luca, Italy, 2004). With a more educational character, and less experimental work, Salmerón created the documentary María Isabel Urrutia: golden citizen (2003) on the Colombian weightlifter who won a gold medal in Sydney Olympic Games (2000). This documentary was awarded second prize at the 2nd Telefestival Iberoamericano Video Joven OIJ, of the Ibero-American Association of Educational Television (Spain, 2004), and was selected for the 5th Documental International Exhibition in Bogotá, Colombia (2003).

Bibliographical references Eduardo de Jesus, 12/2004

In this section, in each international edition of FF>>Dossier, we list some links to websites which may provide useful references and information on the artist in question, and the artistic context of his country, concerning the electronic art. The links related to Ernesto Salmerón bring the exhibitions he participated in Cuba and Italy, as well as the website of Nicaraguan literary magazine Marca Acme, published in Managua.

An interesting article on the contemporary art scene in Nicaragua written by Eunice Shade from literary magazine Marca Acme, published in Managua.

Website of ATA - Alta Tecnología Andina (Andean High Technology), the institution directed by José-Carlos Mariátegui which aims at promoting electronic art.