by Sukanya DebSep 30, 2022
Of the several creative attempts to reclaim the relationship between human and nature by the artists either fall into the bracket of didacticism or harbours on the ephemeral approach to draw the meaning. Invariably, both of these techniques find themselves enmeshed in the web of hierarchy that at the first place it tried to break. Against this backdrop, the artistic practice led by London-born Colombian multidisciplinary artist, Carolina Caycedo, is a breath of fresh air. The large-scale installations, performances, drawings and videos by Caycedo, with a collective dimension, call upon the diverse audience to retrace their relationship with the environment.
The artworks are not a means to the end, but an extension of Caycedo’s continual quest on the symbiotic relationship between human and nature. In an interview with STIR, she mentions, “Genealogy of struggle is a serious matter, and around the world the environmentalists have been killed specifically or threatened for their activism. We are looking more at environmental justice issues and how activists who are defending land, water, forests life, are targeted by capitalism. Let's say that they are the new enemies of capitalism and extractive economy. And I want to raise these issues because it touches Colombia, where I come from.”
For Caycedo, the water bodies are living entities that breathe in and out to not just let the human survive in a holistic manner, but be an active political agent to fight its exploitation. The artist says, “I definitely believe that nature is a political subject that has the agency to change the course of events and we are seeing more and more of that agency, with climate change and climate collapse.” The work, Water Portrait, is an embodiment of a similar theme, where the interplay of images of river and waterfall recreates a kaleidoscopic effect. She adds, “The nature, like the women, indigenous women, black women, feminised bodies, trans women, as an entity has been quite exploited, you know, by systems of capital that exist from early colonial times and then unfolds into the present as neo-colonial and extractive processes.” The fluidity of the material lends a performative touch to the installation – the portraits could be draped on the body, soaked in the water and even left to hand and crumble, broadly it amalgamates within any given situation. What is interesting to note here is the fact that the motifs of textile are directly rooted in the indigenous medicinal and shamanic visions. Against colonial supremacy, the installation is a way to disturb the semblance of the centre.
Majority of the works done by Caycedo are rooted in her field research which offers her first-hand knowledge on the subject of concerns only to share that experience with the wider audience through the medium of arts. One of such works is Cosmotarrayas: the hanging sculptures made of handmade fishing nets were collected by the artist when she was with riverine communities, who are affected by the privatisation of water. Weaving in and out of Caycedo’s “activism, community sensitivity and studio practice”, Cosmotarraya could be seen as a narrative on the acts of dispossession and resistance. The sense of community sharing pivot to the works of Caycedo is a reflection of what she acutely witnesses around her, “A lot of young people, indigenous people, black people, and trans people are defending the environment and, in a way, defending the future, as humanity. I consider them as part of my genealogy, as an artist. I like to think about them as part of the long struggle, and by creating these personal genealogies; I want to kind of embed myself also in this large network of genealogy.”
The dams built on the waterways have largely populated the countries in Latin America including Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala. The ongoing project, Be Damned, stems from this phenomenon that investigates the ecological, economic, and psychological impacts of the incessant construction that overlooks its dire effect on the environment. The art installations, video art, and “geochoreographies” or group performances, as part of the project, Be Damned carry the sensitivity of both the world of art and protest. Integral to Be Dammed is the Serpent River Book, which constitutes of archival images, maps, poems, lyrics in the form of a collage. The book could be opened in multiple directions which could be touted as a performance or serve as a workshop tool.
Giving a detailed account on the making of the Serpent River Book, she says, “It is a way for me to organise all those materials that I have been recollecting and archiving, and in a way it allowed me to catapult the body of work into different lines of interest and collaboration. The format of the book came from a map of the Berlin Wall that I found in an archive in Berlin, and it had this accordion-fold format, the same as this book, with this additional kind of folds that allowed for the accordion to kind of meander. And when I saw that map, I knew I wanted to appropriate this format, but embed it with my contents. That is how the Serpent River Book came into being. It is a book I can connect with other river books in the future, like any basin that has tributaries. So, I envision it to grow further.”
Caycedo tries to see her works as a source of activating an extra life outside the conventional spaces of the white cube, the museum or the gallery only to touch and interact with a set of a variety of public. To mention, Caycedo with her works maneuvers the viewers to keep a check on their patterns of energy consumption and remains hopeful that the world-driven by the “environmental justice, just energy transition and cultural biodiversity,” could be achieved.