The Fluid States Route: Island Vessel and Dock #2 - Panama encounters India

Dear PSi – India,


Warm greetings from Panama! It is a privilege to participate with you in this global conversation around questions of performance from distinct local perspectives. As some of you know the first Fluid States event of 2015 took place in Panama from January 8th to the 11th. From its inception as a nation-state the Isthmus of Panama has been at the crossroads of biogenetic migration, colonial expansion, international trade, scientific experimentation, naval engineering and cultural bricolage. Drawing from a rich geopolitical history rooted in transoceanic trade and migration Panama was honored to launch PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing with INTEROCEANIC: Isthmus, Zone, Canal, a series of performance interventions, films and roundtable discussions about the country’s emblematic waterway, the Panama Canal. The four-day event began with two site-specific performance works by Panamanian artists Eric Fajardo and Ela Spalding that address the history and politics of Panama using the canal as a performance space. Days three and four convened roundtables and forums exploring the relationship between the canal and questions of ecology, sovereignty, U.S. imperialism, political performance, visual culture, militarism and national identity. A film series took place in the evenings featuring cinematic works that deal with the aesthetics and history of Panama’s unique interoceanic culture. As the sole Latin American country hosting PSi #21 Fluid States, Panama was honored to initiate what promises to be a rich global conversation throughout 2015. It is now your turn to take the baton or rather the vessels that we have sent your way.

The first vessel we would like to share with you is the trailer for the film The Passage from 2013 directed by U.S.-based filmmaker Alex Douglas. The film’s photography and narrative questions the economic and social impact that the current expansion of the Panama Canal will have on its people. As such, labor and the economy are always central to the role of the canal in Panama’s history and culture. The film was screened as part of Fluid States Panama in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Following Douglas’ documentary and the questions around capital and development that the Panama Canal expansion force us to think about, I would like to share our second vessel. A more formal, we could even say figural, meditation on the labor that brought the canal into existent. It is a short Super 8, black and white video art piece by Panamanian artists Humberto Vélez titled The Last Builder with music by Nikola Kodjabashia. The video features Dionisio Herrera Gonzalez, from Jamaica, though born of Cuban parents, who was hired at the age of 15 to make furrows in the canal area. Herrera Gonzalez was also a body-builder and in this piece we not only see the aestheticization of labor power but also a celebration of all those unnamed bodies who wrestled with geography to join the Atlantic and the Pacific. The writer Giovanna Miralles accompanies Vélez’s with the following passage: “"We called him Jose, for no reason, although his name was Dionisio Herrera Gonzalez; one of the many unexplained things in a life full of secrets. He was seventy years old when he was captured in this film. He was born in Jamaica, of Cuban-Oriental parents, he always emphasized. And he arrived in Panama when he was still a small child. It was through friends his father had made during the canal construction, that he was hired when he was only fifteen years old, under another name and stating a different age. Neither Jose, nor Dionisio, was really a Hercules, who boasted that he had split the continents spine with his hands. I opened it with my own hands—he would say, while smiling scornfully. It seemed as if the continent had transferred its strength to him. This was not his only achievement. A pioneer of bodybuilding as a way of life, he had sculpted his body, defying time. Time, on the other hand, had not allowed itself to be completely thwarted, keeping his face for itself."

I hope these two small vessels give you a taste of some of the ideas and materials we shared here in Panama. I am very sorry not to be able to be with you at the moment but rest assured I will be following the proceedings online. I also take this moment to thank Marin, Bree and the whole Fluid States team for inviting Panama to participate and for making these transoceanic dialogues happen. These dialogues become more and more vital as we think through the challenges that face us as a planet and the new collectivities that are emerging to meet them head on.

Wishing you the best,

Sebastián Calderón Bentin


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