Standing on the edge, teetering. Feeling the pull of the deeply dug hole, as the claustrophobic space around me pushes me down and into it. Sounds grind inside my head. The sound of things falling from rumbling trucks, and a voice ominously reciting the name ‘Medellín’ and the number ’13’. An oppressive feeling surrounds me and all I can think about is death. This minimal mis-scene allowed the metaphorical dimensions of the work to be experienced more powerfully. What is at the bottom of this hole? As the camera slowly approaches toward its bottom, lumpy shapes seem to emerge and drape themselves on the earth. What calls to me by the sounds and images expanding around my head and beneath my feet? Am I swaying and trembling before the very gates of hell? It seems, as I endure the 10 minutes of this play, this could very well be the case.
The image of the bottom of the well seems to move forward and backward a few times, as if history could be rolled back and erased, and in particular the fluid and terrifying history of Colombia, lurching through its violent cycles and repetitions. But Clemencia Echeverri’s new work is not just a horror show, for in my terror I must also resist its pull, resist the languid release of the fall and so endure the horror of the open mouth of hell. To resist this pull and to endure this work means to face the violence that killed so many people that night in Medellín, that swept those countless people into trucks and deposited their bodies in many places in the commune and that the government later said did not exist. In spite of everything, people are still looking and “looked”.
Now we look at the hole and not the bodies, and we hear the noise of things falling from the back of the trucks, the banging when things land at the bottom of the hole. But we don’t see it because it supposedly didn’t take place. Against all this horror we must hold our place, we must open our eyes and ears and we must be witnesses. We are experiencing something that became invisible, that was made to disappear, to evaporate into the dark and black night. And we are forced to listen to its murmuring horrors, its faint traces, the dusty traces of its efficient erasure.
All that remains is a whisper, a shadow, a memory that even when spoken remains inaudible because officially it did not happen. This is what happens in Colombia: bodies are buried, memories are forcibly “forgotten” and violent acts stay hidden in the dark. This is what happens when people “disappear”. There is sound, but no image of these disappearing bodies. Like the image that moves back and forth, this disjunction tells us about the contingency of evidence and the fragile nature of truth within the complex histories of Colombian violence.
But these themes and metaphors also have a broader connotation, and speak to violence and its unconscious powers throughout the world. So the murmurs we hear, the breath of the dead, the mysterious and menacing sounds of machines throwing things into holes, and even the hole itself, are signs of absence that can be heard everywhere. Or more, they are signs of disappearance (like much of Echeverri’s work), the dark sounds of things buried in a hole. Our place there, at the edge of the hole, is to resist the pull and remain a witness. If only to finally say that the murmuring hole, its invisible pull and its dark, shadowy shape, exist.
TECHNICAL DATA SHEET
Single channel video installation
ARTBO, OMA Award 2017
Director: Clemencia Echeverri
Director of photography: Camilo Echeverri
Editing: Víctor Garcés
Editing and sound design: Juan Forero