Intersections, Claudia Joskowicz’s two-channel video installation and accompanying photographic series at LMAKprojects, is a straightforward display of her newest video piece, Every Building on Avenida Alfonso Ugarte – After Ruscha. The insular gallery space of LMAKprojects has been transformed into a kind of dark pathway. The spectator enters and is sandwiched between two opposing, life-size projections of two sides of the same street: Avenida Alfonso Ugarte in El Alto, Bolivia. El Alto is one of the fastest growing urban centers in the artist’s home country of Bolivia. During the 2003 Bolivian gas crisis, the city became an epicenter of violent mass protest as the Bolivian working class and the country’s armed forces clashed over the government’s ongoing exploitation of the nation’s natural gas resources. The conflict left sixty protestors, soldiers and policemen dead and signified an excessive use of state force reminiscent of the brutal, terrorizing tactics of Bolivia’s previous dictatorship governments.
Both projections feature twenty-six minute long tracking shots of the Avenida. Joskowicz slightly slows her footage down so that it feels almost—but not quite—engrossingly real. We are able to momentarily linger on her subjects, but are never able to look backwards. The best place to view the installation is from the very back of the corridor created by the projection images; as the two screens move steadily forward, we can hypnotize ourselves into the illusion that we are riding in a vehicle down this street and can see clearly out of both windows.
The video chronicles urban life along the avenue. Shots of rubble, storefronts, and everyday activity lead us to a single instance of staged police presence amidst an otherwise quietly bustling scene. We come upon this image from behind: Bolivian soldiers standing still as statues in 3-D formation, with rifles cocked. Ever unflinching, the camera moves past this intervention to feature (in a separate, almost unrelated shot) a sparse band of protestors amidst burning tires. These two jarring images are quickly lost amidst the rolling footage of quotidian life upon the street. A single police official, leaning casually under a storefront awning, is the only other allusion that the El Alto street scene that Joskowicz documents is not as benign as it might seem. The pervasive police presence captured in Joskowicz’s steady panning indicates a casual yet constant official surveillance that underlies the day-to-day operations of the developing city.
Bolivia is a country still emerging from an extensive legacy of authoritarian government. The 2002 election of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada brought an end to 18 years of dictatorial rule, but the new president’s reputation was quickly tarnished by his aggressive handling of the 2003 gas crisis protests. When the hostile presence of official, armed forces is quietly integrated into the everyday life of the city, the potential for terrorization becomes a condition of being. We are thus reminded that Joskowicz’s video itself performs another kind of surveillance upon El Alto, thus destabilizing the position of the camera and calling attention to the artist’s medium.
Joskowicz’s work and the deliberate naturalism she creates seek to fissure the the dubious proposition that video might capture reality. The approximate true-to-life ratio of her projections creates a simulated environment that imitates the real– but it is not the real itself. The footage is slowed down slightly too much and the formation of the officers is slightly too staged for us to forget that Joskowicz has, in fact, orchestrated the entire shoot. We are offered only a mediated semblance of reality. For Joskowicz, video is political and has a clear agenda. It is a way of creating a simulacrum of the daily space we occupy in order to call that very space into question.
Latin America has an enduring legacy of staging art in public space as a method for illuminating the intersection of quotidian life with that of political oppression and violence. Lotty Rosenfeld’s “Estadio Chile” series, CADA’s performative acciones, and Regina José Galindo’s ¿Quien Peude Borrar Las Huellas? (Who Can Erase the Traces?) in Guatemala are just a sampling of Latin American artists who have utilized the city as a landscape for artistic activism and intervention. Joskowicz, however, reverses this order by deliberately restaging the city within the context of the American gallery. Though the artist’s video also functions as a kind of intervention into our consciousness of public space, it is not as volatile. Removed from the immediacy of activism, it serves instead as a queer and troubling exposition. Intersections addresses a quieter, more insidious kind of neoliberal surveillance—one in which we are not sure whether or not to be afraid. As Latin American and Performance Studies scholar Diana Taylor has said, in post-dictatorship Latin America, we might “look our torturer up in the phone book and enlist his help in regulating our lives.”(1) Joskowicz’s newest work addresses the surreality suggested by the constant surveillance of innocuous quotidian life. This sentiment of dystopia is not new, and Joskowicz’s footage, even in its manipulated fashion, ultimately serves as an accurate documentation of how this surreality can directly affect the social texture of a nation.
(1) qtd. from lecture, Tisch School of the Arts February 2011.
Claudia Joskowicz’s Intersections is on view at LMAKprojects through June 23. 139 Eldridge Street, New York, NY 10002.