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28 July 2009

Paula Silva gives an overview of Flickering Darkness - a film installation made in Bogotá by Juan delGado of Cremer Projects

Three images showing outdoor spaces, streets and alleyways at night Juan delGado

Still from The Flickering Darkness by Juan delGado

Image: Juan delGado

"Strange mitification of the book, so much total as it is fragmented".

Deleuze and Guattari said that there is no subject or object in a book because it is made of diversely formed matter, of dates and different velocities. It should never be attributed to any one person because it would then lose all that matter. It follows then, that the work of writing is both parallel to the work of art and always an exercise executed from the outside, and that only what it contains matters in itself.

The Flickering Darkness is undertaken on the same premise. Arriving in Bogotá as an alien, as a foreigner who observes what goes on in the city, delGado approaches the filming activity as equal to the outsider exercise of writing a book or creating a piece of work. Thus, all the velocities and fragments of the city are allowed to permeate and stab the process freely, rendering a true account of what the stranger experiments. The direct consequence of this is that all that matter, speed, time fragments and ghosts are viewed by the native - who will have become accustomed to them - as also alien.

delGado’s approach to understanding this huge city is nothing short of 'sui generis', as most foreigners confront the cultural stigma surrounding it with ideas of exoticism or magic realism rather than the reality of the place. The result is that in seeking something, they will inevitably find it. delGado, on the contrary, embarks on a journey of understanding the city as a living organism that, like all living things, eats, sleeps and has physical needs. The journey begins in Corabastos (apparently, the biggest market in the whole of the Latin American continent), in the gut of the monstrous city, in the core that sets free all other living functions such as circulation or social interaction.

The Flickering Darkness registers the process of distribution of fresh produce from Corabastos to other markets, supermarkets, community dining and up-market restaurants. The work – the book – presents in three fragmented but ever-dialoguing screens the hands at work, the hoards of trucks that fill up and then empty the gut, the flaying knifes and the feeding mouths in an array of colour, texture, speed, silence and sound.

There is no individual in the work; the people working in the markets are shown as shadows and shapes. The people eating at the community restaurants are shown as anonymous, and the people dining at the higher strata restaurant don’t even have a face but only feeding hands that tear up the food and empty the frame of all the colour and texture once presented by the prepared meals. The result is that there is no authorial version of the work’s meaning. It is then up to the viewer to read what moves and flickers in front of his eyes in an entirely individual manner. There is therefore no subject, no attribution. The number of viewers will determine the number of possible readings, rendering the work inextricably multiple.

Deleuze and Guattari also state that "the world has become chaos, but the book continues to be an image of the world." Perhaps the meaning of this is not that the world is necessarily chaotic, but that the individual perceives it as chaotic. If chaos, such as beauty, only lies in the eye of the beholder it is understandable that natives, who are used to perceiving and discussing the immanent chaos of places like Corabastos, Paloquemao or Samper Mendoza, will traditionally and conventionally only see what is chaotic in their nature: their rancid smell of slowly decomposing vegetables and meats, the annoying sound of trucks backing up, the whimsical sorting and packaging of produce, the fact that the gut is filled only to be quickly depleted again.

But the theoreticians’ idea is that seeking meaning or understanding in a book is all but futile. This clearly springs from the fact that the world is chaotic and the book, if succeeding in being an image of that world, will replicate the chaotic structure of the reality it renders. But the book works as connective matter. It makes it diversely formed matter to resonate with other matter. It links speeds and times and intensities and multiplicities together. This is how it becomes legible, how it allows the reader not to perceive order, but to see the underlying structure of chaos. In this sense, the book, the work and the film function as a cohesive element of a disorganised body of diverse elements.

The immediate result of this in The Flickering Darkness is that the viewer - the native who avoids going to these gigantic markets and chooses the organised, tidy and inodorous supermarket instead - comprehends that these bellies that provide nourishment for his own body function under the certain and just rule-of-clock working chaos.

One of the discoveries made from the alien point of view is the fact that society is fragmented, stratified, divided. The realisation that the whole city lives and depends on the functioning of the excision – created on the bases of acquisitional power and the area of residence – comes to the stranger as shock. But the narrative structure of the video shows that this fragmentation is only necessary for the living organism that is the city. Through its cadence and progression the viewer very simply understands that the city’s functional structure resembles that of a food chain. Therefore, the two distanced and cold hands that elegantly dine at the very end would be erased if the rest of the structure was lacking or malfunctioning. The archaeology of the city, such as the archaeology of history or knowledge, shows that the top strata are eternally dependent on the support provided by the underlying layers.

It is no surprise then that delGado speaks in terms of fluctuating fragments in his conception of the narrative structure of the work. The three screens serve both to show fragmentation and connection; silence and sound; movement and stillness.

There is no difference between what the film shows and the way it shows it, there is no rupture between form and content. This is the strategy through which the spectator is able to understand the subjacent structure of the disorganised and chaotic body he / she inhabits. The Flickering Darkness clearly achieves the titanic task of evidencing a totality (or a totalitarian conception) of the city’s organic, social, pulsating nature at work.

You can follow Juan delGado's working process by going to his blog http://fluctuatingfragments.blogspot.com/