Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review by
Andrea MacDonald

Juan delGado embarked on a three-month residency to Colombia in 2009, having recently watched Agnes Varda's documentary film, 'The Gleaners & I'. Inspired by Jean-Franscois Millet's painting ‘The Gleaners (Les Gleaneuses)’, 1857, Varda's film explores the history of gleaning (meaning to gather after the harvest) and its contemporary incarnations. In part it reveals the stark reality of food production, distribution and waste.

Filmmaker Agnes Varda posing as a gleaner of wheat

Food is the central metaphor to The Flickering Darkness (Revisited). Hosted by the British Council and the Ministry of Culture in Colombia, delGado’s original plan was to produce a new work mapping the level of anxiety within the context of a country so deeply-rooted in political turmoil and conflict. His preconceptions of Latin American culture were quickly dismantled and that in turn gave him a renewed freedom to undertake his residential research.

It was a chance encounter that led delGado to the Corabastos market, in the south east area of the Colombia's capital city, Bogota. Seemingly chaotic, vast and impenetrable, the market place imports thousands of tonnes of food from around the continent. A tremendous feet of collective physical labour takes place as daily tasks are carried out with painstaking repetition and unrelenting urgency from the hours of 9pm to 7am across 362 days a year. The overwhelming mass of produce presented a conflicting impression against the abject poverty evident in the city. With the support of filmmaker Jhon Arias, who grew up in the Carobastos, delGado began to decode and read the activity of the market place using two cameras filming simultaneously over four nights to the document the arrival, collection, assignment, sale and preparation of food, orchestrated on a colossal scale by an invisible workforce.

The artist reflects upon the Corabastos as a contained ‘universe’ within its own right. It represents a workplace where men and women and their children often work in separate areas and communities have created their own institutions including churches and schools. At large, delGado's beautifully crafted observations bears witness to a community of displaced people (add stats here). The artist heard and recorded personal stories that collectively defined trauma and alienation. These stories are not laid to bear in this work but they are implicit in the subject matter itself. The workers faces are not revealed, nor can individual voices or conversations be heard. The nature of what remains undisclosed and fragmented is a mechanism that the artist employs to motivate the viewer to register the reality seen.

There is beauty within The Flickering Darkness (Revisited) and the contemplative style of the work allows the opportunity to bring highly politicised issues of food and the nature of interdependent structures between its production and social inequalities to the fore. The artist sets up a poignant analogy within the title of the work in his desire for such ideas to manifest. Where there is darkness, there is also the flickering light. Where there is light, there is also hope.

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