Creative process

I had been seeing this guy day and night living in the open for well over a year, right there on the same block of the apartment building where I live in Buenos Aires. He was always sitting on a doorsill with his belongings neatly packed in a supermarket cart, reading or writing, and listening to classical music on the radio. He hadn’t the physique du rôle. Who is he? Why is he living in the open? How did he arrive at this situation? Full of questions as I was, I still found it difficult to approach him. I thought that even if he lived in the street, this was his shelter, and I hated to violate his precarious privacy. I started figuring out ways to approach him. One day I found the mediator object: a travel trolley I had at home. I would offer it to him just in case he’d need it to keep his belongings. He accepted it pleased and we introduced ourselves. His name: Ramón Rojas, Spanish speaker, but not Argentine. Ramón was born in Paraguay and spoke a cultured Spanish dialect, not fitting with the usual Guarani Indian accent of most Paraguayan immigrants in Argentina. In the following days and weeks, I would stop by to talk with him. Being of the same generation, we readily found subjects of common interest - the ‘magic realism’ in Latin American literature, the nouvelle vague and Bergman films, classical music and the popular music of the 60’s and 70’s, etc..

As days went by, I realized that even if I was still unable to answer any of my early questions, his articulate, meaningful and intellectual speech made me an attentive, empathical listener to what he was eager to communicate, he had things to say and enjoyed talking about them, as much as I enjoyed listening to him. It was only then that I thought of (and decided to propose to him) shooting a documentary video in which he’d be portrayed. He accepted my proposal somewhat surprised, and soon asked me about the script. (His past experience in journalism throughout Argentina and South America, and as script writer for educational documental videos, accounted for his request). I told him there would be no script for the documentary, it would all be as spontaneous as it could be and he replied: "Then it will be like Eisenstein’s work, mostly editing"... Comments like this increased my confidence in the project.

I also proposed paying to him an amount of money I could afford for each day of camera work. I wanted him to take it as a job that would provide him with some money for his basic needs, until I eventually got a municipal grant I would apply for to pay for his work and the post-production process. (Incidentally, I never got such grant.) While working on it, I had to pack an installation for an exhibition in the southern city of Argentina. Since Ramón was so neat and careful with his own belongings, I asked him to help me pack the artwork. This collaborative action in my studio was also recorded in a 2' separate video titled "Envoltorios", 2008 (“Wraps", 2008).

I used a camcorder, a tripod and a tie microphone, my daughter helped with the camera. Most of the outdoor shootings were in his ‘own setting’, (day or night, preferably on weekends) - the street, neighbor shops and plazas, usually he moved with his cart. During the shootings I was able to discover how many friends he had around. Half way through the process, a neighbor offered him a job as watchman in his construction work that lasted 15 months. He accepted it right away, and we arranged to have 3-hour shooting sessions once a week (for which he virtually crossed town walking, some 2 ½ hours, without the cart). Many of these were done indoors in my studio. In addition, I visited him twice on Sundays with his friends. With one exception, all his friends accepted gladly to participate. The shooting time span was approximately one year. Editing and post production took another year. We had 15-hour footage, and the short film is 28 minutes long.

I’ve been asked what kind of personal agenda was here for me to enter the subject artistically. In fact, most of my work as a visual artist concerns the individual and social body, as manifested in identity, violence and the value of places as various as the bed, the kitchen, the home. The home and the places that shelter the intimacy, the dreams, the routines of the quotidian have been at the core of my artwork in the last decade. I’m interested in their objects, the depositories of memory, their corners, the forms of endearment and attachment. The body is an important part of my working process, in a continuous attempt to redefine the place of humanity in a politically infected world. So I’d say the collaborative work of this documentary video can be associated to my recurrent artistic agenda.

As artists, our production is determined by our deeper feelings and interests (whether social, political, intellectual, aesthetic, etc.) as well as by our own outlook and stance in life. I approached Ramon Rojas driven by a concern about the homeless people, someone who had nearly lost the most intimate and valuable thing we have as human beings - the right to privacy, to fantasy and hence, to individual freedom, for all of which the home or the haven is absolutely necessary in other words, I was driven by a macro-social issue and ended depicting the micro-universe of an individual who says a lot about the society in which he/we live and makes us think about our own life choices; however I never planned or thought of the documentary itself as a social or political statement.