Gliding above gorgeous mountains, altitude counting down through decadently sculptured clouds, I literally lost my breath at the beauty of Oriente Antioqueño (west of Medellin) as the plane was landing. The pilot seemed preternaturally talented in making the touchdown as smooth as a caress. OK, a bit hyperbolic, but the natural beauty of Colombia is so unique and tender I am at a loss as to how to describe it differently.
Only 10 years ago, says Juliana Restrepo, director of Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin, we wouldn’t have invited you. It wouldn’t have been safe. It was dangerous for us, can you imagine for people like you? The top politicians made a decision, not for political gain but because it just had to be done, the violence in the city had to be stopped by any means. The police cracked down and it was war. But more than that, the politicians started pouring money into cultural and educational projects with vision enough to understand that these are at the core of a healthy society. Now urban planners from all over the world visit to learn more about their methods.
I’m in Medellin, representing Eyebeam, at the invitation of Alejo Duque, an unbelievably energetic artist and organizer. He seems to know everyone in the world but maintains a natural air of kindness. LabSurLab is a “seed” he is planting in Medellin, his city. He can’t predict its outcome but he knows the city is ripe for this conversation. If there is anywhere in the world that is ready for art based on process, discussion, encounter, and social interplay, it must be South America. The air is full of ideas and big plans, with Brazil leading culturally and economically. Unlike cities that continually promise to grow into something new and unexpected, like Berlin, but honestly never really change, things are, in fact, changing here. Talking to Oscar Abril Ascaso, he said, and I agree, that South America is the new cultural laboratory. Maybe not the technical laboratory like Asia, but as a place to develop new forms of the social, this is where it’s happening.
What a beautiful idea! I am here to learn.