Helena Producciones is a non-profit, interdisciplinary collective best known for organizing the International Performance Festival in Cali, Colombia. Since 1997, this event has become an important fixture in a city whose recent art production has developed amidst precarious conditions in the absence of any sort of functional institutional apparatus. Within a very broad definition of the idea of performance, the festival has provided a forum for both emerging and established artists from Colombia and abroad. Performances have ranged from: Santiago Sierra’s mounting of an enormous American flag on the wall of the Tertulia Museum (quickly burned and destroyed by angry spectators); to French artist Pierre Pinoncelli’s gruesome amputation of his pinkie finger in protest of the kidnapping of 2002 presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt; to a concert by Las Malas Amistades, a casiotone art school band whose independently produced CDs have attained cult status among college students in the Northeastern US.
In 2006 the collective curated the XI regional ‘art salon’ (a federally sponsored juried biennial) in which they sought to expand the terrain of the visual arts to include a broader arena of cultural and social practices, many of them from the most isolated areas of the Pacific region, for example: a live match between members of the Puerto Tejada school of fencing with machetes (a practice that originates from the appropriation of the Spanish colonizers’ sport by local slaves); documentation of pirate radio stations in El Choco, one of the country’s most violent territories; and a series of works by non-professional artists. Product of an extensive investigation, this exhibition attempted to contextualize cultural objects within those historical and social formations that have been systematically excluded from academic discourse.
The collective is also responsible for ‘Loop’ a semi-weekly television program that aired in Cali from 2000-2001 and that utilized the format of the variety show to disseminate the activities of local artists and punk bands. They have also collaborated on several occasions with Jairo Pinilla, a Colombian director whose low budget horror/thriller films from the early 80s have become cult classics. All of Helena’s projects are engaged with institutional critique and the making visible of countercultural practices deemed irrelevant by mainstream institutions but which drastically outnumber the handful of names that come to mind when thinking about contemporary art in Colombia and among which, ironically, two of Helena’s members may be counted. Perhaps more importantly, the daily spectacle of social and economic conflict specific to the Colombian context often proves to be fierce, even unfair, competition for contemporary art: it is difficult to find work more interesting or complicated than the context that produces it and to which it attempts to critically respond.
Cali has been described as ‘the periphery of the periphery,’ where geographical isolation, economic disparity and cultural malaise exist alongside a relaxed, tropical cultural milieu in which nothing ever really seems to happen. The title of this exhibition, ‘Cali en el espejo’ can be roughly translated as ‘Cali in the mirror,’ and draws attention to an interest in the narrative of a particular place while shunning the idea of configuring a homogenous local scene efficiently packaged and ready for international consumption.
Members of Helena Producciones are: Wilson Díaz, Ana María Millán, Andrés Sandoval, Claudia Patricia Sarria, and Juan David Medina.