View of “Mapa Teatro,” 2023. Photo: Oscar Monsalve.

View of “Mapa Teatro,” 2023. Photo: Oscar Monsalve.

Mapa Teatro

Laboratorio de la imaginación social, 40 años” (Laboratory for Social Imagination, 40 Years) was the subheading of this retrospective curated by Carolina Ponce de Léon, dedicated to forty years of activity by Mapa Teatro—a self-proclaimed “laboratory of experimentation and transdisciplinary creation” founded by siblings Heidi and Rolf Abderhalden in Paris in 1984 and active since 1986 in Bogotá. The aesthetic strategy of Mapa Teatro, a pioneer of live art in Latin America, is consistent with the principles of German playwright Heiner Müller, according to whom “theater is a laboratory for the social imagination.” Ethical, aesthetic, and political concerns converge in a metatheatrical approach suspended between public and private spheres, simulation and reality, documentary and fiction.

The show consisted of versions of theater, performance, and installation works, adapted and reproduced specifically for the spaces of MAMU. It followed a dramaturgic structure, articulated in three acts. The first, Atlas, 1993–2022, reassembled, through performances and video installations, a series of actions typical of the modus operandi—tied to the concept of temporary “experimental communities” and emergent modalities of imaginative production—that Mapa Teatro developed over the past thirty years. The second, Prometeos, 2002–16, gathered together works whose shared point of departure is the myth of Prometheus, which connects potentially infinite stories, both personal and collective, related to the demolition of the Santa Inés/El Cartucho neighborhood in Bogotá.

The last act, Anatomía de la violencia en Colombia (Anatomy of Violence in Colombia), 2010–22, consisted of a trilogy of works. The multimedia installation Los Santos Inocentes (The Holy Innocents), 2010, refers to a festival that takes place every year on the Pacific coast in Colombia, in which a masked figure of African descent dressed in female garments walks out onto the street to whip those who are unmasked. Here, masking and transgression of gender expose slavery, socioeconomic discrimination, the persistence of historical violence, and new forms of colonization in the country. Discurso de un hombre decente (Discourse of a Decent Man), 2012, is based on an imaginary discourse, publicly pronounced by Rolf Abderhalden as a “real fake,” supposedly discovered in the breast pocket of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s shirt on the day of his death in 1993. Composed from real interviews with a drug trafficking expert and contemporary cultural figures, and fictional conversations with journalists and even an actual coca plant, the work denounces the costly and failed global drug war and questions the decriminalization of drugs, and related conflict, in Colombia. Los incontados: un tríptico (The Unaccounted: A Triptych), 2014/2022, is an archive installation that displays remnants of a party, in which the visitor becomes the last witness. La despedida (The Leaving Party), 2017/2022, the final part of this triptych, was added after the signing of the peace accord between the government and FARC guerrillas in 2016; this work refers to the opening of the former camps of these rebels to the national and international press, who treated the sites as ethnographic museums—an exoticization of the lives of those who “bore arms.” The works contained within Anatomía de la violencia en Colombia stem from the observation of the relationship, paradoxical and cruel, between the massacres committed during the armed conflict in the country. These massacres were directed by the civil war’s various actors (military forces, paramilitaries, guerrillas, drug cartels, organized crime) against the defenseless population on the occasion of local festivities and public or private celebrations.

“Laboratory for Social Imagination” demonstrated Mapa Teatro’s hybrid approach to live art, which transgresses geographical, linguistic, and artistic borders. But it also challenged, through its immersive display, the idea of how live art can be exhibited and experienced through multiple media, formats, and devices, transforming the museum itself into a territory open to experimentation.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.