Retornar – A world where queer latinamericans survive and live past the crisis of power – Retornar

“After a big war driven by an extreme exploitation of natural resources, Retornar (Spanish for to return / to come back) narrates the story of the last survivors on Earth and their forced journey into a big global reset,” says Colombian visual artist Santiago Tamayo Soler about his piece Retornar at the Polygon Gallery’s new exhibition Ghosts of the Machine.

“I wanted to create a world where queer latinamericans would survive and live past the people in power. One that – as soon as these oligarchs and politicians would leave – would become non-violent: a universe becoming one about patience, and waiting, and acceptance to change,” he says.

The show, curated by Elliott Ramsey, looks at the relationships between humans, technology, and ecology through artworks by Cease Wyss, Ho Tzu Nyen, Juliana Huxtable, Anne Duk Hee Jordan, Lu Yang, Skawennati, and Soler.

Latinx dystopias among protests and wildfires

Retornar begins with a nightmare sequence with violent protesting and wildfires. These images are found footage from recent situations that have happened all over Latin America. I believe that by connecting these images with a futuristic world, I can create a scenario where that future might not be too far from the now,” Soler adds.

Retornar is also a faux-videogame set in a fictional Andes in the year 2222 Santiago Tamayo Soler developed during the 2021 PHI Foundation Montréal Residency. | Photo courtesy of Santiago Tamayo Soler

Santiago addresses the cultural background of his piece, where characters who are all latinx wander around a dystopian Andean landscape, aimlessly and alone.

Without any other purpose but to walk around all day going through different puzzles and loading screens, the group is called by a blue orb that summons them into a celestial world. There, they are given not only a last chance to dance and celebrate being the last human survivors, but also are forced into a mission: starting society from scratch.

“These characters are not only part of a world that failed due to its own political corruption, but also the ghosts of a videogame that keeps restarting on an endless loop,” affirms Soler.

For this project, the artist thinks it was inevitable to approach ecology and its correlation with humans and technology – or more so the lack of a sustainable environment. This theme links his work with a critique on an exploited Latin America where the land has nothing left to give.

Eco-pessimism as narrative structure: the exploitative relations of post-colonial Latin America

Within his creative process, Soler also claims that some kind of eco-pessimism grew inside him during the first year of the pandemic – when the artist found himself witnessing what seemed to be millions of micro apocalypses: the feeling of being trapped, the waiting for a tragic outcome, and finally, nothing.

A blue orb summons the avatars into a celestial world.|Photo courtesy of Santiago Tamayo Soler

In Retornar, this cycle was ultimately what defined the narrative structure of the piece. “I also found myself fixated on the way that online communities were thriving as a way to keep a sense of togetherness alive,” he muses. “The transition of the clubs into Zoom didn’t come merely as a way to maintain bonds, but also facilitated fundraisers that politicized the act of online partying. It seemed as if even when the world were collapsing, we could rely on our communities to bring us together.”

Narratively speaking, Soler adds, when fantasy juxtaposes real life threats and conditions, something clicks. In his film, a quite depressing story brings the hopefulness of starting again, and the possibility of seeding a new Earth.

Working with a group of Latinx performers who are first-, second-, and third-generation immigrants, the artist is able to invite viewers to question the lack of Latinx narratives and identities in art spaces, and the exploitative relations of post-colonial Latin America.

Ghosts of the Machine run, June 3–August 14, 2022.

For more information about the exhibition, visit thepolygon.ca.

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