A glimpse into the research trips to and for South America in 2023

Pro Helvetia South America

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Research trips may unfold in variety of formats. Some are designed around an extensive itinerary, with visits to partners, institutions, and artists. Others focus on a specific territory, in a structure that resembles a residency.

Here is an overview of some of the projects that took place during the year:

Amilcar Betegga

Brazil > Switzerland | Literature

Brazilian author Amilcar Bettega spent a month in writer’s residency Château de Lavigny to research and write his novel “Filme Mudo” (Silent Film). His new work deals with incommunicability and is centered in characters that are always faced with the impossibility of understanding what is in front of them, whether it is a language, a city, or a recurring memory. It relates, among other things, to the life of Swiss writer Robert Walser.

During his stay, Bettega took time to write and connect with the local scene. He also visited places where Walser lived and wrote. “Initially, his figure appeared in the book as the subject of a documentary that one of the characters intended to make. However, during my trip to Bienna and Bern to visit the places Walser frequented, I became aware of some documents that may reveal that Walser’s life has more space in my book than was previously planned,” he explains. “These are Walser’s correspondence with Therese Breitbach over a number of years. This epistolary relationship will certainly be the subject of work that I intend to develop into a book. If not in the one I’m writing now, then in a future work.”

From his experience, Bettega also highlights the connections he made with other writers and institutions. “Meeting them will certainly be important for future projects I have in mind. Or rather, projects that came to mind during my stay in Switzerland.”

Bettega reading his book “Prosa Pequena” at Château de Lavigny

Beatriz Lemos

Brazil > Switzerland | Visual Arts

In 2020, members of Lastro, a platform based on collaboration, autonomy, and critical thinking in art, were searching to deepen their artistic research around racialised and dissident desire while reflecting on themes that emerged at the time: the transit between subjectivities in Brazil and Switzerland (where some of the members are based); the pandemic context, where fear and the imminence of death loomed; and the unspoken language as a challenge to the technology of encounter.

These discussions led to “Spelling Desire”, a project between Brazil and Switzerland, curated and organised by Brazilian Beatriz Lemos and Jonas Van, a Brazilian living in Geneva. During the programme, a group of artists and curators reflected on language transmutations and vocabulary creation as radical exercises of desire. They were searching to address questions such as: What would happen if desire operated only on the unpredictable? Or if we understood the inherent mutability of nature as its non-negotiable limit? Or if we were imbued to believe in spell casting as a practice of retaking and restitution?

“From this experience it was possible to glimpse creation processes at a distance and deep exchanges about the dimension of life present in the verb DESIRE,” Beatriz explains.

The first activation occurred through an online programme, in 2021, with residencies, talks and a website that gathered a few works developed in this period. Later, it unfolded into an in-person format, including a research trip by Beatriz, in May 2023, to visit Swiss and Swiss-based artists’ ateliers for an upcoming exhibition that should take place both in Brazil and Switzerland.

“If our beginning was based on the understanding that desire will never be neutral and that every gesture carries a spell, a continuity of the project with a moment of research and exhibition seems more than necessary to deepen these ideas. Now with the power of the body in transit, the body in displacement of contexts, climates, and landscapes,” says Beatriz.

“The experience of these three weeks in Switzerland was intense, with a lot of work and reflections on the conceptual arguments that will guide the exhibition. From the network of contacts and indications that I was able to elaborate, I got to know the panorama of dissident immigrant, racialised and sex-gender artists in residency in Switzerland, which was fundamental for the choices of participations for the future stage of the project.”

Cocinas Alterinas

Switzerland > Peru | Transdisciplinary

Founded in 2019 by Swiss-Egyptian designer Mayar El Barkry and Peruvian landscape architect and artist Gabriela Aquije Zegarra, Cocinas Alterinas is a critical design collective whose work centres around the investigation of food in relation to space, ecologies, and politics.

Table with different kinds of corn and other vegetables
Mater’s table

Between July and August 2023, the duo spent four weeks in Mater, a residency and research centre focused on the understanding of Peruvian food, located in the archaeological site of Moray, in the surroundings of Cusco. They dove into the Inca’s agricultural calendar through the recipes, collective labour, and rituals of the dry season. The idea was to research the hidden relationships between humans and land through cultivation and cooking practices.

Collaborating with Mater and MIL centre’s gastronomy and research teams, besides representatives of the agricultural local communities of Mullak’as Misminay and Kacllaraccay, and the ALQA museum team in Ollantaytambo, they were able to identify points of interest in mediating the complex relations between landscape, seasons and flavours.

“We learned from plural and complementary knowledge(s) around the food, time, and landscape, with a special focus on medicinal and natural dye botanicals. We managed to translate three weeks of lessons from the chakra (field), the liquids lab and the kitchens into three sychronarium prototypes: table cartography, a colour calendar, and a collective meal. Bringing together all origins and knowledge(s) around food, in a reciprocal exchange,” the duo stated.

Jana Novotny

Switzerland > Colombia | Literature

An ongoing international project, “Future of Comics” is based on sharing information and dealing with contemporary questions around comic. One of its founders, Swiss-based Czech curator Jana Novotny went on a trip to Colombia, in October 2023, to stablish contacts and future cooperations in the field of graphic narratives.

Portrait of Jana Novotny, white woman with short blond curly hair
Jana Novotny

Jana visited different spaces in Bogotá and Buenaventura, where she attended the Entreviñetas comic festival. “After a five-year break, they came back with a new and very engaged team, despite a precautious financial situation fighting for comic and illustration as a very specific form of artistic expression and a cultural heritage which is often overlooked,” she stated.

“The situation of producing and distributing books, and even more forms of printed visual narratives, is very difficult. I have high respect of the activities of people I met and talked to. They are continuing a 100-year-old tradition of comics and visual history in very complex surroundings. There is high quality of comic art production (close art forms) to be found in Colombia. I hope to keep exchanging and learning from each other.”

Johannes Willi

Switzerland > Peru | Visual Arts

A conceptual artist from Basel [Switzerland], Johannes Willi set off to Peru to conducted research for the third part of his on-going project “Free Willi”, which deals with freedom and questions standardised cultural and social concepts.

He retraced his sister Antonia’s journey in the Peruvian jungle in 2008. An environmental activist, she entered the forest in hybrid of holiday trip and activism, but reality also led her on a spiritual and personal quest.

Border of river showing ferry and statue of mermaid
The Ferry to cross Rio Huallaga close to Tarapoto. Photo bt Johannes Willi

Following her steps and this personal experience, Johannes found family ties and analysed a context of global late-capitalist exploitation and postcolonial appropriation. In this search of global and self-discovery, he poses himself the question: how can one free themselves?

“In uncovering the traces of Antonia, my work as an artist is directed against the motif of self-liberation. By continuing my series ‘Free Willi’ in the impenetrable jungle, I simultaneously expose the proliferation of my own self as an observer. My research traces A.W.s stations in Peru and shows myself,” says the artist. “Firstly, this doubling is intended to liberate by critically analysing the post-colonial and late capitalist structures of the successful international economic sector of tourism, which combines individual travel with a sense of purpose. Secondly, a liberation on a personal level is examined by superimposing two biologically almost identical individuals.”

image of kiosk
Backyard of the place where Johannes was staying and where the Shaman had his first ceremonies. Photo by Johannes Willi

Juanita Delgado

Colombia > Switzerland | Music

Colombian transdisciplinary artist, singer, and voice researcher Juanita Delgado was hosted by Gare du Nord and Atelier Mondial in Basel during a research trip around voice and its potential. She was especially interested in exploring birds’ singing as a poetic and material source of creation.

“’Escuchar para sonar y sonar para sanar’ (Listening to sound and sounding to heal) serves as my guiding principle and poetic-political practice,” she explains. “This philosophy embodies the transformative essence of sound. By actively listening, I cultivate an empathetic understanding of the world, engaging in a dialogue with the voices of both humans and the environment. Through my own sonic expressions, I aim to contribute to the healing of collective wounds and the restoration of balance within ourselves and our surroundings.”

Portrait of Juanita Delgado. She has black hair in a bun, striped black and white shirt, black pants and has her hands in her pockets
Colombian singer and voice researcher Juanita Delgado at Atelier Mondial. Photo by Julian Salinas

During her stay, she continued her research and experimented with technologies. “Through cutting-edge technology, I aim to unlock new dimensions of sonic expression, blurring the lines between human voices and synthetic soundscapes. Through this residency exchange, I have found the fertile ground to cultivate collaborations that explore the rich tapestry of bird-inspired compositions, harness the power of emerging technologies, and unleash the true potential of the voice as an instrument of transformative expression.”

Juanita also connected with various composers and performers from the Swiss scene. “Such exchanges facilitate a dynamic cultural dialogue, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s artistic traditions, perspectives, and experiences,” says the artist, who was also invited to conduct a workshop at the HKB Expanded Theater Program in Bern.

Lia Colombino

Paraguay > Switzerland | Art, Science and Technology

Art critic and curator Lia Colombino is interested in the low-tech and artisanal aspects of technology. From the perspective of her native Paraguay, where she dedicates a part of her work to the Centro de Artes Visuales/Museo del Barro (Visual Arts Centre/Museum of Clay), she sees a great imbalance in the access to high-tech, especially when one compares the contexts in the Global North and South. More than that, she understands low-tech as a fruitful approach in today’s climate crisis.

In June 2023, she went on a research trip to Switzerland, travelling through Zurich, Winterthur, Geneva, and Lausanne to visit institutions and meet cultural practitioners.

One of those potential partners was Caroline Hirt, from Pyxis Exploration numérique (Lausanne). This encounter led to another project, “Future Memory Lab”, later selected in the framework of Pro Helvetia’s Synergies call.

Luis Molina-Pantin

Venezuela/Mexico > Switzerland | Visual Arts

A Swiss-born Venezuelan living in Mexico, photographer Luis Molina-Pantin has developed a strange relationship with Switzerland, questioning his own identity. This connection, complex and somehow undefined, has led him to explore how Swiss tradition and landscapes have been represented in other countries.

A Swiss-born Venezuelan living in Mexico, photographer Luis Molina-Pantin has developed a strange relationship with Switzerland, questioning his own identity. This connection, complex and somehow undefined, has led him to explore how Swiss tradition and landscapes have been represented in other countries.

During a research trip in Switzerland, titled “Swiss Made”, he travelled around various cities, connecting with partners and investigating the land’s imagery: the classic composition of the chalet, pine trees and the snowy mountains, all part of the countries’ touristic iconography.

“What does it represent? Harmony, perfection, comfort?,” he asks, wondering what those symbolisms mean in Europe and in other parts of the world, especially in Latin America, where he grew up and currently lives.

The artist’s work consists of field studies and a series of photographs, videos and found objects. Through those materials, representations of everyday life filled with irony, he explores how the Swiss landscape is appropriated to adopt the sense of the “Swiss perfection”.

Matilde Amigo

Chile > Switzerland | Dance

Chilian performer Matilde Amigo is interested in working in a transdisciplinary way, creating choreographies, installations, performative conferences, spaces for experimentation, and site-specific works that attempt to resignify topics related to human and social behaviour.

In late 2023, she set off on a research trip to Switzerland, travelling through Zurich, Geneva, Bern, and Basel. For a week, she was part of a short residency at Gessnerallee (Zurich), where the artist worked on her project “Tao Te Queen”, a performance inspired by the religious rite of first communion in which she seeks to produce a spiritual experience.

Two pictures of rehearsal room with tissue dropping as a curtain and text projected on it
Open rehearsal of Matilde Amigo’s performance “Tao Te Queen” at Gesnerallee (Zurich) in November 2023

Matilde also had the change to visit several spaces dedicated to the performing arts in Switzerland, such as: Gessnerallee, Tanzhus, Kunsthalle Zürich, Kulturhaus Helferei, Kaufleuten, Rote Fabrik [Zurich]; Maria La Ribot’s studio, Gilles Jobin’s studio, Grütli, L’Abri, Comédie de Genève [Geveva]; Dampfzentrale Bern; and Kaserne Basel.

After the experience, Matilde plans to continue her investigation with people she connected with during her trip.

Mi Mawai

Brazil > Switzerland | Transdisciplinary

Mi Mawai (“music” in the Hãtxa kui language) is a collaborative platform for artistic alliances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists and researchers from Brazil. Since 2017, they have been promoting encounters and holding conversations and exchanges about traditional chants and instruments in the Amazon region.

In view of expanding expand the alliance networks that help protect and spread Amazon culture, two members of the group, Lucas Canavarro and Nana Orlandi, set off on a research trip to Switzerland to articulate meetings and diffusion practices in the country.

Three people in a radio studio
Lucas Canavarro, Nana Orlandi & Diego Atarama at Radio 40

“The experience of being able to exchange ideas stories about our work with people who also work with traditional chants was very fruitful,” stated the group. “One story we would like to share was the conversation we had with Vanessa Sin/Nes, a DJ/performer/sound artist from Burundi, based in Lausanne. Nes went to our radio show at Radio 40 and stayed for some pizza and drinks after. We talked a lot more about our experiences dealing with identitary, bureaucratic and legal issues, among other matters related to our line of work. Nes asked us if traditional Indigenous chants were used by fascist governments, such as Brazil had from 2019 to 2022, with means of incorporating them into an idea of nationalism. This triggered a very interesting conversation, for the issues regarding traditional chants differ completely from those in Burundi, since our problem is related with the erasing of Indigenous cultures, and not the attempt of assimilating them into mainstream culture. That is, of course, the opposite of what happens in Burundi.”

“Being able to widen our horizons, bring the project to the outside world and having deep conversations about our processes as artists and producers was essential to also comprehend the nature of our work better. As a platform we’re deeply interested in investing in new partnerships, expanding our network overseas, creating means to diffuse Brazilian Indigenous cultures, and forging new and weird types of alliances.”

Through an articulation with Swiss-based artist Mayara Yamada, they also managed to work on a short artistic residency at L’abri Carouge, in Geneva, where they developed a performance-lecture called “Lettres collectives ou un Collectif des Lettres”, presenting some aspects of Brazilian contemporary Indigenous art.

Indigenous Music from Abya Yala through the lens of Mi Mawai

Pedro Zylbersztajn

Brazil > Switzerland | Transdisciplinary

An artist and researcher whose work discusses language and rhetoric, as well as protocols for the control and maintenance of everyday life, Brazilian Pedro Zylbersztajn went on a research programme at Villa Sträuli, Winterthur [Switzerland], with his project “Eat the Word, Chew the Meaning, Prophesy the Taste”.

During his stay, he delved into historical and contemporary metaphors comparing reading and textual comprehension to eating and digesting, as seen in everyday expressions such as “literary palates”, “media diets”, or “stodgy facts”, explains the artist.

Image of wall with pictures and papers with words hanging
Working towards the text in the studio

“Departing from analyses and reinterpretations of culturally significant examples of such metaphors — more significantly the Anthropofagic Manifesto of the early Brazilian modernists (1928) and St. John eating the Angel’s prophecy book in the ‘Book of Revelation’ (c. 95 CE) — the research began to explore this mode of thinking about our relationship to the acquisition of knowledge. Such metaphors recenter the role of the body in the reader’s experience, moving it away from the eye and the brain into the mouth and guts.”

“Indeed, they also guide the notion of reading as consumption. If consuming, etymologically, is using something up and destroying it in the process, such as we do with food, then this would imply that our notion of consuming culture has a predatory ethos to it. It would also mean that we parse knowledge by breaking texts down into some form of useful fuel (or life-energy) and irrelevant residue (or excrement).”

“I used the time of the trip to start articulating these ideas through a range of different actions, such as drawing, writing, performing, collecting, and filming. I took the opportunity to engage with a wide scene of practitioners in Switzerland who have been thinking about the politics of food and its relationships to art and literature, and from these contacts, I tried to propose a mindful outlook of our bodily relationship to text, knowledge and its tributary politics: from the position of textual culture in the current knowledge production landscape of cognitive capitalism, to debates on cultural appropriation and, perhaps most significantly, ecological concerns around over-consumption of the planet’s natural resources.”

Pedro Zylbersztajn sitting on a table, reading from a paper. On the wall is projected image of illustrations
Documentation of performative reading of the text Eat the Wor(l)d at Villa Sträuli Open Studios

By the end of the one-month stay, I had the chance to present a performative reading of the text I worked on based on the accumulation of these experiences, in what served as a culmination but also an extremely valuable feedback session on the state of the research, which will continue being developed, in Switzerland, Brazil and elsewhere.” After the experience, Pedro started a dialogue with possible partners to continue the project within the Swiss context.

Peter Aerschmann

Switzerland > Colombia | Visual Arts

Working in the field of video, interactive computer installations and photography, Swiss artist Peter Aerschmann travels around the world, filming people and objects in public space, combining fragments as loops on the virtual stage and writing algorithms to control their movements and behaviour.

The result are videos and interactive installations that often show the apparent trivialities of everyday urban life but address socio-political issues such as globalisation, mobility, communication, and digital transformation. They are played in a loop, as a metaphor for the endless repetitiveness of daily life.

Picture of house in the streets of Mompox with video projection on the wall
Work by Peter Aerschmann projected in the streets of Mompox, Colombia

In April 2023, he set off on a research trip to Santa Cruz de Mompox, a town in northern Colombia. He was hosted by Casa Taller El Boga (El Boga Residency), a foundation that develops cultural, academic, and artistic activities, fostering a dialogue between visitors and the local community and promoting the village’s heritage.

During his project “Same Flag”, Peter sought to get in touch with Colombia’s culture and landscape and to collaborate with local artists. He also participated in an artist talk with other artists in residence, produced new material and exposed his video art to the public in the streets of Mompox, creating a space of encounter for the community.

Sebastián Verea

Argentina > Switzerland | Art, Science and Technology

An artist and researcher who crosses the fields of art and science, Argentinian Sebastián Verea focuses his work mainly on the Anthropocene and existential risks. Since 2015, he has been developing projects in the intersection of arts and sciences at the University of San Martín in Argentina, where he developed the “Sounds of the Anthropocene” project in collaboration with Cambridge University in the UK. The project gave rise to the Arts & Science Center, of which Verea is the director.

For his research trip “Tipping Points”, he intended to o connect with potential partners to outline a research and production project based on the planetary boundaries and tipping points, including scientific research, cultural history, and artistic practices around the related fields of study.

Travelling through Zurich, Geneva, and Lausanne, he met with artists, cultural practitioners, and institutions, exchanging on practices and elaborating connections for future projects.

“Some of the conversations turned into concrete possibilities for collaborations quicker than I expected,” he recounts. “I found the time, during my trip, to outline the scheme for the project I intent to develop in the next two years. The ideas and vision were enabled by the connections and conversations held during my trip, not only with Swiss practitioners but also with my colleagues from South America.”