El Espacio circulated in Bogota for almost five decades. It was one of the few and last “Red Press” of the city. Every morning, it showed gore pictures of crimes, red headlines and topless women in the last page. Its photographic archive, thrown away and collected by street recyclers, was sold by weight as reusable paper. It was almost definitely lost but due to the fact that some pictures fell into the hands of few collectors, a small part of it was saved. A group of original images, with their identification data on the back, was selected by Andrés Orjuela. He has chosen to re-interpret and gradually reveal remains of this archive.
The prehistory of drug trafficking becomes imminent, current, since Archivo muerto is a mirror where we see the same street murders, the same stowaways trying to cross the border, the same police abuses, the same small traffickers captured and exhibited in the news nowadays. Orjuela witnesses them in other time and in other faces. He enlarges the original images and manually lights them up, to paint the harmful mundane; inspecting, in this way, the pernicious order of the worlds.
The images keep the title of the original photographs, that is, the identification title given by the newspaper, and it includes, as an annex, an 1:1 size descriptive sheet, made in a hurry as in the newspaper’s newsroom, with dates and annotations; keeping the structure. This look is closer to the executioner than to the victim, since the artist does not alter in essence the instructive message of the extinct Bogota’s newspaper. The application of the pigments, highlights, by contrast, the own “brutalism” of El Espacio,
Thus, as a witness and as an archiver, Orjuela makes visible the invisibility of the already described social order. Divided, illuminated, as the story itself, this archive is dedicated to those who live in hardship. More than a file of evils, it is a file of misfortune, of the captured, arrested, executed, run over, shot and slashed. Extracted from the archive of El Espacio, these images are like tarot cards. They appear without chronological, iconographic, sequential order, which allows us to see together the punishments and abuses, the crimes of tomorrow.
Perhaps, the progressive interest that Archivo muerto reaches today has to do with the “Colombianization” of the world in general, which consists in the corruption without borders and in all fronts: the Panama Papers and Odebrecht, the growth of private armies –such as Blackwater–, Colombian paramilitaries and Mexican Los Zetas, coups without coup in countries like Brazil and Paraguay; the normalization of crime and the evident global narcotization that lead us to return to the almost inevitable issue of drugs and Colombian society. Archivo muerto has to do, obviously, with that moment when Colombians “stopped washing dishes and started to wash money” –borrowing the words of the Colombian filmmaker Luis Ospina. The glorification of Escobar in Netflix, of which publishers all around the world are accomplices and beneficiaries by publishing the memories of his son, brothers and various biographies. They all maliciously conceal the relations among the CIA, the mafia and the dark regimes from Central and South America.
In Colombia, there is a long history and tradition of violence from which anyone can learn. Something that can not be denied is the development of a criminal culture –promoted by it’s political class– that comes through the birds and bandits of La Violencia in the 50’s and continues with the bands that controlled the emerald mines and the beginnings of cocaine trafficking to Batista’s Cuba, with the origins of marijuana trafficking from the Caribbean Coast to the shores of Florida in the years after the war in Vietnam, which reaches its zenith not with Pablo Escobar, but with Álvaro Uribe and his government that murdered more citizens than the three dictatorships of the Southern Cone combined. Hence, today we use the term “Colombianization” to describe the violent deterioration of any society.
Archivo muerto chooses the past to witness, fragmentarily, the development and evolution of a primary violence, which is the product of a tremendous and not mentioned social exclusion, true mother of all evils.
Text: ©Santiago Rueda
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