‘De lo líquido a lo acuoso’ (From liquid to watery), Sofia Lemos

Ana María Millán’s practice draws links between the politics of animation, digital subcultures, violence, and propaganda. Using the traditional methodologies of role playing, she develops new narratives and soundscapes to create games at the intersection between fiction and criticism that rely on humor, interconnectivity, trust, and chance.

As part of TBA21–Academy’s artistic research program, Meandering, Millán was commissioned to develop a live action role-playing game (LARP), a form of gaming where players co-create a fictional narrative represented by real-world environments while interacting with each other in character, for the convening An Ocean Without Shore. Between 8-12 November 2022, the artist worked with local gamers, cultural practitioners, program guests, and TBA21 staff to develop a series of avatars that addressed the experiences of riverscapes and riverbank communities threatened by extractive industries.

Departing from the artist’s gaming methodology and pedagogical experiments, the participants were invited to co-create a script for a digital animation that bridges the Colombian Pacific Coast with Andalusia, in the south of Spain, attending to the crossovers between shamanism, colonialism, and digital cultures. Moving through views of dense, dried vegetation, from the mountain paramo to the river basin, Millán combines ecology with political history in a filmic, fictional style, to engage with the inner lives of heat, water, and stone.

The animation’s focus on the landscape––a recent development in Millan’s artistic practice that imagines the avatars as extensions of the environment––enlivens the parallels between timber industries, mining, and the socio-cultural impact of agribusiness corporations in the watershed. The artist and the players gifted the avatars embodied in the figures of blood, oil, gold, and fire with life-affirming qualities, including cleansing and transmuting substances and their surroundings. This poetic resignification of their extractive uses and social meanings is a critical reflection on the skills, knowledges, and resources needed to address the “pulsation towards death”—a force that, in the artist’s words, drives the economies associated with mining and petrochemical industries.

The group’s direct experience of consciously bringing out elements and landscapes that exist in our unconscious mind, and that, in turn, inextricably reveal our shared belonging to life, also speak to the colonial continuities behind nation state’s rhetoric of development. These are carried out in the seizure of territory through embankment, deforestation, damming, and diversion of rivers in Colombia, Spain, and elsewhere for the purposes of mobility, energy, and infrastructure, this rhetoric is often built on the exploitation of vegetal, animal, and human life to justify enclosure. In conjunction with the soundtrack developed in collaboration with Berlin-based artist, Maya Saravia, Millán invites LARPers and viewers to consider the interconnectedness between human and non-human life in the riverscape. This intention is particularly aimed at bringing awareness to the exploitation of bodies in Colombia’s cultural policy. As such, the sounds of the marimba, a percussion instrument that has come to express maroon communities’ Afro-Pacific identity and West African traditions, are placed in dialogue with the compositions of the twelfth century Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess and polymath, and its expressiveness, linked with the interdependence of sound and landscape as a regenerative gesture towards every river, mountain, mine, and stream.

Sofia Lemos