MATRULLA: Landscape and Memory


Beatriz Santiago Muñoz

September 4 – November 23, 2014

Beatriz Santiago Muñoz (Puerto Rico, 1972), elaborates film narratives that tense the limits between documentary and fiction. Her work departs from the observation of subjects in their daily contexts, ordinary people whom she invites to take part in fictitious recreations that account for their political and social environments.

Seemingly unplanned situations make way for associations that depart from the improvisation and ingenuity of the people she selects as prominent figures; subjects completely devoid of a significant role in the script of History, but who nevertheless form part of the collectivity that generates it.

This kind of practice—one that questions the limits between document and fiction—traces its precedents back to the work of Robert Flaherty, a cinema director who presented Nanook of the North in 1922. With the creation of this film Flaherty initiated one of the most extensive debates regarding the documentary-ethnographic genre—a topic still debated. Though Flaherty’s work has the intention of bearing witness of the epic adventure of one man in a society that’s striving to survive, many of the scenes were recreated in according to the director’s interests.

Considering this issue as a defining conception of documentary-ethnographic cinema, the film academy centered the debate on the authenticity of a movie project. Is it possible to speak about ethnography when the portrayed incorporates scenes that have been recreated to highlight visual and narrative qualities?

Immersed in this confrontation, Santiago Muñoz uses the cinematographic representation device to alter the intrinsic role that targets it as an archive. Doing so allows her to question the capacities of cinematographic film, which—together with the qualifications commonly assigned to photography—are identified as the ideal means for documentary work.

The exhibition gives account of the ways in which—by subverting documental registers and including fictional elements—it is possible to restitute historical memory; identifying the flexibility of an archive as a strategy that enables the artist to create a critical-archaeological approach.

Santiago Muñoz’s research on cinematographic languages and diverse technological recording devices is presented in this exhibition. In Post-Military Cinema, 2014, the artist registers the transformation of a landscape when conceived as a container of a historical-political phenomenon associated with Puerto Rico’s peculiar condition as a contingent state; Esto es un mensaje explosivo (This Is an Explosive Message), 2010, attends the double character of a damned artist and/or national hero who threatened to blow-up a commercial plane in support of political prisoners; Película de desastre (Disaster Movie), 2003, wanders along Moneda Street in the Mexico City until the viewer is surprised with a could-be apocalyptic crisis performed by street vendors. Finally, La cueva negra (The Black Cave), 2012, narrates the story of two children while exploring a landscape that—as they come to discover—transforms an archaeological site in a highway.

Thus, the universe of Beatriz Santiago Muñoz portrays itself as a film-corpus of places, subjects and memory that enables the subversion of documental register as an effective artistic resistance—one that situates  documents exclusively as a way to inscribe reality.

Yameli Mera