Issue 3/2005 - Hoffnung Südamerika?

Exploring the World from the Periphery

On selected works by Chilean video artist Edgar Endress

Dietrich Heissenbüttel

He left his backpack behind. The Haitian man evidently didn’t have any time to lose after swimming to shore, because otherwise he would not have left his passport, a letter from his sister in old-fashioned handwriting and diction, and some music cassettes behind in the sand. It was only by coincidence that Chilean video artist Edgar Endress came upon these objects on the beach of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. The backpack he found would form the starting point for a work that has occupied him for more than three years. He had to get up early to find dozens of similar bundles, because the beaches are cleared every morning to give tourists the impression that they are vacationing on an untouched island paradise. Under the difficult-to-translate title »Bon Dieu Bon«, which expresses at once fatalism and hope, Endress has been engaged ever since in works dealing with Haitian migration in the Caribbean. 1

»I myself am a migrant«, is how the artist, who has been living in the USA since 1999, explains his interest in this theme. In his two-part video work »La Memoria de los Caracoles«, Endress recounted the experiences of his childhood in Osorno in southern Chile, under the Pinochet regime. The first part, »La Procesion«, tells of how, as a schoolboy, he stood on the street with everyone else, waving as Pinochet’s troops marched by, while his father was the only teacher to stay behind in the schoolhouse, behavior that was punished by five days in prison. Endress accompanies this scene with alternating sequences of his own and historical footage of parades and religious processions. The second part, »1394 Amthauer st.«, shows a prison at twilight. The family’s apartment building was located directly across the street, and one day, when the children kicked a soccer ball over the prison wall, Endress had to bring the guard oranges in order to get in back. Only much later did he find out that the oranges were used to torture the prisoners, who had been brought to Osorno from all over the country. 2

It was at the Santiago Biennial that Endress was first exposed to video art. After his return from exile in France, Néstor Olhagaray had already founded a video festival in 1982 under the protection of the French embassy, out of which the Biennial grew in 1993. 3 Following the restrictive period of the dictatorship, during which reliable news or images from the outside rarely penetrated through to the Chilean countryside, the Biennial signified an opening up to the rest of this world. This was even more the case when Endress later crisscrossed the South American continent at Olhagaray’s behest in order to forge contacts with other events such as Videobrasil in São Paulo and the Festival Internacional de Video/Arte/Electronica in Lima. Apart from his official mission of setting up lines of communication between the various peripheral areas of the continent, Endress took advantage of these tours to shoot his own videos, which cast light on various facets of South American realities.

»Hombres de Fe« shows the ritual of the rodeo in Argentina, Colombia and Chile. 4 »Facets and Faces« uses a three-channel installation to visualize the oral tradition of the Wayuu people in northern Colombia. A fourteen-minute endless loop guides the linear time of the video images back to the circular time of the indigenous songs. Part of the installation is a video entitled »Communicating Communitas«. 5 »The Lure of Gestures« also comprises a video and an installation. With a mixture of curiosity and affection, Endress observes a run-down bar in his hometown, where the aging regulars dance with imaginary partners to the music of the band. Without being familiar with the work of Daniel Spoerri, he transfers that artist’s “trap pictures” into the medium of video in the installation section of the work, filming the tables in the bar from above and then projecting the moving images onto tables in the exhibition space. 6

A deep melancholy fills these images, in which time seems to stand still. This can also be said of footage Endress shot in North America, such as scenes taken in an amusement park in Orlando, Florida in »Elvis Hates America«. Except for the mechanical flashing of the neon signs, every movement seems to have come to a standstill. 7 In »The King of Patagonia«, the artist reaches far back into history. The story told by Anne Vauclair traces the footsteps of the historically authenticated figure Orélie-Antoine de Tounens, who, in alliance with the Mapuche ruler Quilapan, declared himself King of Araucania and Patagonia in 1858. This story is mirrored by the experience of the sister of the first-person narrator. She follows the trail of the king, played by an actor whose scenes are given a yellowed, historical tinge. Endress accompanies the story with shots of the endless expanses of Patagonia, a small boat in front of mountains shrouded in low-lying clouds, old wooden houses in the rain, shipwrecks on the shore, the wind rustling through highland grasses. 8

The only difference in »Bon Dieu Bon« is that the setting has been shifted slightly to the north. The theme of those forgotten by history, in whose lives long-forgotten historical events recur again and again, has not changed in the least. When Endress heard about an incident at the Chilean-Peruvian border in spring 2004, he did not hesitate for long. An initially unidentified man had crossed the stretch of desert separating the two countries on foot, paying no attention to the warnings of the border soldiers, and had died of the gunshot wounds they inflicted. The man’s identity was subsequently discovered. According to various interpretations, he was either a saint, a crazyman, or a native inhabitant of the country who had never heard about such a thing as borders between various nations. In Chile, this incident prompted discussions on the power of the military in the wake of Pinochet. In Peru, it summoned up old memories of economic and military inferiority, ever since the War of the Pacific in the 19th century and still felt today.

In his video installation »Undocumented«, Endress places thirteen monitors opposite a screen. The carefully worded formulas in which the media couched their reports of the border incident make their way across television screens. Monitors showing the watchtowers at the border posts form their own borderline. On the screen opposite, Endress reconstructs the case. He shows several series of day and night scenes shot in the border area: Indios crossing a river, dead bodies slowly decomposing in the arid air, a procession of white flags. Time seems to stand still, this place appears unique. But at the same time, the case becomes an allegory of all the others that are undocumented, a moving image of the borderline between life and death. 9

In the latest installment of his work on migration and borders, Endress turns his attention to Israel’s »Protective Wall«. On Chilean TV during the Pinochet era, Israel was often cited as the polar opposite to Chile’s ostensible »security«. Endress regards the barrier, which slices through the landscape in rigid immobility, as the end of security in the western world. 10


Translated by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida


1 Ifa-Galerie Bonn, April 9 to June 1, 2003; Stuttgart, June 27 to August 17, 2003 (»Visa oder die Verhinderung des Reisens«). Endress came to St. Thomas through his wife Lori Lee, who was working there as an archeologist on the history of the transatlantic slave trade. The project has a sequel entitled »Carry On«, sponsored by a grant from Creative Capital, see
2 The video, whose title means »The Memory of Snails«, was screened at the New York Film Festival in 2001 and elsewhere, and honored by the Grand Marnier Foundation as best student work in the national competition. Also shown at the One World Film Festival, Prague in 2002; at the ifa-Galerie Bonn from September 11 to October 27, 2002; in Berlin from January 7 to March 19, 2003; in Stuttgart from April 11 to June 1, 2003 (»Nueva/Vista, Videokunst aus Lateinamerika«); and at the 6th Bienal de Video y Nuevos Medios in Santiago de Chile.
3 Originally Bienal de Video y Artes Electronicas, since 1999 Nuevos Medios, An interview with Olhagaray can be found at:
4 The video was made with John Orentlicher, under whom Endress studied at Syracuse University in New York from 1999 to 2001.
5 Shown at the 26th New England Film and Video Festival in Boston and at the imagineNATIVE media arts festival in Toronto, both in 2001.
6 Performed/exhibited at the 14th Videobrasil in 2003, among other venues.
7 Awarded in 2001 at the Film and Video Festival in Athens, Ohio.
8 The video was made in 2002 in cooperation with Anne Vauclair at the Centre international de la création vidéo Pierre Schaeffer (CICV) in Hérimontcourt/Montbéliard. Vauclair is interested in new forms of literary communication beyond the printed word.
9 »Undocumented, ensayo 1, The fictioNAlizaTION of truths«, first shown at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart from June 18 to July 11, 2004; then in a somewhat modified form at Galerie Gabriele Rivet, Cologne, October 28, 2004 to February 19, 2005 (»Hülle und Idylle«).
10 Title: »Concrete Wall«.