Scene from "Volando Bajo", by Calderón and Piñeros. Photo: Disclosure

QWhen the engine starts before take-off, I always get nervous”, reads the caption – without any voice over – as a DC-3 model plane moves on the runway. “I don't know why, but I always think that it could be the last flight and that taking off is already somehow a fatality”, the text continues. After a cut, the camera attached to the aircraft starts to fly over the dense Colombian Amazon jungle, while old memories related to aviation continue to be told in first person. This “person”, in this case, which seems to us to be a pilot, co-pilot or another member of a crew, is, in fact, the plane itself narrating the experiences of its long trajectory. In the next 20 minutes, flying low (flying low, in free translation), by the Colombian duo Elkin Calderón Guevara and Diego Piñeros García, continues to follow the DC-3 and its stories, at times realistic, at other times fanciful and dreamlike. The film premiered on Videobrasil Online, where it remains until September 26, and continues the research by the award-winning duo Calderón y Piñeros – together since 2014 and also known as the collective La Decanatura – on the relationship between memories and ruins, displacements in time and space, hegemonic forms of power materialized in technologies and the supposed idea of ​​progress.

The DC-3, created in the 1930s and a symbol of modernity and technological development until the mid-20th century, continues to be used around the world to this day, but in very different ways depending on the country. “By the time we started the project, in 2017, there were more DC-3 aircraft flying in Colombia than in all of Europe. This struck us as very curious and significant. In Europe, they are relics, collectibles, used for exhibitions or vintage tourism. arte!brasileiros. “Today, very few fly in Colombia, but they are still used daily, especially in Orinoquía and the Amazon, for the mixed transport of cargo and passengers, making routes and stopovers in the most remote and abandoned places. Despite their antiquity, they still cover a territory that represents 55% of our country, which naturally shows the degree of abandonment of the State”, they complete.

Scene from “Volando Bajo”, by Calderón and Piñeros. Photo: Disclosure

Giving a voice to an airplane, therefore, as strange as it seemed at first, sounded coherent when the project began to take shape. “The plane was the main character to be narrated, which makes a lot of sense when we understand the importance of an aircraft that has been around for more than 80 years - a grandfather -, which has already witnessed many events, intertwining with the history of the 20th century since the Second World War until today”, they say. In fact, the use of the model in the global conflict was especially striking, in a sad chapter of its history, as DC-3 himself narrates in flying low: “I am an ellipse in this story. A story of apparent glories, which repeats failures, turmoil and incomplete plans. Even without a black box, I vividly remember the 'D-Day' landings in Normandy. I was in charge of carrying hundreds of young people inside me. I had to expel them to an almost certain death.” THE  The anguish of this narration comes, however, in contrast to the beauty of the image of people being parachuted into a vast field of green grass – all the while reinforcing the ambiguities of what DC-3 represents in the story.

From the memory of what happened in France to the current times in the Colombian forests or Andes, the DC-3 therefore makes a leap from the period when it represented cutting-edge technology to the moment when it becomes an obsolete machine. It is remarkable, therefore, that the plane is at the same time “a persistent”, someone who resists the passage of time, but also a symbol of the failure of a development model, representing the precariousness of a certain vision of modernization. “The idea of ​​progress in Colombia, and perhaps in the rest of Latin America, does not seem to encompass a large part of society that is normally forgotten and invisible. We believe that a false idea of ​​progress prevails, which throughout history has only benefited a small group of people or families with particular interests, who have been in charge of monopolizing economic and political power, regardless of the cost”, they say. Calderón and Piñeros. “In our projects, we then make historical and decolonial reviews to ask ourselves about the past, the present and the ways in which history was told, in order to broaden visions and generate new critical positions.”

Scene from “Volando Bajo”, by Calderón and Piñeros. Photo: Disclosure

mules and planes

Also as a metaphor of resistance – even though it has never been a symbol of modernity – a new character appears in flying low boarding the DC-3 for a flight. The unlikely passenger, in this case, is a mule, an animal that was also part of previous research by Calderón y Piñeros. “The idea of ​​using the mule came when we saw a sketch made by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier on one of his trips to Colombia, in the 1940s. He discovers that at that time the railroad and the automobile were almost non-existent and the country seems to have given a jump, abruptly, from the mule to the plane”, they explain. From the mule to the plane, precisely, was the title of the exhibition held by the duo in Bogotá at the end of 2019 as part of the X Premio Luis Caballero. In the exhibition were exposed precisely the film Flying Low – the result of the residency that the duo held at Villa Ruffieux, Switzerland, as a prize for their participation in the 20th Bienal de Arte Contemporânea Sesc_Videobrasil (2017) -, as well as sculptures of mules made of wicker. 

The mule and the DC-3, therefore, emerge in the film more from their commonalities – however less obvious they may seem – than from their notable differences. At one point in the narrative, the plane tells us of his dialogue with a mule who, like him, also knew about heights, travel, wars, resistance in time, accidents and failures. More than that, the mule would have told him that he also knew how to fly: “We are connections between heaven and earth, a premonitory and hybrid species, we are sterile pegasi that fly in a suspended time like a dream”. On the subject, Calderón and Piñeros explain: “Andwe find there a nexus, a momentary dialogue between two forms of transport. They are two supposedly opposing appearances that represent different visions or ideas of progress. The plane seems to represent 'what you want to achieve', the idea of ​​modernity and development. The mule has historically been little treated, even by the iconography of art we see few examples in which it is exalted – contrary to what happened with the horse”.

Scene from “Volando Bajo”, by Calderón and Piñeros. Photo: Disclosure

It happens, however, that the progress promised by the plane was never really achieved, while the mule, always linked to the load work, has continued to exist for immemorial times. “The dialogue between an obsolete plan, symbol of an apparent progress never achieved, and a millenary mule is therefore a pertinent, probable conversation and, in turn, a symbol of forms of resistance. We believe that in this mule character [who gains wicker wings in the film] many of the concerns about 'wanting to be', 'pretending to be' and 'being able to be' are concentrated. It becomes metaphorically and visually an extraordinary winged being, but one that still seems humble, beautiful and close, capable of flying or making us believe that it does, even if it can only fly softly”, concludes the duo. Along flying low, therefore, as the apparent contrast between animal and machine – between nature and culture – softens, it becomes increasingly clear that a winged mule or a “talking” plane reveals much more to us about the concrete reality of the world than can opinion – especially on the Latin American case. And as we open our eyes to ruins, inequalities, uncertainties and failures do not fail to reinforce the eternal possibility of resistance.

Leave a comment

Please write a comment
Please write your name