Ionit Behar: The places you portray, for example Puerto Rico and Haiti, have a particular condition and history. Can you explain what you are trying to find out or understand from these places?
Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: Puerto Rico is the place where I grew up, and it’s the place that I'm most interested in, because there are so few images, and so few ways in which aesthetic thought and practices are used to think through it. There are things that are possible to think about some places that are impossible to think in other places. So when you are in a place that used to be a military base for 60 years and was bombed… you can get to certain thoughts and ideas that you can’t get elsewhere. There are possible thoughts attached to places.
If you swim you will see lobsters and seashells living on missiles. If you don’t, then you see nothing—just the ocean.
I can talk specifically about the image of a landscape in Puerto Rico and how it has been represented visually in very limited ways—mostly in terms of the military, nostalgic, agricultural representation of the 1930 to 1940s. Now most representations are dominated by tourism and the service industry. And we embody them and reproduce them as well. These are specific ways of seeing that have to do with domination and ownership; a landscape that is always portrayed almost as a pristine landscape, even when it has been bombed for 60 years. If you swim you will see lobsters and seashells living on missiles. If you don’t, then you see nothing. You just see the beautiful surface of the ocean.
There are questions for me about how you can think visually, aesthetically, about a place that is destroyed, that is toxic, that has been violently transformed, but it is not visible on the surface. So, this is why La Cueva Negra is shot in a place where there is this layer of history where you have the settlement and the highway. This is actually a very common landscape in Puerto Rico. When I show this work in Puerto Rico, it never goes through this lens of paradise that other people might see, as if it was beautiful because it was a forest. If you live in Puerto Rico you recognize that landscape immediately as a post-industrial rural landscape with all those things in it. Puerto Rico is overpopulated; there are no ways to deal with the two million cars that are there. We know all these things about the place but that we have not even begun to think about what they mean in terms of sensorial reality and perception of place. We keep looking at images that represent it as if it was a bucolic agricultural landscape. For example, in La Cueva Negra, I’m interested in those issues of post-military spaces because the place itself positions you. The place asks you to look at it for the reasons that it was created. Even when you point the camera at it from a critical point-of-view, its critical point-of-view is also reproducing that image. This is where you fall into creating pleasure in the military ruin. You are still playing the movie over and over.
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