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Edgardo Aragon

Edgardo Aragon
Under a calcified tree, a young man is striking bones on stones to the rhythm of electro music blasting from a small speaker. Words on the screen enhance the images of the strange musical performances that follow to give a “brief history of ancient farming in Mexico”. If Edgardo Aragón chooses percussion instruments made from organic materials, it’s to remind us that this history is one of slave-labour plantations, pillaging and resistance paid for in blood. But in the film’s final quarter, with picture postcard images of the shores of the Pacific, the sound disappears. Mirroring the lagenaria ciceraria thrown into the sea from a plane, memories of the “death flights” resurface in silence.
(Louise Martin-Papasian)

Interview with Edgardo Aragón

In the opening insert, you define your film as “a brief history of millennial agriculture today”. Through it, you approach different themes and periods of history, from the colonization by the Spanish Empire to the present day, from the forced plantation of drugs to the dream of peasants to move to the United States to become “modern slaves”. What was the starting point of the film?
The main sources of the film are inequality, racism and the cultural appropriation that is now the order of the day in the West, as it tries to maintain its dominance. For many years, my country has proclaimed the idea of a culture with no interruptions, but the truth is that colonization destroyed a whole culture. Many worlds have been erased from the surface of the earth, with the goal of establishing the world of the same, according to the ideology of the free market, which trickily gets called globalization, a euphemism for control. It is not just about the fact that companies have stolen seeds from our lands in Oaxaca or imposed crops that meet American needs. It is about the fact that agriculture is the beginning of history, civilization and cities that we have today – all the layers of history are contained in a corn seed, which is a complete Mesoamerican creation.
Most important for me is putting the farmer in the center, as a sort of monster created by the political moment back in the 1970s. In my culture, the farmer is the medium when we reconnect with land, but he is alone, outside of industry. As the revolution never took over the land here, farmers look like an anomaly in the system that should disappear. Many of the young people bought into the self-realization ideal, went to work in the US and are now sicarios or narcos, the perfect characters in a war of narratives over the control of the minerals, seeds or technology. However, they can’t just be called narcos or illegal workers, as there is a whole history of dispossession and occupation behind those phenomena.

You put music at the center of your film in a very singular way: the electronic music is accompanied by sounds produced by organic elements coming from the ground (stones, bones, earth…). How did you think about its elaboration and how did you work with the musicians?
Music is maybe the most abstract element in our species and that all its members can get easily. Historically, it has been modified by the audience and is “popular” in a political sense. In the film, music is the narrator and I wanted to tell a story that runs almost from the beginning of the cultures until today and to make an abstract narrative. Mix different elements from the digital world until the first instrument – the bone – tells you that our development has been by way of blood. We are killers and the post-historical world is trying to hide it using politics or media control, arts, history, anthropology. All those narrative constructions are part of that denial of our nature. Global warming, racism, or nationalism, for example, are repercussions from that political line. We are trying to remove the mask from the myths, using them as ghosts, as dead parts of our own history. However, we resurrect monsters (the figure of the narco for example) every time we need more natural resources. Music is used to indicate that cycle restarting. The pre-colonial world was the opposite side, that’s why I used a tomb as an instrument. Archaeological sites are taken out of context because it’s a dead world in the official narrative, but Zapotec farmers are still using these sacred places to grow corn, and they don’t hesitate to destroy sculptures or old temples because they need to eat first of all. They don’t want the government digging around while they have to survive.

The text alternates between a voice-over and sentences written on the image indicating historical periods—sometimes in an anachronistic way—places, or information about the context. Can you comment on these writing choices?
In all these aspects I wanted to give to the landscape the symbolic charge that it has. Today, the beach is part of the inclusion trap, it’s a hippy beach, full of gringos doing surfing, a retirement paradise for some people etc. But it has that dark background even today, the locals are not the owners, they are in servitude. I put theses sentences in the tourism part as a way to remember the recent past and the fact that the construction of the negative freedom of tourism also has blood inside. I collected them from books, based on historical archives, to give the movie some documentary aspects.

The film is composed of three “musical sequences” and then a completely silent one, by the sea, in the state of Oaxaca, which refers more to the idea of displacement, through the derivation of objects. What guided this choice of editing? Can you come back to this last sequence in particular?
In the narrative of the movie, I edited that part, wanting to put the spectator in a tunnel to the past, using the music as part of a trance. Thinking the film as a concert, or even a composition of long duration, music needs to be prepared with silence. This part is a kind of no promotional beach commercial and I have tried to mix beauty postcards with its deep dark side using silence – in that case the recreation of the death flights was the focus. Listening to reality is not usually the norm when an agent is trying to sell you a paradise. To use a metaphor, sometimes we need to turn towards the face and hands of the musician to feel the bass vibration.

In the last part, sentences from two books appear, Mexico Armado by Laura Castellanos and Guerra en el Paraíso by Carlos Montemayor. Can you explain the choice of these two texts?
I chose them because they are history books, and especially because they take an approach not coming from the academic milieu in Mexico, who usually speak in favor of the state. Both authors are very close to the indigenous movements. At one point, the government thought that Montemayor was a kind of spokesman for these groups, because he had very confidential info. Laura Castellanos, too, is constantly visiting groups like EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) which is a new composition based on the 1970s movements. Montemayor declared permanent guerrilla war against the ethnic cleansing implied in the attempt to turn this territory into a single idea of nation, which has been happening since the colonial period until now, through racism, exclusion, destruction, dispossession and cultural appropriation.

Interview by Louise Martin Papasian

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Technical sheet

Mexico / 2021 / 60’

Original Version : English, Spanish.
Subtitles : English.
Script : Edgardo Aragon.
Photography : Edgardo Aragon.
Editing : Edgardo Aragon.
Sound : Damian Lara, Isabel Muñoz, Axel Muñoz, Edgardo Aragon.
Production : Casa Gallina (Insite).
Filmography : Glitch life after global warming, 2021. Mesoamérica, 2015. La Encomienda, 2013. Tinieblas, 2011. La trampa, 2011. Ley Fuga 2010. Family effects, 2009. Matamoros, 2009.