Pixelazo + Bogotrax festivals report
14-28th February 2007

Pointless Creations were invited to perform at two Colombian festivals taking place in the country’s largest cities: Bogota and Medellin. After previous missions taking us to Russia, Croatia, Estonia and Northern Ireland, we thought it was time we expanded our artistic activities to a sunnier and more relaxed destination. With backing from the British council to pay for our flights, we assembled a smaller-than-usual (congratulations to Jam and Will on Lorcan’s arrival) team of AV entertainers composed of David Bernard (Video Switchboard+ cube screens), Dan Norton (Ablab) and Jaygo Bloom (Midi Maracas). We got our yellow fever vaccines (which turned out not to be needed) and packed our luggage full of suspicious looking electronic equipment and screen fabric.

Now in its 4th year, Bogotrax is an alternative, autonomous and independent festival presented as a “urban laboratory” for artistic and social experimentation, with electronic music and associated visual arts as its leading disciplines and conceived as a north-south cultural exchange for music producers, VJs and video artists, free software activists, graphic designers, programmers, graffiti writers and street performers- totalling over 100 contributing artists. The 10 days of the festival consisted of non-stop concerts, club nights, workshops, conferences, public performances and parties- all events were free to attend. This fact alone is a remarkable characteristic of the operation in a region where most electronic culture appears to be a high-priced commodity only available in its commercial strand.

Bogotrax’s organisers have long been involved in Europe’s Free Party movement and have decided to bring its non-commercial ethics back to their own country. The majority of the international guest performers have strong links to the Sound Systems that rocked Europe’s countrysides and disused industrial estates from the 90’s onwards ensuring that some of the pragmatic principles of the Temporary Autonomous Zone concept worked at their best. With very little means and practically no cash support (all artists performed for free and had to raise their own transport costs) the large network of volunteers managed to facilitate environments where artists and their small-yet-dedicated audiences met and exchanged skills and ideas.
Taking place in clubs, museums, bars, social centres and various public spaces, Bogotrax’s programme achieved to involve people from varied backgrounds and neighbourhoods.

Pointless’ live visuals sets were a seamless match for many fast paced musical styles on display at the events, and we were also ask to teach some of our visual production techniques as part of the programme. Rather than focusing on the showcase of high-tech equipment often associated with VJing, we decided to run a 2 day workshop on DIY mesh screen design and how to create the kind of 3-dimensional image environments we’ve been working with over the last few years. We played around with low-cost materials and tried to challenge the usual expectation of digital image displays with the aim to create warm social spaces by breaking down the traditional artist/spectator boundary with suspended screens above the audience.
The workshop took place in the flamboyantly stencilled Piso 3 social centre, home to the festival’s HQ, hub for multi-disciplinary activities and occasional packed to the brim venue. We had a fantastic response with ultra-motivated attendees (many of them experienced in VJing, design and film making) who took over the techniques we presented into their own designs at most of the subsequent festival events.

Dan performed an Ablab AV set at the Metropolis club rigged up with our rotating cube screens and Dav followed with Video Switchboard triggered visuals supporting thunderous breakbeat sets by Crackhead Worm and Miss Ficell.
We did manage to take some time off this marathon of Bogota’s electronic counter culture hangouts, to explore bits of this 7 Million inhabitants metropolis. Once accustomed to the crazy traffic, machine gun carrying security guards and bustling street life, we found that people were really easy to get on with… and we didn’t feel more unsafe than back home in Glasgow- despite the magnetic appeal of Jaygo’s haircut!
After a raucous outdoor all-nighter closing party in the popular San Cristobal district, we set off for the 15hours drive to Medellin through the Andes with Juan Carlos and MC John Pri from Systema Solar.

Pixelazo is the Colombian version of Pixelache, an electronic art and subcultures festival network based in Helsinki, it focuses on ‘electronic subcultures’ – self-organized communities involved in creative media and technology development (VJ community, open source developers, media activists, etc) and features workshops, conferences and public events in parks and schools, taking place in a comuna (marginal neighbourhood). We were invited to take part in the February opening event and there will be subsequent monthly repeats till the june 2007 finale that will combine the creative efforts of groups of young people from these districts with inputs from international artists. A jungle media lab is also being organised, bringing artists to work with indigenous communities.
This event’s central theme was “jinetes de la imagen” (literally: riders of the image) and tried to address counterpoints of the new media art scene such as:
South * North - ‘Developing countries’ * ‘Developed countries’ - Traditional culture * Western culture -
Marginalized communities * International creative networks - Natural/Organic * Digital/Synthetic - Lo-tech * High-tech - Slow * Quick
Medellin is a warm and modern looking city with a shop-filled city centre overlooked by sprawling popular districts crawling up its hilltops. the city’s atmosphere is vibrant and festive, miles off the bleak reputation painted by the media. There are reminders of the turbulent past, such as the Dove sculpture by ubiquitous Medellin artist Fernando Botero. Bombed by a guerrilla group in 1995 as a “symbol of oppression”- an identical new version was built and displayed next to it.
Our workshop sessions took place in Comuna 13, which, as recently as 2002, was the disturbing stage for operation Orion, a full blown military offensive that dislodged the guerrilla factions that had been controlling this area. An afternoon spent walking around the steep neighbourhood of precarious red breezeblocks houses with local musicians and the organisers led us to better understand how dramatically the situation has improved, fancy new educational facilities are currently being built and residents were looking forward, although slightly bemused, to see what a crew of Brits, French and Swedes were coming to set up in their local playground.

The workshops participants were young and motivated to learn and experiment with projection techniques and the digital tools for live video. In a memorable session taking place in the Benedikta school/ theatre, participants took turns to manipulate screens in response to the imagery and created an engaging live cinema environment with exploratory shadow performance that paved the way for the party.

The “Sancocho audiovisual” (sancocho being a popular soup dish, their own take on the mix concept) took place in the San Javier park below Comuna 13. Charles Tox and Krak-in-Dub from Mas-I-mas sound system (france) played some upbeat drum’n’bass and electro and improvised with Son Bata, an amazing local 8-piece Chirimia (traditional drum and brass party ensemble) complete with rappers and beat-boxers. Erik Sandelin had setup the interactive audiovisual installation built during his workshop: recycled metallic trash arranged as a traditional street trader booth that activated sound samples and projections when touched and clanged together.

We used the basketball posts to support the screens created designed by our students and hell broke loose as the kids got hold of the hand-held screens and danced in front of the beams and up and down the posts. I have to admit my surprise to the respect shown by all for the fragile structures: not one screen was pulled down or damaged despite them hanging so low.
Jaygo Bloom stole the show with his Midi Maracas performance, everybody taking turns to trigger the colorfull 8-bit compositions.

Pixelazo came to a close with the “invasion” of the Parque del Periodista, a city centre hangout full of excitable teenage punks. The truck mounted sound system drove in, the MCs got on the microphone, the projectors pointed at the surrounding buildings resulting in another memorable night. The visuals were provided by the students from the VJ workshops and Dan performed another fine Ablab AV set. The party was set to last long into the night but the organisers had been given a midnight curfew by the authorities – it was always going to be difficult to negotiate a licence extension with a policeman, let alone dozens of them carrying large calibre weaponry. A great night was had by all and revellers dispersed towards less conspicuous gathering spots.
Pixelazo is curated by the Intermundos collective who have been developing cultural exchanges between Colombian marginalised artforms (traditional, indigenous, and urban) with their international counterparts through documentaries, events, and the internet. Many other groups contributed to the project including budding music labels and bands from varied styles, dorkbot technologists and recycling activists. The enthusiasm and generosity we witnessed was phenomenal to achieve such a program without any significant form of financial backing.
Overall the Bogotrax and Pixelazo experiences were great successes. Although they still lack the professional gloss of similar events happening in richer and more stable countries, we could really feel that they were providing a meaningful experience to those attending as public and contributors alike. We found a great deal of optimism regarding the country’s future from the Colombians we met, and we felt the timing was right for such visionary events to take place and accelerate current changes.

Many thanks to all those we met and made these mad projects possible:

Organisers: Rafael, Humberto, Lola, Aristo and Tatiana... and many more...
Artists: Nick (Diesel rockers), Reno and Kris (Crack head worm), Mous Chemist and Coline, Konix, Le Fond de la classe, Midiadub...

Organisers: Vanessa, Juan Carlos, Lunar, Mono, Laura... and many more...
Artists: Erik Sandelin and Ana Stahl, Matthias and Federico (Mas-I-mas), MC John Pri

Photographs: we lost our camera- thanks to all those who let us pillage their memory cards!
Paulo and Julian Kintero, Juan Carlos and Vanessa, Erik Sandelin, Kris, Luca...Flickr!

More Links:
Jaygo's Blog
Erik Sandelin's report with more photos
Pixelazo report with photos (spanish)

Bogotrax Blog
Bogotrax flicker group