Caridad Botella: Overwhelming layers of reality. An interview with Peter Ruehle and Robert Lippok
Before we turn the page over to our next event in San José del Guaviare, I spoke to Peter Ruehle and Robert Lippok about their experiences during their residency in Guachalito, Más Arte Más Acción’s base in Chocó  where they spent a few days this past March. Two very different artists tell us about their expectations and the impact the rainforest had on their minds and works. One color driven, the other sound driven, they both had to adapt to unexpected situations in order to get their work going. The tropical rainforest, aside from its beauty, triggered a boost of creativity, which they shared with us during an event at FLORA ars+natura on March 27. Here are some experiences and thoughts about their stay in Guachalito.
Peter Ruehle. Looking for a symbol of diversity.
Caridad Botella. In your text “Five Square Meters” published on this same blog, you talk about places having colors, what image did you have of the jungle before you went to Chocó?
Peter Ruehle. First of all, I imagined overwhelming, multiform green in all shades and tones. Having the luck to be acquainted with forests in other parts of the world, e.g. in Indonesia, Cambodia, Australia and Laos, it was possible to get at least a vague idea about the colors in Chocó.
CB. Did you have any expectations before you arrived to Chocó?
PR. It seems to be better to have no expectations. But of course, there were some: I had read some articles and texts about Más Arte Más Acción and I liked their style and themes and the direction they are taking. And luckily I knew about the ideas and intentions of Sinfonía Trópico, that's why I had a lot of reasons to expect something positive, something good coming.
CB. How were these images and expectations challenged by the reality of the place?
The reality of the place topped it all – even if I would have had quite big expectations – they have been surpassed.
CB. In your text “Five square meters”, you mention the idea of “making sense”. Did you finally find a sense for what you were going to do in Chocó?
Well, the aim was to do something meaningful, something special: create something. The working and dealing with the beautiful parts of the plants and their wonderful shapes and colors made me happy. And after the presentation of the project at Flora, interested people came to me and told me about being really inspired by the somehow poetic idea of extracting colors and shapes from the jungle to find a symbol for diversity. Especially in Colombia, where there exists a high number of species. And of course that moment of reacting audience, when something happens with the observer is great, then art is getting sense.
CB. How do you think that painting can convey the issues Sinfonía Trópico is concerned about?
That was exactly the question I asked myself when I prepared for my stay in Chocó: how to find an image for diversity, a metaphor for enduring richness and endless variety. The result you can see now: 104 tubes with samples taken from a tiny piece of rainforest labeled with the original colors of the plants.
CB. How do you plan to create awareness regarding the richness of biodiversity and its threat in Chocó?
By showing it. Basically my works are dealing with the ‘second view’: please use and open your eyes and have a look by yourself – a deeper look, longer than you do it normally.
Robert Lippok. Embracing a piece of Rainforest.
Caridad Botella. What were your expectations before arriving to Chocó?
Robert Lippok. It was my first time in the rainforest ever; when I travel to a new place I try not to be prepared so I have a first, fresh view on things. But of course, when you go to the rainforest you have expectations: I thought it would be full of animals -almost like a crossing in Tokyo but without humans -, I thought that it would very dense and green and that it would be always raining. Also, Fernando Arias had told me that the "cabaña" was by the sea, so I tried to imagine how it would look like.
CB. How did the Rainforest challenge your previous ideas?
RL. What I found was completely the opposite. I took a plastic chair to make myself comfortable, I sat there for 7 hours and there was not a lot going on acoustically; it was very quiet. At the end some animals came, -a butterfly, a lizard which just stared at me, -but they were also very quiet. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do because there was silence; I was forced to listen more carefully, and found out what I thought was more like a slow motion jazz orchestra. After 6 hours of being there I really lost sense of time and space, I was just looking at the structures of the plants and not so much listening. It seemed to me there was only death or life: it seemed a situation where you have only extremes. I felt I had to go deeper and deeper to the jungle but luckily the Berliner in me didn’t allow it. When I work as an artist I try to use ideas as tools but I’m not expecting that everything works as I think it should, I adapt to all situations. I wasn’t disappointed; I was fulfilled with the new situation.
CB. You “separated” 5m2 as a research area in the jungle far away from other sounds, what did you find in those 5m2?
RL. The idea to have a certain field inside the rainforest, which functioned like a platform, came from me. There are so many beautiful recordings already from the Rainforest that I thought it would be interesting to find a small spot and to just look at it instead of portraying it. I always try to involve my very personal point of view in my work and these 5m2 were very connected my body, I could embrace them by opening my arms if I wanted to. It wasn’t really a method but a very rough plan.
CB. During the Flora event this past 27th of March, you told us about your date with the jungle which didn’t go as planned (as you also mention here above). You were expecting a constant source of sounds, which didn’t fulfill your expectations but at night, the jungle is very pitch black and very loud, how did the darkness and constant sounds influence your creative process?
RL. Actually, it wasn’t so loud either! But the darkness was very magical, especially the fireflies which show you the dimension between the darkness and you, you are just surrounded by darkness and all of a sudden you see the little light that gives you the feeling of magical architecture and this gives a second reality to our own. I could feel that everything was so complex and that there were so many layers of reality, of life: from the trees to the animals to how the water gets transported inside the rainforest, through lakes to the seaside for example, and you can see all of these ecosystems. I could feel that nature in Chocó is really something different and has more vitality than all the places I’ve seen before.
CB. Peter Ruehle wrote about the issue of questioning what is making sense once you find yourself so far away from the “rules" of the contemporary art world, did you have a similar feeling?
RL. I didn’t have the same feeling because you always carry around your ideas, the hardest part is getting away from the rules you have inside. I didn’t have the idea that my European life was important in this case. I tried to see and inhale as much as possible from what I saw. I didn’t think of the results, whether it’s a failure or success or I can impress someone. I spent my time watching; I watched how people moved, their body language… Do they drink? Do they laugh differently (which they do)? Do they smoke?...
CB. Did you have to redefine your purpose of the residency once you got there?
RL. I had the luxury and luck that neither Más Arte Más Acción, nor the Goethe Institut asked for a result or proposal; they flew me in for the experience, just to be there. I will try to give something back, which is part of it but because I had no method I could easily adjust to all these situations. It was very important to be alone not only in the rainforest but also in the "cabaña" - built by Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout, - which is like a wave in itself and you feel like you are travelling on it. At night I felt like I was a traveller in a dark sea. A lot of changes of perspective came from experiencing the night.
CB. How did the experience in Guachalito influence your work within Sinfonía Trópico compared to what you did in Urabá?
RL. The trip to Urabá was the other way around. Before we went on the expedition, we had to give a concert and we had to design the whole show in few days. I had never worked with the other musicians and this it was quite adventurous. We felt the pressure to do something good. Luckily everything came great together and on stage creativity exploded; everyone opened up and was able to express them-selves, before that, everyone was shy. It was a very satisfying experience. Afterwards, we went to all these different towns where I could finally see what body language they had, how they organize their day, their work time, I could see this microbusinesses, -every house is a shop but people wait because things go slower-. After having been in central Africa, I could recognize African influences in the architecture and the social structure. It was a group journey and this was different too, so I was very happy to be in Chocó where I didn’t see anybody for hours. Both journeys show two faces of a country, two of the many faces. In total I’ve been to Colombia long enough to get an overview on things. In general, my trip to Chocó has been a creative boost, which will be linked to a project I’m planning with Fernando Arias and of course to Sinfonía Trópico’s festival in November.
 These residencies were realized with the support of the Goethe Institut.