Peter Ruehle: Five square meters

Peter Ruehle: Five square meters

13 April 2015
Elizabeth Gallón Droste

Almost 10,000 km lie between the beach of Guachalito and Berlin. But Europe has a presence - as the starting point of colonialism, which changed everything, in Colombia too. The descendants of the once abducted African slaves are the people who characterize Chocó today - with their measly little gardens and rickety shacks, apparently still guests in a much larger landscape and nature. Don Faustos’ house will probably soon be devoured by the sea - global warming, CO2? Nothing new. Indigenous people are hardly ever seen. According to reports, a few still live hidden away in the forest waiting for the next mining company that will do everything possible to displace them as well: there’s supposed to be gold and platinum here, and other rare raw materials. With the gold mercury will come next and the paradise here with its pelicans, crabs, white tuna, hummingbirds and bats will no longer exist.

Quite automatically, the question about meaning comes up: what’s all this for, what am I to do here with art? Art, that in Berlin, New York, Kassel and London I more than occasionally feel as being far removed - with its obscure pseudo-intellectual inferences, which could just as easily have proceeded in the opposite direction, and its delight in referring to the well-informed, whose understanding when asked is however little more than an assertion. Here, where the rain forest and ocean meet at the other end of the world, the distance to the art world in which I otherwise move, is both mentally and physically considerably great. The cigarette butts and flickering light bulbs hanging from their crooked cables seem all the more redundant in their self-referentiality, almost ridiculous even - as if Bourdieu had never written 'Distinction’[1] and the fairy tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes[2] had nothing to do with all of this.

Maybe it helps to remember the bright moments of European discovery and follow the tracks of Maria Merian[3]. No distinction, no construction, only documentation. A tiny bit of jungle measuring five square meters, an hour’s walk away from the coast, provides more than enough material: in a short space of time, there are more than a hundred samples of different shapes and shades of green in the box.

Back on the beach of the tempestuous southern Pacific Ocean, I think of the German forest and know that I know nothing: many areas not far from home, the Altmark, the North Sea and the Chiemsee, are unknown to me. Instead now here with four aircraft – and then back to Berlin this would be 8 - in the far west of Colombia. What a luxury. And what is 'rich'? Chocó is rich in green, Bogotá – at least in the trendy north east – is rich in orange, and Berlin – at any rate in winter – is rich in grey. Everything is relative. Still, I feel like someone who has bitten off more than he can chew. But then in May, if all goes well, off to the Biennale in Venice …

Peter Ruehle, Guachalito, March 2015

In March-April 2015, Peter Ruehle was artist-in-residence in Guachalito/Chocó and in Bogotá D.C. with the generous support of Sinfonía Trópico, the Goethe Institute Colombia and Más Arte Más Acción.

[1]            In his best known book, 'Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste' (original title: 'La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement', 1979) the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930 - 2002) describes the cultural segregation mechanisms between social classes.


[2]                  'The Emperor’s New Clothes' (original title: ‘Keiserens nye Klæder’, 1837) is a well-known fairy tale written by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805 - 1875).              


[3]                  Anna Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 - 1717), a German-born naturalist and scientific illustrator, travelled for two years between 1699 - 1701 to Suriname under extreme financial and health risks to observe and document the flora and fauna there.