From Eva Lis

2 - 23 Dec 2017

Coming from London it took me a while to adjust to the new environment and for the first few days I experienced those two worlds overlapping: dry banana leaves seemed like discarded car tyres but when placed in the jungle they became more like fish and like snakes. Everything was “like” something else, something that I knew already. 

In my work often I investigate violence behind the virtue. I am interested in socio-political and moral structures that are abusive but are presented as noble. Being in the jungle I started to pay attention how those mechanisms are applied in nature. On my first trip into the jungle I was introduced to the strangler fig - a plant that kill trees and takes their shape and place. It starts growing from a small seed in a canopy several meters above the ground deposited there by a bird or animal, and it grows its roots down to the ground, in a seemingly delicate and gentle manner around the tree. It’s only when it reaches the forest floor that the strangler fig swells to engulf its host. Eventually it will kill the host tree and oftentimes hide the evidence by growing inward to fill in the gap left behind by dead and decomposed host. Its hollow inside may become a home for bats and a few creepy crawlies. 

In the Tambopata rainforest there is astonishing number of insects, lizards, birds and animals that mimic something else in order to hide or attack. Some species are polymorphic - meaning the same species will come in a variety of different camouflage variations. It helps prevent predators from learning the patterns of particular camouflage. There are a different layers of disguise. For example Blue Morpho Butterfly has brown exterior wings that look like dry leaves, but when they open their wings, you’ll see spectacular, bright blue coloring. But its beauty is not to attract attention. It is a warning sign. Many species retain distasteful or poisonous chemicals acquired from their host plants make their own defences like paralyzing alkaloids, cardiac glycosides and histamines. Larvae usually acquire these chemicals, and may retain them in the adult stage. But adults can acquire them, too, by regurgitating decomposing plants containing the compounds and sucking up the fluid. Camouflage is not only visual; heat, sound, magnetism and even smell can be used to target a pray and may be intentionally concealed. 

Resident biologists at Refugio Amazonas are using a light bulb to mimic a moonlight to attract and capture months for studies.  

The 'Theatre of Death' light trap

The nature is endlessly fascinating but I was there as an artist not a biologist so I wanted to find an artist’s way to apprehend the jungle. 

Although I was in Peru for the first time I had a feeling like I was experiencing it second hand. I saw it all on TV, I read about it in some books. I could name the shapes that I saw: a palm tree, a spider, a snake, an eagle, a banana, a monkey etc…I knew a function and properties of many of those things. I read about it. I had too much information in my head. 

I could not see it for what it really was: a miracle. How could I experience it without all those pre-installed data?

I decided to do what babies do: explore it by mouth.

I imagined myself as an alien that has no concept of what is supposed to do with the encountered objects. I was licking plants and people and I recorded sensation that it provided but again I could only describe it by comparison to something familiar and from human perspective. The taste of frog was like slightly salted cucumber and bird was a warm, dry, old wool or flavourless sugar candy. Everything was “like” something else. At first I wanted to create a sound installation with description of the taste of the rainforest but I started to doubt the point of it since that would bring me back to the same problem that I was trying to escape. 

A problem of the language itself. In his book "Violence" Slavoj Zizek explains the problem of verbal communication: "Language simplifies the designated thing, reducing it to a single feature. It dismembers the thing, destroying its organic unity, treating its parts and properties as autonomous. It inserts the thing into a field of meaning which is ultimately external to it. When we name gold "gold" we violently extract a metal from its natural texture, investing into it our dreams of wealth, power and so on, which have nothing to do with immediate reality of gold". 

And then we have a hierarchy of the language. To be part of contemporary art scene artist are expected to be able to interpret their work from visual to verbal and the verbal really means English. That kind of set up allows participation in contemporary art for a certain group only and is creating a cultural class systems. 

Language was always used as a tool of control and indoctrination as much as communication. Colonizers typically have imposed their language on the people they colonized, forbidding natives to speak their mother tongues. Such efforts seek the suppression and annihilation of the different ways of thinking and expression but are presented as sophistication and education. 

The use of language signals certain social status and we judge accordingly. As is well known, the historical narrative is usually presented from the point of view of the conqueror. I was more interested in non-verbal, non-linear communication. I was introduced to the artworks of the Shepibo Indians, a large tribe of the Peruvian Amazon. Intricate linear geometric and symmetrical textiles and embroidery, all crafted by women, contain recursive and self-reflective motifs act as visual music maps – scores notating the chants and songs (Icaros) associated with Ayahasca healing ceremonies. The Shipibo can listen to a song or chant by looking at the designs – and inversely, paint a pattern by listening to a song or music. Indigenous mythic histories are often non-linear. They’re not necessarily chronological. They may not be concerned so much with telling exactly what happened but with the energy it conveys. 

Tapestry by Shepibo tribe of Peruvian Amazon
A shaman is an interpreter between two worlds. I started to think of the language as a map that is a construct, a kind of mathematics or technology. I was wondering if I can make a map of emotion. I tried to record different feelings by crunching a piece paper with my hands covered in pigment. But those recorded marks on paper were actually quite useless: they could not re-create the emotion felt just by following the creases on paper. To quote after Eric Temple Bell: "the map is not the thing mapped".

The concept of art as a representation and was skilfully illustrated by the Belgian surrealistartist RenĂ© Magritte in a number of paintings including a famous work entitled The Treachery of Images, which consists of a drawing of a pipe with the caption, Ceci n'est pas une pipe("This is not a pipe"). A more extreme literary example, the fictional diary of Tristram Shandy is so detailed that it takes the author one year to set down the events of a single day – because the map (diary) is more detailed than the territory (life), yet must fit into the territory (diary written in the course of his life), it can never be finished. 

I started to observe certain marks made by insects, patterns in plants and animals and think of it as a language or a map. Maybe other animals or people can sing, feel or understand it? With our estimated 7000 different languages we haven’t translated a single spoken language of nature. 

Algorithms and hidden language of nature are omnipresent and yet we dismiss it focusing on our very specific human-centric needs. I felt very disconnected from the world, I saw it as an image, a project. I wanted to feel it, connect to it, but I felt numb, detached. I decided to work with what was available to me to continue an idea of anti-gravity that I stared a year ago. I used a spider web to suspend some objects in the air but I only scared a few local people that took with for a frolic of the spirits. Then I found a small broken tree and used lianas that I wanted to believe were ayahuasca, to make it looks like the tree levitates, goes to heaven (I was thinking something along the lines of merging Amazonian shamanism and imposed Catholic believes (the ascension of Jesus and the spirits of plants). After I finished my installation I went back to the hotel to get my camera but I couldn’t find my way back to the ascending tree again. Maybe it is still there stuck in-between two worlds, maybe it fell back to the ground and was absorbed by the earthor maybe it went to heaven. I will never know. 

The weather changed and most of the time it was raining now. I was observing tourists coming and going and their interactions with the local people and tourists guides. They wanted to know about their families, where did they travel, where do they live and how, if they know any shamans that would perform any rituals for them (ayahuasca being most popular). I went back to my chosen subjects of morality and culture as a camouflage for exploitation. I thought that you would not ask a tourist guide at the British Museum about his or her schooling or parents in the same way. Cheap flights and internet access opened an access to the information and travelling for people that would not have this opportunity before. Within that, like with limited edition prints or hand made objects the “authentic”, limited edition tourist experience became fetishized and ironically mass sold (Airbnb, volunteering, Ayahuasca ceremonies etc). 

John Ralston Saul wrote in Voltaire’s Bastards: the Dictatorship in the West: "Tourism has become perhaps the most popular means for individuals to give themselves the sensation that they stepped outside the norm while continuing to move within it". The tourist psychology bleeds into our daily life too:we are encouraged to look but not to see, travel without discovery, think outside the box but within business context, etc. The access to travelling and information is of course regulated one way traffic: European or North American citizen is allowed and encouraged to consume the products and culture of the world but we don’t allow the same participation in exchange. 

I spoke about this problem in two of my projects: Day Trippers and Made in China 

Mass media created illusion of freedom and try to convert everything: spirituality, private life, religious ceremony into accessible, entertainment business. Looking for meaning, connection and nature became the biggest tourists’ attractions. We are moving from material toward cultural neo-colonialism. Slavoj Zizek calls it Capitalism with a Smiley Face. For those who practise it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress. In the days of old-fashioned colonialism, the imperial power had at least to explain and justify at home the actions it was taking abroad. In the colony those who served the ruling imperial power could at least look to its protection against any violent move by their opponents. With neo-colonialism neither is the case. 

My time in Tambopata was running towards the end. I was disappointed with myself that I didn’t produce any tangible work which I could claim as final result of my residency, I didn’t bring back any cultural trophy from my exotic trip to the jungle. Whatever I tried to do lead me to a dead end. Maybe because I was coming from a position of a cultural explorer, an observer, an academic voyeur. Like any other tourist I didn’t create or discover but I used, explained, processed already processed, tamed and caged experience of the jungle. Only while writing this report I realised that this is my most authentic experience of artist-tourist coming back from my art residency with a maze of dead end stores, half-thoughts and unfinished objects, no answers and no successes, images and text (mine and other’s), all weaved together like Shepibo art that has no perspectives, beginnings or ends. The most authentic experience is experience of my life.  

Shaman's Toolbox, 2018
I wanted to use this opportunity to thank Nina Rodin for creating this phenomenal residency. It had a massive influence on my life. I also wanted to thank everybody that I met in Tambopata Rainforest Expedition. Special thanks to Juan Carlos who took me on a boat trip to feed piranhas, Lucila that gave me her shoes when mine got lost and I was walking jungle barefoot, Ines Duran Perdomo who took me home for Christmas, and of course Juan Diego Shoobridge that was such an amazing company, made us laugh, told us all about harpy eagles, sloths, plants, wild cats and of course his favourite tiger moths. THANK YOU EVERYBODY. 

From Ayse Balko

04 - 30 Nov 2017

Trelex Amazon Residency Reflections..

I could write two posts to describe the amazing space that Trelex Amazon and Rainforest Expeditions provided for us, one for Refugio and one for TRC (Tambopata Research Centre.) The lodges are incredible. Being in a jungle and far away from the world is an exhilarating experience. Having a whole month in the rainforest and in this environment allowed me to relax and absorb the space, the people, the jungle and myself. The art of exploration could not get any more comfortable and luxurious.Was I spoiled? Yes, very much so and I love the memory that stays with me.

I developed two major bodies of work during my residency in the Amazon at the Rainforest Expedition Lodges. One of them is a photography series and the other one is experimental electronic soundscapes.

Experimental Soundscapes: Rat on the Tree; A Flat Death
Photography Gallery Spaces Once Hold Memories: Trelex Amazon - Tambopata

Displacement - Memory - Re-designing Identity
My Inspiration:  I explore identity and memory.

A month in the lodges allowed me to absorb and reflect. Allowing the materials to form their identity in my perception.  Early in the morning waking up with a thunderstorm, macaw calls and the sound of howling monkeys. Watching Hummingbirds, listening to frogs, walking through the trails, laughing with spider monkeys, amazed by Peccaries, being thrilled by the sounds coming from the deep darkness at night became part of the daily living.

The cohesion/focus for the project came from the ordinary pieces laying on the ground level of the forest. The shapes formed by leaves, barks became the abstract sculptures. They were the invisible force drawing me to a clarity. Each piece had its own lifespan. The displacement of a seed holds the hopes of a tree for a new start, a continuation of its memories.   A leaf has the same memory as the bark it was once connected to.  The smell of caramelised fresh fruits, some dried, nutritious, poisonous textures of the ground arises. This is the story of the Amazonian Basin.

A bark fallen from the hight of a palm tree holds the same memory as the palm tree. It remembers a spider monkey passing by and the heavy storms of last month.

During my walks around the trails, I started to record sounds and collect pieces from the ground. By bringing them into my space, I re-define the forms.  Bark used to support a fruits, seeds, leaves became the symbol of my exploration of identity. A new life form was about to wake up through the act of displacement. My space was re-defining the form.

The new life is a concept and it only exists in the conceptual world.

Each object I picked up has a relationship with me and my walk on the day we met in the jungle. A collection of memories, piling up objects until the light in my heart is ready to release what it holds.

During the residency, I learned to confront my anomalies. My loss of memory, my anxieties are part of my work. The relationship formed between me and some of the people I met during my residency enabled me to remodel my work. I ferret out the core themes of my artistic practice through immersed conversations with some of the guides, artists, biologists, neurologists, doctors and many more friends at the lodges. I would like to thank them for the invaluable insight which they have generously granted me.

What happens to the space held by a memory after it is removed, displaced or forgotten?

Sketchbook pages by Abi Box

Sketchbook pages by one of our Trelex Amazonas residents, Abi Box, made during her time in the Peruvian Rainforest.

abi box abi box

abi box abi box

From Miriam Sedaca

1 Nov - 1 Dec 2017

Finding a way to express my experience of spending a month in the Amazon rainforest, either in words or through my work, has been a difficult task. The distance between the jungle and the home to which I returned felt like a vast gulf over which I had to leap in order to relay my experience in a meaningful way. So I brought the role of transmitting that experience back to my body and its senses – the vessel which crossed from there to here, an archive in which the sounds and smells of the rainforest still echo.

I bring myself back to the feeling of humidity condensing on my skin, of the pressure in the air before thunder and rain rolled through the forest. I remember the noise, constant yet always changing, of the multitude of insects, birds, frogs, monkeys and other creatures which surrounded me, many of which I began to recognise by ear without ever seeing. My eyes recall the sensation of adjusting to the twilight as I walked below the forest canopy. Of suddenly seeing a point of light out of the corner of my eye and realising that a firefly had landed in my hair and was helping to light my way through the dusk. The sweet and heavy smells of flowers, earth, and rotting fruit still seem to linger in my nostrils. The textures of bark, root, fungus and leaves still hold a dialogue with my fingertips. And through all of my senses, a feeling of life intensified, of everything alive and everything vibrating, and me vibrating with it, joining in the frequency of everything around me. 

It was around these sensory experiences that I constructed my work while at the residency and after my return. However I also found myself compelled to consider the gap between my experience in the Amazon, and specifically in the Madre de Dios region, and the lives of its inhabitants. Before arriving in Puerto Maldonado, when I flying over the forest, I saw large patches of empty exposed brown cut into the green below. I had heard about the illegal gold mining in the area which was destroying habitats, wildlife and local communities, and releasing mercury into the rivers, but seeing these swathes cut out of the rainforest brought the reality to me with a jolt. While staying in the beautiful jungle lodges it could be easy to forget this destruction and threat, which seemed a world away but was in fact happening at an alarmingly close proximity. 

Reading Astrida Neimanis’ essay “Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water” gave me a key to considering these disparities in relation to the all-encompassing unity of liquid. The unifying pervasiveness of water became the theme which preoccupied my work in the residency, and through which I sought to reconcile the apparent distance and actual proximity of the destruction and pollution in the area. It flows through the rivers and streams which I passed every day, rises with rainforest’s humidity, and moves through the internal channels of animals and plants. It is ever-present as the life source of the Amazon’s millions of species of animals and plants, and also as an archive which carries toxic pollutants into and through all of those species. Through the mercury which is released into the rivers as a waste product of the mining process, the waterways which run through the forest become channels of pollution as well as sources of life. If we consider ourselves as bodies of water, made up of two thirds liquid, we cannot help but feel that the boundaries between ourselves and others are less absolute, more fluid. Water, like the body, is an archive and communicator. As it flows in and out of ourselves and others, it dissolves the boundaries between us, carrying both sustenance and toxicity through and between us. 

My work from the residency, “Water’s Breath”, (a performance combining movement, film, and spoken word) was performed at the Opera House in Jersey in January 2018 and at Bow Arts in London in February 2018 as part of their Art for the Environment programme.  


From Melanie Ward

02 Feb - 31 Mar 2017

And when I wake in the middle of the night I see small lights, they flicker and come and go. Or they’re larger and they linger like that of a fairy, floating, gliding through the air. Or they creep and stalk something, then fade as though they were never there. They could be fireflies, or the eyes of a cat, or a man with a torchlight. The jungle is a magical place, but it can play tricks with your mind. It is hard to see what is real in the darkness.

Morning brings about a different world when the sun rises and the jungle awakens. The low rumbling, alike to a lions roar, echoes through the trees as the Howler monkeys wake and compete with the sounds of the Brown Titi monkeys who call back and forth between the males and females. If you’re lucky and quiet you may even catch a glimpse of them outside your room, which has no windows and no ceiling, only a high shared roof between the rooms. This is freedom. This is getting back to nature.

From the tower you can observe the parrots and macaws flying overhead at a height above the canopy. You can look down on the monkeys playing below, away from the bullet ants and wandering spiders, photographing the sunrises and sunsets. Everyday brings a new creature, even if they’re a different beetle, another bird, the novelty is refreshing and inspiring. Trees are abundant and everywhere, fighting for survival. Some fall down, whilst others grow and replace them. Brazil nut trees, Ceiba trees, strangler figs, all merge with vines, orchids and medicinal plants; the list is endless.
Daily walks to spot the harpy eagle or boat rides to visit lakes give sightings of piranhas and giant otters, or the clay licks where the parrots and macaws noisily gather en mass, but nothing can prepare you for the rare sighting of a jaguar as it disappears along the riverbank into the undergrowth.

One week the river is fast flowing and full of debris, the white caimans are rarely seen at this time, unlike the mosquitoes who will always find me no matter where I am. I feel safe confined within my mosquito net at night. The creepy crawlies can’t reach me here.

It is wet season and some days are just filled with rain. There is a calm and beauty to the sound. Regrowth and regeneration will follow. The present is forever changing.

From Rebecca Molloy

01 Mar - 31 Mar 2017

Image: Video still: ‘Where there are Females there are Flowers” 2017

Text: Where there are Females there are Flowers

Swinging in a hammock in the Amazon Rainforest, within a lacquered wooden lodge, surrounded by mosquitoes, thick swelling heat and lush vegetation... I still have access to the internet. I am inside and outside of nature all at once.

Our devices are absurd objects that have become a part of us, we keep them close to our bodies and yet they encourage us to view ourselves from an external perspective. Perhaps we are more aware of being surveyed than we are of the feelings of our own bodies.

Everything in nature develops gradually, step by step and organically. Tarmac, television screens, office cubicles and glazed doughnuts are the materials of our time and we are growing with them:

Once upon a time there were bodies that worshipped plants. These plants provided these bodies with sustenance, minerals, nutrients and life. These plants were sacred, they were nurturing, healing, powerful and plentiful. But now instead of growing and anchoring themselves into the ground, these plants are potted and placed next to television screens or on top of refrigerators. They are exotic and homely all at once.

When we put our hands in soil, dopamine is released in the brain. This is so that when we need to go out and gather food, we feel good about the action, ensuring that we will survive another day in the wilds of the world. The same release of chemicals happens when we receive likes on Instagram.

Once upon a time there were bodies that came from Mars and bodies that came from Venus. At times these bodies were unified, seamlessly harmonious and synchronised, but for the most part they were divided by their physical attributes and chemical makeup. It was hard to know whether these bodies behaved differently to each other because they were conditioned to, because they wanted to or because they had to. 

You will never see yourself fully in three dimensions. Only others will. You will only ever know yourself as an image, through the screens, mirrors and reflections of the world. Perhaps it is more important to feel and be in your body than it is to think about it. 

Once upon a time in the future there will be bodies that are able to suck up heat from the tarmac of the ground and modern materials will move through the layers of the skin to give them pleasure and strength. These bodies will spend time worshiping the digital world as if it were the sun and bearer of life. This world is the wildest of them all, it has the greatest calm and the greatest power as for the first time ever bodies are not separated by their physical constraints, instead they merge with each other, themselves and technology freely. 

In this world there is no gratification in having too much. Be it objects or images there is potency in everything. In this world images are protected and sacred, images are made with quietness, dignity and respect.   

Once upon a time in the future there will be bodies that sweep up the garden of the jungle in order to make way for the worship of the screen.

Everything in nature develops gradually, step by step and organically. Tarmac, television screens, office cubicles and glazed doughnuts are the materials of our time and we are growing with them.

Once upon a time in the future, life will be a journey of feeling.

Video and text made in the jungle by Rebecca Molloy, April 2017. 

From Nicole Salcedo

05 - 31 Jan 2017

Nicole Salcedo 28 Days

The anticipation of this trip began as soon as I booked my tickets. It has long since been my dream to come to the Amazon rainforest.I had no idea what to expect besides the accounts I had read online, but I knew I was in for quite a treat.

The jungle is a magical place, even in my exhaustion upon arrival I could immediately sense the energy coming through the thick of the trees.

The trees have such a commanding presence, but it was the ferns, moss, and vines creeping up the barks of lichen covered trees that really caught my attention. And the fungi! These organisms displayed such a variety of shapes and colors.

The color palette of this place doesn’t make itself known at first, seemingly all shades of greens and browns. But the more I walked the trails, the more I saw the gems of color. Coral reds, bright yellows and oranges, so many shades of pink.

Some of the plants have new growth leaves of iridescent purple that you can only see when the sun shines on them at just the right angle. These plants had me hooked. The lichen also has a very subtle palette that revealed itself to me little by little, along with the mosses that accompanied it. I couldn’t get enough of the pale shades of green and grey combined with patches of charcoal black and orange.

Then came the soil, totally lacking in nutrients but beautifully vibrant orange along the banks of the river, sprinkled with green hues of the opportunistic plants. I learned that the roots of the trees are very shallow due to the need to derive their nutrients strictly from the falling and decomposing leaves at the base of the roots.

The forest boasts of shape-shifting insects and leaves, survival through optical illusion, nothing is really what it seems until you take a closer look.

This place is a dream, the passage of time is so apparent, and yet, gets lost. The routine of the meals and activities helps but only to a certain extent, it really depends upon how you decide to spend the time. Hiking can seem to take hours when it has really only been 30 minutes, especially if you stop (like I do) to photograph every little interesting shape or color that crops up.

Hiking was one of my favorite activities, especially when I was accompanied by the resident biologists, Vania Tejeda. Her breadth of knowledge on birds and plants was incredibly captivating.  We quickly became friends on this month long journey. Vania is from Arequipa, Peru and studied biology at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia. Her biggest passion is ornithology, but we also share a passion for art, Vani loves to paint in her down time.

This time away from my typical reality, has been very clearing for my mind, and the art that came out of it reflected exactly how I have been feeling out here. My body and consciousness covered in plants and other organisms.

My best advice would be to be open to any and every experience in this beautiful place, it has very ancient knowledge to offer.

Nicole Salcedo