Pat Badani interviews Alvaro Pastor, Director of “La Casa Ida” in Lima, Peru, (February 5th, 2013)
Alvaro Pastor, Director of La Casa Ida, Lima, Peru.
Pat Badani, Editor-in-Chief
P.B.: La Casa Ida is situated in downtown Lima. Given the complicated history and status of Lima’s city center, why is it located here, and what kind of population comes to your digital media center?
A.P.: I personally came to live in downtown Lima in 2005 with the idea of developing a space such as this one, a large space where people with different backgrounds could develop research on new aesthetics, and on new political views related to experimental arts and open access technologies.In time, this personal impulse developed into a more formal structure and La Casa Ida became a non-profit association, an Electronic Arts center that I direct.
I have to say that I studied architecture, and we spent considerable time analyzing space in the city center of Lima from an architectural, social, and cultural development viewpoint. As a result of this study, I became really involved with this part of town, and I decided to develop the program at La Casa Ida in association with others. This urban location is very appealing for us due to the special recent history of Lima’s downtown. Historical buildings, government offices and administrative power are concentrated here. Due to the civil war in Peru, the terror created by the “Sendero Luminoso” and other kinds of urban violence concentrated in this area. In addition, because of the negligence of government to address change, businesses and people in general have been scared away from downtown, and the area has become progressively degraded.
For the past 30 years, the city center has been in a void in terms of urban development. This area lacks neighborhoods with a live-in population, and it lacks attractive businesses that will draw people to spend time here. I am particularly interested in the layering of social strata that I find here: the poor, the wealthy, government power, prostitution, delinquency, drugs, rock-and-roll, the arts. This mixture provides a high intensity of life that can provide material for great art projects.
P.B.: So, by revitalizing the downtown area with your electronic media center, are you attracting a new population and contributing to urban change?
A.P.: Yes, we believe that we are but a grain of sand in the revitalization of this area. Yet, it has to be said that we have achieved quite a lot, especially in light of the fact that social differences and racism are very ingrained in Peruvian society. Our space has managed to break this pattern by attracting a younger generation of people whom we cultivate in hopes that they will not fall into the social entrapments of earlier Peruvian generations. We attract people who come all the way in heavy traffic from really elegant areas such as Miraflores – established areas with full services and with business development, where people live with dignity – and these people fully embrace activities at our downtown La Casa Ida center. They come to exhibition openings, and they take courses here as well, and they mingle with other youths form the harder, fringe areas, of Lima that are in development and might lack electricity, or running water. In a way, we act as mergers; we see this as our social responsibility. Our courses merge students that come from all kinds of educational backgrounds, but who have a common desire to learn and co-create projects without any regard for socio-cultural and educational backgrounds. The question is not, “Where do you come from?” but rather “What can you bring to this project?” I believe that this is a very effective way of thinking.
Also some of our projects that mix art, technology and community participation attempt to bypass the apathy of local authorities, who are in the habit of instrumentalizing cultural manifestations such as ours for press headlines, but who otherwise neglect to support culture and education development. We build up projects that aim at a “culture of entrepreneurship.” For example, we have a program for subletting abandoned municipal spaces to art entrepreneurs, and a successful networked system for the identification of, and communication between, established contemporary art spaces and the metropolitan community.
P.B.: Can you discuss an example of the type of projects that students become involved in at La Casa Ida?
A.P.: We plan each academic year with courses that are in sync with each other so that students may correlate the development of their skills with collaborative projects across platforms – projects involving audio, visualizations, programming, etc. We work with small groups of ten to fifteen students. The course leaders have interesting academic expertise and are currently for the most part male, however the great percentage of our students – about 40% – are female. The students come from various artistic backgrounds: sound, theatre and performance, design, and traditional arts. What brings them together here is a desire to expand their language and produce art using electronic technology; they don’t come here with the idea of landing a job in industry.
One project that comes to mind is a project that melds – via music production – students who come from established districts, and students who come from the new districts developing in the periphery of Lima. Even students who live outside of Lima altogether sometimes come to the city only to take this course. The type of merger that they become involved in through the courses that they take, and through the exhibition of their collaborative projects here, bridges the social distance between them – a phenomenon that would not necessarily happen in a different context. I point out that our academic curriculum results in exhibition opportunities for our students.
P.B.: What is your plan for the future of La Casa Ida? How do you imagine it growing?
A.P.: I think that we have to grow in quality and in quantity; both are important for us. We already have accreditation from the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, and we are now working on developing new financial associates, and an academic plan that will lead us to accreditation from the Peruvian Ministry of Education. We are very much aware of our pioneering work in developing a new area of study in Lima, and accreditation will involve coming face-to-face with a rigid bureaucratic system. We need to take our time and pave the road for this to happen, to assure that we will meet all the requirements. It’s not easy road.
On the other hand, we are currently managing several sub-projects in large, traditional, private and public institutions, where the idea of preserving the past at the expense of the future is deeply rooted, and where it is necessary to discuss new art forms, tools and viewpoints.
P.B.: What about your equipment, your software? How do you fund these?
A.P.: Our organization for the most part is self-funded. Although we do have some associates that provide sponsorship, we engage in fund-raising activities, and all of these sources generate the money that we need for technical equipment and updates. There is some basic technology that we have to have, and this we have purchased with our own funds – my personal funds and that of our colleagues. It’s a sort of sacrifice, but the funds do come back into our pockets eventually from a percentage of the income generated by the courses we offer. However, it has to be said that a very important part of our work is that we build our own technology. We do not build with closed hardware or closed software. All the work we do relies on open source. We believe in building our own machines and teaching how to do this – and we firmly believe in not paying a dime in licensing wherever possible. This is why we engage in software development and the development of technologies in general. So, we do not have the financial burden that other institutions elsewhere may have.
P.B.: I know that you also have a residency program. Can you describe it?
A.P: We have three spaces available for the Residency at La Casa Ida. Residents do not pay a fee of any kind, but they do offer their work or their project to the organization over a specific period of time. That is the only requirement. Our previous resident came from Chile, and was in charge of a workshop for building a robotic electroacoustic harp from non-proprietary and recycled components. Right now, we have a resident artist developing an online radio work, which intersects with La Casa Ida’s research interests on realtime sound processing and streaming arts. This work has even replaced our own online radio platform. So, as you see from this example, we form a partnership with our residents – a sort of “marriage” that will be beneficial to both parties.
Alvaro Pastor is an audiovisual artist and architect, and director of LaCasaIda.org (2006) – a non-profit organization whose mandate is to develop Peruvian electronic arts. He is a professor and active researcher, and member of Instituto Arte Electrónica (2009), an experimental academic space; Curator of National Art & Technology Forum “ARTEC” (2009-2012); Manager of the ongoing urban acoustic cartography project Sonomapa.org, and “Red Cultura Lima” (culturalima.org) information networks for contemporary art spaces in Lima. He creates sound art, audiovisual art and installation artworks in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, Iquitos, Barcelona, Valencia, Paris, in collaboration with artists such as Francisco López (Spain), Johann Merel (Peru), Chris Cogburn (USA), Manuel Legarda (Peru), Dave Phillips (Switzerland), Alejandro Cornejo (Peru), Pierre Jolivet (France), Juan Ahon (Peru), and in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture of Peru, Organization of Iberoamerican States, Spanish Agency International Cooperation, Pro Helvetia, MACBA, and the Canada Council for the Arts, among others.