“The fishermen living in the geographic error exist at the margins of legality; it is all a big tangle.”
I produced the work ‘Error Geográfico’ (‘Geographic Error’) whilst undertaking a residency with the programme Hawapi. Normally they hold their residencies in spaces that are experiencing some kind of political or environmental issue.
It’s usually a different edition every year, and in my case, they chose the border conflict between Peru and Chile as the starting point. Because they don’t have like a physical residency space, we camped out right there in the area of conflict!
In this place there has been a political problem for a long time, as the territory has changed hands over the years. This discrepancy over land gave birth to what is called a ‘geographic error’, and here it has to do with a very small piece of land, like the size of a football field. It is encapsulated in the territories of both sides in a way, as it has to do with calculations over land and legal documents and things like that.
So, we made a camp in this triangle part, in the side that ‘belonged’ to Peru. While we were there lots of things happened, like the local news showed up and made a problem. They saw us like foreigners, there was Peruvians and Chileans, but also Bolivians, some Iranians, and Americans. So, they said we wanted to make a business there or something and then the police were obligated to remove us from that area.
It was a pretty conflictual exit, and so then we all decided to propose an artwork based on our experiences.
In my case, from this experience I decided to get in touch with a fisherman that I had met living there. This was a really interesting theme because it didn’t just focus on the territorial dispute on land but also because there was a dispute over the marine territory. This dispute affected the life of the local fishermen because they had issues to enter the ocean in case they went to the Chilean part, so there ended up being a lot of geographic and thematic conflicts. This also meant that there were issues about human consumption there, because the marine resources were in dispute over this geographic error.
The part of marine territory that enters the dispute came after the land issues had supposedly been resolved, and this also has a lot of commercial interest. In this part of the ocean there were a lot of resources that each country wanted, as well as foreign interests coming into play, so it was quite conflictual. After many years they did make a deal about the territory dispute of course, but still that little piece of beach and ocean is left!
So, I became really interested in the experience of the fishermen living and working in the geographic error, as this community was really small and had migrated to the coast from the highlands of Peru. I decided to do some interviews and make videos and concentrated in the sensations and the realities of the life of one fisherman.
This fisherman came from Puno, and it was really interesting to see the way that these political problems clashed with other issues about identity. The area was so close to the international limits, but this community spoke Aymara (Andean language) as well as Spanish, and didn’t really feel like Peruvian, or Chilean, but Puneños.
It was a really specific situation, and they felt totally abandoned by the government as they were the only people living so close to the border, on the Chilean side there was no one, and the police kept bothering them. They had been there already a long time before the police started to interfere, and they had their own territorial disputes because of this. They had bought some hectares of land and had the papers, but after the political issues with the geographic error they told them that the land didn’t belong to them anymore. Because of this issue they did not just suffer with fishing but also agriculture. Like, they would have to go and water their crops and harvest their land in the early hours of the morning to avoid the police seeing them.
So, I decided to explore this metaphor between the political issues faced and how the fishing community lived their daily lives, all at a cost from the geographic error.
Elizabeth Vásquez Arbulú is represented by BLOC ART