in Features | 01 OCT 06
Featured in
Issue 102

Armando Andrade Tudela

Peru, vernacular Modernism, hippie exoticism and the history of cocaine

in Features | 01 OCT 06

When it comes to advocating the use of mind-altering substances, nature is the fall guy most commonly called up for an alibi. In some instances, that a drug can be found growing wild – various types of psychedelic fungi, or marijuana, for instance – is reason enough. However, for the over-imaginative user, the wild rumours of a drug’s historic use as sacrament in ancient ritual, or daily consumption by tribes of aboriginal peoples, is far more seductive justification. The idea that putting on a Native American headdress, going to the desert and melting your brain with peyote somehow represents a deep and sensitive communion with the Earth and centuries of wisdom remains a powerful myth in Western Pop culture.

Innumerable myths link the history of Peru to one drug in particular; cocaine. As the critic Rodrigo Quijano writes in a text accompanying Peruvian artist Armando Andrade Tudela’s Inka Snow project in 2006, ‘although coca leaves and cocaine are not even remotely the same thing, in the anxious imagination of those countries who import it the relationship is quite narrow … the imagination and central discourse of the First World conveniently insist on it … the chemical reaction which allows the extraction of cocaine from coca leaves is something which was not in the Peruvian ancestral imagination – or, as said in a surprising manner, in “Ancient Peru”.’ This projection and translation of imagination and ideals from one culture to another is key to Andrade Tudela’s work.

Andrade Tudela explores the various manifestations of broader cultural ideas within the localized context of South America – vernacular re-workings of European Modernism, hippie exoticism, Tiki culture (a highly stylized take on Polynesian aesthetics popularized in the USA in the 1950s), and Peruvian Rock, Salsa and Techno music. He works at a remove from the recent art world fixation with all things Tropical Modernist (a fairly reductive term at best). Rather than merely pointing to South American ‘versions’ of ideas generated elsewhere in the world, Andrade Tudela focuses on more complex systems of translation and transference; how are aesthetic ideas assimilated and reactivated politically, or socially, at a local level? How, as a 21st-century Peruvian, does one relate to both the pre-Colombian and post-colonial history of your country and the South American continent as a whole? More broadly speaking, how do ideas (or as the artist puts it ‘units of information’) soak themselves within the fabric of geography and physical topography?

Take his 2004 book and slide-installation CAMION (Truck), a compendium of photographs taken by the artist of the goods trucks that traverse Peru’s highways. The trucks are emblazoned with what appear to be corporate logos, but which on closer inspection are hand-painted designs; as much customization as official insignia. Bearing a remarkable resemblance to abstract painting, it’s tempting to make comparisons between the truck chevrons and familiar works of postwar geometric abstraction. Yet that brings to mind the old art historical exhortation for critics to be wary of linking two works just because they look similar – and this is where the work becomes complex. As Mark Godfrey observed of CAMION, ‘when we see these images in the context of an art book or gallery, how does our understanding differ from the encounter of an ordinary Peruvian driver who follows the vehicles without a camera?’

Transa (2005) is a sculpture made from copies of Tropicalia musician Caetano Veloso’s 1974 album of the same name. The album was recorded after his return to Brazil from self-imposed exile in London, and like much of his music from the period, assimilates a huge range of styles, including psychedelic rock and traditional Brazilian music. Andrade Tudela’s Transa gives literal form to a number of ideas; exile and return, the transmigration of style and corollaries between politics and aesthetics. Many of the key Tropicalia musicians, including Veloso, were imprisoned by the Brazilian military junta in the late 1960s, yet Brazil, like Peru and other South American countries, was characterized in the popular counter-culture imagination of Europe and North America as a tropical land of sun, sea, drugs and free love, much as India was romanticized as a country of transcendental wisdom. (A few of Andrade Tudela’s drawings, such as Sugar in the Air (1) (2005) and Utopica Rustica (2004), directly reference these hippie idealizations.)

All of which brings us back to Inka Snow, a book and architectural model of a grotesque, hedonistic community built within giant lines of cocaine. Long trenches scar a large flat plain covered in drifts of ‘cocaine’ or snow (‘inka snow’ was the 1960s slang term for cocaine). The model alludes to the vast geoglyphs carved into the floor of the Nazca Desert in Peru. Created two and a half millennia ago, they depict animals, birds and reptiles, and have long been a source of fascination and wild speculation for archeaologists and anthropologists. One of the most famously fanciful theories about their origin was dreamt up by maverick archeaologist Erich von Däniken, in his 1968 blockbuster book Chariots of the Gods. Von Däniken held that the Nazca lines were created by colonizing space travelers who used them as landing strips. Today these lines are crossed and bisected by bulldozers and trucks taking short cuts across the desert. Ancient history and futurology collapse in Inka Snow; its cargo of truth, detail and nuance lost in a blizzard of hedonistic excess, migration and colonization.