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Atlas of the Andes

The concept of fiction has served to define some of the various narrative genres to which we are most frequently exposed. Fiction defines a certain type of literary or visual work which represents imaginary events and characters. Its etymological roots refer to “give shape, to create form”, to fabricate. For example, in cinematography, this concept has helped to differentiate two types of filmmaking: the documentary, understood to be more politically accurate; and the non-documentary, or fiction cinema. These classifications have been employed in order to verify a film’s kinship to a particular family, or to determine behaviors which lead to either exclusion or inclusion. In the end, these are moral definitions whose boundaries have become blurred by filmmaking itself.

In the same way that the narrative boundaries between film genres are being called into question, other disciplines have also critically reviewed the relationships between reality as truth and history as its narrative. From a philosophical perspective, Michel Foucault acknowledges the importance of the problem posed by the concept of fiction: “I am well aware that I have never written anything but fictions. I do not mean to say, however, that truth is therefore absent. It seems to me that the possibility exists for fiction to function in truth, for a fictional discourse to induce effects of truth, and for bringing it about that a true discourse engenders or manufactures something that does not as yet exist, that is, ‘fictions’ it”.(1)

Given this state of instability and uncertainty, one must reevaluate fiction’s role in cultural constructions, and even its role in understanding reality, as paradoxical as it may sound. Artists have been particularly aware of and sensitive to these issues. Pablo Picasso said: “We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand”. (2) Following this line of thought, for Marcel Broodthaers, “fiction allows us to grasp reality and at the same time what it hides”. (3) What underlies these statements, that of the philosopher and those of the artists, might be nothing more than an entrenched historical awareness of the production of images and narratives.

In the case of Camilo Echavarría, this “fictioning” or “fabrication” operates at various levels. The most evident ones concern his recognition and respect towards both art and science. Regarding the former, he appropriates visual and conceptual strategies from the work of travelling artists and photographers who created images of the “new world” between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, motivated by artistic as well as commercial interests, or simply by their attraction to the romanticized notion of travel. Secondly, he approaches in a rigorous way the importance of fidelity in description that characterizes representations made by scientists who participated and sometimes lead those expeditions. This personal pantheon includes figures such as Alexander von Humboldt, as well as Auguste Morisot, Frederic Edwin Church, Carl F. P. von Martius, Johan Moritz Rugendas, and Henry Price, among others. Some of these names have yet to enter the history of art’s mainstream narrative since their work was produced with a utilitarian end in mind. However, their role has acquired new value thanks to the invaluable legacy of their images of nature and geography of places visited.

Photography, as both witness and direct document, is merely a starting point. These images seek to evoke memories of the past, from the standpoint of the present, as well as to register information that will be relevant in the future. In this process, the act of travelling plays a fundamental role, as it constitutes the source of experiences which emerge as images of the landscape. While the artist’s education in photography has been rigorous, the camera is mainly a tool which allows him to capture and collect surfaces, textures, as well as botanical, topographic and geological blocks of information (as if he were a scientist himself). Photography, including that which is the basis of his video work, is the technological support which allows him to produce these images. And landscape is his genre, selected in order to activate these memories and to register his observations.

Conscious of the complexity and sophistication present in the numerous surfaces and substrates present in his images, the titles to his photographs build bridges with their audience. Echavarría has found that it takes a lot to experience an image without “reading” it, something he calls “decompensation due to a lack of a referent”, in which the what and the where prevail over the when. In order to encourage the legibility of his works and to avoid that decompensation and a subsequent freefall, titles act as referents, anchor points which catalyze interpretation and lead to a deeper level of connection with the artworks.

Another layer of meaning in his work relates to the interweaving of the dimensions of space and time, which equates to the concept of speed. Not surprisingly, some of his pieces seem to be the result of a journey, although that’s not all. The slower someone travels, the more detail one can register and perceive. In the process of these creative journeys, the artist opts for depth, and depth demands time. This dimension is fundamental both to the process of production, as it is to the reception of the work. The objective is to offer an image which is complete, integral, and unitary, in which the detailed description of diverse components is evident at both a macro, as well as a micro level, allowing the images to be explored at different levels. This double experience of the images – of the beauty of the landscape and the complexity of the multiple interrelationships among its constitutional elements – is complementary, and it is also necessary in order to enter into a dialogue with his work. This is why the artist is attracted to images in which content is prevalent over form, which motivates him to ensure that the work will also be relevant in non-artistic contexts.

This aspect of time involves even more variables. On one hand, there exists a political dimension: his artistic practice takes place in a space of resistance, as it puts forward a position of slowness as opposed to the frenzy of modern life. On the other hand, there is the technological dimension to the artist’s work. Obviously, the means used to create this work allow him to gather information in a very efficient way. However, this forces him to return to these devices of mediation at a later time, in order to observe what he has gathered. And observation is the means through which his landscapes are created. An interesting paradox which brings us back to the beginning: the artist observes and gathers in situ in order to assemble a posteriori. But, without the process of “fictioning” (assembling, fabricating), this latter observation becomes impossible.

These tensions, present in the work of Camilo Echavarría, may be schematized into dialectical pairs, in order to provide a deeper understanding of his creative process: unity and multiplicity, totality and detail, fiction and observation, art and knowledge, evocation and description, memory and present. These tandem elements demonstrate the existence of two force fields which are not antagonistic, but complementary. Oscillating movements, whose forces at times lean towards one of the two poles, emerge from that interaction. However, both polarities are always at work, operating as a sort of Moebius strip, with no beginning and no precise end, in which both apparent faces of the figure are intertwined into the manifestation of a singular flow.


Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, Colin Gordon, ed. (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1980), 193.


‘Picasso Speaks’, The Arts, New York, May 1923, pp. 315-26; reprinted in Alfred Barr: Picasso, New York 1946, pp. 270-1.


Rosalind Krauss, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000): 47.


This text was previously published in the exhibition catalogue « Atlas of the Andes : volume 1 » (Centro de Artes Universidad EAFIT, May 2016). English translation by Juan Duque.


Image credits. All rights reserved © Camilo Echavarría

Meeting of waters of the Sierra Nevada and the Caribbean Ocean

River jungle

Sunrise over Santa Marta Sierra Nevada seen from the bridge over Palomino river

Sunrise over costal grassland
Message to C. Lorraine

Mountain scene
Antioquia, East

Mountain scene
Antioquia, West

Panoramic view of the Cauca River Valley and La Pintada Twin Peaks from El Porvenir cattle ranch
Antioquian landscape for “Contraexpediciones: Mas allá de los mapas”

Umpalá rocky river cañon en route to Barichara

Bridges over Juanambú river
Message to Antonio Nariño 1814, 1875

Tundra lagoon
Ascent to Puracé volcano

Pigmy forest covering the San Francisco creek riverbed, near Puracé volcano
Botanical observation, downstream
Message to Thomas J. Cooper

Bedón river waterfall seen from the road between Popayán and La Plata

Tropical rainforest

Tropical landscape during rainy season
Cauca river overflow

Sunset at the tropics
Message to Frederic E. Church

Botanical observation
San Sebastian – La Castellana natural reserve, 2658 m.a.s.l.

Botanical observation
San Pascual coffee farm, Antioquia, southwest region, 1574 m.a.s.l.

23.Oct.2017 2756 views
Camilo Echavarria Camilo Echavarría

Camilo Echavarría (Medellin, 1970) approaches landscape as a cultural thus subjective entity focusing on the presence of man as an observer, an inhabitant or an agent of transformation. His practice involves photography and photo-based video work which diffuses technical and conceptual frontiers between both mediums. Camilo holds a Bachelor’s degree in Science from Southern New Hampshire University and a Masters degree in Art History from Universidad de Antioquia. Atlas of the Andes, his most recent solo show at Universidad Eafit, comprises travels made along the northern Andes in Colombia, Ecuador and Perú. His photographs and videos are part of the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (New York), Colección Jan Mulder (Lima), Colección Banco BBVA (Bogotá), and Museo de Antioquia (Medellín) among other institutions.

Portrait © Josep Vincent Rodriguez

23.Oct.2017 2756 views
Conrado Uribe Conrado Uribe

Conrado Uribe is a Barcelona based contemporary art curator, researcher, author and editor. He has two MA Degrees in History of Art: University of Antioquia (2010) and University of Barcelona (2014). He has recently collaborated in initiatives such as: LAIC – Latinamerican Arts & Culture for Inclusive Cities (2016–2017), a one year project between Brussels and Medellín. He was also the Artistic Director of the LOOP Festival Barcelona (2013-2016), and the Contents Director of TALKING GALLERIES, the International Congress on art gallery practices, during the same period. Previously Conrado has been curator of projects such as: Nodos de la Emergencia for the Bogotá Art Fair (artBO) in 2012; and co-curator of the International Encounter of Medellín MDE11 (2011) and Medellin:Transformation of a city (2009). He was the Chief Curator at Museo de Antioquia from 2008 to 2011.

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