“Visions” at The Picture Show & Interview with Peruvian artist Mariana Tschudi

"Visions" ©Joanne Ambia

Visions opened on Friday, June 27 at The Picture Show in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “We were looking for myths, dreams, and hallucinations,” said Megan Clement, and ultimately, the selected “films…were dreamlike, or expressed aspects of the unconscious in an abstract way.” Peruvian artist Mariana Tschudi, who did extensive research on medicinal plants, such as Ayahuasca (also commonly called yagé), and their phenomenological effects debuted her most recent work, “Transcending Our Shadows.”  Inside the theater, folding chairs seated around 35 people comfortably in front of a large projector. Among the films we watched, I was most struck by Shambhavi Kaul’s “Mount Song,” where trails of mist envelop an abandoned village, and Zachary Finkelstein‘s “How She Sees What She Sees,” where a baby is shown as the viewer in a very sensory atmosphere.

Still from "How She Sees What She Sees" ©Zachary Finkelstein

After the screenings, I caught up with Mariana for an exploration of phenomenology and transformation:

GP: Did the Shining Path, MRTA, or the Peruvian Government forces cause any problems for your family?

Mariana: For sure the Shining Path and MRTA caused problems in my family. I think there is no Peruvian who was living in Perú at that time who hasn’t experienced a strong feeling of fear and impotence. My father was running a business in different cities of Perú while the terrorism was getting to it’s worse moment, and he couldn’t stand the pressure and died from a heart attack.

GP: In spite of the conflict, what was it like growing up in Lima?

Mariana: I value the fact that Peruvians have grown prepared to experiencing difficult situations, and we can travel around the world with the sensation that we are ready for any situation. However, growing up in Lima was and still is difficult for me because the society is very conservative and close-minded so most of the topics I touch in my work generate harsh criticism towards me.

GP: Did you go to art school in Perú?

Mariana: I did. I went to Corriente Alterna Art School, but at the middle of my studies I transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design where I graduated in 2004. I also recently finished a masters degree in Digital Arts at the Camberwell College of Arts in London.

GP: What is the art scene like in Perú currently?

Mariana: The art scene is growing a lot in Perú. It feels as if it is becoming a new hot spot in Latin America. There are more art fairs going on every year, and definitely there is more artistic movement. However, I have the feeling that art in Perú is becoming more predictable.

GP: Did the opening sequence of your performance, showing the faces in the stars, have to do with your ancestors?

Mariana: I think it has to do with everybody’s ancestors, with the beginning of life itself.

©Mariana Tschudi

GP: Random fact: archeologists found feathers of birds belonging to the Amazon in an abandoned cliff dwelling site in Arizona near the Four Corners, so there must have been trading between tribes a long time ago. The similarities between native South American and North American cultures are pretty large; however, there is so much separating them and so many people are neglecting their past for reasons having to do with the government, media, the fact that they are in another country, etc. Do you feel that way?

Mariana: Of course. And not only are there similarities between south American and north American cultures, I can see a lot of similarities as well between the Chinese culture and the Mexican culture, the Japanese culture and the Peruvian culture…whenever I get to know the deep foundations of spirituality in each culture, I can see a lot of similarities between them, and it makes me think that, at the end, we are all the same in essence.

My friend shows me the healed scars on her arm from Kambo

GP: A  friend of mine went to the Amazon and did a cleansing called “Kambo,” or “the frog’s poison,” which is full of antibiotic properties and contains Deltoforine and Demorfine. These chemicals are synthetically produced in pharmaceutical labs. Do Ayahuasca or Wachuma contain anything that can also be reproduced or are they in danger of being used up in that manner?

Mariana: Yes. Ayahuasca has the DMT and Wachuma has mescaline. It is possible to extract the active chemicals from the plants and turn them into analogs in pharmaceutical labs. At first, I thought it was a terrible and very dangerous thing to do, and I was very critical of the situation, until I understood why researchers like Jonathan Ott are doing it. The reality is that there is a huge interest in Ayahuasca now a days. Many tourists come to Perú and want to experience it. I see that curiosity as a massive human awakening to a new consciousness, and I find that fascinating; however, a new mafia is beginning to grow to meet the demand of Ayahuasca. They are cutting off all the lianas from the jungle to the point where even native shamans have a hard time trying to find Ayahuasca, and they have to end up buying the plant from the mafia. So as Jonathan Ott explained, it is important to have a chemical analogous for the vast majority of people who just want to experience this and don’t care about the traditional ceremony, but only want the effect of the plant. And it is a way of protecting the natural wild Ayahuasca from the extinction.

Mariana Tschudi performing “Transcending Our Shadows,” which illustrates through the interaction of her body movements, the music and the video projections of an awakening experience inherent to working with sacred plants:

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GP: What led you into exploring these medicinal plants?

Mariana: I have always been interested. From as young as I can remember, I have had the curiosity of trying to elevate my consciousness to a different state. I started my exploration with Wachuma when I was 18, but I didn’t try Ayahuasca until I felt really prepared. That happened when I was 27 years old. I was too afraid of doing it before.

GP: In some Native North American cultures, Shamans are born while still inside the amniotic sac, or if they just come from a lineage of Shamans. How did you find the Shaman who taught you about the plants and guided you in your experiences?

Mariana: I have been working with different Shamans, and each of them have their own stories or reasons to be in this path. Now I only drink with two shamans whom I respect and trust a lot. Their stories are totally different: one comes from a native family of shamans and the other has learned by himself with different guides, but I consider both of them to be amazing persons focusing on the spiritual growth and mental and physical health of the people who look for them.

Ayahuasca ©International Center for Ethnobotanical Education

GP: Do you have any artists or filmmakers that inspire you, too?

Mariana: Of course, many many many artists inspire me…Marina Abarmovic, Ai Weiwei, Mathew Barney…I can go on and on and on. I always get inspired by brave people who have guts, are compromised with their work, and listen to their hearts.

GP: Do you believe that the Nazca lines were created by aliens or by the Nazca people? Do you believe in aliens?

Mariana: I don’t know what to believe regarding the Nazca lines. Everything is possible but, of course, I do believe in aliens and life in other galaxies…our world is only a small blue dot in the universe. It is extremely egocentric to think we are the only living, intelligent creatures in it!