Hot Links 09: Otto Berchem
This ‘Hot Links’ includes the interview between Brian and our current artist in residence: Otto Berchem. Otto just started his residency in Chavón and we are excited to hear his views on the Caribbean.
– Tell us about yourself.
I’m a migrant, and a Costeño. I was born and raised on the coast of Connecticut. I lived, studied, and worked in NYC. I moved to Scotland for nine months and stayed for almost three years. After that I went to Amsterdam, for a two year post graduate program. I remained for 17 years. Eight years ago I left life below sea level, to move to a city that is not only nestled in the clouds: it’s also the farthest that this boy from the coast has lived from the sea. Something I never realized that I would miss as much as I do. Thanks to the Caribbean Art Initiative, I get to have my dose of the scent of the sea.
– What is your connection to the Caribbean Art Initiative?
I first learned of the Caribbean Art Initiative thanks to the tireless work of Albertine Koop, whom I met when she came visit Bogota. But my connection with Caribbean art (and many of those involved with CAI) goes back to 2003, when I was in Vilnius, Lithuania for a group show. A little over a year later I was invited to participate in PR04, Tribute to the Messenger, a show organized by Michy Marxuach in Rincon, Puerto Rico. It was an eye opening experience. One of those moments where you confirm your choice to become an artist, thanks to a completely different outlook of the world. We spent a week sleeping under mango trees, waking up to the sound of them falling. Sometimes being hit by them, as well as being hit with new perspectives.
– What does “cultural exchange” mean to you?
“Culture exchange” is a process. It’s a direct and vivid route to deal with new ideas and experiences. The opportunity to see something with fresh eyes. To reset.
– What is a unique perspective or element about the Caribbean that you would like the global community to know better?
Perhaps it’s something as basic as geography. What it is the Caribbean? Is it a chain of islands in the sea? Mobile, Alabama is the Caribbean, Santa Marta is the Caribbean, Puerto Barrios is the Caribbean… I’m trying to understand what that concept of geography, or geographies entails. Meanwhile I think of the fact that wrapped around the finest Cuban cigar is Connecticut shade.
– And finally, please describe something you find “hot” (e.g. this can be a particular food, a place, a thing, and idea…)
Hot, as in “spicy?” it has to be Aji Waiya. It’s an artisanal chili powder, made by indigenous women from Pirá Paraná River, in the Colombian Amazon. It doesn’t scorch, but the heat resonates long after you’ve consumed it.
Hot, as in “hip?” I recommend a visit to San Jose del Guaviare. It’s a former conflict zone, on the edge of the Amazon, so tourism is still reasonably new. You can visit some amazing pre-historic pictographs at places like Cerro Azul, and Nuevo Tolima.
Hot, as in “caliente?” Currently Colombia is very hot: so hot that social activists and community leaders have been assassinated at a rate of almost one a day, while the government does nothing to protect them.