A conversation with Colombian-Canadian video artist, Jorge Lozano

Colombian-Canadian video artist Jorge Lozano and I agreed to meet at the Ryerson Image Centre at 4 p.m.

I waited on a bench outside the RIC and impatience almost prevailed when I noticed a wandering man off to the side, clearly waiting for someone too. He stood relaxed wearing dark sunglasses and comfortable black clothes. Instinct decided that this was my man. He took notice of my brisk approach and signaled to me. “Adam?” I felt relieved. “Yes, Jorge it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Any nervousness dissipated after shaking his hand. The warm tone of his voice welcomed me into our conversation. He made me feel like an old friend.

Lozano is a video artist based out of Toronto. His latest endeavor, the documentary-installation MOVING STILL_still life, is a reflection on the growing gang problems and harsh realities of day-to-day life in Siloé, a small but potently dangerous suburb of his hometown Cali, Colombia.

I sat down with Lozano beside his installation, a massive eight-monitor loop of a thirty-three minute documentary. He explained to me that the installation as is was the first time he had seen it that way.

“This is very much a new piece,” he explained. “Right from the beginning I wanted to do something with multiple screens — a documentary to get that feeling of multiple, simultaneous layers of information.”

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Photo by Isabelle Docto

For as long as Lozano has been doing video, he has also been doing his part in community building. He began setting up workshops around Toronto for at-risk youth who he thought had the talent but lacked the resources to make anything of it.

After taking these workshops to his hometown of Cali, he began to make his documentary, which not only depicted the harsh realities of Siloé, but in turn was also a collaborative effort with the youth involved in his workshops.

“I don’t go as a teacher. I don’t go as a psychologist. I don’t go as a father. I just go as a colleague,” he said, choosing his words carefully.

Excluded neighbourhoods such as Siloe tend to lack the resources to steer, or even distract, youth away from gang life. Rather than have them spend their time on guns, drugs and violence, Lozano tells me, “the idea is they go to sleep thinking about their work and wake up thinking about their work.”

Included in the documentary are interviews with various individuals with ties to Colombian gang life, footage of Siloé that was too dangerous for Lozano to film himself and fictionalized gang scenes produced by the youth.

I asked Lozano about the fictionalized scenes, which weren’t obviously fiction to begin with.

“It’s like it’s something of fiction, but it’s representing their life,” he told me. “When they created the work in the workshops, I was kind of opposed because there was so much violence. Then after I realized that, no, that’s their real life.”

These kids were taking a negative and turning it into something positive through Lozano’s workshops.

Colombia has been in a state of war for over 50 years and the goal of these workshops are to turn lives away from war and gang life and give youth opportunities to succeed.

“The works that have been made here, they’ve been shown in festivals, some of them have won film scholarships,” Lozano said.

Through Lozano’s footage of Siloé to the fictionalized footage shot by the youth, it was evident that while these kids might all be in dangerous positions, they are bright and don’t waste opportunity. The final words he gave me are the most inspiring, yet chilling.

“These are talented people right? They are so creative and they are still alive.” He laughed as he told me this, but my jaw was dropped.  It’s a simple but haunting premise.

Featured image by Ryan Venedam