viento izquierdo ugaz, Chiron in the Fourth House,
5’21” min, 2024

There was a break in the timeline

Interview by Kerry Downey

viento izquierdo ugaz (b. 1992, Lima, Perú) is an autistic trans/disciplinary artist, cultural organizer, poet & language justice worker. Through writing, photography, thread & moving image they address how the burden of imposed migration has woven its threads into the visual tapestry of their lineage. From personal portraiture to video poetry, their work also reveals the powerful essence of their queer and trans chosen family in an act of unapologetic resistance and tenderness. In their new work, Chiron in the Fourth House, viento uses family archive and personal footage to attempt to piece together a ruptured family history. In this collage of footage traversing over 10 years, they bring together poetry, video and sound as ritual.

In one of the scenes, your grandmother talks about buying straw mats and building a door for her home. Your video weaves together many kinds of spaces, places and objects – domestic space, photos, doll heads, family archives, and some are very fragile materials.  Can you talk about how your video process explores familial relationships through placemaking and materials?

The clip of my grandma is from an hour long interview of her right before she passed. I wanted to keep some kind of memory of her life story, as she was experiencing dementia at the time as well. I've had very significant deaths in my family in the past ten years. The first were of my father and uncle who were the history keepers of the family. My uncle was a sort of collector, he loved to keep objects; from my aunt's college notebook to my mom's first doll or things like that. After he died, I have felt it is my responsibility to carry on that work and, in the video, my grandma says, “now it’s your turn,” looking right at the camera (at me) and I find that reaffirming even if it's also a very complex task.

When I first wanted to do this video, my idea was to be able to dig deeper into familial trauma that has carried on for generations. It turned out to be very hard to actually get people to get together and to talk. I'm not totally sure how to do that yet. I feel like this is just the beginning of trying to do some of that. I wanted that clip of my grandma talking about how she built her home, it was important to me to also understand the place we are talking about.

I'm from Peru, and I'm a migrant. I migrated to the States when I was nine and then came back to live in Peru 20 years later, which was four years ago. When I got here, I stopped making art for a while because I went to see my grandma's house and I was really impacted by the state that it was in. I saw that her roof was caving in, the house was still made of very fragile materials. I then spent a year fundraising to build her house.

My family is generations of migrants – my grandma migrated from the Andes of Peru to the capital. I don't know how far in my tree people actually stayed where they were from. The idea of owning something permanent or stable is transformational within my family history. I think this is why so much of the video is focused on understanding the place and objects.

The placement of Chiron in the fourth house signifies the power of transformation and healing in the realms of family and home. How does your video explore processes of healing and transformation?

I'm working with my own footage from over ten years ago up until now but also my family archive of photographs, so it's interesting to connect all of those mediums – mini DV, hi8, printed photographs, cellphone video, and I think that this also speaks to the kind of difficulty of trying to build a family history.

When I talk about Chiron in the fourth house and having a karmic wound around belonging and home, I think about what it means to have been taken out of my country. I didn't choose to migrate. It was chosen for me. But in the process of this research and talking to my family, I realized that it's not only mine. It's actually that most of my family members have the same wound, and specifically on my maternal side, it's a wound of abandonment. Some of that comes out in the first clip, there's moments where my mom and her sister will interrupt my grandmother often to say, “no, that's not what happened”. “This is what happened,”  and then the longer interview, there's a lot more moments like that, that are even more contentious, where they're arguing about what really happened, which is very subjective in the end.

All the abandonment that my mom and her siblings experienced, is very new information to me, like in the last year. This information has helped me to understand my family’s dis/connection to each other. For a long time I thought that my nuclear family’s migration to the States was what had created this rift in our family. But this work helped me understand how much deeper it went, and for how many generations we had been experiencing this.

I’m thinking about your recent loss of matriarchs – your grandmother, and the passing of Cecilia Gentili, a trans matriarch for so many queer and trans communities. While your video doesn't explicitly name these two losses, it is about displacement, migration, loss of language, and your reconnecting with your roots. As you name in your video’s title, you’re also thinking of astrological time, which points to an ancient past, an unfolding present, and projected future all at once. These vocabularies complicate patrilinear and colonial narratives. It feels like you are reconfiguring time, and maybe working with trans, crip, feminist time, or migration time –these different temporalities and ways of navigating spacetime. How does your video offer or explore other models of time?

Astrology is just like one way of looking at time, and how we relate to each other. For me, it's been like a gateway. Astrology is very present in my queer community. I think it is because it helps us to make sense of this world.

It's been the gateway into opening up the ways in which I allow myself to think about reality. Ever since I returned to Peru in the last four years, I have been connecting a lot with plant medicine and with the Akashic Records. The Akashic records are basically like a Google search into your past, present and future lives. Usually you connect with a medium, and you both go into a meditative state where that person can enter the realm where your spirit guides are.

I was so skeptical. I've done it twice now, and I was really impacted by what I experienced. Each person has their own guides. They have accompanied you in all your lives before and now and in the future. You can ask any questions to your guides, and they will answer. And in that process, I tried to use this spiritual resource as a way to understand the silences and wounds in my family tree.

My parents are actually related. I've been trying to understand this moment of connection of where the two families intersect. There were a lot of things that I wanted to grasp. My paternal grandfather and his brothers all had very tragic deaths back to back. When I open the records for example, I've been asking why did this happen? Is there a family curse?

I've been trying to seek out a lot of different ways to understand this history, beyond my research, and asking for help beyond this earthly plane. Last year, I went to my first ayahuasca ceremony on my birthday. My family is from the region that this medicine is from. In the ceremony, I lived through some of my mom's experiences as a child. I saw them clearly, I lived them. I came out of that experience with a very different understanding of my mother. It’s one thing for someone to tell you what happened and it is another thing to learn it experientially. I feel there are so many ways in which I've tried to kind of disrupt time/space, how we think about how we might understand that in a more colonial, chronological way.

It's been hard to receive that information. I learned in the ceremony that I had been carrying a lot of my mom's pain in my body and I just didn't know it wasn't mine. I also grew up with a dad who had a near-death experience, which completely changed his life. He became another person after the accident, he turned into a very spiritual person and a healer. I grew up with him talking a lot about past lives and spirituality and I rejected all that for a long time. This is why I am reaching out to this medicine now, even though connecting with this kind of spirituality has been hard. I rejected it for so long because it reminded me of him and I didn't want to really touch that. So it's been not only a healing journey of trying to heal this family history and address it and talk about it, but also heal my own.

Cecilia has been deeply on my mind. I’ve been a bit stuck since she passed in February of this year. It’s now May but it has felt like the longest February to me. Ceci wrote a book called Letters to everyone in my hometown except my rapist. It’s really held me. When I went to the ayahuasca ceremony last year, I took her book with me, and that's when I finished reading it. I think it really influenced me, and what I experienced in ceremony. The book is all letters to different people in her life, mostly from her childhood and adolescence. She taught me that we can try to make sense of what happened through writing, through humor and with tenderness for ourselves. She was also just so funny, and had an unbelievable power to transform pain.

Another mentor of mine is Emanuel Xavier who is a Nuyorican poet. He also does this kind of work through his poetry, unearthing childhood abuse. Seeing it, facing it. I really admire that. I remember having a conversation with him at dinner many years ago. I asked him, “How do you talk about this without feeling scared that the rest of the family is going to get upset at you?” The question that I ask myself to this day is how to tell this story without feeling like I'm telling a story that's not really mine. How do I talk about coming from a certain violence? That I am a product of, it's something I think about a lot. Emanuel said that he was only writing what was true. It also made me think that I can't do everyone's work for them, and speaking the truth can sometimes set us all free.

If we think of video art as a particular kind of medium work, can it also be ritual work?  Archives, especially containing familial histories, are always opening and folding back in on themselves, revealing then concealing. Like in all “medium” work, things open when they're ready to open. In your poetic voiceover, you say, “the only thing I know is that no one in my tree stayed where they were born.” You invite the audience directly into your first person, intimate space of the archivist who's dealing with the transformational work in your family. At the same time, your video also conjures or speaks to distances, to migrations, leaving and returning, separating and coming together. How does your work with different technologies and languages point to what can and cannot be made visible? What can be pictured, what can be spoken or heard?

I think it speaks to trying to fill the gaps of silence about certain histories and that being visual and sonic. I also think about it in relation to translation in the video. We're listening to someone's voice in Spanish, but if you're not a Spanish speaker, you were reading the translation. I translated it, but there are things that maybe aren't exactly the same contextually and culturally.  There are so many levels of distancing, but also that could be of connection, depending on the person watching it. There's also my family – all the different accents that you might notice. I really wanted to work with the sound too, that's why I like the clips with my family hanging out in my grandma's house. Everyone's just eating or chatting. In the background you hear the music that gives you information about where this family might be from within Peru, what their cultural identity is like, what the space looks like, and who they are. I really love that clip because it shows my uncle Mario, who like I mentioned, was the family historian. This is just before he passed; he's talking about his collections - a coin collection and a butterfly collection.

I'm an autistic person, and it's very new information to me and a new lens into seeing my family, who I can understand now through a lens of neurodivergence. I really wanted to hold that as a moment of understanding, much like that moment when my grandma says, “now it's your turn.” My turn to hold this history, that these other people have been holding and that has been lost to migration.

My dad and uncle both had archives, but when we migrated my dad put all our belongings in storage here in Peru. The first year we were in the US, there was a flood in the storage space and it all just got destroyed, or damaged. When my uncle passed away and his home was cleaned out, my family threw away or sold a lot of his things, his collections.There are a lot of gaps because of migration, because of flooding. Objects that are no longer physically here, so what are the ways that I can still fill in those gaps with the information that I might get from conversations with members, from connecting with ancestral medicine? It is hard to traverse the frustration of knowing that I won't ever be able to tell a full story, it will never look like this is what happened, because every person has a different experience of what happened, and that's different from what I originally thought.

I had thought that this work was going to be mostly contemporary interviews with certain family members. I learned in the process it didn't necessarily have to look like that to still tell this story.

There's a moment with my mom looking at the photos. She's making fun of me keeping this photo, one that's all dilapidated. She mentions I should just throw it away. For me, it’s an insightful moment of what a wound of migration looks like. When we first moved to the States, we would see people just throwing stuff out on the curb – chairs or books or whatever. It was very new to us, growing up in Peru people didn’t just give stuff away like that. People always repaired things, and yet this moment of my Mom being like, oh, but this is trash — I get why she feels like cutting ties with her culture, but it took me all this work to understand why. She's spent 20 years distancing herself from this place and what it means because of all the harm she experienced. This has been her way of dealing with it, I can see her and understand now, but before it just made me angry.

There's also this stereotype of the immigrant that they never come back; they make this whole new life. It has been transformative for me to return.

There was a break in the timeline and a break in understanding. There’s a type of immigrant timeline that would look like progress, but I’m interested less in that progress narrative and more interested in transformation and healing for my family. I've been able to be present with things that I would never have seen. I was able to spend my grandma's last three years with her, even though it also meant discovering the harm she had done, and yet also, being able to see her as a full human being. It means having moments of needing to be with her and understanding her love towards me, even as her understanding of me as a queer person was limited.

-May 2024

Temp. Files: Season 3: TRANSFORMATION is sponsored, in part, by the Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC).

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