“It was told that the sailors that crossed the Atlantic left messages to each other in a cork board at the entrance or carved with a penknife on the wall when the cork was full, And the intended
recipients being not locals, but other sailors that they knew, would pass through that bar at the Azores sooner or later, sometimes years after”. Agustín Fernández Mayo, Nocilla Lab
Used to iconic places as we are: the Eiffel Tower, Central Park, Machu Pichu. So assured of what we are going to see in the travellers pictures, even without having been close to those places; we have become such tourists with the smartphones, so convinced of positions and movements. As a GPS we halt journey mythologies, we turn them into another Disney, into another stage of anywhere. We take for granted that the traveller is happy in those places. However, happiness seems to be off in those fantasy commonplaces; happiness, as Kevin Mancera shows us it is not even in those places that flaunt that name. Maybe happiness resides in being able to escape, to disappear and create from disappearance new architectures from those places. The mechanism is simple: schizophrenia, the vital experience from travelling.
This is why it is not rare to see in Kevin’s pictures desolated places, away from the common factors of touristic journeys full of adventures and flashy structures. We will not find linear narratives from a travel journal when we take a look into his seven sketchbooks. Otherwise, we confront an uneven narrative, a kind of collage of experiences without an established order. Next to a Martí’s phrase, a revolutionary par excellence, there are two metallic arches that look like snakes, a phrase on the wall, a bike. All of it forms a new space–with other route standards–unsuspected to the eyes of an average tourist, unusual as well for those of us who stayed and, full of clichés, hoping to see the icon rather than the experience.
Kevin Mancera experience is a new travel mythology. That which we remotely reconstruct and we are not certain of; the clues and riddles that the traveller sends us from another time in which he is submerged. To understand that time, the spectators have to dislocate, to reinvent and reconstruct with fantasy, maybe there is no other way when is about a complex puzzle where the pieces do not fit completely. As the traveller, we don’t fully understand and neither we care, so we give us the chance to inhabit for a moment.
I don’t think Kevin has found happiness, what he achieved was to disappear, run away for a while and get into the traveller time, because as he told me one day in his drawing little room: “The important thing is the journey, everything else are just excuses.”
Gabriel Mejía Abad
Dialogue about La felicidad
Alma Sarmiento (A.S):
In your work En Busca de la Felicidad (a "pilgrimage" to territories called "Happiness") you have
decided to face happiness as a formal problem, something that can be specified, found on a
map, in a territory; specifically, in 13 places called "Felicidad" that you located in 8 different
countries across Latin America. You left to find these places with a few notebooks, a camera
and some good books. The notebooks have been filled with drawings and are, as you told me in
an email, like "almost ... autonomous beings, they grow alone. I just give them a hand." You are
thus a pilgrim who starts from the virtual (digital maps) to reach the real. How and why did you
decide to go in search of happiness in such a sentimentally cartographic way?
Kevin Mancera (K.M): In 2008 I traveled outside of the country for the first time and I arrived in
the city of Buenos Aires in the hope of outrunning my ghosts. But my disappointment was
immediate, because despite being in another place they continued on inside of me. I also
realized that the trips didn’t include that portion of happiness that I had always been promised.
On the contrary, with being away from home things were not necessarily easy.
On a visit to the National Library of Argentina, I consulted the atlas collection and in one of the
books I found a place (a mine) located 1,100 km from Buenos Aires called La Felicidad. I armed
an expedition from the information I received via email from the owner of La Felicidad. He
informed me that it was located near the border with Chile, in a small town of 2,800 inhabitants
called Andacoyo. Again, I encountered an obstacle. This time it was a heavy layer of snow that
blocked the entrance to the mining area. My encounter was frustrated by only 3 km of road and
a warning from the firemen of the region: if I ventured to walk through those areas, they would
only come to rescue me three months later, with the arrival of spring.
This trip inspired the project that you describe and it is this that occupies my day-to- day at the
AS: The encounter with happiness is constructed via a drawing of a territory, it is a happiness
that is territorial and a path across which you haul your feet (or the path that hauls you along
it), as well as being one that is toured it is a territorialized happiness, "colonized", explored. Is
this something like a utopia? And, an obvious question, having built or traveled the territories
of happiness, have you found happiness?
K.M: Since the project began, the impossibility of finding happiness has been present. Trying to
find happiness as a territory often becomes a last resort. The journeys were long and to places
that weren’t easily accessible, making the search more beautiful but also more complicated. On
the other hand, the rhythm of the trip was the drawing: I stayed in each place for the time it
took me to complete a drawing.
First, I had to tour the places where I stopped. And then I started to draw some of the things I
found along the way. As I am slow at drawing, I normally stayed for three days in each of the
locations. And about a week in the big cities. So far, I have visited four countries and I have
come face to face with happiness twice.
A.S: Throughout these years of geographic distance, we have maintained judicious and
epistolary communications through various conversations had via chat. With astonishment, we
have encountered both true happiness and emotion with striking coincidence, to the extent
that I have assumed this concomitance as a law of our friendship. And now, on this occasion,
this law has not failed, because when you proposed this dialogue I was reading about a film
that I like very much, Sans Soleil (Without Sun) by Chris Marker, which essentially talks about
travel, happiness, and memory. The beginning of the film (in its French version) opens with a
phrase by Racine: "The remoteness of countries somehow balances their proximity in time."
After this, an image of three children walking along a road in Iceland appears. The voice of a
woman tells us that this place and this image represent an image of happiness for Marker and
that "he had tried several times to associate it with other images, but it had never worked. He
wrote to me [continues the woman]: ‘I must I put it at the beginning of a film one day, with a
long black plane. If you fail to see happiness in the image, at least you will see black."
It is curious that this film is called "Without Sun" and that it begins with an image that
represents happiness for Marker. Normally, happiness is associated with light and with the sun
(beach holidays or girardoteñas, for example).
I relate this beginning of "Without Sun" to this particular work of yours, by which there could be
a dialectical logic, an encounter of opposites. How did the "putting into an image", through
drawing, of your pilgrimage to the sites named Felicidad work? Do you think that happiness has
an image; is it represented more by mental images or geographic paths?
K.M: It has been very important for me to register my travels in the notebooks, because this
helps me to establish a different relationship with the places through which I have passed. It
distances me from automatic registration and brings me closer to finding what each place has
to offer me. If we think of an image of happiness, we can see how today we always think about
a register and the immediate publication of images in order to certify our celebrations, trips or
other events. The project is built from another shore since it is done very slowly and quietly,
reporting on my whereabouts through brief messages.
I remember my mother being alarmed and worried that my trip would take place by land, with
all its discomforts and possible risks. Each of the answers to her concerns helped me to make
my intentions clear. I replied that the beauty of traveling on land is that it allows a feeling of
distance, a feeling of myself going away and approaching, an understanding that it takes time
to get to a point. I also told her about the irregularities of the territories, and that I didn’t really
know what I would find or what obstacles I would have to overcome.
A.S: One of the lessons that Amalfitano, a professor of literature, left to his students was that
"(...) the most important thing in the world is to read and travel, these perhaps being the same
thing, without ever stopping. After reading the writers came out of the souls of the stones,
where they lived after their deaths, and settled in the souls of readers like a soft prison, yet
later the prison was amplified or exploded. (...) With the main teaching of literature being
courage, an odd courage, like a stone pit in the midst of a lacustrine landscape, a courage
similar to a whirlwind and a mirror. That it is no more comfortable to read than to write. That
reading teaches us to doubt and to remember. That memory is love. "
How did you find the company of books on your trip?
KM: Since my Uncle Selnich set up a community library with his university colleagues at my
grandmother's house, to the present with my family project with Andreita, Jardin Publicaciones,
books have always been important to me in my life. And I enjoy reading as much as I do
drawing. I left home with The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, and along the way several
books have been added, one over another, to my luggage; I had a lot of free time and little
desire to start talks in the hostels where I was staying.
A.S: With regard to what you say about free time, I’d like to go back to the movie Sans Soleil
and ask one last question. At the beginning of the film we are also told that Marker, after
travelling the world, is only interested in banality. We are then told that he opposes African
time to European and also Asian time. For him, humanity settled accounts with space in the
nineteenth century and what is at stake in the twentieth century is the cohabitation of times.
What are the different times of Latin America’s Felicidades? And do you think, like Racine, that
“The remoteness of countries somehow balances their proximity in time"?
K.M: Fuck the clock! That was one of the issues that you and I addressed in our correspondence
during the trip, and in reality, unintentionally, my relationship with time changed drastically
from the time when I no longer had schedules under my control. Any timetable I had in mind
was disrupted. The only thing I could do was let go and adapt to what the road offered me. As I
moved away from home I felt a different relationship with people over time, but as the
displacement was slow and I tried to travel small distances between one point and another, the
changes were not very abrupt. It can be said that as Latin Americans we have a different
relationship with time from Europeans, for example. In Europe the trains leave on time, here
we take the liberty of waiting hours for a train and there’s no problem. Delays are not a novelty,
many things like this were repeated over and over again during my trip. To conclude, I could tell
you that distance brought me much closer to the things I lived with and also to the people who
live far away and with whom I value more and more being able to have correspondence, such
as that which allowed this dialogue to take place.