El Contorno (Outlines) is a three-channel video installation that features five actors performing a script—at times individually and at times in unison—choreographically moving across an indistinct urban space. As the view shifts from one performer to another we notice that they are all in close proximity and that the feed from all three channels was simultaneously filmed. The scene unravels with actors moving in and out of view in an elaborate negotiation between their bodies and the camera’s movements. As the title suggests, Watanabe plays with the concept of outlines: between individual actors and a collectively performed script, and between what is left inside and outside of the cinematic frame. As the footage from each channel bleeds from one to the other, Watanabe revokes any fixed notion of identity and space, reformulating them as elements with diffuse boundaries. In El Contorno narration becomes a fragmented map of ideas, space becomes a context without references, and identity becomes a flexible state of being.
Maya Watanabe is a Peruvian artist known for her multi-channel video installations that explore the relationship between the narrated text, individual and collective identity, and space. Framed within the specificity of the medium of film, her early works incorporate references and methodologies from cinematographic language, often involving one or several actors performing a script and interacting with the camera through choreographed movements. The texts narrated by the actors are either borrowed quotes from movies or modified poems and scripts, which become untethered when taken out of their original context. The ambiguity and lack of narrative that results highlights the imprecise nature of our perception and of the images and memories that we rely on for the construction of our identity. Most recently, Watanabe’s exploration has shifted away from the performed script and towards landscapes, due to their ability to allude to the fantastical and relate to different aspects of memory. In her three-channel work Sceneries, for example, she films forgotten wastelands through a series of 360° camera movements that highlight the dramatism and visual richness of terrain that would be otherwise forgotten. Her choice to depict these lands is a reference to the devastated geography that now grips her Peru after decades of destruction from a grueling Civil War—the second largest internal conflict in the history of Latin America. Through the videos of this post-conflict territory she alludes at once to the sombre episode in Peru’s recent history, as well as her memory of it: fragmented and contused.