August 14, 2020

Ayni / Trans-action [1]
A Trade Agreement

“Allpaka mana shinalla kunllu; The land doesn’t just produce without effort” 
—Popular Andean saying


“One signature is an action, two signatures are a trans-action”
—Luis Camnitzer [2]

Presentation by José Luis Macas, December 10, 2020

Cartographic Weaving. Map of La Paz Department interwoven with crimson red watercolor derived from Ecuadorian cochineals, watercolor paper and manipulated map. 40 x 60 cm, 2018.

The Andean cultural matrix relies on systems of relationality that are based on reciprocity and complementarity. This is due to the fact that the Earth, the environment, and the biosphere are living organisms, subjects, and entities that participate in the same relational framework that weaves together all that is living.

Life itself is an ayni, a principle of constructive reciprocity. We are born to return to the Earth. Proof of this is the importance in our memories of the deceased, our ancestors, and deities, which are manifested in symbolic acts and rituals whereby we make offerings, give thanks and give back. [3]

These foundations establish an ethical dialogical logic in which meaning is created collectively through relationships of mutual benefit. Nothing is chulla or unequal, for every action there is a consequence, a complement, a tension or a dilemma. The ayni aims to produce a regulating framework through solidarity and equity in the face of complex human interaction. As Jaime Vargas Condori explains: “Human actions can generate chaos at any moment, so the ayni is the search for balance.” [4]

The aim of Ayni / Trans-action – A Trade Agreement is to construct other forms of representation through Andean worlding. This work explores an ethical and aesthetic form that weaves together reciprocity, balance, and solidarity to assemble us according to distinct visual orientations. The project was developed in the textile lab of the 10th International Biennial of Art in Bolivia (SIART), and in collaboration with: Cristina Flores (Peru); Florencia Cadailhon (Bolivia); Lucía Pittaluga (Uruguay); María Fernanda Sandoval, Mónica Dávalos and Serena Vargas (Bolivia); the Huaco Collective, consisting of Adriana Bravo and Georgina Santos (Mexico – Bolivia); and myself, José Luis Macas (Ecuador).

We did a collective and expanded reading of the traditional textile production. We placed the historical and social fabric of the Americas in dialog with contemporary artistic practices in order to question the role of art within the networks of a globalized world. The Ayni / Trans-action, therefore, juxtaposed two territorialities of the same region: the parallel zero of the Ecuadorian Andes, and Bolivian altiplano or high plateau. The ayni was the ethical frame linking the two. We sought to represent an Andean territoriality from a non-hegemonic perspective, using the practice of expanded weaving as our point of departure:


How can we weave together all of these actions?
Can we assemble ourselves according to a different ethical logic?


Accompanied by artist Mónica Dávalos, I visited the market at El Alto to get a ritual table for our challa (offering to the land). In the market, we came across Pamela Alanoca, an herbalist, maker of challa tables and pigment vendor. Our first intervention came about spontaneously at her shop, where we traded 250 ml of Ecuadorian crimson red pigment for 10 grams of Bolivian cochineal burgundy. This action led us to the site where the offering had to take place, which was her yapa. [5]

Thursday marketplace, 16th of July Market, El Alto, Bolivia



Bartering and selling in Pamela Alacoa's business, a shop dedicated to the sale of ritual items, medicinal plants and pigments.


●   In exchange for purchasing a ritual table for 150 bolivianos, Pamela’s yapa came in the form of advice. She told us that the best place to perform a challa on a Thursday was at the shrine located on the mountain peak next to the Estrellani lake.

●   The yapa is an affective seed that cultivates sales, shares trust, and at times fosters potential friendships.

●   Together with Mónica, we took the cable car back to La Paz. Once we arrived, we took a taxi to the recommended shrine. It was extremely windy.

●   The shrine at the peak opens the road from La Paz to the Yungas jungle .

●   Walking, conversing, listening, asking, commenting: looking at the hands that give and receive.


●      We arrived at the shrine on the mountain’s peak and set up our challa table.

●      The wind made it difficult to start a fire.


●   We didn’t have enough matches or alcohol to light the fire. The taxi driver who had brought us there, however, offered them to us. He said, “Of course I can share, it’s a day of challas.”

●   Chance defines our journey.

●   All the utopias in the world can fit on a table for ritual offerings.

●   We lit the challa table.


●   We listened to the crackling of alcohol, the fire’s flames, the cars that were passing by, Mónica’s breathing, the radio of the taxi that was awaiting us.

●   It was 5:00pm in the afternoon. Suddenly chance was named Cipriano, he was a Yatiri and he was drunk. [6]

●   Cipriano did a reading of the fire and the ashes.

●   We listened to his voice, a mix of Aymara and Spanish. The sound of his voice and that of our surroundings were a kaleidoscope of space-time.

●   We shared coca leaves, drank, and sang.

●   The fire consumed the offering. “There is ash that is white, like the peak of Q’ulini; [7] Things will go well for you,” he told us.

●   We had to head back. We said goodbye as the sun was setting.




This project invites us to think of territorial representations, beyond the structure of the nation-state and the hegemony of the planimetric map for these are tools for domination and oppression; it seeks to bring about re-presentations—assemblages rooted in relational experiences, exchanges, trades, celebrations—that set the imagination into motion through the presence of the material (soil, pigment, weaving). In order to move past  forced homogenization or strategic ethnicity, the work seeks to transcend the discourses of identity as a static construct or as a kind of straightjacket.

To quote Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui: “We must conceive of identity not as something that is contained on a map, but as a fabric of exchange, which is in turn,  a fabric produced by women through becoming. I think that the tactics of inclusion and reflection on ‘the other’ basically amount to tactics of domestication of the unfamiliar, which are enacted through the labor of textile weaving. Thus, weaving can work as a metaphor for a notion of identification conceived through intercultural practice rather than as some type of costume or mask.” [8]

The project shows how we can bring textiles and cartography together to evoke alternate enunciations of critical intercultural practice. Furthermore, it triggers an experimental and experiential response so that we can rethink hierarchies through the structural network of all that is living. This guides us towards other means of communication among the human, geographical, plant and animal planes.

This process allows for a series of configurations that come about in territorial times-spaces, and which result in visual and material manifestations that are entirely dependant on interactions and agreements:

●   Weave artifacts by incorporating Andean ethics and materials, activated through ayni, so that they carry lived experiences, exchanges and mutual agreements,

●   “One signature is an action, two signatures are a trans-action.” A mutual agreement is fertile ground for a world or for several worlds. Grounds in which to cultivate/weave other ideas and means of taking action.

Territorial Weaving. Interwoven strips of wood covered with soil from the Departments of La Paz and Cochabamba. Sculpture, dimensions variable, 2018.

I returned to Quito. Our work in Bolivia sought to think beyond the abstract hybridization of mestizaje, the rigidity of purism, and to conceive of kaleidoscopic practices, situated in geodesic-geographic space-times, in its collective memories and historical becomings.

Using this kaleidoscopic impulse, I am attempting to nourish my future horizons through a thinking and doing that is situated in the multiple. I conceive of this horizon not as a straight line. Rather, it is like the spine of a rocky serpent upon which all the stars in the sky are walking, a fractal horizon in which there are multiple possibilities for every phenomenon.

I live in a territorial network marked by colonialism. As Rivera Cusicanqui has stated, “Geographical thinking is a situated way of thinking, and it is vital as an epistemological gesture…. We would have to dismantle the artificiality of the map, and resituate the locus of thought in a particular material location on the planet. Without a doubt, the equator has materiality, and it is here that one can sense the planet’s energy.” [9]

●   Every star traces a path.

●   Every path leads to a possibility

●   Every possibility conceives of a place.

●   “A place is not a sterile physical locale devoid of context. It acts as a framework that not only brings in different readings for objects, but also imbues different styles of expression with political meaning.” [10]

●   The mountain breathes, the river communicates, the forest thinks: life trembles within every brick, glass of water or pencil if the will for it exists.

●   Re-signifying the politics of relation between the micro and the macro in accordance with each context.

●   Affinity is a valuable base.

●   Art: Arrows that weave together action and chance, always ready to be fired into flight.

Staging of the Ayni / Trans-action project for the Entraña exhibition, SIART Biennial, National Museum of Bolivia, La Paz, 2019.

Ayni / Trans-action – A Trade Agreement reflects a push to cultivate an artistic practice that integrates Andean ethics along with the strategies of contemporary art. The work Cartographic Weaving (Fig. 1) is inscribed in the textile tradition of the Americas, and is in dialog with geometric abstraction as a way of conceiving the Andean region through the lens of critical intercultural practices. In the piece Territorial Weaving, the earth is contained and forms the site for transactions that go beyond monetary trade, with arrangements that are mutually helpful and beneficial to all concerned.

The textile lab that fostered the collective experiences that came about in Bolivia led to a plural, multiple, border-crossing gesture. The individual was collectivized through shared affinities and needs, in an ephemeral grouping based on mutual support.

Like an arrow, this experience fired out flares and guided us in our articulation of communities in the short and long term. The coexistence of different communities ensures the continuity of a just life, one that is respectful of diversity and conscious that every territoriality, ecosystem, and context possesses different memories; memories that are constantly being strung together and unraveled in the continuous weaving of life.

José Luis Macas Paredes lives and works in Quito. His research focuses on territorial memories and poetics, investigating the construction of the nation according to geographical, astronomical and cultural singularities, and bringing together the wisdom of the ancestral-historical legacy of the Americas with the strategies of contemporary art.

Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.

[1] I seek to examine the Andean principal of ayni or randi-rand with the work Ayni / Trans-action, which I produced with the “textile lab” collective and which was exhibited at the X International Biennial of Art SIART in La Paz, Bolivia in 2018. The proposal suggests putting ayni into practice through a series of interventions, with notable examples including a challa (ritual offering) made at a wayside shrine in the city of La Paz, and the exchange of Bolivian land and cochineal insects for the crimson red Ecuadorian pigment used to create these pieces.

[2] Luis Camnitzer, Op. cit.. Paulina León, “One signature is action, two signatures are trans-action,” proceedings of the Third Ibero-American Conference on Art, Economy, and Labor (Quito: FLASCO, 2014), 9.

[3] Ayni: The Principle of constructive Symmetrical Reciprocity, used in Andean communities to maintain the production and distribution of the surplus of the collective economy, with an eye to maintaining quality of life. This community mechanism functions in the following way: if person A collaborates or shares with person B, the latter is not necessarily obligated to reciprocate with the former, but rather can do so with another person. The relationship of reciprocity is not just between two people, it is with the community and the environment. Carlos Milla Villena, Ayni: semiótica andina de los espacios sagrados (Perú: Amaru Wayra, 2005), 200.

[4] Jaime Vargas Condori, The Ayni: An Ethical-Moral Focus (La Paz: Jaime Vargas Condori, 2014).

[5] Yapa: from the Kichwa, meaning “increase.” In the Andean region it is used to refer to something added to a purchase. For example, if you buy 20 oranges, they give you one more orange as yapa. The yapa is a show of reciprocity for having made a purchase from that person. In a way, it could be understood as a way to “cultivate sales.”

[6] He or she who knows or tends to know. A person with powers like a lightning bolt, who came to know space-time through the exchange of coca, and who makes offerings and performs rituals for the deities.

[7] A snow-capped peak near the site where the offering took place.

[8] Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, A Ch’ixi World is Possible: Essays from a Present in Crisis (Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón, 2018), 126.

[9] Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, A Ch’ixi World is Possible, 2018, 89.

[10] Camnitzer, Didactics of Liberation: Latin American Conceptual Art, 202.