The Blind Toucan

August 3, 2020

Patricia Dominguez, Madre Drone (Excerpt), 2019–2020. 4k video, audio, loop, 20:51 min. Work commissioned by Residencia Kiosko, Bolivia and CentroCentro, Madrid

Calmly, the blind toucan looked at me with its left side and sensed me with its right side. It is a mystical mask, a mythological animal that emerged from the fires of the Chiquitanía and Amazon regions. A seeing machine, a monster that can see beyond the visible.

—The blind toucan would glide in circles if we let it fly—thought José, the owner of the biothermal refuge. His thoughts resonated in my mind; this image continues to haunt me.

One day in September, several other animals affected by the wildfires in the Chiquitanía region arrived. Among them were four starving parrots, another toucan with its legs and tail burned, and a fox that had died of dehydration. We returned him to the droughty earth.

This sanctuary is a hybrid between a healing hotel and an animal refuge. It was put together as a response to the fires' voracity and the system’s inability to care for all affected animals.

Patricia Dominguez, Madre Drone (Excerpt), 2019–2020. 4k video, audio, loop, 20:51 min. Work commissioned by Residencia Kiosko, Bolivia and CentroCentro, Madrid

The blind toucan receives care from Darwin, a young man 17 years of age. I envision Darwin as an unwitting sci-fi guardian, an attendant to these multi-species' lands. He is a silent hero, with his cell phone and his reggaeton. I took a photo of Darwin and a green parrot called Maleficent, what a pair. Darwin and Maleficent inhale and exhale green, the color that keeps us sane. It makes me think about the evolutionary theory of species. These burnt animals are the final link in the chain of those affected by the fires. Fucking Darwinian theory. Nothing remains but their singed fur.

It was great relating to these wild-spirited animals, expelled from their forest by the fires; a unique opportunity to witness their untamable and feral spirits. Sickly and burnt in their new cages, these recently-escaped forest animals retained a free spirit.

We touched the forest by way of its burnt organs; caring for the blind toucan was my way of feeling its spirit. Of being scanned by it, observed by it. “The earth judges us only by our deeds, not by our colors or race,” Amador, my healer friend from Madre de Dios, once told me. In the forest, the other forest, in the Madre de Dios River, the earth receives offerings, words, and acts. It does not see color nor skin.

At midday it was time for us to move the blinded toucan to its temporary cage. I was asked to hold him in my hands and put a strap on it so that it wouldn’t escape. I carefully placed my hands on it, and I felt it trembling, scared. I could feel its entire body shuddering.

Tucutún, tucutún, tucutún.

Tucutún, tucutún, tucutún.

Tucutún, tucutún, tucutún.

I closed my eyes and communicated with him. Tucutun, tucutun, tucutun—we  trembled together. He quivered in terror while I shuddered in a desperate attempt to contain him. However, for a few seconds, we synchronized with one another in silence. I felt the beating of everything alive through that bird: the earth, humans, and mammals. We feel the water when it enters our bodies. Water runs through all of us, its pulsation unites us. Our bodies belong to it.

The drone, that infernal machine that is now one of my power animals, also guides me. With its penetrating, machine vision, its senses can exceed and transcend the everyday world of perception, as Peter Adey says in his text, Making the Drone Strange. They are monsters of an archaic vision quite distinct from unicorns or zombies. Now the toucan and the drone have mutated. Lend me your bird’s-eye view, endow me with your drone vision!

The smoke from the fire followed me back from Roboré to the city. The same smoke of burnt forests was fogging up our glasses on the balcony of Kiosko, where I was doing a residency in Bolivia. From the balcony, we could smell the ashes of burnt wood, wood that was offered up voluntarily to enlarge the coca production fields, to conceal the sheds used for manufacturing cocaine, to buy political votes. By expanding the coca-production industry, Evo Morales blinded my toucan. Let the spiritual law be unrelenting, for my blinded toucan will not go unavenged.

Patricia Domínguez, Drone Mother, 2019–2020, 4k video, 20:51 min, video still.

Over the course of that month, October 2019, the fires spread from the city and sparked revolutions in Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and even the United States. The fires accelerate the throbbing of all that is alive. The toucan palpitates, the fire crackles, the human is pierced by its flames. It is the beating of the heart, the sound of everything alive. Fire follows us through the barricades, the looting, laying waste to the existing order. Did you perhaps think that injustice wouldn’t touch our centers of fire, our energetic lungs? That social or racial violence wouldn’t ignite our spirits?

I happened to be in Santa Cruz for 11 of the 21 days of its civil strike. The city came to a standstill to protest the reelection of Evo Morales. Each person took responsibility for blocking their street. Kiosko Gallery was in the city center, meaning we were at the heart of several rings of blockades. They cut off the supply chain; there was no cash, no gasoline, no food. Some days there was a break, and we could get out and buy whatever food we could find. There was little, and it was expensive. Prices were inflated in a matter of hours in the Los Pozos market. The streets were completely silent while residents protected their block, obstructing their roads.

Witnessing the fall of the system in which we live, I had the sensation that these apocalyptic moments would come with evermore frequency: being enclosed, having to sneak out to look for what little food was available, being surrounded by bullets and barricades. And I wasn’t wrong. Everything will burn, country by country, until a new system emerges from amid the ashes of the present. As long as one person on this planet is suffering from inequality, we are all doomed. Until the last person has been set free, we will remain standing. It will simply explode. (Perhaps you’ve read The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler?) We must understand that we are all together in this; cosmic ties unite us as one being, as a species. The pandemic itself has made clear that we are all one body spread out in Gaia.

A few days before the strike, I went to buy a hammock to take back home as a gift. The man who was selling them took me to a backroom, where hundreds of hammocks were on display—each with its particular combination of colors. While scanning the available colors and patterns, he commented that the color green holds the trees' energy. He said it was essential to be surrounded by bright green in order to maintain sanity while witnessing the collapse of one system and the emergence of the next. This man understood the invisible holograms that every existing thing emits. And forest green is a hologram of life and tranquility.

Patricia Domínguez, Toward a New Vision, 2019, 3D model designed by Álvaro Muñoz.

“Who is praying for you?,” the Machi asked.[1] To make sure the social uprising runs through you and doesn’t carry you away, you need someone to pray for you. To make sure the bullets just graze you, to make yourself invisible, so they turn in another direction, to preserve your eyes, your vision.

In Andean cosmology, the eyes are situated on the back, and we look toward the past. In neoliberal cosmology, it would seem that the eyes are the price we pay for being vulnerable. Eyes, one of our most precious “possessions,” are often the highest price we pay for our sacred relationships with the future. The system has unleashed an assault on the gaze. The internalized racism and classism of this country have set in motion the acceleration of the long-overdue revolution.

Toward the end of 2019, the protestors in the Plaza de la Dignidad in Santiago joined forces with their laser pointers to take down a drone. Four hundred and sixty of those individuals suffered wounds, most with ocular lesions and some with full loss of sight, caused by bullets, pellets, and teargas fired at protesters. These are eyes that are lost. They are eyes that have been blinded.

Patricia Domínguez, 2019, documentation of the city of Santiago during the social uprising, digital photograph.

Using their laser pointers as weapons of light in order to bring together the power to blind, the protestors pointed their beams on the spy drone bringing it crashing down. The social unrest has been taken to the skies, to weapons of light, to the community. This improvised and collective "attack of light" is an example of the energy of the new paradigm that is emerging. This community empowerment forms a critical mass so great that nobody can stand in its way.

Patricia Domínguez, Drone Mother, 2019/2020, 4k video, 20:51 min., video still.

I lift my gaze toward the sky, filled with green beams of light aimed at the drone. I feel the presence of the toucan, flying in circles around the drone as it descends. I recall an ophthalmologist friend who happens to have treated several people with ocular wounds as a result of the protests in Chile. He told me that the human eye is capable of perceiving a limited spectrum of light and that much of what is essential cannot be seen. We must overcome our blindness to the other. What is essential—what is invariable and permanent, what makes up our nature—does not change. I raise my voice and plea to those blinded birds, asking them to activate a new way of seeing, one that matters, one that will permit us to experience the future.

Patricia Dominguez, Madre Drone (Excerpt), 2019–2020. 4k video, audio, loop, 20:51 min. Work commissioned by Residencia Kiosko, Bolivia and CentroCentro, Madrid

Patricia Domínguez was born in Santiago, Chile in 1984. Bringing together experimental research on ethnobotany, healing practices and the corporealization of wellbeing, her work focuses on tracing relationships of labor, affect, obligation and emancipation among living species in a cosmos that is ever more corporatized in nature.

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] In the Mapuche culture, the machi is considered the primary link between the supernatural world of spirits and deities and the real, human world (Bacigalupo 2003). Their oldest and most documented role is that of spiritual healing and the use of medicinal herbs. The clerical function of the machi as an orator in front of the group is a more recent innovation. Underlying the role of peuma (sleep and dreaming) attributed to the machi, there is a specialized knowledge of healing, used by the machi against illnesses caused by wekufu, negative energy, to remove the evil that is physically present in the form of objects or animals, in a ceremony known as the machitun. Mariana Muñoz Morandé, “The Role of the Machi in the History of the Mapuche People,” Indigenous Beings Journal: First Nations of Chile, 2006.