In the Open (a story) by Alberto Kurapel

Nov 15, 2013 Comments Off on In the Open (a story) by Alberto Kurapel by

In the Open (a story)

By Alberto Kurapel

Translation by Jessica Sequeira

 The narrative below was written by Alberto Kurapel, a Chilean actor, playwright, poet, singer-songwriter and professor.

Kurapel graduated from the School of Theatre of the Universidad de Chile in 1969, enjoying a prolific career in the performing arts. While in exile in Canada in 1981, he founded the Compagnie des Arts Exilio, Canada’s first interdisciplinary Latin American theatre performance company. He has been invited to numerous international theatre festivals, including the Theatre Festival of the Americas (1987) and the Venice Biennale (2003), and had more than forty works of theatre published. He was the recipient of the Consejo Nacional del Libro y la Lectura’s award for the best theatrical work published, and of the Escrituras de la Memoria award for his book The Actor Performer. He has been invited to lead workshops, conferences, and seminars in different parts of the world. As a poet, he has published more than ten books, been invited to the Festival Internacional de Poesía de Trois-Rivières in Canada, and been awarded the Gran Premio Especial de Poesía F. de Santi in Italy. He is also a singer-songwriter, with ten albums published. Finally, he is also a professor of theatre and performance in a number of universities, honoured in 2012 with the Erasmus Mundus chair at the Spectacle Vivant in Belgium.

In response to questions about the story below, he reflects on the possibility of multiple interpretations: ‘The reader can draw intelligent or silly conclusions… Is the mediocre Santiago painter dead in life while Picasso is alive in death? I write so that people can reflect and think beyond what is written.’


In the Open

I was exhibiting the paintings I’d finished the previous week in Santiago’s Plaza de Armas. Nothing special: sunsets, sparkling waves crashing against the shores of a beach, a few rural scenes with wagons, oxen gleaming with cleanliness and the unmissable Cordillera de los Andes, snow-covered, viewed clearly without smog. Other people were showing caricatures, or photographs of children in folkloric costume mounted on overly large wooden horses.

The hours were passing as they did every day. Usually I got there at ten in the morning and went home at around four or five. That day in May it was approaching four. It was autumn, a season that pleases me, especially in the Plaza de Armas. The space had been transformed into a cement quadrilateral by a mayor somewhere between madman and crook, who pulled down hundred-year-old trees and planted tall palm trees in their place. Besides making the place ugly, they don’t provide any protection from the sun in the summer for the retired and elderly who come in November to sit on the hard, poorly made benches.

At any rate, this is the plaza that we are responsible for, because as the saying goes: ‘If you vote in thieves to govern you once, you are ignorant. If you vote in thieves to govern you twice, you are not a victim but an accomplice.’ This is what has happened with our democracy, still frightened and monitored by supporters of the dictatorship. The mayor who remade this plaza as a homage to hideousness belongs to that group.

Autumn in Santiago is grey, and in the Plaza de Armas it is supremely calm. I mean that it has the inertia of sadness. Here we group together, all of us social outcasts who try to eat every day, selling or making whatever we can of an artistic or artisanal type. Alongside the grey cathedral, equally grey puppeteers are often at work, producing pity in the viewer; there are also living street statues, painted in white, bronze or yellow but grey within. This is the fate of the students who graduated from hundreds of schools and institutes of theatre, which function as small businesses dedicated to fraud.

On the other side of the plaza one can see grey comics, crude and unfunny, drawing a big public that forms a circle around them. Fifty metres away, at the other end, a lunatic with a microphone in his hand sent by Christ attempts to redeem the sinners of Santiago by breaking their eardrums. Yet despite all the activity, things tend to be calm, especially in autumn; despite the decadent chaos, silence reigns. Why? I do not know. It must be because ours is a mute, fearful country, and our language is sadness. What better company for sadness than silence?

A heavily built man came up to me, bald, around fifty years old, with a marked Spanish accent, Catalán to be more exact. He asked me:

– Why are there no human figures in any of your paintings?

Perhaps the gentleman wanted to discover some complex or phobia of mine in order to strike up a conversation. I didn’t immediately catch his question. I was thinking of the hour in which I could rest in the room I rented in Echaurren Street, and nothing else. I was thinking of my rickety old bed, the end of the day.

– Because I just don’t, I answered him after a while.

– You don’t like human figures?

– I have never liked them, I said, disliking having to repeat something I’d said only a few seconds before.

The man left me and continued in the direction of the Post Office. Once he’d gone I began to think about his observation, which called my attention. Something about it produced in me a growing disturbance. I had been saving some money to go to Spain and see if I could survive a period on the assignments I received from a company dedicated to the decoration of doctors’ offices and dentists’ waiting rooms. There I specialised in abstract paintings, soft, calming, with colours acceptable to all viewers, totally neutral. Like completely washed-out versions of Helmut Federle. I had begun to grow conscious of my mediocrity and this permitted me to develop a spirit more observant and forgiving of other mediocrities, like the fiercely competitive, talentless old men who tended their plots with tooth and nail against a youth that was more prepared, backed by studies and money (not the graduates of government schools).

I consider myself neither old nor young. I studied in the Escuela de Bellas Artes, finishing without anyone noticing. Luckily, a friend of the family brought me to exhibit in Lisbon; they liked my paintings there and I dedicated myself to cultivating contacts. The man who asked me why I didn’t have any human figures in my paintings made me want to arrive as fast as possible in Madrid. Imagining the Plaza del Sol, I grew hungry; after taking down the stands and packing up the paintings I went to a nearby restaurant to order the Menu of the Day.

While walking there, I realised with a jolt that the man who had asked me about the absence of human figures was identical to Picasso. But what would that great painter be doing in Santiago? Perhaps he was just visiting and wanted to stay anonymous, but then why would he have stopped to ask me such an insignificant question? If I had been a young person just starting, alright, but addressing a question like that to me, a thirty-eight year old painter in the Plaza de Armas, I didn’t understand.

Leaving the paintings at the restaurant in charge of the waiter, I hurried to see if the man had entered the Post Office. Nobody had ever seen Picasso up close, in person, except in photos and in the 1974 film Truths and Lies directed and acted in 1974 by Orson Welles, along with the prominent actors Joseph Cotten, Richard Wilson, Paul Stewart, Oja Kodar and Gary Graver. I arrived at the main hall of the Post Office, jammed with endless queues. There I dedicated myself to examining each one of the clients waiting for his far off call to the counter.

To make my search less obvious, I took a piece of paper and pretended to be writing a letter on one of the oblique rectangular counters, two inclined wood planks covered by thick glass emerging from a vertex. Later I moved to a different location with the same blank piece of paper, in order to have other perspectives during my search for Picasso. Though I was there around two hours, he didn’t appear. Perhaps he had gone to the Museo Histórico Nacional located ten steps away, I thought, but I was unenthusiastic about revisiting the spaces I’d been made to visit so many times while in school.

I returned to the restaurant to pick up the paintings at the restaurant and eat something.

Standing in the entrance was the heavily built gentleman, imposing, unmoving, leaning elegantly on the ramshackle door of the restaurant as if it were the wide, tall door of the Post Office. He looked at me and asked: 

– Why are there no human figures in any of your paintings?



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