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Centroamerica: the map is not the territory I must admit that my first notion of the map and territory relationship came through a secondary source: Michel Houllebecq’s novel that won the Goncourt Prize in 2010. I still had to research a little to understand why Alan Greenspan, the king of American monetary policy, had concluded that this concept was the best suited to describe the ideas in his book. I finally found the origin of the concept: polish-american philosopher Alfred Korzybski. With this example, he developed a new way to describe the classical problem of the Theory of Knowledge: the difference between reality and its representation, a distance not always evident, specially if we approach it from its consequences.

This dilemma is in the core of conceptual art. Long before Joseph Kossuth used the chair to make it evident, Rene Magritte had painted a pipe with the sentence: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe). But for surrealism, a different door was opened. It was not only questioning the value of representation itself, but to reveal the presence of other possible realities that come to us in ambiguous ways, realities we get to know through their non-rational manifestations, like dreams or the free flow of the subconscious. This exploration of the mind and soul relationship found in Karl Gustav Jung its main researcher. In the use given to it by surrealism, the main critics were Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard, who warned about the injury being inflicted to reality… There is not such a thing as an innocent interpretation, interpretation always fires back to the object that originated it.

We can now ask: is representation a second reality? Or a reality that emancipates quickly, as suggested by Borges? I remember the famous dispute between Freud and Jung, caused by their concern about the depth and transcendence of the origin of symbolic meaning. No doubt, the idea that we enter a different reality by the mere act of naming the thing is scary (isn’t language just representation generating consequences in the realm of the concrete?). Probably religion offers the best examples and among them, the wars that iconoclasts and iconodules were willing to fight against each other.

Back to the issue, I liked the example for its specificity.We are not talking about a chair or a pipe, God or the evidence in dreams, but a map. A crucial invention for human history, that made the history of civilizations possible. There are navigation maps, climate and topography maps. But a physical map tries to approach as much as possible physical reality that, alt least in a generation, will remain quite unchanged. Meanwhile, political maps are historic representations applied to a territory… That what is named is temporal. When I was young I was surprised by the changes in the European map after the fall of the Iron Curtain. In the case of Africa, we are often reminded of the volatility of the map applied to its territorial origin. But the difference between them is often forgotten and even political maps stand in front of us with the authority of the unchanged. When we forget the difference we are forgetting History.

Is clear that I am pointing something far from the original question in Korzybski. My strategy emerges from the obsession caused in Centralamerican artists by its territory, more than the map itself.

We are talking about a fragmented country. Or we might be talking about different countries that avoid giving up its brotherhood. I wanted to explore the actuality of that obsession. I wanted to compare the idealized notion of the country that we were with the bare facts of today. In this sense, I can’t stop thinking that we are always referring to the concept of Central America forged just after the independence from Spain. If it was the colonial definition we will have to include Chiapas and Bocas del Toro. On the other hand, if we were to use the map of hegemony during the first half of the XIX century we would be compelled to exclude not only Belice, but the Kingdom of Mosquitia, the coastal line from south Honduras to the mouth of the San Juan River. And what if we try other possible maps? A map of negritude, for example, compared to a map of the half-breeds confrontated to the myth of white Costa Rica… Or the map of liberal Centralamerica and conservative Centralamerica, that will allow us to understand why Morazan was executed in Costa Rica and Carrillo in El Salvador…

All of them will make possible the comprehension of a broader map, the map of mental fragmentation. The one of five countries that always relate in the commercial, sometimes in the diplomatic, never militarily. Five country that ignore so much from each other. We will then understand, for example, that only in Costa Rica Juan Santamaria is the hero that defeated William Walker’s filibusters, while in Nicaragua the rock thrown by Andres Castro during the San Jacinto battle is way more important. That in Costa Rica we honor Juanito Mora as the undisputed leader of that military campaign, but the hondureños proudly name themselves catrachos because their hero in that history was General Florencio Xatruch… This incongruence of the common history, derived in histories adapted to the local symbolic needs just mirror our fragmentation. Today, this ignorance of the neighbor suggests that the vicinity is only physical. Given the big challenges we face today, such as drug cartels and the maras (gangs), the isthmus seems divided in two blocks: the ultraviolent north, that comprises Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and the south, in a state of very fragile calmness: Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama… Because we haven’t spoken about Panama yet. But that is a scar that still hurts the Colombian soul… By the way: are the islands of San Andres and Providence centralamerican territory?

All these questions are the mapping art has to help draw. Weaving the infinite possibilities of meaning in a single, but also infinite, interpretation. We wouldn’t be capable, confronted with the evidence, to deny the existence of Centralamerica. But we can’t but affirm that it can’t be properly named and that the broad range titles it bears only touches it a significant totality.

Klaus Steinmetz