Camel Collective: Statement on Gated Commune and a remembrance of Carla Herrera-Prats
Like many works Carla Herrera-Prats and I produced as Camel Collective, Gated Commune has its origin in a period of intense work while in Copenhagen, Denmark. A version of the text was produced under the title “Bella Center,” referring to the convention center in Ørstad City on the periphery of Copenhagen near where we were devising our first major work, The Second World Congress of Free Artists, in 2010.
The architecture around Bella Center struck us as symptomatic of so many pressing and interrelated issues. Ørstad was, as we observed, occupied primarily by immigrants. The UN Climate Change Conference or COP15 had been in Bella Center the year before we arrived where it had been the site of protests from international environmental and anti-globalization activists. The area also appeared to be the playground of major architectural firms that seemed to treat the location of the Commons as a tabula rasa for large-scale, contextless, architectural experiments.
This is where Gated Commune was at least conceived as a script, an apparently serene site haunted by social, environmental, and historical divisions that lay just under a slick aluminum-and-glass surface. Gated Commune has similar dark concerns just under the surface of its satirical narrative. It is a work of conflicting and contradictory elements clashing together, and an exercise in sustaining differences and avoiding palliative solutions. Made into a video in 2018, it was an important work for Carla in particular, as she had in recent years become increasingly concerned with the state of the planet and how human interventions on the environment were leading us towards catastrophe.
My first memory of a conversation with my collaborator Carla Herrera-Prats, who passed away this last December, was of sitting in a rolling chair in the middle of our seminar room with Carla standing in front of me. At some point in what must have become an impassioned discussion, one of our cohort entered and burst into laughter—apparently I had attempted to evade the intensity of Carla’s interrogations and had backed myself and my now tilted chair into a corner, with Carla over me talking away.
This is what a conversation with Carla was like—it was passionate, sincere, profound, fun, difficult, serious, and hilarious (in a way that only she could pronounce that word in English, with a newly borrowed Brooklyn accent). It is hard to describe the pleasure of being pinned like a butterfly by her stare. She took positions on things and solicited a position from you as well. Nothing wishy-washy was allowed. Art, philosophy, politics, in short, life bore urgent meaning and was up for grabs, ready for a rewrite at any moment. When she looked at you during a heated dialog, her gaze made you feel like you were co-conspirators, and at the same time it felt that she was engaging you in a fierce game, attempting to outmaneuver you, to outflank you on some point. Our collaboration was both a contest and a dance of thinking together. When ending a conversation, no matter how intense, she would say (which would frustrate me to no end), “That was productive, wasn’t it?”
We often thought of our medium as a hybrid of narrative video and materialized research, or an interplay of fiction and document, but really our medium was talking and listening to one another and the people we collaborated with. We came to understand our practice as an attempt at sustaining an “unlimited discussion,” between ourselves and with our audience. I wanted to take this opportunity to write this remembrance of Carla and of our work together, and to acknowledge the continuation of these unlimited discussions—polvos cósmicos siempre, querida.