by Cassandra Sachs-Michaels
Soledad and Belen are old friends from Tucumán. They tell me that as we sit in this bright white walled little kitchen on a Saturday afternoon around a table with a red and white checkered cloth. We’re at ThisIsNotAGallery. The windows are open to let in the spring air and the bird songs, and we can hear the sounds of Carlos, the owner, out of sight, crashing around. It sounds like he’s moving hundreds of rocks, and chances are, he is. I had first been here a week earlier to see La Piedra, Belen and Soledad’s newest video installation. I happened upon it almost accidentally, knowing nothing about them, and as soon as I stepped into the quiet, high walled courtyard with evening pouring into Palermo Hollywood and the moon hanging right above us, too bright, I knew something good was about to happen. That something was La Piedra. There I was, sipping wine from a tall plastic glass in a room full of tires and literally pounds and pounds of rocks and rubble and bricks, watching this video. Two girls in florescent costumes, clomping over trails of boulders, sleeping below scrubby bushes, sucking down mate, and fighting electric plush monsters in the desert of Tucumán, all the while rapping about the environment, and poverty, and being from where you’re from. So that’s what Pan Duro does. And they’re good. Like really good.
Pan Duro came about in the winter of 2008 when Soledad and Belen both found themselves without a performance group. So they joined forces and started to play around. At first they just wanted to make some videos. The rhymes and hip-hop aesthetic came second. “The idea at the beginning was performance… and music,” Belen tells me with her hand on the cold kettle. We were going to drink mate but that water was taking to long, “Using our bodies to make music. Neither of us had ever played a musical instrument before so our only instrument was our bodies.” “And our voices,” adds Soledad, “Basically that’s why we started makings songs, so we could sing them.” So they started listening to lots of hip-hop, writing and messing around, performing at friends’ parties. Then they made their first video, Jesucristo Polenta, the best scene of which features both girls running down a hallway chased by Spongebob Square Pants with a knife. Or maybe the best scene is when they become friends with Spongebob and he sits in the courtyard with them holding what appears to be a two foot joint while they talk on the phone dressed a little like Santa Claus with a disco globe twinkling overhead. When they started out, Belen tells me, they would have no idea of a shot list or a plot for the video, but would take to the streets with a freshly completed song and a camera and random stuff they had found in their houses.
La Piedra was a much larger undertaking, taking just over a year in total from the time they approached This Is Not A Gallery, the process of writing, filming and editing, and finally the installation that opened in the beginning of October. It was finally time. “Is this going to happen for real or not?” they asked themselves, “if we’re going to do it for real, ok, let’s do it for real.” And so they wrote and wrote, separately, and then came together to trim and paste and articulate exactly what they were trying to say. Then they went into the desert with two cameras, and a double objective: first, to portray the panoramic feeling of being in a vast wilderness, and second, to explore their proximity to pre-Columbian culture. The part of Tucumán where they filmed is land owned by an autonomous indigenous community that has continued with its traditional rituals and beliefs and even to this day is fighting for its land. They tell me this was a very important motivation. They say “very important” at exactly the same time.
A mixture of social awareness and humor—the giant plush monsters battling florescent windbreaker-ed hip hop princesses in an endless desert really is an impressive sight—has been central to Pan Duro’s interests from the start. Even their name has a double meaning. Pan Duro, of course, means stale bread. It speaks to, Soledad tells me, “the social reality of the hard bread of everyday life, of not having any wealth. What are we going to eat and there’s nothing but stale bread.” But it’s also word play, a mistranslation into Spanish of the phrase “Punk Rock.” Pan = Punk. Duro = Hard. “Punk electronic indie rock blah blah blah. Everyone has their style of music,” they tell me, “so we asked ourselves what kind of music we would play.” Oh, punk! Of course. Punk Duro. Pan Duro.
As for the future, when I ask, they don’t know. Closing the installation is first on the checklist, after that who knows. They’d like to go to other countries. There are some old ideas for projects that may be reopened up, but “the problem is they’re really complicated.” And there’s always the problem of money, the way that current finances limit the ideas they can pursue. But that’s ok. “It forms a part of the aesthetic,” Belen says, “economic limits. That it’s never perfect. That it’s always stale bread.” (This last part is a rhyme in Spanish, a mini rap to close up our conversation. Siempre no es perfecto. Siempre es Pan Duresco.) So who knows where they’ll end up. “What always interests us is…” the kettle was put back on the stove a while ago and is now hot and Carlos has come in from hauling rocks or whatever he was doing and stands in the doorway smoking. “What we want to show is that everywhere lots of things happen, and here, this is what happens. And it happens to us. It happens with stale bread, with Pan Duro. And this one point…this mixture… it seems like that’s what we’re trying to show.” They have some secret whispered exchange and begin to laugh. Turns out they think it’s all best summed up by the title of their album (which doesn’t actually exist but is cited at the front of all their videos): De la villa al universo. They keep laughing. The water finally boils. We drink some mate.