Severa Vigilancia - Haute Surveillance

This project develops from a real event that took place during a theater seminar in the masters degree program at the University of Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia. The seminar occurred during one of university’s worst periods of violence. Two students in charge of a presentation on the life and work of French author Jean Genet decidedto play a hoax on their fellow students — a hoax that involved an armed kidnapping. Their idea was to perform the ethos of Genet’s work rather than to represent it in a conventional way…


In September 2007, Galer a Alcuadrado presented the doublescreen installation Severa Vigilancia - Haute Surveillance by François Bucher in Bogotá, Colombia. Severa Vigilancia - Haute Surveillance, the title of the installation, is a rift on the name of a little known theater piece by French author Jean Genet. The project arises from an anecdote, a happening at the Universidad de Antioquia, in Medellin in 1999 — a year that was particularly vicious in that university. It so happens that in the same semester when the event in question took place three people had been murdered inside the campus.

During a seminar of the masters degree program in theater, two students who were in charge of a presentation on the life and work of Genet decided to create the hoax of an armed kidnapping on their colleagues. For this purpose they created a detailed script that would produce a crescendo of terror, finely tuned to reach peaks of anxiety that probably wouldn’t have been attainable in the unfolding of a real event.

“Why would you risk having me, of all people do a presentation on Genet?” asks the author of the hoax, a man who goes by the alias of Joche. He asks this rhetorical question in the midst of an unprejudiced mockery of the faces of terror he saw on his fellow students. Joche is no different from Genet, he himself signals to the moment when he felt his resemblance to the French author, “A scoundrel instilling fear” he says smiling. The underworld of Genet’s youth is the same as the one Joche has witnessed in Medellin; Genet is alive in the Medellin of the 90s in the same way as Dostoievsky lives on in the characters of Kurosawa1. And in the same way as Genet isn’t easily dismissed as an amoral, savage, anarchist, so Joche has to be understood as a man with a mission: on the one hand to break the codes of theatrical representation, and on the other to rebel against the status quo of an apathetic academic world that is unable to experience the horror that is taking place outside the walls of the classroom, a few meters away, in a city that is bleeding from its mindless violence. In his words: “… while the bullets are not coming at you everything is just a joke.”

Joche is “acquainted with death”, he has eroticized it, his face lights up when he invokes it. His friend, the man wearing a skimask, who barges into the classroom as the hoax’s main actor, is in reality a member of an armed militia and has been involved in similar actions in his own life. He was actually bailed-out of jail the night before, with a special permission to deliver a supposed lecture at the university. The script for this nonprofessional actor is very brief, his director wants him to have free range to perform his own self. Amidst the few instructions he is given though is the act of forcing the class at gunpoint to watch a video, as if they were all going to be tested on it. As a result every account of the seedy and chaotic clip they are shown is radically different, a product of the surreal dimensions of a mind under panic.

In front of the very eyes of a group of theater professionals, a harpoon is transformed into a gun and the large red stain on the t-shirt of a supposedly wounded militiaman, which makes the whole room smell like vinyl, is perceived unquestionably as a bloodstain. When the man with the ski mask orders them against the wall no one doubts for a minute that their last hour has come. Outside, a faculty member who noticed that something was wrong calls the squat team. But panic plays another trick on memory and the faculty member gives the police the wrong classroom number. The piece embodies many layers of violence: from the one that is, to the one that isn’t, and to the one that could have been. It also points towards the undecideability between violence and the representation of violence. It all remains forever suspended within a fiction (and its double).